• Augusto Pinaud • Michael St. Pierre • Robert Terson • Craig Jarrow • Graham Allcott • Laura Stack • Maura Nevel Thomas • Michael Sliwinski •
#14 (September–December 2012)
on saving minutes that can save you hours!
Articles on: 4 Practical tips that save you an hour each day 4 Making meetings work magically 4 Becoming action–oriented, “doing” tasks vs “managing”
From the Editor
Productivity tricks and gurus By Michael Sliwinski, Editor
elcome to the 14th issue of your favorite (and only) productivity magazine. This time around I invited a good friend of mine and a fellow GTD (“Getting Things Done”) enthusiast – Augusto Pinaud. He just published a fantastic short book on productivity where he talks about his favorite 25 tips and tricks that really resonated with me. Apart from Augusto’s tips and tricks, I chose additional tips and tricks from the submissions of my great contributors to make sure you get as much value from this issue as possible.
! Links: Michael on Twitter
I’m trying to help you achieve “small victories” to help you gain momentum and get more done, with lots of small tips that will help you move forward. Enjoy, and if you like this issue, please share it with your friends through email and social media. After all, the advice in this magazine is free... but the benefits of implementing it will make a massive impact in your life. I love learning new things from great authors every time I’m compiling a new issue of Productive! Magazine. Yours productively,
Table of contents 04 09 10 12 14 16 18 20 21 22
Michael Sliwinski Interview with Augusto Pinaud Michael St. Pierre 7 Ways to Put Your Family First Robert Terson Working Smart Craig Jarrow 21 Ways to Crush Your Procrastination Graham Allcott How to make your meetings magic! Laura Stack Personal Productivity as a Habit Michael Sliwinski Getting Tasks Done vs Managing Tasks Michael Sliwinski Productive! Show Videos Maura Nevel Thomas Productivity Lessons Learned at the Dojo TimeDoctor The Productivity Gurus
Productive! Magazine www.ProductiveMagazine.com Sponsor: www.Nozbe.com
Your Online tool for Getting Things Done – available in your computer browser, mobile phone and on your iPhone. Chief Editor: Michael Sliwinski
Technical Editor: Piotr Wozniak
Technical Advisor: Maciej Budzich
Editorial Team: Lori Anderson
Tribute: Marc Orchant (1957–2007) The Productive! Magazine is dedicated to the memory of a productivity guru, great blogger and a very close friend, Marc Orchant who passed away on 9th December 2007. All articles are copyright © by their respective authors. Productive! Magazine is copyright © by Michael Sliwinski. Getting Things Done® and GTD® are the registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.
Interview with Augusto Pinaud by Michael Sliwinski
How to save minutes here and there in order to save hours of your time every week. Also, 25+ more productivity tips and tricks.
ugusto Pinaud: I’m a writer. I spend most of my time writing about productivity and writing fiction. Productivity is one of the things I need most. I have been spending quite an amount of time learning how to be more effective, how to save minutes in order to save hours.
Michael Sliwinski: I got to know you because we are both passionate about GTD (Getting Things Done) and we participate in a virtual GTD study group. Recently you self–published a book “25 Tips for Productivity” and it’s only in “e” version, so you can get it on Kindle from Amazon, right? AP: At least until December the e–version is exclusive from Amazon. In the USA it is in paperback at both Barnes&Nobles and Amazon, however, the paperback is only available from Amazon in the rest of the world.
MS: I just read the book. I really love it. It’s very down to earth, 25 really cool tips. AP: Actually, I did two experiments with this book. This is the first book that I wrote in Spanish first, which is my primary language, and then I translated it into English. The other two (fiction books) I wrote in English. The idea was to write a really fun book to read. The first draft came in just a week. I started on a Monday and by Friday afternoon I had the first draft. It was a rough first draft but it was just a first draft. It happened very, very fast and was really fun to create.
MS: I know for a person like yourself, who read “Getting Things Done” many years ago and implemented most of it, you mention that in your book many things become common sense for you, become logical things. And I like the chapter in your book where you question common sense, because, what is common sense for you – doesn’t mean it is common sense for everyone, right?
AP: Yes, I make that point and I have been saying it for years – common sense is the most uncommon of the senses actually. :–) If you touch, and everybody can touch, everybody has a feeling, has the same feeling of touching, but when you talk about common sense, common sense really depends on your experience. Even if you mention the book “Getting Things Done” there is a part in the book where David Allen, the author, said himself that all these principles are just common sense and I always chuckle at that part. To tell you the truth, it’s common sense after you apply these methods.
“Common sense” is the most uncommon of the senses... I remember to this day, the first time I read about the “two minute rule”. My reaction to the two minute rule was something like “Why have I never thought about this? It’s fantastic!”. And if you would ask me today, yes it is common sense but back in 2003 when I read the book the first time – it wasn’t.
