How I Work…

A couple of people have sent me a list of questions entitled ‘How I work’, here is my completed list.

Number of unread emails right now?

  • Personal (Gmail) – 15 / Work (Outlook) – 2

I keep personal and work email separate, and try to batch process email.  I have no notifications on my PC or phone.  I don’t believe in endlessly pursuing Inbox Zero.

First app checked in the morning?

  • Outlook, then the Guardian newspaper.

First thing you do when you come into work?

  • Drink my coffee, wait and look out of the window peacefully for 10 minutes. I use this time to recover from my commute and settle myself for the day.

What is your email management strategy?

  • I ditched ‘filing’ email a long time ago. Automatic folders for common emails, a single archive for everything else.

Most essential app when traveling?

  • Daily Commute – The Trainline App / Otherwise – Uber

How do you keep yourself calm and/or focused?

  • Pause. Deep Breath. Carry On.   The key is the length of the pause if something is really bothering me, then the pause will be longer.

What’s your perspective or approach to work/life balance?

  • I change the word ‘balance’ for ‘blend’ – I don’t live to work, but I know when to switch between the two to protect the ‘crystal moments

Are there any work rituals critical to your success?

  • Not really – although I always carry a notebook, as much as I love Evernote as a second brain, I need a blank paper page to help focus.

Location:

  • Work – Central London, in the Shard
  • Home – My Ikea standing desk

Current computers:

  • Work – HP ProBook G4 running Windows 10
  • Home – Old Dell desktop as a media player/server & Ipad Air

Current mobile devices:

  • iPhone 7 / Kindle / Apple Watch 3

What’s your workspace like?

  • Organised, clear – at the start of the day

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or lifehack?

  • I’m pretty good at batch reading and processing email on my phone whilst on the train, saves a lot of time in the office. I think this is a good way to use time, whilst listening to music or podcasts.

What everyday thing are you better at than anybody else?

  • I put together an Excel spreadsheet pretty quickly.

What are you currently reading?

  • I’m trying to read more in 2018, and review as many of those books on my blog. This weekend I started reading The Rules of People by Richard Templar

What’s your sleep routine like?

  • Pretty good – I get to sleep around 11pm, up at 5.23am – I like odd alarm times. We have a dual control electric blanket that we use in the Winter to warm the bed, which helps me get to sleep quickly.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

  • Keep moving, even if its the wrong direction, you can course correct – but you must keep moving.

Why I’m giving up on Inbox Zero

I’m giving up on Inbox Zero.

To be fair, I think I’ve tried them all.  Every system.  They all work perfectly, I can get my Inbox Zero badge easily, the system gets implemented and my Inbox reaches Zero.

But. It’s a game that never ends, and the rules are wrong. 

Inbox Zero doesn’t mean I have achieved the things that are critical for me today, it means I played the game.  Incoming requests get moved to my calendar or added to my task list, and I won.  A badge.

I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that the velocity of infinity is such that I will never reach the end of this game, so I’m going to settle for keeping things ‘under control’.

Now, I have built myself a few rules:

  • I arbitrarily set myself a mental limit,  based on how busy things are at present.  If my inbox has 50 items, all good. If it’s 200, then it’s busy and that’s all good. It’ll come back.
  • I use my inbox as a to-do list, and use my calendar to book time to deep work on items.
  • I’ve switched off all the notifications and removed access to my work email from personal devices.  Bye, bye dopamine hits.
  • I’ve stopped fighting urgency with urgency, asking people to message or call me if something really needs my immediate attention.

So far, so good.  I spend less time in my inbox, achieving zero, and more time actually working on the things that matter to me and contributing to the priorities of the role I have.

If I couple this mindset with the only rule I use on prioritisation, I think I have the right balance:

One thing at a time.
Most important thing first.
Start now.

So, I’m giving up on Inbox Zero. Think on.

Productivity in Customer Success

If you are in a Customer Success or Service role, you’ve probably struggled with productivity.  Your calendar and inbox are at the mercy of your customers, and careful planning can disappear with a single customer interaction.

