An intro to my productivity philosophy

So you want to be more productive? Me too! I’ve been searching for tools and methods my whole life, and have created a simple methodology that can work for anyone.

What does “being productive” mean?

Good question. Productivity to me means getting more important stuff done. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that busy equals productive, or urgent means important.

My simple model finds out what is important to you, and then helps to prioritise this by reducing your task inflow, increasing your task outflow, all within an efficient system.

Prioritise

Prioritisation lies at the heart of true productivity. I suggest using a five year plan to help set your life objectives, and then using Stephen Covey’s urgent Vs. important matrix to prioritise your more immediate objectives.

Boredom has a strong influence on the choices you make about tasks. There are a few tricks I’ve learned that might be of use.

Limit inflow

Reducing the amount of stuff that flows into your workflow is a huge benefit to becoming more productive. How many times have you dropped what you were working on to help someone else with something? I’ll help you learn how to get a thicker skin to deal with this, plus give you some tips on how to push back effectively.

Maximise outflow

The art of delegating (i.e. getting other people to do stuff) is a great tool for helping you to get more important stuff done. I’ll also try and persuade you that it’s OK to ignore things that don’t matter. Maximising outflow and minimising inflow are the two parts of this model that strip out the crap from your day, leaving you free to concentrate on what you feel is important.

Efficient system

Once you reduced your inflow and increased your outflow you need an efficient system to deal with the tasks appropriately. I use GTD to organise myself, and I use Evernote to implement it. You’ll be building your own system, I’ll be giving you the core values that you need to ensure are taken into consideration.

The bottom line

This simple 4-step methodology is easy to understand, remember and deliver. On the next blog I’ll be writing about the first step – prioritisation. Thanks for reading.

Does your smartphone rule your life?

Does your smartphone rule your life? Do you find yourself constantly checking for status updates and new messages? Do you find yourself getting distracted from important stuff by your iphone?

Smartphones haven’t been around that long, so how come they’re so damn addictive?

Always connected

One of the best things about smartphones is that you’re always connected. To the web, to people, to your messages and social media. This is great because you can start to get more stuff done in places you previously couldn’t, like bus stops.

However the reverse is also true; you get less done in places like libraries and meetings! Being connected means that you are contactable, distractible, and easily sidetracked by ‘interesting’ things on your phone.

Distractions

How many times a day do you check your Facebook stream at work or school? And how many times have you seen something important on the news stream? There is a constant flow of information rushing through your smartphone and it’s easy to get distracted by it.

There are many other distractions vying for your attention, each with an ‘unread’ icon screaming “click me, click me!” Even updating apps (surely the most boring thing in the world right?) becomes addictive when you have an icon demanding your attention.

Ignore unread icons

Tip number one: Ignore the unread icons. They don’t matter. They didn’t exist 10 years ago. Get used to seeing them on your home screen.

Schedule your smartphone time smartly

Tip number two: Schedule time in when you deal with these unread icons. Make it a conscious decision to update your apps or read your messages. Better still use dead time to do this non value add exercise.

Why not also schedule in your Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest surfing to a time when you can give it your full attention?

Summary

Don’t let your Smartphone rule your life…

How to be Rubbish at Delegating

Delegating is a key skill for a manager, but it’s surprisingly easy to be pants at it. It looks so easy doesn’t it? You just tell your team what they need to do and then relax with your feet up, smoking a cigar.

If only it was that easy… So have a read of the following pointers, which you need to avoid unless you want to be rubbish at delegating.

Note – I’ve got another article on the learning cycle and how to
use it as a manager, well worth a read too.

Don’t have a plan for delegating

Delegating needs a bit of thought, and some preparation. What is your purpose for delegating this task? What outcome do you expect? How will you measure success of the task? If you don’t know the answer to these three questions, and haven’t communicated them then it’s likely things won’t go very smoothly.

So next time you’re going to delegate something, make sure you’ve thought these things through. POM – purpose, outcome, measure.