MS: Another point that you make in the book is related to the video which I posted a few months ago on my Productive! Show. I showed how I can type without watching the keyboard or the screen, really fast. I thought it was common sense, I mean everybody knows that you should learn how to touch type, right? But after the video many people approached me to say: “Yeah, I think I should learn this”. And you also mentioned that learning to type is the essential skill for everyone right now. AP: Well, the reality is, good or bad for all of us, is that we are sitting in front of
I’m careful with the use of the word “minimalism” because there are a lot of people who are going to the extreme. a computer at least 70% of the time. And when I wrote that chapter I had a conversation with a friend of mine, whom I had sent this chapter to, and he told me “Well, you know what is interesting, is that when you talk about typing with people everybody thinks they type faster than what they actually do”. That’s the reason I put it in the book. Go online and take a free test of your speed, you will be impressed. The first time I did it, I was shocked. And people think that because they only do little things on the computer they don’t need to type faster. Or they think they can type with two fingers and go faster. Trust me, I did too. I resisted learning to type for many years because if I’d only type five lines, where was the need to type faster? After I learned and improved my speed, it was really a night and day difference. I also mention in the book, when I got an iPad and realized I can only use it with a keyboard and I thought... if I’m only going to use the iPad with a keyboard... what is the reason to have an iPad instead of a laptop... and I was at the point of getting rid of mine when a friend pointed out... “Why don’t you get a typing tutor for the iPad? There is an app for that!”. Again one of those common sense things, right? I got the app! Do I type fast on the screen of the iPad? Not yet. I type at 60–65 WPM (Words Per Minute). I understand for a lot of people that’s incredibly fast, but I can do 85–90 on a regular keyboard, but this is at least a speed that I can work with. When I did the first typing test on the iPad it was 15 words per minute... so now I’m more than 4 times faster!
MS: When I made the switch to the iPad I was trying to simplify my set up and I’ve been commenting about this on my blog, how this simplification influenced other areas of my life. You also dedicated several chapters to simplifying in your book. I’d say I enjoy embracing minimalism, to have as little clothes as possible, as little things in the office as possible. I really like your message there to really simplify things and to have a “not–to– do list”, right? AP: Not to have and not to do. You know, I’m careful with the use of the word “minimalism” because there are a lot of people who are going to the extreme. If it works for them, that’s great, but I think that because of that extreme many people who read this might walk away from minimalism. I believe people should simplify, I believe that you should get rid of most of the junk you have accumulated over the years, and it was actually Patrick Rhone who used the word “Enough”. And the first time I heard it, it became common sense to me. I said, “that’s exactly what I want”. It is not an extreme minimalism, I don’t want to go to the extreme like the people who have 30 items. I just want to have exactly what I need and no more. It’s been a difficult process because you are trained as a kid and growing up to collect stuff. Because, in a way, collecting stuff is a symbol of status. Hey, if you have three cars it means you made it! There are people who can live with two pairs of shoes and there are people who need five and those are both correct answers. The question is, what is your cor-
rect answer and after you discover what it is then aim for it and try to get there. The “not–to–do” list follows the same path. There are a lot of things that that we do that we shouldn’t – period. For example, I’m now working on redesigning the blog and the web–page. Could I spend the time and money to learn Wordpress well in order to do something that looks decent? The answer is yes. But how many hours is that going to cost
If you double your typing speed the amount of time you will save is incredible.
me? In my case, an incredible amount. But what if instead of that, I hire someone and use my saved time to write? How about that? There are things you should not do. I also mention reading. I love to read. I have a yearly goal of reading more than 52 books. I have made myself this goal since 2008 or 2009. Every year I read at least 52 books. And one of my rules is that if I’m reading a book and I don’t like it, I drop it. If I get to a certain point and it’s always around 20% of the book and I don’t get into the book then I drop it. I even encourage people if you get my books and you are 10%, 15% or 20% into the book and you don’t enjoy it, drop the book. Don’t finish reading it. It’s not worth it. There are so many good books out there, why are you going to waste hours of your time on something that is not worth it?
MS: I’m totally with you on this one. And there is some advice that you give in your book for people who travel or just move between office and home office for example, about chargers and other accessories – that we should buy more of them, right? AP: You will hear the following complaint “oh, you know, I don’t have time, I really need two hours more in the week”. The thing is, people look at their calendar and their list and their stuff... and they are trying to see how they are going to find two more hours to save. In my experience, you are never going to do that. But if you look into the small things you will find those two hours just by saving minutes here and there. We have just been talking about typing, right? If people double their typing speed the amount of time they will save is incredible. It is the same thing with many things you use on a daily basis.
I always had a computer charger in my office, a computer charger in my home office and a computer charger in my bag. Always. Why? Because believe it or not, those five minutes it takes to get down on your knees and get down under the desk to plug the computer charger and later unplug it... and you do it several times a day... When you add the two minutes you need in the morning to the two minutes you need to go home that’s four minutes a day. OK? If you work 5 days a week that’s 20 minutes and assuming you don’t do it at home. If you do it at home, that’s 40 minutes. If you noticed, we are almost at 50% of those two hours we just mentioned. And there are so many other things like that! The other thing is email. In all of my email messages it says on the bottom “Sent from my iPhone”. And it’s there regardless if I send it from my Mac, iPad or the iPhone. The reason is simple: when I send you an email with this
I do rituals with a lot of things, because I have discovered that they help me get in the mood much faster. signature and I send you just two lines of text you won’t think anything of it. You received an email that reads it came from the phone and you are OK with the fact that the email is short. If you don’t have that, people will assume you sent it from a computer and if you send the same short email that was fine a minute ago, now that email is rude because it’s too short.
