Links and other thoughts about management, from Melanie Nelson.
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Welcome to the 3rd installment of Management Monthly!

First of all, I want to apologize for being a little late sending this newsletter out this month. If you were planning to read this newsletter with your morning caffeine today, I’m sorry to have disappointed you.

I normally prepare the newsletter on the Friday before it is due to go out, but this Friday I was entertaining a sick kid who turned out to be not very sick, and hence demanded a fair amount of entertainment. My rule in these situations is to borrow a line from one of said kid’s favorite movies and “Let It Go”- i.e., I let go of any idea that I’m actually going to be productive, and just enjoy the unexpected solo time with my kid. Then I try to make up the lost productivity some other time.

I did indeed make up some productivity, but sadly, I chose to check off the “order new business cards” task that has been appearing on my to do list for the last couple of weeks, and I fell down an unfortunate rabbit hole of formatting decisions. Oops. That was not a great use of my time, but at least I’ll have some spiffy new cards soon.

Also- I ran a promo to entice new readers. Welcome, new readers! I have picked the winner of the Laura Vanderkam book, so if you don’t get an email from me by tomorrow morning, you can assume you didn’t win. I hope you’ll find the newsletter useful enough that you’ll stick around. Don’t worry, loyal readers who have been with me from the start: you were included in the drawing, too.

Since I have so many new readers, this is a good time to pause and write a little bit about my overall philosophy, which applies equally to managing projects, managing other people, and managing myself (aka “productivity”). My philosophy is one of continuous improvement. I started from a place of essentially no knowledge, and have been slowly learning more and doing better over the years. When people ask me for advice on becoming a better manager or for becoming more personally productive, my answer is usually some form of “take an honest assessment of where you’re at now, and then work to get better.”

I don’t promise any “quick fixes” and I think trying to get better at this stuff without first taking the time to do some honest self-assessment is a fool’s errand. I wrote about this a bit a few months back in a post on personal productivity for Chronicle Vitae. I’ve never written about how to do this crucial first step if the thing you want to get better at is project management or the management of others. Perhaps I should. One of the great things about keeping a blog is that it gives me a place to write exploratory posts like that.  

In the meantime, my advice would be to try to assess what is working and what isn’t working in what you’re doing now, and then try to figure out the underlying issues causing any problems and work to solve them. Sounds easy, right? It almost certainly won’t be, but it will almost certainly be worth the effort. One of the best first steps for “getting better” is to learn more from other people’s experiences. The fact that you’ve subscribed to this newsletter indicates that you’re already doing that, so you’re off to a good start.

This Month on Beyond Managing

A trip to see the space shuttle at the California Science Center prompted me to write about the importance of the people behind the scenes.That post was a little different that what I normally write on Beyond Managing, but I like it and it got some nice feedback, so I hope you'll check it out.

I also wrote a post with tips on "managing up." I suggest reading this one both for ideas to smooth your interactions with the people above you in your own local pecking order and for ideas on how to coach your team to help you do a better job as their manager.

Things I Wrote Elsewhere

My Chronicle Vitae article for the month was on long distance networking- so not about management or productivity, but perhaps still useful for you or someone you know.

I didn't write this next piece, but I am the subject of it, so I'll include it here: I've been using a tool called Kifi to capture and organize the things I find while I'm out and about online, and they contacted me and asked me if they could profile my usage. Here is the resulting blog post.

Things Other People Wrote

One advantage of the late distribution of this newsletter is that it lets me include this wonderful HBR piece by Gianpiero Petriglieri about the source of our "overwork" culture, and its consequences. I write a lot about productivity. I care about productivity and am always on the lookout for new ways to improve it, both for myself and my team. However, I am not actually optimizing on productivity. I care about it as a means to an end. I struggle to say what I do optimize on. For myself, it may be something like meaning: I want to live a life that includes all of the things that matter to me, and being more productive in my work time allows more space for the other things that matter. As a manager, I optimize on something like sustainable productivity. I want my team to produce good, useful work, and be able to continue to do so over the long term.
Anyway, I recommend reading that article and thinking about what role work has in your life, and whether you're optimizing on the right thing.
There were a lot of articles about work hours and productivity this month, thanks to that NY Times article about Amazon. Here were some of my other favorites:
Sarah Green Carmichael summarized the research about long hours and concludes they are bad for people and for companies.
David Heinemeier Hansson, one of the founders of a somewhat legendary tech company called37 Signals (now called Basecamp), wrote about why the people at the top are the last to know about cultural problems in a workplace, and some steps to take to combat that.

I don't know if Sami Honkonen wrote this piece about the misunderstandings around utilization in response to the Amazon uproar, but it is also useful reading on the perils of trying to squeeze the last bit of productivity from people.
Turning away from work hours to more general considerations of building an organization, I really liked this piece from Steve Blank about organizational debt. As a team grows, things that worked for a small team stop working- and that is normal, unavoidable, and you should plan some time to deal with it.
This HBR piece from Roger Schwarz has some excellent practical advice about when to give performance feedback in public- it is more complicated than the "praise in public, criticize in private" dictate that we're usually told.
Finally, this post from Amy Hoy about why blacksmiths are better at startups than you has some really good insights for people trying to build anything- be it a start up company, a research lab, or a well-functioning team within a larger organization.

That's all for this month! I'll try to get the newsletter out on time next month... but no guarantees. The kid who was sick on Friday starts Kindergarten next week, and that will no doubt be a delightful source of new illnesses for all of us.


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