Monday, July 24, 2017

The perils of culture conflict

Siegel, Matt. “The Perils of Culture Conflict.” Fortune; 11/09/98, Vol. 138, Issue 9, p257, 3p, 3c.
Culture Watch What Do You Value At Work? The 54 items listed below cover the full range of personal and institutional values you’d be likely to encounter at any company. Professor Jennifer Chatman and others use this list to study cultural preferences. Divide it into two groups: the 27 that would be the most evident in your ideal workplace, and the 27 that would be the least. Keep halving the groups until you have a rank ordering, then fill in the numbers of your top and bottom ten choices. Test your fit at a firm by seeing whether the company’s values match your top and bottom ten. 
THE CHOICE MENU YOU ARE: 1. Flexible. 2. Adaptable. 3. Innovative. 4. Able to seize opportunities. 5. Willing to experiment. 6. Risk-taking. 7. Careful. 8. Autonomy-seeking. 9. Comfortable with rules. 10. Analytical. 11. Attentive to detail. 12. Precise. 13. Team-oriented. 14. Ready to share information. 15. People-oriented. 16. Easygoing. 17. Calm. 18. Supportive. 19. Aggressive. 20. Decisive. 21. Action-oriented. 22. Eager to take initiative. 23. Reflective. 24. Achievement-oriented. 25. Demanding. 26. Comfortable with individual responsibility. 27. Comfortable with conflict. 28. Competitive. 29. Highly organized. 30. Results-oriented. 31. Interested in making friends at work. 32. Collaborative. 33. Eager to fit in with colleagues. 34. Enthusiastic about the job. 
YOUR COMPANY OFFERS: 35. Stability. 36. Predictability. 37. High expectations of performance. 38. Opportunities for professional growth. 39. High pay for good performance. 40. Job security. 41. Praise for good performance. 42. A clear guiding philosophy. 43. A low level of conflict. 44. An emphasis on quality. 45. A good reputation. 46. Respect for the individual’s right. 47. Tolerance. 48. Informality. 49. Fairness. 50. A unitary culture through the organization. 51. A sense of social responsibility. 52. Long hours. 53. Relative freedom from rules. 54. The opportunity to be distinctive, or different from others.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Corporate culture

Case, John. “Corporate Culture” from Inc.; Nov 96, Vol. 18 Issue 16, p. 42, 8p.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Corporate cultures: a color coding metaphor

Brink, T. L. “Corporate cultures: a color coding metaphor.” Business Horizons, Sep/Oct 91, Vol. 34 Issue 5, p. 39-45.
Is your organization cool green, hot red, true blue, or dull gray? The answer could explain your feelings about work. 
“A theory is a set of abstract concepts that we make about a group of facts or events in order to explain them” (Engler, 1979). Unlike data, which are to be judged on the basis of their accuracy (as determined by the validity and reliability of the measures on which they are based), theories are to be judged on their idols to be worshipped, and must be judged on the basis of their utility, not their sacredness. Otherwise, they come to be seen as cruel masters, rather than useful servants. 
Some organizational theorists have contended that theories must be expressible as a mathematical formula (Mater, 1960). Whereas such theories may present more precise powers of prediction, they may be less easy to grasp (especially by non-academic practitioners). Opposing Maier’s thesis is the dictum that good theory is simple. I shall take a synthetic position: The best theory is one that represents a balance between simplicity and precision so that theory can be employed in daily practice. 
The theory of corporate culture
Beginning in the 1980s, the model of the organization as a human cultural system has become a topic for academic researchers and theoreticians. Organizational cultures tend to be self-perpetuating because the dominant culture affects such things as who is selected for employment, who is promoted, and who is rewarded. People in positions of hiring authority do not hire or promote whoever is best in an objective sense, but whomever appears to be best to them. And their own view of “best” is colored by the corporate culture. Different organizations reward people differently. Those individuals not getting the kind of rewards they need look for more compatible organizations. After a while, the organization’s culture becomes widespread knowledge throughout the host society, and people who have compatible personalities are attracted to their appropriate organizations. This kind of career filtering leads to a homogenous group of people in a given organization—at least homogenous in the sense of sharing the same work-related values.
This concept of corporations as cultures has generated useful theories as to why some mergers might fail—“a clash of different cultures,” according to Lefkoe (1987)—or how leaders need to embody and articulate the values of the culture. CEOs and front-line managers have become enamored with the concept of corporate culture, but their conceptions of culture have more hype than the kind of cautious concern for precise measurement found among academicians. 
Before we chastise the practitioners for simplifying our formulations, let us acknowledge that practitioner context requires concepts that lead to rapid identification of problems and suggestions of specific solutions. The academician’s approach to culture must involve numerous dimensions for the consideration of interacting variables. Practitioners prefer an easy-to-remember typology that allows pigeonholing of any situation. 
There have been several attempts to offer a fourfold typology of organizational culture. Vrakking (1985) suggested “power,” “role,” “task,” and “persons” orientations. Quinn and McGrath (1985) used four different terms to outline a similar breakdown: rational, hierarchical, ideological and consensual. Maccoby’s (1988) study of the personalities of today’s workers delineated four types that may correspond to the fourfold typology of organizations: innovator, defender, expert, and helper—plus a new type that did not fit very well in any organization, the self-developer. 
Color coding cultures
Porter (1974, 1978) developed a color-coded theory of motivation that described how individuals behave in interpersonal situations. Because corporate cultures are arenas for interpersonal activity, Porter’s theory might be applicable. Various typologies, organizational aspects, and their corresponding colors are depicted in Table 1.
Table 1: Porter’s Typology and Organizational Aspects

