How to Ryan

Hi, welcome to the team. I’m so glad you are here at $COMPANY.

It’s going to take a solid 90 days to figure this place out. I understand the importance of first impressions, and I know you want to get a check in the win column, but this is a complex place full of equally complex humans. Take your time, meet everyone, write things down, and ask all the questions – especially about all those baffling acronyms … healthcare is full of them

One of the working relationships we need to define is ours. The following is a user guide for me and how I work. It captures what you can expect out of the average week, how I like to work, my north star principles, and some of my, uh, idiosyncrasies. My intent is to accelerate our working relationship with this document.

Our Average Week

During your first 90 days we’ll have a 1:1 every week for about 30 minutes. I try to never cancel this meeting so it might get moved around a bit. I would like to apologize for this in advance.

After 90 days I let you decide how frequently or infrequently we meet. Some people meet with me every week even after the 90 days. Some meet once a month. However, once a month is the longest I feel conformable between 1:1s.

If you are curious about the 1:1s I have with my manager I’m more than happy to tell you about their frequency and duration. I meet with my boss at least once a week for anywhere from 30 – 90 minutes. It just depends on the week.

The purpose of our meeting is to discusses topics of substance, not updates (there are other platforms for that). Sometimes they can morph into update type meetings. I’ll do my best to keep that from happening, and I ask that you do the same. I have a running list of items that I will want to discuss with you and I encourage you do have the same.

We have scrum every day unless it’s retrospective day. I act as the scrum master to help move the meeting along, but during the meeting I’m the scrum master, not the manger (I even wear a silly hat). The purpose of the scrum is to tell the team three things:

  1. What I did yesterday
  2. What I’m doing today
  3. What, if any, roadblocks I have

The scrum master will make note of the roadblocks and work to remove them as quickly as possible. Sometimes this is fast, sometimes it’s not.

Every 2 weeks we have a Sprint Retrospective and Planning session. This lasts about 90 minutes. The purpose of this meeting is to review the previous Sprint and to plan out the issues that will be worked on in the next one.

When reviewing the previous sprint we ask ourselves four questions:

  1. What did we do well?
  2. What could we have done better?
  3. What did we learn?
  4. What still puzzles us?

This is a time to be honest and constructive. If the scrum master didn’t manage the scrum well, say so. If Bob didn’t get back to you say so. If you learned an amazing new way to query the database that is more performant give a shout out.

If I am traveling or will be out of the office on PTO (yes, I take PTO and you should too once you can), I will give you notice of said travel in advance. Depending on the type of travel I may need to cancel our meeting. If it’s a weekly meeting I won’t reschedule. If it’s not weekly then I’ll reschedule for as close to the day when I’ve returned as I can.

Sometimes I work on the weekends. Sometime I work late. Unless we have a big project that you are working on and it needs to get done I don’t ask anyone else to work late or on the weekends. I want you to have a life outside of work.

North Star Principles

Humans first. I believe that happy, informed, and productive humans build fantastic products. I try to optimize for the humans. Other leaders will maximize the business, the technology, or any other number of important facets. Ideological diversity is key to an effective team. All perspectives are relevant, and we need all these leaders, but my bias is towards building productive humans.

Leadership comes from everywhere. My wife likes to remind me that I hated meetings for the first ten years of my professional career. She’s right. I’ve wasted a lot of time in poorly run meetings by bad managers. I remain skeptical of managers even as a manager. While I believe managers are an essential part of a scaling organization, I don’t believe they have a monopoly on leadership, and I work hard to build other constructs and opportunities in our teams for non-managers to lead.

It is important to me that humans are treated fairly. I believe that most humans are trying to to do the right thing, but unconscious bias leads them astray. I work hard to understand and address my biases because I understand their ability to create inequity. I am not perfect, but I try to be better today than I was yesterday. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don’t.

I heavily bias towards action. Long meetings where we are endlessly debating potential directions are often valuable, but I believe starting is the best way to begin learning and make progress. This is not always the correct strategy. This strategy annoys those who like to debate.

