Productivity

Tame your recurring meetings

We all have them – recurring meetings. They are in your calendar. Someone invited you to these meetings a long time ago and they just repeat every day, week, or month. Very often they do not have any meaning, yet they are in your calendar so you attend them. And you usually waste your time. What can you do about it? You can tame such meetings! How? Start by reading this post.

There are a few things you can do to make the most of of such meetings. And it does not matter if you are the organizer of a meeting or an attendee. Stop wasting your time in meetings that have no added value for you. How can you do this? You can find a few tips below:

  • Challenge the agenda of the meeting – A day or two before the next recurrence of the meeting, check if there is an agenda defined for it. Send a short e-mail to the organizer with the question “What will the topic of the meeting be?” If you don’t receive an answer or the answer is “There is no agenda,” politely but firmly say that you won’t attend it. You can do the same as an organizer. Contact all invited people and ask if they have anything for a meeting. Unless you have an agenda prepared, tell them that if you don’t receive an answer by the given time you will cancel the meeting.
  • Challenge the frequency of the meeting – Do you have a meeting that recurs every week, but there are rarely enough topics to talk about, so you keep canceling the meeting? Change the frequency of the meeting. For example, do a biweekly one. Suggest this to the person that created that meeting.
  • Suggest a main topic for each meeting and a person responsible for preparing it – If the meeting ends up with just talking about random things and the group still insists on meeting regularly, you can propose to have a main focus for each gathering. That way, there will be at least one subject to talk about and your time won’t be wasted. Always ask to nominate one person to prepare the main topic. Then everyone will be engaged from time to time.
  • Challenge the length of a meeting – What you do usually takes as much time as you plan for it. That means that even if you have a defined agenda that could be done in 30 minutes and the meeting is scheduled for 60 minutes, you’ll fill the whole 60 minutes.. If your observation is that the meetings are planned for a longer time than you really need, ask to make them shorter. You will manage to finish everything you need to, and you won’t waste any extra time.

I did the above things and changed a few of the recurring meetings I usually organize. Now we spend less time stuck in meetings, and these meetings are more to the point. We know why we meet and what we want to discuss. And now I try to ask the same of organizers of other meetings.

Can you share how you deal with recurring meetings? Do you attend them?

 

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Productivity

6 rules to plan a productive day

There are many good practices for managing your calendar. There are also several good practices for scheduling meetings in the most efficient way. I know many of them and I still make simple mistakes. This post is partially written to remind myself about them, but I hope you will find it useful too!

There are days when my calendar looks like the one below – meetings all day, without any breaks.

meetings

Too many meetings…

 

When I see something like this, I know I’ve failed to follow my own rules. You may ask what is wrong with a schedule like this – there’s even time for lunch! ;) There are a number of things that make this bad planning:

  • There is no time to grab a coffee, go to the toilet, or eat a snack during the day – the whole time is occupied by meetings.
  • If meetings are in different meeting rooms on different floors, I have no chance of being there on time.
  • There is no time scheduled for processing emails, returning calls, etc.
  • There is no time to simply rest and catch my breath.

I bet that at least some of you have such days. I’ve noticed that I’ve had many of them recently. As a reminder for myself and for you, I am listing a few rules to remember when scheduling your day:

  1. Remember work you have to do and plan it in your calendar – Answering e-mails, writing reports, doing research. If you know you have to do such things during the day and you are constantly being invited to the meetings, then put such events in your calendar. Call it work, research, communication, etc. That way you will have time to do it.
  2. Schedule time needed to prepare for a meeting – Some time ago, in the post about  meetings, I wrote what to do to prepare for a meeting. There is a number, not a small one, of things to do before a meeting. These preparations take some time, and it is smart to plan that time in advance.
  3. Schedule time needed to process notes from a meeting – usually you take notes during meetings. Taking notes makes the most sense when you process them afterwards.
    1. You should scan your notes looking for action points to add to your ToDo list.
    2. If you take handwritten notes, you may want to digitize them.
    3. If you store notes in applications like Evernote or OneNote, you should plan time for putting them in the right notebooks, tagging them, and adding dates and other information.
  4. Plan time for lunch and breaks – If you have a lunch break, put it in your calendar. That way you will have time for it and no one will invite you to the another meeting at that time.
  5. Put events for travel, working from home, etc. in the calendar – If you know that you won’t be in the office for awhile, then that information should be in your calendar. You will avoid being invited to meetings that you aren’t able to join.
  6. Leave the first 2 hours of each day empty in your calendar – Spend the first two hours on processing your todo list, planning your day, and doing your MITs. Don’t plan any meetings then.

