Tag Archives: work smarter

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!

Five reasons why SharePoint is like rock climbing

08 - October - 2011 -- CarabinerI’ve been an avid rock climber for more than 10 years. It’s the only sport that doesn’t feel like a sport but rather a way of thinking, a way of being more complete. I’m one of those people who dislike guided exercises and illogical rules like offside in soccer.

Rock climbing differs a lot from other traditional sports I did as a teenager in that you need an equal amount of physical strength, technical skills and mental capabilities. If you possess insane core strength and sky-high stamina but lack the mental abilities, it will hinder your evolution as a climber.

In more than one ways rock climbing is so similar to doing SharePoint implementations that I decided to list out five of the most evident feats they share.

1. Gear matters

GearClimbing gear is like your underwear. You don’t share it unless you really have to and even then it feels awkward. Trusting your life on a single piece of equipment dictates that you need to know when the piece was bought and how it has been treated. The nicer the gear, the more expensive it tends to be. Even then the life span of your typical gear is between 5 to 10 years.

For SharePoint-related work the gear is a bit different. For starters, you don’t have to trust your life on it. Many times it feels like you are in survival mode on customer site and on those particular times good gear is a godsend. It’s like that super hard move on your ascend you have to do while fixing poor protection with your left hand.

You have to make it or break it. This is where we see what you’re made of.

A great laptop is a must. 8 gigs of memory is truly the minimum if you plan on doing anything worthwhile with SharePoint. 16 gigs? Great! 32 gigs? Pure bliss.

(One could argue that instead of spending several hundred dollars on those fancy 8 gig memory sticks, why not offload everything to a real server and work remotely. That’s an option, if you know you’ll always have reliable network connectivity, even while traveling).

Good monitors. Preferably two. Some people go for four, which I find a bit overkill but I’m going to give it a try some weekend to see if the added screen estate is really worth the electricity. I think I need a bigger desk, too.

A comfortable mouse. I’m a huge fan of trackballs, but after getting a Microsoft Arc Touch mouse, there’s no going back. In fact, all my workstations –even the one in the living room – are equipped with this.

2. A lot of the times you need to redpoint

crimpingTo quote Wikipedia, redpointing is

“free-climbing a route [..] after having practiced the route beforehand ([..] with frequent rests)”

This is what we all do with SharePoint. We try to flash whatever we are building when doing it for the first time. We might succeed, or we might need to go back to the drawing board. Sometimes we don’t know if we did whatever we needed to do correctly.

This is a frequent mishap for climbers: “I climbed that route and it felt easier than its grade”.

Just learn to live by the SharePoint credo: Keep learning, keep re-evaluating and be fluent in both the IT Pro and development side of things. Sometimes it feels like Frodo must have felt on his way to Mordor, but the reward often tends to be almost as good. Sadly, you don’t get to have Gandalf on your side for the long and arduous workshops.

3. Reading a route is essential

DelfinRoute reading is the act of assessing the route you are about to send. What’s the overall feeling you get? Where’s the crux, or the most difficult part of the route? Do I need additional protection? When should I rest and when should I push harder?

Similar to route reading, reading the upcoming SharePoint implementation is a crucial skill. How much development are we anticipating, if any? What’s our take on using SharePoint Designer for customization? What are the strengths and weaknesses of our team? Do we need to camp out for the night at the office or do we get to go home for the weekend? Are we free soloing this?

Preparation is key. So is being confident on what you know and what you don’t know. Take calculated risks, avoid being the superman who implements everything – but doesn’t bother educating or telling anyone else in the team about it. Focus at the task at hand while also thinking outside the box.

And if all else fails, pack some snacks with you. They not only feed you and keep you energized, but will also lift your spirits. Be it on the crag or in a dark cubicle on a rainy Sunday night.

4. You need to work smarter, not harder

used climbing gear - black diamond camalotIf you are too eager when starting your climbing routine you’ll easily exhaust yourself in a few minutes. This is typical for men, who – for some odd reason – feel they have to pull up with their hands and flex those biceps. Use them legs! Climb smarter, not harder.


In SharePoint it’s not enough to put in the hours and call it a day.

“It kind of works” is not the same as “this is the best work I can do, and it’s insanely great”. Re-evaluate what you are doing on a constant basis. Even if something worked great the last time, it might just be that there’s something better now available. When was the last time you checked MSDN or Technet for those old articles that have been updated?

5. When you reach the summit, you still have a long way to go


This is just one of the many shortcomings I have as a climber. I’m so fixed and intent on finishing a route I forget I need to spare some of my mental will, concentration and energy to build an anchor for abseiling. There’s nothing I hate more than doing the last climb of the day, feeling pretty good and very tired and then realizing I need to collect my equipment along the way. And it just happens that one of those cams is jammed.

For SharePoint this is somewhat obvious but easily overlooked. It’s not enough that your amazing code compiles and that your world-class super optimized Powershell deployment scripts work. That’s the summit. Now you need to figure out where to next – climb up the next route, or camp here for the night? Should we ask what the users think about our creation? When do we ship the next version?

In closing

I should do more rock climbing. And SharePoint.