Cool green Hot red True blue Dull gray
Vrakking's term Task Power Person Role
Quinn & McGrath's term Ideological Rational Consensual Hierarchical
Maccoby's term Expert Innovator Helper Defender
Aspects of organization
Role of individual executives Low High Low Low
Autonomy of individuals High Low Low Low
Role of formal rules Low Low Low High
Role of informal procedures Low Low High Low
Manager seen as a cheerleader Usually Usually Rarely Never
Manager seen as a peer Usually Rarely Usually Sometimes
Manager seen as a rule maker Rarely Rarely Rarely Sometimes
Manager seen as a rule follower Sometimes Rarely Sometimes Usually
Manager seen as a
smother of relationships
Sometimes Rarely Usually Rarely
Manager seen as a
facilitator and
Usually Sometimes Rarely Rarely
Age of organization Varies Young Varies Old
Size of organization Varies Small Small Large
Organization chart Flat Flat Confused Tall
Role of budgets and funding High Low Varies High
Market served Dynamic Dynamic Stable Stable
Average job tenure Varies Short Long Long
Evaluation based
on achievement
Yes Yes No No
Evaluation based on compliance No Yes No Yes
Promotion based on seniority No No Yes Yes
Promotion based on
standard assessment
No No No Yes
Promotion based on popularity  No No Yes No
Stress due to fast pace No Yes No No
Stress due to
unsupportive environment
No No No Yes
Boredom No No Yes Yes
Control factor
Direct supervision Rarely Usually Rarely Rarely
Mutual adjustment Usually Sometimes Usually Rarely
Standardization of work process Rarely Sometimes Rarely Usually
Standardization of outputs Sometimes Usually Rarely Rarely
Standardization of training Usually Rarely Sometimes Sometimes
Cool green
Cool green people are motivated by autonomy. Usually these are very intelligent and competent people who like to do their own thing, in their own way, without having to depend upon others for help or guidance. In a work situation, they will respect the autonomy and integrity of others and require that kind of respect from both colleagues and managers. Cool greens dislike being around exploitative, emotional, or frivolous people and prefer to be around others who will respect them.
This type of interpersonal motivational style would be right at home in certain organizations. Let’s call them cool green organizations. They are built upon a foundation of mutual respect for autonomy and respect. Employees tend to be highly competent professionals capable of working independently. The cool green environment is enjoyed by physicians in a medical group, senior partners in a law firm, management consultants who affiliate with each other, professors at a top university, and engineers on a R&D project. Whereas some of the most admired U.S. companies (Merck, IBM, Hewlett-Packard) have successfully maintained this cool green culture--at least for some employees—most large organizations find it difficult to give much respect to individual autonomy. 
Cool green cultures are characterized by creative activity. Some of the employees seem to be non-conformists. Such deviance is not usually accepted in other types of organizations, but the cool green accepts this as a sign of creative potential rather than a symbol of nihilistic rebellion. Whereas other cultures may be fearful of brash know-it-alls, this culture realizes that although they don’t know it all, they do know something, and can use their knowledge to achieve much if given the opportunity to do so. 
The lack of external controls over employees means that such organizations must select employees who are so internally directed they can be trusted to do what they should, even though no one is checking up on them. An organization cannot remain a cool green culture if it lets just anyone in, for few people are sufficiently competent and self-directed. Perhaps that is why such cultures tend to be confined to organizations that employ people whose professional training has been long and difficult, having served to establish high levels of competence, and cull out the inept or undermotivated. 
Hot red
Porter describes hot red people as being assertive and directive. They see themselves as strong and ambitious, and want to rise to a position of leadership and authority. Hot reds like to be around subordinates who obey and superiors who will model and mentor for them. They dislike being around inept, gullible, uncommitted, or rebellious people. Hot reds think that any one who cannot lead or follow should get out of the way. We could apply this personality type to young, small organizations whose culture still reflects the personality of an entrepreneurial founder. A hot red environment can be maintained even in larger organizations if there is a high rate of growth.
This culture has several things in common with cool green. Both emphasize the importance of achieving goals, but in the cool green environment employees are fairly free to determine their own goals and how to reach them, whereas in the hot red environment the boss tells them what their goals are. Both types of organizations would have a fairly flat and lean organizational chart, with few intervening levels of management or staffs or “assistants to” off on the side. (Because they put such a high percentage of their workers in these directly productive roles, both the cool green and hot red organizations actually do accomplish a great deal.) The cool green organization is lean because decisions are made directly and autonomously by individuals. Hot red organizations can dispense with procedures manuals and committees because they are like a dictatorship. The employee’s task is to listen to the boss carefully and obey thoroughly. 
Employees in hot red organizations, especially middle-level managers, feel they are being evaluated by two different standards: what they achieve and whether they have followed orders. Of course, these two standards are thoroughly compatible when the boss gives you an order to accomplish something, then leaves it up to you to figure out how—or when the boss tells you how and the boss’s method works. But what do you do when you think you have a better way? What does the boss really want, obedience or results? The more management respects employee input, the more the culture approximates cool green. But the stereotypical red hot executive thinks, “I built up this business from nothing, so don’t tell me how to run it.” 
Such an attitude frustrates subordinates’ creativity. They don’t know whether to be on their toes or on their knees. This lowers morale and leads to turnover. Competent technical and professional employees seeking more autonomy will look for another firm with a cooler, greener environment, while confident middle-level managers may turn entrepreneurial and start their own hot red firms so they can do things their way. 
True blue
Porter also spoke of a true blue personality. These are “people” oriented people who want, more than anything else, mutually supportive, friendly interpersonal relationships. True blues are helpful and concerned; they get along with people who need them and who, in turn, are concerned about them and kind to them. True blues have a hard time dealing with selfish, competitive, or detached people.
We could apply this interpersonal style to the kind of organization that is more concerned with the group’s subjective assessment of the quality of the interpersonal process at work than with any objective accomplishments. In the true blue environment, no one person should be “bossy” because that might be upsetting for some people. Leadership in the true blue culture tends to be a case of the bland leading the bland. If a promotion becomes available, a senior or popular person will be accepted by the group, but not an ambitious, abrasive achiever, especially an outside one “who does not appreciate our way of doing things around here.” 
Decisions, when they are made, should be made not by individuals but by groups, especially everybody. Of course, it is difficult to get committees to come up with bold courses of action, and it is even more difficult to achieve unanimous consensus (the true blue ideal), so not that many decisions are made in these cultures. Chronic indecisiveness also means there will be no organization charts or job descriptions or objective evaluation for employees. 
The true blue culture is possible only in small organizations serving stable and secure market segments. The people who fit into this culture will stay a lifetime. Usually they will tolerate poor wages, for they have so many supportive coworkers with whom to commiserate. Those who want to accomplish something will leave for red or green organizations, because the true blue culture is designed to resist change, and achievers are scorned as brash, antisocial types. Many true blue cultures have a hard time with exceptionally talented individuals who serve as a painful reminder to everyone else that many people in such organizations are less than competent. 
Where do true blue organizations come from? Once they were hot red or cool green; they had external goals, which they met, and earned a niche in the marketplace. The niche got so established that the market position was secure, so it became unnecessary to worry about meting the external goal. Management tried to be “kind” or got lax about who was selected (especially if low pay meant a small pool of applicants from which to choose). As long as the market doesn’t change, these organizations can survive. But a dynamic marketplace is a call for action and achievement and true blue organizations have an inbred incapacity to respond to anything other than their employees’ feelings. Many true blues would rather die than change, and they get their wish. 
Dull gray
Although Porter had only three types of interpersonal styles, I would suggest a fourth kind of organizational culture: the dull gray of bureaucracy. This culture is founded in organizations that are run on the basis of rules, guidelines, and procedures manuals instead of individual authority or group participation. Government agencies are prototypes, but most large, old organizations find themselves developing formalized procedures and an organizational chart with more levels of management (and more positions off to the side). Just as a ton of iron turns to three tons of rust, a once lean and productive organization finds that it now has most of its people in middle-level management and staffing positions.
Instead of focusing on achieving goals, the dull gray culture is concerned with procedures. Unlike true blue consideration, bureaucracies follow impersonal guidelines to the letter. The rules are not written to respond to people, so people must respond to the rules. Of course, the rules were originally made to help accomplish some goal, purpose, or mission, but that was a while back. Now they are enforced by administrators, inspectors, and clerks who have clear-cut job descriptions but little knowledge of, or commitment to, the overall mission of the organization. They are just doing their jobs—following the book or passing the book. 
The dull gray culture values precision and continuity, and any attempt to bend the rules to fit an individual case would violate those norms. Unfortunately, ignoring the variability of humankind is one of the greatest sins against human nature. People often complain, justifiably, that bureaucrats treat them as numbers rather than individuals—that the purpose of the agency seems to be to follow the rules rather than solve real world problems. To the extent that problem solving requires a creative approach, this is true, for bureaucracies are intrinsically incapable of creative responses. 
Who gets promoted in a bureaucracy? One factor rarely considered is concrete achievements. Rather, the upwardly mobile bureaucrat usually has a combination of the following traits: seniority, paperwork attesting to compliance with formal procedures, experience in managing large budgets (which can be made larger by increasing expenditures), not making superiors angry (though not necessarily having done anything to please them either), high scores on standardized tests, and a talent at writing new procedures in “officialise” (the language that protects the writer instead of informing the reader). 
Unfortunately, bureaucracies tend to be interpersonal environments that few humans find optimal, as either superiors or subordinates. The routine nature of the work can become a monotony leading to boredom. The lack of interpersonal consideration means that interpersonal stresses will mount. Most “burnout” occurs in human service professionals who try to function within a bureaucratic context. 
Why do bureaucratic workers stay on for so long? The color of the culture may be a dull gray, but the handcuffs are golden. Most of these workers would not be selected for a cool green organization and could not keep a job in the demanding pace of a hot red company. The package of wages, benefits, and pensions that large, bureaucratic organizations offer is usually substantially higher than that found in the small true blues. Best of all, there is incredible job security—just follow the book and you can’t be fired. And, unlike in the smaller true blues, there is little danger of a large bureaucracy going out of business, especially a government agency. Nevertheless, most people are probably happier in a brighter, non-bureaucratic environment. 
Dull gray seems to fall on most firms as they age. The hot red company grows so big that one person cannot direct it, so orders become written memos, then formalized procedures. When the cool green havens of autonomy start becoming dependent upon budgets, especially funding that comes from the government, government-imposed regulations are not far behind—as education and health care have discovered. 
How to diagnose corporate culture
Consultants and even job seekers must learn how to correctly identify the culture of a potential client or employer. There are tip-offs given by a site visit. Upscale cars in the parking lot and quality furnishings usually bespeak a hot red or cool green environment. When offices are little cubicles or “rat mazes,” a cool green culture cannot survive. How do the people dress? Like they are trying to impress the boss? It’s hot red. Like they have the freedom and money to where whatever they want? It’s cool green. Like uniforms? Dull gray. Like some are too poor to dress any better, and the rest of the people don’t want to embarrass them? True blue. Look at calendars and knick-knacks on the desks. Highly individualized? Cool green. Designed to impress? Hot red. Designed to pass inspection? Hot red or dull gray. If you see things such as “Hang in there,” “Is it Friday yet?” or “Murphy’s Law”—true blue or dull gray.
One of the best approaches is to directly solicit information about the corporate culture in the interview. What kind of people seem to be happiest here? Who doesn’t fit in? Who gets frustrated and leaves? However, there is some bit of danger in asking these questions, because true blue interviewers expect that everyone should love their organizations, and some red hots and bureaucrats will think only unappreciative rebels have problems fitting in. So it may be better to just listen to the interviewer’s description of things. Words like “opportunity” are essentially claims of being hot red; “independence, creativity, problem solving” are claims that an organization is cool green; “We’re just one big happy family” or “The world’s nicest people work here” would denote a true blue image. 
But beware: not all organizations give an honest portrayal of themselves (Table 2). Cool greens are usually honest and accurately describe their environments. The other cultures may be honest or may try to make the organization look a little better than it is. Dull gray, for example, won’t say it is a bureaucracy unless it really is. Some red hots and true blues may describe themselves as being more green then they actually are. This is not always due to a bald-faced attempt at deception. Some red hot managers actually believe they give their subordinates more independence than they do, and some true blues imagine that their people actually accomplish something—such managers just don’t know the different. Rarely will bureaucracies attempt to claim that they are cool green, but may represent that there is more opportunity (red) or consideration (blue) than there actually is. 
Table 2 How different cultures present themselves
These cultures Cool green Hot red True blue Dull gray
May claim to be these
Cool green
Hot red
True blue
Dull gray