If I remember these 5 simple rules, my day at work is usually more productive and much calmer. It’s so easy to forget about them, though. If we plan our days while keeping these rules in mind, we can leave the office much less tired.

Do these rules make sense for you? Do you find them useful? Is there anything else you would add to the list?

 

Photo by   keso sCC BY

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Productivity

Three MITs a day

I like to know for certain that my day’s been productive. Every day in the evening, I evaluate this. How? I check to see if I managed to do three MITs that day. If the answer is yes, then I know I’ve had a productive day. What are MITs? They are Most Important Tasks. Why MITs? Why three? You’ll find the answers to all of these questions below.

Each of you probably has a todo list. I’m sure that you have a lot of tasks there–more than you are able to process in a day. It doesn’t matter what methodology you use to manage your tasks, it’s simply not possible to do everything in one day! At some point, you have to choose what’s most important for a given day.

I deal with this challenge by defining three of my most important tasks for the day (MIT). I have a list of tasks that I need to do in a given week (I create this list every Friday; there will be a separate blog post about this). This list has a maximum of 20 elements, so choosing the right tasks for the day is not that hard. I scan that list searching for tasks that fulfil the criteria below:

  • I have to do it in a given day – I try to avoid situations where I have to do something on a given date, but sometimes I have such tasks. They will be chosen as MITs.
  • I want to do it because I want to see progress on a project – I like to see that things are moving in the right direction, and that I am closer to finishing the project.
  • Someone is waiting for me to finish a task and I do not want to hinder that person.
  • I want to do the task because I like it and it will be a pleasure to work on it (like writing a blog post :).
  • The task is part of a bigger project and I know that I need to finish it by a given deadline.
  • The task is quick and I know that I can finish it even if my day is very busy (for example, call someone, which is something I can do between meetings).

I’ve noticed that three MITs per day is an optimal number. Usually I can commit to finishing that number of tasks. If I chose more, I would risk not being able to finish them, and I would have to postpone them to the next day. If that happens, the tasks really start to pile up.

A lot of times, I’m tempted to mark more than three tasks as MITs because I consider a lot of tasks to be important. Then I try to remind myself of my rule, which states that if everything is the most important, then in reality nothing is! It’s up to me to choose what is really important on a given day.

To summarize, every day in the morning I have a list of tasks I want to do first. It looks like this:

mit-1024x593

In practice, I try to finish these tasks as early as possible, starting my day with them. Some time ago I wrote about how my mornings look. I work on my MITs before 9AM,  using the Pomodoro technique. If I manage to complete all my MITs in the morning, the rest of the day is much calmer. I have a lot of energy for other things that I want to do. I know that the most important things are done. And it’s a great feeling to know that I’ve had a productive day!

How do you choose your tasks for the day? How do you know what to do next? Let me know how you deal with this!

Photo by   Embracing HealthCC BY

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Other

Earn for your gadget

Earn for your gadget

I like gadgets. Who doesn’t? I used to buy too many of them based on a simple impulse – I see something I like, I ponder purchasing it for a few hours, and buy it. Because of this, I’ve ended up with many things I don’t like or use often. I’ve had to come up with a tactic to choose gadgets I really want and really need: I have to “earn” money for them.

“Earn” is in quotation marks because it is referring to the time, rather than the money, I need to earn to get the gadget.

Let me describe this tactic based on the example of the gadget I am earning for right now – Jawbone Up3. I saw it and I thought “I want that!” Then I thought about the last thing I bought in a similar situation, something I’m not even using any more. So I decided that instead of buying the Jawbone Up3 right away, I would collect money for it. How do I collect money? I priced some habits I want to develop , and every time I practice one of these habits,  I put aside a small amount of money. That way, I have more incentives to do what habits are about and I am closer to buying the Up3 :)

Here are the prices for a few of my habits:

  • going out for a run – 2PLN
  • exercising for 10 minutes – 2PLN
  • getting up at 4:30 in the morning – 2PLN

The price for each habit has to be small enough that I won’t collect money too fast. I need to have enough time to think about whether or not I really need the gadget. But the price also has to be high enough to motivate me  to

Every time I do one of these things, I transfer the given amount of money to a separate account. Believe it or not, I have already collected 200PLN and I run, exercise, and get up at the desired time more often. I’ve estimated that I need about 5 months to collect enough money for the Up3. That means that I have 5 months to see if I really want it. If I still want it in 5 months, then I’ll buy it. If not, I’ll have some savings and a few new, good habits. It’s a win-win situation!