Assume they won’t do it as well as you.

Let’s be honest, nobody does stuff as well as you. If you’re a control freak like me then this can be a serious barrier to delegating effectively.

You need to accept that the task may suffer at first, and allow a bit of leeway. Remember when you did the task for the first time, I bet you were rubbish? This is a normal part of the learning cycle, and important for people’s development. Support them early on and you will reap the rewards later. You never know, one day they might do it better than you…

Don’t set clear measures for success

I’ve written about the SMART framework before, and the ability to set measures for success is a key skill for a manager. I like to use phrases such as “if you do X you will meet my expectations”, or “not delivering this piece of work by Friday will mean you’ve not met my expectations”.

If the person you’re delegating to knows what success and failure looks like you’re far more likely to get a great outcome.

Don’t give any feedback

Feedback should be specific and timely – i.e. don’t just wait till your weekly one to one. Let them know how they’re getting on in real-time at first (you can reduce the frequency of feedback as they master the task).

If you wait until the annual performance review to let them know how badly they’ve been doing for the last 6 months, then you’re a bit of a rubbish manager in my opinion…

Don’t let go

An element of being good at delegating is letting go. This can be harder than it sounds; if previously you carried out the task and liaised with the stakeholders then its all-too-easy to keep your fingers in the pie.

Give your team member space to succeed or fail under his/her own steam. If you support them too closely they’ll never develop fully into the task, and will probably feel micro-managed.

Take it back off them if they’re struggling

Do you want a clear sign that you’re rubbish at delegating? If you keep taking delegated tasks back this is a classic sign that you suck at delegating.

But what about if your credibility is suffering due to continual poor performance of a team member – isn’t it easier just to do the piece of work? Short term answer is yes, but you’re going to struggle to hand the work over in the long term. It’s either your poor delegating or their poor performance…

Summary

So there you are – 6 simple ways that you can be totally rubbish at delegating! You can find a great article on delegation at theartofmanliness.com – one of my favourite websites…

Why not check out some of my other How to be Rubbish articles? I’ve got ones on CV writing, job interviews, presentations, taking exams and revising!

My first video interview – what I learned

VideographersToday I was interviewed for an internal film about one of our big projects. Here’s what I learned…

Prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more

The night before the filming I received a briefing document. This gave an overview of what was expected of me. Luckily I’d already thought about what I wanted to say, so I spent a couple of hours preparing some nice sound bites.

This is time well spent. When I found myself in front of the camera I had some good phrases ready to go, and it helped the experience go smoothly!

Don’t wear loud stuff

About 30 seconds into the first question the director stopped me and pointed out that my cuff links were scraping the table whenever I gestured with my hands. Noisy stuff is not cool for filming, it’s really hard to remove it from the soundtrack later…

Also watch out for loud clothes, as in bright oranges and pinks. These can look rubbish on camera!

Get the big picture from the director

As I mentioned earlier I had put some good prep time in the previous night. I talked some of my ideas through with the director before the camera started rolling, and he gave me some different ideas as to what he wanted from me.

I’m glad I checked with the director; otherwise I would have ended up not meeting his expectations, and the whole experience would have been less valuable.

Summary

If you get the chance to be filmed for an interview, then jump at it. It’s great fun, and great for your exposure within your organisation. Make sure you prepare, don’t wear loud accessories, and make sure you get a steer from the director.

More hints can be found at this link from evancarmichael.com, a great article that even talks about what colour to wear!

Photo by Dean Terry, from Flickr

Increase Productivity and Kill Your Dead Time

Waiting for a planeHow much dead time is there in your life? Do you wish you had some great ways to utilise it?

This blog is part of my productivity philosophy which aims to help you to get more important stuff done in the time you have.

So what is dead time? There are probably loads of definitions, but the one I use is “time where you are constrained in a way that means you cannot perform value-adding activities. Waiting for a train (or a girlfriend) is a good example.

So what can you do about dead time?