I write short emails. In all of my email messages it says on the bottom “Sent from my iPhone”. And it’s there regardless if I send it from my Mac, iPad or the iPhone. MS: Exactly, people can be offended, because on the computer your email signature can be bigger than the content of the email, right? I also like what you said about the ritual that you have for your “Weekly Review”. You have your special type of coffee there and everything. I read something about this theory of small victories. When you manage to achieve a “small victory”, and then another, you get the momentum and when you get the momentum, you get things done. AP: I’ve been doing that ritual for years. It’s a Venti coffee from Starbucks, I only get it when doing my weekly review. If it happens that I do another weekly review during the week I get that same kind of coffee. I do rituals with a lot of things, because I have discovered that they help me get in the mood much faster. A lot of people have rituals, some of them conscious, most of them are not. If you learn to identify what they are, making your rituals conscious, you are going to be able to get in the mood much faster. It’s like people who do exercise, I had a friend who would leave work in his gym clothes. What happens is that he drops into gym much more often than before. Usually when going home from work he’d say: “I’m going to stop at the gym” and then in the middle of the way he’d go “Oh, I’m tired, I’ll go to the gym tomorrow”. Now that he started dressing up in his workout clothes and drives with his sneakers on, he said that he’s improved on stopping at the gym by more than 50%. The barrier of entry is lower now that he’s dressed and he goes:
“Well, you know I can go now for 5 mins” and that is his trick. It is something simple, a little ritual, but those tiny tricks really make a huge difference. I have been a big proponent of the iPad as my main machine and one of the fun changes I’ve made when writing is that I only write in plain text. Why? It is simple, if I open a laptop and I open Word or Pages, I start looking at the italics, settings and margins. I waste an incredible amount of time on this instead of writing. With plain text I do not have that option.
MS: It’s just PLAIN text... AP: Exactly, just plain text. So my options are: to write or not to write. With this simple trick I’ve been able to double my output on writing. And that was my goal.
MS: Thank you Augusto! For many more small tips that will help you work more effectively and get more things done check out Augusto’s book “25 Tips for Productivity” on Amazon. "
!!Augusto Pinaud Augusto Pinaud is a writer with two fiction novels and a best– selling “25 Tips for Productivity” book. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is married, has a little girl and three dogs to keep him company.
! Links: Augusto on Twitter | Augusto’s Blog | Augusto’s Book “25 Tips for Productivity”
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7 Ways to Put Your Family First
A friend of mine has a habit. About twice a year he loses track of time at work and arrives home very late, hours after his family expected him. As you can imagine, this habit is not one that his spouse is particularly fond of. By Michael St. Pierre
’m not immune to this as I’ve on occasion, returned home later than I had hoped. As I get older though, my wife has helped me to see that getting home late is a major no–no. If you don’t think that it’s a marriage killer, try it a few times and when you get the evil eye (which is taught in the wife handbook, page 104), shrug it off. That will go over really well… Andy Stanley of Northpoint Church wrote about this dynamic in his book, Choosing to Cheat. He essentially says this: be clear about whom you are going to cut short in terms of time. Every day, you must choose one priority over another. Once you know your priorities, you can choose the most important actions to take. What he means is that if you believe your spouse really comes first in your life, you really don’t have the luxury of making a social withdrawal by coming home much later than you had planned. As Covey famously said years ago, “put first things first”. This applies to your family as much as anything.
So here is my quick list on simple ways that you can put your family first in the whole work–family dynamic:
Leave work at a particular time every day. Whether it’s four, five or six pm, try to stick to a particular time. This will help your spouse with planning dinner or the occasional errand on a weeknight.
Surprise your spouse once a month by coming home early. This works every time and shows your spouse that work doesn’t always come before family. My wife isn’t crazy about flowers but sees time home early as an even better gift from me to her. I love showing up at the back door and surprising her.
Believe in the concept of a meeting “with yourself”. That way, you can leave on time, knowing that your meeting is actually a time to get home and be with your family.
your clothes to refocus on the second part of the day (i.e. 5–9 pm). Very productive people know that a short amount of time is needed in order to shift from work to home mode. Without the transition, you’ll end up being short with your spouse as if you are still in work mode. Not a good idea.
In the event that you are running late, call ahead. Better to communicate when your lateness shows up rather than when it blows up a few hours later.
Go into work late once in awhile. This can’t apply to everyone but if your job allows for any degree of flexibility, go in later and make up the time on the backend. Sometimes a breakfast with your spouse can go a long way to tell her that you consider family more important than work.
Turn off your gear. When you’re home, don’t check email or your phone. This is super difficult, I know, but nothing says “you’re not important” more than checking email when you should be helping your kids with their homework. By practicing these habits of “family first”, you can communicate to your family that they matter. Big time. Now that’s a habit that will pay dividends now and into the future. "
!!Michael St. Pierre Michael St. Pierre is President of Morris Catholic High School
Practice transitioning. You can take a deep breath before you enter the house, reminding yourself that you are no longer at work. You can also use the time in which you change
in Denville, NJ. He is the editor of The Daily Saint productivity blog and podcast.
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Michael’s Blog: “The Daily Saint”
© MariusdeGraf / Shutterstock
From the Editor: This is Chapter 28 from Robert’s book: “Selling Fearlessly” and Robert offered to share it in our magazine as these are his productivity tips. Even though it seems so, this piece of advice doesn’t only apply to the people in sales. Follow the link in Robert’s footer to find out how to buy the book.
