Category Archives: Productivity

routine and process

Four productivity tips – getting deliberate with your work routine

My last posts was about “things” that helped with productivity. This time I look at routine and process. For myself, these approaches have been transformational over the last several years.

Own your first couple hours

Don’t look at emails for the first three hours of your work day. Easier said than done, and I know some people don’t have work or lifestyles that allow for this. But if you can reserve the first three hours of the day to work on what you believe is a priority, you will be amazed how much you accomplish when you look back on the day or week. It speaks to whether you are working deliberately or reactively. Email is about communication and other people. You can still meet your responsibilities to others, but you are doing it in a fashion that isn’t interrupted.

On a related note…

Eliminate (most) notifications

Owning your first couple hours and being deliberate with the rest of the day is extremely difficult if you are getting email, text, Slack or other real time notifications. The mind naturally has to process alerts and then decision need to made whether to take immediate action.

R.I.P. whatever you were previously choosing to work on.

Eliminating notifications works for me by…

  1. Having a routine where you still make time for all these communication methods, but you just batch them or have designated times for back and forth communication.
  2. Having a contact escalation method for your team to reach you and for you to reach them. As an example your key team members have IM/Text access, but only use for priority/urgent communication. The key is to find a balance where immediate communication is limited to what is truly needed.  

Get everything out of your head

Holding things in your mind and having to remember to-dos, action items, and ideas is a huge mental drain. If I think of something I need to do, I put it into my system. I use a mix of cloud-based, cross-platform apps: Trello for action items, Calendars for blocking time for key priorities, and OneNote for call notes, research and pretty much everything else.  

For myself, when I have to hold something in my head to remember, do, or consider, it will keep popping up as I do other things. If I know that it lives somewhere that is part of my process, I can let it go until I get to it with intentionally and focus.

Have a backlog

Everything can’t be done immediately. If you aren’t going to be able to do something right away, have a place where you put long term ideas or even action items. Just make sure that you work into your routine looking at these items. Later on, you may find some things weren’t as important as you thought, or you may find that you are now ready to tackle some of these. This approach lends itself to prioritization and batching the completion of similar items.

If you have found routines or processes that help you at work or in your life, I would love to hear about them. You can send me a tweet.

inkello desk calendar - things I love

Things I Love: Focus and Productivity Edition

I believe that beyond the basics and key tools, “things” actually don’t improve one’s life dramatically or at all. That said, here are a few things that I use daily and really appreciate.

inkello Matchbook Calendar

Yes, all computers have calendars, but a small physical calendar is a huge benefit to me. I don’t have to load a calendar up on the computer, go forward a month, and hope the calendar doesn’t go away when I click on another window.

I buy three inkello mini calendars each year and keep them on the current, previous and upcoming month.

They are beautifully made and quick to reference. They take up very little space and are always there.

I make many scheduling decisions and have to communicate those to the teams. Being able to see days and dates quickly is just awesome. Also, these calendars are made in my neighborhood in Lawrence, Kansas.

Bose QC 35 Headphones

I was cheapskate audiophile in my college and post-college years, so I had a slightly negative impression of Bose. When I was even younger, Paul Harvey selling their $400 radio as the ultimate audio experience didn’t sit well with me. But I now have been converted; I love these wireless, sound suppressing headphones.

The sound isolation is amazing. Actual silence. Certainly if someone yells in the room you are in or adjacent to you will hear it, but the low buzz that comes from fans, electronics, etc goes away. For a year my wife’s sister and her family lived with us. They were amazing house guests, but the ability to isolate myself off from sounds, really helped with focus. The family has left to live in their own home, but I still spend 2-3 hour a day with these headphones on. Either with no music or low volume music in the background. Also I will occasionally use them for podcasts when I am doing things around the house.

For air travel, I would consider them borderline essential. I travel primarily for leisure and learning, but even my three trips a year are so much better without airplane engine noise and the constant chatter in airports. For airplanes, Bose has a cable you can attach when Bluetooth isn’t an option.

Speaking of… wireless is a benefit that I didn’t know how much I would appreciate. I put my phone in my pocket and no matter where I go in the house or outside, the music goes with. Having no wires doesn’t seem that beneficial until you use wired headphones again. The contrast is more “death-by-thousand-cuts”, but to sum it up, you just don’t have to think about it.

They are expensive, but if you have the budget and use case similar to above, I would recommend.

Blank Black Screen

What seems like a lifetime ago, I used to be a derivatives trader. I had a seven monitor setup that was actually needed and not just for show. Now I need to be able to focus and concentrate on key tasks and strategic thinking. I have gone back and forth between two and three monitor setups. In both cases, I use this simple web page that displays nothing but a black screen to keep me focused on what I am working on. Any group of tabs that currently aren’t in use, have the above url setup on them as a tab. I can still keep key browser tabs open, but am not distracted by anything visual on my screens. I pair this page with a black wall paper to complete my own “focused view”.

