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    Entries in productivity (9)

    Monday
    Jan112016

    It's probably too late to panic

    Do you follow the financial markets at all? If you do, then you would know that at least in the USA the first week of 2016 set the mark for the worst first week of a New Year for market performance, with most major indices down anywhere from 5 - 10% from the 2015 year-end closing. The Dow Jones, NASDAQ, the S&P 500 - pretty much all showing steep drops in the frst week of the New Year - driven lower by some combination of declining economic conditions in China, a lower and lower crude oil price, and various and sundry manifestations of 'uncertainty', which no one can define exactly, but generally spooks folks who control lots of money.

    But as we all know financial markets rise and they fall - and they rise and fall again, forever and ever as they always have. The reason why I wanted to write about this today was an almost offhand comment I heard from one of the financial commentators on CNBC i think, (I can't remember the specific person, I was in a bit of a Nyquil haze this morning), who said this when asked by the show's host about whether or not investors should 'panic' due to these highly volatile market conditions. His reply:

    "It's probably too late to panic."

    And then he went on to talk about various scenarios and strategies that he felt like would be the most successful given the current conditions. The specifics of his financial/investing advice don't really matter, the key to why what this one gentlemen said and why it stuck out to me through the Nyquil hangover was just how much sense it made in its simplicity, and how applicable it is to just about every 'crisis' at work.

    Almost always when you have enough information in order to make the conscious decision to 'panic', it is probably too late for that 'panic' to do you or anyone else any good. It's kind of like throwing gasoline on the already burning fire, and doesn't help you even start to get to solutions or at least stabilization of the situation. The right time for 'panic' is probably just before things really spiral out of control, not after. Or as is the case of financial markets, perhaps the right time to get really worried and to take defensive actions is after a 5% drop, not after a 15% drop.

    Whether it is investing, dealing with a difficult colleague, or trying to rescue a deteriorating customer (or even personal) relationship, 'panic' is probably almost never a great idea simply because most of us are not at all good at reading the signals well enough to accurately time our panic. Better of taking a few deep breaths, think about what signs we missed on the way, and then set to being as calm and rational as possible to make things better.

    Does panicking sometimes feel good? Feel like the right and only thing to do? Sure.

    Does it ever really help? 

    Probably not. 

    Unless you win the $1.5B Powerball this week, then it is perfectly fine, acceptable, and expected to panic.

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Jul242015

    On tackling that project you have been avoiding

    Every job, no matter how perfect or ideal has at least some element that is less than exciting. 

    Even my dream job, relief pitcher for the New York Mets, must have some aspect that is not so appealing, (relatively). I can imagine sitting in the bullpen and having to shake sunflower seeds out of your shoes once in a while might get a little tedious.

    But most of us are not professional athletes, and thus, the less exciting elements of our jobs are much more mundane, unglamorous, but still (usually) necessary. So how can we best deal with these aspects, the parts of our jobs we really are not at all excited about, or that project that we have been dreading and avoiding? I have a couple of ideas...

    1.  Break it up into smaller tasks - You know what is awesome? Crossing something off of your 'To Do' list. If you have a project or major task that you have been dreading, it helps to try and break it down into smaller, more manageable elements which you can then complete more easily. That way even a small amount of progress on the project or task feels like victory. Of sorts.

    2. The stale sandwich - This is a strategy I like to use. Basically you 'sandwich' the less than exciting work with tasks you are much more enthused about attacking. Start the day with something that really jazzes you up, then spend an hour or so on the thing you have to do but you have been avoiding, then jump back into something cool to get the bad taste of the lousy project out of your mouth. 

    3. Get up early and knock it out - Once your day gets going, your email inbox starts filling up, and the day gets consumed with meetings, you are almost certainly not going to drop what you have to do, and what you would rather do, to work on that project you have been avoiding. Every second that passes after about 8:30AM reduces the likelihood you will take on what you are dreading by a factor of 100. So you might have to just bite the bullet, get up at 6, and spend 90 minutes or an hour just banging out what you know you have to do, but won't be able to later on. Sure it will stink, but it might not ruin the rest of your day if you can knock it out by 8.

