CareerSherpas: Climbing the Mountain

When you’re on the way, it helps to share the load

Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

Signal to Noise Ratio

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Whether you know it or not, you’re being inundated with information almost every waking second of the day. When you stop to think about it is the information really made up of messages you need to pay attention to or is it mostly just background noise filling in space?

When you hear dire news that the economy is in trouble what is your first reaction? Does your blood pressure rise as anxiety about the future builds? Okay so maybe that’s a bad example to start with, let’s try again…

When a farmer in Kansas hears news about terrorist attacks in Mumbai, terrible as they are, should a they worry about their safety in Kansas? When a sale is on for shoes you just have to have, do you need to run out to the store right then? When you’re asked to produce extra documentation on work that’s already “done”, is the extra documentation really the issue?

The short answer is probably not.

This overloading of less-than-immediate news happens all the time and for many reasons, but it’s important to keep it in perspective. Unless the farmer has family in India, the Mumbai attacks don’t represent a need to worry about safety. The shoes, wonderful as they are, will probably be out of fashion in a few months.

There might be a message hidden in the request for extra documentation though, and if you miss it all the documentation in the world won’t solve the problem. The request itself might be noise, but the underlying problem might be something you really have to address.

Engineers have a nice term for this confusion of meaning and information, the signal to noise ratio. What this means is that in order to get a clear message through (the signal), it has to be able to get through a bunch of background interference (noise) which clouds the transmission. In order to understand the message coming through, you have to have a certain signal-to-noise ratio which matches the content you’re trying to receive.

So the question here is, to get back to the slow economy example, what is the message you actually need to pay attention to in all the hype and worry-making? Look closer to home and ask yourself what changes you need to be aware of in your company, your clients, your retirement and your situation. Is your company in trouble or making changes? Does it need to? If when it all boils down, your job is reasonably secure and you can make plans from where you are do you really need to worry?

Being able to filter out the meaning in the information you’re presented isn’t always easy, but knowing that there’s a lot of noise out there it helps to take a moment to ask if you’re getting the signal.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Create Visual Reminders

Monday, November 24th, 2008

A recent article in Scientific American prompted me to think about memories and what makes them most accessible. The article goes into great detail about the way we as humans store and retrieve information, and the fact that we can access visually reinforced information far more easily and accurately than we can if we’re simply asked an out-of-context question.

This got me thinking about how this might be applied to making positive experiences more satisfying and long-lived, and how we might be able to recall lessons from mistakes easier as well. Since a big part of how we want to live includes inproving our experiences, I wanted to find out if there was a way to use this means of enhancing the mental search engine to that end.

So for the past week, with the assistance of my ubiquitous camera phone, quick sketches and powerpoint diagrams, I’ve been capturing moments of success and educational opportunities as they arose. As I started down this path, I noticed a change in the way I recalled the last day with my wife, the way I looked back over the week when writing a status report and the way I anticipated upcoming activities.

I’m not sure when the change occurred, but suddenly I had extra vivid details of discussions walking skyways, my daughters laughing on theme park rides and my saint bernard running with dogs half her size. Added to my task lists managed over at Remember the Milk, I’m finding myself almost automatically solving situations which might have stymied me a year ago.

The extra nudge of being able to check on an image from an event or attached to a reminder suddenly seems worth the strange looks received from co-workers when I whip out my cell phone to snap a pic.

What gains could you make from a visual reminder? Do you use them already? Let us know in the comments.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Keeping the Plates Spinning

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

One of the difficulties I’ve had in recent years is being able to manage all the things coming in, going out and circulating around my life. I always seem to have more projects than I can possibly handle at one time, but at the same time I’ve gotten enough done on all of them to move them forward. Now sometimes that’s been in dribs and drabs, sometimes in intermediate sprints and spurts and sometimes in seemingly unending marathons.

The conclusion I came to a while ago was to look at how each project was paced and make sure that the ebbs and flows of each tie in with my energy available in that area. Once I realized this, it was a small step to expand into finding ways to remind myself of all the next steps on all of my outstanding goals. I spent some time figuring out a productivity model that works for me, and nowadays my efforts are all blending into a nice activity level. I’ll be the first to admit it’s a hodge-podge of more than a couple of approaches.

Now, this might seem like a bit of a diversion in some ways when looking at managing your career but the reality is that managing your time is a foundation for planning. If you don’t know what you’re spending your time doing, or you do know but don’t feel like you have any control over it, you can’t plan for the future.

 At all. On any time scale.

Does that seem ridiculous? Think about it. If I don’t have a picture of what’s hanging out there to be done, then I can’t figure out the best time to do it or possibly even what I need to be able to accomplish the tasks at hand.

Being able to plan your career, your life, even your week, relies on you being able to manage your time. It’s almost as important as having a picture of what you want, and it lets you get a clearer picture of the paths to your goals.

Naturally, I’ve got a couple of recommendations on places to start looking at your productivity and managing your time. The two sites that I consistently find the best information on personal productivity are and Both offer great information and great links out to other articles across the blogosphere and the larger web.

So go on, get productive!

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.