I have shared the above tip with colleagues and a couple of them started using it in their routine. It is very simple, but that make it easy to test.

If you have things that help you at work or in your life, I would love to hear about them. You can comment below or send me a tweet.

clipboard private alternative to pinterest

Learn how to use Clipboard from the CEO, plus instant access to the service.

Last week I spent some time talking to Gary Flake, the CEO and founder of Clipboard.

Clipboard is a free service that lets you clip and organize anything you find on the web. I have used it for a couple months, and it is pretty useful.

If you use Pinterest, but would like an option for private boards, it is worth checking out.

Click here to access the interview, plus there is a link to get instant access to the Clipboard service.

Trello Free Organization Tool - Easy to Use

My favorite free software this year. Trello lets you organize anything.

I really enjoy sharing useful services with people I know. If you are follow me on Twitter or know me in person, I have likely shared a few of them with you. But rarely do I find an service/application/product that I really think could be useful to every single person I know. Trello fits that.

There are hundreds of to-do list applications available. They run all the way from one basic list with checkmarks to the enterprise project management software. I have tried many of them. Trello is so simple, easy and initiative, that it is worth it to try for 15 minutes or so, to see if it is right for you.

What is Trello?

It is all about the cards.

A card is any text you want to add. I like to think of it as whatever you would write on a notecard. If you have never used notecards, then think of it as a note. It could be one word, a sentence or a paragraph. You can make as many cards as you want.

Then you organize them in lists.

Lists are just columns were you can sorts your cards. You can label lists anything you want and then drag and drop cards and reorder them in lists. The default Trello lists are To Do, Doing and Done, but you can change the names and quantity on any…

Boards

Boards are much like Pinterest boards. They are where your lists and notes live. You can have a broad board labeled “Ideas”. Or a very specific one like “What I want to accomplish on Saturday”. Your lists and the included cards can be reorder on your board however you like.

That is the basic of Trello and on its own has many uses. But. . .

Trello lets you go beyond that by “writing” on the back of the cards.

Like a traditional note card there is a back to Trello cards. Just click any card to access it. It includes a comment section and description that you can use like a traditional notecard. So if you are studying for a test, you can put the answer or definition on the back of the card and access it just by clicking on the card.

On a traditional note card that is pretty much the limits on what you can do, but with Trello you can:

  • Add attachments (videos, Word docs, PDFs and more)
  • Add color labels
  • And collaborate by giving others access to boards, thus…
    • Have conversations
    • Assign tasks
    • Vote for favorite cards

Examples of my own Trello use.

Organize and track the progression of blog post for this site.

I have many blog post ideas in Evernote. Some of those ideas turn into basic notes, and some of them turned into rough drafts. I created a card in Trello for each potential blog post, and then added the cards to respective lists in order to understand what I have to work with. I currently have six lists. They are titled:

Ideas – Notes – Drafts – Blog Drafts – Published – Promoted

With this board I can see all of my blog posts, whether finished or in-process, on one screen. When I take something from an idea to actually writing up notes in Evernote, I drag the related card from the Ideas list to the Notes list. Eventually as I work on each post, I keep moving the card along to different stages in the process and thus lists. In the end, what started all the way on the left as an idea goes all the way to the right as a published and promoted post. For many people, writing a blog post might be a one step process or at least the early stages are done in one’s head. For me, I like to break the process into small steps. If you don’t need that level of detail for smaller tasks like blog posts, try creating a board for something more ambitions.

Sorting

Trello’s key feature is the ability to quickly sort information.  Complex projects can be broken down to smaller steps and then sorted and grouped.

Preparing for a trip

I recently took two trip. In each case I made a card for every single thing I need to accomplish before I left. I didn’t worry about the order; I just typed each task and hit enter. When I got done, I then created specific lists. In this case, three tasks required I leave the house to accomplish them (get cash, purchase sunscreen & get more dog food). With a normal paper list, I would need to make a new list, but with Trello, I just added a list called Errands and dragged those three cards to that list. Several of the task were ones my wife had expertise, so I made a list for her, dragged those tasks to the list and assigned them to her.

Website planning

I have used Trello to create “page lists” for new websites. Type every page you are considering. Sort them by how they would work in the site structure. Then you can even open up voting on cards to other members of your team.

Collaboration

I have yet to use Trello for any substantial group projects, but my wife and I have started to use Trello to organize some household projects we are working on. It has been usefully to quickly get ideas down and then sort them into more managable lists.

Trello is the kind of software I would gladly pay for, but thankfully it is entirely free. It takes seconds to signup and minutes to try it out. It is so flexiable, that if you give it a try, I am fairly confident you will find a use for it.