By Robert Terson
Working Smart “Working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things” — Byron Dorgan. Working smart means wringing maximum production from your work schedule. It’s coming up with new ideas to bring that about. Working hard without working smart is as foolish as carving the Thanksgiving turkey with a dull knife instead of the electric knife your wife just bought you.
The First 15 Years Every business has ways to work smart. In the first 15 years of my advertising career, I called on owners in person at their businesses. I prepared the night before by organizing prospects into a stack of 50 index cards, in a closest–to–the–next route. The next day I drove around making my calls; this led to immediate presentations and setting appointments. The index cards and closest–to–the– next route, at the time, were examples of working smart.
Change one After those first 15 years, about twenty–five years ago, I decided to make my
calls on the telephone to increase call volume. The idea intrigued me so much I gave it a four–week test run. I was bucking the old adage “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”, especially since a telephone approach is much easier for a prospect to blow off than a face–to–face encounter. The telephone demands superior rebutting skills and voice presence than in–person interaction. The experiment worked: I significantly increased presentations, which produced a higher dollar volume. I found a way to work more productively, to work smarter. The index cards and closest–to–the–next route went by the wayside. I worked this way for another 15 years.
Change Two Ten years ago I made a second change. This time I opted to devote Monday strictly to setting up appointments for Tuesday and Wednesday. Once again I gave it a four–week trial run, which proved successful. The number of presentations increased. I had found a way to work even smarter. The three–stage 30–year process was like candlelight to gas to electricity: each step enabled me to be more productive.
Multiple Counts Before 1980 I worked midsize towns like Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Lima, Ohio. I did 5,000 counts: the number of telephone–book–covers mailed to upscale homeowners. Then I got the idea of doing multiple 5,000 counts in cities like Lexington, Kentucky, and Tucson, Arizona. Depending on the size of the city, I did four to six sections – 20,000 to 30,000 total counts. I more than quadrupled my income. If an idea could be framed and mounted, that one would be hanging prominently in the Louvre. The only downside: I had to fly to work, which meant leaving Sunday instead of early Monday morning – a sacrifice I’d make again in a heartbeat.
When to Call on a Business There were other work–smart considerations in my business; for example, when to call on a particular type of business. Call on a beauty salon after Wednesday and your chances of speaking to the owner are remote. Call on an auto repair shop early in the morning when customers are dropping off cars or late–afternoon when they’re picking up their cars, and your odds of success diminish greatly. Here are a few other examples of when not to call on a business: a florist during Valentine’s Day week, Mother’s Day week, Thanksgiving week, or the Christmas season; a real estate salesperson on Tuesday mornings, it’s usually when she’s out on
caravan inspecting new listings; a heating/air conditioning contractor on a 100 degree day in mid–August; a tax preparer between January and April 15th; a caterer or restaurant from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Flout any of these timing taboos and you’ll be spinning your wheels. You’ll be working dumb instead of smart.
Time Mismanagement Have you ever visited an automobile dealership for service and observed a group of salespeople standing around shooting the breeze? There isn’t a single customer in the showroom and they don’t have a thing to do. I pity their lack of initiative. If I were a car salesperson, I’d be on the telephone during that “downtime” calling potential customers from hot lists; but then I’m used to calling on people, not waiting for them to drop in.
I succeeded two out of three times, and when I did I always asked permission to use the client’s name with each referral he’d given me. Never walk out of a sale without asking for referrals.
New Ideas There are always smarter ways to work, if you’re on the lookout and willing to challenge conventional wisdom. Sometimes a tiny tweak can make a huge difference. George Bernard Shaw said, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not”. My friend Barry Thalden, the architect I spoke of in the Introduction, has been in business 38 years and is constantly searching for new ideas to make his company’s presentations more effective.
There are always smarter ways to work, if you’re on the lookout and willing to challenge conventional wisdom. Referrals An essential part of working smart is asking for referrals; a referral is worth a pitcher full of cold calls, and your closing percentage will rise proportionately when you’re presenting from referrals. This is how I asked for referrals after I made a sale: “Ben, may I ask a huge favor?”. People will go out of their way to assist you if you ask for help. “Sure, what is it?” “Our most effective way of calling on businesses is by referral. Are there any businesspeople you know personally, that you feel good about, whom you think we could serve effectively? Anyone you can think of; I can’t begin to tell you how important referrals are to us”.
I encourage you to do the same. Be on the lookout for opportunities to work smart. Concentrate, analyze. A new idea can be worth a fortune in additional sales. "
!!Robert Terson Robert Terson has been a sales professional and entrepreneur his entire adult life. He retired from his advertising company in 2010 after 38 years in business. Today, Terson writes, speaks and generously shares his time with others. He lives in suburban Chicago with his wonderful wife Nicki.
! Links: Robert on Twitter | Robert’s Website | Robert’s Book “Selling Fearlessly”
to Crush Your Procrastination
By Craig Jarrow
ometimes you just need a good start to get yourself going in the right direction. Rituals and habits are good when dealing with procrastination. They tell your mind and body that you are ready to work. They can instantly turn on your creativity and energy. By replacing your lollygagging and boondoggling ways with more action–oriented ones, you can banish procrastination.
How Do You Beat Procrastination? Each person’s procrastination is different. You need to determine which methods work for you. Here are 21 Ways That I Use to Crush My Procrastination:
© andrea michele piacquadio / Shutterstock
Just Start... NOW – Stop over– thinking. Stop waiting. Just do it now. Sometimes you need to jump right into the task even if you think you aren’t ready. A bumpy start is better than no start.
