Too long didn't read
You don't care about my notes? Then buy and read the book. I recommend it.
However, if you feel like going through my notes, you'll find out:
- why you should read this book if you work remotely
- how this knowledge may be useful when running a business
- what in this book will help you better manage your team and your time
I treat this and similar articles about books I have read as loose notes. Set your expectations low 🙂
What, about what, and for whom
"The Iris Method" is a metaphor for how everyone is unique and that there is no general "effectiveness" framework that suits everyone.
The author offers tools to build an individual system.
Briefly, the book focuses on techniques and methods for increasing productivity and managing tasks. The book is aimed at a broad audience, but even people with experience in the subject will find something interesting.
This book is for you if
- you get lost in your tasks and want to "clean up your mess."
- you find it difficult to concentrate
- you have a lot on your mind and don't know where to start
- you are a reflective person and want to know what's your work-style
- you want to work more efficiently
Iris in a nutshell
A considerable advantage of this book is how logically its chapters are divided. It all starts with a diagnosis chapter, in which you receive a dose of psychological tests. Each of them allows you to understand your work style better. Enriched with this knowledge, you can use the techniques described in Part Two, instruments, more effectively.
The book has a very clear, transparent structure. Its layout reminds me a bit of the the "Psychology, key concepts" series. I will remember both books for that they facilitate active remembering and learning.
Each chapter begins with an introduction containing a story, anecdote, or general context. For example, the "Planning" section begins by citing notes that DaVinci made in his notebook ("conduct geese observations").
Chapters are divided into sections that make it easier to remember the material: examples, do it your own way, what's in it for you, etc. Such format supports applying the acquired knowledge to your style of work.
Recognition, or what is your style of work
The book opens with a series of selected personality tests. If I had to choose my favorite chapter, it would be this one.
Of course, I will not cite the exact content here, but I will list all the tests. I recommend that you do at least a few, even if you are skeptical. Knowing your strengths is an excellent step to become more effective.
Note: the headings of the following sections are links to tests.
- Are the things that happen to you the result of "external forces" or your initiative?
- Do you attribute success to luck or favorable conditions, or your effort/talent?
- What about your failures? You failed "because he/she/they did something" or "I could have done better"?
The test describes your location of control as either internal (internalist) or external (externalist).
The result of this test helps you understand what motivates your action.
Personal Note: My personality type is internalist, which explains my work style well. Running a business requires, in many cases, coming up with tasks for yourself and a solid dose of internal motivation. Without it, it would be hard to make progress. Nobody is waiting for you to do something - especially when starting a business. Perhaps externalists running their companies base their motivation on the client's expectations as an external factor.
Upholder, questioner, obliger, or a rebel?
This test describes four variants of responding to internal and external expectations. The external ones are, for example, your boss's expectations, deadlines, other people's judgment. Internal expectations result from one's own goals, ambitions, and will.
The full description, including examples and conclusions, can be found in the book. Here is a summary:
- Upholder feels great with internal and external expectations. They can motivate themselves and have no problem with imposed duties.
- questioner copes worse with external expectations and better with internal ones.
- obliger feels better with external expectations, e.g., imposed tasks than internal ones.
- Rebel prefers to act without restriction and control.
Personal Note: I am a questioner. I enjoy doing things internally driven, but I am reluctant to "obeying" orders. I am the type of person who always has a lot of questions.
A quick anecdote: when I returned to work after a month off but stayed muted at a company meeting, someone asked, "Why no one asks questions? When Chris M returns from vacation?" :).
"Doubting" approach to expectations has its advantages and disadvantages. It is useful in remote work, where discipline and internal motivation are essential, and in running a company - especially when you want to implement your vision. It is of no use when "something must be done" - in such situations, other qualities come to the rescue: self-discipline and responsibility.
Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? Are you the type of person who sticks to concrete facts and keeps both feet on the ground, or do you let your imagination run wild and spread your visions to others?
