Other Productivity

Did I remember to unplug my iron this morning?

Did I remember to unplug my iron this morning? Did I turn off the stove? I used to have such thoughts a few minutes after leaving my flat or even a few hours later, when I was already at the office. Once I was so unsure if I had unplugged my iron that I came back to my flat when I was almost already at the office. I just had to double-check it. Of course, I found an iron unplugged. Raise your hand if you’ve never had that thought… I don’t see too many hands ;)

Today’s blog post was inspired by my colleague who commented on my blog post about remembering what you want to do. I wrote about finding a trigger that allows you to recall the thought you want to keep. She said that she does something similar when she wants to remember that she unplugged the iron or turned off the stove.

Why do we do this? Why do we tend to forget about such important details? Leaving an iron plugged in or a stove turned on or water running may cause serious damage to our possessions. Still, we forget about this so often and wonder about it for hours. Very often we can’t concentrate because of these thoughts. I think the reasons for this are quite easy to spot (at least in my case) – usually it’s a combination of multitasking and the morning rush. How often have you been preparing your breakfast while ironing and packing your bag same time? No wonder we don’t remember afterwards if we completed a task as small as unplugging something.

How do we deal with this? I have two tips for you – one from my colleague and one from me.

Lauren told me that when she wants to remember that she did something (like unplugging the iron) she does something special at the same time – something that is very far from a normal activity in the given situation. Like doing jumping jacks, singing, clapping her hands, etc. This is so different from normal behavior that she usually remembers doing this. And when she remembers that she did a jumping jack, she knows that she also unplugged the iron at the same time. Simple? Yes. Funny? A little bit. Efficient? You bet!

I have a little bit of a different approach to this problem. When I need to remember that I did something I talk to myself out loud, describing what I’m doing. If I want to remember that I unplugged the iron, I’ll say something like this to myself: “Dominik, you finished ironing. You reached for the plug and unplugged it from the socket. Now the plug is hanging on the ironing board and you can see it not being plugged in.” Later, if the question “Is the iron unplugged?” comes to me, I know that it is unplugged because I remember the situation when I unplugged it. I remember telling it to myself.

Are those techniques useful only for the described situation? No. I also use them in other circumstances. They keep me from wasting my time wondering if something is done or not done. That way, I can fully focus on my current activities.

Do you think these techniques can be useful for you? Maybe you have your own ways of remembering such things? If yes, please share them with us!

P.S. Thank you Lauren for the idea for this blog post :)

Photo by  Bre Pettis/ CC BY

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Productivity

I will remember this!

You have this great thought, a great idea, or something that you have to do just after what you’re doing right now. You say to yourself “I need to remember this.” Thirty seconds later, you forget what it was. A couple of hours later, you have this strange feeling that you were supposed to remember something, but you have no idea what. Have you ever been in this situation? Have you ever had that strange feeling, remembering that you forgot something? I’ve had it many times. Almost every time I said to myself “I will remember this,” I didn’t.

Is there any way to overcome this? Today I will describe what I try to do in order to shake this feeling once and for all. (Spoiler alert–I still forget stuff from time to time, but much less than I used to!)

I’ll start with one obvious tip–write everything down. This sounds simple, and most of us have tried it many times. There are a few reasons why we fail in writing things down:

  • We do not write everything down. We think we do, but I bet there are a lot of things that you don’t take note of and that are not on your todo list. We tend to write down tasks related to bigger commitments–write that report, send that letter, pay that bill. But in many cases we do not write certain things down–call Tom tomorrow, clean the office, a gift idea for your significant other, a brilliant plan for what to do in the evening… For some reason, we think we will remember these kinds of todos.
  • We have too many places where we add things to remember. If you write your ideas on sticky notes and you do not have a single place where you store them, then you won’t find them later. It is the same as not writing something down at all. The same goes with having too many todo lists and starting a new one every time you have something you want to write down.
  • You have no idea what you meant when you were writing it down. You know what you mean when you are writing it down. But when you read it later, you just don’t know what it was about. This has happened many times for me in the past.
  • You don’t have the possibility to write something down. This is a hard one. You are driving a car, in the middle of the workout, or in a place where it is not polite to take notes (concert hall, church, etc).
  • You are in the middle of another activity and you don’t want to interrupt it–for example, you could be in the middle of a pomodoro.