How do you overcome procrastination? We all have rituals, habits, and tricks that we use. I’d like to give you 21 ways to crush your procrastination. Because procrastination is a habit, and a very bad habit, you can train yourself to overcome it.
Turn Everything Off – Eliminate all distractions. Turn off your email app. Your phone ringer. Close your door to interruptions. Whatever it takes to give yourself quiet to work.
Set a Timer – Set a timer for a short duration. Whether it is 30, 20, or even 10 minutes. Dedicate yourself to working for that period. You’ll find that by the time the timer goes off that you have built momentum to keep you going.
Get Some Exercise – Want to kick procrastination? Hit the gym (or the running trail). A workout will get your blood flowing and energy pumping. Read Something – No, not anything. Read something related to the task you need to accomplish. Whether it is some background info or supporting documents, once you get interested in the task at hand, you will be more motivated to jump into it.
Review Your Last Win – Sometimes we procrastinate because we are nervous or lacking confidence. If this is the case, think back to one of your recent wins to give you encouragement and remember what it feels like to win.
Take a Walk – Sometimes you just need a quick break to snap you out of your funk. Get outside for a few and get active. The fresh air does the body good, too.
Take a Shower – If it’s been a long day and you are exhausted, taking a quick shower can revive you. Not only will you feel clean, but you will have a renewed energy–level. When you don’t have time for a shower, simply changing your clothes is a good start.
Tell Someone About the Task – Describing the work to be done to someone else can help get you excited about getting it done. It can also be a great source of accountability. Just make sure you transition from the talking to the doing.
Set a Hard Deadline – A task without a deadline seems to go on forever. Set a hard deadline and stick to it. Having a time limit and a finish line will help you complete the work on your terms.
Break a Piece Off – If you are procrastinating because the task in front of you is large, then break off a smaller piece. If you are writing a book or report, break off one chapter to write. If it is a clean–up job, then select one sub– area to clean first.
Take A Nap – Wait, isn’t this counterproductive? To the contrary, a quick rest can reset your energy levels. Many leaders are famous for their daily naps.
Get Help – When you can’t get the task done by yourself, get help! Know when to call in reinforcements from your friends and colleagues. Not every task is best done alone.
ing out the car”. Think of it as “preparing the car” so that you can take your significant other out on a date this weekend.
Examine the Consequences – One way to motivate yourself is consider the negative consequences if you do not act. What will happen if you don’t get this job done?
Get Up Early – The early bird does get the worm. Getting an early start can put you ahead of the game and your peers.
Set a Reward – Set yourself a reward appropriate to the level of the task. It can be something small or even something big for an important task.
Turn Off the TV – Watching TV, endlessly surfing the Internet, playing video games. All of these are good in moderation, but no one was successful sitting on the couch. Turn off the TV and do something productive.
Crush Your Procrastination
Put on Some Music – Music can be a great motivator. It can instantly improve your mood and turn up your energy level. Keep your favorite inspirational music at the ready.
Caffeine – Sometimes you need an energy boost. Whether your choice is coffee or Red Bull, a little caffeine can go a long way to getting you going. (And going and going and going…)
Get Emotional – I’m not talking about having a breakdown here. But, get passionate. Your energy levels will quickly elevate and your resolve to act will increase.
Each of these is a great way to beat your procrastination. Develop your own rituals and habits. Soon, you will have banished your procrastination. Or at least be able to crush it any time you choose. "
!!Craig Jarrow Craig Jarrow is the author of the Time Man-
Reframe the Task – A good way to get a task unstuck is to “reframe” it. In other words, look at it from a different angle. Instead of procrastinating on “clean-
agement Ninja blog. He helps individuals and companies reclaim their time.
! Links: Craig on Twitter | Craig’s “Time Management Ninja”
How to make your meetings magic! Take a moment right now to think about your experience of meetings. Chances are, a little part of you is groaning inside at the mere thought of meetings. What a fantastic way to waste time, lose focus, fan some egos and talk about getting things done rather than just getting on doing things! The truth is that we have far too many meetings. By Graham Allcott
n a 2007 study by Bert van der Zwan (of internet company WebEx) 28% of middle managers said that reducing their number of face–to–face meetings would improve overall productivity at work, with a further 21% saying they would feel less stressed and 18% felt they would have a better work–life balance. So many meetings are held without agendas, without a clear purpose and without consideration to who really needs to be there – or not. But sometimes, a great meeting can change the world. Some of the great meetings I’ve attended over the years were conducted by my colleague Martin Farrell, Think Productive’s “Meetings Magician”. Martin is a professional meetings facilitator, brought in by organizations like the United Nations, the UK Government and the Fairtrade Foundation.
With a great facilitator, it’s like handing over your car keys and sitting in the backseat to enjoy the ride: you still own the car and get to influence where it goes, but you have a great driver ensuring everyone reaches their destination safely. This leaves you able to be on the lookout for the really interesting things you notice along the way. Watching these meetings unfold, I am always struck by the clarity of thinking, focussed discussion and clear outcomes that develop. It seems like Martin is doing magic and it feels very natural. In reality of course, what he is doing isn’t magic at all – he’s applying a methodical set of principles to every meeting, and can do this whether he knows a lot about its subject matter or not. It was Martin that introduced me to the most powerful meetings principle I have come across. This was developed by Lois Graessle and George Gawlinski, who worked with Martin on the book “Meeting Together”. The principle is the “40–20–40” continuum.
