August 2015

Exit the Wheel, Take the Escalator

2015-08-23T16:41:22-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , |

You know that swift glide-y feeling you get when you walk on an escalator. You’re moving faster than you normally would with the same effort. That’s the feeling we all want when we work. Instead, it often feels more like running in an exercise wheel. We spend lots of energy and break a sweat; we are working hard. However, when we exit the wheel at the end of the day, we find ourselves in the same place we started.

Hamster Exercise Wheel


Many productivity tools help us manage what’s on our plate. I’ve looked through my books and have found a few techniques that – instead of simply moving things around on your plate – will help you reduce your serving size. These are… Create Focus, Purge Time Wasters, and Unplug Things.

Create Focus

Distractions and interruptions are part of our workday. The ringing phone, pinging e-mail, and pop-in visits from co-workers can break your work flow. To be a responsive employee most of these need to be answered… But not necessarily at that very instant.

Recovering from disruption inevitably will take you a few minutes to re-focus and pick-up where you left off. These breaks chip away at your productivity.

If you don’t have an office door to close to indicate, “do not disturb,” (most of us in cubicle-world don’t have that luxury), create a “sign” that indicates you’re in a flow and prefer not to be interrupted. This could literally be a sign, or perhaps you don headphones or pull a piece of tape across your cube entrance.

If your company has a culture where co-workers have been trained to expect an instant answer via phone or e-mail… Change your voicemail message and e-mail auto-reply to indicate that you’ll be able to get to their messages as soon as you take a break in your workflow.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you halt business, be irresponsible, or ignore important customer issues because you “have trouble focusing.” It is just that more times than not, if given a few more hours, questions get answered and resolutions get discovered. (How many times have you caught up with e-mail after being on vacation or out sick… and when following the e-mail chain see a problem in the morning find a solution by the afternoon?)

Adopt an “80/20 Hour.” Work without interruption for 48 minutes (80% of an hour), and then take a 12-minute break. This helps keep you focused for a solid period, and the break prevents burning out on what you’re working on. You can use that 12-minutes to address real issues, or simply get away from the computer screen and stretch your legs. I use a countdown timer on my computer to track my time. (It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t let yourself get distracted.)

Timothy Ferriss in his book The 4-Hour Work Week spends a good chunk of his book focusing on how to eliminate unnecessary and unproductive activities.

A few of his recommendations for gaining focus include…

  • Turn off the audible alert on e-mail.
  • Turn off the automatic send/receive.
  • “Check e-mail twice per day, once at 12:00 noon or just prior to lunch, and again at 4:00 p.m. 12 noon and 4 p.m. are times that ensure you will have the most responses from previously sent e-mail.”

One of the best suggestions I’ve ever heard…

  • “Never check e-mail first thing in the morning. Instead complete your most important task before 11:00 am to avoid using lunch or reading e-mail as a postponement excuse.”

Purge Time Wasters

Karen says of time wasters…

“If Time = Money. Time Wasters = Money Wasters.”

How true.

In his book The Obvious James Dale writes, “Most business takes too long.” He offers suggestions, including…

Eliminate the meetings that you can. If you have to meet, make it shorter. Taking longer to prepare meetings makes them shorter.

Write an agenda with…

  1. your objective,
  2. the points you need to make to accomplish it, and
  3. the questions you should answer.

Now cut out the parts everyone already knows, the parts people don’t need to know, and the summary. Set a time limit. (Never more than an hour, usually twenty minutes.) When time is up, stop talking.

UnPlug Things

The Operations team at Starbucks had a rule. Before you can add something new for the baristas to do in-store (new beverage, new program, etc.), first you had to unplug something. When trying to do too many things, there is a chance you may be able to do all of them, but probably not any of them well. UnPlugging is about providing quality, not quantity.

Karen Salmansohn in her book Ballsy suggests “Don’t Just Create To-Do Lists, Create Un-To-Do Lists.” She adds, that we need to UNDO…

  • Unimportant meetings
  • Unclear assignments
  • Energy-sapping people

These tips will certainly help you get off the exercise wheel and obtain that glidey escalator feeling. Your co-workers will pick up on your behavior… and while they may need to learn how to adjust to your new style, more than likely you’ll find them also adopting these work habits.

