Welcome 2017! My Three Focus Words

2016 is history.  Not the best year, not the worst year.  It was a year of change, strong opinions and shock.  From mass shootings to celebrity deaths to the election of Trump, it was a year we will all be talking about and trying to understand for decades to come.

It was also the year that I established myself in the Pacific Northwest.  It was the year I became a two car owner, a year in which I established my style and a year in which I learned about myself.  While I do not have a lot to brag about in terms of accomplishments, I can say I rode the tide, survived the year, and learned what is important to me.

As I look back on 2016 and dream about 2017 will bring me, I am filled with a bit of anxiety, hope, and inspiration.  Like a blank page in an artist’s sketchbook, the new year is a blank slate waiting to be filled with memories, transactions, people, ideas, and dreams.  It is more inspiring than anything.

Back in 2006, Chris Brogan began publishing 3 words to represent and guide him throughout the year.  This tradition is ten years old in 2016.  The idea, as described by Mr. Brogan:

Pick any three words that will guide you in the choices you intend to make for 2016. They should be words that let you challenge yourself as to motives and decisions. They should be words that help you guide your actions.-Chris Brogan

So, without further ado, here are my three words:  Connect, Learn, Build

Connect – connect is about connecting with the community around me, the people, the places, the events, and the technology.  Throughout 2017, I will be looking for opportunities to connect with everything around me.

Learn – While we are required to spend roughly 18 years in school before we are ready to participate in the world, the truth is life is one big school and you should never stop learning.  I am eleven years into a career in Analytics and I realize how fast technology changes.  I need to stay current on the tools.  I also want to set the foundation for grad school, so I have some studying to do for the GRE.

Build – This word has a few meanings to me.  First, I want to spend more time doing things with my hands, away from computer and not reliant upon technology.  From a hydroponics system to arts and crafts, I want to build. Second, build represents establishing a foundation for the latter half of my life.  I see myself undergoing a lot of personal change and 2017 is the year the foundation is built for that change.

What are you three words?  What’s your focus on 2017?

How a To Do List Alone Is Not Productive

Stress is at its highest when one is unprepared.  Managing tasks, putting out fires, and meeting deadlines is difficult without a proper task management solution.

Whether you use the latest smartphone app or just pen and paper, you probably have some form of reigning in all those tasks, big and small, you must get done. Each of these tasks is multi-dimensional in that each has a priority, an effort level, deadline, and could even be related to another task or appointment.   Managing these dimensions is the key to being proactive and productive.

The problem with the to do list, is just that, it is strictly a list.   Making a list of your to do items is critical, but it does not give you the ability to set priorities in a complete manner.  In fact, the longer the to do list, the more overwhelming and difficult to mange it will be.

The solution is pretty simple.  Of course you need a list of task items, but you need integrate both the priority and scheduling.  The easiest was to do this is to schedule them on your calendar just like you would schedule a meeting or doctor’s appointment.

Scheduling your tasks takes care of a few things in one shot:

  1. It automatically sets the priority relative to not only other tasks, but your appointments.
  2. It gives you a clear start time and end time to tackle the task.
  3. It allows you focus on the immediate tasks for the day without getting overwhelmed by seeing tasks for a week or month.
  4. It sets the amount of time you need and have available to complete the task.

Using your calendar, be it a Daily Planner or Outlook, to manage your tasks is a very efficient way to be productive.  By managing a list of tasks and taking the extra step of putting them on your calendar means you are serious about being proactive and productive.  Try it today!

A Personal History of Task Management

For years I have been looking for a task management tool.  Ever since I tried “Getting Things Done” in college to no avail, I struggled to find the right combination of indexing, ease of use, and accessibility.  With both electronic and paper based options, it seemed everyone had their own idea of what the ultimate the task manager was.  Then you read about successful entrepreneurs who insist they only focus on three things per day (really? oh, you have a secretary, the article didn’t mention that!) compared to my wild mind constantly churning out ideas.

Below are some of the task management solutions from various phases of my life:

