Getting more done in lean times

Last week I wrote an email that started off with “Sorry I’ve taken a while to get back to you, I have been swamped lately”.  Not the first time I have written those words lately, and I don’t reckon I’m an orphan either.  Because the GFC, like any garden variety recession, always seem to end up with you needing to get more done with less resources.

This isn’t news to most people, but the fact that there are courses you can do to make yourself more effective might be.  If you look up “Getting Things Done” on Google, there is a vast number of resources, courses, tools and plenty of philosophies.  Unfortunately I don’t really know much about them.  I do however have plenty of experience with how the Australian military gets more things done, so I thought I’d share some of them.

Try working longer

The average day in my working life has started with me getting to my desk somewhere between 8 and 9am and knocking off somewhere between 5 and 6pm.  In the military the average day started with me starting work at 7:30am (breakfast and showering done) and knocking off after 6pm.  Whilst on exercise, the average day started at 1/2 hour before dawn and finished after dusk, with normally a two hour shift on guard duty overnight.  And on exercise there is no such thing as weekends and you don’t stop for a leisurely breakfast or lunch.

The difference – civilian work week of around 40 hours, military work week  around 50 hours and on exercise around 100 hours.  Like having a whole person helping you.

Focus on the outcome

Most people tend to slot their work on tasks or projects into the hours they work (eg “will finish that off tomorrow”.  One of the early things I learned in the military was that you need to focus on the outcome, not just the journey.  If you are supposed to receive some equipment but its running late,  you hang around until it arrives.  You don’t knock off at 5pm just because your day is done,  because other people are relying on you to receive the equipment.  So if you have to hand around to midnight, then you hang around to midnight.  This prevents slippages in the timeline, and your problem cascading down into problems for everyone.

Develop the concurrent activity habit

Doing one thing at a time is great, but a constant mantra of the military is “concurrent activity”.  You can achieve so much more if you are doing multiple things at the same time.  If you are cooking breakfast, why not clean your boots, rifle and shave.  If you are in the office, why not read the articles you tagged whilst eating lunch, or make those phone calls you needed while in the car (hands free with voice control of course).  Put up post it notes asking yourself “what else can I do at the same time” so that you develop the habit of concurrent activity.

Make your team work better together

Teams can obviously get more done as you have more hands, specialised hands, and concurrent activity.  However a group of people isn’t a team; unless they identify as a team, have aligned motivations and co-ordinate the work.  When military teams are given a tasks, they are always given concise isntructions that cover : the big picture, the team goals, individual tasks, support & coordination information.  So in the office to get your team to become more effcient, get into the habit of giving good quality instructions and allow them to coordinate between themselves.

Plan for quality

Two huge wastes of time are when you have to provide further guidance on a task, and when you have to correct mistakes.  Most people plan when they have a large project, but not when they have a smaller task.  The military doesn’t operate this way,  they give you frameworks for thinking about problems, and acronyms to help you how to give quality instructions.  For instance.  The standard process for conducting an operation is:

Military Version Civilian Version
Get orders Decide Objective
Conduct Reconniasance Research Options
Create a Plan Come up with a Solution
Give Orders Communicate your plan with the team
Rehearse Practice doing it if necessary
Execute Undertake the task
Debrief Review the task & learnigns

The acronym for giving instructions in the military is SMEAC or situation, mission, execution, administration and control.  It gives everyone a complete understanding of what’s going on and their role.

In a commercial environment, even for small tasks, I have started to use the acronym of BOTAM or Big Picture, Objective, Tasks, Administration and Management.  And yes, I find the acronym BOTAM amusing, which is the point.  It makes it easy to remember.

There’s a whole lot more I could write about on the topic and a vast number of tools I could review, but I think this is a nice starter set so you don’t have to start emails with – Sorry I’ve taken a while to get back to you……………….