What other techniques work for you?

June 2015

Productive or Active?

2015-06-09T16:36:47-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , |


This sticky note has been stuck to my computer monitor for a while. Now I have a smaller note that states “busy ≠ productive.”

Often we’re merely active in what we’re doing. Activity feels busy. But it’s not necessarily productive.

Are you keeping yourself busy to avoid a project? Or have you fallen into the trap of doing busy work and (if you were honest with yourself) unnecessary tasks to avoid what really needs to be accomplished.

Being active doesn’t mean you’re being productive.

February 2009

MindNode Pro: Effective Way To Gather And Organize Thoughts

2009-07-02T12:16:30-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , |

Software Review: MindNode Pro

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for better ways, tools, and applications to get things done. I’ve recently discovered a mind mapping application for the Mac that you must check out: MindNode Pro.

“On paper” mind mapping has always worked best for me to brainstorm ideas and organize thoughts. I’ve tried mind mapping apps in the past, but found most over-loaded with bells and whistles that get in the way of the rapid capture of ideas. If the application will slow me down, it isn’t practical.

The beauty of MindNode Pro is that the interface is simple, and doesn’t get in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish. Thankfully Markus Müller, the programmer avoids unnecessary functions.

I’ve used MindNode Pro for to do lists, brainstorming ideas, and to write drafts for my blog posts and articles. (In fact, the image below is the mind map for this review.

When I write with MindNode Pro, I usually create a map that branches out in all directions and then arrange the ideas in the sequence I want them to appear in my writing.

[click image for larger view]

Getting the content out of the mind map and to other applications is easy. Simply select all, cut, and paste the map into a text editor. The content pasted will follow the flow of the diagram. You can also copy your mind map directly from the application and paste as a TIFF image or PDF (for example to place directly into an email message). If you need to convert your mind map to another format, these export formats are available.

  • PDF
  • Freemind Doc
  • TIFF image
  • OPML document
  • HTML text
  • RTF rich text format

The only negative? There isn’t a Windows version, but there are PC-based alternatives including: XMind or maybe Freemind.

Good news for iPhone users, Markus is working on a version for that platform now.

MindNode is free, and has great functionality. It’s a great way to try the software. However, I quickly found I needed the additional functions provided by MindNode Pro. And at $14.95 USD/€12/30 Euro the price can’t be beat!

I highly recommend giving MindNode and MindNode Pro the simple, easy to use mind mapping programs for the Mac, a try. [MindNode Website]

August 2007

Make Ideas Happen: Resources

2011-05-22T12:50:57-04:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

Personal effectiveness. Time management. Productivity. We’re on the lookout for tools and methods that may grease our personal productivity gears and help us get more done, more efficiently.

In that spirit, the folks at the Idea Sandbox Institute have compiled this list of resources to help you get that grease!

Methods & Systems

  • Getting Things Done (GTD) – The book by David Allen launched one of the most embraced organization and productivity systems. While David’s company site is a good resource, you’ll find the interweb chock full of templates, software, and other GTD tools. Click here -> Google Search: “GTD”
  • Behance Action Method – Behance is a relatively new to the scene with their methods and collaborative network. Their Action Method offers a simple, yet effective, process for as they put it… Making Ideas Happen.
  • Franklin-Covey – One of the founding organization methods. I used this system for years, and even when not using their organizers, I continue follow their process. Check out these resources and tips…

Sites, Planners & Tools


  • LifeHacker – Shares work-arounds (hacks) to making life more productive. Be sure to check out their GTD and Productivity sections.
  • 43Folders – Personal productivity and lifehacks. Named for an organization system based on literally using 43 folders… 12 monthly and 31 daily… as outlined in the book “Getting Things Done”. Their “topic cloud” is a great way to explore their site.

Planners & Tools


Here are some books I have in my library. What do you recommend?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

by Steven R. Covey

To Do, Doing, Done

by G. Lynne Snead and Joyce Wycoff

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

by David Allen

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck