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More of my Best Advice: For Next lists

Posted by jeggent on 12th December 2014

ForNextIf you missed it, I posted my best advice (recording your accomplishments earlier.  As the year winds down and end of year reports need to be written, I stand by this being great advice!

My next bit of advice is to create a series of “For Next” lists.  I use Microsoft’s OneNote since I have it on my desktop, tablet, and on the web.  You should use whatever system you typically have quick access to.  Even if it is paper and pen.

Then start a lists for the people and groups that you regularly communicate with.  For example, I have a “For Next” lists for my boss and all of the committees that I am on.  Then whenever you think of something that you need to bring up the next time you meet with that person or group, you’ll have it handy.  Then after talking about those items I date them and start another list.  Here is what a “For Next” list might like:

Next
End of year evals
New flatbed scanner quote
Personal time on Tuesday

12/1/14
Website presentation ideas
Conference in January

A “For Next” list is useful as a reminder to to get answers or give updates and to keep a running list of when things were discussed.  Keeping for next lists is an easy way to make all of your meetings more productive.

Cheers!
John

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Seinfeld and Frog Motivation

Posted by jeggent on 20th August 2014

I would watch a show called “Seinfeld and Frog”….

Pick-a-Mix Motivation

MotivationI have read a number of posts and books about productivity and motivation.  The closest I’ve found to being perfect for me is David Allan’s Getting Things Done (Amazon #1 in Time Management).  However GTD doesn’t say much about prioritization and motivation.  So I’ve come up with something of a hybrid of the Seinfeld Productivity Secret (AKA don’t break the chain) and Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog! (Amazon #1 in Total Quality Management).

The Frogs, The Chains, and The Dew

The Frogs

Even when I am doing a great job with the Getting Things Done system I still sometimes procrastinate on important items.  I read Eat That Frog! some time ago but never really got into the practice.  The super short summary of Eat That Frog! is to identify the thing you are least looking forward to doing each day and do that first.  The theory is that if you do the thing you are most dreading first and get it out of the way then you will be more productive the rest of the day.  My problem with the way I had been interpreting this concept is that my frog may not be as valuable an activity as other things.  To make eating frogs work for me, I had to re-define what the frogs were.  I decided that my frog each day would be whatever task is the most important that day.

The Chain

The quick summery of the Seinfeld Productivity Secret is that you check off on the calendar each day that do whatever it is you’ve resolved to do each and every day.  Then, once you have checked off several days in a row you would not want to “break the chain” by not doing your task(s).  My issue with this is that things change for me so much from day to day that I couldn’t identify a single activity to track each (work) day.  So I am adding the idea of the chain to the frog eating.  I will track the frog eating on the calendar and try not to break the chain.

The Dew

As you can see from the picture, I was having some trouble getting a good chain going.  To help get the ball rolling I decided to put something on the line each day.  I basically gave up drinking pop about a year ago because it’s so bad for you.  But I still love it.  When I found these small cans of Mountain Dew I thought they would work well with the whole “frogs/chains” thing.  To get the most benefit out of this system you really should do your frog task in the morning.  When I get my frog eaten in the morning then I allow myself a mini-dew during lunch.

The Summary

Each evening before I leave work, I decide on my frog for the next day and write it on my dry erase board.  The next day when I finish that task, I get to put a check on that day on the calendar and continue my chain.  If I get the task done before lunch then I also get to have some pop with lunch.  Of course you are welcome to try this exact same technique to get motivated and finish more important tasks.  However I think your best bet is to keep reading and create a system that works for you.  Good luck with that.

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My Best Advice

Posted by jeggent on 27th June 2014

biweeklyReportOk, so the title may be overstating things slightly.  However I do feel very strongly about this piece of advice.  This tip doesn’t really qualify as productivity or motivational but I think it’s related to both.

Record and Report Your Accomplishments!

