“I Don’t Have Time”

I recently received some sound advice from one of our advisors, Robin Spinks, he said I should start getting some lol coaching. Yes, he’s also my uncle. He also happens to be the smartest person I know in the world when it comes to productivity and time management.

I’ve been really busy lately, and have had a hard time making time for people.

Here was Robin’s advice:

Every time you catch yourself thinking or saying “I don’t have time for _________”, replace it with “________ isn’t a priority right now.”

It instantly changed my perspective on things.

Instead of “I don’t have time to eat lunch”, say “Eating lunch isn’t a priority”.

Well that’s just silly.

“I don’t have time to exercise.” –> “Exercising isn’t a priority”.

But is it? Last time I checked, assisting to the Filipino Martial Arts Classes only takes 40 mins plus they have very flexible hours. Hearing people’s excuses to not work out makes me sick, now a days it is extremely easy to get a training session in, which will help you become much more active.

“I don’t have time to spend with my fiancée.” –> “Spending time with my fiancée isn’t a priority.”

Yikes. Don’t tell her that.

We all have time. It’s how we prioritize that time that determines who we are and what we do in this world.

This simple shift in mentality has really helped me rethink how I spend my time, and focus on what’s really important to me.

If you’re a busy person, give this a shot.

Let me know if it helps you…if you have the time.

Photo by Ryan McGuire.

11 Simple Things I Did to Improve my Productivity

I’m constantly experimenting with different ways to improve my productivity.

For a long time in my career I was consistently, horribly distracted. I didn’t have any systems in place to keep myself on track and my productivity ebbed and flowed from week-to-week and even hour-to-hour. The tips I´ve been reading at www.taiwane.com have been really helping keep my health in great condition and it has helped me focus more during work. One of the things that affect productivity and focus is the addiction. So if you’re dealing with smoking addiction, for instance, it’s good to try other things like smoke weed and buy bongs here at smokea.com. Furthermore, if you’re wondering how these vape stores handle their sales and menu efficiently, look for Green Bits website.

I can’t say I have it all figured out. I go through phases where I’m really productive and phases where a fall into a rut. But lately I’ve been able to keep myself consistently productive and when I see a rut coming, my systems help keep me on track. I have always make sure that my physical health is in great condition before I start doing anything. For example, last week I had a really bad tooth ache and I didn’t want anything distracting me from my goals so I contacted Dr. Thomas Cooke.

The entire CMX team works remotely and we often work different hours, so it’s really important that we develop the individual discipline to stay productive and get our work done.

Here are a few simple changes I’ve made that helped me become more productive in the last year.

1. Limit and condense meetings

I love meeting new people. As a result, I have a hard time saying no to meetings.

I used to just accept all meeting requests that came my way and I’d let the other person choose the time and place. This caused a lot of issues as I’d find myself hopping from meeting to meeting throughout the day, running all over the city with just small chunks of time in between to actually do work.

I realized I needed to gain some control over my meetings. I did this in three ways:

1. I try (sometimes I bend the rules) to book all of my meetings from 12-2pm every day. That’s it. I’ve been doing this for several months now and it’s completely changed the game.

2. I started saying no to meetings when I feel that we can accomplish the same goal over email. So if someone wants to grab coffee to ask me questions, I might ask them to send questions over email instead.

3. I started controlling the time and place by…

2. Using Assistant.to

In order to control the timing of your meetings, it’s important that you can be the first one to offer up potential times.

This app, assistant.to, has been the best new tool I’ve discovered in years.

Basically whenever someone emails me asking for a meeting, I can say “Sure, let me know if any of these times work”. With just a few clicks, assistant.to plugs in the times I have specified are available (12-2 every day) and the other person can simply click on one of the times to book the meeting and have a calendar invite sent.

It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 5.30.30 PM

That means I control the times that we can meet. It also means I can often control the location since assistant.to lets you put in a location.

As a result I spend less time going back and forth on scheduling, I have better control over the timing of my meetings and I don’t have to travel to meetings as much.

3. Organizing my emails into buckets (inspired by Andreas Klinger)

I’ve admittedly only been experimenting with this for a couple weeks but it’s already been working out really well.

I was inspired by Andreas Klinger’s article about how to use gmail more efficiently. I tried his system and the format didn’t work perfectly, but I was able to adapt it to work for my needs.

This is what his system looks like:

klinger email

I basically adapted this by putting the buckets below my inbox instead of the side and I changed the purpose of each bucket to fit me needs.

