What to Keep in Mind When We’d Rather Be Somewhere Else Doing Something Else

There are times when we wish we were somewhere else doing something else. We may think this while we are running around in the middle of a busy day doing so many tasks which we wonder if they’re worth doing in the first place. 

Many of us started out our careers aspiring to be artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs.  We wanted to enjoy life and change the world.  But as we grew older, our eagerness faded as realities took hold.  We got into repetitive routines that didn’t bring us any closer to our dreams.  We find ourselves doing stuff we’re not sure are important or relevant.  We became bored, tired, and resigned. 

As much as possible we should only be doing things that are important to getting to our goals.  The trouble is we find ourselves with tasks that are not relevant to our personal roadmaps.  Many of these tasks somehow would be classified as urgent but not really important to us. 

Stephen Covey, via his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, cites the Eisenhower Decision Matrix in his 3rd habit, First Things First

In his teachings about time management, Stephen Covey says we face tasks that are either urgent, important, both, or neither.  To manage time effectively towards our goals, we should be doing tasks that are in Quadrants 1 and 2, in which both are important.  We should not be doing stuff in Quadrants 3 and 4, which are tasks that are not important.

The trouble is we usually are pressured to do tasks that are urgent, which are classified under Quadrants 1 or 3.  Any task deemed urgent is classified as important if not to us but to someone else. Urgency originates from someone’s insistence to do something immediately.  It may not be important to you but it’s important to them.

Urgent tasks often come from people who are important to us.  If we are employees, it’s likely our bosses who’d tell us to do things urgent & important for them.  Likewise, for those of us who are married; our spouses and children would demand that we do things urgent & important for them.  Even friends would come to us to plead to do favours they deem urgent.

The urgent things that land in our laps test our priorities and because we receive them practically every day, we’re forced to evaluate the importance with not much time to spare.  And because most of the people who give us these urgent things are those who are important to us, we end up doing them much to the detriment to our personal priorities. 

When we get stuck doing mostly urgent but not important stuff, the stuff in the ‘Quadrant 3,’ we get caught in a cycle that gets us to nowhere nearer to our goals.  Even when we hustle to do urgent but important stuff, the stuff in Quadrant 1, we would often find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day and likely not making much progress as most of what we did were likely fixes or disruption mitigation. 

When we feel stuck doing urgent things for a long time, we become discouraged and that’s when we start to wish we’d rather be doing something else somewhere else.   

What then can we do if we want to do more of the important but not urgent stuff, the Quadrant 2 activities, or simply the stuff we want to do? 

There are outright some seemingly logical, if not radical, options:

  1. Reboot. Quit our jobs, move out to another country or town, start a new business or finding an occupation we very much rather like to do;
  2. Adapt:  Look from a new mindset.  See the positive side of the present routine. Change what you can and negotiate compromises with superiors & family members.  In other words, live with what we got;
  3. Escape: Do hobbies and join groups we like on our spare times.  Travel.  Don’t work after office hours.  Allocate a “me” time to do the stuff we like and make sure not to read email, answer calls, or scan social media during these personal times;   
  4. Just Say “NO.”  Refuse to do favours.  Disagree with bosses on assignments.  Argue.  Stand our ground.  Push back.  Fight.

Unfortunately, there are repercussions as well as benefits to these aforementioned options.  Saying ‘No’ and arguing can lead to harmful conflict, for instance.

To avoid repercussions, Stephen Covey says we should grow our circle of influence in which we become capable of convincing others to see our positions.  This requires being proactive in doing things we have power over, or to put it another way, changing what we can change while acknowledging what we can’t.  When we change what we can, our accomplishments help expand our influence and we get more things done consistent with our goals.  It’s easier said than done, however, especially if we have small circles of influence to start with versus goals that are ambitious.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a tool for how we manage and plan our schedules.  The idea is to categorise whatever tasks are on our plates and see how many of each would go into each of the quadrants.  It’s a way of knowing how we are choosing to spend our time. 

If we’re doing a lot of urgent and important tasks lately, we should review our goals.  Maybe they are too ambitious and deadlines are too tight? 

If we’re involving ourselves with more urgent and un-important activities, we should ask why we are choosing to do them.  Maybe we lack clear goals?  Or maybe we really don’t like the goals we had set for ourselves in the first place?

