The Power of You: Managing the Chaos of Work

Posted by Katelind Hays on Jan 19, 2016 7:05:59 PM
Katelind Hays

The_Power_of_You_-_Managing_the_Chaos_of_Work_recap_blog_postBYTE Session Recap

On January 5, our friend and industry leader Lou Russell shared, The Power of You: Handling the Chaos of Work, with our BYTE session audience.

The new year is a time for resolutions and self-improvement. Lou believes, “If we want to change the way we are going forward, whether it’s our stress levels or the things we can get done, then it’s our choice to do that.”

But what does that mean? How do we facilitate change? This blog post will reiterate many of the suggestions Lou discussed in her BYTE session.

Clear Your Head Trash

According to Lou, the first step to managing the chaos of work involves reinventing our To Do Lists. Why is this important? Because “we put everything on our To Do List, and it doesn’t all belong there.”

Lou defined three separate categories of work: Tasks, Projects, and Processes.

  • Tasks: “Smallest units of work; easy to define.”
  • Projects: “A series of tasks with a clear beginning and end.”
  • Process: “A series of repeating tasks with no discernible end.”

According to Lou, the only things that should be on your To Do List are Tasks, because they are easy to complete.

We tend to include Projects on our To Do Lists, to our own detriment. Lou pointed out that, “If we put Projects on our To Do List, we’ll never check them off. They’ll be there for months and months and it’ll be a very frustrating reminder every day of how much we haven’t gotten done.”

Processes also don’t belong on your To Do List because, “We have to have a repeatable approach for organizing and owning it. It isn’t an individual Task that you only have to do one time.”

So how do we differentiate between these categories and only include on our lists what we need to get done today? Lou recommended that you try this exercise:

  • Write down five things from your To Do List.
  • Keep in mind that, as you move forward, each list item can only have one letter next to it.
  • Ask yourself, “What can’t I get done in less than half a day?” If a list item takes more than half a day to complete, write “P” next to it.
  • Next, ask, “Do I need someone else to help me with this?” If you do need outside assistance for that item, write a “P” next to it.
  • Finally, ask, “Am I clear on what the end goal is?” If the goal is not clear, write a “P” next to this item.
  • Anything on the list that does not have a “P” next to it qualifies as a Task and goes on the To Do List.
  • Review the items with a “P.”
    • If it is a set of repeatable Tasks, it's a Process.
    • If it is a series of Tasks with a solid end point, it's a Project. Create a Project folder for it and use Project Management techniques to tackle it.

Projects as Flash Mobs

Clearing your head trash distinguishes between Tasks, Projects, and Processes. With your Tasks appropriately placed on your To Do List, you can move on to managing your Projects.

Lou spoke the truth saying, “Most people are working on more than one Project at a time. The stakeholders who we need information from are juggling multiple things, as well. We’re multitasking and competing for attention. It creates chaos.” Because of this, the way we complete projects now is completely different from the dedicated project teams we used to have.

Lou encourages us, instead, to “think about a Flash Mob. People get a message from an organizer asking them to meet up at a location at a designated time. Everyone comes together for a specific amount of time, and then they disperse when it’s over. It’s very organic – and this is how we’re doing Projects now.”

This frame of reference helps you better understand how to manage Projects. Lou explained there are two types of Flash Mob-esque Projects: Puzzles and Mysteries.

  • Puzzles are “Projects for which you have all the pieces. It’s a Project you’ve done before. Bringing other people together helps the Project go faster.” An example would be creating a handout based on a template you already have on hand.
  • Mysteries are “Projects you’ve never done before. They’re usually innovative and cool. Other team members may have approach suggestions, but their recommendations may be incorrect, as the Project’s new to them, too.” An example would be designing a new course.

Lou stated, “There’s a difference in Project Management and the initiatives you’re going to generate from the strategic whittling down that we just talked about. If you’re doing a Puzzle/traditional Project Management, do it. Check the tasks off the list. If you’re doing a Mystery, you have to do something different, like AGILE or SAM; something with piloting and prototyping, because no one’s done this before.”

For tools that work specifically with Flash Mob Projects, check out Lou’s book, Project Management for Trainers, and the free resources she has available here.

Multitasking in the Brain

Sometimes, our brain gets overwhelmed by all of the multitasking we have to accomplish on a daily basis. Lou shared three really simple ways to calm yourself down:

  • First approach:
    • Take three deep breaths in a comfortable sitting position.
    • Notice five things around you. What do you see?
    • Notice five sounds. What do you hear?
    • Notice your heart. How do you feel?
  • Second approach:
    • Take three deep breaths in a comfortable sitting position.
    • With each additional breath, tell yourself, "I am here. It is now."
    • Do this five times.
  • Third approach:
    • Think of something that causes you frustration. Notice what happens to your body. Notice your posture, breathing, and tightness.
    • Look at a picture of something completely unrelated. Study the details of it.
    • Return to your stressful thoughts.
    • Return to the picture and notice even more detail about it.
    • Repeat until calm.

Additional Resources and Recommendations

Lou’s session was chock full of fantastic recommendations and resources, including:

  • To better understand the lifecycle of a project, check out Robert Lewis’ book, Bare Bones Project Management. This book served as the foundation for Gartner’s “Lifecycle of a Project” which clarifies the attitudes and emotions of those involved in an IT Project.
  • Don’t discount how your reptilian brain works. Learn about the “4 Hour Hangover,” as explained by Dr. Izzy Justice. He’s the author of Triathlete EQ: A Guide for Emotional Endurance and explains how our brain reacts after a stressful event and how it impacts our productivity.
  • Access a plethora of free Project Management resources on Lou’s website,

To hear all of the wisdom imparted by Lou in her BYTE session, click here to watch the full recording.

Topics: BYTE