Personal development Productivity

“What’s the ONE Thing you can do?” – the lesson I learned from the book “The One Thing”

“What’s the ONE Thing you can do?” This one simple question asked by Gary Keller in his book, The ONE Thing, forced me to re-think what my top priority is and what I should spend at least half of my time on. This question can be applied to my relationships, my personal development, my job, and also to this blog. This question is very simple, yet very powerful.

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Productivity

Have the end result in mind

All of my tasks are on my to-do list, and I have a bullet-proof system for processing them. I do task after task. Everything works smoothly, or at least it seems that way. But unfortunately, from time to time I’m overwhelmed with the amount of tasks on my list. Sometimes I don’t know what to do next. Some tasks take too long to process. It seems like I have done everything to prepare myself to be productive, and still something is missing. Is there anything that can be done? The answer is yes – there are many things. But one thing is particularly easy to implement: define the end result for each task. Yes, it’s that simple. Why? How? Find out below.

Why?

Take a look at your to-do list. Read the first couple of tasks. How do you know when each of them will be done? What does it mean for a certain task to be completed? If you can’t think of an answer to these questions, you should write down the definition of the end result for each task. Why should you do this? This simple activity serves two purposes:

  • You know what is a “good enough” result for each task. This can be your measurement stick when you think you are done with the task. You won’t overdo it (Do you believe in “good enough” results? I do!). You will also know when your task hasn’t been completed and how much more effort you have to put into finalizing it.
  • You rethink the purpose of each task and you have an opportunity to either delete or redefine it. Deleting a task is always the first option to consider when you start to work on it.

How do you define the end result?

You may be wondering when I define the end result for my tasks. I do this while processing and moving them from my inbox (main list with the tasks I added during the day) to my projects list. I ask the below questions for each task that I process:

  • What did I intend when I added this task to my to-do list?
  • Do I still need to do this? Maybe I don’t need to do it anymore.
  • What will I achieve by doing this?
  • What will happen if I don’t do it? Maybe the consequences of not doing this task are easier to handle than the cost of finishing it. Think about the time you have to spend on this task and what you could be doing with that time instead. Remember, answering yes to one thing always means answering no to others!
  • How will I benefit by doing it? How do the benefits compare to my investment of time?

You should ask all of these questions before you start doing a task. If you answer them, probably you will know what the end result should be. Maybe it will be even easier to start this task.

Examples

I want to give you a few examples of the end results for some of my tasks:

  • Task: “Write an article about the quality initiative in your company.” The end result would be something like this: “Write a 20-page-long article . Include research and describe how developers from Making Waves work with the quality in projects.”
  • Task: “Read the book The One Thing.” The end result would be: “Read the book. While reading the book, take notes on the most important ideas so that they are ready to publish on the blog .”
  • Task : “Write down your expenses every day.” The end result for this task would be: “Process all your expenses from the previous day. Each expense is recorded in the application called MoneyManagerEx with the correct category and receiver .”

I have to admit that I haven’t fully implemented this yet. I’m in the process of forming this habit. But I’ve already noticed how much easier it is to work with the tasks that have a definition for the end result. It motivates me a lot to try to define it for all of my tasks. I hope that you can see the value in doing this, too.

Call to action

Can you try to define the end result for the top five tasks on your to-do list? I’m sure this activity will prove useful to you. If it does, can you share your thoughts with me? Please do so, also if you are skeptical of the idea. I’d love to hear all of your opinions!

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Productivity

Measure progress, not only the result

Let’s say you want to lose weight. Your goal is to weigh 5kg less in 3 months. You can measure your progress in two ways: either monitor your weight every day, or verify that you’re following your chosen plan to lose weight. These plan could be counting calories, exercising, or anything else you find effective. The first measurement is called a lag measurement, while the second one is a lead measurement. What is the difference between them and why should you use both of them? Keep reading to find out.

I want to stress from the beginning that both ways of measuring your progress are very valuable. The biggest difference between them is in what they tell you about your progress. lag

  • Lag measurement allows you to see how close you are to reaching your goal. In our example, it would be your weight. If you want to lose weight, you can weigh yourself every day/week and immediately see how far you are from your goal.
  • Lead measurement is all about making sure you are following your plan. When you define a goal, you should also prepare a plan for how to achieve it. (Check out post about SMART goals) The plan is a strategy for achieving your goal. The information you get from this type of measurement tells you if you are doing what you need to do in order to reach your goal.