When we wish we were somewhere else doing something else, it’s probably high time we review our schedules.    The Eisenhower Decision Matrix that Stephen Covey champions is a good tool to see what we’ve been doing.  It may show we may be doing more urgent tasks important for other people than for ourselves and that we may need to reboot, adapt, escape, or just say ‘no.’  We may also need to review our goals; maybe they are too ambitious or we are not really enrolled in them in the first place. 

We classify what is urgent based on the insistence and demands of others and we categorise what is important based on our goals.  We choose what we do with our time.  If we bow more to urgencies, we do so because of choice not force.  Whatever the urgency, it always come down to us to choose what our response is.  That’s how Stephen Covey defines proactivity.  That’s what we should always keep in mind.

About Ellery’s Essays

‘Who Cares’ Were the Best Words I Ever Used

Those two words, ‘Who Cares?’, ended my mid-life crisis and I never looked back. 

But wait, is there such thing as a mid-life crisis?

Some experts say it’s not real:

Occurrence of the midlife crisis has turned out to be myth; research shows 10–20% of people actually experience it.’

Research suggests the mid-life crisis is largely a myth…Very few people report having some definable crisis that’s due to their age.’

So, what was that experience I went through in the late 1990’s which finally ended a few years later? 

It was a time when I felt there was no meaning in life.  I had low self-esteem.  I felt there was nothing to look forward to. 

It was a time in which I found myself asking or saying the following:

“Is this it?”

“There is no more?”

“Nobody cares.” 

“What is there to look forward to?”

But was I only just one of the 10% to 20% of the population who was experiencing this?  Were other people not going through this?

Even as it may be that most people don’t suffer a mid-life crisis, many do testify that they are at their unhappiest in mid-life.   Happiness is a ‘U’ for many in which many individuals feel joy least in the middle of their lives.  

Mid-life crisis is a matter of definition.  It may not be a stage which every adult passes through at a certain age but it at least represents a time of unhappiness likely occurring sometime between the age of 30 to 60.   

Experts can only guess why we feel unhappiest in our middle ages but we can guess that it is because we probably experienced loss of our loved ones like relatives and parents which are most likely to happen when we are in mid-life. 

Many of us also plateau in our careers in our 40s and 50s, no longer seeing the prospect of promotion but rather the looming of retirement.

It is also when married adults in their later years see their children grow up and leave home.  Empty nests become more the rule than the exception as parents get older. 

Mid-life ‘crises’, which we can perhaps define as a time of unhappiness, can last quite long.  For some, it can lead to clinical depression and mental health issues. 

But I found for myself a cure.  It came in a question with two words: ‘Who Cares?

Much of my unhappiness was due to comparing where I was in my career and status with other people.  Seeing other people get rich, have nice places to live, look like athletes, and have happy families made me want to be like them.  The wealth, health, and looks of other people became yardsticks for me to follow and aspire for. 

It didn’t help that relatives and friends would tell me how much they admire the rich and famous and then ask about my career and my social status.  Friends and relatives would constantly be sending the message that ‘we should be like the rich and successful.’

I snapped out of my sadness when I asked myself, ‘Who Cares?’  Why indeed, should I and we care about what other people think?  Why should we be striving to meet other people’s standards? 

We as individuals decide our fates and whatever we decide is ours alone.  Whatever other people may think is immaterial and irrelevant. 

And as it turns out, few really do care.  We live in a world where we have so much complicated problems to deal with.  Of course, we do make the effort to help our relatives, loved ones, team-mates at work and sports, even strangers, when they are in need.

But all in all, most of the time anyway, we as adults are really on our own in this world.  Some of us may work with large groups of people every day; some of us may be leaders or executives; and some of us may just be ordinary low-in-the-organisation-ladder workers who do the same routine day after day.  We may deal with people or we do not.  At the end of the day, however, we are always left to fend for ourselves. 

It is a gift when someone does care, like when our parents used to take care of us as children, when one finds the sweetheart who falls madly in love with any of us and when the devoted spouse waits and serves us when we go home after a hard day’s work. 

