The Idea Pump http://www.theideapump.com Are you ready to start being productive? Mon, 22 May 2017 13:01:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 https://i2.wp.com/www.theideapump.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/cropped-small_logo_square.png?fit=32%2C32 The Idea Pump http://www.theideapump.com 32 32 40986566 Productivity Habits – Answers to #prodchat http://www.theideapump.com/2017/05/productivity-habits-answers-to-prodchat/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/05/productivity-habits-answers-to-prodchat/#respond Mon, 08 May 2017 12:45:04 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=1195 Recently the #prodchat group discussed the topic of productive habits. Unable to make the live chat (this is becoming a recurring issue) I’m taking some time to respond to the questions en masse. What makes a habit productive? This is a more complex question than you would think.  When you […]

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Recently the #prodchat group discussed the topic of productive habits. Unable to make the live chat (this is becoming a recurring issue) I’m taking some time to respond to the questions en masse.

What makes a habit productive?

This is a more complex question than you would think.  When you look at habits as a whole, they often carry the connotation of being negative rather than positive. The challenge to this notion is you can make a habit focus on positive outcomes rather than negative ones.  It’s a matter of repetition and reinforcement.  What makes a habit productive is when it works within the confines of your productivity solution, garners a positive outcome, and is reproducible without adding work to your solution. A daily morning recap of your task list is an excellent example of a productive habit because it reinforces a positive outcome, can be done with minimal effort within the cycle of repetition you’ve outlined, and does not add work to your processes.

What is the benefit of making lists?

Not everyone thrives through list making, but I find it invaluable in keeping on task with what needs to be accomplished.  The important habit in regards to list making is not a matter of making the list, but checking the list after it’s made.  You need to not only capture the work to be accomplished but also record when the work is completed so you have an indication as to your degree of progress.  There is a positive reinforcement aspect to checking things of your lists; this strongly enhances the value of your list making habit through that reinforcement.

Do you have a routine and does it make you more productive?

During the work week I take an hour each morning to recap the work from the previous day and update my lists of work for the coming day and week.  This planning / processing time is invaluable to me. Through this I can make sure I’m on mission with my tasks, deal with new items and changes, and walk into the rest of the day with a clear plan.  Some people do this on a weekly basis but I’ve found the dynamic nature of my schedule and requirements compel a daily level of introspection.

I can tell this is a productive habit because of three measures. One, I feel a negative impact to my productivity and my mental state when I don’t complete this exercise. Two, I can track changes and adapt to new needs over an extended period of time. Third, and most important, I can see results improve when I perform this activity as a daily habit.

What are some productive workplace habits to develop?

This answer could go on for pages, so I’m going to focus on three key habits I recommend to everyone:

  • Capture interruptions but do not process them immediately.  If you are interrupted, acknowledge the interruption, gather the high level details as to what is needed, and communicate a time as to when you will get to the item.  Unless it is an absolute, drop-everything-else kind of emergency, the habit of capture is usually enough to keep you on task.
  • Practice “Follow-Up Friday” when it comes to your email.  During the course of a week we always have things we are waiting on from others. To be realistic, we often don’t get responses back or updates in a timely manner because, well, that’s just life. So what kind of a habit keeps things from falling through the cracks? Each Friday set aside 15-30 minutes to go through your emails from the previous week that have follow up items (which you should have tagged or flagged for easy reference) and send out a quick reminder to the recipient as a follow up. This keeps things flowing as part of your solution, avoids things being left behind, and demonstrates that you are on top of the work going on.
  •  Scanning time. Take time each week to convert the paper materials you have received into digital assets.  They’re easier to manage, easier to search, and available to you at all times.  Whether it’s photos from your smartphone or a dedicated bulk-scanner, allotting a period each week to convert those assets makes them part of your trusted system rather than wondering where they are when you need them.

What are some technology habits to make it’s use more productive?

Technology habits are a tougher area because in most cases they are not mutually exclusive from analog habits.  With that in mind though you can turn some analog habits into solid digital ones:

  • Purging old records
  • Updating and organizing tags and labels
  • Tuning your solution to your changing needs

Self care is so important. What are some productive habits to maintaining mental, emotional, and physical health?

For me the most important catalyst for physical and mental health is down time.  I need time to clear my mind and reduce my stress levels so they don’t wear on me both physically and mentally. I can tell a huge difference when I know my systems and habits are working well as compared to the times when they go off the proverbial rails. (We all know what that feels like.) Holding to my habits around set times for reflection as well as consistent maintenance of my tools makes all the difference for me.

What are some productive habits that make you resilient to unproductive forces?

