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Tagproductivity

The longer the better

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I have to admit that I didn’t know who Jerry Seinfeld was for a long time. I didn’t know that he is one of the most well-known and successful comics in the USA and the star of the the popular TV show called “Seinfield.” And the first time I heard about him was when I learned about Seinfield’s method. What is it? This is a method, described by and popularized by Seinfield,  that helps you reach your goals by forming habits with building chains.

Seinfield’s method is about doing small things that bring you closer to your goal every day. Seinfield advises putting a calendar in a visible place and every time you do something toward reaching your goal, marking it on the calendar. That way, you’ll form a chain of the days you did something to reach your goal. After some time, that chain will be so long that it’ll be hard to break. You’ll think “I’ve worked so many days in a row, it would be a pity to break it now.” Not breaking the chain will become your only task. Even when you have very little time, you’ll do whatever it takes to add another part to the chain. Doing so, you form a new habit which brings you closer and closer toward your goal.

The key to success with this method is visualization of the chain. It can be done in many ways, for example by using Don’t Break the Chain service. When you’ve managed to work on your goal, mark a day there. However, for me personally, a much better option is to put the chain somewhere in a visible place. Somewhere where I can see it very often. That is why I hang it on a wall. It can be also a hand drawn calendar. Do whatever works for you and is visible in your space.

Marking a day when you have done something toward your goal is a very pleasant feeling. And when it is the 10th, 30th, or 100th day in a row, then doing whatever it takes to put the next link on the chain is quite easy. You don’t want to break the chain!

I’ve used this method to form a few habits. On the pictures below, you can see my calendars. One of them is drawn on a piece of paper and the other one is drawn on a wall covered with chalkboard paint. It’s just a pleasure to see the progress.

Seinfield’s method is really simple to implement. The only rule is to do something that brings you closer to your goal every day and mark it on your calendar. Then do the same the next day. And the next one. Take small steps toward your goal. Just don’t break the chain!

Good luck with building a long chain and reaching your goals!

Tame your recurring meetings

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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?

 

6 rules to plan a productive day

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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.

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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

Three MITs a day

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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:

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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

Take better notes

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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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About me

My name is Dominik Juszczyk. I’m a productivity geek and a Gallup Strengths Coach. I try to focus on my strengths and embrace the chaos of everyday life, using my time to the fullest and enjoying my early morning runs.

My top 5 themes

Individualization | Arranger | Learner | Empathy | Intellection

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