Can this work for you? Just try it.  Do you have other ways of checking if you really want a gadget? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by  JD Hancock/ CC BY

 

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Productivity

Do the right thing

There is a constant stream of tasks you have to do. You are good at dealing with this. You get all these tasks off your mind by adding them to your todo list. And then you do your tasks one by one… But have you ever considered if you have to do all tasks you’ve added to your todo list?

There is a great threat in being productive. You might be productive just to do more within the time you have. But is this the point? No! I strongly believe that being productive is about doing the right things in the right way to have more time for life :)

Today I’m writing about how you can choose the right things to do. This is a broad subject, so I’m focusing on the first steps you can take to decide which task should be done.

Some time ago I had a huge problem with choosing what to do next. I was adding all the tasks that came to my mind to my todo list and doing them one by one. There were just too many of them. I had to figure out how to choose which tasks to do. Below I’ve described three simple techniques which will help you to choose the right things to do.

1. Ask “why.”

When I process my todo list, for each item I ask myself the question “Why should I do this?” Sometimes we add new tasks in a rush, just not to forget about them. After some time, tasks may become irrelevant. If you can’t answer the question “Why?” in a way that satisfies you, maybe you shouldn’t do the task. Just cross it out and spend your time and energy on another, more important one that you actually have a reason for doing.

2. Split tasks into two categories: “has to be done now” and “someday/maybe.”

You know why you want to do the task. Now it’s time to ask yourself the question “Does this task have to be done now, or can it be postponed?” And “now” for me means within the next two weeks. If it can be postponed, I move this task to a separate list called “someday/maybe.” I’ve noticed that in this category I put tasks about reading a book, watching a movie, checking a new concept, etc.–basically everything I’ve added to my todo list that I want to remember, but I have no time to do right away. I review the “someday/maybe” list every week and cherry pick the tasks that I want to start on.

3. Write the “definition of done” for each task.

The third but equally useful technique of deciding if I am doing the right thing is writing a “definition of done” for the task. I’ve already answered two questions: “why” and “when.” Now it is time to describe what it means to finish the task. Usually it is one, maybe two sentences added as a note to the task. It is useful because:

  • It allows you to check one more time what you want to achieve by doing the task. Maybe you need to rephrase it, add some details, or split it into a few smaller tasks.
  • You have a very well-defined success criteria. When you are done with the task, it is easy to check if you’ve accomplished your goal by referring to your “definition of done” for that task.

It may seem like a cumbersome process to do this for each task. However, when you get used to it, it only takes a few seconds to apply these techniques to tasks. I save a lot of time thanks to this approach. Usually I eliminate 30-40% of tasks from my inbox either by removing them or by moving them to the “someday/maybe” list. Do you want to try out these techniques? Let me know what your conclusions are afterwards :)

This approach is inspired by the “Getting Things Done” methodology by David Allen (GTD). What I’ve described above is a small part of the task processing approach I use for every task. You can start with simple actions like these to begin using the GTD methodology and work in a more efficient way.

Photo by  GxMewCC BY

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Communication

The first words are the hardest

I like to talk to people. For me, talking to people is rewarding, and in most cases I learn a lot from each conversation that I have. If I know the interlocutor, starting a conversation is not a problem for me. But when I meet new people it is quite hard to begin chatting. Lately I’ve been attending a lot of project meetings, business dinners, and other types of business meetings, so I’ve had to come up with a strategy for starting conversations. If you have a similar challenge with speaking to new people, I have a few tips for you.

Please remember that what I am going to list below are just some ways to get chatting. Usually after starting a conversation you come up with so many interesting subjects to discuss that it isn’t a problem to continue. But it’s not about making small talk – it’s about starting a more meaningful conversation.

What do I do to prepare for a meeting with new people? Below you can find a few tips.

