Best ideas from “Eat that frog” book

Eat that frog by Brian Tracy is one of the classic books on time management, personal productivity and effectiveness. Although it has been published quite a few years ago it still contains a lot very useful and practical advice. This also means that despite the progress in technology, systems basic work problems like getting things done, focusing on important items, achieving goal hasn’t been resolved. Therefore this week I wanted to share a selection of the best tips and ideas from the book which you could use to become more effective and get more done.

Plan every day in advance

Planning every day is one the single most effective techniques you could use to ensure consistent progress, yet it remains one of the most underutilized or ignored. Tracy points out that every minute spend planning saves up to 10 minutes in execution. Whether this is correct or not planning your day a night before is definitely very effective and powerful technique. You may be put of by the required time to completed a daily plan but if you look at up close it isn’t that difficult or time consuming. Simply in your last 15 minutes of the work day pull out pen and paper and your master task list. Then select few tasks which are really important to you and write them down on paper. I try to complete my plan each day and I find that selecting 3-5 items is really enough. Less than that won’t be challenging nor satisfying and more that will be cause of disappointment of too many unexpected things pop up. Lastly once you’re done with your list put it on top of your keyboard or screen so it’s the first thing you see in the morning.

Apply 80/20 rule

If you are looking for a way to establish what’s important and what brings most of the effects 80/20 rule should clear a lot of things. In its basic form principle says that 20% of activities will amount to 80% of outcomes regardless of the area and context it’s measured. To take that further 80% of your time is spend on activities that yield only 20% of results. This may sound quite depressing. So how do you leverage the 80/20 principle in your favour. establish your key result areas – what really important? establish your 20% most impact tasks projects – what are the projects which yield most return? start your day by focusing on your 20% high impact tasks – see daily planning above look out for activities that 80% that consume your time and bring very little value.

Take one item at a time

People used to take pride in ability to multitask which seemed like a perfect skill for solving all problems of more work and less time. Unfortunately this strategy creates more problems that in actually solves. Constant tasks switching can cost you up to 5 times in time necessary to complete a task. To avoid that, first select one action and work on it until it’s done. If you lose focus and put your attention somewhere else try to get back to the original task and attempt to finish it. Repeat the process until done.
To assist with that try to remove or reduce distractions. Turn of the email, internet, send calls to voicemail.

Create large chunks of time

Majority of important work requires a large uninterrupted time to complete. Whether you work on a presentation or write a report it will not be possible to finish it in an hour. In order to take advantage of those large chunks of time set up your day so that you plan them above other things. Use your calendar to block sufficient amount of time, then eliminate distractions and get to work. Before you start make sure you have a clear indication of tasks which you want to accomplish during that session. Alternative method is to refer to your project plan and start working in the next set of tasks.

Slice and dice bigger tasks

Are you familiar with a question, how do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite a time. The same applies to large tasks and projects. As mentioned above big and importat things usually take time to accomplish. It’s not always easy to see the end. To begin slicing your big project start with a list of all possible tasks you will have to do in order to take the project to successful completion. Then select one task and work on it. Each completed task will help you satisfy the need of making progress and seeing some results.

Eat that FROG

Lets be honest work does not comprise of only interesting and cool projects and tasks. Very often we need to deal with the boring, unpleasant and downright pointless activities. The simplest strategy to deal with such thing is to do it first thing in the morning. Do it quickly and move to something else.

Prepare before you begin

Very often we start working on something only to realise that we were going in the wrong direction or missing some key tools, people or skills to accomplish it. Tracy suggest that before you embark on something big make sure you have everything you need at hand. Setup your work area so that it will support completing the tasks. If you’re writing a report make sure you have the research and the necessary data. Also to avoid distraction clear off the stuff you don’t need for this task leave only what’s necessary. If your mind happens to wander off there will be fewer things to put your attention on. My own suggestion is to always make a plan before. This ways you have a clearer picture of what you want and what needs to be accomplished. My preferred method of planning is to use mind maps. If you prefer a more ordered approach simple outline will do the trick as well. You can read about my favourite software here.

“Eat that frog” is a little book packed with many practical ideas and techniques for improving your personal effectiveness and productivity. If you’re looking for something that will give a bunch of different tips in a bite sized form this book is definitely one to check.

