How I Built a Nice Collection of Aging Problems
Are we intentionally building systems to accommodate more problems in our lives?
While listening to the book The Power Broker by Robert Caro, I learned something very interesting about Robert Moses, the man who was arguably the most powerful person in New York’s history.
Thoughtful Office Design
In his research, Caro found that Moses intentionally worked on a large table with no drawers. Moses did not like to let problems pile up, instead, he wanted them handled immediately. First thing in the morning, his assistants helped him go through every letter on his table. Since tables have no drawers, there was nowhere to hide papers and no escape from problems or difficult-to-answer letters. His only option was to get rid of them one way or another.
By having no drawers, that meant he needed to address all issues as they came so that he could leave his mind free to do the real work.
Have I Designed a System for Collecting Problems?
This made me reflect on how much time, money, and effort I have spent on digital and physical solutions for putting things away, organizing, and storing them. Essentially, I have virtual drawers in the form of inboxes, labels, cloud storage, etc. All of these are, by design, an opportunity for me to put problems away and out of sight. Some of these problems eventually disappear, never to be heard from again, while others compound and become more difficult.
It seems I’ve gone out of my way to build the capacity for putting problems away instead of taking them on directly and right away. That said, I also wonder where have I built systems or processes to address things right away?
Why I Invite Problems to Find Me Sooner Rather Than Later
When I facilitate or speak at in-person events (i.e. conferences, workshops, bootcamps, etc.) I have a rule to always walk the event when I’m not on stage or presenting. For me, this ensures I stay present and active in any part of the event where I can add value. When I facilitated the 3-day event, Startup Weekend, I was mostly moving around the event space, speaking with participants, teams, organizers, mentors, etc. By moving around the space often, I was visible. When I was visible, people felt they could stop me briefly to ask a question or present a problem. This invitation to stop me, by design, allowed me to address issues sooner, before they became more serious problems.
I applied a similar approach to teaching in the classroom. The more present I was in the classroom and school, the more easily it was for students to simply ask me a quick question. We could address those quick questions immediately, before they became more serious. It is always my intention to make myself as accessible as possible to those I serve most closely so that they can reach out immediately and easily.
Recruiting a World Class Assistant
Inspired by Robert Moses’ workspace, I intend to design my virtual workspace to address issues sooner rather than later.
Furthermore, I am borrowing from an insight Michael Hyatt shares in his book, World Class Assistant. I keep a note where I capture activities that I can eventually outsource to someone else. Later this year, I have set the goal to recruit someone to help me with that list.
Where and how do you currently, by design, address issues and challenges in your work or life?
Where can you make a design adjustment in order to position yourself to take on issues and challenges sooner, while they are relatively easier to handle?
Vicki L Flaherty
June 14, 2021 @ 7:36 pm
I like the idea of ‘processing’ in the moment rather than filing away…I have an inbox and I’m going to sort through it and then find a place for it in the basement! Thank you for your inspirational ideas!
June 15, 2021 @ 9:42 am
It’s incredible how design tweaks like table vs desk can make such a difference in helping us take on one habit over another. Continuing my reflection on this, I recalled once hearing about a strategy for going through a full email inbox. The person said to go through each email, from oldest to newest, and you do one of three things. Delete it, address it, or archive it. If it’s irrelevant to your goals or work, delete it (and unsubscribe wherever applicable). If it requires you do something, do it now or delegate. If it’s just something that needs to be kept in your records, archive it. Recently, in a video by Ali Abdaal, he took the store it part to a digital level. He suggested taking a picture/scan of the document and uploading it to Evernote for easy future retrieval.
I’m glad that this post helped you in some way. Make your week great!