I believe in the compounding awesomeness of continually fixing small things. I believe quality assurance is everyone’s responsibility and there are bugs to be fixed everywhere… all the time.

I start with an assumption of positive intent for all involved. This has worked out well for me over my career.

Feedback Protocol

I firmly believe that feedback is at the core of building trust and respect in a team.

At $COMPANY, there is a formal feedback cycle which occurs once a year per employee.

During that formal feedback cycle (also called the Annual Review) we will discuss the previous year. There’s a form ($COMPANY loves forms). I’ll fill it out and we’ll discuss it.

This means that at anyone time I could be finishing up 5 reviews or 1.

Notice I say finishing up. I try to make the reviews I write as living documents so I can capture everything from the year, and not just everything from the last month.

If during the Annual Review you are surprised (positively or negatively) by anything, I have not done my job. Please let me know. Feedback is the only way we know we are doing something well, or not well.

I won’t assume you know what I’m thinking, and I ask that you don’t assume I know what you’re thinking.

Disagreement is feedback and the sooner we learn how to efficiently disagree with each other, the sooner we’ll trust and respect each other more. Ideas don’t get better with agreement.

Meeting Protocol

I go to a lot of meetings. In the morning scrum many times I will indicate that today I have several meetings. I don’t enumerate all of them because I don’t think everyone wants to know specifically which meetings I’m going to. If I think it’s important for the team to know, I will say, I have meeting X today. If I don’t indicate what meeting I have and you want to know, ask. If it’s not private / confidential I will tell you.

My definition of a meeting includes an agenda and/or intended purpose, the appropriate amount of productive attendees, and a responsible party running the meeting to a schedule. If I am attending a meeting, I’d prefer starting on time. If I am running a meeting, I will start that meeting on time.

If a meeting completes its intended purpose before it’s scheduled to end, let’s give the time back to everyone. If it’s clear the intended goal won’t be achieved in the allotted time, let’s stop the meeting before time is up and determine how to finish the meeting later.

Nuance and Errata

I am an introvert and that means that prolonged exposure to humans is exhausting for me. Weird, huh? I tend to be most active when I’m not running the meeting and there are fewer people. If I’m not running the meeting and there are many people I am strangely quiet. Do not confuse my quiet with lack of engagement.

When I ask you to do something that feels poorly defined you should ask me for both clarification and a call on importance. I might still be brainstorming. These questions can save everyone a lot of time.

I tend to be very reserved but this is not a sign that I am uninterested, it is just who I am. Every once in a while that reserved facade is cracked and I display emotions. That’s when you can tell I’m really excited about a thing (either good or bad).

During meetings in my office I will put my phone on DND and log out of my computer if we won’t be using it. If we will be using my computer I close Outlook and only have the applications open that need to be open. During meetings I will take notes on my phone. I have a series of actions programmed on my iPhone to help keep me on top of things that I need to do. Rest assured, I’m not texting anyone, or checking the next available movie time. When I am done typing a note, I will put the phone down.

Humans stating opinions as facts are a trigger for me.

Humans who gossip are a trigger for me.

I am not writing about you. I’ve been writing a blog (off an on) for a long time and continue to write. While the topics might spring from recent events, the humans involved in the writing are always made up. I am not writing about you. I try to write all the time.

This document is a living breathing thing and likely incomplete. I will update it frequently and would appreciate your feedback.

Using Drafts 5 at Work

I have many meetings that I go to in any given day. One of the things that I’d been struggling with was being able to keep track of what I needed to do after a meeting and/or documenting certain types of meetings more effectively.

I have been using a Workflow I created a couple of years ago to get the pertinent details of a meeting into Drafts. I spoke about updating that workflow to incorporate drafts 5 here.

Once I was able to get the information into Drafts 5 a new opportunity arose. I was able to run a Workflow in Drafts!

I decided that getting the information into Drafts was great, but I needed a good way to get it out.