But most of the other 5 to 6 billion people in this planet could care less about any of us.  Not that they don’t want to, but because many have so much on their plates to really give time to do so.  We ourselves know this; many of us have enough already as it is to really think about other people all the time. 

When we find ourselves not happy because we are wallowing in that low part of the ‘U’ of life, we should ask that question: ‘Who Cares?’  Does it matter that much about what’s making us unhappy?  Is it worth it to wallow around for?  Much as there may even be good reason to be unhappy (e.g., loss of a loved one, losing a job), what value would it be to sulk and ponder about it for long periods? 

No matter the traumas we experience, the setbacks we go through, life goes on and most people don’t really care.  The best in the end is to look at what we ourselves believe in and go from there.

We set our own pace, decide our own directions.  People may tell us what to do but it’s us who finally determines whether we follow them or go our own ways. 

About Ellery’s Essays

The Power of Building on Ideas

We get ideas all the time.  Many we quickly forget or shelve and most don’t prosper beyond the fleeting thoughts they had been. 

Many ideas are originally not ours.  Many ideas we notice while interacting with other people.  We see some that seems worth the trouble to invest time and resources in such that we tell the people that we want to build from their ideas.

This is how teamwork starts.  When we build from someone else’s ideas, we say to that someone that their ideas have value. We send a message that the person we’re interacting with has value. 

It’s definitely much better than killing an idea outright, which tragically happens more often than not.  Rather than say an idea isn’t good, we ask instead “how can we build something from that idea?”  The potential answers can become endless in number as we welcome more thoughts, more ideas.

People have ideas just like we do.  And theirs can just be much better than ours.  Another way of putting it is that other people have already thought about our ideas before we came up with them. 

Many inventors build based on the ideas of others.  Many inventions are far from what they were originally thought.  Chances are, however, they developed from the tinkering and cultivating of other people’s ideas. 

The late Steve Jobs of Apple took a class on calligraphy and it is said that the class inspired him to promote the very many fonts we see on Apple’s and other manufacturers’ computers today:

“When we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”

-Steve Jobs

Note that Jobs said “we designed it all into the Mac;” he and his design team members built on each other’s thoughts to bring the breakthrough of fonts into personal computers. 

We all have our ideas and some of us would like to get sole credit for the ones that develop into beneficial inventions.  But in more ways than one, inventions are likely the products of teamwork, in which individuals cooperate to share ideas and make them realities.  And the device that makes that happen is the building from each other’s thoughts. 

Invention is not a one-person job. 

About Ellery’s Essays

One-Way Conversations Are Never Good

A salesman boasted that his meeting with customers went well.  He did all the talking and pushed his customers to agree to whatever he suggested.  “Dominating the meeting is important,” the salesman said, “it avoids the meeting turning into a gripe session and at the same time, focuses on getting what we want.” 

Many executives assert their agenda by dominating the conversations they have with their peers and employees.  It’s a practice for some chief executives to summon subordinates, tell them what they want, and dismiss them, at the same time reminding the subordinates to get their assigned task done by a certain date and time.  Sometimes the executives would ask if there are any questions, and if one or two subordinates ask, the executives would show some annoyance especially if the questions seem to contradict the executives’ wishes. 

It doesn’t just happen in the professional world. 

I have friends who’d call me in the middle of the day and want to get into a conversation.  The conversation would turn out to be one-way in which the friends talk and talk about themselves and I listen and listen all throughout.  They hardly ask about my situation and if they do, they’d ask, ‘how are you?’  and instantly after I say, ‘fine,’ they go back to talking about themselves.

Some friends thank me for listening although whatever advice offered would not seriously be considered.  Most discussions usually end up as one-way conversations; it’s always all about them. 

As much as we read about the importance of listening and empathy, most of us would just prefer to tell others what our views are and what we want.  We’d just prefer people listen and follow what we say without argument.  Listening and empathy offer opportunities for others to argue and most of us in this fast-paced world we live in just don’t have time for that. 

We believe listening just adds to the time of a conversation or meeting.  We don’t have time, we’d say, so we end up dominating the meeting and cutting the conversations short.  We’d call it keeping the meeting in line with the agenda or sticking to topic; we really just want to send our messages without further ado.      