  • Mom, Dad and Adults – As a kid, you didn’t have to worry about task management.  Teachers gave you printed agendas, reminded you daily of homework due and you never went anywhere besides school so scheduling was synch.  When you weren’t at school, you had mom to ask, “have you done your homework?” or tell you it is bed time.  Those were the days…
  • Day Runner – I had one of those medium sized ones with a zipper all the way around.  My grandmother gave it to me for my high school graduation present and I used it for years, all the way through to my first real corporate, career job.  I loved the idea of having modules; calendar sheets for week, year and day; daily task sheets; contact list; and even the plastic “pencil” pouch.  The problems here were the bulk (front and back were padded and zippered), the cost and availability of refills, and the limited customization in design.  Eventually, I just started adding blank paper cut to the proper size.
  • Franklin Covey – Very similar to the Day Runner, but rather focused on use of Outlook.  They had printable sheets for us to print our “Day – Memo” sheets from Outlook once we decided what our three main accomplishments were.  What was fabulous was the printed calendar, the limited task list and the notes area.  I used this for a number of years until I switched companies and the new company didn’t believe in Outlook, just Google Apps.
  • Getting Things Done – a great concept and management solution.  However, it seemed too complicated to keep the inbox fresh and the many different components up to date.  Overall, way too complicated.  What I took away, however, was the concept of an inbox and anything that takes two minutes or less, just do it.
  • Smartphone, Palm Pilot, or other electronic organizer – After living without power for two weeks after the Tea Fire, I gave up on electronic to-do apps.  While some are great, they don’t allow for customization and you are stuck with their UI and process. You also have the NSA spying on your to-do list as pretty much all “tech” solutions run in the cloud.  Also, Evernote is unusable when the cat takes over the keyboard.  Also, just about every app makes the completed item disappear after you mark it complete, making past to-do and reference items difficult to find, some apps deleted them permanently upon completion.
  • Printable CEO – A great offline solution which allows for appointments, task prioritization, and notes.  Printing them daily was fine, but some days I didn’t need to print one as the previous day carried over.  The issue here is that each day is a sheet of paper and carrying previous months’ of notes around just isn’t doable in today’s smartphone obsessed world.  Also, I found the layouts to lack customization as sometimes I wish the notes section was twice as large and the appointments section a fraction the size.
  • My Own “Printable” Design – Using the printable CEO as inspiration, I created my own daily sheets which gave priority to notes, had a section for three daily accomplishments and five sub-goals.  I even added a line to write in a memorable, inspirational quote. It worked quite well for a few months, but I discovered on days where I wanted to do a brain dump (write down everything on my mind), I didn’t have enough task space (although the backside of the paper was perfect) and I had to carry that sheet around with me for a few days while I worked through action on the list.  Overall, I found myself re-writing ideas from my head onto the new “today” sheet to make sure I had access to them.  Like Printable CEO, carrying around the archives was hideous, an old school 3-hole punch notebook.
  • The Bullet Journal – My current system is the Bullet Journal.  Think of it as a morph between a Moleskin journal, a Day Runner, and a Printable CEO, utilizing low-tech paper and pen to beautifully archive entries as you go.  I am preparing a follow-up blog post just to discuss the power of the Bullet Journal, but the concept of writing everything down and then using symbols to categorize them is huge for me.  Having a calendar and daily appointment entries works well.  The icing on the cake… drum roll please… the Index.  Finally, a way of archiving entries on paper in a way they are accessible for reference!  Woohoo!  Where, o where have you been all of my life?

Looking over this list and realizing, not only am I getting older, but how diverse task management is.  I believe David Allen said in his first book that he didn’t expect everyone to use his system as he outlined, but rather suggested the reader use the parts that work. For me, the electronic solutions didn’t work, giving credence to “the pen is mightier than the iPhone!” What is your task management history like? What worked for you, what didn’t and where did you end up?

Shedworking: One year on: Tokyo company’s ‘green garden office’ experiment

Almost exactly a year ago, we reported on Tokyo-based office supplies specialist Kokuyo who opened a rooftop terrace “garden office” at its HQ to reduce electricity consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. So we were intrigued to see a roundup of how things had gone on the Nightly Business Report on PBS. Here’s one what a couple of employees said:

I arrive at work earlier in the day, when it’s cooler and when I’m doing creative work, I come outside. Indoors, I save for preparing documents and routine tasks.

Indoors, I get distracted by all the ringing phones and people yakking at me. It’s easier to focus out here.

The shifting sunlight, the breeze, it seems to turn a switch in your brain. The office is a highly stable, controlled environment. But altering those surroundings seems to trigger the creative part of our brains.

And just as important, the company claim that productivity has risen and carbon emissions have been halved.
—————————————————————————-

Wednesday’s posts are sponsored by The Garden Room Company®, the UK’s premier supplier of garden offices and garden rooms. Click here.

As you all know, I find cubicles to be… let’s just say less than desirable. We are humans and, like any other species, should be outside. This post on Shedworking gives me hope that one day the out-dated cubicle will come into the 21st century and bridge the gap between the high walled cubicle and the wonderful outdoors.

Components of Your Future

Future.  It is what you make it to be.

Goals.  They are what you want.

Actions.  The past and present efforts.

Network. These are the people that are going to help you.

Passion. It is what drives you to build your future with goals, take actions and network.

Building the components into a coherent package leads to a successful future.  While some look toward the future with joy, others see a future full of dismay from a lack of network, improperly defined goals, and lack of action.  Don’t be dismay…  build joy.

Improving My Cube: The New Bonsai Plant

Today, I bought a bonsai plant for my cubicle at work.  After writing Components of a Comfortable Office, I decided it was time to act and make my dreary tan and white cubicle at work a little nicer of a place to spend countless hours staring at my computer.

The first thing I did was clear the desktop of everything I haven’t touched in a week (filled the filing cabinet). I figure that if I do not need to find anything in the next month or two, I can just dump it all in the recycle/shred bin.

But then, the vast white space seemed a little too vast.  So, at “lunch,” I headed over to The Home Depot and purchased a bonsai plant (below) for $11.97.   I am a little skeptical as to how long it will live since there is no sunlight in my cube and the place is rather dry.

The $11.97 Bonsai Plant from The Home Depot

With the beginnings of a more comfortable cube in place, I will keep you posted as to how this develops.  I am thinking I need some dark cherry wood inserts, a zen garden, and a mock fireplace to really give it that custom look.

Components of a Comfortable Office

As I begin considering a home office remodel, I have been looking at pictures of offices.  If a picture appeals to me, I try and figure out why.

Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:

1) Dark hardwood desk and cabinetry.

2) Clutter Free (indicates sufficient storage)

3) No Visible Accessories (printers, staplers, etc are hidden)

4) One to two plants

5) Decorative lighting including spot lighting and general task lighting

6) Ergo Chair

7) Creative use of wall space either for art or accessories including pens, whiteboard, etc.

What features of your office do you find essential and/or creative?