The Revolution in Work Tools

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Time Management

Franklin-Covey Planner

It’s been asserted that if you are from the Baby Boomer generation, then you are using the widest variety of work tools of any generation.

Call us the Analog generation. We began our careers with legal pads and Bic pens and IBM Selectric typewriters. We were devoted to our Franklin Covey planners (I still miss that brick I used to carry everywhere; the one my daughter used to call my “man purse”) and then we adapted to fax machines. And now, us Boomers are using tablets running Asana, Slack, EverNote, and Facebook. Caught in the middle of this unprecedented shift, Baby Boomers now use $400 MonteBlanc pens while slipping an iPad into the slot in their leather notepads alongside a yellow legal pad.

The truth is that a Copernican revolution is underway in the manner in which work is being done. Have you ever seen a 30 year old carrying a beautiful, leather bound planner to capture their entire work life? Of course not. On the other hand, Baby Boomers just cannot get that pen out of their hands despite the fact that they also are holding a smartphone, which is really a supercomputer with the ability to access nearly all of the world’s recorded information. It is also a digital voice recorder, text and email generator, and an electronic notepad capable of being instantly shared with the world. The digital generation in the workforce has shifted away from these old tools in favor of team collaboration software like Teamwork, Zoho, or Asana in order to accomplish more, in less time in this new virtual workplace. They eschew spiral bound notebooks in favor of keeping all their thinking in EverNote along with their grocery lists. They collaborate with their colleagues around the world, many of whom they have not and may never even meet in person, using cloud-based apps that coordinate team projects better than any other tool in history. And they carry all this around with them, all the time, in their smartphones.

Baby Boomers, it is time to change. If you are over 40, I am talking to you: Drop the pen and back away from the email app! There are much, much better ways to be more productive in less time than filling up legal pad after legal pad with your daily notes and cc’ing emails to scores of colleagues, just in case you know. I feel your pain when you complain that it is too much to learn, too much to keep up with. Walk over to your window, open it, and like the character Howard Beale in the 1976 movie ‘Network’ scream, “I’m mad as h_ _ _ and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Got that out of your system? Good! Now walk back to your desk, toss your pen in the back of a drawer and throw your legal pad in the waste basket and go online and learn how to use Asana and Slack. It’s a new world of work with a whole new set of tools and if you don’t want to go the way of the dinosaur, it is time to learn!

Fire Breaks: A Time Management Technique

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Time Management

As I have noted in other posts, I believe that time management, no matter what your profession, is one of the singular keys to success. This realization early in my professional life has driven me to be an ardent student of the subject. I am constantly on the lookout for new tips, shortcuts, and tools for better managing my time and priorities. One of my favorite sources for discovering new time management ideas are other successful people. Among the nuggets of gold I have gleaned in this way is the concept of creating a “fire break” in one’s schedule.

I learned this tip living in the West where wildfires are an annual threat. Until these periodic hellfires became a real threat to my home, I had no idea just how fierce, molten hot, and unpredictable these phenomena could be. Just walking up to the fire line and spraying the fire with water or shoveling sand over it is inadequate for all but mop up operations. So fire crews strategize to get ahead of the inferno to cut off its supply of fuel. Well ahead of the path of the flames, fire fighters use bulldozers and other earth moving equipment to cut a fire break, a wide swath of land without any combustible fuel designed to stop the fire along that designated line.

When a wiser colleague connected this technique to management of one’s schedule, the parallels immediately leapt into my imagination. Previously I had been frantic to try to control those inevitable periods of frenetic activity. This mentor taught me that my work life would have seasons when it is as though my schedule were ablaze with fires to put out, superheated with innumerable demands, and consumed by inordinately high pressure. He taught me not to worry overly much about these conflagrations of activity as though I had lost control my time and priorities. The remedy he offered was the insight of carving out a fire break in my upcoming schedule.

Here is how this technique works: First, recognize that there will be seasons of unusually busy activity levels. Don’t fight this as though you were failing in your management of your schedule. Busy seasons are just what comes with life as a professional. Prepare your family and close friends by forewarning them of this busy season. Tell them how long you expect it to last. Then, take out your calendar and look a week or two beyond that expected season and designate it as your “fire break week.” Plan to be home at six, schedule no travel or evening activities. Block out some extra time in your days for catching up filing, reading, training, or other long neglected tasks. Sleep extra late on Saturday and spend all day Sunday with your family or friends.

Above all – and this is the crucial detail – don’t give in to the pressure to schedule a trip or an evening meeting or a big presentation.

Don’t do it, don’t do it, and let me say it again: DON’T DO IT!!

Here is the payoff: Fire breaks in your schedule are often much more relaxing and rejuvenating than a week’s vacation!

Fire breaks have become a standard part of my management of my life and work. Why not give it a try? Open up your calendar now and schedule one now. You might just find it both a relief to look forward to and more refreshing than a vacation on the beach.

New Year’s Habits

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Time Management

I love the New Year! It has always seemed to me to be a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to reinvent myself. It will not surprise you then to learn that throughout my adult life I have been a huge advocate of New Year’s resolutions. Get more exercise, write more, have more adventures, be more disciplined are a few of the resolutions that have dominated my last ten year’s worth of lists.