Leverage your smart phone

I got a iPhone 4 in 2010, and was blown away by the possibilities. Phone, text, email, word processor, spreadsheet, online banking – it’s all on there.

So if I’m sitting at a bus stop I fire up an app and start doing something useful. Good examples of value-add activities are:

  • Check emails and clean up inbox
  • Quick review of the next few days on my calendar
  • Call or text someone
  • Write a blog post

Of course there are many more, but hopefully this gives you some inspiration.

I’m writing this blog post on a 6 hour journey across France; luckily my parents-in-law have kindly offered to drive the whole way!

Brainstorm a project

You’ve probably got some sort of project that needs a bit of attention, from planning a party, to a big piece of work for the office, so why don’t you get ahead by doing a brainstorm?

The main thing is that you need to capture your thinking – I like to carry a notepad around with me wherever I go. Moleskin make a great notebook- link here to buy one from Amazon. However you could also use your smartphone as before – the notes app is great, but even better is Evernote…

Learn stuff

Are you preparing for an exam? Are you trying to remember the names of all your class at school? Do you want to show management that you are in touch with business performance by learning some KPIs from the latest annual statement? There are so many things that need to be learned!

This tip is one that needs a bit of prep; exam revision cards containing the things you want to learn are a must if you’ve got an exam coming up.

Relax

You know what? Why don’t you use your deadtime to switch off for once? We’re all so busy rushing around; sometimes it’s great to just let yourself have some well earned relaxation.

Summary

Dead time is only a problem if you let it be. With your smartphone at your fingertips and a plan to use your deadtime wisely you’ll find your frustration with queuing and waiting drastically reducing!
Image by Angelo DeSantis from Flickr

Stop using your mouse! Keyboard shortcuts to make your life more productive!

Do you ever find yourself slowly scrolling to the bottom of a page using the wheel on your mouse and wonder if there’s a faster way of doing it? How about clicking through several screens one by one until the option you’re looking for comes up? You need to stop clickety clicking and start tappedy tapping! This post is part of my productivity philosophy and will help you replace your long-winded mouse actions with super-fast keyboard shortcuts.

Once you’ve read the post, why not reshare this post, and let me know what your favourite keyboard shortcuts are…

Why over-reliance on your mouse slows you down

I proudly watched the British Cycling team led by Sir Chris Hoy achieve fantastic results at the last two Olympics – driven by their attention to detail. This is described by their mentor Dave Brailsford as the “aggregation of marginal gains”. In other words the team look to improve every aspect of their performance by 1%, from the food they eat to the specific exercises and clothes they wear when competing.

Think about this in relation to using a computer. What if everything you did took 1% longer? This is Dave’s theory in reverse. Compare the two options you have to save a document:

  • Move your mouse to the file menu, click on ‘file’, move the mouse down to the ‘save’ option and click it
  • Press Control and S at the same time

Which is faster? Clearly this example shows that you can save tiny amounts of time when performing each task on your computer – the aggregation of marginal gains in action! This is a great example of applying the theories of elite athletes to your own life – how exciting!

If you’re a numbers person like me, this following calculation may help persuade you to ditch the mouse.

Assume one second is saved each time you replace your mouse action with a keyboard command. If you perform 100 mouse movements in a day, you saved almost 2 minutes. If you perform 1,000 mouse movements in a day you can save closer to a quarter of an hour per day

So now you can start to think about how you want to spend that 15 minutes. Perhaps you’ll finish your weekly report a little sooner, and give yourself a bit more time to proof read it? Perhaps you might find a way to go home on time this week? Whatever your priorities are, you will start to give yourself more time to focus on them (and you know I’m obsessed with your priorities right?)

Using keyboard shortcuts

We all know the classic keyboard shortcuts for copy, paste, save etc etc; these are ubiquitous across many programs and are often accessed by pressing control or the apple key and a letter – for example save is accessed by pressing control/apple and S.

