31 March 2008

Don't search... find!

Here's a quick tip: The Daily Telegraph have put together a quick list of the 101 most useful web sites for UK internet users. This ought to pretty much cover most of your needs for everything from social networks to entertainment, travel and technology. If it means that you can cut out some web surfing and instead go straight to the content you need then it will have worked.

Click here to see the list.

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28 March 2008

New productivity store

Today I've started creating a store on Amazon.co.uk, where you can find great books, software and training CDs/DVDs about how to increase your productivity; become a better project manager; lead a fuller and happier life; and obtain a better work-life balance. It will be an on-going project to extend this store to its full potential. If you know of any products which you think should be included then please drop me a line.

Click here to go to The Productivity Store

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04 March 2008

Does technology kill meeting productivity?

I just read an article at EffectiveMeetings.com about how technology can often limit (or even kill) meeting productivity as we spend all of our time playing around with our PDAs, cell phones and PowerPoint. I guess you've all tried sitting in one of the meetings where everybody turns completely apathetic and stare blankly at one slide after another as they're crammed with data and the presenter just isn't capable of rising above the noise that he or she has created through their presentation...

Personally, though, I really do believe that mobile phones are the real bane of meetings. Some years ago I did quite a bit of consultancy work in Greece and the meetings were always the biggest waste of time imaginable. A meeting that ought to last about 60 minutes to do a status update, discuss key issues and make decisions could easily extend to four, five or even SIX(!) hours. This was due to the fact that the managers never arrived on time - sometimes showing up 1 1/2 hours after the meeting was due to begin and they would then invariable answer any incoming phone calls and step outside. This happened even when what we were discussing was the direct responsibility of the person taking the call. He would just ask his no. 2 to run things while he was away. He would then return and the no. 2 would get a call and stepped outside to take it. However, they just wanted to continue the discussions so by the time the no. 2 came back in the room neither he nor his boss had a full picture of anything and were therefore completely paralysed when it came to making the decisions - or, even worse, they would make them based on incomplete information!

Have a look at the article and think about how you use technology in meetings next time.

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03 March 2008

“The Ultimate Guide to Productivity”

Over on his Instigator Blog, Ben Yoskovitz last year started a very interesting Group Writing Project Meme called “The Ultimate Guide to Productivity”.

So far, people from all over the world have contributed their own top tips on productivity and Ben has been busy collating all of the top tips into a useful guide for all of us.

Among the best tips that I’ve seen so far are:

Clarity – Monk at Work (Adam Kayce) suggested this little gem and states that clarity comes from having a message: “Your Message is the sum of who you are, what your passions are, what your values are, and what comes to you naturally to give, share, and contribute to your world.”

Just do something, already – Lorna Doone at Something Good. Don’t let yourself feel “too down” by looking at your mile long to do list. Just start taking the first step and the next will follow.

The childlike secret to productivityKim and Jason at Escape Adulthood have got some very good and simple ideas about how you can plan as long as you remember your passions.

So without further ado, I’d like to add my own suggestion to this. It all comes down to the general principles of the "oldie but goodie" Time Manager® planning tool.

Plan using Key Areas

Pretty much everything you do in life can be organised under some major headings – whether it’s at work or in your private life. If you divide all of your tasks and activities into 7 – 9 major key areas then you can also plan how to spend your time more effectively. I.e. if it doesn’t relate to any of your key areas it is very unlikely that it is important enough to require your immediate attention.

An example of how my key areas as a company CEO look are as follows:

  1. Finance & Administration
  2. Sales & Marketing
  3. HR
  4. Product Development
  5. Organisational Development
  6. Personal Development
  7. Private

For each of these key areas you are likely to have some goals and it will require you to undertake a number of tasks in order to achieve that goal. Some tasks will be a lot bigger than others and you will therefore have to break the tasks down in a number of activities.

Let’s take a closer look at one area: Personal Development. I have a wide range of things that I would like to improve in my professional and personal life. My goals can be described as the following:

  • Be able to conduct a business negotiation in French by the end of 2009
  • Improve my ratings on public speaking engagements by 10% by the end of 2008
  • Speak at 5 major conferences

Therefore my tasks under Personal Development look like follows:

6. Personal Development

6.1. Improve my French

6.2. Improve my public speaking skills

6.3. Secure speaking engagements

If we proceed to break one of these down further, then what exactly would it take for me to learn enough French to conduct a full scale business negotiation? Looking at the level that I’m at now I know that it would require a lot of work and there are a lot of activities that I would need to undertake. As with any big goal in life you need to break it down into manageable portions (sometimes referred to as the Elephant Technique):

6.1.1. Learn 5 French business terms per day

6.1.2. Attend French classes weekly for 2 hours

6.1.3. Book extended stay in Paris with personal tutor – 4 hours per day

6.1.4. Spend Summer holiday in France to improve conversation

6.1.5. Sign up to and read French newsletters

6.1.6. Subscribe to Le Monde newspaper

6.1.7. Sign up for events at French chamber of commerce

Based on the activities that I have listed above I can then start to plan my time knowing that I will need to find the time for:

Learning 5 French business terms per day – 10 minutes per day

Attend French classes – 2 hours per week

Extended stay in Paris – 2 months

Summer holiday in France – 2 weeks

Read French newsletters – 30 minutes per week

Read Le Monde – 20 minutes per day

Attend events at French chamber of commerce – 2 hours per month

Based on this information I now know that I can plan my time around the following:

