A quote about triumph

I like reading biographies and interviews where people talk about their carries and successes and struggles in achieving what they have and who they are.  I came across below quote when reading and interview with Mary Jo Bang on 99 percent site.

everything, before it becomes easy, is a triumph. And some things never become easy—and in that case, simply continuing to do them is a triumph.

It’s good reminder that at he beginning everything is difficult and making even the slightest progress is success.


Email as an expectation

Let me start be explaining what’s is email on the basic level. As a primary it’s a communication tool to convey some sort of message. It might be a hello note from a friend, a bunch of photos form holidays, a business proposal, company announcement etc. Email serves this purpose great. It’s ubiquitous, simple to handle and unrestricted.
Second layer of email is to create expectation that the message will cause a reaction of the recipient. This reaction can take various form from a simple delete action to an actual response back to sender.

The unfortunate fact is that email can only pass a very limited non-verbal communication. You can’t see what the sender is feeling when he writes the message you can’t see his eyes, face, body posture etc. Emails have tone and energy but only for the one who type it, the recipient has only words in front and very few cues how to read it. That’s why same text can be read in different ways. This leads to great many misunderstandings, confusions and conflicts.

The problem lies in the fact that senders rarely communicate what is their expectation and what they want from the recipient. This is one of primary reasons we see emails with dozens of people included in cc: field. Unless it’s clearly stated that the message is for information only it mean that the sender is not sure what they do and hope that someone will react and do something.

This approach is not sustainable and not practical for few reasons.

  • when receiving a lot messages a day it makes very difficult to look at every single one and decide what’s needed with out clearly stated point.
  • for sender email is one to one relationship, I’ve sent you an email and I expect response. However repecipent has many such relationships and therefore it’s one against many.
  • Clear expectation gives better chance for desired response. If people know what they are required to do, they are more likely to do it rather than put it for later.

Since you can’t change change other people’s behavior and how they use email but you can change your own. To put it simply lead by example.

Start of by clearly expressing what you want. Use clear and short sentences, avoid long winded explanations. Even complex problems could be explained in a simple way.

You will save other people’s time and energy. You will save yourself hassle and stressing over stuff.

Getting up early

Getting up early and doing something important is one of the best ways to have a productive and successful day. Michael Wade shares a list of some activities that people do when they get up early.  Yet the more interesting part covers things that people don’t do or don’t see as a priority activity:

  • Checking e-mail
  • Making phone calls
  • Reviewing the previous day


What’s yours morning priority?

Music in the office

Radio GaGa

Office Music — Yay or Nay? is a WorkAwesome post from couple months back. In essence it describes different views on the issue of music in the office. As you can easily imagine there are opponents and proponents of music in the office. By some it’s seen as a great distractor causing people to turn off and not responding to ringing phones or co-worker calls. Others see music as great aid in getting into a deep focus and putting attention on to a specific task. I would certainly agree with the premise, that in some jobs listening to music or radio can stimulate productivity. This can be especially effective for those working alone and or with limited contact with other people.

Personally I haven’t heard music in the office since 2005. I don’t miss it a lot. At this stage, I got used to music/radio free environment. However what I actually miss from time to time is the radio. I do enjoy listening to talk radio stations like the Irish Newstalk radio. I like to listen exchange of opinions and views, a commentary of most recent events etc. My current office setting does not allow for listening music nor radio which is good and bad. On the good side I would be too involved into listening and possibly done very litter of real job. Now on the bad side having radio on it could work as a barrier against the office notice which can be quite distracting.

Fortunately I can do as a please when I’m working from home which gives me a great opportunity to listen to favourite podcasts and some online radio.

Photo credit:L.Bernhardt

18 minutes

Lead Lear Live is a very interesting blog which I discovered very recently.  One of the more recent blog post there is really good review of “18 minutes” by Peter Bregman. What’s the book about? In short it’s 46 chapters about different techniques and strategies to tame distractions, find focus and get more done. The book itself is getting really good reviews and what I particularly like about this review is a little Q&A session from the blog author which explains why the book is so good.

Treadmill desk

Treadmill workstation view 2

photo by Joe Hover


Over the last couple of years there has been some research into negative effects sedentary lifestyle. Lack of exercise and spending many hours at desk sitting results in a lot of negative side effects. Some that have been identified include growing waist size, slowing down of the digestion processes, increased risk of cardiovascular problems and diabetes due to dropping insulin levels, raised cholesterol and bad posture.

A Poor Solution

Different ideas have been popping up to counter this problem. One of such ideas is a treadmill desk. A treadmill desk as you can easily guess is a combination of a treadmill and desk where you force your self to walk while you’re working. It maybe a cool little, (big if you consider the size of things hack) but I’m very sceptical over the actual benefits and practicality of this solution. To me it means more work and more time spend at desk staring at a computer.