The 40–20–40 Continuum: Before, During & After If you ever need to hold a meeting and you want to make it a success, use the 40–20–40 Continuum: focus 40% of your attention for each meeting on preparation and getting everything right before you meet, then 20% of your attention on the meeting itself – the time you’re all together – and then spend 40% of your attention on the follow through. Like all golden rules, it appears to be simple and even a little obvious on first view, but in reality it’s rarely practiced and can be difficult to stick to. Our temptation is to spend all our attention on the meeting itself: what the agenda will be, how it will be structured, and so on. In actual fact, more important than these are getting the venue, personnel and “framing” right. Crucial to the meeting having any impact is, of course, following up to ensure that things actually happen afterwards. Here are a few tips – based around this 40–20–40 principle – that I hope will help you question the need for certain meetings and transform the meetings you have.
40% Before Purpose – are you AND all other attendees clear on what the intended outcome of the meeting should be and how you’ll know if you’ve achieved it? Make sure your agenda includes a simple statement of purpose (“By the end of this meeting we will...”). Practicalities – does it need to be a “physical” meeting at all? Would Skype, phone, webinar or something else be a better option? Are we presuming it should be an hour long because that’s what we’ve always done here? What would it look like if we changed it to 15 minutes?! Place – the room, the cakes, the comfort–level... these things matter if you’re serious about giving people an environ-
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Make sure your agenda includes a simple statement of purpose. ment in which to think, appreciate, contribute and decide. Great creative and strategic decisions are rarely made in dimly lit basements! Pace – you can only go as fast as the slowest person in the room, so what can you do by way of preparation to get people up to speed and ready to fully participate? Use the meeting itself for discussion and decision, not information–sharing that can be done more productively by people in their own time. Plan – Ever thought about writing the minutes of a meeting BEFORE the meeting happens?! Of course things will change on the day, but doing this will give you the time to fully prepare and anticipate the consequences or nuances of the discussion. Or write them collaboratively during the meeting!
20% During Participation – create an environment where people’s contributions are valued. Meetings where only the loudest are heard don’t suit everyone’s learning style and sometimes the quietest
of contributions are the ones you most need to hear. Pace and Pauses – try to take a “step back” from the discussions to notice body language and be conscious of whether people’s attention or enthusiasm may be flagging. And remember, no matter how fascinating the discussion, it’s never as memorable or attention–grabbing as a full bladder! Practicalities – ensure that you or one of your team looks after the practicalities so that you leave participants to focus on the thinking, learning or decision–making.
40% After Productive Follow–through – there’s no point everyone signing up to actions or committing to further work if none of those people are going to be held accountable after the meeting has ended. Ensure during the meeting that every action has a SINGLE owner and a clear deadline. During the meeting, talk about how and when people will be held accountable and when progress will be re-
viewed. Follow up quickly after the meeting to confirm the details of who’s doing what – the day after a meeting is the crucial time to either capitalize on the momentum gained, or lose it completely. It’s amazing that we obsess so much on that middle 20% (the participation), without really optimizing the 40% preparation or the 40% follow–through. So next time you have to organize a meeting, practice using 40–20–40 and watch your meetings go from pointless drain to productive gain. "
!!Graham Allcott Graham Allcott is the founder of productivity training specialists Think Productive and author “How to be a Productivity Ninja” and runs a range of productivity workshops, including “Making Meetings Magic”.
! Links: Graham on Twitter | Graham’s Think Productive!
Personal Productivity as a Habit
By Laura Stack
ut knowing what to do doesn’t matter if you don’t do it, day in and day out, in all circumstances, even when you don’t feel like it. Fortunately, human nature serves you well here. Once used to a task, you can shift into a semi–automatic mode that allows you to perform the task efficiently, without having to remind yourself about what comes next. Having such a routine saves you time, effort, confusion, and conscious thought. Now, I’m not telling you to just turn off your brain, and I certainly don’t mean you should ever stop looking for more efficient ways to do your job. But habits can help you achieve a consistent level of productivity. Mind you, this falls into the “easier said than done” category, because the overall productivity habit consists of numerous smaller, self–reinforcing habits that come together to maximize efficiency.
© Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock
Formulating a Plan
By this point in your career, you’ve certainly figured out the basic requirements for achieving workplace productivity. You have a good idea of how to manage your time, set goals, prioritize your task list, shake off procrastination, and dodge perfectionism. In other words, you’ve learned the principles of high performance.
Most of your actions stem from established habits. The problem is that individual habits can work against each other. To use an analogy, if you hitch a wagon to four strong horses, all pulling in four different directions, you won’t make much progress. Ah, but when you get the horses yoked together properly and going in the same direction, off you go at a good pace. So examine your routine and ask yourself what each of your existing habits does for you. If necessary, document your entire day from the minute you arrive at the office to the minute you leave. You may discover that some of your habits actually work against you. If you regularly arrive late or take a smoke break every hour, you can safely say you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Even necessary tasks can hinder productivity if you approach them the wrong way. Email is the classic example – checking it repeatedly diverts your attention and destroys your focus. Unless your job requires otherwise, a better habit would be to process your email in batches several times a day. Again, easier said than done. But habit is all about making gradual changes to your behavior, until you break out of the old grooves and develop new ones.
