Thursday, April 16, 2015

Task productivity -- reviewing another researcher's Evernote account

One of my colleagues recently mentioned that he had collected some information related to task management and he shared his Evernote folder. It's always an interesting experience to look within another person's Evernote account. It's like being shown a messy basement or a hoarder's garage. Regardless, I found some interesting information:

Lazar et. al. User frustration with technology in the workplace. 

It comes out of Ben Shneiderman's lab so it must be okay... right? So they collected modified time diaries from 50 people in the workplace. They reported wasting 42-43% of their time on the computer due to "frustrating experiences".

The study is old but it gives us some sense of the time lost in a "frustrating experience":

  • email 23.8 minutes
  • word processing 36
  • web browsing 14.4
  • spreadsheet 67.1

Stoitsev et al. 2008. From personal task management to end-user driven business process modeling.

This seems interesting. It was written by an SAP lab and focuses on individual level work modeling. And it still seems a bit heavy-handed.

Du et al. 2009. Work experience reuse in pattern based task management.

Another SAP paper... which makes me nervous. So this is really about recognizing "task patterns" so that we can enable "task copy" i.e., doing the same kinds of things in the same kids of ways. To detemrine these things we have to use a "task journal". We are looking for "experience reuse". Apparently the "UAM project" (Moran, Moody, Cozzi) does something similar. The activity pattern is presented as a checklist with a bunch of worksteps.

So we have to identify process and tasks. Tasks can then have checklists. These checklists than indicate similarity.

Riss et al. 2005. Challenges for business process and task management. Journal of universal knowledge management.

SAP author... again. And it seems complicated... again.

Robertson et. al. Scalable fabric: flexible task management. 

Okay, this one is from Microsoft. Let's see what we get. It seems to be about moving windows and resizing them to enable efficiencies... not a big deal.

End user productivity revisited. July 2011. The Register, Microsoft, Freeform Dynamics. This technical report actually has some nice graphs that I can probably use.

n = 357 IT and business professionals.

This thing introduces some interesting numbers related to what an important measure of productivity could be:

A nice quote: "The top three elements chosen by our respondents clearly show that productivity is as much about individual effectiveness as it about the factors that help an individual to be effective"

Most organizations don't actually do very well on these things:

Vocational training vs. Habermas term papers

The Register reports that Google has a new patent for coordinating the actions of individual robots. This announcement seems in keeping with other recent concerns about the future of work and employment. Paul Krugman, citing  a NBER paper, takes umbrage with the idea that "advancing technology would mean ever-growing demand for highly educated workers." He notes that "human beings would continue to be wanted for jobs that require common sense, including many forms of manual labor." The NBER paper notes that there was a "strong demand for skills [associated with high educational skill] in the decades leading up to 2000" but that that since then there has been a "decline in demand... even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow."

It seems that traditional higher education doesn't necessarily lead to better jobs:

" the Information Revolution of the late 20th century was a spectacular but only partial success. Simple information processing became faster and cheaper than anyone had imagined, but the once-confident artificial intelligence movement went from defeat to defeat. As Marvin Minsky, one of the movement's founders, despairingly remarked, 'What people vaguely call common sense is actually more intricate than most of the technical expertise we admire.' And it takes common sense to deal with the physical world -- which is why, even at the end of the 21st century, there are still no robot plumbers."

The comments echo an essay by Krugman from 1996 entitled "White Collars Turn Blue". In the essay Krugman describes the world of the future, particularly the role of education. He notes that "the eroding payoff of higher education created a crisis in education itself. Why should a student put herself through four years of college and several years of postgraduate work to acquire academic credentials with little monetary value? These days, jobs that require only 6 or 12 months of vocational training -- paranursing, carpentry, household maintenance and so on -- pay nearly as much if not more than a job that requires a master's degree, and pay more than one requiring a Ph.D."

In Krugman's future there is still, however, a role for elite institutions: "Today a place like Harvard is, as it was in the 19th century, more of a social institution than a scholarly one -- a place for children of the wealthy to refine their social graces and befriend others of their class."

Krugman seems to be quite skeptical of traditional education. As DeClou notes, there might be some fundamental benefits to higher education including better social engagement, less involvement with crime, etc. But the benefits do not necessarily translated into better job outcomes or employability. There is still a need for basic skills, General Knowledge-Worker Preparedness, and pico-productivity. How do we get there? Learning outcomes assessment: a practitioner's handbook, published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario certainly provides some great ideas for ensuring that outcomes are actually aligned with job requirements. One could argue, for example, that if the most likely outcome for a philosophy major is to work in call center, than the program should include the development of the skills involved in speaking to people, resolving issues, etc. The program should extend beyond the YAHTP paradigm (Yet Another Habermas Term Paper) to include assessment based on verbal communication.

This all has a very vocational feel to it... as it should. The great thing about vocational training is that there are very clear outcomes. People either get jobs or they don't; if they don't get jobs then the program folds. A key aspect of vocation training is identifying the necessary skills involved in a particular job or occupation.

A document from Alberta Workforce Essential Skills identifies a variety of Workplace Essential Skills (WES): "the skills that enable people to do their work". The document introduces a set of steps for using the skills:

  • step 1. form a steering committee
  • step 2. identify the occupations learners will enter
  • step 3. identify the workplace essential tasks required for these occupations
  • step 4. incorporate the identified WES tasks into curriculum
  • step 5. gather authentic workplace materials
  • step 6. prepare instructors to use the curriculum

Employment and Social Development Canada provides some visibility into Essential Skills Profiles .

There are no "Research Analysts" listed among the occupations but we do have some that come close.