Understanding your productivity style helps you identify the conditions in which you work best. The test describes four such types:
- The prioritizer
- The planner
- The visualizer
- The arranger
Perhaps, after doing this test, you will realize why you function better when you "follow a plan" (planning style). Or maybe you will notice that your visions and ideas are your natural tendency and strength (visualizer style).
Most likely, your productivity style is a mix of the four, with one particularly outstanding.
From the standpoint of working remotely, the arranger style can pose the most significant challenges. It is characteristic of the ones who like to work with people, talk, and exchange opinions. On the other hand, a well-developed culture of remote work can remove even such obstacles. A solution for such a person may be working in a co-working space, more frequent video meetings, discussion panels, or joint trips.
When running a business, all qualities come in handy, and since probably only one of them is dominant for you, it would be good if your partner compliments your style.
Personal Note: My productivity style is somewhere between visualizer and planner. I spend a lot of time creatively thinking about the next steps. After the wave of creativity, I write a plan for achieving the goals. For example, my business partner is a more pragmatic person, which helps transform fancy ideas into realistic goals.
When building a business, find someone that complements your skills and productivity style. You will have different opinions on certain things, but it will eventually allow you to move forward more effectively.
John Bowlby described attachment styles first. They develop in early childhood and are one of those traits that are deeply embedded in our personality.
Bowlby distinguishes four styles of attachment:
- Secure – autonomous
- Anxious – preoccupied
- Avoidant – dismissing
- Disorganized – unresolved
Realizing your attachment style may help you, among other things, to understand how you judge yourself and others, get to know your attitude towards working in a team and look at what paralyzes you before taking action.
Personal Note: My predominant attachment style is secure - autonomous. The book gets into more detail, and I recommend reading the chapter.
Your strengths - Gallup test
I admit that I had heard about this one only once before, and the book "The Iris Method" inspired me to try it out.
The full test costs about $50. Of all the other tests, this one is the most insightful and comes with the most additional educational material.
In the full test, you get a report of 34 talents ordered from the most to least developed. The report summarizes each of them, suggests practical usage, and highlights what you might miss if you focus too much on a particular talent.
Personal Note: My top five strengths are Futuristic, Individualization, Intellection, Ideation, Focus. I am currently analyzing each of them in more detail, but I will quote two sentences perfectly describe what I do professionally.
The first, "Choose roles that allow you to contribute your ideas about the future. For example, you might excel in entrepreneurial or startup situations.", describes a model client that my business partner and I intuitively selected: startup.
Second, "See the talents in others, and encourage them to follow their dreams. Help individuals understand and maximize the power of their talents." is the essence of 11Sigma in the context of our philosophy and approach to people.
One of the ideas I came up with after doing this test is to use it to support our team members' development. As a pilot, I plan to propose our engineers to voluntarily perform this test at our expense and develop their talents in the context of the test results.
Your personality type - Mayers-Briggs test
I first performed the test, describing as many as 16 personality types as a teenager, and my results changed several times since then. It describes four features:
- Introversion - Extraversion
- Sensing - Intuition
- Thinking - Feeling
- Judging - Perceiving
If I had to pick only two tests worth doing, it would be the Mayers-Briggs test and the Gallup test.
There is no one right answer to the question of which personality traits will be most useful to you when running your business. However, you can use the knowledge of yourself to maximize results.
For example, if you are an extrovert, surround yourself with people to draw energy to act. If you work remotely, working in a cafe might be stimulating for you.
If you are an introvert, you may feel better working from home. Both approaches can bring positive results if you understand what makes you work more efficiently.
Remote work more often gives opportunities that a traditional office rarely gave: choosing and adjusting the work style. Are you better focused alone? You can stay at home. Do you feel that people give you the energy you need? You have the option of working in a co-working space, cafe or even combining work with traveling. I work with people who prefer all kinds of approaches, and I can see that everyone has their individual preferences. By giving people the freedom to choose, you enable them to unleash their potential.
