Here’s a technique I learned back in Microsoft Developer Support. It’s called sweeping. The idea is simple. You periodically “sweep” the mess. You schedule a focused batch of time and sweep your mess. In our case, it was the knowledge base (KB). What happens with content is it erodes over time. You also end up with a bunch of stuff that either doesn’t belong or can be improved. Each sweep was like a breath of fresh air. Our sweeps were fun because we would schedule a time to focus, order food, and team up. I’ve used sweeping since then in work and in life to periodically whip things into shape.
The Beauty of the Sweep
The beauty of the sweep is that rather than try to perfect things up front, you focus on “good enough for now,” knowing that you’ll get a chance to improve it later. More importantly, you’ll improve it with real feedback, When I first joined the team, it was common for our articles to sit unpublished for a few months. In fact, the longer something sat, the more likely it would go unpublished. People would lose interest or it would end up out of date. Meanwhile, we missed the windows of opportunity.
The most important change I made in the process was to use frequent sweeps to clean things up. This helped debottleneck the process because perfection was holding things back. Once people got to see that they could fix things, the content flowed faster. It was alive. The reality was our KB was not static. It was a living system of information.
Keys to Effective Sweeping
Here’s the key I’ve found to effective sweeping:
- Pick something that matters. If you’re going to spend your energy sweeping, then spend on it on something you care about. One way to prioritize it is pick something that is taking energy away from you or getting in your way on a regular basis. Use some focused energy to improve it.
- Team up. Sweeping is a great team sport. When we swept the KB, we would find a small team of people that cared the most about it. We made it a game. We had fun. What made it work though was having the right people working on the right things. Some people were better at customer perspective. Some people were better at technical accuracy. Some people had more expertise in certain areas. Teaming up got more done, simpler, faster, easier.
- Tune and prune. Cut the dead wood. Sometimes things are just past their time. It might be better to start from scratch, than the work it would take to improve something.
- Carry the good forward. Find the good stuff and bring it forward. Sometimes this is the fastest way to build momentum. Find the stuff that’s working for you or you are proud of and take care of that first.
- Get Over perfectionism. Sweeping gets you over perfection. Think of it as versioning your perfection. It’s easier to put good enough into practice when you know that you’ll make time down the line to improve it.
- Each sweep is a new chance to improve. Think of each sweep as a new chance at bat. You can make incremental and iterative improvements. It’s a way to version your perfection over time.
- It’s the solution to death by 1000 paper cuts. All the little extra overhead adds up. You can push them to a sweep where you can batch and focus. Batching is the ultimate answer to death by a 1000 paper cuts.
- See the forest from the trees. Sweeping helps you see the forest from the trees. In a sweep, you gather all your rocks. This gives you a new vantage point.
- Fix the leaks. Sweeping fixes the leaks.
- Flow value. Sweeping helps you flow value.
- Revitalize what you have. Sweeping helps you revitalize what you have.
- Learn and improve. Sweeping helps you learn and improve.
- Go from built to last to built to change. Sweeping helps you shift from build to last, to built to change.
- Find the short-cuts. Sweeping is how you find the short-cuts. When you have focused, concentrated effort, you’ll find ways to be more efficient.
Here’s some example sweeping:
- Sweep your RSS feeds.
- Sweep your email system.
- Sweep your blog.
- Sweep your routines, habits, and practices.
- Sweep your day.
- Sweep your weekly schedule.
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