TODO list bankruptcy

Today while going over my Filofax TODO lists, I declared “TODO list bankruptcy”. It was filled with a lot of stuff that was not important, or lost its importance as time went by.

I will try to keep this to three tasks per day and am even considering a weekly “bankruptcy” on what is left behind and not dealt with for at least 15 seconds.

The five most important questions

It was thanks to this post by John D. Cook on abandoning projects that I got interested in Peter Drucker. So I went to and looked up whether there exist any ebook versions of his works. I bumped into “The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization” which is focused on non-profit and social organizations. Being a public sector worker, the book seemed a natural candidate.

The book expands on an earlier 1992 version written by Drucker and contains essays by him and other experts in the field of management. All essays are centered around five basic questions which as Drucker writes it is important to ask:

“The most important aspect of the Self-Assessment Tool is the questions it poses. Answers are important; you need answers because you need action. But the most important thing is to ask these questions.”

The five questions are:

  1. What is Our Mission?
  2. Who is Our Customer?
  3. What Does the Customer Value?
  4. What Are Our Results?
  5. What Is Our Plan?

Non-profit organizations are about changing lives and these questions are a tool to achieve this. Even without reading the explanatory essays their importance is evident (as is answering them in a sincere way). And while the book itself is not a self-assessment tool for an individual, the questions themselves are a good start.

It is beyond evident to people that know me that the concept of organized abandonment is what I liked most in the book. I’ve been (unsuccessfully) advocating a similar stance within my employer’s organization for years but I had never seen it so clearly articulated until now. Plus this time it is not only me saying this, Drucker said that too, see? IMVHO, organized abandonment is the basic evolution mechanism for organizations (public and private sector).

This is definitely a book I will revisit in six months time. To evaluate its impact on my way of thinking within my own organization and to see whether I managed to pass anything along.

PS: I bought the PDF version of the book by mistake. Normally I try to read ePub versions on my BeBook Mini, but luckily in this case the BeBook rendered the PDF adequately.

organized abandonment

shut it down

John D. Cook is reading “Inside Drucker’s Brain” and quoting stuff from it. I am reading the book of five questions, and it is my turn to quote Peter Drucker:

“Other people can do those activities and do them well. Maybe a few years ago it was a good idea for you to help get this farmers’ market started because those Vietnamese farmers in your area needed a place to sell their produce; but it’s going well now, and you don’t have to run it anymore. It’s time for organized abandonment”.

As system administrators we manage organized complexity. When systems outlive their scope, organized abandonment is the way to go. Unmaintained legacy systems is what we get for not planning so.

The Deadline – A Novel about Project Management

Dimitris sent me “The Deadline” as a gift for my birthday. Written by Tom DeMarco (author of “Peopleware“) it is a novel that aims to introduce the reader to the complicate and cruel world of software project management. It also explains why most software projects fail. Clearly. In a buy-this-book-for-your-manager-to-open-his-eyes way. Team formation, design, quality control, unrealistic deadlines, goals and schedules, it is all in there. So if you need psychological support when a project goes bad, you should read the book. It is a good bus read.

It is also a book that opens doors to new worlds. Thanks to the book I learned about the adventures of Mr. Tompkins by George Gamow in which he aims to explain modern scientific theories to a popular audience. I see my stack of unread books getting higher again. I also learned about iThink which seems pretty cool (but then again I find Systems Thinking interesting enough). Pity though that iThink costs as much as it does (should I write my half-baked hack of systems thinking software? Damn! When I cannot buy, I try to write code instead and thus pay in time).

What would I change in the book? I would completely discard the very last chapter. Totally unnecessary. But no harm done, since the story is only the vehicle for the project management message and the message does get through. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with managers like Mr. Tompkins; for this I want to end this post with the very first notes in Mr. Tompkins’s journal:

Four essentials of Good Management:

  • Get the right people
  • Match them to the right jobs
  • Keep them motivated
  • Help their teams to jell and stay jelled

(All the rest is Administrivia)

Amen to that!

The Stockdale Paradox

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” –Vice Admiral J. B. Stockdale

I think I first read about it back in 2001 when “Good to Great” came out.

But right now, this is how I’m feeling.

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

Over that past ten days or so I found myself making constant references to Parkinson’s Law of Triviality in order to explain certain dilatory behaviors. If (like me) you do not have a copy of the book, Poul Henning-Kamp has written an excellent write-up on the concept which is hosted on

Parkinson shows how you can go in to the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions.

Parkinson explains that this is because an atomic plant is so vast, so expensive and so complicated that people cannot grasp it, and rather than try, they fall back on the assumption that somebody else checked all the details before it got this far. Richard P. Feynmann gives a couple of interesting, and very much to the point, examples relating to Los Alamos in his books.

A bike shed on the other hand. Anyone can build one of those over a weekend, and still have time to watch the game on TV. So no matter how well prepared, no matter how reasonable you are with your proposal, somebody will seize the chance to show that he is doing his job, that he is paying attention, that he is *here*.

A simple Pomodoro timer

I first heard about the Pomodoro Technique by @sugarenia. The technique is basically this:

Work on a task for 25 minutes (a “pomodoro”) and then take a break for 5 minutes. Every four pomodoros, take a longer break.

Like the book proposes, I am using a kitchen timer (I did so after reading Lakein’s book back in 2008). Besides using hardware, there exist a number of software packages that countdown from 25 minutes. I think however, that that following shell script is among the simplest (if not the simplest) implementations:

( sleep 1500 && xlock ) &

If you find the xlock(1) approach harsh, you can always use a variation like xsetroot -solid red.

( Tested on OpenBSD-4.7 )