Hey, we have not spoken in a while! Nice seeing you again! – Seriously, I have been trapped at a location with almost nil connectivity for the last two weeks, and it is driving me nuts. Sorry for the hiatus.
Today let’s talk about a little trick to keep you focused on your work, and still get your newsfix from the outside world. Yeah, there is stuff going on around you, y’know? All kind of news. Things that pop up in your feedreader. Things that you come across while doing your desk research ( = googling like crazy for the topic at hand) that might not be completely relevant now, but sure sound interesting. The thing is to avoid being sidetracked during cranking hours, but have stuff ready at hand when you have time to indulge. Four things have made a big difference for me.
- Google Gears
Gears allows web apps to function offline and sync the new state back to their “mothership” once you go online again. Gears works excellently with Google Reader. So before you hop into the cab, train, plane, go to Google Reader, put it in “offline” mode (once you installed Gears, it will ask you if you want to use Reader with it, and will then provide you with a little green button in the top row to toggle online/offline mode). Now you can read through all your news without the need for an internet connection. It does not load images, so your subscription to cuteoverload.com will be no fun. Sorry.
This is a nifty and free little web service. With an ultra simple interface (seems designed for iPhone access, but works with Blackberrys and your Laptop just as fine), Instapaper gives you the ability to make a “read later” list. To do that, Instapaper gives you a little bookmarklet (a bookmark for your browser of choice). Now, when you are on a website that sure is interesting, but you really need to get working on other stuff – just hit the Instapaper bookmarklet (I named mine, creatively, “read later”). Instapaper saves the link. Now close it, and do what needs to be done. Whenever, then, you have some time to spare, go to Instapaper, and voilá – your reading list is waiting for you. Unfortunately, no Google Gears support yet, that would make it even better.
Whenever I find an interesting but rather long article online – you know, the type of Paul Graham essay (great stuff!) – I want to save it for reading when I have the time, and might want to print it out. Easy as pie. Of course, you can simply print it, but using the free DoPDF-Tool, you can (who would have guessed!) easily create a PDF out of it (it installs as a printer) and save it on your harddrive as well. Advantage: You can collect stuff you want to get on paper, and then print it all in one go, so that your colleagues don’t find your pumpkin pie recipie amongst their travel expenses.
- Make yourself a folder called “INBOX” on your desktop. Now, the declutter-your-desktop-topic is one we can expand on later – for now let’s keep it simple: In the inbox, you can make a “to read” folder. Put those PDF’ed articles in there, and whenever you have a relaxed moment – travelling or in the hotel room – just open up that folder, and you have something interesting to go through
Now whenever you come across something on the web that you can’t attend to right now, there is a way to quickly save it, and you can get back to work. Then, when you have the time, things are at hand waiting for you. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.
As consultants, we live and breathe deadlines, like it or not.
They come in all sizes – from having to send an email at a certain time, to finishing the big deck of slides for the project’s final presentation. They overlap. They shift. Some are rigid, some can be bent – but you better not break them.
Here are some tips on how to tame this wild animal – your next deadline. Because not making the deadline is just not on the list of cool things to do.
Being able to concentrate under deadline stress is crucial to keep you productive.
- Set the email-check to manual. The ping/notification every time a new mail comes in (that you cannot attend to now anyways) will distract you, and you would need precious time to get back to concentration and pick up your train of thought. Blackberry users, set your profile so that you do not get a ring/buzz on incoming email.
If you are expecting important mail, ask the sender to give you a quick call once the message is sent, so you can check you inbox then.
- Disable all IM clients. Doesn’t matter if it is private or corporate, IM has to go off. You have no time to chat.
- CLOSE, not minimize, all applications that you do not need. If you are working in Powerpoint and Excel, close the browser. Close Outlook. What you don’t see doesn’t distract you.
- When working in an office with many people, check if there maybe is a quiet office/conference room available where you can hack away without being distracted by other people’s phone calls, conversations, etc.
- Get everything off your desk that does not relate to your current work.
It is good to be concentrated. That is enough for tasks where you are just hacking away and can put your mind on “execute”. But what if you need to actually be creative, as in thinking of possible concepts for a strategic option?
- Have pen and paper available. For developing ideas, the link between your hand, eye and mind is more direct than when you are sketching things in PPT. When available, use your company’s yellow pads (those that are giving you the PPT-slide-frame, so that you can fill in action title, etc.
- Use a brown paper for your storyline. When creating a story, it is important to see it in its entirety. Again, this is better done on paper than on screen. Print out your slides (they must not all be ready to do this, you can start with only titles on the slides), put them on a board/brown paper/wall.
- Talk to someone who is not involved. Of course, you are short on time, so this is not the place for a tea party. Nevertheless, if you are braining away on an issue and do not come to a conclusion, present it to someone who is not involved. Often, the act of expressing exactly what your issue is, helps you to process and solve it.
Unfortunately, deadlines often result in late nights or all-nighters. So you need to stay awake beyond your normal comfort zone.
- Get yourself a decent supply of caffeine. For me, a good mix of coffee and coke works well (not cocaine, buddy. We are not bankers ). Energy drinks tend to create too much of a sugar/caffeine high that fades quickly and leaves you more tired than you were before.
- Switch all available lights on. Trick your body into believing it is day.
- Make it cold. Not freezing cold, but the warmer the room is, the easier you get tired.
- Sit at a desk. When working away in the hotel, chances are the bed looks really nice to sit on and do some work… and then you wake up in the morning with the imprint of the keyboard on your forehead. Sit on a chair at a desk.
- Listen to energizing music. Chances are that your customer is already at home with wife and kids when you get cranking – so it might be possible to get the earplugs out and put some good vibes on. Avoid singer/songwriter type of music – the type where you actually listen to the lyrics -, you don’t want to distract yourself too much, just crank up the mood.
- Take power naps. In your chair. Set the alarm to LOUD, set it to 15 minutes. Not more. When the 15 minutes is up, stand up, stretch, move around, get back to work. DO NOT EXTEND THE 15 MINUTES, that most of the time means you are losing the war against sleep. For power napping, I love pzizz. For the extra kick, you might want to try the caffeine nap.
What are your favourite techniques for cranking the deadline? Share in the comments!Read More