Tag: Productivity (page 1 of 19)

Chapter 4 of my new audiobook on productivity is now available!

I’m in the midst of creating an audiobook entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity (v2). It’s a side project that I’m aiming to have finished by mid-2017, and I’m pleased to announce another chapter is now available!

Chapter 4 focuses on something that many of us never feel as if we have enough of: Time. This chapter explores methods you can use which will allow you to do more of what you enjoy and value. The idea is that you can finish listening and start implementing straight away!

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 4 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.



Buy now for £4

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

My Daily Routine

One of the books on my ‘daily reading’ list is Mason Currey’s fantastic Daily rituals : how great minds make time, find inspiration, and get to work. I implore you to buy a copy if you haven’t already. It’s ace.

Each entry by the author is a couple of pages about the kind of routine that people such as Virginia Woolf or Charles Darwin followed throughout their life. Sometimes this was an easy task for Currey, as the individual wrote specifically about their routine. Other time, it has taken painstaking research, putting together information for a number of sources.

Now, I’m no ‘great mind’, but I thought it might be interesting, if only for the sake of me looking back in a few years’ time, to do something similar. What follows is my daily routine when I’m working from home. This, I guess, is an update of my entry on My Morning Routine from around three years ago.


Like anyone who lives with their family, my daily routine is restricted to a great extent by various duties and constraints. I’m a morning person, so I’d actually like to get up earlier than I do. However, my wife is more of a night owl, so we settle somewhere in the middle.

Over the last couple of years, since becoming self-employed and having much more control over my working hours, I’ve come to realise that I work differently in the spring and summer months than in autumn and winter. I’m a lot more gregarious and outgoing during the former, while I’m more reclusive and introverted. Also, the additional sunlight means I tend to need less hours sleep and, for some reason, makes me want to swim more. I’ve come to divide my year by the spring and autumn equinoxes, so I’m very much looking forward to next week, when I’ll start swimming again, put away my SAD light and generally be in a more positive frame of mind.

I wake up at around 06:00 in the spring and summer, and later (usually 06:30) in the autumn and winter, using my Lumie Sunrise alarm clock. Being woken by light is much better than being woken by noise. I lie in bed and do my daily reading — a mixture of books like Daily Rituals but also some Stoic philosophy and other things that put me in the right frame of mind for the day.

Then, I get up, say good morning to my children, and take them downstairs for breakfast. They have a routine to do before school that includes piano practise, either Khan Academy or Duolingo, and getting themselves ready for school. I see my job as making sure they’re in a good mood. That takes varying amounts of effort depending on their emotional temperature. During this time I catch up with Twitter, scan my emails, say good morning to the We Are Open co-op Slack channel, and read the news headlines.

I’m the last to get ready, having a quick cold shower, doing my press-ups and sit-ups, and then heading downstairs. I have a crazy mix of stuff in my breakfast smoothie, and then walk my daughter to school with my wife (if she’s not at work). This is one of the highlights of my day.

I take my gym stuff, and head straight from dropping her off to do either my arms, legs, or cardio. If it’s spring/summer, and depending what day it is, I’ll go home straight away and go swimming at lunchtime. Once I’m at home, depending on how ‘bitty’ the things are that I have to do, I’ll either use my Trello board directly, or have already transferred things to my daily planner while my children are eating breakfast.

My use of coffee is strategic. I don’t use it to wake myself up, but to ensure I’m at peak productivity between 10am and 12pm. Sometimes, if I’m lacking motivation, I’ll head to the local coffee shop to work, paid for by the kind people who donate in appreciation of my weekly newsletter. Otherwise, I’m in my home office, which is separate to our house and complete with standing desk, or upstairs in a weird little cubby hole we created when converting our loft.

I work for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. By ‘work’, I mean write, think, plan, and make. I don’t count meetings and replying to email as work. While it’s important for me to meet people online, especially as I live up in Northumberland, I limit these conversations to 30 minutes wherever possible.

My time is precious. Four hours of solid knowledge work is what I aim for each day as research backs up my theory that this is optimal. I feel sorry for people who work in offices who have long commutes each way, have to spend time maintaining relationships with colleagues they don’t particularly like, and in meetings that are a waste of time.

When my wife and I are both at home, we have lunch together and do the crossword in The i newspaper (to which we subscribe). I will usually have an omelette or scrambled eggs with some turmeric mixed in. I’m fussy about the eggs we buy.

If I get my four hours of work done while my children are at school, then I go to pick up my daughter and talk with her about what we’ve been up to since we last saw each other. My son walks to and from school by himself now he’s in middle school. They have a snack and then go and play on their tablets (usually) or make/draw stuff (sometimes).