 

I will give you an example to describe the difference even further. Let’s say your goal is to write a twenty-page article. You want to finish it in three weeks. You plan to do research for one week and then write the article for two weeks. You told yourself that you will write two pages a day.

  • Your lag measurement would just be checking to see if the article is ready or not, and how many more pages you have to write.
  • Your lead measurement would be checking every day to see if you are acting according to your plan. After one week, you can verify whether or not your research is done. If it is, you can continue with your plan. If not, you know you have to adjust your plan and write more pages a day in order to be ready by the deadline. The same thing goes with monitoring whether or not you are writing two pages a day. If in five days you’ve only written 3 pages, you immediately know that you have to write more than two pages each day in the following days.lead

If you only have lag measurements, you only know that you haven’t reached your goal yet. When you check if you are following your plan you know what the chances of reaching your goal are. You can adjust your plan if something goes in the wrong direction.

 

These are two simple examples to visualize lead and lag measurements. I use these methods in my most important projects. I cannot overstate the importance of knowing how I’m doing and what I have to do to reach my goals by a certain deadline.

Do you use both types of measurements? Do you think it’s worth doing so?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by KevanCC BY

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Productivity

What is your favorite keyboard shortcut?

A long time ago when I was studying and writing a lot of documents with math formulas, I loved the ctrl+= and ctrl+shift+= keyboard shortcuts. Do you know what these do? They change your entering mode to subscript and supercript in Microsoft Word. When I had to write a document that had math formulas, it was so much easier to use the keyboard shortcut than to use a mouse to select the correct icon in the menu. Since then I’ve learned new keyboard shortcuts, especially when I have to repeat the same action multiple times. I want to share with you some of my favorite keyboard shortcuts.

Each shortcut is described below, including information about which application it is used for and what it does.

  • ctrl+shift+l – starts a bulleted list. It works in all applications that are part of Microsoft Office. I write a lot of emails and I use OneNote a lot. I use bulleted lists very often.
  • ctrl+shift+n – creates a new folder in Windows Explorer. It is so much easier to type these keys than it is to find this option in the context menu.
  • F2 – enables editing in the currently selected cell in Microsoft Excel; also allows you to edit the name of the currently selected file/folder in Windows Explorer.
  • Alt+Enter – goes to the next line in the currently selected and edited cell in Microsoft Excel.
  • Shift+Enter – goes to the next line without starting a new bullet point or without sending the content to the server. It works in most Microsoft applications and also in most of the forms on websites.
  • J, K – moves you to the next or previous element. Works in Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and feedly (and probably in many more apps). Those two keys save a lot of time!
  • ctrl+shift+2 – archives a message in Outlook. This one is defined by me. It allows me to quickly mark a message as read and move it to the archive folder. It supports my inbox zero system.
  • ctrl+shift+3 – reply and archive a message in Outlook. This one is also defined by me. It is a very similar shortcut to the previous one. It also opens a reply dialog, so I can archive a message and answer it with one shortcut.

The above shortcuts are just a few that I use. Keyboard shortcuts are one of the most important elements of efficient computer work. I want to learn more of them! I will create a static page on this blog dedicated only to shortcuts. I will add the ones listed in this blog, as well as any useful ones that you send me! I would love for you to share your keyboard shortcuts with me. Thanks in advance!

Photo by photosteve101CC BY

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Strengths

What is a strength?

What is a strength?

What is a strength? In this post I give you both the “official” answer and my understanding of the term. OK, let’s jump into it.

Donald O. Clifton and his team studied strengths for nearly 50 years. They created a list of 34 strengths that are shared among all people. Each person has his/her own 34 strengths, each with a different intensity. When you take a StrengthsFinder assessment, you discover what your signature strengths are, including your dominant, supporting, and lesser strengths. Your profile is unique to you and you only!

Donald Clifton defined a strength as follows:

A strength is the ability to consistently produce a nearly perfect positive outcome in a specific task.

All strengths start with a talent. Talents ”are a person’s innate abilities — what we do without even thinking about it.” Your talents have to be invested in to be used in a productive and efficient way. Investing in your talents means practicing and developing your skills and acquiring knowledge. This is how you build your strengths.

There is a difference between the definition of a talent, a skill, and knowledge.

  • Talent – ”a natural way of thinking, feeling, or behaving”. Talents are innate.
  • Skill – ”the basic ability to move through the fundamental steps of tasks.” Skills can be acquired through training.
  • Knowledge – ”what you know. Knowledge can be acquired through education.”