Personal Note: I have done this test multiple times, and the result has always been slightly different, but it averages ENT(P/J).
Instruments, or how to act efficiently
The following chapters describe methods of organizing work with a focus on increasing efficiency. Below, I briefly describe each subchapter and the values you can draw from them in building a company and remote work.
We plan - how to organize work
In this chapter, the author describes several methods for organizing tasks.
One of my roles is to talk to team members about their current situation, problems, and progress. An often recurring theme in our conversations is the ability to organize the to-do list so that it is manageable.
Usually, the pattern looks like this: someone has tasks assigned to him at work, household, and private duties, and all these matters may start to overlap at some point.
In the first period of remote work, it is relatively easy to blur the boundaries between work and life. As a result of this blurring, domestic affairs can occupy the mental space needed for work-related tasks at the moment.
The ability to organize, save, and manage tasks is invaluable on these occasions.
Privately, I have often had situations where the workload seemed so enormous that I lost my sense of order. The consequence was a loss of inner peace, focus, and efficiency.
I did a simple experiment once: I wrote down all the "stuff" on a piece of paper. A moment after, I realized a few things:
- I had much less to do than I thought
- I felt a relief comparable to when some ballast is shed
This chapter introduces you to organizing "affairs" and suggests three methods:
- Create to-do lists
- Dividing tasks into projects (which have a defined start and end)
- Dividing recurring tasks into programs and timeboxing them (e.g., useful for regular blogging)
We choose - how to set priorities
Running a company example. We have limited time and limited financial resources. Our goal is to find new customers. For this purpose, we can invest resources in marketing or sales. Marketing will increase the chances of inbound leads and sales of outbound leads. We can only do one of these things in the next quarter. Which one to choose first?
A remote work example. You want to work 8 hours a day, and you have full freedom to choose the time. Is it better to start with homework and work in the evening or vice versa? Or maybe a mix of both?
In the chapter, the author describes the following prioritization methods:
- Priorities (e.g., low, medium, high)
- e.g., Eisenhower matrix (important and urgent, important and non-urgent, unimportant and urgent, unimportant and non-urgent)
- e.g., efficiency matrix (easy and worth a lot, easy and worth little, difficult and worth a lot, difficult and worth little)
- MoSCoW (must, should, could, won't)
When you choose between marketing and sales, you may consider, for example, what is worth more and how difficult it is for you. In my case, marketing seems to be more accessible but equally valuable, and that's why I focused on it first.
Another interesting method proposed by the author is to start with "unlocking" tasks. Finishing them first will make others easier to do.
We act, that is, we put tasks in time
This chapter is devoted to selecting and tracking tasks. In practice, in the software development community, the methods are usually combined one way or another.
- One list - in general, it is a method of selecting a particular pool of tasks to be performed on a given day. It does not matter at what stage the job is or when exactly we start the task.
- The 3 + 2 method - we choose 3 large tasks and 2 small ones.
- The one priority rule - we choose one task and focus 100% of our attention on it.
- The 1-3-5 method - similar to 3 + 2, but we choose 1 large task, 3 medium, and 5 small.
- The Ivy Lee method - 6 tasks per day ordered from the most important to least important.
- The four burners - max. 4 tasks per day, the sequence does not matter.
- Multiple lists (e.g., Kanban) - This is perhaps the most popular method among developers. Each task can go through different stages, and it is important to know the task's stage. It is especially useful in teamwork. The simplest, but rare in practice, the division is: "to start", "in progress", "ready". In remote work, it facilitates the coordination of tasks and increases the visibility of work progress.
- Divide into blocks (timeboxing) - we define specific working hours for certain tasks. I use this method more and more often. It is especially useful for tasks that we do not have to finish on a given day; such that it is better to limit the time in advance (e.g., research); and in a situation where we have to divide attention into several things and move them forward (e.g., one of my days: article writing, meetings, marketing plan, programming).