As emails come in I can sort them into 4 different buckets:

  • Needs a response that will take more than 2 minutes
  • I need to follow up on this later
  • This has information I need later (travel plans, event tickets, etc)
  • Reading list (articles or links I want to check out later)

The unique thing I learned from Andreas is using stars or other symbols to organize the emails instead of folders, which really streamlines the process.

4. Optimized my todo list using a notebook and my own system

I’ve tried SO many todo apps in my career and nothing has ever really stuck. Eventually I started just using a simple notebook and over time adapted my system for keeping track of everything.

I’ve now been using this system for about a year and I love it. It’s perfect for me.

Here’s what it looks like:

todo list

  • Every time I want to add a new task, I just add it to the bottom of the list
  • I add an empty circle to the right if I intent to do it today
  • I can only have 3 empty circles at a time (this is the most important part)
  • When I finish a task, I fill in the circle (feels great!) and cross out the task
  • If I need to prioritize the circles, I can fill them in with numbers
  • Sometimes if I have a lot of tasks and I want to wrap my head around how long everything will take, I’ll write a little number all the way to the right making how many minutes it will take (like where I wrote 30 in the picture)
  • Every Monday, I take all the tasks that haven’t been done and I start a new sheet in my notebook (always on the left side….the right side is used for goals, reflection and planning)

5. Writing down my ideal daily schedule and keeping it in front of me at all times

This is something new I’m trying this year that has worked as well. I wrote out my ideal daily schedule on a sheet of notebook paper, along with my goals for this year.

I keep it on my desk in my room so I see it every morning when I wake up. I need to make another copy to keep at my desk at work.

Basically, it’s my default.  I don’t always keep to that schedule exactly but when I feel overwhelmed with the day, or I’m not sure what to do next, I can refer back to that daily schedule.

Here’s what it looks like:

daily schedule

6. Taking time to reflect and plan, every day

As you can see in my schedule, every morning I take 15 minutes to just review my todo list, my goals, and set a plan for the day.

I make sure to do this before I open my computer, before I start responding to emails and before I start doing any real work.

This way, I take a proactive first step in my workday, I can identify the things I know I definitely want to get done above all else, and I don’t start my day catering to other people’s needs.

7. Start every week fresh and revisit goals

As I mentioned earlier, every Monday I take all my tasks that weren’t completed and I move it to a new sheet in the notebook.

I’ll also revisit my goals for the week and write them down. These goals are what set the priority for my tasks. So every time I add a new task to my list and I have to decide whether to do it today or put it off, I look at the goals I wrote down and ask myself if this task will help achieve that goal.

I think this is really important, starting every week with a fresh mind.

Often, I end up just crossing off tasks because I realize they weren’t that important. Or I’ll find that my goals have changed since the last week and I need to adjust my priorities.

By looking at every week as a fresh start, I’ve been able to focus on the right things instead of just doing things because they were on my list last week.

8. Write down everything looming in your head

There will *always* be something looming.

That task that you just don’t want to do. That hard talk that you’ve been putting off with someone. That big decision that you have to make but you don’t have a strong opinion either way.

It’s these things that just loom over us throughout the workday that can really drain our mental energy and cause an incredible amount of stress.

One way that I’ve been able to deal with this is to just write down everything that’s on my mind. Sometimes I’ll actually write down “What’s looming?” on the right side of my notebook and try to think specifically about the things that have been bothering me.

This way, it’s out of my mind and onto the paper. And once it’s on the paper I have the choice to face it right there or put it off longer. Either way, I can address it instead of keeping it as this vague ongoing struggle in my mind.

9. Using Slack to communicate with my team

Slack has been a huge productivity booster for our team. It’s greatly cut down the amount of email we send each other.

And if there’s any way to improve productivity, it’s to reduce the amount of email you have to sort through.

I highly recommend using slack or some sort of simple chat application for your team to discuss the smaller things that come up throughout the day. We only use email to discuss larger projects that we need to plan and structure in depth.

10. Got a consistent desk at a coworking space

For most of my career I’ve worked from home or from coffee shops. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and I’m actually really productive at coffee shops.

But recently we got a couple desks at Galvanize, an amazing new coworking space in SF. I have to say, I really enjoy working at an office.

It all comes down to creating routines and consistency. If I had to boil down all productivity advice into two words, it would be those two.