For many years I did not see the value in spending much time recording and reporting my activities.  I felt like my time was better used doing “actual work” rather than talking about what I’ve already done.  I don’t remember exactly what the turning point was; but I do remember that I had several false starts.

— Record —

Having a good system for recording your accomplishments makes this entire process much easier.  I think this is an example of the 80/20 rule.  Most of the content for my reports come from my e-mail in Outlook.  I created an e-mail folder called “Done”.  Everything that could possibly be put on a list of accomplishments simply gets dragged into the Done folder.  My other source for items is my Trello board. I have a “Done” list on my Trello board.  When items are finished off of the other lists they get dragged onto the Done list.  If any other items are done that don’t have an e-mail or a Trello card, it is a simple matter to quickly create a card on the Done list.  Capturing accomplishments in these ways takes very little time or effort.

— Report —

I do a biweekly list of accomplishments and project status updates.  I do a bulleted listing and always keep it to a single page.  As I said before, I had a number of false starts with regular reporting.  Weekly reports were too often, there was often not enough content for a weekly report and I couldn’t stay motivated to do a report each week.  With a monthly report, too many things were being forgotten or dropped for space.  For me a biweekly, high level listing is just perfect.  After creating the report you can archive the Trello cards and delete the e-mails from their Done containers.

— Reward —

There are a number of advantages to creating and sending out a regular update such as this.  The most obvious is that people know that you are working.  Another, maybe less apparent point, is that most people don’t do this.  So you automatically look better by comparison.  Your supervisor will also very much appreciate getting the updates without having to ask.  Then when it comes time to do annual reports or performance reviews, you have a great source of content.  These regular updates have been very helpful to me.  Maybe you would also find some value in doing something similar.

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Application Shortcuts

Posted by jeggent on 13th May 2014

One of my favorite and most used quick tips

is to add Shortcut keys to a couple of applications. If you right click on a program in the Start menu ( Windows 7 and before – not sure about Windows 8 ) and click Properties you can enter a key in the Shortcut key field, Windows will add the “Ctrl + Alt +”.  Then you can launch that program just by pressing Ctrl + Alt + whatever key you selected.  I’ve been using this with Notepad and Calculator for many years.  There are lots of times when I want to paste something into Notepad to remove the formatting or to view or edit something quickly.  I also bring up the Calculator often to do a quick calculation.  I’ve been asked a number of times “how did you do that” when I quickly press Ctrl + Alt + N to bring up Notepad or Ctrl + Alt + C for the Calculator.  It’s just one of those things I’ve done that’s saved me 5 seconds 100s of times.  

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How I use OneNote

Posted by jeggent on 31st January 2014

OneNote

Since I have talked about OneNote in two posts already, I thought I should expand upon how I use this software.  Kind of like how Trello has boards, lists, and cards; OneNote has notebooks, sections, and pages.  Each notebook can contain multiple sections and each section can contain multiple pages.  I only use a single notebook, both for simplicity and because I don’t need more than two layers (sections and pages) to organize my content.

The Structure

So within that single notebook I have a number of sections and those sections each have a number of pages.  You may want to begin with a structure similar to your paper files where the sections are like the folders and the pages are like the… well, pages.  Or you may want to mimic your e-mail folder structure as many of you have probably refined your e-mail over the years.  Some of the sections that I use include Projects, Committees, Systems, People, and ForNext.  Within these sections each page is for information on a specific item, group, or person.

One of My Favorite Things

Of all of the things that I consider to be a component in the system that keeps me organized, maybe my favorite thing is within OneNote.  I have a section called ForNext and each page contains items I want to cover the next time I meet with a given person or group.  If you’ve ever said “I know there was something else I wanted to talk about with you.” then you need a list like this.  This is a sample of what the ForNext page for my boss might look like:

Next

  • Vendor selection
  • Staff training

1/13/14

  • New project
  •  Hardware request
  • Vacation request
The next items I want to discuss are always at the top for quick access.  Once we’ve talked about those items I date that group of things for future reference and begin the new “next” list.