There are probably many other reasons why we fail to record our ideas. The above are the reasons I can relate to because I was (and sometimes still am) struggling with them. How do we solve them? Well, here are a few tips:

  • Choose one single place for recording all of your ideas and things to do. Let it be your smartphone, a notebook, flipchart, piece of paper, wall–it doesn’t matter. It has to be the only place you use every time you want to write something down. If you use your smartphone, always use the same app. If it is a notebook, then use the same page. You should try to always have it nearby. It should be available every time you want to jot something down.
  • Use a specific phrase when an idea comes to mind. For me it is the phrase “Dominik you have to remember…” Every time I think this, I hear an alarm in my head with the warning “Look out, you are about to forget this.”  Whenever I think this, I automatically record that important thought.
  • Write down the thing you want to remember, but give it a context, key words, tags, or something else that lets you know what it was about. Instead of just writing down “call Tom tomorrow,” write down “call Tom tomorrow–ask about the insurance company he mentioned.”
  • When you don’t have the possibility to write something down, use something that is around you and treat it as a trigger for later. I know this is a hard one, but with some training it may work. For example, when I am in the middle of a workout and I have an idea for my next blog post, I try to associate it with something I can see. Let’s say I want to write about the importance of having a definition of “done.” During my workout, I see a man with a yellow dog. I would think something like this: “Dominik, there is a yellow dog. Next time you see a yellow dog, think about this post you want to write.” Believe it or not, it works for me. The stranger the thought is, the more probable it is that you will remember it. :)

Following the above guidelines allowed me to limit the number of times I think to myself “I knew I was supposed to remember something, but what was it…” I know one thing–being sure that everything I want to do is written down makes my mind a little less chaotic. I don’t wonder any more what I am forgetting to do. And I can just do the things I’ve written down :)

Photo by  Flood G./ CC BY

 

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Productivity

Take better notes

I am constantly in search of the ultimate way of taking notes during meetings. I have tried a lot of different approaches. I used to take my laptop to every meeting and take notes directly in OneNote. I’ve tried using an iPad with a stylus. And of course I’ve tried taking notes in the traditional way countless times, with a notepad and a pen. Each time there were various obstacles and challenges. And today I am writing about why I’ve typically failed in the past and what I do today to take notes in a more efficient way.

For a long time I was taking notes on my laptop. I had it with me at all of my meetings. I would open it in the beginning and start to type. That approach had many advantages:

  • my notes were legible (I have terrible handwriting),
  • they were instantly digitized and available on any device (with OneNote),
  • notes were searchable (very handy),
  • it was easy to share notes just after the meeting,
  • I had a spell checker on hand (very useful),
  • I was able to take notes fast and still be able to read them afterwards.

You might ask “Why did you write that taking notes with a laptop this used to be your preferred way of taking notes?” You’re right – there are many advantages of note-taking on a laptop. Unfortunately, there are two big disadvantages. I will start with a minor one: if the meeting was boring, I had a tendency to read or write emails, browse the web, and so on. It was very easy to get distracted. But the major disadvantage of taking notes on a laptop is that it distracts other people in the meeting. The sound of keyboard strokes is distracting, as is using the laptop itself. I was perceived as a person who didn’t pay attention in meetings. Many people thought that I just did other things. So I stopped doing it. In the end, the disadvantages outweighed the advantages.

For awhile I gave the iPad and stylus a chance. But that was a failure too. It was nice to have notes available in an electronic version right away. Undo functionality was also very useful. The biggest pro was the ability to take a picture and write notes on it. Unfortunately, I had many problems with the stylus. I tried lots of different ones, but none were as precise as a classic pen. My notes were shaky, unreadable, and ugly (even uglier than my handwriting with a pen). So I stopped taking notes in that way too.

After trying what I described above, I went back to an old school notepad, a pen, and a little bit more.

First I want to share with you what my problems were with handwritten notes in the past. And there were (maybe even are) many:

  • As I wrote before, I have a terrible handwriting style. Sometimes I laugh at myself that my notes are self-encrypted so well that after some time even I can’t read them.
  • I had to take a picture of each note and send it to OneNote – it was and is a very cumbersome process.
  • I kept forgetting my notepad when going to meetings, and ended up writing on sticky notes and then losing them.
  • It was very hard to search for relevant information within notes.

All of those resulted in very poor notes and my eventual attempts to go digital. But after each try, I kept coming back to the old-fashioned way of taking notes. Why? A few reasons:

  • I am a person who remembers things in a very visual way. With handwriting it is very easy to make notes more visual. Adding small drawings, side notes, arrows, symbols, etc. is easy and fun.
  • Taking notes in a notepad is widely accepted and no one has any issues with me doing this. Everyone does it.
  • I learned how to make the most of my handwritten notes.