Decisions and changes in the corporate culture
There are four levels of power within the decision-making process (see table 3). The “prime mover” is the person (or office) having the greatest responsibility for innovating as well as implementing a new program. Someone having “veto consent” must approve of the project before it can be enacted. (Extensive use of this level means that new programs can be easily blocked.) The level of “solicit input” means that the person will be consulted prior to any change, but this level is not capable of blocking unwanted change. The lowest level is to merely “inform” someone a decision has been made, after the fact. (Exclusive use of this level for the implementers means they may be called upon to develop the details and accomplish the goals of programs in which they had no say.)

Table 3: Levels of responsibility
Roles for decision making Cool green Hot red True blue Dull gray
External markets and authorities Solicit input Solicit input  Inform Prime mover
Top executives and administrators Veto consent Prime mover Veto consent Solicit input
Middle level executives Prime mover Inform Solicit input Inform
Committees Solicit input Inform Veto consent Inform
Keys to levels of responsibility Has highest level of responsibility, gets decision process moving May block a decision, but not get one going Must be consulted
before a decision made, but cannot block one
Must be
informed after
the decision
has been made, but no input is given before

Hot reds listen to their marketplace, but otherwise this can be a model of dictatorial decision making. Equally unattractive is the dull gray bureaucratic model. The true blue offers the best guarantee that bad programs will not be adopted, but the least chance of launching new programs that address the needs of a shifting market.

Cool green has the advantage of making the middle-level managers (who are the actual implementers) the prime movers. Veto comes only from higher administrators who have to direct control over budgets. Committees can and should be consulted prior to the decisions about new programs, but their consent is not essential.

It is easier for individuals to leave incompatible corporate cultures than to stay and change them. The most foolish thing any one person can do is attempt to change a corporate culture. Unless a new chief executive can change the underlying root metaphor and dominant myth of the culture, he or she cannot begin to transform the organization. Then these symbolic changes will have to be followed up by changes in the reward system and long-term changes in what kinds of people are hired and promoted within the organization. Otherwise, buzzwords change, but the people and their behavior stay the same.

S. Balanchandran, Corporate Culture: A Selective Bibliography (Monticello: Vance, 1986).

P. Bate, “The Impact of Organizational Culture on Approaches to Organizational Problem Solving,” Organizational Studies, 5 (1984): 1-23.

P. O. Berg, “Organizational Change as a Symbolic Process,” in Frost et al., eds., Organizational Culture (Beverley Hills: Sage Publications, 1985), pp. 281-300.
J. K. Clemens, “A Lesson From 431 BC: The Idea That Corporate Culture Can Help You Win Dates Back To Ancient Greece,” Fortune, October 13, 1986, pp. 281-300.

