Working on weekends is a hot topic when it comes to consulting. Many think it comes with the job, and it sure is part of the whole consulting life myth. In reality, as with all myths, that is only partly true.
There can be situations where working on a weekend cannot be avoided – but there are many more situations where you can. Today’s post is all about how to achieve that and make sure that as many weekends as possible stay free – ’cause you are working enough from Monday to Friday.
- Scope with a hidden agenda
You have a secret plan. You do not want to work on the weekend. Of course, you don’t want your project lead to know, because you’d seem all weak and “not taking one for the team” or even “not cut out for the job” (I am joking. Mostly.) Scoping to the rescue! It’s simple in theory: To avoid working on the weekend, plan your work so that the need does not arise. In real life, that might be trickier. My best tip is: Don’t agree on Monday as deadline for a deliverable. You’ll often end up on Friday thinking “gosh, I need to finish that… but hey, it’s only due in three days!” and end up sitting on the desk the next two days while your buddies are out having fun. On the other side, your project lead – depending on their style – might think “hey, he’s got some extra time for that over the weekend!” and adjust their expectations accordingly.
The gods of the internets are against me today. And for you. As of now, Xobni is directly available for you to test and indulge - which of course means that there is no real incentive anymore for you to jump through any hoops at the KillerConsultant to get it. Which blows my great idea of some semi-forced audience interaction.
But if you really like the KC, you will tell the rest of the world how you like your Xobni plugin in the comments anyway, right?!]
it is Monday, let’s see if we can get a conversation going. The deal is simple: I have five invites for Xobni to give away.
Xobni, if you have not heard of it yet, is a cool new plugin for Outlook which gives you a whole new look on your email experience: In a sidebar, it shows you all sorts of information about the person whose email you are just reading. When in the day, for example, you get most email from that person, their phone number, their contacts, a list of recent conversations and files received from them. Apart from that, Xobni also does a whole lot of statistics-voodoo on your mail – but that main sidebar in itself really is something you should try. I might go as far as saying that this could make email management fun again!
Xobni is in invitation-only beta right now… and you can get one of these invitations.
There are only one and a half conditions:
- Within a week of receiving the invite, you write a paragraph worth of your experiences with Xobni – what you liked, what you thought was cool, what features you missed, and if you’d recommend it. I’ll publish those short reviews here, of course with your name and a link to your website, if you want.
- The “half” condition: I’d prefer consultants to get the invites, of course – but if in the next days there are no consultants to be found reading this site (darnit!), I’ll open the tickets up for everybody else.
Go, sign up in the comments!
I am looking forward to seeing how you guys like / use / see Xobni.
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.
I am normally not into cross-posting on different sites, but hey, rules are there to be…. no, I won’t say it! Afterwards all you remember is “hey, on KillerConsultant they said it would be alright to bend rules!” No, friends, it is not that easy. Also, what does your client say when you admit that you actually have time to read a website? Seriously.
Anyhow, I wrote the following for my private site, but thinking about it, this might just be interesting for you KC guys as well. Here goes!
Yesterday night I found out about Randy Pausch. Randy is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who delivered (and recorded) two very interesting speeches. One is called “Time Management“, in which he talks about very practical tips on how to get more things done in life. This is not a theoretical talk – it is very down to earth, it is full of things you can directly apply yourselves. The other talk is called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams“. In this talk, part of CMU’s “last lecture” series, he talks about how he managed to achieve his childhood dreams, and how one can work towards that – or help others achieve their dreams.
The “last lecture” series at CMU is asking the speaker to imagine – if this was the last lecture he or she gave before they died, what would they talk about? For Randy, he needs no big imagination. Randy gave this speech knowing he will most likely die from the cancer he has in the next few months. He already knew that when he gave the speech on time management as well. Don’t shy away now! His lectures are incredibly funny. There is no darkness and sadness in them. All this frightening fact really does is make the speeches more intense. For me, on the receiving end, it feels like an incredible gift Randy has given to us. He even made the last lecture a book – how awesome is that!
When you watch those lectures, you wil realize what a fighting spirit Randy has. Not surprisingly, he is still alive, still fighting hard, still making the best out of the days he has. On his personal website you find a summary of all the things I just introduced to you, as we as updates on how he is doing.
So what can you take from that?
- The lecture on time management will give you many good tips for every day effectiveness. Take for example the clues he has for being short and concise on the telephone. I am sure all of you have experienced that – you get on the phone, you need to clarify something quickly, or make an arrangement – and the person on the other side thinks that you definitely have time to discuss yesterdays soccer results and whatnot. Randy’s advise is to set a clear agenda in the beginning – “hi Bob, I’m calling because there are three things I want to clarify with you” – and get out of the call once the agenda items are ticked off. His version of “there are students waiting for me” can easily be converted to “I have to dial in to a telco” or “I have a meeting to attend to”.