On the days I don’t get my four hours in while the children are at school, I use this time to get up to an hour’s extra work in. Otherwise, I’m just reading, catching up with email, or doing a bit of housework. Just as when I was at Mozilla, the time when most people want my attention is between 16:00 and 17:00, as most people in my network are online, from the Pacific timezone where people are just starting work, through to Europeans who are just clocking off.

After that, it’s preparations for the various activities my children do (football, swimming, Scouts, piano, dance, golf, etc.) and dinner. I’m trying to cook once per week at the moment to improve my skills in that area. Our six year-old daughter goes in the shower and then to bed around 19:00, and our ten year-old son does the same about half an hour later. They both are read to, and then read themselves. I’m particularly enjoying reading and discussing each short chapter of A Little History of Philosophy with our eldest.

I don’t work in the evenings, unless I absolutely have to. For some reason, it gets me down, and makes me resent what I’m working on. I don’t count recording the TIDE podcast with Dai Barnes as ‘work’ as it’s more of a conversation with a friend that happens to be made available to others. The evening is the time of the day that it’s hardest for me to obey my self-imposed rules of no sugar and no alcohol during the working week. So I tidy up, perhaps play some FIFA, do some more reading, and get myself ready for bed.

I’ve learned from experience how important rituals and routines are to my productivity. Every evening I have a really hot shower, which lowers my core body temperature, ready for sleep. I lie in bed, reading until my wife comes to bed. We talk, we both read, and then (usually about 22:30, but sometimes 23:00) the lights go off and I fall asleep quickly.

Cross-posted to Medium. Image: Loic Djim


I’m currently putting together an audiobook on productivity called #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity. You can buy it now for a reduced price, and you’ll get updates for free until it’s finished!

Chapter 3 of my new audiobook on productivity is now available!

I’m right in the middle of creating an audiobook entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity (v2). It’s a side project that I’m aiming to have finished by mid-2017. I’m pleased to announce another chapter is now available!

Chapter 3 is concerned with the third of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity: Exercise. This chapter explains why exercise is crucial to a holistic and sustainable system of productivity. You should be able to finish listening and start implementing straight away!

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 1 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.



Buy now for £3

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

Chapter 2 of my new audiobook on productivity is now available!

I’m in the midst of creating an audiobook entitled #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity (v2). Many thanks to those who have already bought the book as soon as it was released. I’m pleased to announce another chapter is now available.

Chapter 2 is concerned with one of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity: Nutrition. This chapter is full of actionable insights and you should be able to stop listening and start implementing straight away!

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 1 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.



Buy now for £2

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

I’ve just released Chapter 1 of my new audiobook on productivity

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve written and recorded Chapter 1 of my new audiobook on productivity. Ostensibly, it’s a second version of my book from six years ago: #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity.

As usual, I’m using my OpenBeta publishing model, meaning that this product will get more expensive as I add more content. The earlier you buy into the process, the cheaper it is! If you buy Chapter 1 now, I’ll send you every iteration until it’s finished.

Chapter 1 is concerned with what I deem to be the most important of the three ‘pillars’ of productivity: Sleep. As I say in the introduction to the chapter, it’s a funny place to start as it’s literally the opposite of ‘getting things done’. However, that’s why it’s so important — as you’ll see!



Buy now for £1

(click the button to see the proposed chapter listing)


Need a sample? Here’s a two-minute intro:

Note: I’ll email existing backers and keep posting here when each new chapter is available. The ‘canonical’ page for this audiobook, however, is here. That will always be up-to-date!

The Future of Work: Trends and Toolsets

Last month I wrote a report for a client about the future of work. In my contract is a clause that says that, apart from anything commercially sensitive, my work for them is shared under a Creative Commons license.

I’m therefore sharing a much shorter version of the 23-page report I researched and wrote for them. There was some really interesting stuff I turned up in my research around organisational structure, culture, and retention, but that section was too intertwined with the client’s plans to be able to easily and effectively separate out.  


Introduction

“Your best practices won’t save you.” (John Cutter)

The main trends around the future of work seem to be broadly twofold:

  1. Empowering individuals and teams to make their own decisions around technology
  2. Democratising the process of deciding what kind of work needs to be done

4 Kinds of Work in the Future

These two mega themes (taken from ‘uber empowered’ quadrant of the above Harvard Business Review digram) can be broken down into four, more practical, sub-themes:

  1. Demise of hierarchies
  2. Re-thinking the location of work
  3. Workplace chat
  4. Mission-based work

The following posts in this series expand and explain each of the above points. The original report made some recommendations for the client. Given I don’t know your context, I’m going to refrain from appending a conclusion to this series.