There were two sections in the Draft that I decided I could leverage to help:

  1. Actions
  2. Notes

Broadly speaking there are 3 types of meetings I go to:

  1. Daily Standup aka Scrum
  2. One-on-One with direct reports or my manager
  3. General Meetings

Categorizing the meetings helped me to create Draft Actions that run Workflows for each meeting type.

Scrum

This workflow runs through the Actions of the Draft and adds each one to OmniFocus in a Project called Scrum with a Tag of Work. The due date set for these tasks is noon of the same day. My goal is to have the items that come from Scrum totally processed by noon of that day and for 80% of them I can. Some actions are more involved, but having them in OmniFocus helps me to make sure that they get taken care of.

It also creates a calendar meeting for the next business day with my Scrum template and lets me know which team member will start that next day.

One-on-One

This workflow runs similarly to the Scrum workflow. It adds the Action items to OmniFocus with a due date of noon the same day, tagged with Work and in the One-on-One Project.

Instead of creating a calendar meeting for the next business day at 8:30 it appends items from the Notes section to a Dropbox file. The Dropbox path is predefined, but the name of the file matches the name of the person I met with (luckily I don’t have 2 Tom’s reporting to me).

General Meetings

This is the simplest workflow. It adds all of the items under actions to OmniFocus with a due date of noon, project of Meeting Follow Up and Tag of Work.

After the Actions are run from Drafts the notes are archived in Drafts.

I’m toying with the idea of archiving the notes from these meetings into Dropbox, but I’m not sure that it gets me anything … so I haven’t really looked at it too deeply.

Workflow links

The links for each of the workflows can be found here:

Parse Scrum Notes

Parse One-on-One Notes

Parse Meeting Notes

A Summary of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

This is mostly for me to write down my notes and thoughts about the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

I’ve noted below the summary from the end of each section below (so I don’t forget what they were).

The first three sections seemed to speak to my modern sensibilities the most (keep in mind this book was published in 1936 … the version I read was revised in 1981).

I have the summaries below, for reference, but I wanted to have my own take on each.

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

This seems to be a long way of saying the “Use the Golden Rule” over and over again. The three points are:

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want

Six ways to make people like you

The ‘rules’ presented here are also useful for making small talk at parties (or other gatherings). I find that talking about myself with a total stranger is about the hardest thing I can do. I try to engage with people at parties and have what I hope are interesting questions to ask should I need to. Stuff I tend to avoid:

  • What do you do for a living?
  • Where do you work?
  • Sports
  • Politics

Stuff I try to focus on:

  • How do you know the host / acquaintance we may have in common
  • What’s the most interesting problem you’ve solved or are working to solve in the last week
  • Have you been on a vacation recently? What was your favorite part about it? (With this one I don’t let people off the hook with, ‘being away from work’ … I try to find something that they really found enjoyable and interesting

These talking points are usually a pretty good starting point. Sometimes when I’m introduced to a person and the person introduces them as their job, i.e. This is Sally Jones, she’s a Doctor at the local Hospital, I’ll use that to parlay away from something work focused (what kind of doctor are you) to something more person focused, why did you want to become a doctor? Where did you go to Medical School? Did you know you always wanted to be a doctor? I try to focus on getting to know them better and have them talk about themselves.

The tips from the book support my intuition when meeting new people. They are:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people
  2. Smile
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage to talk about themselves
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

How to Win People to your way of thinking

This section provided the most useful and helpful information (for me anyway!). It really leads to how to have better influence (than winning friends).

One of the problems I’ve suffered from throughout my life is the need to be right about a thing. This section has concrete tips and examples of how to not be the smartest person in the room, but working on being the most influential person in the room.

My favorite is the first one, which I’ll paraphrase to be “The only way to win an argument is to avoid it!” I’d never thought about trying to avoid arguments, only how to win them once I was in them. The idea reminds me a bit of War Games. At the end, Joshua, the super computer that is trying to figure out how to win a Nuclear War with the USSR, concedes that the only way to win is to not play at all. Just like an argument.

