Friday, 4 September 2015

Super-charge Your Day - Six Steps to a Better To Do List

The To Do list must be the most popular productivity tool on the planet.  And it’s effective – ticking off jobs that have been done is as satisfying as a chip butty.  You may think there is no room for improvement, but here are six steps to super-charging your To Do list, and your day! 
  1. Review your goals and plans before writing your To Do list.  No goals or plans?  Well that’s your first job.  If you don’t know where you are going, you can’t know how to get there. So anything on your To Do list will be just spinning wheels.  You might feel busy, but you are not systematically moving towards your goals.  Get an outline plan written, with measureable milestones.
  2. Phrase tasks as questions.  Most people love solving problems and finding out if they can do things better.  If you phrase tasks as a question, you immediately challenge yourself.  Instead of writing “Write email to Henry” rephrase it to “How can I help Henry understand Tuesday's  presentation?”  You will write a better email, and be more engaged with your work.
  3. Define when something is done.  Defining what we mean by “done” is often more complex than we think.  Is the task to write the email, or is it to get Henry to add the necessary resources to do the project?  By repeatedly asking what you mean by "done", you will have meaningful tasks, and jobs that actually get finished. 
  4. Never carry a task forward more than 3 days.  If it’s been on your To Do list longer than 3 days, there's a problem.  Perhaps it is too big to be done right now, and needs more planning.  Break it down into smaller tasks that can be done.  Or it might not need doing at all, in which case stop cluttering up your To Do list.  If neither apply, then for the love of God, just do it.  Now. 
  5. Review your To Do list at the end of the day.  Ask yourself how effective your To Do list really was.  Did it encourage you to think harder about your work?  What got done and what didn’t get done, and why?  Then write the following days To Do list before you finish up for the day. 
  6. Stretch yourself, but don’t make your To Do list impossible.  Stretch targets are fun and motivating. Impossibly long To Do list just don’t get taken seriously.  If your To Do list could not possibly get done by three of you, you are either carrying over too many of yesterday’s tasks, or not planning your work properly.  See step one! 
What’s your top tip for a motivating and effective writing effective To Do list?  Do tell!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Power in Now

How many jobs on your to do list are truly today’s tasks?  And how many are yesterdays or last week’s or even last year’s jobs?  Having a pile of jobs that haven’t been done is demotivating and distracting.

Getting up to date and staying up to date is the holy grail of time management.  If you are only dealing with today’s issues, everything gets done faster.  The issue is fresh – you only have to think about it once, deal with it once, and then it’s gone.  So your to do list becomes shorter, and your mind is clear to deal with today’s issues.
But – there are some catches.  Before you rush off to do every job that’s crying out for attention ask yourself three simple questions:
  1. Does it need to be done at all?  I don’t mean leaving a problem for someone else to pick up, because that just passes work down the line, but is it a job that’s necessary?  Sorting playing cards into sequence (a real example – honestly) is a scary one, but there may be others if you look closely.
  2. Can it be automated?  Perhaps not instantly, but if the job gets done every day or every week by many people it could well be worth automating.
  3. Can it be delegated?  Empowering someone else to take responsibility for chunks of work spreads the load and increases job satisfaction all round.
If the answer is “no” to those three things, and the job will take no more than about 15 – 30 minutes, then you should go ahead and get it done.  Any job that takes less than 30 minutes doesn’t warrant being planned in and done later.  And the more you knock down, the fewer you will have to deal with tomorrow.
If it does take longer than 30 minutes, then it needs to be planned for some future time.  So jobs should only have two options – Do It Now or Plan it In.  Adding it to the ever growing pile of jobs to be done later shouldn't be an option!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A quick checklist for performing at your best

