Work – tasks – responsibilities, deadlines or even re-creative activities compete for our attention….and as we know, our brain is not good at handling multiple things at the same time.
Finally this makes you feel overwhelmed and out of control.
Well – I definitely know the feeling.
When – years ago - I found myself as a single mom with a full time job and eventually my own business, I struggled a lot getting things done and sometimes, after a super busy day, I often had the feeling that I had achieved nothing, or at least not much….despite working all day.
I tried a lot of productivity tools - none of them with a lasting effect. Sounds familiar?
Yes. No exaggeration.
Some years ago I met a guy. On LinkedIn….so don’t get the wrong idea. Together we developed a strategy and website for a training organisation for Agile methodologies (www.agileacademy.ch in case you are interested).
And in the process, we worked with a method of visualizing our work and in the real sense of the word, kept an eye on what was happening with the project and were able to focus time and resources on a far more dynamic level.
And there it happened: we launched the site BEFORE our own due date.
So how and why did that work?
Visibility creates transparency - nothing is hidden.
At every moment during the project we had a clear overview what we were working on and could adapt and modify our tasks whenever we SAW we needed to – i.e. realized that one or another feature was unnecessary or had to be added. There were no surprises to any of us.
Transparency creates trust
No hidden stuff or work – no secrets, no complaining behind anybody’s back results in a higher level of trust.
In actual fact, I even learnt to admit my own mistakes in the process and to ask for help when there was something I did not know – which was quite a lot…after all this was the first website where I had to dive into the depths of Wordpress and even learn some HTML.
Accountability becomes clear – there is no need to discuss anymore whose job this particular task is or was, as all tasks are assigned to a person. And are visible to the entire team.
So why does visualization, followed by trust have this impact and how does that help your own work flow and productivity or collaboration?
Clearer = faster. Seeing your work will make much clearer where you or your team are and creates a common basis for conversations and enables progress. It simply accelerates the work through a quicker understanding of what is going on.
We are creatures who react best to visual stimulus: some sources talk about that up to 90% of the transmitted information in the human brain is visual. While other animals, such as the dog are characterized by their sense of smell, or acute hearing abilities such as in the case of the bat. We humans are undoubtedly visual beings. After all, when was the last time you tried to smell the newspaper?
In actual fact there is some research that talks about visuals being processed 60,000 times faster than text. Images are the most easy things to remember and are essential for learning.
Because of the human nature, what we see has a deep effect on what we do, what we feel and what we are. Visually, people are more likely to remember the stuff they see rather than what they read and this study proves it. It shows that after three days, a user retained only 10-20 percent of written or spoken information but almost 65 percent of visual information.
Trust = speed. Trust is not just some new age fluffy word, but is a key component to success, as it speeds up the process of collaboration. On the other hand, a lack of trust leads to decreasing speed and increased cost. Relationships suffer, customer retention erodes and employee engagement fades.
The American consulting firm Watson Wyatt shows very impressively that high-trust organizations outperform low-trust organizations in total return to shareholders by 286 percent.
So no esoteric mumbo jumbo after all.
I saw this way of working in massively big organisations with thousands of employees, in the media industry in the energy sector, banks and in the IT industry…visualized work and processes led to quicker and better results, launching products earlier – and also the right kind of products (sounds obvious but this is a recognised issue).
Visualizing your work is comparably easy and can be done in four simple steps:
1. Choose a place
We are talking physical board after all – at least at the beginning (some electronic tools are available for visualizing work as well). You can use a patch of wall, use a white board or a flip chart, the key is making it work for the long haul. Choose the one that works for you, and you're hooked.
2. Get some material
No worries – you don’t have to break the bank or request big budgets from your boss…just get your hands on flipchart paper (for practicing) or a whiteboard, some felt pens or sharpies…non-permanent markers (admit it, we have all used the wrong ones at some time in the past) - and lots of post-its.
This is how a physical Vision Board looks like in a basic version:
…which works very well for individuals as a starting point.
3. Visualize your work – establish your backlog
Once you have created a personal board you can start putting tasks on it.
Backlog or To-Do is the work you have not done yet. All the stuff that you’ve piled up and still have to complete….consider everything you have to do.
Each activity or task should be written on a separate sticky note – post it on the board.
You might find yourself saying….I have far too much to do!!! When you have recovered from the shock for now, move on to the next step of setting up your board:
4. Limit your work in progress…
Doing less (at the same time) increases your throughput. Sounds strange, but is true. Why? Because you focus. Focusing consistently on fewer topics will help you getting stuff over the finish line.
So now you can try it out. For a free introduction training about the visualization techniques and how to set up the board click below. It may sound simple, but the end result will surprise you.