Management Myth 29: I Can Concentrate on the Run

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Maybe you lean back in a chair and put your feet up. Maybe you lean forward and make notes. Maybe you doodle.

Here’s what I do know about concentrating: You are not concentrating if you’re looking at your cell phone—unless, of course, you have the data about the problem on your phone.

You need to focus on the problem at hand. I suspect that some management teams adopted the standup so they would stop looking at their cell phones. That might have worked to solve that problem, but it doesn’t work for a serious, in-depth discussion. Is there another way?

Create an Agenda with Timeboxes
You can create a meeting that is limited to one hour or less. On the agenda, create segments that are timeboxes, each not longer than ten minutes. If you are discussing a thorny issue, you might have something like this:

  • Problem explanation (5 minutes); Share the data in a way that everyone can see it
  • Problem brainstorming (7 minutes)
  • Solution selection (12 minutes)
  • Action item discussion and next steps (5 minutes)

This is a template and might not fit for you. However, you can try something similar, varying the timing to suit your specific circumstance. The nice thing about timeboxing everything is that people can maintain their focus for the almost thirty minutes this takes. When they realize they are not spending their entire day in a meeting, they are more likely to focus on the problem you want them to solve.

Sitting Is Not Always the Answer
I agree that sitting in seats is not always the answer. People need to move. Some managers I know are so sleep deprived that if they sat for more than ten minutes, they would fall asleep. That’s a symptom of yet another problem!

Working together and using your entire body to solve problems is useful. You can do this and still concentrate. Some people like to work at the whiteboard together. That’s a form of management problem solving. Some people like to brainstorm while writing, instead of speaking. Since many technical managers are not from the extroverted side of the house, this might work for you. If you have many candidate solutions, form several teams and have the teams evaluate the solutions in parallel, timeboxing their evaluation. Ask them to return at the same time, to discuss next steps.

Managers solve problems, just as technical teams do. Their problems are different, but the process is similar. Since managers are so accustomed to running from one meeting to another, they might not realize when they need to move into problem-solving mode.

Solve one problem at a time, by concentrating on it, and making sure you have actually solved it. Then you can move on to the next one.

If you have a problem, think through solutions, make a decision, and then continue with the rest of your day. You can’t solve problems if you are running around, never thinking.

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About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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