Effective Calendar Management

CalendarWe all know that in the big picture of things time is our most valuable asset and because your calendar is your trusted system for managing your time, it makes sense to optimize your calendar. Here are some strategies for effective calendar management.

Only use your calendar for date-specific appointments

David Allen explains in Getting Things Done, that the only things that should appear on your calendar are date-specific appointments. That means things like doctor appointments, meetings, and anything that can only be attended to during that time. I’ve actually started to refer to these more as “agreements” than “appointments” because agreements mean that much more to me. Rescheduling an appointment is something that can be done, but rescheduling an agreement seems more daunting and less viable. By using the term “agreement” (which acts as a trigger), I’m less likely to even think about altering what I’ve committed to with someone else…or even myself.

Schedule your personal time

During your weekly review it is important you make appointments in your calendar for things in your life that don’t relate to work. Is your partner out of town so you have to cover him/her on something? When do you need to drop the kids off at school? Do you have a doctor’s appointment? Does your daughter have a  recital? Are you traveling? All of these things are the “big rocks” that should be added to your calendar before anything else. You also need to make time for your own well-being, whether it is going to the gym, going for a run or simply reading a book. If you don’t block out time in your calendar for personal activities work will “eat up” all your time and you will end up with failed relationships, poor health and increased stress.

Align your schedule with your priorities

Most business professionals are extremely busy, but all too many spend their time doing the wrong things. We all have the same amount of time on our hands. What sets successful people apart is the way they prioritize what to do during that limited time. So, the most important thing you need to do is to schedule your priorities. If you don’t schedule your priorities, your calendar will get filled up with other stuff and you wont be spending your time on the highest value items. Schedule the things that really matter first. For me, this is my family time, my weekly review, priority projects, 1:1s with my direct reports and any major commitments I may have. You will never be able to do everything you set out to, so you need to make sure you don’t leave the high-impact things undone.

Schedule your priorities early in the day

Schedule these items in the morning and don’t make them more than 90 minutes. Why? Because if you schedule them in the morning and you get “overtaken by events” and have to do something else you can bump a lower priority item off later in the day. Also, there is ample evidence showing that people’s energy, concentration and effectiveness is greater in the morning than the afternoon. There is also lots of evidence that after an hour and a half people’s effectiveness drops off significantly so if you have a large project you are much better scheduling multiple 90 appointments than to try to slog thru a multiple-hour task.

Schedule multiple 30-minute appointments to process your “inboxes”

For most people this is email but if your honest with yourself you have multiple incoming queues of stuff. If you follow GTD then you have your “unprocessed” queue of stuff. You may have an “inbox” on your desk, you may have incoming calls, you may have RSS feeds, you may have the incoming stream of social media or other incoming queues of “stuff” that needs to be processed. Schedule time to process your stuff to zero. Once you have added these items to your calendar, then whatever free blocks of time are left can be filled with meetings and other lower priority items.

Be ruthless in assessing the value of recurring meetings

Another thing you need to do is to assess how you have allocated your time. Open your calendar and look back at your recurring meetings. Were they worth the time you invested in them? I’ll bet they started out with the best of intentions and actually provided value but over time, they decayed into less value. Take a critical look at your recurring meetings and ask yourself if they continue to be worth the time investment.  Ideally, you will delete these from your calendar. If you’re not comfortable with removing them, then maybe you can reduce their recurrence from daily to weekly or weekly to every other week.

How do you manager your calendar to ensure you are doing the most important things?

 

Perform a Year-End Review (because New Year’s resolutions don’t work)

Year End 2013This is the time of year we all do self reflection and resolve to improve ourselves in the new year.  As most everyone knows making resolutions like “I’m going to get healthy” rarely are successful.  The main reason for this is these goals are not put in a context that will allow for long-term success.  Once the initial “eat better and get to the gym” wears off and we are stuck in the daily grind of our lives we revert to our old habits.

If you really want to resolve to accomplish something and truly make a commitment with yourself, then you need to create a environment for long-term success.  This means adopting GTD and incorporating your desired outcome into your trusted system.