    4. Give yourself a prize - Chances are there are there are not any 'official' rewards heading your way for completing this lousy project. The boss just thinks it's your job, and get it the heck done and shut up about it. So any extra rewards that might help to motivate you have to come from you. So place a prize or incentive for yourself at the end of the slog. It could be a nice dinner out, that expensive bottle of wine you've been eyeing, or maybe just an afternoon off - doesn't matter. Just treat yourself a little. It's ok, I promise.

    5. Find ways to never be in this situation again - Chances are once this terrible project is done, sometime in the future it, or something closely resembling it, will cross your desk again and the vicious cycle of dread will resume. Now is your time, while the stench of this ordeal is still in the air, to think about and implement ways to outsource, eliminate, streamline, or otherwise reduce the pain associated with this task in the future. Even if you can find only a 10 or 20% reduction in the stink, you will be better off the next time. So once the project is done, give yourself an hour or two, (block your calendar), and find at least one way you can make this better for the next time. Do this three or four times and who knows? Maybe this lousy project won't be so lousy in the future.

    Ok, that is it I am out for the weekend! Enjoy the summer sun.

    Friday
    Dec122014

    OFF TOPIC: The Collateral Damage of Gangnam Style

    You might have caught the news last week that the video Gangnam Style has been viewed so frequently, (2 BILLION plus times), that it actually 'broke' YouTube, whose underlying code had been unable to store and display a video views count above 2,147,483,647.

    YouTube subsequently fixed the bug, if it even could be called a bug, and now assures us that it can handle a views count maximum of somewhere north of 9 quintillion.

    Let's hope that Gangnam Style, (or Grumpy Cat or Celebrities Reading Mean Tweets or anything else) doesn't ever get too close to breaking YouTube again.

    Why?

    Because there is a cost of sorts in all this YouTube watching. An opportunity cost really, for all of us. A few months back, before Gangnam Style broke YouTube, the folks at the Economist did some calculations to estimate what else humanity might have been able to accomplish with all the time spent (140M hours at that point), watching Gangnam Style.

    Here is the chart from the Economist that will proably make you weep a little bit for humanity:

    Amazing.

    One Gangnam Style equates to 20 Empire State Buildings, 4 Great Pyramids, and almost 2 new Wikipedias.

    That is potentially the kinds of things we could have accomplished had we spent the time watching Gangnam Style in more productive endeavors.

    Look, I am not sitting here saying I spend every waking minute in deep study, volunteering for the less fortunate, saving abandoned puppies, or helping elderly folks cross the street.

    I waste plenty of time. I do.

    But seeing this kind of data does make me pause a little. I know I can do better, and I only contributed 1 measly view to the 2 Billion count for Gangnam Style. 

    I know I can do better. Probably you can too.

    Have a great weekend!

    Monday
    Dec012014

    The best productivity app...

    ...is not some new system or process or technology or yet the umpteenth re-imagining of the 'To-do list' - ('This time it is better! We have gamified, mobile-enabled, and socially powered the 'To-do' beyond a simple list and into a cloud-based 'List-as-a-service' platform!)

    I think the best hack or approach to understanding why you are not getting enough (or anything) done (this can be at work, with personal stuff like fitness, or even hobbies), is to first understand just how you are spending your time and attention in the first place. And more importantly, whether that 'thing' you are doing RIGHT NOW is getting you closer to your goals for the day/week/lifetime or farther away.

    So despite all of the more sophisticated ways to try and monitor and track productivity, like apps that can sit in your browser and monitor which sites you visit and how long you spend on them and for keeping track of offline activities you can keep some kind of activity log or journal (Note: you will give up on this in about 2.3 days), and finally for fitness/exercise there are a slew of apps and gadgets that can help you keep track of the time spent exercising, we still (most of us anyway), hit the end of the day/week/month not having made enough progress on the really important items we need to get accomplished.