B. Engler, Personality Theories: An Introduction (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1979).

D. Graves, Corporate Culture: Diagnosis and Change (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986).

J. Kerr and J.W. Slocum, “Managing Corporate Culture Through Reward Systems,” Executive, 1, 2 (1987): 99108.

L. Krefting and P.J. Frost, “Untangling Webs, Surfing Waves, and Wildcatting: A Multiple Metaphor Perspective on Managing a Corporate Culture,” in Frost et al., eds., Organizational Culture (Beverley Hills: Sage Publications, 1985), pp. 155-168.

M. Lefkoe, “Why So Many Mergers Fail: The Main Reason Is a Clash of Corporate Cultures,” Fortune, July 20, 1987, p. 113.

M. Maccoby, Why Work? Leading the New Generation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988).

N. R. F. Maier, “Mater’s Law,” The American Psychologist, 15, 3 (1960): 234-242.

T. Peters and R. H. Waterman, In Search of Excellence (New York: Harper & Row, 1982).

E. S. Porter, Strength Deployment Inventory (Pacific Palisades: Personal Strengths Publishing, 1974).

E. S. Porter, Interaction Requirements Inventory (Pacific Palisades: Personal Strengths Publishing, 1978).

R. E. Quinn and M. R. McGrath, “The Transformation of Organizational Cultures: A Competing Values Perspective,” in Frost et al., eds., Organizational Culture (Beverley Hills: Sage Publications, 1985), pp. 315-334.

E. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985).

J. Thackray, “The Corporate Culture Rage,” Management Today, February 1986, p. 66.

J. Van Maanen and S. R. Barley, “Perspectives on Organizational Culture,” in Frost et al., eds., Organizational Culture (Beverley Hills: Sage Publications, 1985), pp. 31-54.

W. J. Vrakking, “Revamping Organizations Through Cultural Interventions,” Journal of Management Consulting, 2, 3 (1985): 10-16.

R. H. Waterman, The Renewal Factor: How the Best Get and Keep the Competitive Edge (New York: Bantam, 1987).

By T.L. Brink.
T.L. Brink is a visiting professor of psychology at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City, and is on the faculty of Crafton Hills College, Yucaipa, California.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Corporate culture, or, how things are done around here

Note every corporation is different

Corporate culture

  • Understanding the corporate culture of your parent operation can have a major influence on whether the library
    • Survives
    • Thrives
      • The library is seen as a contribution
    • Dies
  • Corporate culture is important in special libraries. Need a dedication to service.
What is corporate culture?
“A pattern of beliefs and expectations shared by the organization’s members and having endured for a relatively long period of time.”
H. Schwartz and S. M. Davis. “Matching Corporate Culture and Business Strategy.” Organizational Dynamics (Summer 1981): 30-48
“The organization-wide pattern of shared
* values, norms, and ways of managing * assumptions about the organization’s mission * perception of how best to adapt to the external environment Organizational culture is created and transmitted in many different ways. Among the most important are through core values, organizational socialization, rites and legends.”

Don Hellriegel and John W. Slocum Jr. Management. 5th ed. (Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley, 1989) 301.

Characteristics of corporate culture

  • Deeper, less visible level
    • Values about what is important in life which are shared by the group which persist over time, independent of changes in the group membership
    • Often group members are not even consciously aware of the values which are common to them all
  • More visible level
    • Behaviour patterns which new employees are automatically encouraged to follow
  • Holistic
    • The corporation is seen as a whole
  • Historically determined
    • Expectations change
  • Related to things anthropologists study
    • Retirement linked gifts
  • Socially constructed
    • Preserved by the organization
  • Soft
    • “It’s there, but fingerprints can’t be put on it”
What influence does corporate culture have on workers?
“When they [workers] choose a company, they often choose a way of life. The [corporate] culture shapes their responses in a strong, but substantial way. Culture can make them fast or slow workers, tough or friendly managers, team players or individuals. By the time they’ve worked for several years, they may be so well conditioned by the culture they may not even recognize it. But when they change jobs they may be in for a big surprise.”
Sociability and solidarity

Social interaction,  one for all, all for one
Networked: Very friendly organization, one feels part of it. Personal agendas can come in the way though, so where is the direction?
Communal: Small, start up companies. Committed on board vision; work and play as a team. Mission statements are displayed prominently.
Fragmented: Involve in professional work, lined with. Like to work alone. Good for telecommuters.
Mercenary: Very productive, everyone knows what they have to do; little scope. May last there for little time. Company comes first; not good for some.

Color coding metaphors

  • Cool green: Respect for autonomyProfessional oriented, acceptive of non-conformists, internally driven
  • Hot red: More directorialAssertive, single founder, “my way or the highway”, need more communal direction, often evaluated on achievements, pressure on support staff
  • True blue: Group decisionsPeople supportive, judge by how you get on with everyone, forget they have a job to do
  • Dull gray: BureaucracyOnly rewarded for following rules. Process procedures more important. “Because”
Corporate subcultures
  • Tough-guy macho culture (marketing)
    • Processing, Acquisitions
  • Work hard/play hard culture (sales and manufacturing)
    • Reference, Circulation
  • Bet your company culture (research and development)
    • Programming, systems
  • Process culture (accounting)
    • Cataloging
Manager’s influence
  • Managers set examples in their day-to-day activities and communication with staff
  • Never underestimate the powers of values, socialization, rights and legends
Where does the library fit in?
  • Take a good look at your parent organizationWhat is the corporation culture there?
    Not necessary in the library
    • What are the mission and goals?
    • Where does the power lie?
      • CEO
      • Another individual
    • How is success measured?
      • Why are they considered successful?
    • How do things get done?
      • Don’t leave on time if over time is encouraged
3Ps of fitting in
  • Presentation of self
    • Participation
    • Publicise involvement
    • Lighten up!
    • Smile
    • Respond
    • Dress professionally
  • Presentation of product
    • Looks professional
  • Procedural fit
    • Conduct the expected way

Monday, June 26, 2017

Top Ten Time Thieves

A combination of:
  • Television
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Internet
  • Daydreams
  • Disorganization
  • Unpreparedness
  • Phone calls
  • Lack of motivation
  • Interruptions
  • Family commitments
  • Eating
  • E-mailing
  • Commuting
  • Shopping
  • Organizing
In-basket exercise
For each of the items listed below, determine what action(s) you might take. You should decide if immediate action is required. Do you need to take any action yourself, or can you delegate.
Here are some suggested actions:

Note event in calendar Place in a pending or to do later file Create a file
Forward to appropriate person Send item to a colleague Throw it out
Insert in an existing file Just do it

Letter from a chair of a new committee you are a member of. A copy of the mandate and agenda for the first meeting is enclosed. Note event in calendar
Place in a pending or to do later file
Create a file
An invoice for office supplies you received last week. You are certain you have already seen an invoice for these items that you forwarded to the appropriate person. Forward to the appropriate person
Insert in an existing file
Just do it
Election ballot for MALT executive due in 2 weeks. Note event in calendar
Just do it
Latest issue of a newsletter you subscribe to. Insert in an existing file
Just do it
Flyer from an Office Supply firm you do not deal with Create a file
Throw it out
New product catalogue from an educational company you do purchase from Insert in an existing file

Monday, June 19, 2017

Time management and the woman library manager

Gothberg, Helen M. “Time Management and the Woman Library Manager.” Library Journal v. 112 (May 1, 1987) 37-40.
Time Management and the Woman Library Manager
Making the best of dual work environments—career and home

