Stand in the Traffic

The title of this blog comes from a session in a course that Professor Paris de l’Etraz teaches about Life. I met Paris at a dinner in Madrid 4 years ago hosted by another inspiring teacher.

Stand in the Traffic: I love the simplicity of this life strategy.

Whatever you want in life, there are places where opportunities are flowing… and there are places where opportunities are not flowing. Abundant places… and stagnant places.

Stagnant: There are very few opportunities passing the person sitting on their sofa watching Netflix.

Abundant: There are many more opportunities passing the person out there in the world engaged in conversation… on a university campus, in industry conferences, in associations, online via youtube and blogs and writing articles.

If you have any idea what you are looking for…

If you have any idea about the types of things that you want to come into your life, the next step is to ask yourself “Where is the traffic?” Where are relevant people, resources, ideas, activity flowing?

Go stand there.

Put yourself where opportunity will pass you by.

If you are at an industry event and it is coffee break time, where do you stand?

If you stand by the wall with your mobile phone in front of you… you are not “in the traffic”.

If you stand by the coffee machines or the food service area, all the traffic will pass by you.

If you know how to smile and ask a few questions “hey, how are you doing? what brings you here? what has impressed you so far?”… now you can engage with the traffic.

Where should you be putting yourself more often?

PS the traffic is not just a physical location… my blog, my linkedin newsletter and my youtube channel are all ways of “standing in the traffic”

More Lessons from Paris about Life

Check out Paris’ TEDx talk on how Uncertainty affects the Professional Mind.

Reps vs Hours

What matters most in the gym? The hours you spend or the reps on the weights?

In the areas where you must be highly competent to succeed in your role: are you accumulating hours or reps?

Do you just do your job or do you spend time practicing the important skills that make you effective?

By practice, I mean “deliberate practice” – setting an intent, taking action, getting feedback, reflecting on original intent vs actual result, seeking new approaches… and repeat the cycle.

Thinking about writing is not writing. Publishing an article and listening to reader feedback is how to do reps.

Thinking about exercise is not exercise. Lifting the weights, pushing through discomfort, sweating… is exercise.

Thinking about difficult conversations is not having difficult conversations. Having challenging conversations (for you and for the other) and seeking productive conflict is how to do reps.

Thinking generates hours, but does not generate reps.

Be careful of equating hours (or years of experience) as competence.

What Makes Some People More Productive Than Others

One of my most read & shared posts ever is 11 Differences between Busy People and Productive People. Productivity is clearly a theme which resonates with you, my favorite reader.

Another of my Productivity secrets

Robert Pozen and Kevin Downey write about 3 keys to productivity over at Harvard Business Review. They share a summary of their work on personal productivity with over 20,000 professionals: What Makes Some People More Productive Than Others

Here’s what Robert & Kevin learnt about Productive People

If you want to become more productive, you should develop an array of specific habits.

Focus on what’s Important

First, plan your work based on your top priorities, and then act with a definite objective.

  • Revise your daily schedule the night before to emphasize your priorities. Next to each appointment on your calendar, jot down your objectives for it.
  • Send out a detailed agenda to all participants in advance of any meeting.
  • When embarking on large projects, sketch out preliminary conclusions as soon as possible.
  • Before reading any length material, identify your specific purpose for it.
  • Before writing anything of length, compose an outline with a logical order to help you stay on track.

Develop the Ability to Focus

Second, develop effective techniques for managing the overload of information and tasks.

  • Make daily processes, like getting dressed or eating breakfast, into routines so you don’t spend time thinking about them.
  • Leave time in your daily schedule to deal with emergencies and unplanned events.
  • Check the screens on your devices once per hour, instead of every few minutes.
  • Skip over the majority of your messages by looking at the subject and sender.
  • Break large projects into pieces and reward yourself for completing each piece.
  • Delegate to others, if feasible, tasks that do not further your top priorities.

Engage with the People, not just the Tasks

Third, understand the needs of your colleagues for short meetings, responsive communications, and clear directions.

  • Limit the time for any meeting to 90 minutes at most, but preferably less. End every meeting by delineating the next steps and responsibility for those steps.
  • Respond right away to messages from people who are important to you.
  • To capture an audience’s attention, speak from a few notes, rather than reading a prepared text.
  • Establish clear objectives and success metrics for any team efforts.
  • To improve your team’s performance, institute procedures to prevent future mistakes, instead of playing the blame game.

How’s your Productivity?

How do you rate yourself on these 3 areas? What is your Achilles Heel when it comes to productivity?

More Productivity

If you liked this post you will also like How to have a Productive Dayand How to take Better Decisions.

The 11 Differences Between Busy and Productive People

One of my posts over at LinkedIn “11 Differences between Busy People and Productive People” was turned into a cool infographic by an author at Inc Magazines blog.  Given that it has horses and unicorns on it, I wanted to share it here.