Most programs out there (for example Excel – my fave) have a long list of keyboard shortcuts for the most common tasks. The web is full of such lists, search for “excel keyboard shortcuts” and you’ll see how many there are (almost 2 million when I searched just now in July 2013). My advice to you is to download and print some of these out, and start using them.

The way to get really slick using keyboard shortcuts is to start using them. It’s like learning to drive a car – you start off being ‘consciously incompetent’ (i.e. you know you’re doing it but you’re rubbish at it), but slowly you move to ‘unconscious competence’ (you don’t know you’re doing it, and it’s just happening) – see here for my article on the learning cycle.

This process takes a couple of months, but slowly the keyboard commands will become part of your workflow. I don’t even look at the keyboard any more – when my brain tells me to save, my fingers seek out control and S and the action just happens instantly.

What the mouse is good at

Don’t get me wrong – the mouse is an amazing invention that has helped us move computing forward to where it is today. I thought it only fair that I share a couple of examples where you can use the mouse to great effect.

  1. Zooming in and out
  2. Selecting small areas
  3. Pressing buttons on webpages

Summary

So now you know why replacing mouse strokes with keyboard shortcuts is a good idea, and can start thinking about how you want to use your 15 minutes free time. Start working on learning the keystrokes by using them; I promise you it will become easy and slick before you know it.

 

Image by Jennifer J

10 motivational songs that inspire me in the morning

Traffic jamI’ve got a great playlist that really helps motivate me. I sometimes listen to this when I’m driving in to work, and need a boost.

So if you already own these songs, then whack ’em on a playlist, if you don’t know these songs, check out the videos below..

1. Greatest day – Take That

“Today this could be the greatest day of our lives”

This is the first song on the list: What a sentiment!

2. Life – Our Lady Peace

“Life is waiting for you”

This track makes me feel as though everything I want is within reach and achievable.

3. Higher – Creed

“I’m strong enough to take these dreams and make them mine”

One of my favourite middle sections of a song ever…

4. Times Like These – Foo Fighters

“It’s times like these you learn to live again”

The Foo Fighters rock, and this song is a great pick-me-up.

5. St Elmo’s Fire – John Parr

“I can climb the highest mountain; I can cross the widest sea”

What a guilty pleasure; 80s inspiration at its best.

6. The Middle – Jimmy Eat World

“Everything will be alright”

A song for the under-dog, a cracking rhythm too.

7. Eye of the tiger – Survivor

“Rising up to the challenge of our rivals”

Yes. I am Rocky. I am running up steps as part of a montage with this song playing. Loudly.

8. Today – Smashing Pumpkins

“Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known”

I was a big Pumpkins fan when I was a teenager, this song takes me back.

9. Jump – Van Halen

“You’ve got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real”

Guilty pleasure #2. Nothing makes me as happy as that huge iconic synth sound…

10. Defying Gravity

“I’m through accepting limits, cos someone says they’re so”

Ah, musical theatre! One had to make the list somewhere…
Image ‘Traffic Jam’ by Buzrael

Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation: Hygiene factors and Motivator factors

One of my favourite management theory models is Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation. In this article I’m going to talk you through the model, and then describe how you can use it as a manager.

This post is part of my ‘models and theories’ series, of which previously I have posted about the unconscious and the competence in The Learning Cycle, and the SMART framework for setting objectives.

Herzberg's theory of motivationThe model in brief

Herzberg (1923-2000) was a management theorist, and his model looks at the various factors or conditions in the workplace, and how they impacted the motivation levels of the workforce.

Herzberg defined two types of factor; those that motivated (e.g. extra responsibility or recognition) and those that demotivated (e.g. salary, work conditions). He termed the former ‘motivating factors’ and the latter ‘hygiene factors’.

The key message is that different factors cause satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The presence of a motivator causes satisfaction, whereas the absence does not necessarily cause dissatisfaction. The absence of hygiene factors causes dissatisfaction, however the presence of these factors does not truly motivate.

So how do you use this theory in practice?