Making and Breaking As you embark on your voyage of self– improvement, don’t get in a hurry. Accept that developing a new routine takes time. It’s best to work on one habit at a time (though you can simultaneously break an old one and replace it with another). Don’t try to multitask; “single– task” fiercely, focusing on making the new habit a solid part of your life before moving on to the next thing you want to change. Once you’ve chosen a habit you want to modify or establish, make it a top priority. If necessary, write out a plan for setting or breaking the habit, with milestones to mark your progress. You may find it easier to form a new habit by making yourself publically accountable for it. Tell other people you intend to change, so their expectations keep you on the straight and narrow. You can also join forces with a buddy trying to change a similar habit, such as compulsive cell phone or Facebook checking. Either way, the support you receive can push you farther toward achieving your productive ends.
Forging Ahead As you work toward setting a new habit (or breaking an old one), do your best to avoid falling back into your previous way of thinking. Don’t pretend the temptation doesn’t exist; when you get the urge to act in the old unproductive man-
If you have to, just fake it until you make it. Sweeten the pot with some reward for putting your head down, focusing, and pushing on through. ner, deliberately do something else until the urge passes. Don’t fall prey to rationalizations like, “Just this once won’t hurt”. That can sabotage the entire effort; ask anyone who’s tried to quit smoking. Missing one day might not derail you, but missing two could. If you don’t persistently exercise the new behavior, then how can it become a habit? As a mere human, you can’t possibly achieve perfection all the time; you may backslide a bit before you get your new habit on track. If it happens, don’t ignore the failure, but don’t fret too much about it. Just get right back on the horse. And remember: Five minutes spent formulating and implementing your new habit is better than no time spent at all, even if you meant to spend an hour at it. If you just can’t seem to get going on the habit no matter what you do, stop and try to figure out why. You may discover that at some level, you simply dislike the new habit. If so, investigate the reasons. Do you find it distasteful? Does it require too much work? Does it simply not fit into your working style? Are you being lazy? Once you’ve pinned that down, decide whether you truly want to pursue the habit. If the drawbacks outweigh the productive benefits, rethink whether you should develop the habit at all. If the habit does seem worthwhile, determine which obstacles you must overcome to achieve it, and start eliminating those obstacles. Get serious about incorporating the habit into your routine. You’ll find it much easier to do so if you can learn to enjoy some aspect of the
task, no matter how annoying, unpleasant, or unrewarding it may be. If you have to, just fake it until you make it. Sweeten the pot with some reward for putting your head down, focusing, and pushing on through. If you can subconsciously associate the task with something enjoyable, you’ll have less of a problem making it stick.
The Bottom Line When properly applied, consistency is incredibly productive. Once you establish a good set of workplace habits and practice them so often they become automatic, you can conquer the world. Take care here: don’t switch your brain off as you work through your routine, because that can lead to unproductive ruts and “good–enough” behavior. But do take advantage of this powerful aspect of human nature to boost your workplace effectiveness and make productivity a glorious habit. "
!!Laura Stack Laura Stack is America’s premier expert in personal productivity. Since 1992, she has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces. She is the bestselling author of five books, including What to Do When There’s Too Much To Do.
! Links: Laura on Twitter | Laura’s Productivity Pro | Laura’s “What to Do When There’s Too Much To Do”
Getting Tasks Done vs Managing Tasks
This summer we had a “Nozbe Team Meeting” in one of the most beautiful cities in Poland: Crocow (Kraków). We are a team of 12 now and we all work remotely. Some of us had not met before the event. We spent three intensive days mostly socializing and not working. We focused on talking about how we work and what we do and how we see the future of our product – Nozbe. Our strategy. Our values. And Getting Things Done with all that.
By Michael Sliwinski
What it means to: “Simply Get It All Done” Nozbe’s tagline hasn’t changed a lot since I launched it in 2007. It was “Simply Get Things Done”, later “Simply Get It Done” and now “Simply Get Everything Done” or even “Simply Get It All Done”. Anyway, it’s been about “getting tasks done”. Why does it matter? How is it important? Well, this is critical. Nozbe is very often categorized as a “task manager” application that belongs to the “task managers” or “project managers” category. I embraced this categorization but I never liked it. I always insisted that Nozbe is not about “managing tasks” but about “getting tasks done” (and “simply” at that), meaning we are in business of “doing” and not “managing”. And making it “simple”.
A heated discussion about “most requested features” Folks who use Nozbe know my firm stand (a strong no–no) on “sub–projects”, “sub–tasks”, or “prioritization”. They know that I’m all for flat hierarchy (the flatter the better) and prioritizing by dragging and dropping stuff to the top or bottom of the list (instead of popular 1–3 priority system). I believe that simple solutions work even in complex situations. We do support some sort of hierarchy (you can use “labels” to group projects together, you can use “contexts” to set up priorities and you can add “checklists” to tasks if you really want a kind of sub–task experience) but we don’t encourage it. And that’s the difference. We want to be able to give our “advanced users” many advanced features but on the other hand we want to make sure
we don’t encourage too much fiddling with tasks for the rest of us. Delfina, our Customer Happiness Officer (yes, that’s her official title) together with the rest of our support gals, prepared a list of “most requested features” for us to talk about. It was a very heated discussion with developers saying what they think can and can’t be done and support gals saying what (from the customers’ standpoint) must and must not be done. It was a tough discussion but a very fruitful one. Because between the can–dos, no–can–dos and must–dos we realized we have to take our mission into consideration.