Top tips form “Your Best Just Got Better” book

The first time I’ve read about Jason Womack was about 2007. At that time Jason was a David Allen Company employee. Over the following few years he started running a regular blog and then he decided to go solo opening The Jason Womack Company. The main focus of this consulting and speaking advise was and still is becoming better and improving workplace performance.
This year he published “Your Best Just Got Better” book. Since I’ve been learning a lot from Jason’s blog and other online appearances I quickly decided to read the book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect and to be honest I thought that the main focus will be on productivity. Book goes well beyond that. It goes into different aspects of personal performance and improvement. Rather than present a fixed system or methodology for improvement, Jason uses two prong approach. He asks very good questions about your work, tools, goals, aspirations etc. The reason I like this approach is that it actually allows you to find relevant answers to problems as opposed to looking for them externally. Aside of great question there are some very practical tips which you could implement into your daily life.

This is precisely what I wanted to share in this week’s post. Some of the best tips and ideas from “Your Best Just Got Better”:

1% = 15min

1% of your day roughly equals to 15min. This is quite a powerful realisation for two reasons. There is a lot you can accomplish making most of each 1% even though it appears that it’s so tiny amount of time. Secondly it makes you more aware of what’s the % of your time that goes towards TV, reading, work, sleep etc. See below how to make the most of each 1%.

Start meetings quarter past

Meeting always start late, some people are rushing from the other side of the building, others have been delayed in another that over run. This result in your meeting being delayed or put off completely. To avoid that set meeting 15min after the full hour so rather than schedule it at 10:00 put it for 10:15. This way you avoid your time being wasted and hopefully your meetings will always start on time.

Ask questions

Looking for answers externally is the easiest way to find solution to problems but very often it’s not the best one. In order to find solutions which are yours you must spend some time on self-reflection. Fortunately Jason provides some great prompts. Here is sample of questions to ponder on:

  • what works?
  • how I work?
  • what systems tools I use?

Spend just 1% of your day to try find answers and see where that leads you. See here how it helped me to clarify few things with tools I was using.

Externalise

It’s always good to see authors building on existing concepts. Understanding one’s situation is not easy if you can’t really see it and when all your thoughts are jumbled up in a big pile. Best way to handle them all is to put them down on paper. Lifting them of your brain will help finding structure, patterns and common denominators. Having you thoughts out in the open makes it really easy.
Writing stuff down is great GTD classic and it’s always worth being reminded of. My favourite capture tool is Moleskine notebook which I carry almost everywhere and Evernote application which is available on on my smartphone, laptop and web. It comes especially handy for quick capture of pictures or short ideas.

Interrupt people less

It takes around 12-15min for a person to return to the initial state of focus after someone had interrupted them. Also the more people you work with the more chance for you to be interrupted. There are also “internal” interruptions whereby your own thoughts and ideas about derail your attention from the item in front.

The easy way to solve this is to keep a single piece of paper or a sticky note per each person you interact with. Then 2-3 times a day ask that person of few minutes of their time and discuss the points you’ve written down.

To test this ides observe for a day or two how many time have you interrupted your co-workers then start keeping a small list and see what are the results.

Slow down to speed up

Possibilities are endless yet at the same time we can’t do it all. Taking more and more responsibilities seems like an obvious choice when you want to get better, raise in the ranks. Unfortunately there is a limit to what we can effectively manage at a given time. So rather than pile things on one after another, start focusing on 3 critical projects at a time. Make it clear to your boss/ manager that these are your priorities and seek them unless other things should be done first. Having a short list of key project really helps to make sure you are reminded about them. I’ve been using my wardrobe door for that purpose where I placed sticky notes with project names.

Always be Ready (ABR)

Do you remember that 1% of your day equals to 15min? To make the most out of each 1% you need to always be ready (ABR). Throughout each day and week there are always unexpected delays, cancellations etc. So rather than let this time to go wasted make sure you can seize the moment whenever or wherever it shows up. So how can you be always ready?

  1. make a list of super easy tasks that can be done anywhere
  2. bring small chunks of work with you like notes you need to send out, articles to catchup on, bookmarks to sort etc. Using electronic devices can be a great help.
  3. make those small time slots count – as soon as you know there will be extra time available pull up your list and pick the first item.

 

“Your Best Just Got Better” book contains a much more useful material if you interested in continuous development and finding way of improving your performance I recommend that you check it out. I think this is most highlighted book in my Kindle books collection.

Reading Workflow

Staying informed and making the best use of the information available is not an easy task if you consider the wealth of information available online. Over the last couple of months I’ve build a workflow which helps me deal with my reading. There are four elements in my little reading system: Discovery, Consumption, Retention, Action.
The primary tool which let’s my make the most of reading and helps me support this process is Instapaper. It’s fantastic web application that connects all the dots in my system. Although it’s geared toward iOS users (there are great apps for iPhone and iPad) I’m getting a ton of use on my laptop, Android phone and Kindle. If you look for an application to manage your reading I would give it a serious thought.