I’ve spent thirty years in customer-facing roles, and have encountered every type of interruption, derailing my plans frequently.

When you need to achieve some deep work, some interruption-free time is needed, where you can maximise your productivity. This sometimes feels at odds with any role where you are customer facing and need to be responsive.

However, I’ve developed some tactics that I have found helpful to keep my days on track, even when I’ve needed to be driven by customer needs and their schedules:

Embrace

Firstly – embrace the chaos.  Detaching yourself from the emotions of a plan being derailed ensures you stay insulated from any impact.  If you become upset by broken plans, it’ll make it harder to get back on track.

Reactive vs Proactive

A key skill is knowing exactly what mode you need to be in at any time.  Having the right level of information or alerts set up so that you can switch to a reactive mode when you need to, allows you to focus fully on being proactive.   When you need to focus on customers either through planned (ideal) or unplanned interactions, knowing that you are in a reactive mode helps you stay focused.

Find a friend

Work to find people on your team who can help you when you need to protect your time. Either through delegation or peer to peer support, find people who can support you when deadlines approach and you need to commit to something away from your front line customer commitments.

Knowing that you have someone to hand-off a critical issue to, or to have your back when you need to take yourself away from the front-line to complete a task, is essential.

Protect some time

Isolate slices of time when you can work ‘offline’, either a day a week or a couple of hours a day that allows you get on with the things that are not customer facing.   I often use an hour at start and end of each day to get on with my to-do list. The first hour sets the tone for productivity over the day, and I find that if I tick off a key item when I am at my most productive, I can finish other smaller items in between reactive work later in the day.

Over the years I have been able to build in a working from home day, where I don’t plan any meetings and focus on my 3P’s – planning, preparation and projects.  Even if you have a culture where working from home is not allowed, you could introduce a ‘no customer meetings’ day where you focus on offline tasks.

Protect more time

Use your calendar to protect the things that get ‘bumped’ really easily, learning time, meetings, 1:1’s are all important and mustn’t be left to chance.

Your calendar is your friend here, defining regular timeslots, colour coding and scheduling the important things means that you know exactly how much time you have to be reactive.

One amazing piece of advice I picked up from an old boss was to review my time and divide into key categories.  xx% on customer-facing activities, xx% on 1:1’s and team development etc.

The key here is funding your rules, and protecting your time.

Optimise the systems

Try and remove the things that slow you down, one specific area is multiple systems.  Moving between workflows and systems creates friction that eats away at your time and limits your availability. Look carefully at your workflow and see if you can eliminate the time wasters.

A key productivity decision for me was to remove all the folders in my email.  For many years, I carefully filed things into folders, sub-folders and sub-sub-folders.  I soon realised I was spending 3/4 seconds figuring out a home for each message, and STILL searching for things.

I moved to a single archive solution, and learned how to search properly – and saved myself the time and effort of filing all those emails!

Reduce decisions

Try and break down decisions to be handled by data and heuristics.  I like to use simple processes to help me make decisions which can then be delegated or made into processes.

In my first role as a team leader, I quickly became sucked into schedule and rota discussions. I quickly laid out a set of rules and a simple spreadsheet and eliminated the discussions, to give me back more time.

I also believe that checklists are a great way to take decision making away from your brain, and just ensure that things get done quickly and accurately.  Nearly every team leadership role I have held has had some kind of daily or weekly checklist to ensure that I don’t have to process reminders.

Final Words

In any customer-facing role that is primarily reactive, it’s easy to get sucked into calls and meetings and to see your day disappear. With some light planning and a flexible and agile approach to your time management, you can make and find time to be proactive as well.

Here we go

Already, a proliferation of blog posts to help with your productivity:

Are you returning to work with a full inbox? Are you suffering from email overload?  Five ways to escape those ‘return to work’ blues.

Frame the problem differently.

You might have ‘x’ amount of emails in your inbox, but framing the number differently will help. Are the emails opportunities for sales? Opportunities to connect? To Learn?  At the very least, opportunities to do great work and take pride.

It seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that being back at work, and busy is a bad thing.

The alternative to busy might not be exactly what you wish for.

If you feel a little overwhelmed on your return from the holiday season, then try adjusting your lens a little.  Try and see the list of tasks as opportunities. Not in that twee, cliche way that people often use the word.

I have an ‘opportunity’ for you.

Rather, see these as real opportunities to move one step towards your goals, your objectives, your strategies, your grand plan.

If they aren’t opportunities. Discard them.

Migrating to Evernote #2 – Organisation

This is the second part of my Migrating to Evernote series.  Part One is here.

Evernote has some excellent ways to organise your work – I use both notebooks (individual notes get stored in a notebook), and stacks (piles of notebooks).

I have also created a few other individual notebooks with specific uses.

Here’s how my navigation looks:

A quick explanation:

  • _inbox  – where everything comes in, all my default actions happen in here – and once a week, I sweep through and file things in the right place
  • _people – I’m using this as a simple CRM – capturing key stakeholders I am working with, and notes on them as well as tags to indicate workflow stages (more on that later)
  • 9 Spokes – my work ‘stack’ with a series of Notebooks on key projects or workstreams
  • Favourite Tweets – exactly as it says, I do a lot of my networking and connections through Twitter and this notebook is automated to receive anything I mark as a ‘favourite’ through an IFTTT applet
  • MattR_Personal – personal reading, record keeping, multiple notebooks
  • MattR_WebClients – a notebook for each of the websites I help manage and support
  • Templates – some useful templates, meeting minutes, 1:1 forms etc.

That’s it. I try to keep the top level as simple as possible so it’s easy to navigate and find things, although searching is the key to finding things fast.

Evernote Tags – keep it simple

You can tag any note, with unlimited tags.

With this much power, it’s tempting to file everything into very granular places, and then use hundreds of tabs to cross-reference your notes.

However, Evernote has a great search facility (more on that later), so you can find anything, anytime.

With this in mind, I use tags as a way of keeping track of workflow. Any note that needs to have progress tracked, gets assigned a stage in the workflow; idea/todo/in progress/done. I clear down the tags on a regular basis to ensure that I see the right status of items that are currently tagged.

In my people folder, I mark contacts as to call/follow up/action to act as my simple CRM.

Here’s how my tag list looks:

With stacks & notebooks defining your structure, and tags defining your workflow, you should be able to set Evernote up to support your knowledge capture and handling to your specifications.

In part 3 of my series – I’ll be looking at how I use Evernote to gather and capture information.

If you want to try Evernote for yourself – please use this link.

Migrating to Evernote #1

For many years I had been a OneNote devotee, with a work culture that encouraged using the free software, there really wasn’t an alternative for an electronic note-taking solution.

However, some recent problems with synchronisation and organisation meant I wanted to find another solution.  I’ve recently made the move to Evernote, and I thought I’d capture some tips for anyone planning the same move.

Why Evernote?

I mainly use paper for note taking, removing the barrier between me and anyone I am meeting with and allowing me some creativity.  I enjoy the act of writing something down, I use Moleskine books and disposable fountain pens.

However, over the years I have discovered that having a second brain is also really useful, so I have become dependent on electronic notes as a kind of wiki to back up my brain.

I spent a lot of time evaluating my needs and my ecosystem and came to the conclusion that Evernote had the best solution for me, combined with reliable syncing across PC and IOS devices, and a layout and workflow that seemed to fit my way of thinking.

Moving from OneNote to Evernote

Once I had committed, this was actually the easiest step. Evernote has the ability to Import from OneNote books – open your Evernote client and select FILE, IMPORT, MICROSOFT ONENOTE:

The wizard will hand hold you through the process.

Using that function I was quickly able to pull in my multiple Notebooks from OneNote.  The whole process took less and ten minutes, leaving me with all of my OneNote items listed in a single notebook, but with the taxonomy I had built in OneNote applied as Evernote tags.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how I have defined my organisation in Evernote, and how I use notebooks and tags.  If you want to try Evernote for yourself – please use this link.