  • Prepare for the meeting – If I’m going to a business dinner, I read about the place we will eat before I go. I research the type of cuisine there and find some recommended dishes. I read about my partner’s company and their recent projects. I know what country/town that person comes from. All of these things are great conversation starters because you can tell your guest what is interesting about the place where you’re meeting, ask about their latest project, etc. You can also ask what place is the most interesting to see or visit in the city your guest comes from. Ask for tips on what to do if you go there. You may know that the person you’re meeting with shares your passion, like running – talk about the best routes to run in each others’ cities.
  • Use what you’ve learned recently – Trivia you’ve learned recently can be a great conversation starter. I am sure you read a lot, watch movies, listen to podcasts, browse the internet, etc. While doing that you learn a lot. Use this to start a chat! You read an article about a bank in Germany that has negative interest rates and asks customers to pay for keeping their money? Talk about this. It’s something that influences everyone – they will be interested! (I talked about it with a customer I had dinner with recently. This started a 30 minute long and very interesting discussion about banking systems).
  • Talk about your last project/activity – You are working on something interesting? You were part of a challenging project? You are preparing for a marathon? You are learning to dance? Share this with the people you’re talking to. It may be interesting to them, and it will help them learn more about you. Just observe how they react to what you say and see if you should carry on speaking about these topics.
  • Know what is happening in the industry – If you meet with people that work in a similar company as you, talk with them about what is happening in your industry. What are the trends? What are some emerging technologies? Are they embracing those new things?
  • Learn new things about your guest’s job – If you meet someone for the first time, you can ask some questions about their occupation. What do they do? How do they do it? What is interesting about their job? What are their challenges? People generally like to share this information.
  • Weather/location/travel/language – This is the last resort :) If you don’t know how to start a conversation, just talk about the weather (how warm it is for this time of year, or how the weather is where your guest lives) or how your guest traveled to your location. Ask questions about your guest’s language – you always can use this as an opportunity to learn new words :)

These are just a few ideas for what to do if you don’t know how to start a conversation (like myself). Remember, they’re just ideas to get the ball rolling. From my experience, I’ve learned that after a few sentences you learn so much about the person you’re talking to that you can easily continue and enjoy the conversation. As I wrote in the beginning, the most important thing is to start. Everything that follows is much easier.

What do you do when you meet new people? How do you start a conversation? Are you the type of person that can just talk to everyone immediately? Or maybe you wait for someone else to start? I am very interested to hear your stories. Please comment here or on Facebook – or, like you often do, just talk to me :)

Photo by  JakeandLindsay Sherbert/ CC BY

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Other Productivity

Make it visible

Today I am writing about a very concrete challenge I had – remembering resolutions that I wanted to fulfil with apps. This will be a brief post. The idea I want to describe is so simple that I am ashamed I didn’t figure it out earlier!

Imagine the situations below:

  • I want study new vocabulary daily. I found a great app for that, so for sure I’ll use it.
  • I want to do a workout every day. I have an app that lists all the exercises I have to do and tells me how often to do them.
  • I want to record the number of calories I’ve eaten just after each meal. There is this great app that will help me do it.

I’ve been in each of these situations many times. I hate to admit this, but I failed in most of them. In the beginning I was opening those apps every day, and then every few days. After a few weeks I forgot about them. They could have been so helpful… If only I’d used them!

Usually when I install a new app, I put it in a folder with similar apps. I did exactly the same with the apps from the above examples. They were added to the “Education” and “Health” folders. When I wanted to use them, I had to scroll to the screen with these folders and then find the chosen app in the folder. And then I could use the app.

Recently I changed my approach to organizing my apps. Apps I want to use every day, for example for learning new vocabulary, I place in the dock (bottom of the screen, visible from all views). That way I can see the app all the time. It makes me feel guilty if I don’t use it from time to time. Since I’ve place these kinds of apps in the dock, I’ve started using them several times each day. This is a simple and efficient solution to the problem I described at the beginning of this post.

 

AndroidiPhone


 

 

 

 

 

Now I open the Brainscape app much more often and, as a result, I’ve learned many new words lately.

P.S. Brainscape is an app that allows you to create flashcards and study them in a smart way. Its algorithm chooses how often you see each flashcard based on how well you remember it. It’s a very efficient way of learning.

 

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