The way we design the app is the way we “teach” our customers how to get things done. It was a great chance of reiterating our values about “doing stuff” vs “managing stuff”. We were forced to think “out of the box” about what customers really needed and about what they said they wanted. From my standpoint (as CEO and founder) it was great to see the team embracing our values and analyzing each feature with these values in mind. Suffice it to say, it’s not like we won’t implement what customers are asking us to. We will, but not everything, and very often in a way they don’t expect us to. We’ve analyzed features for at least 6 months ahead and we will roll them out, but we’ll never compromise our values of “getting tasks done”. Nozbe is not a “task manager” but rather a “task doer”.
By designing our app we teach people productivity It sounds like cliche, but it’s true – the way we design the app is the way we “teach” our customers how to get things done. If we design it around lots of options and switches from the very beginning – they’ll learn it like this. And it’ll be hard for them to go back to “good habits” and “simple things that work”. As feature requests come in, we must never stop teaching our users how to get back to their habits of “getting tasks done” and not that of “over–managing tasks”. It’s our responsibility. This is what Nozbe stands for and this is the source of our success. And it’s our promise to our users and we have to ensure we never break that promise.
Seeing the team “feel” our mission is great! It was just so cool to see my team embrace our values and take them as their own. As the founder, I always felt it was my responsibility to guard our values with my own chest. Now I see I don’t have to. My responsibility is to lead my team and they’ll guard our values as their own. Seeing this happen made me proud. Very proud indeed. "
!!Michael Sliwinski Michael Sliwinski is your chief editor of the Productive! Magazine and a host of the magazine’s Productive! Show. Every day he’s trying to help people get more done with his web application Nozbe – also available as a native desktop app for Windows and Mac as well as mobile app for the iPhone, iPad and Android.
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Michael’s Blog | Nozbe – Simply Get It Done!
Productive! Show Videos
Working Productively on iPad and iPhone By Michael Sliwinski
As always, here are the three new (and very short) Productive! Show videos to help, inspire, and motivate you to get even more done.
iPad accessories for a road warrior I’m working almost full time now on the iPad and these are the accessories I always take with me on every business trip.
iPhone 5 – “bigger” productivity? I’m still undecided if it’s worth upgrading to the iPhone 5 – are the faster processor and bigger screen worth it?
Augusto Pinaud and his productivity tips Here’s the full video interview with Augusto. Enjoy his humor and advice to help you get more done. This magazine only includes a part of the interview, so make sure to watch it.
! Links: Browse all the past episodes of the Productive! Magazine Show
Productivity Lessons Learned at the Dojo
© Csaba Peterdi / Shutterstock
For many years, I was honored and privileged to be a student at the Shoshin Ryu School of martial arts. The school’s unique approach lends itself to a number of productivity lessons that can be applied by today’s workforce. By Maura Nevel Thomas
the consequences aren’t as dire, but you still expend more effort and achieve fewer results in the same amount of time.
Control or Be Controlled
While attending a national conference I heard a few Sensei speak on important martial art principles. One shared his thoughts on “eliminating chosa”, the act of refining your movements to remove wasted effort. This reminds me that efficiency is useful regardless of the application. In martial arts, conserving your energy by eliminating chosa can provide you with the extra burst you need to win a fight or escape an attacker. Throughout your day, how many times do you switch tasks, right in the middle, because something else called your attention? The phone rang while you were in the middle of writing a request via email. Or a co–worker popped into your cube wanting to know if you have just a few minutes to debrief from this morning’s meeting. Or, your iChat or smartphone is buzzing or beeping at you? Switching between tasks greatly increases the time it takes to complete any task and also decreases the quality of your output, just like wasted movement in martial arts. Perhaps in your work day
Another Sensei reminded us that if you understand the way that your joints and limbs move, where they are strong and where they are weak, you can control them and use that control to gain the advantage in a match or a self–defense situation. I believe his words were, “control or be controlled”. This is not only true in martial arts, it is paramount when you are working to control your attention. Everyday there are a myriad of things either competing for our attention or trying to distract our attention. Ask yourself, what is your greatest advantage you can use today? Am I here to control my schedule and results, or will I let someone or something else direct me? If we don’t exert control, then we put ourselves at risk to spend all of our time blowing in the wind of reaction. Just like in martial arts, if you can only react and defend, you can never take control of the situation.
ductive and focused can give you more time to dedicate to other activities. It could be spent with family or friends. Or, it could be repurposed back into your schedule, helping you learn and develop. The martial arts activities that take place in the dojo aren’t just for sport or self–defense. They are also about personal growth and discipline – an exercise for the mind and spirit as well as for the body. When you can eliminate chose and exert more control, you can regain the time to devote to your goals and other significant results. "
!!Maura Nevel Thomas Maura Thomas is the Chief Trainer and founder of RegainYourTime.com, and author of the new book Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with
your time and attention... and regain control of
In addition to a feeling of accomplishment and control, becoming more pro-
! Links: Maura on Twitter | Maura’s “Regain Your Time”
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