Listening is an investment.  It is an investment in which we spend some of that valuable time to hear and empathise what the people whom we talk to are trying to tell us.  The trouble with this investment is that when we do it the first time, we have no inkling what the rewards or benefits will be. 

In many first-time attempts to listen, we don’t experience any benefits, at least none that would have made the time we invested seem worth it for ourselves. 

It is misleading to say empathy is a means to put ourselves in another one’s shoes for the sake of the other.  Empathy is not meant as a charitable exercise.  It is meant as a way to communicate for mutual benefit, i.e., for the benefit of the other person and you.  It is a process not meant to get personally in-touch but for both or more parties to have a discussion steered towards mutually beneficial outcomes.  We don’t listen to be nice; we listen so we can understand and cooperate. 

Any conversation we get into or any meeting we attend is an investment of our time.  When we try to dominate and steer the discussions, we should ask ourselves:  will it lead to mutually beneficial outcomes?  Or will it just result in marching orders to other people who may not really be enrolled to any ideas that are put on the table? 

Domination of a conversation is attractive as it espouses power over others.  Domination, however, implies a one-way form of communication and doesn’t really bring about mutually beneficial outcomes.  It may lead to benefits for the one who is domineering but it likely won’t to the ones who were dominated, at least the latter will likely feel they didn’t feel any good from it.     

Any conversation where all parties feel they got something good out of it is already a benefit.  It makes any investment in listening that leads to two-way mutually beneficial results worth it. 

About Ellery’s Essays

Ergonomics Can Be Helpful, Really Helpful

When it comes to productivity improvement, the first thing many executives think of is head count, how many people are needed for the job.  The last thing many managers think of is the human factor, how to better improve the working conditions for the individual person. 

Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

Ergonomics, strictly speaking, is a subset of Human Factors Engineering (HFE).  Ergonomics refers more to the individual’s physical make-up and how it interfaces with the individual’s workplace.  Human Factors Engineering is broader as it considers the environment and involves even how facilities are designed and built.  Both Ergonomics and Human Factors Engineering have become interchangeable, however, and many people nowadays see both as one and the same. 

Whether we call it ergonomics or human factors engineering, the study of how to improve the human individual’s interface can be very helpful to an organisation or an enterprise.  

Despite its growth in popularity since the 1980’s, Ergonomics remains a field where applications have been spotty.  Certainly, Ergonomics has been a key influence in the development of workplace standards and has been instrumental in the design of products such as automobiles, furniture, tools, and appliances.  Yet, there is plenty of potential for Ergonomics and we can see this in our daily experiences. 

We notice ergonomic applications in the vehicles we drive.  Seats are fitted to the contours of our human physiques.  Temperature and humidity inside the vehicles are ‘climate-controlled.’  Front- and rear-cameras supplement the wide windshields, mirrors, and rear-windows that maximise our fields of view.  And engineers have invested a great deal into passenger safety, such as airbags and seat-belts. 

But for many us who do drive, we still have to contend with blind spots, where we would be unable to see cars or trucks at certain corners of our visual field.  We have difficulties reading road signs, especially those with lettering that are too small or insufficiently illuminated.  We can’t be expected to anticipate the vehicle that stops suddenly in front of us.  And we can’t still see too well during heavy downpours of rain or when there is heavy fog or smoke.  There is indeed still much to improve in the ergonomics of automobiles. 

The popular coffee shop where I frequently dine in has very comfortable furniture where one can relax while having conversation.  But its chairs and tables aren’t that friendly when I want to type on a laptop or just write with paper & pen; the chairs are too low & the round tables don’t provide enough space.  As much as furniture may have come a long way in being more comfortable, there is still much room for improvement when it comes to being more ergonomic. 

The challenges for ergonomics aren’t limited to driving cars or sitting on coffee shop furniture.  We can see the need for better ergonomics in just about every profession, from the cockpits of airplanes to call centre work stations, from restaurant kitchens to factories.  Despite whatever progress or awareness we have gained in making workplaces friendlier for workers, we can do better. 

Traditional industrial engineering has focused on making the worker more efficient by instituting methods and quotas; the focus is on the workers making more by telling them to comply with standard operating procedures.   Industrial engineers would set up workplaces from the point of the view of the job.  IEs would instruct workers on how to do their jobs and they would set up reward & penalty systems to motivate them to optimise output. 