Hygiene factors: Blanket factors to make sure you’re achieving

Unless you are the CEO you’re unlikely to have much say over reward packages or office environment. However there are certain hygiene factors that are worth ensuring you achieve with your team.

  • Regular one to ones
  • Timely feedback on performance
  • Communication of company news or strategy
  • Open discussions about development
  • Work-life balance discussions

Check your management style – do you achieve these minimum factors? In today’s business world these are expected hygiene factors, and will cause a reduction in motivation if absent.

In my experience, team members are far more aware of the presence of poor hygiene factors than they are the lack of motivating factors.

Motivator factors: Individual factors to drive high performance

Every team is different, so knowing what can motivate can be difficult to define. Some examples might be:

  • Extra responsibility
  • Giving a presentation
  • Standing in for you when you’re on holiday

You know your team, it’s up to you to know what can motivate them. Many people are self-motivators, however it is a great skill for a manager to have the ability to create a motivated work-force, a skill that will get noticed quickly.

I would recommend you take an individual approach; i.e. make sure your ideas to motivate are directed at a team member, not the team. I’ve found that blanket team motivators don’t quite cut the mustard (and can become expected).

Be careful of blanket motivators – for example allowing everyone in your team to leave early every Friday. These have a motivational impact in the short term, but this quickly wanes. Also you might be creating ways of working that can become ‘custom’ and then be protected by tribunal. I’m not a lawyer, so get legal advice if you’re worried about this.

People are different

In your team you’ll be well aware that you’re individual members are very different. You need to use your judgement to motivate your team in different ways.

You can’t be Mr Motivator all of the time either, so pick your times wisely. Try to align your motivational activity to times when your team are receptive. If your team are working all hours to hit a deadline then the offer of extra responsibility is unlikely to make then feel motivated…

Summary

Make sure you avoid the classic hygiene factors to ensure your team are not demotivated. And make sure your next one-to-one includes some of those tasty motivators that will get your team on the road to high performance.

How to be rubbish at writing your CV

How good was your last CV? Did it get you the job? Or are you thinking about applying for a new role and need to brush up your CV?

This article is part of my ‘How to be Rubbish at Everything‘ series, and is built around the things you shouldn’t do (so you can learn from them).

Why not check out some of my other ‘How to be Rubbish at Everything’ articles – job interviews, presentations, exams and revising?

Don’t write a timeline

Have you ever written out a timeline of your life before? If not, you’re missing a trick; it really helps you to plan out an awesome CV.

CV timeline from olivergearing.com
The key thing to ensure is that the timeline is to scale, meaning that time is shown in equal splits. This means that you see the relative importance of sections of your life by how long you’ve spent in them.

From this you can identify the key bits you want to focus on in your CV, and work backwards from there.

I use Excel to build my timelines; I use one column per month, and then colour in blocks that relate to different parts of my career. This way it’s easy to see my life summary.

Now, do you include this timeline in your CV? It depends. If your timeline is fairly straightforward then I wouldn’t bother, or if it draws too much attention to areas you don’t wish to focus on, I likewise wouldn’t include it. However if the timeline gives your CV a dynamic and modern look and feel then why not?

Don’t research examples from the web

Another way to screw up a CV is to not review other people’s CVs. If you google “CV” or “Resume” there are tons of examples out there. Download a bunch and see what looks good, and what looks pants.

Don’t just fire up Microsoft Word and start typing aimlessly. This will get you a rubbish CV super-fast.

Use strange or exciting fonts

I would recommend using Arial or Times New Roman on all CVs. Why? Because a CV is a time to be conservative in my opinion. If you get past the CV filter and get offered an interview then that’s the time to let your creativity flow.

Include timeline gaps

You know the feeling, if you could erase the years 2010 to 2012 from existence, then you wouldn’t have to explain your 2 year stint as a failed actor. These gaps are part of your history, and if you try to hide them this often gets picked up by thorough interviewers.