It is very important to understand the difference between these terms. Talents are innate. Either we have them or we don’t. For example, you can’t learn the ability to feel a person’s emotions. Either you have this talent or you don’t. But what you do with that talent is up to you. Maybe you can sense basic emotions (happiness, sadness, etc.), but don’t have any idea of what to do with that finding. When you start practicing using this talent, you can build up your empathy strength. How can you practice it? Perhaps by observing someone’s emotional state, taking notes about your observations, and confirming whether those observations are aligned with the real emotions of that person. You can consciously choose to read more about empathy and the practical application of that strength in your life. This will be a process of acquiring knowledge and building your skills.

What I described above is the difference between so-called raw and mature strength. A raw strength is a natural talent which you aren’t sure how to use, while a mature strength is the conscious usage of a talent in a way that you find useful.

There is one more thing I would like to share with you about strengths. Each of them has a balcony and a basement—a bright and a gray (or even dark) side. Again, I will use empathy as an example. A person who has empathy as a signature strength ”can sense other people’s feelings by imagining themselves in others’ lives or situations.” What would a balcony side of that strength be? That person can feel how others feel and react to a situation. He/she can guess if someone is happy or sad and act accordingly. Think about how much more efficient such a person could be in a meeting! He/she would know when to speak, what to say, and how to react to others’ reactions. This is a very powerful strength. Especially when the strength-holder is aware of having that strength and is focused on developing it. What could a basement of empathy be? Imagine that you’re a team leader. You are a very empathetic person and you sense what others feel. If your empathy is raw and not fully developed, you may sometimes find that you are reluctant to giving challenging feedback to someone, only because you feel it might make this person sad or unhappy. This would hinder your effectiveness as a team leader.

This is just one simple example. Each strength has bright and gray sides. Each strength is raw until it becomes mature. This is why it is so important not only to learn about your strengths, but also to develop them. How can you do this? There are many different ways. But that’s a topic for a separate post.
I hope that after reading this post you know what a strength is. I also hope that this post got you interested in the topic of your strengths. Maybe you would even like to learn what they are and develop them. I know that for me, focusing on my strengths changed me as a person and allowed me to become a better me. I’m only at the beginning of that path, but I see that in this case the sky really is the limit! And I wish the same for you — to begin down a similar path and find out that by focusing on your strengths, ”you can be a lot more of who you already are.”

Photo by PascalCC BY

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Strengths

My way to strength-based development

Two years ago, the company I work for organized a strength-based development training for its managers. A company based in Stockholm came to our office and ran a number of workshops. This was my first encounter with the idea of focusing on what I’m good at, not on my weaknesses. What a shock! Someone told us that we should develop the areas where we are strongest. During those workshops we learned what our top strengths were. We talked with our colleagues about how these strengths are visible in our day-to-day behavior. This is how the fascination with strengths-based development started for me.

Unfortunately, after two or three workshops we discontinued the program. But the knowledge and curiosity stayed with me. A few months later, one of my colleagues reintroduced the idea of strengths development in our office. He and his team had taken an assessment test called Gallup StrengthsFinder and they discovered their top five strengths. But they took an additional step,too – they visualized the collective strengths of their team. This time I was really hooked. I started to read about the Gallup StrengthsFinder program and about Donald O. Clifton (the creator of the StrengthsFinder). I took the assessment myself, discovered my strengths, and started to analyze them. The next step was obvious for me – go to the Gallup Certified Coaching Accelerated Course. There I met two awesome coaches from Gallup and more than 20 people from all over the world who were into strengths development as much as I was. That week was transformative for me. I learned so much, experienced a lot, and came back even more motivated and encouraged to work with strengths. I want to use them in my personal life, at work, and to help others.

You may ask what is so exceptional about this approach. You see, during most of my life, I experienced a very different approach. For example, back in primary school, I was good at math and physics. At the same time, I sucked big time in music, art, and practical subjects. Still, I was forced to spend the same amount of time on all of them. I know that the time spent on music lessons, being forced to sing and so on, was a waste of my energy and time. I could have spent the same time learning math, which I use much more in my adult life. If I had had spent more time on math, I probably would have become a better programmer. That’s why I’m so fascinated with this different approach. I should focus on what I’m good at, work on it, and excel at it, because that’s where my biggest potential lies. I love that thought!

I’m still in the process of learning about and understanding my strengths according to the StrengthsFinder. This will be a long process, for sure. Understanding my strengths is the first step. The second will be finding examples of these strengths in my life, in my behavior, and in the way I think. And the third will be consciously applying them in my life. These three steps in Gallup’s approach are called “Name it, Claim it, Aim it.” This is what strengths-based development is all about.

