Brilliant Books for CI Managers – Book 1

If you are a CI Manager or a Lean Leader, I’d guess you might have a few books on your desk.

Of course, there are the lean classics – Lean Thinking, The Toyota Way, The Goal – but I think there are also a number of other, less obvious, brilliant books which can be hugely valuable to you.

I do think that as Improvement Practitioners it is really important to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’. You know, we are always asking people to assess the way they do things and to constantly improve – and so should we.

(That’s my excuse for buying so many books anyway, and I am sticking to it 😊).

The first book that I am always recommending to people is How to be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott. This book is crammed full of methods, strategies and tips that have helped me organise myself and taught me how to work smarter.

I’ve read lots about time management, about personal productivity, and about effectiveness. I’ve got numerous books on the subject, and thought I was pretty organised and efficient…

Until I read this book.  

This one really made a difference to me. It helps that it is easy to read, a bit quirky, and surprising at times.

There are loads of very useful techniques in the book, but I thought I’d share my top 3 here, in the hope they will be useful for you and perhaps inspire you to read the rest of the book.

The Master Action List

The Master Action List contains every single action you could currently do, for each and every project you are currently involved with.

This isn’t your daily to-do list (that is separate), nor is it a list of everything that needs to be done in the future to the end of each project (as things change) – this is a list of everything you could do right now.

The book tells you to make sure that each item has a verb, an object and a subject, to ensure there is enough detail – i.e. don’t just write ‘Geoff’ or even ‘Call Geoff’ – instead write ‘Call Geoff about ideas for new conference venues’ (note this model of ‘verb + object + subject’ is also a very useful tool when writing action lists for projects and meetings – too often actions are vague and unspecific).

Each week, usually on a Friday, I make a fresh list where I get everything out of my head, down on paper. Then each day I highlight or asterisk the most important things that need to be done today, transfer them to my daily to-do list, and get on with them.

If something pops up in the week, and I can’t or don’t want to do it straight away, I add it to my Master List and carry on.

I find having a Master Action List really helps me with avoiding overwhelm, as I know exactly all of the things I could be doing and I’m able to rationally decide exactly where I need to focus. I’m not worried about forgetting something and I’m less likely to jump around from task to task.

Rethink your email inbox

It’s very easy to quickly be overwhelmed with emails. They can pile up and up and quickly become a drain on attention. In this book they suggest an email system that, if followed, gets your email inbox to zero several times a day.

No, I didn’t believe it at first either.

But it works.

Yes, it takes a couple of hours to sort it out at first, but keeping it there is pretty easy.

The underlying concept is that you don’t ‘check’ your email, instead you ‘process’ them.

So, first you set-up three processing folders:

  • @ACTION – any emails where you know a reply or other action is needed (by you)
  • @READ – any emails you actually need to read later, but which do not require other action
  • @WAITING – any emails where you are waiting for someone else to do something

(The @ sign means that these folders appear at the top of your folder list so they are easy to find).

Any other emails, that you can’t just delete (and let’s face it there are probably a lot of those), go into ‘Reference’ folders (as few as possible – the idea is to keep this simple).

Once this is set up, the book describes a few different ways you can manage your email on a day to day basis. The suggestion is that you don’t just look at emails as they come in throughout the day (majorly distracting) but rather you batch it – so you only check your email once, twice or maybe three times a day.

At first, I thought this was madness.

What if people need me? What if something is urgent?

Of course, the reality is that if something is urgent people will call. As soon as I started batching my emails, I found I had so much more time in the day and I was able to focus without the constant drip-fed distraction.

Managing meetings

I’m convinced there is a huge amount of time and money wasted in meetings.

Often, they are not focused and drag on and on, going around and around in circles.

Sometimes, it seems like the whole company has been invited and yet few people have much to say.

Worse, participants can end up confused, and walk away not really knowing what they need to do next.

To avoid all of this, the book describes a simple model called the 40-20-40 Continuum: focus 40% of your attention on preparation and getting everything right before the meeting; then 20% of your attention on the actual meeting itself; then 40% of your attention on the follow through afterwards.

There are numerous points made to help each of those three stages, but some really stick out for me.

  • 40% preparation – here, begin with the end in mind. If the point of the meeting is to make and agree a plan or budget, then start with a draft. Better to start with something that people can critique and adjust, rather than start with a blank sheet of paper or a blank whiteboard.
  • 20% in the meeting – the book makes the point that, used carefully, slight discomfort can be a great catalyst for decision making. The examples given include holding meetings in unusual locations, or even standing up. I’m a huge fan of stand-up meetings – I find that they have better energy and pace, and also most people tend to contribute and engage more.
  • 40% follow through – send a ‘capture email’ promptly after the meeting. This should thank the participants, reiterate what the key objectives are going forward, and of course contain a list of the agreed actions and deadlines. I’m not a fan of spending hours typing up minutes (no-one ever reads them anyway – a huge waste of time) so I’ll usually take a photo of the actions written on a flipchart during the meeting and attach that to a short email instead.

I could genuinely have written 4000 plus words on how much this book has helped me. But that wouldn’t help you, as I’m nowhere near as eloquent and readable as Mr Allcott himself.

I highly recommend getting this book and reading it cover to cover – it is a game changer – even if you think you are already productive.

Do you have any favourite books on organisation and productivity?

Or any other ‘alternative’ books you think are really useful for CI Managers?

Please let me know in the comments.

Please note this post is not sponsored, I bought the book myself (I have two, in case I need to lend one to someone) and I just love it. That is all.

Brilliant Books for CI Managers – Book 1

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