I recommend you do a “Year-End Review” to reflect on last year and project into next year.  Then if something comes out of that self reflection that you really are willing to commit to, then you need to incorporate it into your system and work your system every week via the weekly review.  By using this approach (as opposed to a new year’s resolution) you will have a much better chance of long-term success.

The year-end review is similar to a weekly review but at a much higher level.  Here are the questions I ask myself:

Looking back on 2013:

  • What were your wins for the year?
  • What were the risks you took?
  • What is your unfinished business from this year that will carry forward to 2014?
  • What are you most happy about completing?
  • Who were the people that had the greatest impact on your life this year?
  • What was your biggest surprise?
  • What did you give back to your community?

Looking forward to 2014:

  • What would you like to be your biggest win to be this year?
  • What are you planning to do to improve yourself?
  • What would you be most happy about completing in the coming year?
  • What would you most like to change about yourself?
  • What are you looking forward to learning?
  • What do you think your biggest risk will be?
  • What about your work, are you most committed to changing and improving?

Next, it is critical to assess how you have allocated your time over the course of the last year. This is critical because time is your most valuable asset. There are only 24 hours in a day and therefore you need to make the most of each one of those hours.  To complete my Year-End Review I schedule my calendar for the new year. I schedule all of my recurring meetings to stop recurring at the end of the year so I will have a blank calendar in the new year. This way I get to reassess the value of those meetings.

Open your calendar and look back at your recurring meetings. Were they worth the time you invested in them? I’ll bet they started out with the best of intentions and actually provided value but over time, they decayed into less value. Take a critical look at your recurring meetings and ask yourself if they continue to be worth the time investment.  Ideally, you will delete these from your calendar. If you’re not comfortable with removing them, then maybe you can reduce their  recurrence from daily to weekly or weekly to every other week.

The next thing you need to do is to schedule your priorities. This is absolutely critical! If you don’t schedule your priorities, your calendar will get filled up with other stuff and you wont be spending your time on the highest value items. Schedule the things that really matter first. For me, this is my family time, my weekly review, priority projects, 1:1s with my direct reports and any major commitments I may have.

Schedule these items in the morning and don’t make them more than 90 minutes. Why? Because if you schedule them in the morning and you get “overtaken by events” and have to do something else you can bump a lower priority item off later in the day. Also, there is ample evidence showing that people’s energy, concentration and effectiveness is greater in the morning than the afternoon. There is also lots of evidence that after an hour and a half people’s effectiveness drops off significantly so if you have a large project you are much better scheduling multiple 90 appointments than to try to slog thru a multiple hour task.

Schedule multiple 30 minute appointments to process you “inboxes.” For most people this is email but if your honest with yourself you have multiple incoming queues of stuff. If you follow GTD then you have your “unprocessed” queue of stuff. You may have an “inbox” on your desk, you may have incoming calls, you may have RSS feeds, you may have the incoming stream of social media or other incoming queues of “stuff” that needs to be processed. Schedule time to process your  stuff to zero.

Once you have added these items to your calendar, then whatever free blocks of time are left can be filled with meetings and other lower priority items.

Do a Year-end Review and I guarantee you will feel better and start the new year off on the track to success!

How I use Evernote to run my life (part 2)

Evernote LogoA few weeks ago I outlined how I set up Evernote to be the basis of my Trusted System that I use to run my life.  Now, I am going to share how I use this system in my daily life.

The beauty of Evernote is it’s friction-free ability to get “stuff” into Evernote so you can process it later and ensure you never forget anything that is actionable.  This is critical to having a Trusted System and the stress-free productivity that goes with it.  Almost every morning during the week I go to the gym and alternate between Pilates, cardio  and strength training workouts.

On the cardio days, I use the elliptical trainer and my iPad to read while listening to a up-beat playlist to motivate me to keep my heart rate up.  I start out reading the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and LA Times to catch up on what is going on in the world.  If I find an article that I want to keep, I use the “share” function to email it and I send it to my Evernote email address.

Keeping up with information

RSSThen I go on to process my RSS Feeds via Feedly. I love Feedly as my replacement for Google Reader and Feedler Pro. It works across the web on Mac or PC, iOS and Android so no matter what device I am using, I can process my feeds and it will sync across devices.