Thanks Inc 😉

Check out the article over at Inc: The Differences between Busy and Productive People

The World’s Most Productive People

The 3 most Productive per Hour countries are:

  1. Luxembourg
  2. Switzerland
  3. Norway

The graph below gives one particular view of the level of productivity per hour for the world’s countries.  Mexico works lots of hours with little output, whilst Luxembourg work little hours with very high productivity.

The horizontal axis represents annual hours worked and the vertical axis represents annual GDP per capita in U.S. dollars.

Shades of blue represented relatively high worker productivity while shades of red represent relatively lower worker productivity. Worker productivity is calculated by dividing annual GDP per capita by annual hours worked, which yields productivity per hour worked.

My first comment would be that there is a bit of a flaw in how this graph is put together.  Productivity is divided by hours worked, so there is going to be a mathematical effect that showing higher productivity where cultures encourage people to get out of the office quickly.  The graph is still interesting 😉

The data were collected by Expert Market from the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

I Can’t Focus. How to Learn to Focus.

First understand the do-or-die importance of focus.

“If you don’t learn to focus, you will have a shallow and unrewarding life without any meaningful achievements.” Derek Sivers 

That is worth repeating.

“A shallow and unrewarding life.”

That’s bad.

You Need to Learn to Focus

So make it a priority.

Yes it’s hard.  The world is designed to distract you.  Facebook is a research laboratory focussed on human distraction.  They invest billions and are excellent at their work.  When facebook slip up, hard on their tails come Apple, apps, youtube, caffeine, bored friends, problematic neighbours and general office bullshit.

Apps are designed to be as addictive as possible.

Assume you are dealing with crack cocaine.  If you can see it, you will use it.  If you can hear it, you will use it.  Willpower is not going to get you through this.

There are many reasons why we delay work.  I think the most insidious is that I have a belief that the person I will be in future will be better than the person who I am today.  I have a consistent inner belief that I will be smarter, better, faster in the future.  The work that is hard today will somehow become easier for the better future me.  But, what if’s not?  I will only be better in future if I do the hard work of pushing through distractions today.

Who is Good at Focus?

I have spent a lot of time interviewing high performance athletes. My goal was to understand their motivations, how they train, how they prepare mentally, and how they face anxiety.  These successful athletes have an ability to focus on the one next step and, in the words of Nike, Just do it!

Josef Ajram, one of Spain’s top endurance athletes, tells himself “I will run another 15 minutes. Come on. Anyone can run another 15 minutes.”  In Josef Ajram’s words, he has completed the Marathon de Sables – 243km across the Sahara desert in 6 days – by only ever allowing himself to think about the next 15 minutes.

How to Learn Focus?

Simple, noisy timer

Use The Pomodoro* Method.

Here are my simplified instructions for following the Pomodoro method.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Pick a specific project you would like to work on.  For example “Write a blog post on focus”.
  2. Set a timer for 20 minutes
  3. Work only on this project until the timer stops.  Stop completely no matter where you are when you hear the timer.  Mid sentence is excellent (it makes it easier to re-start this work later).
  4. Repeat.

Count how many timers you can complete in a day.  I bet you will not complete one single complete timer the first day you begin this habit.  I didn’t.

Some clarifications…

*Any interruption*, you must reset the timer to 20 minutes.

If you need a drink of water, go get the water, then reset the timer.

If you need the bathroom, go, then reset the timer.

If you must check wikipedia to find out a fact, check wikipedia, then reset the timer.  (better… resist the need to check facts now, and use a future timer to work on the project “research focus and collect sources”)

If you must respond to a phone alert, respond, reset the timer.

I think you get the idea.  Only by working on 1, and only 1 project for the full 20 minutes = you get to count it as 1 timer.

* You can find the original Pomodoro Method described here: Pomodoro Method.

This week’s Rhetorical Journey video is all about the Ability to Focus

If you are viewing this via email, watch the video on the blog here: the Ability to Focus

Inspired by Derek Sivers..

This was inspired by Derek Sivers in his frequently asked questions.  I recommend a quick read.  It is lots of content in a short bullet point list.

Derek on focus: He shares 3 further tips for improving your focus…

  1. Read the book “Deep Work”.
  2. Read “Trying to pursue many different directions at once?”.
  3. Practice meditation.  Maria Popova of BrainPickings listens to this guided meditation by Tara Brach every morning…

Tara Brach Guided Meditation

Gratitude

Personally, this video about Gratitude is one of my favourite ways to Meditate for a few minutes.  If you are reading via email, check out the video on the blog here: Nature, Beauty, Gratitude.

How many Pomodoro timers can you do today?  Reply in the comments if you get 1 full timer done today!

If you liked this post, you will also like Focus and The Urgent and the Important.

How the US President Plans his Days

Do you plan your days, or do your days run as a reaction to what pops up?  In Washington DC, one of our EO leaders at the EO Leadership Academy was Christoph Magnussen – here in this he shares a tip we learnt about how to take control of your day.

This is a lesson that was shared with the group by Warren Rustand.  Warren Rustand was a White House scholar back in the 1970s and spent 4 years as the appointments secretary to President Gerald Ford.  This meant that for 4 years, he controlled how President Ford spent his time.