But not this year. I am not making any New Year’s resolutions this year. Don’t worry, I have not become a New Year’s cynic like so many people who proudly proclaim that resolutions made at the turn of the year are impossible or, worse still, even harmful to one’s self esteem. Nonsense! While I admit that I have yet to fully keep a set of resolutions made on New Year’s Day, I would still argue that the focus and pursuit of those commitments was well worth the effort.

The reason I am not making resolution this New Year’s has nothing to do with laziness, or cynicism, or surrender. Instead, I have determined to construct a set of New Year’s HABITS. That’s right, habits, not resolutions. My change in thinking has come this year by twice reading the seminal work of Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit.

The Power of Habit

Other than the Bible, this has been the most life altering book I have read in the past twenty years, and that is quite a long list. The Power of Habit has made me realize why so many people have become New Year’s Cynics and have given up on resolutions. It has also enlightened me as to why my own resolve has perpetually failed to succeed. The answer lies in the power of habit, as Duhigg’s research reveals. If it is true that perhaps as much as 60% of our lives are lived by habit, then it seems that the key to making profound changes in our lives means changing our habits.

So, in 2014, I want to establish New Habits. To do this, I made my usual list but this time I have identified what I hope will become a familiar pattern. In each, I identified:

1) a Trigger, the clue that it is time for the new behavior;
2) the Routine, namely the new behavior itself;
3) the Reward, the reinforcement I will derive once I have completed the Routine.

To bolster my chances of success, I have created a Community of Belief, in other words, a group of family and friends to cheer me on and hold me accountable to my newly established habits.

Let me provide you with one small example. For years, my wife Lisa and I have struggled to consistently find time to communicate about our finances. We have long wished to reform and be better at working together in this area of our household management. So, my New Year’s Habit in this area looks like this:

Each night when Lisa comes home from work and begins making supper, I will be triggered to get my computer and set up on the breakfast bar in the kitchen. I will update our Quicken file and discuss with her upcoming expenses and financial goals while she is cooking dinner. That’s the Routine. The Reward is having a home cooked meal together, knowing that we are on the same page financially. Each one of us will be the other’s Community of Belief such that she will encourage me to “get the computer” while she prepares dinner.

Similarly, I am working on New Habits around writing, exercise, my personal and business aspirations. Each follows this same pattern. I will let you know a year from now how it all turns out!

Pomodoro

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Time Management

If adulthood has taught me one thing it is just this: the management of my time is critically linked to my success. It is also the central battle I fight every single day.

Since my very first days in college, I have been on a quest to discover the secrets of managing my time most wisely and efficiently. College quickly taught me that I could not possibly work hard enough to get everything done, nor could a simple to do list capture everything I needed and/or wanted to do. I discovered that I was not alone in this. Everyone faced the same challenges of too much to do and too little time to do it all in. In the decades since this perennial challenge became a daily battle I have learned a great many tips and tricks that don’t work for me and many that do.

One of my most recent, and my current favorite, time management tricks is the “pomodoro.” Francesco Cirillo was a university student in Italy in the late 1980s who had the same problem I faced as a college student. His solution was ingenious: he took a kitchen timer he had around his apartment and set it for 25 minutes. He then worked single-mindedly on only one task until the timer went off. Then he stood up, stretched, got a soda from the fridge or whatever else for the next five minutes before returning back for another 25 minute session. Since the kitchen timer he had on hand at the time was shaped like a red tomato he dubbed his newly discovered technique a “pomodoro,” which is Italian for “red tomato.”

Pomodoro



As much as I believe that I can multi-task my way through my day, the truth is that our brains were built for focus. The Pomodoro time management technique forces me to concentrate my attention on just one thing. After 25 minutes, I get reminded to stand up, use the restroom or stretch or get a cup of coffee, but only for five minutes before sitting back down to get back in there for another 25 minutes.

Give it a try! Dash to the kitchen and nab the timer (or use a software app downloaded to your computer like I do) and start with two or three Pomodoros in your day. I’ll bet you discover that they were the most productive periods in your work day.

The Key to Success

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Time Management

I have searched since my first days in college for the key to success. My search first began by watching classmates and talking to professors. I learned that “applying myself” led to desired rewards. Then later, in my early career, I sought the key to success in excellent work and continuous learning; through these I was able to make a difference in the lives of others. These were necessary lessons but still I kept on searching for a silver bullet skill or habit.

In my mid-career I came to ferociously doubt myself. Had I achieved enough? Had I lived up to my potential? Should not I have accomplished much, much more? Did I miss, somewhere along the way, that one magical insight, technique, or habit that light my world on fire with success after success. I fervently studied every time management philosophy I could find. I became a fastidious Franklin Covey planner complete with the “everything binder” that daughter referred to as my “man-purse.”

I have read the biographies of great thinkers and leaders like Martin Luther, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein to mine their life stories for clues to their greatness. It is given me many insights into the things that these great lights used to change the world.

After three decades of searching for the one single-most important key to success what I have boiled all that I have learned down to is just one thing: focus.

Unfortunately, focus has also been a life-long struggle for me. I am fascinated by so many, many things. Richard Feynman, the famed nuclear scientist, put it most succinctly when he wrote “Everything is interesting, if you look deeply enough.” I am often so intrigued by so many things that it perpetually interferes with my focus. As I have explored my distractibility, I must admit to myself that I also wrestle with discipline. You see focus implies single minded discipline.

Focus has become a mantra for me. Daily I ask myself, Am I still in focus? Is my mission focused? Am I on track?

I still find focus a battle. How is your focus?