Workload Balancing

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Question: What’s the maximum number of projects to try concurrently?

Answer:
1-2 major projects or 3-4 smaller ones. This seems to hold true across many industries and is a sort of Agile rule of thumb. If you take on too many projects at once, things will get confused or there will be too many meetings and not enough time to do actual work. I start mixing up product names and talking to the wrong team until I look like an idiot. If the product names change a lot – oh what a tangled web it becomes.

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Anticipating Changes to Docs

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Question: How do I anticipate when I’ll need to change the docs?

Answer:
Many events could change the docs, the question is when. Every company is different, so if you’re new, start by asking what has driven docs changes in the past. Don’t try to get this from a document control system, and even people’s memories have a very short half-life. Even a week later, no one, including you, will remember why something was done.

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Giving Your Power Away

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Question: I keep hearing that women have to lean in more, that we’re giving our power away, we need to take ownership. When I took that advice, my boss said, “You need to be more diplomatic.” I wasn’t doing anything different from what I saw around me every day. Around here, you have to push hard or you’ll just get buried.

Answer:
Yes it’s the Underdog Catch-22: speaking your truth only works if you’re not already from some marginalized group. Otherwise, they double down to keep you in your place!

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The Proper Use of Drugs

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Question: A lot of brainiac types are talking about microdosing and other “brain hacks” to make themselves smarter and enhance performance. Does this actually work? Is it safe?

Answer:
The science and art of cranial self-enhancement has been going on since the first monkey ate some kind of crazy fungus, saw the Great Primate Up in the Sky, and drilled a hole in its own head. Nowadays, our stimulants are divided by law and morality into things that can get you arrested vs. things that are more or less mandatory.

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Urgent, But Not Important

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Question: Every day work is a non-stop barrage of interruptions where every single thing is “ultra mega hyper urgent”. This is stopping me from completing any deliverables at all. Plus I have no attention span. When I go home I’m too exhausted to even cook. It’s worrisome.

Answer:
A wise fellow once said to me, “Urgent is not the same as important.” Unless you’re in the ER, things should not be in a constant state of crisis. Crises can be addictive: the amped-up intensity becomes an end unto itself. A lot of companies rely on a manufactured sense of urgency as a form of speed to get their employees running ever faster on their little hamster wheels.

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International Relations

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Question: I keep hearing about how Americans don’t know how to get along in Japan. Will learning Japanese social protocols make me a master of international relations?

Answer:
Each national culture has its own quirks that have to be learned from direct experience. I discovered almost by accident that rapping a ruler on a table will cause a boisterous roomful of German executives to immediately sit up straight and pay attention. It’s a Pavlovian response.

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Innocent-Sounding Requests

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Question: Someone from another department asked me to do a one-pager. What could possibly go wrong?

Answer:
Beware those innocent-seeming requests, because they can mushroom into huge projects overnight. Even simple asks can be like that cute baby alligator that seemed so harmless back in the pet shop. Or, it’s like turning over that sofa cushion on the porch and finding a huge nest of hornets, all of whom are about to come after you like in the movie “The Swarm”. If you know the other department like the back of your hand, it’s probably OK, but if you don’t, there will almost certainly be hidden factors that you can’t bullshit your way around.