Other Stuff

I have my OneNote connected to a free Microsoft SkyDrive account.  That is how I’m able to have it synced to my Nexus tablet.  The search function in OneNote works really well.  Although I don’t use it much because of my simple structure I can usually find things quickly without searching.  There are lots of other tools within OneNote that I don’t use such as freehand drawing and audio notes.  I think these would be useful for those using a tablet with a stylus and are kind of reminders of Microsoft’s earlier attempts at tablet computers.  Notebooks can also be shared with multiple users.  One other thing that I do use which is kind of nice is dragging highlighted content from a web page into OneNote.  It copies the content and includes a link to the page you were on.  And that is how I use OneNote.  Good luck.

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Trello-ize your work

Posted by jeggent on 24th January 2014

I saw this link yesterday, How we use Trello & Google Docs to make UserVoice better every day which gives a good example of a pretty sophisticated Trello setup.  A great point from the post, which I also give as a warning when I reccommend Trello, is:

“Trello is a VERY open ended product. Trello, purposefully, doesn’t prescribe a “right” way to use it so it requires you to get inside and move the furniture around a bit to get it feeling like home.”

So, while I think it’s a great idea to do a little research and see how others use Trello the best advice I can give is to just start using it know that you may well end up starting over with a different layout.  Having said that, I will describe how I use Trello.  Maybe you can use this as a starting point or just borrow some of these ideas for your setup.

Boards

I only use a single Trello board for work stuff.  The latest updates discussed on the Trello Blog make it sound like using multiple boards is fairly easy.

Lists

Some people use lists as steps in a process (such as in this Trello Introduction Video).  I use lists to represent entirely different conditions.  My lists are Quick, To Do, Waiting, Others Doing, and Done.

Quick:  I’ve only recently added this list (see comment about changing your setup).  This list is for quick little items that will likely never be more than just the title on the card.  I wanted a place to put these items to get them out of my email and my paper notebook.

To Do:  This is the main list of projects.  These are items that I can act on now and the list is sorted by priority.  Most cards begin on this list.  I often paste the contents of an e-mail that led to the card’s creation into the description.  I also enter comments and attach files as needed.  I’ll talk about checklists later in this post.

Waiting:  I move cards from To Do to this Waiting list when I am not able to act on a card because I am waiting for a person or a date or for any other reason.  Every couple of days I review all of the items on this list to see if they can be moved back to the To Do list or if another follow up is needed.  Whenever there is activity on one of these cards I move it to the top of this list.  So cards that have not had any activity will be at the bottom of the list.

Others Doing:  These are items that other people are working on that I still need to track.  I use the labels to indicate who is working on each of these items.

Done:  As cards are completed I move them to this Done list.  They stay on the Done list until I record the accomplishment on a bi-weekly unit report.  After it has been recorded I archive the card.

Checklists

If more than a single step is needed to complete a card I use a checklist.  I enter all of the steps as checklist items.

Tags

A lot of activity related to Trello cards takes place in email.  To make the connection between the two systems without a lot of duplicating I enter tags in the card titles.  For example I will create a card with the “Move community content out of Blackboard #bbmove”.  Then when there is an e-mail related to this project I just include “#bbmove” at the bottom of the e-mail.  Then if I need to find all of the emails related to that Trello card I just search for the text #bbmove.

At a glance

Using all of the structures discussed above I can see a lot of information very quickly on my Trello board.  Since my To Do list is prioritized, the very next thing I should be working on is the next uncompleted checklist item on the top card on my To Do list.  The cards at the bottom of the Waiting list have not had any action on them recently.  Because of the label colors I can look at the Others Doing list and see what each person is working on.

Hopefully I’ve given you some good ideas on using Trello.  Still the most important thing is to be open to changing your Trello setup, it’s super easy with the drag and drop functionality.

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