Sharing information with the world

BufferIf I find an article that I want to share with the world, I use Buffer to tweet it and post it to LinkedIn.  I highly recommend Buffer because it allows you to schedule your tweets and posts so they don’t all come at the same time. This allows your followers to consume your tweets and posts easier.

Leveraging audio content

PodcastsOn strength training  days, I listen to podcasts on my iPhone with the Apple Podcasts player. I use Fast Ever to add the location of the bookmarks that I place in the podcasts to follow-up on them later in Evernote.

Processing email to zero

When I am processing email and I come across an action that is more than two minutes, I forward it to Evernote and drag the email to my Archived folder in case I ever need to original email.

  Processing web sites

web clipperIf I am on the web or I click thru to a web site and see something actionable or a reference item I want to save for future use, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip the article to Evernote.

Processing physical paper

scansnapIf I have a physical piece of paper that needs to get into my trusted system I use my ScanSnap to scan it to Evernote. One button is all it takes!

Capturing ideas or actionable items on the go

Fast EverIf I come up with an idea or someone tells me something actionable, I use Fast Ever to input it via text or use Sound Ever to record it as a voice memo.

Capturing ideas or actionable items while driving

Siri

Similarly, If I am driving, I use Siri to do a voice to text conversion to send it to Evernote.  Try it. It works surprisingly well.

All of these processes end up with new actionable items waiting for me in my -Unprocessed folder in Evernote ready to process into the appropriate action and context for that item.  I can’t think of a better way to have a friction-free way to getting stuff into my trusted system than using Evernote.  And for this reason, Evernote has become the most important application I have on all my devices.

Layering and consuming audio content with Audible and Podcasts

Podcasts2Recently Apple has hit a milestone of one billion Podcast subscriptions. This made me reflect how much information I am able to consume via Audible books and iTunes Podcasts. The spoken word can be a powerful addition to your information consumption portfolio. I use Apple’s Podcast app to consume podcasts and Audible’s app to consume books. I listen to Audible books in the car on my daily commute and podcasts on my iPhone in the gym when I am doing strength training or stretching.

Listening to content connects with your brain in a different way than reading does. I can tell you from experience that I can, for example, work out on the Precor elliptical machine at the gym and read RSS feeds in Feedly on my iPad while listening to an upbeat “Cardio Workout” playlist on my phone at the same time. But, it is impossible for me to listen to a podcast and read at the same time. Our brains must process both of these content sources with the same part of the brain and therefore they short-circuit each other.

Similarly, I can easily listen to music or a podcast while driving but I could never read while driving. There are two primary use cases where I consume spoken word content – while I am working out (resistance training and stretching as opposed to cardio) and when I am in the car during my commute.

Multitasking has scientifically been proven to be a myth over and over. What we are actually doing is context switching and it is a sub-optimal way to process information. How then can I read RSS feeds, listen to music and use the elliptical trainer at the same time? It sounds like multitasking but it is not. It is called Layering.

Layering, is simultaneously performing several tasks that require different “channels” of mental functioning such as visual, auditory, mental or language. The only time “multitasking” does work efficiently is when you are layering different channels. This is why you can listen to music while driving a car with no discernible loss of effectiveness but you can not text while driving (even if you are using Siri to dictate your texts) and not lose effectiveness.

I also find listening to an Audible book that I have read previously enhances my comprehension over just re-reading it. Once again, this is because of the layering effect of listening to an audio source is processed by your brain in a different region than reading does. By matching the optimal information source to the optimal “layer” you can be more productive. This practice allows me to be productive in what would otherwise be “dead time” from a continual improvement point of view.

What activities do you “layer” effectively?

Quick! Save your Google Reader data before it’s gone for good

Google Reader RIPBy now I’m sure you have heard about Google’s decision to kill Google Reader.  If you have a Google Reader account you only have until Monday the 15th to save your feeds!  You can download a copy of your Google Reader data via Google Takeout until 12PM PST July 15, 2013.

I have found using RSS feeds is the best way to keep on top of all the news and developments in order to be successful in today’s business and technical world. By using RSS feeds I can subscribe to a wide variety of sources and quickly scan what is going on in the world.  I consider this a critical part of my overall continual learning experience.