YOU’VE GOT your first big break in library management, but after a few months on the job are beginning to wonder if you really can cut it. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done that’s expected of you. Your husband’s complaining about your long work hours, and the children are getting into trouble at school and constantly fighting among themselves. Or, maybe you are in a position where you feel you could and would like to move into a management role but are wondering if you will be faced with some of these problems. 
The dual environment
Does this mean women should stay out of management? Definitely not! But new women managers or women seeking management positions need to recognize the value of ETM – efficient time management – in their dual environments of career and home. Even before a woman takes a paying job, whether she is single or married, has a family or not, she is in most cases a home manager. While everyone, male or female, who moves into management for the first time will find ETM an important job skill, the woman manager soon learns that if she is not going to join the ranks of the harried, overworked executive, she will need ETM not only at work, but also at home. 
The Women’s Movement has brought about increased opportunities for women to move into positions of greater responsibility with better pay. Men are more open to sharing the workload at home, thus enabling women to take advantage of these opportunities. Yet, the primary responsibility for household management continues, for the most part, to belong to women. For today’s woman manager, the slogan “work smarter not harder” is not just a maxim but a survival necessity. 
Time, or its lack, according to some writers, is one of management’s most pressing problems. An American Management Association study indicated that most presidents and vice-presidents of U.S. companies work 62 hours a week or more. That’s an alarmingly high number of “workaholics.” If time is indeed the “stuff life is made of,” as Benjamin Franklin suggested, then it appears that managers are paying a very high price for their careers. Perhaps it is not time that needs to be managed—but ourselves. 
Experts on time management recommend that in order to develop ETM, you need to gain an accurate picture of how you are currently spending your time. Block out a grid with either 15-minute or half-hour intervals and write down what you have accomplished within each time frame. Chart your activities for a week, rating each one as A, B, or C in terms of priorities. 
If your work varies considerably, you will find it useful to pick three or four weeks out of the year to keep a time chart. If you don’t have time to keep such a record, have your secretary or other person keep it at work. You are probably on your own for keeping track of those hours away from work, but you could be lucky and talk a family member or find into keeping it for you. Once you have an accurate record of how you spend your time, you can identify where you are wasting it and then begin to make changes to improve your ETM. 
Phone call management
Many time wasters can be turned into time savers or can be effectively dealt with to one extent or another; take telephone calls for example. Few people could survive the busy and demanding life of a manager without a phone, but it is always at the top of the list in studies intended to identify the worst time wasters. The telephone can be a time saver if it takes the place of a meeting or helps to improve communication. 
Train your secretary or other staff members to screen calls. Be sure to leave a list of exceptions such as the mayor, president of the library board or city manager, and the child care center director. Not everyone will like it when they can’t get through to you, and you will need to weigh how serious this problem is against the need for ETM. If too many phone calls are a serious problem, take and return calls only at specific times of the day. When calling an individual who is loquacious, phone just before lunch or closing time. 
The meeting game
Meetings can either be time wasting or productive. Examine the need for frequent meetings to determine their necessity, and be sure to go in with a written and well-planned agenda. Keep the group on track by not permitting individuals to wander off onto topics not on the agenda. 
When the meeting is over, make two lists. One should note everything that you did right, and the second, what you could have done better. File the two lists and review them before your next assembly. Holding a meeting to determine how meetings could be shortened, made more productive, or just plain abolished might be a good idea. Remember, you will never be more effective in bringing about change than in your first six months to a year on the job. 
Nine steps to ETM
Most experts on time management agree on the basic steps necessary to achieve greater efficiency: 
1. LIST your goals. Note both long- and short-term goals. Include family as well as career goals, such as taking a vacation or sending a child to computer camp or to college.

2. NEXT, rank your goals as A—most important, B—second in importance, and C—least important. Reexamine your B goals and turn them either into A or C goals. Once you have established your A goals, discard the others.

3. SET priorities in terms of what you need to do to reach your A goals. We all know what those priorities are, but sometimes we get bogged down in doing tasks that lead nowhere.

4. MAKE a daily “To Do” list. If applicable, the woman manager will want to keep in mind her dual roles as library and home manager. It may even be useful to maintain two lists, one under each heading. Make each list at the same time of day.

5. PRIORITIZE your list. Not everything on the list is an A. File the Cs and start with the As remembering that the As are those tasks which are going to help you reach the priorities that you have set in terms of both long- and short-term goals.

6. CONTINUALLY ask yourself, “What is the best use of my time right now?” If you know that you are going to have a 15- or 20-minute wait at the dentist’s office, take along that professional journal article that you haven’t had the time to read, or put together the agenda for the next staff meeting. It may also be a time to sit and be quiet for a few minutes if that’s the best thing for you to be doing at the moment.

7. HANDLE each piece of paper only once. This recommendation is probably one of the most difficult for library managers. Librarians are awash in paper. In spite of computers and automation, paper remains much of what our work is about.

8. DELEGATE an appropriate amount of the workload. As a manager it is up to you to set parameters and guide others in the operation of the library.