1. Demise of Hierarchies

After predictions of its demise, the traditional office structure is crumbling. Only 38 percent of companies in a recent survey say they are ‘functionally organized’. For large companies with more than 50,000 employees, that number shrinks to 24 percent. (Bloomberg)

Holocratic Organization

(image taken from this post)

The buzzterm at the moment is around holacracy, an approach in which “authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy”. This governance model has been adopted by Zappos, Precision Nutrition, and (until recently) Medium.

Self-organising is taken to its extreme, or logical conclusion, with Valve, the company best known for the Half-Life game series and ‘Steam’ store. Their handbook for new employees explains that they hire people rather than roles, meaning people are “hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work [they] could be doing.” Hiring, firing, and new projects are all managed via a completely flat structure.

Metaphors are important in organisational structure, and many futurists use the idea of the network to explain their ideas. Esko Kilpi, for example, states that “the architecture of work is not the structure of a firm, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of responsive organizing.” In a post examining why employees become disengaged, Stowe Boyd coins the term ‘circumvising’ to explain the shift from ‘supervising’ to a form of work where, “instead of a manager you report up to and who directs the work of those below, the social context…will constrain and support the worker from all around.”


2. Rethinking the Location of Work

Skills for Success in a disruptive world of work

(image taken from this post by Tanmay Vora)

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. (Winston Churchill)

One trend of recent years that is universally slated in both the popular press and by futurists is that of open-plan offices. According to Stowe Boyd,

More than 40% of the respondents to a recent Berkeley survey reported that workplace acoustics make it harder for them to do their job, while other factors, like lighting, air quality, seating, etc, were rated as making it easier to work.

The assumption is that open-plan offices enable more serendipitous connections to take place. However, this is often at the expense of ‘deep work’ as noted by Cal Newport in his recent book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. It often leads to more introverted employees using headphones in order to concentrate and feel more comfortable.

Home working solves some of these problems and, indeed, many organisations have a ‘remote working’ policy, meaning some (or all) of their employees are based from wherever they happen to live. This, of course, requires a certain type of worker, with particular expectations around flexibility, availability, and digital skills. Implementing this kind of policy without training and explicit expectation-setting (for both office-based and remote workers) can lead to unnecessary misunderstanding and anxiety.


3. Workplace chat

Slack colours

So this is one megatrend: the widespread adoption of tools based on the chat design metaphor across the board in personal and work life. Chat is the new normal for communication, displacing both email and social collaboration tools. (Stowe Boyd)

The hot new technology that everyone is talking about is Slack, a ‘workplace chat’ tool with APIs meaning it integrates with everything. It is already a billion-dollar business, and this is for at least two reasons. The first is a desire for employees in most organisations to get out of their inbox. Another is that it supports the move away from a static org chart and is more responsive to the true power dynamic within organisations.

There have been many posts about the relative merits of workplace chat apps. Most futurists believe that adopting such tools is not a panacea to current workplace problems, but rather a way to demonstrate in a concrete way how teams can interact in a different way. For example, the theory of social crowding suggests that workplace chat is at its most effective when used by small teams of less than 10. This ensures that those who are doing the chatting are also the ones doing the work.


4. Mission-based work

Life cycle of a brand

Today, all companies need a constitution. No company should operate on implicit cultural rules that are based in a shadowy way on oligarchic myths. (Stowe Boyd)

Often cited as a something particularly important to ‘Millennials’ (those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000), futurists see mission-based work as key to ensuring employee fulfilment at any age. Loyalty these days is often to the job rather than to the organisation — so long as the job matches the ‘mission’ that the employee feels is central to their existence.

Graduates are queuing up to work for brands who match their outlook on life, often foregoing higher salaries elsewhere to do so. Recent research from Gallup included a survey of almost 50,000 business units which showed that employee engagement is a key indicator of business success. This is an important trend to consider.

Further reading

I put together an epic Google Doc of links and images to help with my research for the original report. You can access that here.

Banner image CC BY-NC-SA Daniel Foster


Questions? Ask in the comments and I’ll go into more detail about any of the above.

If you’d like my help in a consultative capacity, please get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Claim your Advanced Kanban badge!

Advanced KanbanThe Kanban 101 badge proved so popular I’ve decided to follow it up with an Advanced Kanban badge! This posts explains how to earn it. I’m using Trello mainly because it’s awesome.

Criteria

  • Add a ‘Work In Progress’ (WIP) limit to the ‘Doing’ list
  • Define and use labels effectively
  • Add attachments and due dates to cards
  • Collaborate with others

Here’s how to achieve these criteria.