The last point is the most important one. I created my own style of taking notes, and I try to use it every time I am taking notes. There are only a few things I’ve changed:

  • I use “bigger font.” I just write with bigger letters. Even with my terrible handwriting, I am able to read my notes even a few months after taking them.
  • I have a new routine of adding a “process notes” task to my todo list after each meeting. I spend some time on all my notes to process them and:
    • move action points to my todo list;
    • digitize them if they are important.
  • I have my notebook everywhere I go.
  • And last but not least, I learned to use symbols in my notes which allow me to:
    • quickly scan my notes when I search for important content;
    • easily extract tasks, important remarks, information to share, and so on from all of my notes.

What symbols do I use? Only four:

  • Important – This is an indication for me that this is something worth highlighting and reviewing after the meeting.
  • Person – I mark information related to a given person in this way. I add a name to it so I can find a reference to that person just by looking for a person symbol.
  • Envelope – When there is anything in notes that I need to share with others it is marked with a small, blue envelope.
  • Checkbox – Every time I note an action to be done I add a green checkbox to it. When I review my notes and see this symbol I add it to my todo list.

I try to use these five principles with a limited number of symbols every time I take a notes. It took some time to get used to this way of taking notes, but it was worth it. I have the impression that I am better at taking notes and following up on them. They are relevant for me now; I use them often, come back to them, and review them. I feel that I am more efficient thanks to this and that my meetings are more productive now.

Now I am on a quest for the ultimate notebook… My current candidate is the Ecosystem notebook. I want to order one and try it. I just need to finish my current one first. So I am taking a lot of notes ;)

Do you have a special way of taking notes? What do you do to make the most of them?

 

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Communication

Why I wasn’t hired? Where I can improve?

I manage a team of more than twenty people and I personally recruited most of them. This means that I had to conduct hundreds of job interviews and say “thank you” to many candidates.

The recruitment process at Making Waves has a few steps which include meeting with the manager of the team that needs an employee as well as with a technical person. The manager is the owner of the process. This means that when I look for people for my department, I am the one who decides if we need another round of recruitment and who to hire.

At Making Waves we have a good routine of timely informing people about the status of the recruitment process. This also means informing candidates about the results of their interview within two weeks.

This is usually done over the phone by my colleague from the HR department. Sometimes candidates, who for some reason haven’t met our requirements, ask very important and interesting questions: Why I wasn’t hired? How I can improve my chances in the future?

I really like people who have the guts to ask these questions! It’s not easy to do. It takes some courage and you have to be open to harsh feedback about what you presented during recruitment. But by asking these questions you show that you care and that you want to improve. At the same time, you make me want to invite you back to check what you did with the feedback I gave you.

Whenever I’m asked these questions, I try to call the candidate and explain why I did not accept him or her as an employee. I give as many details as possible. Whether it was a lack of competence, too little experience, or bad English, I will be honest with them.

Only good things can come from asking these questions. You gain experience, you learn how to prepare for the next interview, you stand out from the other candidates who were withdrawn, and you raise your chances of being hired in the future!

Don’t be afraid – just ask. And if you don’t receive an answer? Well, it also says something about the company you wanted to work for ;)

Photo by  studio tdesCC BY

 

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Communication

How often do you run a meeting and is it an efficient one?

For as long as I can remember meetings have been part of my work. Now, when I manage a team, I spend even more time in meetings. Since so much of my time is spent in the meeting room, I want it to be as useful and as efficient as possible. We all know how unproductive meetings can become and how easy it is to waste time in them.

Over time, I tried to implement a few techniques to make meetings more useful for me. Recently I have written two blog posts about those techniques on my company’s blog.

These posts cover what should be done before, during, and after the meeting. You can read them here:

Run an efficient meeting or cancel it – Part 1 – covers everything that should be done before the meeting.

Run an efficient meeting or cancel it – Part 2 – covers everything you can do during and after the meeting.

I encourage you to read these articles and try the techniques yourself, maybe just a few of them, not all at once. I guarantee you that if you try at least one of them, you will benefit from it.

If you have any questions or comments, add them here – I will answer all of them :)

Good luck!

 

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Productivity

How many pomodoros did you do today?