A good CV has no such gaps, and gives a feeling of openness and honesty. Find a way to be as positive as you can about the ‘gap’, and keep it brief. This way you can expand in the interview if asked, if not – happy days!

I’ve got a bloody great gap in my CV, four years spent being a musician. As I’m now a chartered management accountant I’ve got to explain the move every time I apply for a role. Add to this the fact that I started out on the path to being a doctor and you can see I’m a good example of a gapper. I’ve faced this down and got my story airtight, and it comes across (I hope) with integrity and honesty…

Don’t use action verbs

My sister-in-law Mary introduced me to this tip: Start every sentence with an action verb as you talk about your experience. It makes your CV sound far more proactive and dynamic. Notice the difference:
I was involved in a project to install a new accounting system.
With…
Tested and supported the project leads with the installation of a new accounting system.
Which sounds better?

Make it really long

When I’m recruiting for a role, anything longer than 2 sides of A4 goes in the recycling bin. Nobody needs more than 2 sides of A4.

Waffle

Slightly related to the previous point – but waffling is a bad idea on CVs and in interviews. Keep your sentences short and snappy and try to keep the reader’s engagement up at all times.

Don’t get someone trusted to review it

My wife always looks at my CV for me when I’m ready to send it out. She doesn’t hold back…

That’s exactly what you need in a reviewer; someone that you trust that has your best interests at heart. They will spot the crap stuff, and any typos that you’ve snuck in, and give you massively honest feedback.

Include spelling and grammar errors

If you have spelled a word wrong, or if your grammar sucks, then you may find your CV ends up in the recycling bin. There is no excuse for this with today’s spell check and the fact that you’ve got someone you trust to review it, right?

Send it out in Word Doc format

Don’t get me wrong, word is a great program that I use a lot, but sending your CV out in this format is bad for a number of reasons:

  1. The format may display differently and look rubbish,
  2. The recruiting manager may not have word (unlikely), or have a different version to you (likely)
  3. Word allows editing, so you open yourself to accidental deletes or keystrokes from the person you sent it to

So what format to send it in? PDF baby! PDF all the way!

Summary

So by not doing any of the above you should be in a good place to land that dream interview by nailing the CV stage. Go-on, change your life and land your dream role!

If you have landed your dream interview, be sure to check out my How to be Rubbish at Interviews article, packed with a similar amount of no-nonsense, practical advice.

You can download my PDF list of these pointers that you can print off – see below.How to be rubbish at writing CVs and Resumes

Using Evernote to manage my team and me

I’ve been implementing my own version of GTD using Evernote, and have come up with a good way to stay in touch with management of my team.

Action / Context tags

One aspect of my Evernote system is context tags. These all start with ‘@’, which keeps them near the top of the tag list, and tells me what type of note it is. I started off just using @action, which told me I had to do something. As I got more comfortable with Evernote I realised I could expand this to include other types of activity. I now use 5 context tags:

  • @action – something I need to do
  • @waiting for – something that someone else (not in my team) is doing for me
  • @delegate – something I have given to my team to do
  • @feedback – specific feedback that I want to give to my team members
  • @discuss – something I want to discuss

These have really helped me stay on top of things. It’s easy to forget what you’ve asked your guys to do, and easy to forget specific feedback you want to give. Using these tags allow me to get closer to Dave Allen’s ‘Mind like water’.

Name tags

I tag each note with the name of the person that it relates to. I have one tag for each member of my team, and a tag for other key stakeholders (eg wife, boss, mother-in-law etc…)

So when I’m preparing for a one to one with a team member I pull up their name tag, and use the context tags to remind me what I’ve delegated, what needs to be fed-back and so on.

Trusted system

Now my team management is completely out of my head, in a trusted system. I add notes as they occur, and then can forget about it until the appropriate time. Dave Allen would be proud (I hope…!)

For info on my notebook and tag setup, check out this post, and for an honest appraisal of my first ever GTD attempt using Evernote, click here