Add WIP limit

Work in Progress (WIP)

Simple. Just edit the title of your list to indicate the maximum number of cards that is allowed in it at any given time. The default is three, but you might experiment to see if this is the right number.

Use labels

Labels

It’s up to you how you use labels. The benefit of using them is that they give an at-a-glance indication on the kind of work you’re doing. The above list is what I’ve settled on for individual projects. These are different when I’m working with others; it’s a negotiation and they may change over time.

Add attachments / due dates

Attachment

Within each card there’s an option to add an attachment. You can upload direct from your computer, paste a link, or transfer from cloud services. If you upload an image it will by default become the ‘cover’ of your card. You can disable/change this if necessary.

Due date

Due dates are important to ensure cards keep moving from left to right on your Kanban board. If you can no longer assign a date you might want a list entitled ‘Stalled’. Assign a due date by going into the card.

Collaborate

Collaborators

Unless you’ve set up an organisation, you need to manually add collaborators to a board via the ‘Menu’. Once they’ve been given access you can add them to cards by clicking on ‘Members’. Their icon will then show up in the bottom-right of the card.

Conclusion

This is a fun exercise that leads to a badge. It also, hopefully, nudges you to use Kanban more effectively. If there’s enough interest I may even create a Kanban Ninja badge!

HOWTO: Trello Kanban

Update: an earlier draft of this included a link to this awesome post on the Trello blog: Going Public! Roadmapping With A Public Trello Board. You should definitely check it out.

(no video above? click here!)

Intro

How do decisions get made in your organisation? How does work get done? Do you have agreed workflows? Does innovation happen inevitably or by accident?

The best organisations I’ve worked with have clear processes for how mission-critical things happen. For example, I’ve been part of:

  • a school with an unequivocal behaviour management and sanctions workflow
  • a global non-profit where work is based on ‘sprints’ and agile development methodologies
  • a university and an awarding body with a rigorous approach to issuing qualifications and credentials

Highly productive individuals, teams, and organisations don’t get to that level merely by accident. It happens through hard work on process which, in turn, leads to consistently-great outcomes.

Once you’ve got a strategy (i.e. ‘direction of travel’) and defined workflow (i.e.’milestones along the way’) you’re ready for Kanban:

Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. In this approach, the process, from definition of a task to its delivery to the customer, is displayed for participants to see. Team members pull work from a queue.

I’ve tried a number of ways of adopting a Kanban approach – some of them listed on this wiki page. The one I keep coming back to, however, is Trello. As the video at the top of this post shows, it’s simple but powerful:

Get started in 5 easy steps:

  1. Create a new Trello board.
  2. Create three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done.
  3. Set up tags – anything you want (personally, I use Writing, Editing, Researching, Collaborating, Reviewing, and Planning).
  4. Invite people to your board. 
  5. Add cards to the To Do list, ensuring they’ve got tags, have been assigned to people, and have a due date.

Optional:

  • Create an Trello ‘organisation’ for all of the boards you share with your colleagues.
  • Add a couple of additional lists: Stalled (so cards don’t remain on your ‘To Do’ list forever) and Useful links (for information everyone needs to hand).
  • Attach an image to each card to differentiate them from others.
  • Change the background colour/image to quickly find the board you’re looking for.

Conclusion

I’m in the midst of introducing a Trello-based Kanban approach in an organisation that’s traditionally relied mostly on meetings and emails to get things done. Having seen a similar approach work so well elsewhere, I’m convinced it will boost productivity and cohesion within/across teams.

I’ll blog more about my findings in due course. 🙂

My current Mozilla workflow: Trello, Google Mail, and GitHub

Like Clay Shirky, I think that over-optimising your setup and workflow for now can lead to long-term anachronism. He says:

[S]ince every tool switch involves a period of disorientation and sub-optimal use, I have to make myself be willing to bang around with things I don’t understand until I do understand them. This is the opposite of a dream setup; the thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

In this screencast I show how I’m using Trello, Google Mail, and GitHub as part of my current workflow. This may change by next month – or even next week!

I’d love your comments and questions, particularly if you share your workflow or have any tips/tweaks for mine!


PS In 2015 I’m writing a book in my spare time called #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity which you may find interesting…

On working remotely

As I mentioned recently, I’m a regular reader of Hacker News. Yesterday one of the links on the front page was to a blog post by a UK-based employee of Etsy. He (Jon Cowie) was explaining what it’s been like to work remotely for a tech company over the last three years.

The post resonated strongly with me and I just wanted to pick out some parts from the post and compare/contrast with my own experience working for the Mozilla Foundation for almost the same amount of time.