9. DO it now! If you have earned a position as a library manager, you are probably not given to procrastination to any serious degree. However, there are always those jobs that few managers enjoy doing, such as preparation of the budget, writing the annual report, or doing staff performance evaluations. One way to make the job easier is to use the Swiss cheese approach—take one small bite of a large project at a time until it is completed. 
How accessible should you be?
Many managers like to maintain an open-door policy for both library staff and the public. It’s certain to be good for staff morale and public relations, but every person in a position of responsibility needs blocks of time to work and to think. Here again, a well-trained secretary can be a great help in screening people. 
Consider limiting the open-door policy to certain hours and days of the week, which can be flexible. One successful departmental head, without a secretary, had three signals using the door to her office to indicate her availability. A closed door meant that she was not to be disturbed unless it was an emergency; partly open indicated that she was working but could be disturbed for something important; and wide-open was an invitation to visitors. Her reference staff was quick to check the door before showing patrons to her office, and regulars soon learned to interpret the signals for themselves. 
Another factor that affects time is visitors. Understanding nonverbal communication can be useful: stand when a drop-in visitor comes to your office and do not ask the person to sit down. This action will keep the meeting short. Office arrangements affects the number of people who drop by. If your desk faces the door, you invite more people to walk in than if your back or profile is toward the door. This action will keep the meeting short. Office arrangements affects the number of people who drop by. If your desk faces the door, you invite more people to walk in than if your back or profile is toward the door. 
Preparing your staff
Every new manager should take time to discover whether a mission statement, along with recent goals and objectives, has been written for the library and major departments. Mission, goals, and objectives statements form the basis for development of policies and procedures—all of which should be in writing. If such statements do not exist or have not been revised within the last three to five years, they should be developed, with staff input, as soon as possible. 
Although much time is involved in such planning activities, they help ease the burden of confused responsibility and lines of authority, and help clarify communications. Every staff member should be familiar with the statements and be able to interpret them to the public with a conviction born out of understanding, because he or she has had a hand in shaping them. 
Emergences are difficult to anticipate. One time saver is to keep a list of emergency numbers at the reference and/or public service desks. A once-a-year briefing on disaster plans is a good idea, as is CPR training and a briefing from the local psychologist on how to cope with difficult or emotionally disturbed patrons. Other less catastrophic events also arise, and achievement-oriented people plan well ahead so they are not constantly putting out fires and missing deadlines. Setting up artificial deadlines that are earlier than the real ones and keeping clocks ahead of time are two ways to maintain EMT—even when a crisis does arise. 
People & their problems
The people you manage may come to you with personal problems. A wise woman manager will listen carefully and make notes for the individual’s personnel file, but will be cautious about falling needlessly into the “nurturing mother” role. Listen with understanding and empathy to staff’s problems is important to their morale, but it should never become an excuse for poor job performance—not for more than a short period of time. Nor should a manager attempt to counsel staff members about their personal lives. If problems persist and job performance is a serious problem, insist that the individual seek professional help. 
The chronic complainer is another story. One way to deal with this individual is to immediately turn the conversation to his or her work. Ask how a certain project is moving along or what does the person think about a given problem in the library. This communication tells the person you are interested in their work and their ideas, but you are not willing to spend time in a personal gripe session. 
Time wasters
There are many ways of wasting time, and you will be able to come up with a few of your own. Some of the most frequently noted time wasters from the literature on time management are listed below. They are divided between “external” or those time wasters that are essentially environmental, and “internal” or those which are closely related to our personalities and habits.
External time wasters Internal time wasters 
1. Telephone calls 1. Unclear communication with others
2. Meetings (both planned and unplanned) 2. Indecision and procrastination
3. Drop-in visitors 3. Attempting to do too much at once and estimating time unrealistically
4. A lack of objectives, policies, and procedures 4. Inability to say no
5. Handling emergencies 5. Personal disorganization, such as cluttered desk and/or inadequate filing system
6. Dealing with the personal problems of employees and patrons at work 6. Lack of self-discipline
7. Confused responsibility and lines of authority 7. Failure to delegate appropriately
Organized at work
If you are seriously interested in EMT, the internal time wasters are a good place to start because they are the ones over which you have the most control. Stephanie Winston, an expert on managing time and paperwork, believes that disorganization is a universal problem, and that the root of it is psychological. When the disorganization becomes chronic, the cause may go back to a parent who was too controlling. Old childhood habits of resistance can continue into the adult years without our even being aware of it. 
Clutter is one of the handmaidens of disorganization. Begin with keeping your desk well organized but also check out your handbag and briefcase. Do you really need all that stuff to carry around? 
Be certain that you are not doing excessive office record keeping. This practice is a symptom of insecurity. Comprehensive files are useful, but are they worth the time and money to keep up? What is the worst thing that could happen if you got rid of some files or part of their contents? Is there another source where you could locate the same information? One rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used it in a year, it probably should be filed in the wastebasket. Office filing items should be a librarian’s forte, but, all the same, remember not to overspecify the subjects on file folders. Regard a file that lacks bulk with suspicion: perhaps it could be combined with others. 
Paperwork can be one of a manager’s biggest headaches. Some EMT tips in this area include using speedletter forms with carbons already inserted with space for a reply. If possible, use a dictating machine or a microprocessor. A well-trained secretary can answer many letters with only a few notations on the original for guidance. Letter forms are also useful and can be personalized by changing a word here and there. 
Deal with correspondence and other paperwork during one period of the day, keeping in mind the maxim to handle paper only once. It is becoming an acceptable practice to answer some kinds of letters on the bottom of the original. Robert Townsend suggests that in order to speed up this process, correspondence should be answered on the top of the copy machine. Keep responses short and to the point; don’t perpetuate polysyllabic obfuscation. 
Organized at home
Getting organized at home is often as important for the woman library manager as it is at work. Stock your car with the essentials you need to keep it operating—a compressor for flat tires, extra belts, water in a hot climate, and traction grids in a cold one. Keep extra gloves, an umbrella, change, stamps, a city map, and other useful objects in the car. Organize shopping trips and errands so that you only need to make one trip instead of several. Better yet, consider whether you can afford to hire a service such as “Rent a Wife/Husband” to do it for you. 
Take care of yourself. Don’t try to do too many things simultaneously. Finish one large project before starting another. Bear in mind that there is difference between excellence and perfection. The first is striving for that which is attainable and gratifying; the second, not attainable and neurotic. It is not necessary to be perfect all the time and at everything you do. 
Nor does ETM mean scheduling every minute of the day and then killing yourself to accomplish unrealistic goals and objectives. ETM does mean working smarter, not harder, and building flexibility into your schedule. For example, don’t apologize for leaving a meeting that has gone on too long. Jean Fitzpatrick advises that the working woman flaunt her efficiency and make it known what she’s accomplished during a day—talking up her time-management efficiency. 
It may be a dichotomy, but managers need time out for relaxation and exercise to be more efficient. If you are too busy to exercise or spend time enjoying the company of friends and/or family, you are too busy for your own good. Pay attention to your eating habits as well. Large meals and alcohol are not a good idea for lunch; they make most people sluggish in the afternoon. 
You might find it helpful to postpone lunch until 1 p.m. so you can use the noon hour for work when you are less apt to be interrupted. Restaurant rush hour is over by that time, and you will get quicker service. Ross Webber, well-known management expert, reported that medical research supports skipping the working lunch in favor of eating alone because talking while eating is stressful. 
You can’t do everything
Delegating work is crucial to EMT—recognize that it is not a matter of dumping unpleasant work on subordinates. Giving more responsibility is one of the keys to better management and improved job performance as long as people have the skills or are given the training to carry out the work to both their and your satisfaction. 
One example of a failure to delegate is the library director being a member of every library committee. If a committee cannot function without her, then the manager should be the chair; otherwise, meet with committee heads in one meeting instead of many. Brief written reports of committee activities are appropriate to supplement such meetings. In making judgments about whether to delegate or not, consider these three guidelines: 
  1. Maintain control over those activities or projects where as a library manager you have considerable more expertise and information than your staff.
  2. Maintain control over those activities where change in current practice is involved.
  3. Delegate those activities or projects that are routine and maintain stability and work flow. 
Give thought and consideration to how in-service training or other educational opportunities could be used to broaden the responsibilities of professional and other library staff. A common example is training library assistants to answer ready-reference questions, especially in a library where a telephone reference service has been established. This leaves the professional reference librarian free to answer more difficult questions and assume greater management responsibility. 
A word of caution is in order here. When you take away lesser job opportunities and give them to a person in a lower-ranked position, let the person whose duties you are going to change know that you feel he or she is good on the job and capable of doing more sophisticated work. 
Don’t permit others to make too many demands on your time, including staff who want to delegate their problems upward. Expect achievement, keep organizational structure as uncomplicated as possible, and encourage staff competence with the zest of a football coach. Learn to say no. Although our society is changing, many women are products of earlier environments where they were expected to always provide support and nurturing. Don’t be afraid to say no to a superior if the demand is unrealistic or the deadline impossible. 
Webber reported on one study which indicated that managers who ignored demands that interfered with their own job performance were given higher rating by their supervisors than those who conformed. If you are new to the community or state, or are a new library director, every library professional organization and local community service organization is going to want a piece of your time. Give yourself a few months on the job before accepting outside obligations. Suggest that one of your staff would be suitable, thereby giving others an opportunity to grow and yourself time to learn the job. You will also gain time to find out which organizations will be helpful in achieving your priorities. 
Effective time management takes self-discipline and effort. In some initial cases you must spend time to gain it later on. Keep in mind the words of an anonymous philosopher: 
Yesterday is a cancelled check.
Tomorrow is a promissory note.
Today is ready cash. Use it!
Askenas, Ronald N. & Robert M. Schafer, “Time: Managers Can Avoid Wasting It,” Working Woman, January 1984, p. 38-43.