Of course, you might want to be a bit more elaborate with your todo-list than Randy tells you to (where are context and projects? Phew, REALLY!) and not rely on post-its for planning – greetings from GTD!
- It is not doing things right that will get you where you want to get – it is doing the right things. In the second lecture mentioned, it is about going for your dreams. You can only achieve that if you actually know what your dreams are. If you do not know where you are headed, most steps you take will be in the wrong direction. So this is about the grand perspective of things, where instantly the (also recommended by Randy) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People come to mind. That book by Stephen Covey is, in my opinion, the ultimate companion to GTD. When you actually know what you want to do with your life, having “focus” instantly has a much deeper meaning. And be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.
Right for you?
Guys, I love everybody coming here and reading.
Help me make it better – leave a comment, tell me what you think, what you like, what you’d like to see changed. Thanks!
I get the feeling that GTD was not designed for consultants, at least not when it comes to the proposed setup. 43 folders tickler file? How do I get that into my briefcase? Making new folders for every project that comes up? Carrying that as well? Yeah, right. I actually had the folders implemented, and always took those for the week with me. It was not too big a stack, and at the end of the week I sorted it back into my file cabinet, archived stuff that I had collected over the week, and took out the folders for the next. Unfortunately, there is not always a cabinet available to hang my folders. Now I am down to an organizer-type thing – like an A4 booklet, it has seven partitions of sturdy paper, and in them I sort everything I need for the next week (Monday to Friday), plus stuff that goes back to the Archive or the Tickler. That does work quite well… but let’s be honest, most of us don’t carry paper in an organized fashion, apart from the travel expenses that need to be claimed.
Most consultants live out of Outlook.
(For those of you forced to work with Lotus Notes, I am sorry. Maybe you were a mean kid and deserve it? If not, go complain to your IT department)
Living out of Outlook can be a blessing, and a huge pain. It does mean that your calendar, your mail and your tasks are in one place, and sync with your blackberry or whathaveyou-Exchange-compatible phone. It means that you can arrange meetings with your colleagues and not miss the important “changes due on Monday, 8am” mail from your boss Friday night.
Unfortunately, Outlook (and especially its ToDo-features) is not built with GTD in mind. There is no notion of projects and contexts by which you could sort from the getgo… but fear not! The mighty powers of the internet have caused other people to tackle that issue before you. Here’s a quick list of places to go:
This freeware (beta) gives you a GTD-feasible dashboard view on outlook. Looks promising, but as the developer says it is not compatible with Exchange yet, I can’t try it out, and only those of you with a standalone Outlook (Lonely knights of consulting) should. [Edit: As Jello.Dashboard's developer, dr. Uqbar, pointet out in the comments, the plugin generally works with Exchange, but he cannot test it thoroughly, lacking an Exchange environment, and thus can't guarantee it will run under all circumstances.]
- The official GTD plugin from Netcentrics
This is a plugin for GTD licensed by David Allen Co. – so it must be good, right? In addition to supplying new Task-views that implement Contexts and Projects, it adds a custom toolbar to your Outlook, with which you can easily file, mark as someday/maybe, etc. … it is not free though, after a 30 days trial it costs you USD 69.95… now lets see if we can do better than that:
- Melissa MacBeth gives some good tips on how GTD can be implemented with Outlook 2007′s own tools.
- And finally -for the Outlook part of today: The three – part – tutorial from David Ornstein on embedding the GTD workflow into Outlook 2007. This is deep stuff, it will need some (very well guided) work on your side – but hey, even the folks from DavidCo were impressed – maybe it is worth the effort for you as well?
So you see, there are possibilities to improve your life in Outlook by a vast amount. If you try some of this stuff out, let me know how it goes!
As for me – I am still stuck on a homegrown solution of ToDo-Views, which to implement projects and contexts basically… but it is a hard trick for me. See, I am a Mac user by heart. I have sworn never to have to work on a lousy Windows machine once I made the switch… until my new job came around the corner, and all you get is a ThinkPad with Vista pre-installed, Blackberry and Office 2007. Period. Being a newbie, asking for special treatment was not an option (especially not in a big firm, where you do not really have a lot of choice over your hardware in the first place). I miss my OmniFocus big time. *sniff*. Anyway.
In the next week, we will look at online-options of implementation, for those of you not wanting to tinker with their Outlook, and those who might want to integrate personal and work task management.Read More