I treat my incoming RSS Feeds just like my email inbox and try to process all my feeds to zero every day.  Now that Google Reader is dead I use Feedly in a browser or on my iPhone or iPad to process my feeds.  I do not use any of the “pretty” feed aggregators that try to make a custom magazine because it is just too inefficient for the volume of feeds I process every day.

With Feedly I can quickly scan the headlines to determine which ones I want to click on to get more information.  Once I click on a particular item I get a short synopsis of the article or post and then if I want to actually read it I click on the link and it takes me to the web site where I can read the original article.  If I want to keep the article to read later or for some kind of follow up, I just select the email option and send it to my Evernote email address to process later.  If the article is something I want to share with others I use the “Send to Twitter” option to tweet it.

I currently subscribe to 70 RSS feeds which result in hundreds posts per day and I am able to process them in about 15 minutes.  This allows me to keep up on all the news and events from sources I consider relevant to my interests, career and life.  I treat my feeds very darwinian in that if a particular feed is not providing relevant information I delete it so my RSS feeds are constantly changing.  Frequently, I subscribe to a feed to try it out only to decide it does not make the cut and is delete in a week or so.  I also remove feeds that have dedicated iOS apps like CNet News, Boy Genius Report, Engadget, Tech Crunch, The Verge etc. because I prefer to view that content in the native app due to its optimized formatting.

Every morning I spend about 30 minutes scanning the new headlines. If I see something I want to follow-up on I use the “send to Evernote” feature to see it to my “unprocessed” notebook in Evernote. This allows me to review it later in the course of my normal processing to determine what, if anything, I want to do with that specific piece of information.

I pride myself on knowing information before others and daily processing of RSS feeds in the morning at the gym is the key to this.  It gives me a competitive advantage in work and life.  Only subscribe to sites that inform you directly or entertain you.  Try to get a cross section of opinion and analysis.  Don’t just consume information that is an echo chamber for your point of view!

Information “overload” is here to stay. There is no stopping it. So, rather than be a luddite and unplug completely, use RSS to keep up with what is important to you and the things that you need to get done in a more efficient way.

How do you process your feeds now that Google Reader is gone?

Yearly Review Part 2 – Calendar Management

calendarThe second most important thing to do at the end of each year is to assess how you have allocated your time. This is critical because time is your most valuable asset. There are only 24 hours in a day and therefore you need to make the most of each one of those hours.

To complete my Yearly Review I schedule my calendar for the new year. I schedule all of my recurring meetings to stop recurring at the end of the year so I will have a blank calendar in the new year. This way I get to reassess the value of those meetings.

Open your calendar and look back at your recurring meetings. Were they worth the time you invested in them? I’ll bet they started out with the best of intentions and actually provided value but over time, they decayed into less value. Take a critical look at your recurring meetings and ask yourself if they continue to be worth the time investment.  Ideally, you will delete these from your calendar. If you’re not comfortable with removing them, then maybe you can reduce their  recurrence from daily to weekly or weekly to every other week.

The next thing you need to do is to schedule your priorities. This is absolutely critical! If you don’t schedule your priorities, your calendar will get filled up with other stuff and you wont be spending your time on the highest value items. Schedule the things that really matter first. For me, this is my family time, my weekly review, priority projects, 1:1s with my direct reports and any major commitments I may have.

Schedule these items in the morning and don’t make them more than 90 minutes. Why? Because if you schedule them in the morning and you get “overtaken by events” and have to do something else you can bump a lower priority item off later in the day. Also, there is ample evidence showing that people’s energy, concentration and effectiveness is greater in the morning than the afternoon. There is also lots of evidence that after an hour and a half people’s effectiveness drops off significantly so if you have a large project you are much better scheduling multiple 90 appointments than to try to slog thru a multiple hour task.

Schedule multiple 30 minute appointments to process you “inboxes.” For most people this is email but if your honest with yourself you have multiple incoming queues of stuff. If you follow GTD then you have your “unprocessed” queue of stuff. You may have an “inbox” on your desk, you may have incoming calls, you may have RSS feeds, you may have the incoming stream of social media or other incoming queues of “stuff” that needs to be processed. Schedule time to process your  stuff to zero.