Ergonomics sees it the other way around.  The focus is on the well-being of the worker.  The workplace should be illuminated, not noisy, and not burdensome to the physical & mental health of the individual worker.  Hence, ergonomic experts establish standards for illumination, sound, environment, and for anthropometry, in which the latter deals with the measurements & movements of the human body vis-à-vis the workplace. 

The point of ergonomics is productivity via human occupational safety & health.  Just as IEs promote productivity via the design of the job, ergonomics seeks the same purpose but via adapting the workplace to the worker.  Hence, ergonomics doesn’t adapt the worker to the job, but instead, the job adapts to the worker. 

The major challenge of ergonomics is to find the right conditions, the optimal human factors so to speak, that would accommodate all individual workers and assure the best productivity performance possible.  With each person being different, it has been a huge challenge for ergonomic scientists.  How can ergonomics tweak a workplace to fit anyone, big or small, petite or tall, young or senior, without discrimination to gender, ethnicity, and other physical limitations?

The obvious answer is:  we can’t.  We can’t adapt everything at work to everyone.  But what we can do is adapt conditions flexibly to accommodate just about everyone.  

Furniture companies already supply adjustable office chairs and desks.   Automotive firms already build in seats that can be programmed to the anthropometry of the driver.  Not everyone (like seven-foot basketball players, for instance) may fit comfortably on a chair, but at least it would to a lot of people, if not most. 

One good example towards an ergonomic-for-all-approach is in office space design.  Enterprises recently have learned that the fad of open-plan office spaces in which, instead of cubicles, workers share tables in large open spaces, doesn’t lead to better performance; on the other hand, it has brought forth negative feedback as workers complain of distractions, not to mention endless meetings.

Designers, as a response, have put in small private rooms to offices and workers have welcomed not only the privacy the rooms bring but also the exclusivity of environmental control (e.g. the setting of the room thermostat).  Offices have more than accommodated most, if not all, their personnel in improving their working environment. 

As the coronavirus pandemic from 2020 to 2021 (hopefully) subsides, offices and factories that invest in better ventilation, cleaner surroundings, and exclusive private spaces will have an advantage to attract back their much-valued workers.  It’s not only about productivity, nor just safety, but the well-being and health of the individual person.  The pandemic may have made offices a pariah but enterprises by their initiatives to improve the office environment can make that negative idea temporary. 

Ergonomics is a science that focuses on the well-being of individuals for the sake of they doing better productively for those they are engaged with.  As ergonomics and its broader partner, human factors, become more synonymous, enterprises should continue to promote the science of adapting the job to the person and seek its benefits.  Ergonomics’ challenge is to accommodate for all types of individuals and this can be achieved through innovation, if not via simple common sense. 

Ergonomics can be helpful, really helpful. 

About Ellery’s Essays

Basic Needs Come First

A parish church conducted a field census of an impoverished neighbourhood.  The purpose of the census was to gather demographics, that is, how much households were earning, how many family members, if parents were married in a church, etc. 

When the census takers asked about what were their most important priorities, every household replied:  money.  It wasn’t employment, food, or security.  Just:  money. 

Money was the single focus of families who lived in shanties in the impoverished neighbourhood.  Nothing else was of higher importance.  Families and their breadwinners woke up every morning and worked throughout the day to get money that would at least tide them through the day. 

Money to the neighbourhood’s families was their number one singular basic need.  It wasn’t because of greed but need that drove them to pursue getting money.  Many families didn’t have members with steady jobs.  Heads of households went out every day looking and working to get cash to buy just enough to meet the basic needs for that day. 

Some religious groups label money as the root of evils.  They preach against focusing on money and tell people to pay attention to prayer and attending services.  The people hear the preachers, nod their heads, but go back home to return to their routine of earning money to survive. 

It’s always best to know what the priorities are of those we’re solving the problems for.  Famed American psychologist Abraham Maslow placed physiological needs like food, water, and sleep on the bottom of his pyramid model of the Hierarchy of Needs.  The bottom represented the most basic needs of humans—the ones we prioritise to satisfy first before we would move on the “higher” needs of safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation. 