Let me explain. Lack of exercise is one aspect of the situation, it’s maybe true  that you’re not getting enough of it but there are other elements too. Yet stepping away from your desk is necessary for brain to rest, take a break and release the tensions of mental activities.

Half work – At treadmill desk you half work, your body is in constant motion so you need more energy to keep your focus on the computer screen, document you’re reading etc. If you try to think through a complex issue and you’re constantly moving your mind will wander off and it will take you longer to find a solution.

Half exercise – in order to keep yourself relatively stable your maximum speed will be 1-2 miles per hour at most. At this speed your movement will be very limited and resemble rocking rather than actual motion. Sure you will burn more calories and get your blood flowing bit faster but you can reduce many health risk by creating healthy eating habits like reducing your portions and sugar intake.

Expensive – $500 for a plastic platform over the treadmill and the treadmill itself which maybe between $300-$1500  it’s steep ask for something that has 

You will miss

There are few other things you’re missing by staying bound to your desk for more and more hours and swapping proper exercise for treadmill desk.

Fresh air – You simply need it, there are scents, smells, there is wind,  humidity etc. When you spend time in the office all you get is filtered, monitored, “artificial” air. Try to get out into a park, sea front, a field or simply go for a walk in your neighbourhood.

A step away – why best ideas happen when you’re in the shower or walk a dog? It’s simple you are not in your work environment, your brain is switching the gears, there are new impulses coming to it, new connections between neurons are forming hence new ideas happen. If you’re going for treadmill desk you’re choosing to spend more time at work and at your desk surrounded by the same objects. There are no new things that could stimulate your brain.

Discharge & recharge – physical exercise is an excellent way to shed away stress, negative emotions, decompress after a long and intensive day. Your brain gets a rest from all the mental activities. At the same time exercising results in production of different hormones which help you feel better and recharge your batteries. You might be physically tired but mentally your brain caught a break and can start working again.  

I’m sure there will be group of people that will find this solution a one that works. For me this is it not something I would consider as a good approach, you may be increasing the number of hours which you spend in the office but that is not the goal worth pursuing. More important is being effective, creative so that you can do other things you like    .

If you want to know more about dangers of spending a lot of time at your desk here is some of the resources which will give you a good overview of the issue.

Prolonged sitting boosts bad health

Proven side effects of sitting all day

Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults

iPad at work

iPad accessory

photo by bm.iphone 

Mac Power Users podcast is a great resource for anyone using Apple technology ran by two Apple fans David Sparks and Katie Floyd. But this podcast is also a fantastic place to learn about productivity tools, setups and workflows. I’ve been listening to one of the older episodes number 59 in which David Sparks talks about how he had written his latest book "iPad at Work"

Obviously the episode is very much focused on iPad and how it can be used to write a book and us as a primary work device. Many people may not agree with such approach but quite a lot have already  proven that iPad is a very capable device and will match may/most users’ needs.

From my perspective the more interesting element was the whole process of writing a book and the organisational aspects of it. David Sparks goes into a lot of detail and describes his workflow. He starts with outlining how he worked through his initial ideas and thoughts. Then he moves on describing his writing process and the tools used and putting the text together. The whole episode is one of the most interesting workflow overviews I’ve listened to in recent weeks.

When listening to the episode you will come across different applications that are only available on iOS or MacOS platforms. You should be able to find good Windows or Linux equivalents on sites like alternative.net.

If you own an Apple device or are interested in technology and being productive with it this podcast is definitely one worth tuning in to.

Structure and productivity

Structure du pont Corneille

A while ago I was listening to and older podcast with David Allen where he made a very interesting observation. Very often we are building a very complex structures to support our productivity by adding layers of tags, applications et. In effect we tie ourselves up and put more pressure on maintaining this system. It becomes a drag.

Something that’s opposite should be true. A good productivity system should be light and flexible allowing to fit it into changing events and requirements.

Continuing with this thought focus on keeping your system just right and fit for a purpose. It’s very easy to spend few hours organizing everything in your system. Adding locations, tags, links, making sure everything is clearly laid out. But is such approach sustainable on daily basis? Probably not.

When you look at how people get organized more often than not everything they have is halfway done. They had some free time so they decided to organise something they meant  to do a long time ago. They put up a very nice looking structure of A-Z folders, marked with different colours and labels. After a while only half of the documents are done this way, the demands of the work took over and there is no longer a time to maintain this structure.
The same will happen with tasks. You can go full on with various application and fill every possible text box, tag, notes and links so then you can dice and slice actions, projects the way you want. After initial hurray stage this structure weighs your down and becomes a drag.

It becomes apparent that filling all the boxes and setting up all the tags and folders is too time consuming. You could do it when you had extra free time but it can’t be sustained in normal day when things are flying at speed of light.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why a short lists of tasks is so effective. It’s simple, easy and serves as a great reference point.

To conclude the tools you use should support you enough to let you maintain the control of the day and be flexible to allow you to adjust to changing priorities. 

photo by zigazou76