Tag Archives: featured

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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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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