So having the same office and desk to come to every day, having a space where you can focus and not having to make a decision every morning about where to work can be a huge boost to productivity.

The CMX team has the option of working remotely and we can all work whenever we want. So for me it’s not necessarily about having to have your team in the same office. It’s more about creating consistency for yourself.

11. Meditate every day

I’ve experimented with meditation for a long time but only recently did I make it a part of my daily morning routine.

I can’t say enough about how helpful it’s been. When I wake up, my mind immediately starts racing. All the tasks I have in front of my, the decisions I’m facing, the challenges ahead all come rushing in at once. It’s a tough way to start the day.

Meditation has really helped manage that. I only take about 10 minutes to sit quietly in my room after doing a quick workout and rest my mind. I let each of those thoughts come, I acknowledge them, then I let them settle.

The best meditation advice I’ve read in a long time came in this really short story (read the last two paragraphs of that page). That’s how I think of meditation now, letting my thoughts all settle to the bottom so my mind can be clear and address them in turn.

If my mind is really going crazy, I turn to calm.com to help guide me through meditation exercises.

Those are just some of the things I’ve recently been doing to improve my productivity and mental health.

What have you tried? What worked? What didn’t?

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Make People Happy by Understanding What Freedom Means to Them

freedomI had a really interesting discussion with Hiten Shah and Nadia Eghbal the other day about freedom and what it really meant for each of us.

Freedom is something many of us strive for. It can affect where we choose to work, who we date, who we live with, where we live and probably a lot of subtle things we don’t realize.

But what does freedom mean?

My knee jerk reaction would be that freedom is having control over what I’m doing at any given moment.

In reality, freedom can look different for everyone. For some it’s important that their entire life feels free. For others, they just want to control certain aspects of their life in order to feel free.

Freedom can be…

…making decisions for yourself.

…not having to answer to others.

…autonomy.

…working on a team.

…working less.

…being mentally challenged.

…being able to spend more time with your kids when they have days off from the Teddy Kids day care.

…doing physical activity.

…working from home.

…working in an office.

…vacation time.

…money.

People find a sense of freedom in such a wide range of things and probably a combination of things. As entrepreneurs, managers or leaders, it’s important to understand what freedom means to each person individually instead of creating overarching standards that apply to everyone.

Before you can analyze the costs of a payday loan, you must understand how it works. In essence, these types of loans act like cash advances against a paycheck. The lender provides an amount of cash and you just need a cosigner.

Note that freedom is different from motivation. A lot of people seek to improve someone’s productivity by figuring out what motivates them. Some of the things listed above can be considered motivation as well, but it’s not about finding out what will drive someone to do good work. It’s about understanding the environment in which they’ll be truly happy and in turn, do good work. There a subtle but important difference there.

I think sometimes we don’t even pay attention to what brings ourselves a sense of freedom. We just assume it’s time, money, autonomy…all the things that society says should make you happy. Maybe if you take a step back and think about the moments in your life when you’ve felt completely free, it had nothing to do with those things.

What brings you a sense of freedom? What brings the people around you a sense of freedom?

Just Hit Publish

I’ve struggled to keep up with my writing lately.

I started writing a post every day for over 100 days. I accomplished that goal and things were humming along.

Then all of a sudden, I started to falter.

What happens when you write that much is a lot of awesome stuff:

– I started being asked to contribute to other publications

– I had a few post really explode, driving a lot of traffic to the blog

– I actually built a following of people who read most of my posts

Now all of these are really good outcomes, but the problem is when I started writing, I was just doing it for myself to get my thoughts out. I could whip up a post quickly and just get those ideas out there. Now after these outcomes, I’ve felt a large amount of pressure to write really epic posts every time.

Posts like this where I can just write and hit publish have become much harder for me to publish. They’re not good enough because they may not reach the heights of some of my other posts.

I feel like my posts have to be thorough, compelling and super high quality in order to publish. But that feeling is wrong unless you’re writing for another publication or you’re writing for a living.

Here on this blog, I can write whatever is on my mind and hit publish without feeling like I have to make it perfect. If people like the post, great. If they don’t, I still get value out of getting the words flowing.

Sometimes, you just have to hit publish. It’s more important that you keep the flow of ideas going than to make sure every idea is perfect.

That probably applies to other parts of business too. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect or epic. It just have to be something, anything to keep things moving forward.