In Polish “pomodoro” is very similar to the word for “tomato.” Is it similar in your language? When you hear “pomodoro technique” do you also think about a delicious vegetable? :)

Jokes aside, today I am writing about a very useful and popular technique of time management – the pomodoro technique.

I am pretty sure that you all know this technique. In this post I will just briefly summarize its main rules. I will also write more about how I apply this technique in my everyday work.

The rules are very easy and there are only a few of them. You need a list of tasks to work on and a timer (the name of the technique comes from the timer used by its creator – it was in the shape of a tomato). You should set the timer for 25 minutes and start to work on one chosen task. You should focus only on that task. Don’t answer any calls, e-mails, or IMs and do not talk with others. When the 25 minutes is over you set the timer for 5 more minutes – this is your break. You do not work during the break. Congratulations! You have finished your first pomodoro :)

Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Il_pomodoro.jpg

Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Il_pomodoro.jpg

If you finished your task in the first pomodoro, then in the following one you can start the next task. If not, then continue with the task from the previous session. After four pomodoros, you should have a longer break of 15 minutes.

Why does it work? I can’t answer for everyone, but for me 25 minutes is short enough to stay focused on one task. And after 25 minutes, I can see that I am much closer to finishing the task. Thanks to this, I am motivated to continue working on it in the next pomodoro.

We are done with the theory. That is really everything you should know (almost – you can read more on this site).

Why do I use the pomodoro technique? Throughout the day I have a few meetings. I have noticed that it is hard to get focused and push things forward in the breaks between meetings. Sometimes I have several minutes, sometimes a couple of hours. I spend them in Outlook, reading documents, talking to people, etc. I thought that if only I were able to spend that time doing stuff from my todo list I would be able to do a lot more each day.

Then I read about the pomodoro technique and decided to give it a shot. Now each time I have more than 30 minutes I use that technique. I prepare one task, turn on the timer (I use Moosti or Tomato TImer for that) and try to work without any breaks for one full pomodoro. If I have more time, then I do more pomodoros, remembering to take breaks.  And you know what? It works! I noticed that since I started to work with this time management technique, I am able to do a lot more. My tasks and projects have progressed in a visible way.

There is also an additional and surprising result of using this technique. When I start the timer I put it on my second screen (like in the picture). While I work on the laptop, the timer on the big screen is visible. After a few initial questions from my colleagues (what is it? why do you do that?) they stopped interrupting me when they see the timer on! If there is anything they want from me, they wait till the break. It is an unexpected but very productive outcome.

 

I have been using this technique more and more. Whenever I have time for at least one pomodoro I start a timer and just do my tasks, fully focusing on them. I do more thanks to this.

I hope that I inspired you a little bit to check it out for yourself. I think it is worth giving it a shot. :)

Photo by  The EwanCC BY

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Book

“Power of habit” – how to change your habits

A couple of years ago I found an interesting methodology of managing productivity called “Zen to Done” by Leo Babauta. The core of that methodology is based on habits. The author describes ten of them and claims that by implementing any of these habits productivity can be increased.  I managed to implement a few of those habits which helped me to complete my tasks. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to implement all the habits I wanted, even when I tried really hard. I was wondering why I could implement some and I was not able to do the same with others. Recently I read a book called “Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and I found a few possible answers to my question.

powerofhabit

Duhigg describes how the habits of individuals, companies, and societies work. He introduces us to the neurological basis of how habits are formed and how we can use that knowledge to consciously work on our own habits. It is very easy to follow what he is trying to explain. He includes many examples, maybe even too many…. On the other hand, thanks to this it is impossible to forget them :)

The one thing from the book I remember the most is a description about what a habit consists of. He lists three components of a habit:

  • Cue: something that starts an action we call a habit. It can be the sound of an alarm clock, the smell of your favorite cookie, etc.
  • Action: the habit itself. For example, getting up at 3PM everyday and going to the canteen to have a cookie.
  • Reward: the feeling we have after an action (joy, happiness, etc).

Some intriguing advice that I found is that the easiest way to change a habit is to reuse the cue and reward of the existing one.  The only thing you have to do is change the “action” part. That way we have a bigger chance to change the “bad” habit.

I am going to use this thinking on habits that I failed to change in the past. Maybe if I find a real cue and a reward for those habits I will be able to change my behaviors.

I listened to the audio version of the book. At times I felt it was too long, but overall it was very nice and informative. I encourage you to read it yourself.

Good luck in fighting with your habits!

 

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