Once you have added these items to your calendar, then whatever free blocks of time are left can be filled with meetings and other lower priority items.

How do you manager your calendar?

Lessons Learned from My Disconnected Vacation

Reflections on my “Digital Cleanse”

Earlier this month, my wife Susan and I took a much-needed vacation. We went to the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa which is one of our favorite places on earth. We wanted a place where we could rest, reconnect, and refill our love tanks so we decided to take this vacation without the kids.

As a prerequisite to this time away, I decided to completely unplug from e-mail, social media and my i-Devices. I wanted to experience a complete “digital detox” to see what it would be like.

During the first forty-eight hours, I found myself compulsively trying to check my e-mail, RSS feeds and Twitter accounts. I have a habit of doing this when I am waiting for anything — at the car wash, stopped at a red light, standing in line, or basically any time I have more than a minute of “unproductive time.” It was really hard to resist this habit, but I caught myself, didn’t check, and eventually stopped checking.

The Good

Almost immediately, I saw my attention span increase. About the third or fourth day, I experienced a relaxed calm.  My wife and I did a lot of talking, reading and playing Words With Friends. I didn’t feel the usual hurry-up and-finish pressure I experience in my everyday life. It was great.

The Bad

Then I got back to work.  It was painful. Processing my email and RSS feeds literally took me over a week to catch up.  I was too busy to do my Weekly Review, too busy to process my email to zero, too busy to process my physical inbox to zero. I cancelled my 1:1s with my staff. I was scheduled in back-to-back meetings and I literally remember I didn’t have time to go to the bathroom.

Basically, I was in crisis mode attempting to triage what David Allen call the “latest and loudest.” It was hell.

Conclusions

Reflecting back, it was great unplugging after I got over the initial withdrawals but it was not worth the literally two weeks of pain I endured once I got back to work.  The stress was overwhelming.

Next time, I think I’ll attempt some kind of middle ground. I would do some kind of minimalist checking in and processing in an attempt to find  the correct balance to enjoy the benefits of unplugging without the pain associated with reconnecting.

What are your thought and experiences with a digital cleanse?

Consuming Audio Content with Audible and Podcasts

With Apple’s release of a dedicated Podcast application for iOS, it reminded me of how much information I am able to consume via audio sources. The spoken word can be a powerful addition to your information consumption portfolio.  I use Apple’s Podcast app to consume podcasts and Audible’s app to consume “books on tape.”

Listening to content connects with your brain in a different way than reading does.  I can tell you from experience that I can, for example, work out on the Precor elliptical machine at the gym and read RSS feeds while listening to upbeat music at the same time.  But, it is impossible for me to listen to a podcast and read at the same time.  Our brains must process both of these content sources with the same part of the brain and therefore they short circuit each other.

Similarly, I can easily listen to music or a podcast while driving but I could never read and listen to a audio book while driving. And that is not just in the “no texting while driving” context of not keeping you attention on the road, it is true when I am the passenger too.  There are two primary use cases where I consume this the of spoken word content – while I am working out (resistance training and stretching as opposed to cardio) and when I am in the car during my commute.  This practice allows me to be productive in what would otherwise be “dead time” from a continual improvement point of view.

Multitasking has scientifically been proven to be a myth over and over.  What we are actually doing is context switching and it is a sub-optimal way to process information.  How then can I read RSS feeds, listen to music and use the elliptical trainer at the same time?  It sounds like multitasking but it is not.  It is called Layering.

Layering, is simultaneously performing several tasks that require different “channels” of mental functioning such as visual, auditory, mental or language.  The only time multitasking does work efficiently is when you are layering different channels.  This is why you can listen to music while driving a car with no discernible loss of effectiveness but you can not text while driving (even if you are using Siri to dictate your texts) and not lose  effectiveness.

I also find listening to an Audible book that I have read previously enhances my comprehension over just re-reading it.  Once again, this is because of the layering effect that listening to an audio source is process by your brain in a different region than reading does.  So, get a podcast app and Audible’s app on your smartphone and start listening.