The other piece that really struck me was get the other person to say ‘Yes’. This is kind of sales-y and could be smarmy if used with a subtext of insincerity, but I think that the examples given in the book, and using it in the context of trying to win friends AND influence people it can go a long way.

The tips from this section of the book are:

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say “You’re wrong”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically
  4. Begin in a friendly way
  5. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other persons perspective
  9. BE sympathetic with the other persons ideas and desires
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives
  11. Dramatize your ideas
  12. throw down a challenge

Be a Leader: How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment

This section has the best points, but the stories were very contrived. Again, this goes to how to win influence more than winning friends. Some of the items are a bit too 1930s for my taste (numbers 2, 3, and 6 in particular seem overly outdated). But overall, they are good ideas to work towards.

The tips are:

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation
  2. Call attention to the person’s mistake indirectly
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders
  5. Let the other person save face
  6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise”
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to
  8. Use encouragement. make the fault seem easy to correct
  9. Make the other person gabby about doing the thing you suggest

Overall I’m really glad that I read this book and glad that my CHIME mentor Tim Gibbs recommended it to me.

I’ve been actively working to include these ideas into my work and home life and have found some surprising benefits. It’s also helping to make me a little less stressed out.

If you’re looking for a bit of help in trying to be a better influencer in your organization, or your personal life, this book is well worth the read.

Updating my meeting Workflow for Drafts 5

Drafts is a productivity app created by Greg Pierce (@AgileTortoise).

I’ve loved and used Drafts 4 every day for the last several years. I loved it so much I even contributed to the Tip Jar Greg had in the app. Seriously, it’s an amazing app. If you haven’t downloaded it already you totally should.

Recently, Greg released Drafts 5. With this new version comes a new Business Model as well. Instead of a single pay (and hope people ‘tip’ you) he’s converted to a subscription model.

I signed up for the free week and didn’t have a real opportunity to use it before my free week was converted into a pay week but I’ve no regrets. I like what Greg does and want him to keep updating his app so that I can get the benefits of it once I have a real chance to dive in.

Part of the reason I wasn’t able to really use the new version is the way that I primarily use Drafts. I have a WorkFlow that takes a meeting on my work calendar and allows me to take notes about that meetings.

It’s one of the most useful productivity tools I have during my morning standup meetings with my team, and it’s useful for the other (sometimes endless) meetings that I go to.

With the release of Drafts 5 I was not longer able to use both Drafts 5 AND my workflow, so I needed to update my workflow.

With Drafts 4 it was just one of the built in Apps. Because Drafts 5 limits some of the functionality unless you have the PRO version I don’t think that Workflow will be updated to include Drafts 5 like it did Drafts 4.

Once I realized that AND since I’m paying for the app I figured I’d need to update my Workflow instead of waiting and hoping that Workflow would be updated to include Drafts 5.

In order to make the update I had to look for URL Scheme for Drafts 5 … but I couldn’t really find one. I assumed that Drafts 5 URL Scheme would be the same as Drafts 4 (I was right) and made various attempts at getting a copy of the Workflow to work with Drafts 5.

This is the section of the workflow that needs to be updated:

Since Drafts 5 isn’t included in the Built in Apps I was going to need to pass a URL and open the app.

This would require 3 separate steps in Workflow

  1. Convert Text into URL Encoded string
  2. Prepend the URL Scheme for creating a new draft to the URL Encoded String
  3. Open the URL

This basically means that 1 step is now replaced with 3 … but hey, that’s the price of progress must be paid!

Both the Drafts 4 and Drafts 5 versions of these workflows are available.

If you enjoy them, hit me up in the comments or let me know on Twitter @ryancheley!

My Outlook Review Process

In a previous post I spoke about my use of Rules and Custom Actions in Outlook. In this post I’ll talk about my Review process which I adapted from David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology.

There are several decisions that need to be made when reviewing email:

  1. Is this for me?
  2. Is it something that I need to do right now?

If the email is not for me then I need to decide who it is for. Once I have made that decision I Delegate the responsibility of the email.