In remote work (if we have the option to choose working hours), the possibility of dividing the day into blocks is particularly interesting. Some of the engineers in our company mainly work this way. As they travel a lot, they allocate several blocks during the day. For example, in the morning, they work on tasks that require less coordination with people in a different time zone; at noon, they go sightseeing and rest; and work on things that need coordination in the evenings.
Other people prefer to work in one block (with a break for lunch) and select tasks by priority. In remote work context (primarily from home-office), allocating a specific block of time helps separate life from work.
We focus, that is, we finish what has been started
The author shows how to reduce distractions and perform tasks effectively. He enumerates examples of tools that block distractions, e.g., social media. He also proposes conscious time management methods and describes techniques for adjusting work time to your daily rhythm.
- Blocking Distractions - a collection of methods to help you focus on the task at hand by turning off the distractors. I will summarize just one of them here.
- The 20-second rule
- Planning distractions
- Tracking distractions
- The 5-minute rule
- The 5-second rule
- Point & Calling
- Your own ritual - I have been using this method for many years. I developed it intuitively when I started working remotely, and I was still living in a studio apartment. The need to introduce the ritual arose from the need to switch the brain from "private life" to "work" mode. I have a straightforward one. Right after breakfast, I make myself a coffee. The moment I put the coffee on the desk is the moment I start working. The power of the autosuggestion is tremendous. I have the impression that this technique is especially useful for people working from home.
- Conscious Time
- 90/20 cycles - a method worth trying, which advices to divide the day into blocks in which you work for 90 minutes in deep focus and rest for 20 minutes. I have been using this method for some time, and I can see positive results. In fact, after about 90 minutes (sometimes longer, sometimes shorter), I feel either a slow decline in energy or, conversely, an excess of energy and information. A break allows me to regulate my energy and return to work with a refreshed head.
- time of day - I write more about this topic a bit further in the article.
- Lifestyle - besides chapter one, this and "Conscious Time" are among my favorites. It is, in my opinion, one of the most important and least appreciated aspects of work. And actually, work as part of life. It is also one of those aspects where remote work has a huge advantage.
- Activity - Working from home for many means uncomfortable desks and incorrect posture. There is often someone in the office who takes care of ergonomics for us. Remember to ensure an ergonomic workplace when organizing your home office. However, no matter how comfortable your desk is, sitting for nearly 8 hours a day has a very negative impact on health: back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, vision problems, carpal tunnel syndrome are only some of the issues. Remote work once again gives you the freedom to choose a place and time. Gym at 11:00? Why not. I have friends who combine travel with work. For example, they cycle in the mornings (and travel across Europe this way), and work later.
- Nature - because you choose your place of work, you have the opportunity to work from a cottage in the forest, work on the beach, work on a park bench. But let's be realistic; for most of us, these will be rather occasional forays. I do not personally know anyone who wants to work, e.g., from the beach every day. However, I know many people who experiment with their work and occasionally choose to work from a tent with a view of the Fjords (true story).
- Meditation - more on this in the digression at the end.
- Sleep - is one of the first positive aspects of the transition to remote work. When I worked in a London office, my daily rhythm was based on a 9-hour (lunch was not counted as work) working day and the journey home by tube. I came back to my apartment around 7-8 pm, and I had time only to prepare dinner and sleep. In the morning, I woke up at 7-8 am and got to the office. Remote revolutionized my sleeping habits 🙂. Waking up regularly at 7 am or 5 am is not for me. I prefer to work creatively until late and get up at 9 am. Once again, working remotely has an advantage over working from the office due to the simple fact of the freedom to choose working hours.
In the context of remote work and running a business, I was most interested in the subsection on the daily rhythm ("time of day"). The simple fact is that our day is divided into periods of greater and lesser productivity:
- the period of hyper-performance
- period of decline in performance
- a period of relatively high performance
Additionally, our circadian rhythm affects productivity in the context of the type of tasks performed:
- analytical and focused tasks
- repetitive tasks, routine, simple activities
- creative tasks
The author cites studies that confirm this pattern. Of course, everyone has a schedule. Some are hyper-performant in the morning, others in the evenings.