Bliss, Edwin C. Getting Things Done: the ABC’s of Time Management. Scribner, 1976.

Braid, Robert W., “Learning To Say No,” Supervisory Management, July 1983, p. 9-14.

Davenport, Rita. Making Time, Making Money: a Step-by-Step Program for Setting Your Goals and Achieving Your Success. St. Martin’s, 1982.

Fitzpatrick, Jean Grasso, “Time: Stop Working Late,” Working Woman, October 1983, p. 7, 72.

Heyel, Carl. Getting Results with Time Management, 2d ed. rev. by David V. Lewis. Chicago: Education for Management, 1987.

Lakein, Alan. How To Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 1973.

Mackenzie, R. Alec. The Time Trap. AMACOM: American Management Assn.m 1972.

LeBoeuf, Michael, “Managing Time Means Managing Yourself,” Business Horizons, February 1980, p. 41-46.

Roe, Jessica, “The Top 20 Time-Wasters,” Working Woman, October 1982, p. 74.

Steffen, R. James. “How To Stop Wasting Time,” Supervisory Management, May 1982, p. 22-25.

Townsend, Robert. Up the Organization. Knopf, 1970. rev. 1984 under the title Further Up the Organization.

Webber, Ross A. “Finding More Time,” Working Woman, October 1982, p. 113-116.

Winston, Stephanie. “How To Get Organized at Work and Home,” U.S. News & World Report, May 7, 1979, p. 76-81.

Helen M. Gothberg is Associate Professor, Graduate Library School, University of Arizona, Tucson

Monday, June 12, 2017

Do it now

Gleeson, Kerry. “Do It Now.” Executive Female, Jan/Feb 95, Vol. 18, Issue 1, p. 50-55.

Now! No doubt you hear the word all the time. If not from your boss, your spouse or your child, you hear it from advertisers and salespeople. Some days it seems everyone and everything is demanding something now, this moment, immediately.

Time-management gurus often tell us we should ignore all the things that clamor for our urgent attention, including the telephone. They tell us we shouldn’t react to circumstances and people around us; instead, we should organize, set priorities and gain control of our lives by putting off some tasks and focusing our attention on those activities that are “most important” or “first things” or “top priorities”.

I take a contrarian view. While planning, setting goals and priorities have a place, too often, when we set priorities, we do not seem to get around to everything on our lists. “Less important” activities get shoved into the closet by “more important” activities. Eventually, the “less important” things rot there. Not surprisingly, when they start to stink, they become very high priorities. And guess who has to clean up the mess? You do, of course—now!

The method you’re going to learn here is the Do It Now approach. And at the risk of boring you, I’m going to repeat those three little words again and again, in the hope they’ll sink in.

By choosing to Do It Now, you make now your ally, not your enemy. Doing it now enables you to be better organized; to exercise greater control over the when, where and how to what you’re doing; and to feel better about yourself and your performance.

Does the following scenario sound familiar?
You arrive at the office, sit down, look at the papers spread out on your desk, and pick one of them up. It’s from Mary. “Oh, I have to call Mary,” you say. Dutifully, you start a To Do pile somewhere on your desk, and that paper goes into the pile. You pick up another piece of paper, this one a letter of complaint. You think, “I have to answer this letter.” It goes on the To Do pile. The third piece of paper outlines a problem to be handled. “I have to talk to the boss about this,” you mumble, and onto the To Do pile it goes. You pick up the fourth piece of paper and say, “This isn’t important. I can do it later.” You create a Do Later stack next to your growing To Do pile, and so on. You end up shuffling through your various stacks of paper, and by the time you actually get back to your To Do pile and read through each piece again, you’ve wasted time reading everything twice. In effect, you’ve done the work twice, doubling your time commitment but accomplishing little.

In fact, many of us look at our papers three, four or five times before we ever act on them. It takes a lot longer to do something four or five times than it does to do it once.

The first rule for improving personal efficiency is:
Act on an item the first time you touch it or read it.

I’m not talking about those things that you can’t do now or even those things you shouldn’t do now. Clearly, priorities do play an important part in productive work and in achieving results. Common sense is a necessity; it should be a given that the way to increase your personal efficiency is not to Do Something Stupid.

I’m talking about all the things that you could and should do, but you don’t—routine paperwork of the sort you encounter every day. Call Mary. Answer the customer’s letter of complaint. Act on that voice mail as you listen. Take care of these things the first time you touch them, and you’ll be amazed at how little time they actually take and how good you feel when you have finished them.

Start with your desk or work space
When people ask me for my help, the first thing I do is put them through a personal desk cleaning. I actually go to the person’s desk and sort through all her papers with her. I’ll pick up a piece of paper and ask her what it is. She says, “Uh, well, that’s something I was supposed to respond to.”

Then she starts to put it somewhere, but I stop her. “Hold it a second. Why are you putting it over there?”

She gives me an incredulous look and says, “Well, I have to do it, so I put it over there.”

“Well, let’s Do It Now.”

“You want me to Do It Now? It could take quite a bit of time…”

“I don’t mind. I’ll sit here while you do it.”

And she does it. Usually I clock it. And I say, “How long did that take?”

“One minute,” she says, or “three minutes,” or whatever it took.

“Look at that,” I tell her. “See?”

“Yeah,” she says, “it didn’t take much time at all.”

And I say, “I was hoping you’d notice that.”

When this task is done the first time, it makes people uncomfortable. They do it, but they usually haven’t grasped the concept yet, even though we talk about it and ask them to commit themselves to it. What they don’t understand is that Do It Now is meant to be permanent and ongoing.

This is evident when I go back for a follow-up visit. Usually they’ve cleaned up their office or work space in anticipation of my coming, with everything stacked neatly into piles. They’re very proud. But clearly they don’t get the concept. Only by working with this concept consistently over time—as do I—do you begin to see more and more evidence for acting the first time. All the reasons people make up for why they can’t or shouldn’t act now really don’t hold water.

A first visit with one client included a thorough desk cleaning. We worked through every item on her desk, one at a time, until everything had been done that could be done. We talked about acting on things the first time—about doing it now—and she was so impressed that she committed herself to the whole concept of Do It Now as her new work philosophy.

When I went back for a follow-up visit, I hardly made it through the door before she started telling me that Do It Now was the greatest thing that had ever happened to her. She was very enthusiastic about the program and about the change it had made in her life.