 

Small business owners where many hats.

Wearing many hats; a small business owner’s roll.

I am not sure many will find this post particularly interesting. It is a little on the narcissistic side of things. I tried to highlight some universal advice when possible, but fair warning, it really is just an examination of some of my strengths and weaknesses, and how they apply to business, and I guess a little bit to life in general.

I have increasingly been spending much of my time working on @free. As I continue to shape it into what I hope is a successful business, I find myself having to address a common small business owner’s problem . . . doing everything.

When you have to do everything, you quickly start to pick up on what you excell at, what you can do, and what will be a struggle. As with anything, it is never absolute with only strengths and weakness, but I have broken it down largely in that way as I could write forever about every nuiance if left unchecked.

It is hard to talk about one’s greatest strengths without feeling self conscious or boastful, but if you read to the end, you will see my weaknesses are many.

Strengths:

Curation

I have been involved in curation one way or the other since I first got on the Internet in 1998. While I don’t agree with most of his political views, Matt Drudge was one of my early inspirations on the Internet. The idea that he would spend his whole day finding the most interesting articles on the Internet and then sharing them in one place was fasinating to me.

I have been inspried by and have practiced curation since I first got on the Internet. My first effort was the web site Documentary Films .Net. I sold the site late last year (2011). But from 1998 to 2005, I routinely used this site to curate information I could find on documentary films. I also was paid to do curation as a community manager from 2003-2009. I enjoyed it, and I did it over and over. This has all led to an understanding of curation at a high level.

Twitter lends itself to curation, and I think that is why I enjoy it so much in addition to…

Conversation

I like people. I find them interesting. Even if someone is talking about something I am not particuarlly interested in, I know that they have a story or life experience that I would enjoy hearing about. I say this not to make anyone who has a conversation with me self conscious. I do this all intuitively, but I do enjoy conversations, and so people who are also good at it, I naturely gravitate toward.

Evaluation

This comes with multiple exposures. The more people you interact with both in person and online the more you begin to pick up on patterns and cues. Thankfully, we all are unique in our own ways, but I do feel I am a decent judge of character. This has allowed me to work in industries were trust and hand shake deals are frequently the only commitment. Being able to work with someone you never met and actually do business, is an increasing advantage in the online world.

In the middle:

Hobbiest Mentality

I don’t consider doing something fun, work. This is likely true for you as well. Most of the best job advice tends to focus on doing something you like as one of three pillars of having a rewarding job (the other two are working with people you like & getting fair compensation for it). What is less discussed is that almost anything worth doing requires at least moments of working on things that you don’t like. Even if you have a team to outsource a task to, you still have to manage them, and very few people feel like management is fun.

Inquisitiveness

I like to learn. I find most topics interesting. For a long time I took most of this information as an input, and did little to output it aside from conversations with friends and the curation I mentioned previously. Learning for learning sake certainly has value, but greater understanding generally comes from doing. I straddle this line frequently.

Weaknesses:

Not proud of it, but in full disclosure, here is a picture of me at my desk last Fall.

Organization

My office is chaotic: notes everywhere. As I duscussed in my blog post on Evernote, I have been trying to give up on physical notes. I have a pile of notes a foot high that are so overwhelming and unorganized, that it is highly unlikely I will ever look through them. I now type all notes I take, however small, in Evernote. At a base level I can always search to find what I need. And every couple months I will take a whole day to organize all my notes including consolidation multiple pages into one. A lack of organization can make achieving complex goals difficult. In the past two years, I have started to use a variety of techniques to learn better organization. Trello is a helpful organization tool, and Google calender has helped me better organize my time.

Sales

I am all about the soft sale. I certainly will go for what I want, but I have a high threshold when it comes to imposing something I am working on, on someone else. I will say that over time, I have gotten better at this, but I don’t forsee myself every surviving in a sales job.

Web Development

While I love the Internet and have for years, that love has not transfered into deep understanding of what powers it. I can create a basic Word Press site or signup for a DIY style blog, but I don’t write code, I just fiddle with it.

Focus

I live in my mind at times. I believe that many people do this, but I have to check against neglecting all aspects of my life to focus on the one thing that I find interesting in the moment. Even this blog suffered last year as I spent more of my time on @free. As I have gotten older, I have learned that with a little discipline and some outsourcing, I can now manage more than one part of my life at once. Want to know how you can successfully achieve a huge goal that seems unattainable? Neglect all other parts of your life. It isn’t healthy, but I have certainly done it at times. This double edge sword is something I work with on a daily basis.

So ends this highly personal blog post. If you made it to the end, perhaps you consider some of your own strenghts and weaknesses, and how you can continue to build and improve on them respectively.