I will forward the email (or write up a new email with the salient details) and send it to the person that I’m delegating the responsibility to. But here’s the trick … I have a rule that if I put my email address in the BCC line it will be moved to a folder called @waiting and flagged as a follow up item.

I then review the @waiting folder once a day or every other day and will send a follow up email if needed OR delete the email once the person has responded to me.

The next decision I need to make is “Do I need to do this right now?” If I don’t, then I’ll Defer a response or action to the needed time. Unfortunately Outlook doesn’t have a good defer mechanism like my beloved OmniFocus, so I will convert the email into a meeting and remove the attendees other than me to a data and time when I need to work on the email.

Finally, the email may require me to Do something right now. In that case, I focus fully on the requirements of the email and do it.

This may involve scheduling a meeting, or supplying times when I’m available for a meeting, or it might be answering a question asked of me. I will do any necessary research OR as I start working on the email that requires a decision I’ll discover that I don’t have enough information to actually make that decision.

When that happens I’ll send an email (either forwarding or creating a new one) to the person I think that can supply the information and, you guessed it, I’ll BCC myself so that the email is put into my @waiting folder.

Using the above methodology I’m able to manage the massive amounts of email that I receive. Hopefully this helps someone out there who is drowning in email.

Rules and Actions in Outlook or How I stayed sane after coming back to 1000+ emails

One of the best things about the holidays is getting to take some time off and visit family and friends.

One of the worst things about the holidays is coming back to work and an inbox with more than 1200 emails. Granted, I was out of the office for 4 business days so it’s only about 300 emails per day, but still … it’s a lot1.

I have two strategies for dealing with the many emails I get:

  1. Outlook Rules (Rules)
  2. Outlook Custom Actions (Actions)

Rules

Rules allow you to apply actions automatically as they are received in your inbox. This is useful if you work (or manage) one or more tech support desks and you need to segregate the email received into folders to review later.

This is exactly the kind of thing that I do. I currently have more than 50 rules set up in Outlook and they help process about 50%-60% of the emails that I receive.

The other 40% – 50% can’t be ‘Rule’ drive.

For these types of emails I use Actions.

Actions

Actions are amazing because they can have keyboard shortcuts assigned to them.2

I have 3 Actions that I use consistently to help manage my email that isn’t automatically routed with Rules:

  1. Archive (Ctrl + Shift + 9)
  2. Review (Ctrl + Shift + 5)
  3. Review with Boss (Ctrl + Shift + 1)

I archive all internal emails I receive, and probably about 90% of the external emails I receive so that I can refer back to them when needed. I have to archive them into a .pst file because my IS department only allocates a finite (some might say small finite) amount of space.

Using the Keyboard Shortcut Ctrl + Shift + 9 will automatically move an email to the archive. This is really helpful for emails that were sent to me for informational purposes OR that have a long email chain and a resolution was reached without me.

The Review Action will mark the email with a Flag and move it to a @Review folder. I do this with emails that will take more than 2 minutes to process. This works well for longer emails, or emails that need me to make a decision and I am not ready to make that decision yet.

The Review with Boss action is the one action that is used the least of these three. It is useful when I receive an email and need guidance from my boss. If I just need to send her an email about it then I’ll usually mark it as Review and follow up with it during my review process or if it will take less than 2 minutes to write up an email I’ll take care of it right then and there.

Usually emails to her take loner than 2 minutes to compose because they need to be short3

In my next post I’ll go over my review process. This is where I go through the 25 – 100 emails that have been marked as Review and answer the emails that need attention.

  1. I used to get even more. When my company upgraded to Exchange Server 2016 we got the ability for Out of Office Notifications to appear in a message BEFORE a person sent it. This has cut down on the amount of email I receive when I’m out of the office by about 30% – 50%
  2. If you’re not using keyboard shortcuts, you’re really missing out on some power user productivity hacks that will help you out.
  3. This idea is cribbed from Blaise Pascal’s statement, “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte” … in English, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Hat tip to Quote Investigator