Processing Information in Today’s World

How should a busy CIO get information he or she needs in today’s world?

Gone are the days where the newspaper and monthly industry magazines were the best method to get our news. The Internet has made real-time access to large amounts of news fast and the era of tablets is ushering in ease and portability.

Trying to keep current in today’s sea of information is definitely a challenge. This is especially true for the CIO who’s trying to stay on top of technology trends, many of which are changing every week.

Personally I follow about 60 trusted news sources and blogs every day. I’m likely very similar to you, I want as much relevant information as possible in the shortest amount of time Here are some tactics to help you become more efficient with your time and information processing.

Use RSS to keep up with headlines

If you aren’t an RSS user, you should be. It’s an excellent way to become efficient with your time and a good way to get through a bunch of information to find the important stuff quickly. Here is a previous post on how I process RSS feeds. Only subscribe to sites that inform you directly or entertain you. Try to get a cross section of opinion and analysis. Don’t just consume information that is an echo chamber for your point of view!

According to Clay Johnson in his book “The Information Diet”, we should be consuming information that is as close to the source as possible, then researching if it is something that we need to know. This is a good way to approach the RSS feeds that you follow. Using Feedler Pro on my iPad and iPhone allows me access to my Google Reader feeds which allows me easy access to a nice pool of headlines to scan during the day.

Every moring I spend about 30 minutes scanning the new headlines. If I see something I want to follow up on I use the “send to Evernote” feature to see it to my “unprocessed” notebook in Evernote. This allows me to review it later in the course of my normal processing to determine what, if anything, I want to do with that specific piece of information.

Information “overload” is here to stay. There is no stopping it. So, rather than be a luddite and unplug completely, use RSS to keep up with what is important to you and the things that you need to get done in a more efficient way.

Processing to Zero

One of the most important concepts of GTD is processing and when you are processing it is critical you process to zero. What do I mean by processing to zero? It simply means you completely clean out the input queue. There are huge psychological benefits to getting to zero that are not realized if you leave even a few things in your input queue.

What are input queues? The most obvious examples are your email inbox and an inbox that sits on your desk. They are collection areas for inputs that you do not control. People email you and you have little control over how much email you get, how often people email you or what they email you about. I will have a future post dedicated to email and how to most effectively deal with this modern day time sync but for now it is just one of many input queues that you need to process to zero.

Some examples of other input queues are RSS feeds, Twitter Feeds, SMS texts, phone calls or possibly some kind of online system like Helpdesk Tickets or ERP approvals that you are responsible for dealing with or approving. It really does not matter what kind of input queue it is if you are responsible for it then you need to process it to zero.

There is a good body of science that shows multitasking is very inefficient. The reason for this is depending on what type of job you are doing once you context switch from one context to another it can take anywhere from a few minutes up to 15 minutes for the brain to fully context switch back to the original activity. This is one of the worst effects of the always on, always connected world we live in.

The worst offender of this time suck is the pop-up “toast” or audible chime alerting you to a new email. We can’t help ourselves and we feel compelled to check the email just to see if it is important – after all it will only take a second.

Immediately turn off “email toast” to stop sucking away your productivity!

The best practice for dealing with input queues is to schedule uninterrupted time several times a day to process your queues. I schedule four half hour blocks of time on my calendar to process the three main queues in my life – inbox on my desk, my email inbox and the phone calls I need to make. I put “process email/inbox/calls” on my calendar early in the morning, in the late morning before lunch, immediately after lunch, and then again in the late afternoon before I leave for the day.

I use RSS feeds in order to keep up on all the things I need to know and I use the combination of Google Reader and Feedler Pro on my iPad at the gym to process my RSS feeds to zero. When doing cardio, I listen to up tempo music on my iPhone to motivate me to keep my heart rate up in the fat burning zone and process all my feeds to zero. It is a wonderful way to keep up with all the changes in the world and workout at the same time.

This will be difficult thing for you to do if you are not accustomed to processing your input queues in uninterrupted batches of time. I have heard all the objections to this approach but trust me there is real science to this as the optimal way to be productive and you will have higher quality outputs in less time. Pretty hard to argue with if you’re really objective.