Tag Archives: pondering

A few productivity tips for working remotely

Day 20 -  KeyboardI used to be a huge fan of working remotely. I still am, but I used to be, too. My view on working has changed drastically in the past 3-4 years, when I’ve had to come up with ingenious ways to work while not being at home, or at my own office. In fact, I spend around 4 hours a week at my own office, and the remaining ~45 hours per week that I put in I work elsewhere.

I’ve listed a few quick productivity tips that I find invaluable and keep using on a daily basis:

Instead of meetings, arrange voice conferences. Whenever I get an invitation to attend a meeting, the smallest unit of time is typically 60 minutes. It’s never 15 minutes. I simply feel that most work should be done before the meetings, and meetings should be quick status checks.

I’m happy to see so many companies embrace online video conferencing – it’s usually Lync, Skype or WebEx and they all work wonderfully. The downside is that it might be challenging to find a private space to attend a voice-based meeting.

CappuccinoArrange to have breakfast and lunch meetings on the same day. For me it’s Friday. I have all my breakfast meetings, lunch meetings and similar arranged for one specific day of the week. This helps me to avoid breaking my week into multiple shorter periods of work divided by random meetings around the city. Friday is considered “do stuff that needs to be done but doesn’t necessarily yield direct revenue”. It took me a few years to embrace this ideology, and now I’m more effective because of this.

The obvious downside is that on certain Friday’s I do 4 lunch meetings in a row, so I aim to eat lightly.

UptimeFind ways to convert downtime to uptime. We all have downtime. For me, it’s travel time, and random timeslots here and there when I’m moving from one client site to another, or when a workshop ends 2 hours earlier than I’ve anticipated. The number one productivity tool for me to catch up on things, check emails, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and RSS is iPad. I use it constantly, if just for checking something trivial for 30 seconds. If I have more than 30 minutes I head to the nearest café to work with my laptop. If I have more than an hour, I either head home or one of our offices, whichever is nearest.

Charlie Gilkey's Productivity System

Avoid doing useless stuff that is interesting. There’s so much interesting stuff to do. Too bad most of the interesting stuff is pretty useless. It doesn’t grow my business and it doesn’t provide me with anything else than satisfy my curiosity or force me to act based on external stimulus.

A great example comes to mind, that I just recently encountered: My mobile phone informs me that there’s an update available. Having just reinstalled my laptop I don’t have Zune installed, or a micro usb-cable available. I could spend the next 15 minutes setting those up and patching the phone – or do something more worthwhile, and just leave the phone without the update. I’ll probably perform the update on a slow Saturday evening anyway.

Some vaguely familiar software vendor sent me an email asking to fill out their customer satisfaction survey. It will only take 25 minutes, they promised. Or, I could spend 25 minutes doing something productive and simply not answer the survey. It’s amazing how much time emails can command by simply asking you to do something.

You don’t have to do everything people ask you to do – you just have to do what’s essential.

Multitasking – yes, I prefer it to single tasking. I’m writing this article while conducting 2 instant messaging conversations, and listening to a webcast. I’ve tried moving back to single tasking and feel that my productivity drops by at least 50%, and so much is left undone. The challenge with multitasking is the fact that you need to be aware of what is important, so that you can quickly and effectively drop whatever you are doing when something more important arises. And have time at the end of the day to clean up the tasks that are not done.

bucket listMake a list. Make it short. I start each morning with a simple list. It’s a list of 3-5 most important things I have to get done before I head home. When I’m done with those 3-5 items, I stop working. If the list grows too long I know I’m not concentrating on proper things, but just cherry-picking what I feel like is nice to do. It’s a gruesome exercise to leave out something you so badly want to do in favor of something mundane that has to be done.

And I write the list by hand on real paper. OneNote just doesn’t give me the sense of urgency.

Stacked LogsCut it and stack it. In Finnish we have a saying, “Poikki ja pinoon”, which roughly translates to cut it, stack it and forget about it. I’m a huge advocate of doing things fast, being efficient and shipping when it’s “good enough”, rather than polishing it indefinitely. The key here is to have the mind’s eye to understand when something is good enough, and when something is still crappy.

Be productive & be happy!

On being busy

1986 Ferris Bueller's Day Off PinI took a day off today from my normal work – let’s call it my winter holiday. I decided not to make it all too official and didn’t configure OOF (which, by the way stands for Out-of-Facility rather than Out-of-Office) or send numerous emails to my clients and partners. Instead, I simply blocked the day from my calendar.

Now what? I’m so used to being busy it took me a few moments to realize that I need to plan something that will keep me busy for the day. Something that does not involve working with SharePoint.

I opted to go indoor climbing (since it’s too cold for rock climbing at this time of the year in Finland), get a back massage and spend the rest of the day on the couch reading fiction. I managed to do the first two, and ended up browsing Amazon.com and Imgur.com for a few hours. Still, it felt good.

My son explains life with this simple to-do list.Before ‘becoming my own boss’ I felt I was busy. I actually had to get to the office before 9 in the morning, and I had to leave the office before 6, so that I could do whatever I needed to do in my spare time. Reminiscing those days I still feel that – at the time – I was fairly busy, but not overly organized. I’m still not super organized but at least I keep track of things better with my super simplified GTD.

The difference in the old days was that I didn’t have the urgency of income. I could stroll down the office hallways, get a nice cup of coffee, stop by for a chat for half an hour, get back to my desk and read that interesting white paper – and still get paid equally well. The upside with this is that you can really immerse yourself in interesting stuff, and do deep-dives for several hours straight.

Being employed in a large corporation benefited me by not having to worry about money.

I only realized this years later. The utilization tracking, monthly review discussions with my manager(s), excel-based KPI’s – all designed to keep me feeling the urgency of my work. Don’t slack, do your work and all gauges will become green. Well, in all honesty, maybe all those fancy managerial tools and charts had real meanings too.

Urgent NewsThe difference in a smaller organization where money you charge today from your customers shows up in your payroll tomorrow, is huge. The sense of urgency is so present that you waste no time.

Get a cup of coffee? Sure, if it’s brewed already. Go for lunch? Why not, if it doesn’t take longer than 35 minutes. Optimize driving routes to save 10 minutes of your total commute? Absolutely. Read that interesting white paper, it’s only 200 pages? No time, better save as PDF and read it from my iPad in the evening, when I’m too tired to write emails or documents anymore.

So which is better?

I can’t really tell. Both have their upsides: I’d love to have even a day each month when I wouldn’t have to worry about schedules or if I have enough time to learn new and interesting technologies. Then again, I could do that any day of the week but the thought keeps nagging in my head, that if I spend 8 hours doing this, is it 8 hours deducted from my payroll?