    We have the ability to monitor/track/analyze everything, yet we still feel like we are coming up short. And that is kind of a crap feeling at the end of the day or week or year. (Admittedly, I started thinking about this when I saw the date today was December 1, and time is growing really short to get completed some '2014' goals I had).

    So let's circle back to the title of this post, 'The best productivity app'. I imagine it will get at least a few clicks from people that see that headline and think 'Yes, I need that! What is the name of that App?'

    The terrible news is that I have no idea what the best productivity App might be, there is an entire cottage industry of productivity 'experts' to offer their thoughts on that question. Google them, I guess.

    But since I baited and switched you with that title, I will offer my take on what the best Productivity app would do.

    It will have one input box that asks you 'What is the most important thing you need to get done?' 

    It will also have a checkbox indicator type setting, (minutes, hours, days, etc.), where you would set up periodic 'push' notifications that will ask you the following question:

    Is what you are doing RIGHT NOW getting you closer to completing XYZ, (the 'important thing' you need to get done), and you would close the notification by saying 'Yes' or 'No'.

    And that is it. That is the entire app.

    No integration with Evernote or Slack or Trello.

    No fancy dashboards or social sharing capability.

    No API so you can share the data from the 'Stop doing stupid things' app, (that may or may not be the name, but it doesn't matter), with your favorite fitness watch.

    And you would not be able to shut off the notifications (short of deleting the app), until you mark that 'Important thing' done, (and you could set up a new one from there).

    Maybe there is an App out there already that does this, but failing that, anyone (me too), can set it up pretty easily with recurring calendar events/notifications. The technology doesn't really matter. What matters is the question and the answer.

    Is what you are doing RIGHT NOW getting you closer to completing XYZ, (the 'important thing' you need to get done?)

    Have a great week!

     

    Thursday
    Aug142014

    The best 'Out of the Office' message might be this one from Germany

    Regular readers (and people who have the occasion to want to get in touch with me) probably know that I have a troubled, difficult, and often non-productive relationship with email. Honestly, email and I should have broken up a long time ago, as clearly it is just not working out for either of us.

    So it is from that point of view that I offer up what I think might be the best (partial) solution to one of the biggest problems with email today for the busy professional - just how much of it piles up when you are away from it for some time, like when you are out on holiday or if you are traveling for business, or even if you just need to turn off the email incoming fire hose for a while and actually do some work.

     

    Check out what the German automaker Daimler is offering up to its 100,000 or so employees to help stem the tide of email when they are out of the office on holiday. Note: these excerpts are taken from a piece on FT.com, it is free to read but requires registration to get access to the article.

     

    The Stuttgart-based car and truckmaker said about 100,000 German employees can now choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday so they do not return to a bulging in-box.

     

    The sender is notified by the “Mail on Holiday” assistant that the email has not been received and is invited to contact a nominated substitute instead. Employees can therefore return from their summer vacation to an empty inbox.

     

    “Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails,” said Wilfried Porth, board member for human resources. “With ‘Mail on Holiday’ they start back after the holidays with a clean desk. There is no traffic jam in their inbox. That is an emotional relief.”
    An 'Out of the Office' that not only lets the person know that the intended recipient is actually out, but also deletes the incoming email entirely? 

     

    Sign me up for that right now!

     

    Email and the never ending battle to not allow email to sap productivity, destroy morale, and turn into your job instead of a tool you use to help you do your job is likely to continue to be a contentious subject as long as email remains the primary tool for business communication and collaboration.

     

    And that kind of stinks, because in 2014 when we have robot butlers, self-driving cars, drones that can make package delivery, and digital assistants that can guide us and help us navigate our days that most of us have to stare at and wade through hundreds of seemingly random messages every day before we actually get to 'do' anything.

     

    I am going to be on vacation/holiday for a few days in a week or so, I wonder if the good people at Daimler would be willing to license out their little 'Out of the Office' auto-delete tool to me.

    I definitely would use it.

    Have a great day! (And if you are waiting for an email from me, be patient a little longer....)