Then I picked up the papers from her pending basket. The first piece of paper in it was a phone message. I said, “Why don’t we call her now?”

She frowned just a little. “Now?” she said.

And I said, “Yes.”

And so she picked up the phone and returned the call. By the end of our meeting, we’d gone through every single piece of paper in her pending basket.

Obviously my one visit hadn’t changed her definition of the word pending.

Let me emphasize: Do It Now means do it now, regularly and consistently, day after day. Not doing it now is what got you into trouble in the first place. Your pending basket is for things you can’t do now, for things that are out of your control. For example, you call Mary back on Monday because that’s when she’s back from vacation, not because Monday seems like a good day to do it. That’s pending.

Grasp the concept of Do It Now—and function accordingly each and every day—and these simple words will literally change the way you approach both your work and your life.

Six ways to stop procrastinating—now
Most people are very clever about putting things off. “I don’t have time” is just the beginning. Others include: “I think he said he was not going to be there today, so I didn’t bother to call.” “This could take forever, so I had better wait until I have a free day to start.” “It’s not so important.” The list is endless.

My approach is this: Be as clever about completing things as you’ve been putting them off. Ask yourself: Where else could I get this information? Who could this task be delegated to? How can I get this job done? How can I get that letter, that folder or that report out of my basket and off my desk so that I never have to look at it again? That’s where you should focus your brainpower—not on clever excuses.

This may sound simple, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Too often the reason you’re not getting things done is that… you’re just not doing them. You can learn how to overcome procrastination and to increase your personal productivity, though. How? The following strategies can benefit you immediately and immensely.

1. Do it once
Sorting through all the papers on your desk and creating To Do and Do Later piles for yourself is a common practice. One woman I know regularly create piles. The first time through she calls it “reading for familiarity.” The second read-through is her “action” read, unless she sets it aside “to do later.” This woman is a cum laude graduate of a prestigious university, handling a responsible position in business!

Needlessly rereading everything on your desk achieves nothing. Answer the letter the first time you read it through—Do It Now—and you save time, move toward customer satisfaction and accomplish a task that otherwise prevents you from doing more important things.

2. Clear your mind
A client once described to me what it was like for him to drive home from work at the end of the day. He would drive past a gas station and think: “I must get a spare tire for my car. I had a flat some time ago and have not gotten around to getting the spare.” On he would drive, past a pharmacy, and think: “Vitamin C. We need vitamin C. Winter is coming, and we need it for the expected sniffles.” He wold drive past a supermarket and think: “My wife wanted me to pick up bread. Ah, I don’t feel like it.” By the time he got home, he would be breathing hard. He needed a drink to calm down. He had done nothing, but he felt as if he had worked hard. He was exhausted from procrastination.

If you are a procrastinator, the sheer volume of incomplete activities in your work and your life distracts you from concentrating on and completing what’s in front of you. This is where priorities fit into the picture.

Have you ever made a list of ten things to do, only to have the bottom five never change? We tend to neglect lower-priority items. Yet we still consider these things to be important.

My view is that things either should or should not be done. If deadlines are involved, certainly they must be considered, but if something else is important enough to do, do it. Otherwise, don’t.

3. Solve problems while they’re small
Sometimes I point out a questionable stack of papers on the corner of someone’s desk. Rather sheepishly, they admit, “It’s my problem pile. I figure if those papers sit there long enough, they’ll go away.” And sometimes they do.

Murphy’s Law says: If anything can go wrong, it will. Here’s a corollary to Murphy’s Law: If there are ten possibilities of things that can go wrong, you can be sure that the one thing that does go wrong will cause the most damage. Maybe most of those items in your problem pile will go away if you let them sit long enough. But you can be sure the one problem you don’t want to happen will be the one that happens.

Get into the habit of acting on these things now, and you’ll catch problems when they’re still small, before they become big, time-consuming crises. You’ll have more time to concentrate on the important things.

4. Clean up backlogs
Backlogs create their own additional work, so eliminating them cuts down your work load more than you can imagine. There are five essential steps for handling backlogs.
a. Identify the backlogs.
b. Set priorities for which backlogs to clean up first.
c. Schedule time each day to take a piece of the backlog and clean it up.
d. Identify the cause of the backlog.
e. Remedy the cause to prevent any further buildup of backlogs.

5. Stop worrying about it

Almost everyone tends to put off unpleasant tasks. Facing up to them and completing them isn’t easy, but the consequences of not doing them can be much worse.

To compound the problem, most people who procrastinate not only don’t do the task, they also tend to dwell on the unfinished or undone task and worry about not having done it. This worry consumes far more time than people may realize.

Think of some of the problems you’ve had to face in the past. Did dwelling on them get you anywhere? No. It was only when you finally initiated some action that the problem began to be resolved.

Most of us tend to exaggerate how long an unpleasant task will take or how unpleasant it really is. We dread it, so we put it off. The trick is to choose the task you enjoy least and do it first. This lets you win in two ways: Your second task of the day will seem easier, and completing the worst task tends to give your self-confidence a boost.

6. Now feel better about yourself
Procrastination and its attendant cover-ups create a buildup of negative emotions not always evident on the surface. By committing yourself to Do It Now, completing the hard jobs first, and handling the big jobs bite-by-bite, you’ll eliminate a tremendous load of stress and anxiety and gain self-confidence and self-respect.

Finally, cultivate decisiveness
Successful people in general take little time to make a decision, but they take a long time to change a decision once it has been made.

If decisiveness is a weak spot with you, there’s an easy way to handle the quandary. Simply imagine the worst possible consequences of any decision you can make, and ask yourself if you can live with those consequences. If the answer is yes, go for it.

I’ve seen decisive people make the wrong decisions. Nevertheless they usually make their objective happen anyway. The act of deciding may, in fact, be more important than the correctness of the actual decision and have more influence on the consequences.

Procrastination itself is only a bad habit. Do It Now substitutes an action-oriented behavior for the “do it later” behavior. You act before the mental barriers are activated, so you don’t have time to think, “It’s too hard; maybe it will go away; I’m not in the mood; I don’t feel like it.”

A common word heard when discussing the subject of changing behavior is discipline. “If I had more discipline, I would be able to exercise, stop smoking, diet.” While discipline plays a part, I believe it is a red herring. If you exert discipline enough to establish a routine, you make a new habit. The habit helps you maintain it. Discipline yourself to act now, and it will very soon become a habit. Then the habit will lessen the need for discipline. William James, whose studies of human behavior are well known, suggested that if you do something every day for 30 days, it will become a habit. Try it with Do It Now.

To be honest, this is more than dealing with procrastination. It is a philosophy toward work and life. It is the view: “I am proactive; I am action-oriented; I am bigger than the problems I face.” These characteristics begin (and end) with how you face up to and habitually act on the small details of work and life.

So what is the first thing you should Do Now? Go ahead—write it down. Focus on first things. Get yourself organized. Do It Now, and do it better!
By Kerry Gleeson
Kerry Gleeson is the founder of the Institute for Business Technology, a consulting firm specializing in white-collar efficiency and production improvement in Boca Raton, Florida.