People have different priorities based on the needs they have at the moment.  Poorer people need money more importantly than rich people.  Rich people might be more obsessed with the security of their assets than poor people.  Established enterprise executives may contemplate more on becoming more influential than a start-up entrepreneur who is insecure about his finances.  Teenagers may search for belonging while retired people look for meaning. 

Needs vary.  And whatever they are for whomever at the moment will determine how problems are defined and solved. 

A final example about basic needs coming first:

A psychiatrist shows a little girl a series of inkblots as part of a routine psychological evaluation.  For every inkblot, the little girl sees hamburgers, fries, and eggs.  When the psychiatrist asks the little girl why she keeps seeing food in every inkblot, the little girl says because it’s close to lunchtime and she’s hungry.  We don’t seek meaning in our lives when we’re hungry.

About Ellery’s Essays

About The Supply Chain Engineer

Supply chain management has figured prominently in organisational priorities since Keith Oliver in a reported conversation with a Philips manager, Mr. Van t’Hof, coined the term in the 1970’s, and it has become even more so at the onset of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. 

Supply chains are operational relationships made up of activities that transform and carry merchandise from their sources to their final point of use.  Supply chain operations cross borders and through enterprises, making it a requisite for managers to deal with counterparts from other places and firms as they strive to productively fulfil the demand of products and services. 

Despite just about everyone’s familiarity with supply chains, it has become a challenge managing them.  This is because supply chains are very comprehensive in scope and as such, it covers all functions that have anything to do with the procurement, manufacture, and logistics of products & services. From the mining of materials, the harvest of fruits, grains, & vegetables, to the manufacture of metals, consumer goods, & appliances, to the purchase of merchandise plus the logistics of storage, handling, transport, and delivery, supply chains intertwine through industries. 

Management is about the exercise of stewardship of activities and operations in a facility, department, and an organisation for the purpose of meeting strategic visions, missions, and objectives of stakeholders.  Managers work with systems and structures as they bring forth value for the enterprises they work for. 

The design and construction of said systems and structures, however, are not the jobs of managers.  Much as they may be charged to initiate and oversee their set-ups, they’re not the ones who build and fix them. 

That job goes to the engineer. 

Both supply chain managers and engineers have one common purpose:  deliver productivity

Productivity is how much is accomplished versus of how much is put in.  It’s output over input where the higher the ratio, the more ‘productive’ one is. 

Supply chain managers plan, organise, control, and direct the operations they oversee towards higher productivity in the delivery of merchandise and services for the enterprises they work for.  Supply chain managers have the added task of establishing interdependency between their employers and the vendors, service-providers, & customers that are the links in the supply chain.

Supply chain engineers plan and build the systems and structures the supply chain managers work in and with.  Supply chain engineers study, design, plan, build, set up, buy, install, and fix facilities, networks, methods, equipment, vehicles, workplaces, and flow patterns of activities, resources, services, and merchandise that underlie supply chain operations.

Whereas supply chain management has become a high-profile profession given the growing challenges of scope, complexity, and disruption in the global, regional, and local exchange of goods and services, supply chain engineering remains as an unrecognised, if not ignored, field. 

It is my aim to promote Supply Chain Engineering as a very much needed discipline that goes hand-in-hand with Supply Chain Management.  This is in line with my vocation to boost the productivity of the operations of organisations. 

One cannot achieve optimal productivity if supply chain managers have shoddy systems and structures to work with.  It’s hard enough that supply chain managers have to negotiate with other organisations given the over-reaching scopes of operations.  They could use the help of engineers in ensuring they have the optimal systems and structures that support the strategic productivity goals of enterprises. 

About Ellery’s Essays

We Get More Via Mutually Beneficial Relationships

The parish priest wanted to construct a building beside the church.  The new building would be a venue to host church gatherings and organisational meetings.  He asked his parishioners for help. 

A construction contractor approached the priest and offered to build the church at what he said would be half his standard price.  The 50% discount would be the contractor’s donation to the parish church community.  The priest and the parish laity leadership accepted the contractor’s offer. 

The contractor finished the building in six (6) months. 

But it wasn’t well built.  The contractor used cheap pipes for plumbing which began to leak as soon as they were used.  Because the pipes were embedded in the concrete floor, cracks and water seeped from the building’s second floor to the ground floor. 