  1. Eat a nutritious breakfast.  Fads come, fads go, but needing enough fuel to sustain your high-powered morning is a constant.  So eat a good breakfast.  Oats, porridge, scrambled egg, tofu, whole meal toast or whatever.  Go easy on the caffeine and focus on protein with slow releasing energy carbs.
  2. Cut the caffeine.  Caffeine is fake energy that’s powering you towards a big crash later in the day.  Either cut the caffeine or make a point of having several days a week with no caffeine.  Power yourself with inspiration and motivation instead.  Caffeine also interferes with sleep which isn’t going to help anyone’s performance.
  3. Stay hydrated.  Drink lots of water and herbal teas to stay hydrated through the day.  It’s good for the brain and the body. Dehydration is bad news when it comes to performing at your best.
  4. Get enough sleep.  Whilst many people sing the praises of being up before the birds, there’s no escaping the fact that to perform well you need sleep.  Not too much, but not sleep deprived either.  So know what’s right for you, and get enough sleep to be able to conquer the world when the alarm goes off.
  5. Take a break.  Working long hours, 7 days a week just leads to burnout.  Push when you need to by all means, but then take a break to recharge and refocus.  Socializing, seeing family and friends and taking holidays fit into the “important but not urgent” quadrant of the Eisenhower matrix.
  6. Don’t get hungry.  Even if you are watching your weight (and who isn’t?) having a small healthy snack to stave off hunger pangs helps performance.  It’s hard to concentrate when all you can think about is lunch, so have an apple or half a dozen almonds to keep you going.
  7. Get fit.  It’s counter-intuitive, but the more exercise you do, the more energy you will have.  But, you have to build up gradually, otherwise you will just fall asleep at your desk.

These are the foundation stones for week-on-week high performance.  Aim to perform for a solid “7” level performance each day, rather than expecting to perform at "10" day after day.  So when you need that bit extra of performance you have something in reserve and you can raise your game to an impressive “9” or “10”.

I'm lucky enough to be working with Nathan Douglas, a double Olympian and world-class performer by anyone's standards. This is his list for getting the basics right.  Do you agree or disagree with the list?   What would you add?  What's your top tip for staying on top of your game?

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Company Culture as a Competitive Advantage

Get more done and be happier at work

For a company to grow it needs firm foundations, and foundations in the business world are made of systems and culture.  Systems ensure things get done, and get done properly.  And culture ensures the company stays nimble in a competitive world.

Without a strong and positive culture, decisions are agonizingly slow, and disagreements are alarmingly frequent. 

Systems and culture are the two things that don’t get thought about as a company is struggling to survive and grow.  But at some point, both become very important.

But what is culture?  And does it really have an impact on the bottom line?  Culture is a combination of strategy and the choices that are made to implement that strategy.  For example, if strategy is to service a small number of high value clients, then culture is the choices that are made in implementing that strategy.  Culture is a corporate shorthand – “the way we do things here” – and when it works it means that everyone understands how to make good decisions.

Even something as seemingly vague as culture  must be measured.  Without measurement you don’t know whether you are actually creating the culture you want, or whether people are just paying lip service to the ideals.  Culture is only an asset to the business when it adds value day by day and customer by customer.

Once you can define what sort of culture you want in your business, lots of decisions start to get easier.  Building capabilities within the organisation is done in line with company culture.  Handling clients is done in line with company culture. 

Once good measurements are in place you can clearly see how things are progressing, and have an idea whether you are on target or not.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Digital Disruption

Throughout history innovation has changed lives for the better, whether the printing press or electricity, air travel or computers.  At each juncture the world got a little easier to live in; people, goods and information moved a little faster.

Today we can work as easily with someone in another country as the next room.  All because of one invention - the internet.

The Internet of Everything

Arguably, the internet is like no invention before.  The impact is just starting to be felt but not properly understood.  The digital world is one where new boys Google, Wikipedia, Amazon and eBay call the shots.  A world where books are so freely available we struggle to get rid of them, rather than prize them as we have for centuries.

From a world where it took some small amount of effort to buy goods and services, it now takes “one click” to have your latest whim satisfied.  From a time where rarities were genuinely rare, now they surface like rabbits and collected together to be viewed and compared, for anyone to haggle over the price.  Where choices were once limited, now they are endless.  Professionals and experts see their hard won knowledge made freely available by eager bloggers.  This is digital disruption on a global scale.