How does the US President Plan his Days?

If you are reading this via email, the video is here: How does the US President plan his days? 

Do your days reflect your highest priorities?  Do you plan how you want to spend your time?

The Urgent and The Important

In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Eisenhower said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Robert Glazer shared this simple but powerful life management tool on his blog today – Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important matrix.

The image to the right shows a 2×2 matrix using the two axis of Important and Urgent.  This gives us 4 types of task:

  1. Urgent & Important
  2. Urgent & Not Important
  3. Important & Not Urgent
  4. Not Urgent & Not Important

In an un-disciplined person, category 2 tends to be completed before category 3.  In a disciplined person, category 3 is completed before touching category 2.

Success is rarely Urgent

Jim Rohn gives one of the most powerful definitions of success:

“Failure is a few bad decisions repeated every day.  Success is a few simple good habits practiced every day” Jim Rohn

There is a saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.  Health success is an apple a day.  Failure is a donut instead of an apple each day.  You can say “what difference does 1 donut make?”  You won’t notice the damage today, you won’t notice tomorrow… but over a year: a donut a day starts to extract a price.

The urgent is often the result of avoiding the important.

By the time the painkillers are needed, it is too late for the vitamins.

Vitamins are important.

Practice Saying “No”

If you wish to spend more of your life on the important things, and less on the urgent things, there is a tool…

Warren Buffett’s definition of integrity: “you say No to most things”.  If you are not saying No to most things, you are dividing your life up into millions of little pieces that are being given to other people’s priorities.

Learn to say “No”…

…without the word “no”.

The most powerful ways to say “no” do not involve the actual word “no”.

  • Here is one powerful way: Strategic Unavailability.
  • Another is to raise the cost of your “Yes”: If someone wants to meet for coffee, I say “yeah sure, I am free on Friday at 7am at my office in Sabadell [25 mlles away]”. If the person still wants to meet then it must be important.  90% end up not following up.  The few that do, will come prepared and have done their research.  They know what they want from me.  They know whether it is worth their time.

Celebrities and Politicians have entire staffs dedicated to restricting access.  Bono, the singer of U2, has 25 people who review requests for his time, his money, his attention in order to allow only the important requests to reach Bono himself.  Barrack Obama has a whole White House staff whose mission is to ensure that he only spends time and energy on important things, that only he can deal with.

If you don’t start developing methods of saying “no” now, it will only get harder as you become wealthier, wiser, more famous, more experienced and more resourceful.

What urgent task will you say “No” to today?

Some other great posts on Robert Glazer’s blog Friday Forward:

 

I have learned 3 things about getting good work done

I have learned 3 things about getting good work done:

There is no magic app:  My lack of productivity was never down to a missing app, or not implementing Dave Allen’s GTD system correctly, or not having the right colour pens and post-it notes.  I have everything I need to be productive with a keyboard and a text editor (I write).

Willpower is weak:  I have good willpower days (few) and bad willpower days (many).  Willpower depends on a good nights sleep, an absence of urgent messes to deal with, nobody letting me down and the Irish rugby team delivering a stunning performance.  These days are rare, and the likely self-flagellation and frustration from feeling like I am an especially lazy human being are very painful.  Willpower doesn’t work over the long term.

Triggers matter:  Instead of storing my good intentions inside my head, I write them down and put them around me.  Instead of waiting for motivation, I have a list of people to call who will leave me inspired after 5 minutes of conversation.  Instead of rethinking every day why I do this, I have a 1 page description of why my work matters.  I write blog posts when I see my blog window open.  I write in my notebook when I see it with a pen next to it on my desk.

I wrote a long series of posts on Productivity back in early 2014, with a tongue-in-cheek inspiration from my favourite childhood movie.  Here’s the full list of posts.

Published Jedi Productivity Posts

  1. Jedi Productivity Presentation
  2. Jedi Productivity 11 of 11: We need you. The Jedi must Prevail over the Evil Empire and why you matter
  3. Jedi Productivity 10 of 11: ”Luke! you switched off your targeting computer!” making time for yourself
  4. Jedi Productivity 9 of 11: Yoda’s first rule: Do or do not, there is no try
  5. Jedi Productivity 8 of 11: How the Death Star commander runs his Hyper-effective Meetings
  6. Jedi Productivity 7 of 11: R2D2, C3PO and the Power of Delegation
  7. Jedi Productivity 6 of 11: “Use the phone Luke…” Master the telephone
  8. Jedi Productivity 5 of 11: Han Solo’s guide to Getting on top of the Email Inbox (a.k.a. Jabba the Hutt)
  9. Jedi Productivity 4 of 11: Obi-Wan’s guide to say “No”, (these are not the droids you are looking for…)
  10. Jedi Productivity 3 of 11: Deal with Darth Vader’s Evil “Urgent” Interruptions
  11. Jedi Productivity 2 of 11: The Emperor’s guide to Goal Setting and the 20 Mile March (LT, ST, habits)
  12. Jedi Productivity 1 of 11: Obi-Wan says “Be Systematic” if you want Productivity (and balance)