Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sweat the Small Stuff

Small things can sometimes make a big difference.  The difference between an adequate piece of equipment and an excellent one can be huge.  Sometimes the things that you need to change aren't your equipment, but rather yourself.  That's more than just money, it's time and effort.  It's hard.  It's annoying.

The way that small things can make a big difference is when they provide a small but consistent improvement in what you do.  Keyboards for example.  Today I had to switch back to a crappy backup keyboard because the 5 and 7* keys on my Unicomp keyboard died.  I can already feel the change in my typing speed.  More than half my work is typing, and the better keyboard is the difference between 70 WPM and 75 WPM.  That's a 6.667% difference in speed.  It's small, I can live with it for a short period of time.

What will using the cheaper keyboard cost me?  Well, I don't spend all my typing time at top speed, so really, it only impacts 50% of my work. But, for that 50%, that's the most productive time I have, because the other time is meetings and overhead.  So now I'm losing not just 6.667% of my time, I'm actually missing it out of my most productive activity.

Amortized over a year, that's a whole month of my productive time that I somehow have to make up for.  There goes vacation.  All for lack of a minor improvement.  I'll probably get the Unicomp repaired (it's a great keyboard when it works), but I've got a better one on order with Cherry MX blue switches.  They have a similar feel to the spring-switches in the Unicomp IBM-style switches and are the current "state-of-the-art" for typists as best I can tell.  And if it breaks, I can replace the dang switch, which I cannot do on the Unicomp without about two-three hours of effort.

A colleague and I were talking about how making personal changes can help you in your efforts.  His point was that many cyclists spend hundreds (or even more) to reduce the weight of they bicycles by a few more ounces to get greater hill-climbing speed.  He noted that losing a few pounds of personal weight can have a much greater impact (I'm down nearly 35 lbs since January, but my bike has never had a problem with hill-climbing, so I wouldn't know about that).

Learning to touch type was something I succeeded (if you can call a D success) in doing in high school, but never actually applied (why I got the D) until someone showed me that I was already doing it (but only when I wasn't thinking about it).  After discovering that, over the next six months, I went from being a two finger typist to four, and then to eight, and then to ten.  That simple physical skill has a huge impact on my productivity.

I now make it a point, when I learn a new application to understand how to operate it completely without removing my fingers from the keyboard.  And I train myself to operate the applications I most commonly use to learn them that way because it makes a small difference that adds up.  It's an almost meaningless small thing that greatly improves my productivity.  Yeah, I ****ing hated it when Microsoft changed the keyboard bindings in office (and I still remap to some that I have long familiarity with), but I spent the time to learn the new ones.  It ****ed me off for six months, but afterwards it paid off.

Here's where this starts to come into play in Health IT.  We KNOW that there are efficient and inefficient workflows.  We KNOW that changing workflows is really going to yank people's chains.  How do we get people to make even small changes who want to keep doing things the way they always have been?   And more importantly, what is going to happen to those non-digital-natives who have to adapt to an increasingly more digital world when their up and coming colleagues start having more influence.

When we get rushed, we let the small stuff slip.  It's a little bit more time, a little bit more effort.  And the reward is great and immediate, we get more done.  But the small stuff has value.  It's there to keep us from making mistakes.  Check in your code before the end of the day ... but I'll have to take a later train ... and now your hard drive is dead tomorrow, and you have to redo the day's work.  Which would you rather have?

Sweat it.  It's worth the effort.

So, what small thing are you going to change?  And what big difference will it make?


* 7 is pretty darn common in hash tags I use, and in e-mails I write.  That's pretty dang frustrating.


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