Daily activities: 30 minutes per day

Weekly activities: 2 hours

Monthly activities: 2 hours

One-off activities: 2 weeks of holiday and 2 months of leave

In reality this means that I will be able to get my French from zero to a very good standard with a daily expenditure of 30 minutes, attending one monthly meeting of 2 hours (instead of spending the time at the pub or watching a movie on the couch at home), fitting half an hour in weekly to read the newsletters, spending 2 weeks of my holiday and taking only a 2 month leave. Suddenly the project doesn’t seem completely insane and I will still manage to keep up my day job – even while I’m in Paris. It just means that 4 hours of my day are blocked off for learning French and that I will spend my spare time talking in French with French people. Hey presto!

This combination of using key areas and the elephant technique means that you can actually make a start on doing something and it also helps you keep clarity as I know that I:

  • WANT to learn French
  • And breaking it down into manageable portions I actually don’t fear the task and keep on putting it off – rather I now know what I have to do in order to achieve it

It might mean reprioritising some of the other things in your life, but then again it would probably be better to spend the 30 minutes a day spent focusing on learning French rather than surfing aimlessly round the net or however you spend the last 30 minutes before you go home.

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Six tips for getting the most out of your commute

I was recently inspired by reading a post on the Danish blog of my good friend Christian Ørsted. He was interviewed on Danish television about how you can utilise the otherwise dead time of a commute and came up with five good tips for increasing your productivity – or just getting some mental space, which is just as necessary.

After having read his post and seen the video clip I decided I wanted to share these tips with a wider audience as I believe there is some real value to be found in these simple tips, but I’ve also added a sixth tip, which, I’m sure many of you will agree, is something that is also a very good use of your time and can free up your time in the office and when you’re with friends and family so you can focus on other things.

I’ll let Christian start you off in his own words:
“Those who look forward to their commute make a choice: A choice about utilising their commuting time in the best possible way. They wave goodbye to the autopilot and instead think about how they use the time – and the energy it gives them.”

The people who spend their commutes – and all of their other travelling time whether it’s to or from a meeting, on the way to the airport, sitting around waiting for you gate to open etc. – working consciously on any of the following things are in both Christian’s and my experiences both a lot less stressed and generally happier. This time allows them to get ahead and get a lot of things done and allowing them to achieve a better work/life balance. So without further ado here are Christian’s five tips on getting the most out of your commute coupled with my own tip:

6. Prioritise and plan
”Spend your time deciding what you want to do; what you need to achieve so you can focus on what’s important when you arrive rather than spend the time thinking about all of the other things you have to do.”

5. Inspiring miscellany
“Fill your bag with inspiring, interesting and modular miscellany which you can deal with while on your way. Instead of buying meaningless magazines you can bring along good newspaper clippings you otherwise wouldn’t have the time to read; read email newsletters that are deep and insightful. Miscellany you otherwise don’t have the time for, but which can fill your waiting and transport time. Remember that they are miscellany! Send a ”I love you” text message, but save the deep and meaningful telephone conversation until you get home or you’re somewhere quiet and undisturbed... Do something you can do 100% without interruptions.”

4. Development and learning
”Learn something new. Buy an iPod, subscribe to podcasts, download spoken word books. If you find yourself aboard a train then watch a movie, read a book or learn a language from CD. Do the things that you’ve always wanted to become better at and learn more about.”

3. Empty your head
“Do absolutely nothing! Learn to meditate (on the train or the plane). If travelling by car then find a scenic spot of natural beauty, get out and breathe deeply. Enjoy the view. Relax completely and embrace the calm…”

2. Recharge your batteries
“You don’t have to listen to the radio – unless it puts you in a good mood! The music we listen to in the mornings can influence our disposition for the rest of the day. Think about what you need to do in order to arrive with the best possible energy for what you are about to do. Switch off your mobile phone. Take a break, take a deep breath. Do the James Bond trick (hint: he doesn’t walk through a door while on his phone and thereafter launching into a tirade about how awful it has been to have been shot at all day. Instead he pulls himself together in order to ensure a good start to the conversation – something you can do as well, both when you greet your colleagues in the morning and when you arrive home to the people you love.”

And finally, my own little tip which follows on from the previously written post about setting time aside to answer emails:

1. Read and write emails*
If you’ve got a long commute – or even just 20 minutes where you can sit down in peace and quiet and read the emails that you’ve received; prioritise your responses; and fire off some emails of your own you will have saved a lot of time where you would otherwise be doing this at the office. I find this to be particularly useful when sitting around airports and the flight safe mode of the Blackberry just makes it a breeze to also get something out of the flight. It also saves you from having to try and open up your huge laptop with limited battery life and balance it on the coaster which they airlines call a tray.
* Don’t do this while driving! ;-)

But at the end of the day – and at the end of the post, Christian puts it eloquently when he says:
“Think about what you can do with all of your heart. What you’ve got time for. What gives you energy. And choose to do it brilliantly – in your time and without stress and rush. You’ll still only get there when you get there. The only question is how!”

If you want to read the full post in Danish and watch Christian's interview on Danish national television head on over to his blog.

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