The concrete flooring of the building was plain as in no tiles or quality finishing.  The building looked more like it was suited for a warehouse than a venue for gatherings. 

The doors were made of cheap lumber and poorly installed such that some fell apart in a short time. 

The building was also dark.  The contractor installed few lights and for those rooms which had lights, he bought the cheapest light bulbs and fixtures.  Windows were also few and small so that even during the day, it was hard to see where one was going without the lights turned on. 

And because there were not many windows, ventilation was poor.  Air-conditioning equipment bought and installed were the cheapest models and they conked out within months.  Groups who used the new venue complained about the heat. 

Even though the building had only two floors, climbing the stairs felt like climbing a mountain.  Steps were built so steep that senior parish lay people would have difficulties going to the second floor.  There was no elevator. 

The contractor billed the parish priest for the construction and collected his so-called half-price fee.  It was obvious that the contractor cut back on so much to keep costs down such that he would eke out a profit from his 50% discounted price.  The contractor never really donated “half of his fee”; he simply snagged a contract from an unsuspecting parish priest to earn some money. 

Suppliers, vendors, and contractors are in business to make money.  They may offer discounts and even position low prices as donations.  Whatever they may say, their true intent will always be to earn a profit.  No enterprise does business for charity. 

When we deal with private enterprises, the name of the game is not to ask for donations or ask other parties to discount for our benefit only.  It’s about knowing what we want and getting what we pay for, at the same time seeking mutual benefit with the ones we are engaging with. 

Many of us don’t seek mutual benefit.  Most of the time, we push for prices and terms that benefit only ourselves without thinking how the lower prices and better terms we weasel from suppliers, vendors, and contractors will boomerang back in the forms of poor quality and shoddy service.  In other words, we get what we pay for. 

Mutual benefit does not mean giving up our interests.  It is about pursuing a win-win arrangement with those we deal with. 

Some people criticise me for example when I charge a lower rent for a warehouse I lease.  “Why am I so nice?,” the critics will ask.  I could have raked in quite a bit more money, the critics would argue. 

The reply I give is that I don’t just look at price.  I also look at how long a period a potential tenant wants to lease.  I also consider the tenant’s profile.  I would, for example, offer discounts for entrepreneurs or start-ups but ask for escalations in rent prices as the tenant’s business grows.  I also would discount to tenants who pay in advance or agree to give post-dated checks.  I, however, would argue for higher prices if the tenant is an established firm that requires me to undergo a complicated process of collecting the rent every month. 

Mutual benefit as an ideal has worked for me.  Critics may argue I could have earned more.  But profit alone is not how I measure success.  Good relationships with customers, vendors, suppliers, and contractors have resulted in a steady continuous stream of income for my business. 

We get what we pay for.  But we get more via mutually beneficial relationships. 

About Ellery’s Essays

About Ellery’s Essays

Hi, I’m Ellery. I’m a supply chain engineer and an administrator.  I write essays that promote productivity and Aha moments.    

I’ve been immersed in supply chains since 1984.  I’ve worked with plenty of people in manufacturing, logistics, purchasing, engineering, and planning.  It’s a broad field where many do overtime anonymously and where there’s room for improvement when it comes to productivity.   

I’ve been a full-time property administrator since 1997.  I manage properties like warehouses and offices which not only has kept me in touch with supply chains but also has introduced me to professionals from other walks of life.  And I can tell you there are plenty of professionals in the property administration business who toil anonymously with overtime and who could use a little help in uplifting productivity in their workplaces. 

I co-wrote a book, Speed Kills, with the esteemed supply chain advisor and speaker, Jovy J. Jader and from that pivotal point of becoming a writer, I’ve gone on to write blogs then essays. Formerly titled Overtimers Anonymous, my blogs-turned-essays evolved from everyday issues in supply chain operations management to Aha’s, insights from everyday experiences.  

We all have Aha’s and as I promote productivity wherever I am, I hope to also demonstrate that we can convert some of our fleeting thoughts into ideas, no matter how seemingly insignificant, into inventions of significant benefit.  