In-office work with strictly defined working hours, everyone may start at 8 am and works until 4 pm. It means that some people never work in their hyper-productivity window.
Freedom of choice allows people to experiment and adapt their work and live on their terms. Sometimes even a 1-2 hour shift in working hours can do wonders for your productivity.
We check - measuring the progress
Have you ever finished your day with the feeling that you accomplished nothing?
I think everyone has such days. Of course, if you had a closer look at your day, you would have realized that you had done a lot. Perhaps you tried to solve a difficult task, and you have tested several methods that eventually turned out to be ineffective.
Measuring and analyzing the progress of work in the context of running a business and working remotely is very important.
In our company, we run monthly meetings summarizing completed stages and achievements. We introduced such a cyclical meeting only this year, and only then did we realize how much we accomplished. Before, we had a feeling of lack of control and progress. It also helps us to notice what we should spend more time on and what less.
As we are a small company (and we do most of the operational tasks ourselves with the co-founder), it is also handy for us to track our own working time. We gain insight into repetitive tasks such as invoicing and how much time we spend on projects. This awareness translates directly into decisions. For example, invoicing costs us time. If it takes us 2-4 hours a month, there is no need to hire someone to take it over. On the contrary, if this and a similar task took more time, we could make an informed decision to delegate them to other people.
In remote work, the feeling of lack of progress can cause a lot of stress and guilt towards the employer (as a manager of several teams, I have encountered this syndrome quite often, and my role was to explain why there is no reason to blame oneself). In the office, there is the illusion that "if one is at work, one does the job," and the feeling of lack of progress may be less problematic. After all, "we were at work". In remote work, a wise manager knows that there are better and worse days, and work progress is not measured only by the number of completed tasks. A lot depends on the company's culture, but people with different experiences come to work with us. Some people worked in places where they were accounted for "results" daily. It takes time to switch from this mode mentally, and a mentor can also be helpful.
The author describes the following tools in the book:
- Reviews (i.e., monthly progress checks)
- Measures (gives an example of KPI - Key Performance Indicators. We use OKR - Objectives, Key Results)
This book is a bit of a swiss-knife. It is worth reaching for it while testing and optimizing various approaches.
The materials collected by the author are useful for:
- people working remotely
- team leaders
- business owners
- and all those who want to work more effectively
Many of these techniques can be taken as inspiration for implementation in your company and life. I will refer to this book the next time I conduct meetings with team members, and the topic will be self-improvement or self-organization.
Likewise, it may be a good idea to introduce voluntary personality tests within the company and use them to support development.
A meditation digression
Let me give you an example of how 20 minutes of meditation helps to focus. In the morning, when I have the most energy, I go into the flow state. I work hyper-efficiently for 1.5-2 hours. My productivity is initially very high, but the more I accelerate, the more "unstable" my energy becomes. I get to the point where I am moving so fast I lose focus. My brain is flooded with ideas and impulses.
During one of the 1.5-hour block sessions, I took a break for 20 minutes of meditation. The first 5 minutes were chaos, and my brain was rippling with energy and ideas. Scraps of related and unrelated information went through my head:: "I have to write back to the architect", "I wonder how onboarding is going", "I think it's worth going to that co-working place", and a lot of different things. Even details from many years ago!
The longer I stabilized my breath, the more controlled my mind became. By the end of the session, it felt almost like at the beginning of the day. At that point, I went back to work.
Of course, I had less energy at the end of the second 1.5h session than after the first one. However, if I hadn't taken a break, my vibrating brain accelerated to 300 km/h would have crashed into some tree instead of getting somewhere useful.
The bottom line is, 20 minutes of meditation increased my total output and focus.
Thank you for making it to the end :). If you like the article, please share it with your friends.
And read the book! 🙂