Discovery

There are two primary ways of discovering new and interesting content. First is Google Reader which let’s me subscribe to RSS feeds of favorite blogs and sites. My second way of finding content is Twitter and with good mix of similar minded people I can always find best content. Google+ is worth mentioning here as well although for me it’s primary discussion forum I suspect that over time it will become a information source.

Once I come across an interesting post or article I clip it into Instapaper or if I’m using my phone I add it to an app called Everpaper.

Consumption

My primary ways for consuming content are my laptop, smartphone and Kindle. Again Instapaper proves to be invaluable tool to make this possible. Ability to access my items on laptop and smartphone is very convenient but what’s more important is that I can send daily digest of 10 most recent articles into my Kindle. Additionally if I have a large number of articles to go through I can generate a file with all of them and then email it to my Kindle. Support for Kindle is one of the primary reasons I’m using Instapaper.

Retention

When I come across a particularly interesting article or blog post which I would like to keep I save it into my Pinboard account. This is my primary bookmarking service which lets me store my favorites online and have them tagged in every way I want. Ability to jot some note about bookmark and generate public RSS for tags makes it very versatile service. The app may not provide most eye candy but it definitely does get job done in quick and effective way. It’s worth to mention that Instapaper allows me to send any article to Pinboard. So each time I favorite an item it gets send to my bookmarking service for future reference. Then on weekly basis I review my recent items and add additional tags and notes if necessary.

Action

The point of increasing your knowledge is to make use out of it. For me there are three primary forms in which I interact with the content I found useful. First one is to share the content on Twitter, Tumbler or Google+. Second way is to use saved articles as inspiration for my own writing. For that I use a combination of WriteMonkey and text files to put down my thoughts and ideas and then publish on this site. A third option is to implements some of the ideas. This can be a tricky thing as it’s easy to collect dozens of ideas and not test any. In order to counter that I try to add only one to two things into my task manager and see how things work. Other ideas end up on my productivity mind map where I collect handy tips and tricks for later experimentation.

How to cook ideas?

If you want to learn bit more about mind mapping and idea generation I recommend listening to recent episode of Mac Power Users podcast: Cooking ideas.David and Katie, the hosts of the show, describe in detail how they use their Apple devices to create mind maps, outlines and which software was the most effective.

Although I’m a non-Mac user I still enjoy listening to this podcast and learning different ways of improving my computer skills.

I have two favorite tools for cooking ideas. First is Freeplane which is a free mind mapping application. The program is very scalable letting you choose if you want to use just the bare bones of the features or go all crazy and play with hundreds of available options. My second tool is UV Outliner. As name suggest it’s an outlining application that can be used for almost anything including simple but effective task management.

I switch between both applications depending on my needs. I find that mind mapping helps me find a structure within an unstructured idea whereas outlining lets me capture stuff that already has some structure.

Meetings are ok

Meetings get a lot of bad press. They are pictured as the main evil in any workplace just after email. When we talk about meeting the primary image is that it’s long, boring and low value event that everyone has to attend. Many try to ban them completely or reduce them significantly.
Meetings are not inherently good or bad. What has happened is too many people abused the idea and purpose of many, many meetings and converted them in to this hated monster that is now.

Meetings are here to stay, they are simple a fact of an office life. We may not like them but just like taking out the trash we have to do them.

But when you think of meetings they are actually ok. It’s an excellent form of exchanging ideas, making decisions, discussing the goals and direction of the company or providing an update about progress and issues with current work. Think of some good examples of meeting that you had in the past. Things were running smooth, people were active and engaged. At the end everyone left feeling that something good has been done and that meeting was productive.

So how can you repeat that and get the same positive effect every time you organise a meeting:

Purpose

clear purpose of a meeting. There are there three generic type:

  1. idea generation
  2. decision
  3. update

Stay on Course

keep the meeting to the point if the topic is project Y then this is the only thing to be discussed. See Parkinson’s Law a task expands to the amount of time given so it the meeting if your don’t stick to your agenda then you’re likely get side tracked.

Time

Specific time allocation: 15min, 30min, 45min, 1h. Once you know the purpose and the topics it’s relatively easy to determine how much time is needed. Stick to it so the meeting doesn’t overrun.

Attendees

Correct number and level of attendees. If the meeting is about making decisions then people who can make them should be there. If you need to update your team make sure they are all there so you don’t have to repeat the message to every single person.

These four elements that can help you make the meetings better. If you are mostly attending the meetings see if you can influence the organiser. When you see them putting together another boring and long meeting ask them about it. See if they know what they want to achieve with it. Perhaps over time they will change their approach especially if the get to experience a smooth and engaging meetings.