If you want to pick my brains for information and ideas, please feel free to contact me (ellery_l@yahoo.com) or drop me a text at +639178353546. I’m also on LinkedIn , Viber, Twitter, and Facebook

Ellery S. Lim

A Reminder to Walk Around

I finalised a contract to lease an office unit to a new tenant in February 2022.  I obliged to give the tenant two (2) free months of rent or up to the end of March 2022 to allow him to make improvements and buy & move in his furniture & equipment.  I didn’t see the need to check the office periodically as I didn’t want to go out from home as the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t over yet.

That was a mistake.  I should have made the effort to inspect. 

At the end of March, the tenant hardly finished his improvements and wasn’t ready to move in.  His contractor was going too slow. 

The tenant also wanted to buy additional air-conditioning equipment as the building’s existing centralised air-conditioning operated only from 8am to 5pm Mondays to Fridays.  The tenant’s business was a back-room operation for a North American firm and had to operate afternoons to evenings.  The tenant needed air-conditioning after 5pm.

I had entrusted the oversight of the improvements to the building’s engineer.  But when I asked how come he didn’t update me on the tenant’s slow progress and the need for additional air-conditioning, the engineer said it wasn’t his job.  The tenant wasn’t doing any major renovation so citing building policy, the engineer said he didn’t have to oversee what was going on in the office unit.  In other words, the responsibility of oversight was mine.

Even as I was frustrated with the engineer’s apathy and failure to communicate, I knew I made the mistake of not being on top of what was happening at the office unit. 

And because I made that mistake, I had to grant another month of free rent to the tenant and had to rush assisting the tenant in regard to the air-conditioning.  Any new air-conditioning would fall under my ownership so even though there was a re-negotiation on the lease contract with the tenant, I was responsible for the purchase and installation. 

This is what happens when I don’t take time to walk around and see for myself what’s happening at what I’m managing.  It is a simple core of the idea of Management by Walking Around, or MBWA, in which managers should habitually get out of their desk chairs and visit the operations they oversee.

By seeing with one’s own senses what’s happening on the ground and what people are doing, managers keep themselves in touch with the operations and personnel they manage.  They don’t rely solely on status reports and staff meeting agenda. 

Because of a raging coronavirus pandemic that forced restrictions on movement, managers have resorted to overseeing their operations remotely from 2020 to 2022.  Most of what managers have done in the pandemic period had been via online meetings (e.g. Zoom), email, text messaging, phone calls, and project management software (e.g. Trello, Basecamp).

Many managers have not been to the sites they were assigned to for months, if not for more than a year.  Many lost touch with their workplaces. 

It didn’t seem to matter at the height of the pandemic.  Many businesses were shut or scaled down due to government-mandated restrictions.  But as the pandemic eased in mid-2022, enterprises have emerged and asked workers to slowly but surely return to their offices and factories. 

Because managers mix their schedules with work at the office and work from home and because they want to be cautious in meeting people face-to-face, they didn’t see MBWA as a viable exercise, and it seems that many managers would no longer take MBWA as seriously as before. 

Which is too bad.  Numerous challenges have faced enterprises as they resumed their businesses in 2022.  Customers were clamouring for deliveries and supply chains were gridlocked due to higher demand for merchandise coupled with daily disruptions arising from festering coronavirus surges in some nations and from conflicts between nations (e.g. Russia’s war with Ukraine). 

Managers need to know what’s going on with what they’re managing.  They need to see things first-hand to empathise what their people are experiencing.  Veteran managers may claim that they can know what’s happening just by reading the reports as they may say they’ve been in the business long enough to know.  But they won’t.    

Wise managers who have been in the business for a long time know not walking around on the pretext of experience is more an excuse than a truth.  Wise managers know that every next day is always different.  Challenges never come back identical to those from the past.  The numbers on a report may be similar to one some time ago but the circumstances would not really be the same.  It’s one thing for a report to say something; it’s another to see it for oneself. 

The problem with MBWA is there isn’t much statistics to back up its effectiveness.  What we can only rely on is what managers have said about it.  And from my experience, it is effective. 

MBWA has become an idea shelved by the urgency of a plague in 2020.  But as enterprises re-emerge and face many issues, it may be a good time to consider MBWA as a basic tactic in the exercise of management.     

About Overtimers Anonymous