Plus, you should keep in mind that you have no idea which topics will hit a nerve and explode, and what will fall flat. I’ve had posts that took me 5 minutes to write reach tens of thousands of people. I’ve also worked on posts for hours just to have 50 people read it.

You never know, so just hit publish.

 

Learned from Failure – Why You Should Never Send Negative Emails

I’ve learned a lot about what makes for good communication in business.

I’ve also learned about what makes for really poor communication that results in anger, drama and failure.

There’s one philosophy that has consistently proven true for me, in multiple jobs, over multiple years with many different kinds of people.

Negative emails make for very poor communication and should always be discussed in person (or at least on the phone) instead.

I’ve learned by making the mistake several times (I still do today). And I’ve learned from other people making the same mistake with me.

Every time I’ve sent an emotional email, I’ve regretted it. Every time someone sends me an emotional email, I get stressed.

It’s not because they’re emotional. I think it’s absolutely essential that when you work closely with people, that everyone feels comfortable sharing their feelings, both good and bad. I have just found that email is the wrong place for it when it’s bad.

If you’re sending negative feedback, that might be okay as long as it’s presented in the positive light of your mutual goal to be better and improve. But as soon as emotion comes into it, take it off email.

This post is based on my own personal experiences so maybe others would respond differently. But in case you’re like me, I figured it’s worth sharing.

Here’s why negative emotional emails are bad news bears…

1. Lack of tone, body language and eye contact

Are they being sarcastic? Angry? Sad? I have no idea.

What often happens is I’ll end up assuming the worse. I assume they’re livid, full of anger and disgust.

It doesn’t matter how descriptive you are or how many emoticons you use, when you write something emotional, how the other person perceives that emotion is completely out of your control.

2. It can create a battle to win out

Written debates are brutal. You can pick apart every single word and phrase of the opponent and you read over your response 17 times before sending it over.

That’s not a conversation, that’s a battle to win out. You’re just trying to shoot down all angles of the other person’s argument rather than come to an understanding and move forward.

I can’t speak for others but when I used to receive emotional emails, I’d overanalyze that thing until I turn blue. Then I’d overanalyze my response, trying to cover every angle.

As a result, everyone loses, the problem never gets settled and it can cause bad juju amongst teammates.

3. Ready, Set, DWELL!

Emails also leave a lot of space between messages. Unlike a conversation where you keep working through the issue together live in real time, an email just sits there, festering.

When I receive emotional emails, I dwell. For days or until I finally talk to the person, I obsess over the email, what it means, how the other person is feeling and how I’ll deal with it. It’s depressing, really.

Passive communication like that is great for coordination and general information exchange. But when you start bringing human emotions into the mix, save it until you can actually have a live conversation about it.

4. We can be irrational in the moment

Most emotional emails are written in the moment of emotion.

Our emotions are strong and can make us say or do things we regret. Forcing yourself to take it offline and talk it out in person will also give you time to reflect and approach the situation rationally.

At the very least, save it as a draft and come back to it later after you’ve had time to calm down, reflect and think rationally.

So here’s what you can do instead of sending emotional emails:

1. Just take it offline

When I want to send one, I’ll write out the draft and then not send it. Then I’ll send something like, “hey, can we hop on a call, had something on my mind” and set up a time to talk through it.

When someone sends me a negative email now, I simply respond with something along the lines of “let’s get on skype and talk this out”.

That simple change in how I deal with communication has vastly improved both my sanity and my ability to work well with others.

2. Set up a regular time to share emotions

Another good strategy that has worked for Nadia and I is to set a specific meeting up at the same time every week that’s dedicated to sharing your thoughts, feelings, fears, excitements etc. We’d go for a walk, go get bubble tea, sit in a park, away from computers, and just talk. This way, if we had something weighing on our mind, we knew we’d have the chance to share it at the meeting and didn’t have to email to bring it up.

Turns out when you have conversations like that, you gain a lot of perspective about yourself and your company as well. Some of our biggest decisions for Feast have come from these talks.

3. Write it out but don’t send it

A friend of mine does this every time he feels angry. He’ll write out the email but never send it. Writing it out makes him feel better and lets him think through the situation. Then he just deletes the draft.

I’ve done the same, sometimes actually writing letters to people in my private journal. Just writing things out can make you feel much better.

If you have no other option than to email, then do that. It’s better than not expressing your feelings at all. But if you can, hold it until you can talk it out live in real time.

Photo Credit: Anita Robicheau via Compfight cc