I guess we can call this a Tool of the $TIMEPERIOD post, as it's about a handly little thing I discovered recently. It's not an object, exactly, more of a process, and I haven't been doing it for very long, but I think it has some serious potential.
I've started keeping an "I Hate" list. Stay with me, it's more positive than it sounds. But I need to back up for a minute.
My job is to provide technical support to people who go into physician offices, look for things that aren't working, and try to root those problems out. It's about increasing efficiency, training doctors to take a broader view of their patient populations, and put in better processes for preventive and chronic disease care.
The process is a pretty straightforward one: First you identify something that's not working the way it should. Once you've done that, you do what's called a "root cause analysis", which is essentially reverse-engineering the problem to figure out why it's happening in the first place. After that, it's a matter of rapid-cycle testing: propose a fix for the problem, test it out immediately on a small scale, and watch what happens. If your change works, great, spread it out across the practice, and if not, analyze why not and work on a better plan. Rinse, repeat.
This is a stunningly simple thing that is often very difficult to do well. When you're new to it, the hardest part of it (for me, anyway) is training your brain to catch the problems in the first place. It's easy to get complacent about things being The Way They Are and acclimate yourself to annoyances and idiocies to the extent that you barely even notice them.
The job's been worming its way into my brain. It's slowly gotten me thinking about the things in my life that could stand an un-sucking. Like buying my iPad, for instance—I was stunned to discover that I usually prefer using it to my laptop, unless I need to do something it flat-out can't handle. Why?
No power cords. Ten-hour battery. Lightweight. Easy to rest on the arm of my chair. It doesn't gently roast my testicles while I use it. It doesn't erect a partial barrier between me and the rest of the room. It's as pleasant and easy to plop in your lap as a book.
In short, it made me aware of a half-dozen or so minor annoyances that come from using even something as portable and convenient as a laptop computer, annoyances I'd gotten so used to that they barely registered with me. Hello iPad, bye-bye frustrations, and my life gets a little more un-sucked.
Enter the "I Hate" list.
It's a simple concept. You write down things that you hate. Not things like racism or Sean Hannity or the New York Yankees (things that are equally horrible), but things that you encounter in your daily life that you find to be at least moderately unpleasant. They may be things, but mostly they'll be tasks you perform.
So, as an example this morning, I noted that I hate tracking email conversations in Outlook, because Outlook does not by default group messages by conversation the way GMail does. I thought on it some, then went looking for a hack.
Turns out I didn't need one. Outlook 2010 allows you to turn this on as a setting. Even better, it gives you some surprisingly awesome tools for managing conversations that even GMail doesn't have. My morning went from dull to nerd-giddy in five minutes, and I spread the word to my teammates about what I'd learned. From "I hate" to improving company efficiency in fifteen minutes or less. And now every day has a tiny little bit less friction.
So I'm applying this life-wide. I keep a little text file called iHate.txt in my Dropbox (that's an affiliate link—if you sign up through it, we both get more storage for free), and any time I hit an annoyance, I whip out my phone and append a new line to it. It's already growing at a good clip, and I'm doing root cause analyses to find what's behind those lifeturds.
Turns out a lot of it has to do with clutter, of both the physical and metaphorical varieties. Which necessitates a plan. Which I am now working on, a tiny bit at a time.
Surprisingly positive experience, thinking about things that you hate. Every splinter identified is a splinter that can be tweezed away. And now is the season of the tweezening.