  • Understand your strengths (Name it)
  • Recognize how you use these strengths (Claim it)
  • Use your strengths to grow and to solve your challenges (Aim it)

I’m aiming to become a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach and I’m currently in the middle of the certification process. This process includes coaching a number of people. When I talk with these people during coaching sessions, many of them also find focusing on strengths to be very encouraging. When we start to talk about their strengths more, we find a lot of examples of how they play an important role in our lives. It is amazing to observe how liberating it is to focus on strengths and to realize that we do not have to battle our weaknesses. We all have strengths that, when consciously applied, allow us to achieve what we want in the way that is best for us.
I will leave you with one very personal thought: I really believe that by focusing on my strengths I can become the best possible version of myself. This is what I try to do, and this is the message I want to spread!

Are you interested in knowing more about your strengths? Contact me! I’m passionate about this subject and I would love to talk with you about it!
Photo by  Phil RoederCC BY

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Productivity

Your goals can be SMARTER

I’ve read about S.M.A.R.T. goals hundreds of times, and I’ve set my goals in this way for many years. I used to think that everyone did the same. But recently I found out that that’s not true! I learned this firsthand when I ran a workshop about productivity a couple of weeks ago. I planned to spend only a couple of minutes on the subject of goals, but we ended up working on this topic for much longer. Goals are often mistaken with ambitions, vague ideas, or visions. These are a great base for a goal, but they are not goals in themselves!

What is a goal? A goal is something that you want to achieve in a given time. When do you reach a goal? Have you already reached it? If you set a goal and want to know the answers to these questions, you may consider using the S.M.A.R.T. method for defining a goal.
S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

  • Specific – your goal has to be defined in a way that describes exactly what you want to achieve. Einstein used to say that if you can’t explain something to a six-year-old kid, then you don’t understand it. I think that the same approach can be applied in this case – can you explain it to a kid so that he/she would know what you want to do?
  • Measurable – a well-defined goal includes metrics that you can use in future to measure if you’ve done what you intended to do. Do you want to read a book every day? Put in the description of your goal how many pages a day you want to read. That way, you will know if you did what you wanted to do.
  • Ambitious – it can’t be too easy to reach. You have to exert some effort to complete it. If you love to walk to work, it doesn’t make sense to set a goal for walking to work every day. You’ll do it anyway!
  • Realistic – a goal has to be ambitious, but at the same time, you have to feel that you are able to do it. You have to know whether or not you have everything that is needed to reach that goal (time, resources, materials, knowledge, friends, etc.). It would be difficult, to say the least, to attain the goal of flying to Mars. This would be (very) ambitious, but not realistic. But a goal such as “Visit NASA and see firsthand how they work with missions to Mars” is both realistic and ambitious!
  • Time-bound – there has to be a defined deadline for a goal. You have to know when you are supposed to finish what you’ve committed to doing. This deadline has to be a very specific point in time. The best deadline is a date or something like “by the end of this month.” A goal with a deadline like “sometime during the summer” isn’t time-bound.

Some people add two more letters to the S.M.A.R.T. acronym and make it S.M.A.R.T.E.R.

  • Exciting – to make your goal easier to work towards, try to make it exciting. We all love to work on exciting projects, don’t we?
  • Recorded – your goal has to be written down. There is no other option. You’ll want to review it from time to time. And you’ll want to have a complete list of all your goals in written form. This is a very important part of the definition of a goal.

When you define a goal using the S.M.A.R.T. method, you make sure that you actually accomplish it. That’s because you know exactly what you’re aiming for, how to know when you’ve reached it, the deadline for when it must be reached, and that it can be reached at all!
Below you can find a few examples of how the definition of a goal can be phrased.

  1. A sentence “I will save money” can become a goal when you phrase it as ”Every month, until the end of 2015, I will transfer 100PLN to a dedicated account.”
  2. An ambition “I will exercise more” can become a goal when it is phrased as: ”For the next 6 months, I will exercise 4 times a week. Each workout will be 1 hour long and will be done according to the plan described at www.xyz.com”

Can you see the difference between the vague sentences and these more concrete ones? Which one is easier to follow up with? Which one is easier to evaluate?
I strongly recommend that you state your goals in this way. Every time you think ”I will do something…,” try to rephrase it according to the S.M.A.R.T. definition. You will be surprised at how many more goals you will reach!

Photo by  Frits Ahlefeldt-LaurvigCC BY

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