Digital Advertising

Nowhere has the internet’s impact been more obvious than the world of commerce.  Where once high streets were filled with busy shoppers, now retail units lay empty or taken over by coffee shops.  Famous and familiar retail brands have vanished, unable to change fast enough when faced with online competition.  Bank branches have closed, long since replaced by an app.  Drip by digital drip, our familiar towns and cities have changed.

While the high street has been opening coffee shops, eCommerce has been adopted by retailers major and minor.  High street names let you browse and buy online, whilst small niche players open ecommerce sites easily and cheaply.  What years ago was known as “mail order” is alive and thriving on the internet. 

But there is a difference; a big data difference. Direct marketing always provided more information than traditional retail, but the internet has increased that by an order of magnitude. You can now see how long customers spend looking at your products, whether they open your email, whether they mention you on Facebook, or complain about your customer service on Twitter.  It all adds up to a tidal wave of information that’s there for the taking. 

Marketing Data Indigestion

Arguably one of the greatest challenges for the marketing profession is to make sense of all this data.  To sift, sort and decide what matters and what doesn’t. To adapt from a data sparse world, to a data rich world.

Data warehouses, cubes and user-centric spreadsheets are replacing the “take it or leave it” static reports traditionally used by marketing people. This, surely, is where the commercial battles are being fought.  

A world where data is ubiquitous, ownership is no longer the competitive differentiator.  It’s how you use the data, and how you adapt to what it teaches you.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sell or Else

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art for, but as a medium of information

That line was written by David Ogilvy, one of the most successful advertising men of all time. After having worked in advertising for many years, I know that Ogilvy chose his words carefully.  Too much advertising is entertaining, clever, confusing or enigmatic rather than focused on the product.  It’s just too easy to think that factual copy is boring, dull or that it won’t engage the reader.  So instead we attempt to entertain, tell stories, be mysterious, or a whole host of things that confuse the reader.

Even in this line Ogilvy is selling.  It’s the first sentence of his book “Ogilvy on Advertising” and it manages to inform, challenge and engage the reader all at the same time.  It is also one of the most fundamental principles in advertising – your time, work, and money is wasted unless your words sell something.  As soon as you open his book you meet the man face to face with his challenge – sell or else!

The challenge that Ogilvy sets is a big one.  To analyse the product or service so completely that the features and benefits are so well understood that the product or service can be clearly explained.  And that the most important benefit engages and enthralls the reader.  Just as Ogilvy’s copy does. 

Here is the man himself: He spoke directly to his audience long before the days of YouTube or Google. 

He would have been pleased to see how many people have viewed his crackly old recording.  And would likely be amazed at how his predictions have turned out to be absolutely true. Actually, he was probably more confident than that.

Now, back to that letter I was writing.  My first sentence needs a little more work, I think …..

Friday, 7 March 2014

Do It Now and Get More Done

Is “Do It Now” still a valid time management strategy?  After all, didn’t Adam Smith demonstrate that we could do things faster by doing the same thing over and over, rather than suffering the overhead of switching between tasks?  So is it better to keep on top of expenses day by day, or pile them up to be done at the end of the month?  Should you write a month’s worth of blog posts all together, or day by day as thoughts occur to you?  Indeed, is it better to take a month off to study something important, or try and fit an hour in here and there?

I’ve tried both strategies to a lesser or greater extent, and on balance I come down on the side of Do It Now.  For jobs that take perhaps 15 – 30 minutes, and definitely need to be done, I think it is better to get them done and not let them get transferred from To Do list to To Do list.  When the idea is fresh in your mind, or the task has become apparent, it is extremely efficient to get it done as fast as possible, otherwise it starts to weigh you down day after day.  And the more little tasks can get cleared up, the more mental energy you have for the big things.

The danger is filling the day with “busy work” rather than important work, so timing is important.  I work best in the morning, so I try to do smaller tasks and tidying up jobs in the afternoon.  The key, though, is to keep on top of them so they don’t become a big job.

Another danger is that the job doesn’t really need to be done at all, and if you leave it, it will just go away.  That’s a valid point, I guess, but it leaves out the mental energy that’s needed to keep on top of all those “someday-maybe” jobs.  I think it’s better to make a yes/no decision and either do it or bin it. 

What do you think?  Are you a Do It Now person?