  • Information systems analysts and consultants
  • Authors and Writers
  • Editors
  • Professional Occupations in Business Services to Management
  • Computer Network Technicians
  • Journalists
  • Contact Centre Agents
  • Producers, Directors, Choreographers and Related Occupations
  • Database Analysts and Data 
  • Administrators
  • Web Designers and Developers
  • Desktop Publishing Operators and Related Occupations
  • Small Business Counselors
  • Archivists

The skills are broken out across some core areas:

  • reading
  • document use
  • writing
  • numeracy
    • money math
    • scheduling, budgeting, and accounting math
    • measurement and calculation math
    • data analysis math
    • numerical estimation
  • oral communication
  • thinking
    • problem solving
    • decision making
    • critical thinking
    • job task planning and organizing
    • own job planning and organizing
    • planning and organizing for others
    • significant use of memory
    • finding information
  • digital technology
  • additional skills
    • working with others
    • continous learning

I'm actually not sure what to do with all of this stuff but it all speaks to somehow knowing what kinds of tasks are required for particular job roles. Ideally, to improve GKwP, we need to provide training on these requirements.


Beaudry, Green, and Sand. 2013. The great reversal in the demand for skill and cognitive tasks. NBER Working Paper no. 18901.

Lindsay DeClou (2014). Social returns: assessing the benefits of higher education. Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, Issue Paper no. 18.

Learning outcomes assessment: a practitioner's handbook, published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Specialization is for insects

I keep this passage above my desk for inspiration. I'm repeating it here for posterity. It was uttered by the Robert Heinlein character Lazarus Long in Time enough for love.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

GKP -- General Knowledge Worker Preparedness

There's a concept in the world of physical culture called "General Physical Preparedness" (GPP). Basically, it's that stuff that you do to be a better athlete without actually training your specific sport. Of course, the only way to get better at a sport is to practice it but without sufficient GPP the athlete will fail in his or her efforts to meet their potential. It is, apparently, a Soviet concept. According to one source:

"GPP training serves several functions: 1) the formation, strengthening or restoration of habits (skills) which play an auxiliary, facilitory role in sports perfectioning. 2) As a means of educating abilities, developed insufficiently by the selected type of sport, raising the general work capacity or preserving it. 3) As active rest, assisting the restoration processes after significant, specific loading and counteracting the monotony of the training. These functions define the role of the general-preparatory exercises in the athlete's training system."

Coach Dan John provides an elaboration of this concept with is four quadrant model. Basically, you can describe any pursuit in terms of the number of required skills and the quality of the skills required. We all start with few skills of low quality. Particular sports, however, have different demands. He notes that being successful at PhysEd class requires one to learn a lot of different skills but at relatively low quality. Becoming proficient at sports like olympic lifting or sprinting, however, require a tremendous amount of skill at a small number of things. Things like MMA, rugby, etc. actually require one to have a huge number  of highly developed skills.

The challenging is knowing what quadrant you need to be in. Dan John argues that most of us think that we should train for quadrant two, but the reality is that we probably don't need to. Instead, we need to have an awareness of a number of different skills but become really good at a small number of them. In this manner, we could potentially have the capacity to get to quadrant two but we probably won't have to.

So what's is the equivalent of GPP for knowledge workers? What is General Knowledge Worker Preparedness? Here's a short list of skills:

  • How do you manage your time?
  • How do you manage your email?
  • How do you manage meetings?
  • How do you manage phone calls?
  • How do you figure out what it is that you spend all of your time on?
  • How do you manage your knowledge?
  • How do you automate your processes?
  • How do you manage your documents?
  • How do you manage your security?
  • How do you build deliverables?
  • How do you build reports?
  • How do you build presentations?
  • How do you build spreadsheets?
  • How do you set passwords?
  • How do you manage projects?
  • What do you eat at a business lunch?
I'm sure this list will grow over time.

Training 2015/04/10 #014


It was another weak of review. We worked through the list from the top down. However, we should probably work through it randomly. Maybe we need a little JavaScript on-page number generator.

There were a few details that we hadn't worked before. One was the transition from side control to mount if your opponent is blocking with their knee. You basically want to lie beside them, chamber your knee until it's almost touching your nose, and then swing over. Of course, this whole operation puts you into a terribly precarious situation. First, you don't want to get pushed off so you need to keep your top leg out at 9 o'clock. You also want to prevent your opponent from rolling into you. We came across a few ways of doing this. The first is to get the chinstrap with your cross-facing arm. The second way is to take a reverse kesa gatame type of position (i.e., your top arm across their head).

UPDATE -- I recently read a few reviews on this position. One of the things to consider is killing that near arm. From reverse kesa gatame you really want to get your hip up on that near arm so that they can't use it. You can also limit the far arm by getting it off the ground. This approach frees up your other arm so you can push their knee down and pin it to the ground. Step over and fish-tail hard and look for a hook with your near side foot. The kimura might be right there...

We also worked on the transition from side control by moving around the head. Again, take the reverse kesa gatame and block their near hip. Move around their head, ideally squeegying their arm across their face/neck, which really sets up the choke.

Rolling was fun. I ended up in an interesting situation. I basically walked into the guillotine and did a decent job of defending but ended up mounted and grape-vined. I went for Roy Harris's toe press from bottom mount technique and almost got it. The challenge was that I couldn't completely free my head from the cross-face so couldn't reach down and grab the foot so that I could apply pressure with my leg. Next time... or maybe I should have gone for the sweep on the other side.

UPDATE -- the power for that toe press comes from the leg. If you can't grab the toe with your hands, you can't get the tap.

One challenge was starting because we didn't really start from our knees. I was on my knees but my partner was just kind of sitting there. My new found take down skills aren't going to work! I should probably refresh my knowledge of the "push forward" take downs.

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