Logistics

We’re a heavily distributed team with people spanning 4 time zones, although I’m currently the only person outside the US, which means my work day is between 5 and 7 hours ahead of the rest of my team.

Mozilla is even more distributed than Etsy, it would seem. Normal working hours start for my colleagues in San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver at the same time as they finish for my colleagues in Germany. Needless to say, there’s a need to be flexible! (I’m based in the UK, in a market town in the North East of England.)

The Good

The fact that I’m 5 hours ahead of the rest of my team has also turned out to be a benefit to my productivity here too – because I’m usually the only person on the team at work until 2PM or so in the UK, my entire morning is a block of time without any interruptions where I can get through tons of work. I’m also a morning person, so my brain is freshest when I start work.

This isn’t quite the case for me – my colleagues in Germany are an hour ahead of me – the majority of my colleagues are still asleep when I start work. If you’ve never experienced this, then it’s wonderful. You can get so much done without meetings and other interruptions!

I often joke that a bad commute for me is having to walk around a clothes dryer on the way to my desk, but there’s a serious point to make here – rather than spend 2 hours a day commuting as I did when working in London, I have a 10 second walk to my desk. This also gives me an extra 2 hours a day to play with

The commute thing is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I kind of miss the liminal space inbetween home and work – especially for listening to podcasts, gathering my thoughts, etc. On the other hand, being able to work when you want from pretty much anywhere is amazing.

Another major plus point to remote working is the flexibility that it affords – I’m always at home to receive deliveries. Car needs to go to the garage? No worries, I can pop by…. Individually, these are all very small things, but the cumulative effect makes the trials and tribulations of daily adulting much easier to deal with.

As Jon says, this is difficult to explain on an individual level, but it makes life so much easier. (I love the phrase ‘daily adulting’ – even if it does sound a little seedy…)

The Bad

The fact that your home and your office are in the same physical building can often lead to cabin fever in varying degrees. In my case I don’t find this too problematic due to my aforementioned tendency to naturally avoid crowded and noisy places, but there are occasions where I just need to get outside of these four walls.

I don’t have quite this problem as my home office is physically separate from our house. Still, I mix it up a bit by spending part of the morning working from either the local library or Wetherspoons (cheap, unlimited coffee; decent free wifi; comfy seats). Like Jon, I also exercise before lunch, ready for my colleagues to come online.

One of the toughest parts of my particular working situation, and that which I’ve had to be the most disciplined about, is stopping work at 6PM and not starting again until the next day.

Taking an “almost militaristic” approach to this (as Jon says he does) would be difficult for me. I certainly aim not to work after 6pm, but circumstances sometimes dictate it. For me, with two young children, I’m more interested in being around for them between 6pm and 8pm than I am protecting 8pm to 10pm. It’s horses for courses.

I’d really like Mozilla to implement something like timezone.io (the code’s on GitHub!)

When you have people working across physical locations, timezones and even countries, communication gets harder. People aren’t able to gather around the water cooler, it’s easy for people to feel left out if they’re the one who isn’t in the office, and including remotes in meetings and discussions can often be tricky.

The way that I always explain the difference to people is that, when your communications are mediated by technology, every interaction is intentional. What I mean by that is you can’t just wander over to a co-worker and ask how they’re doing, or bump into them in a corridor. Sometimes this is great and a real aide to productivity. But sometimes it can feel isolating.

Thankfully I have some colleagues who regularly ping me on IRC and Skype just to talk through various things (work and social stuff). We also have a Friday meeting which is at the end of the day for Europeans and midday for those on US Eastern Time (New York / Toronto). This usually involves talking about non-work stuff with alcohol for us and lunch for them. It’s a nice end to the week.

Conclusion

Be prepared to work at it, and be awesome to each other. Remote working can be an amazingly empowering and positive experience, but it doesn’t come for free. Effort in, results out – from both company and employees.

Like any position in any organisation, there’s ups and downs working remotely for Mozilla. As Bryan Mathers commented when I interviewed him this week it doesn’t work for everyone. It takes a level of maturity and emotional stability that, to be honest, I sometimes struggle with. When most of the signals you’re getting are text-based you can read too much into things. I’ve heard that more than half of face-to-face communication is non-verbal which I can definitely believe.

But despite all of this, working remotely is absolutely fantastic. It means I have no excuse not to be insanely productive. There’s nowhere to hide when it comes to carving out time to go to the gym. My time is (largely) my own to get on and get stuff done. I’m judged by what I produce rather than when I do it.

It may not fit with all industries but I think that, if you can make it work for you and your organisation, it’s a huge bonus.


Do you work remotely? Would you like to? I’d love to read your comments and questions in the section below!

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