It’s less of an actual habit and more of a requirement in my execution of activities, but taking stock of what needs to be done and creating clear punch lists indicating what has been done, what is being done, and what needs to be done helps prepare me for uncertainty. The drive-by check in by a manager or family member around if something has been done or worse yet throwing another thing on the pile can derail the most carefully managed solution unless you have the strength of repetition that a habit brings.

What productive habits motivate you through your workday?

I’ve touched on these a number of times before but one I neglected to mention is to take advantage of journaling to give negative thoughts an outlet. We’ve all had those nagging things that chew up mental cycles; the clueless referee from last nights game, the inept driver on the way in to work, the carefully laid plan ruined because of last minute changes. Using a journal to vent into is my habit for clearing the mental cobwebs and staying on point.

Now I just need to make getting to the #prodchat live discussions more of a habit…


Other articles you may find of interest:

My answers to the #prodchat about focus and productivity

Regaining your momentum with @kickstart

 

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Using OneNote instead of Evernote for Project Management http://www.theideapump.com/2017/05/using-onenote-instead-of-evernote-for-project-management/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/05/using-onenote-instead-of-evernote-for-project-management/#respond Thu, 04 May 2017 12:35:40 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=1158 Some thoughts around steps you should take when using OneNote for Project Management.

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Dann Albright over at the MakeUseOf.com blog wrote a great article about how to use Evernote for project management.  In the interest of equal time, I’m taking his points one by one and translating them to how to accomplish the same things in OneNote.

Clean out your notebooks

OneNote allows you to create multiple notebooks as individual files and then store them either locally or in the cloud. When it comes to managing projects, I recommend creating one notebook for each project being managed.  Doing this gives you granular control of the notebook for your project team as well as preventing accidental changes between projects.  If you have a large number of projects you are managing, you can create a notebook and use it as a “program notebook” providing connections to each of the other projects for easier management.

Create Project Notebooks and Stacks

Within OneNote’s notebooks, you can leverage sections and section groups to organize your content.  I suggest starting with defining a standard naming convention for your notebook and a basic structure for where you are storing them.  If you’re keeping your notebooks in a shared drive, OneDrive, or SharePoint is less important than being consistent and organized.

Create a Master List

The first page in your notebook’s main section should be a table of contents for all the related key information about your project.  Adding links (Ctrl-K) to sections and pages on that main page turns OneNote into a mini project website and keeps your team from having to search to find content.  I recommend including links to pages such as:

  • Team directory
  • Project Requirements
  • Schedule
  • Document Libraries
  • Reference Links

The key with the main page is it becomes the dashboard for your project. Team members can easily check the status of the project as well as connect to information they need in short order.

Organize Project Notes

Using the sections in OneNote makes it easy to group your content around common areas such as requirements gathering.  You can also use tricks such as the [[Page Name]] approach to generate new notes pages on the fly while you are working. The most important features are the searchability of all the notes from within OneNote as well as the addition of file printouts directly into OneNote for easy reference.  Keeping your notes in a common space and allowing the team to update and access the information as needed.

Add Shortcuts

Using the link keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-K) on the desktop application gives you an easy access dialog to all the content in your notebook. These links are great shortcuts to your content, making it easy to consolidate rapid access around different topics without having to duplicate content.

Create pages in your notebooks focused around specific topics or requirements and use the shortcuts to connect in relevant content. You can use this strategy to keep meetings on task and on target. The less people have to search and wander around in your notebooks the better off your project will be.

Set up reminders and due dates

Unfortunately reminders and due dates are one of the weaknesses of the OneNote solution. There is no built-in functionality for this so you’ll have to look outside the product to have this capability. The one saving grace is the ability to copy links for pages or notebooks and then paste those links into other tools for easy access.  For example, I copy links from OneNote and paste them into Todoist to manage my task list.  The same thing can be done for tools such as Trello or Toodledo, with the only requirement being the reminder tool being able to accept links to outside systems.

Develop a tag system

OneNote does not have a “natural” tagging system as per say, but you can leverage the search capability in place of dedicated tags. Add text tags to your page and then search for them to get the main listing of pages that contain that unique phrase.  Be aware though that the OneNote search ignores special characters so adding a hashtag to the beginning of a text phrase does not uniquely identify it as a tag.

You can also use the Tags capability within OneNote for easy markup of your documents, but there are several concerns with using the embedded tags you need to consider.  I reviewed some of these concerns in my article about Tags and OneNote.

Integrate your other apps

OneNote strongly integrates with other members of the Office suite including Outlook, Excel, and Visio. If you work within the Microsoft ecosystem you can leverage features such as shared meeting notes, embedded spreadsheets, and direct capture of emails into OneNote Notebooks. Unfortunately if you’re not living 100% in the Microsoft universe many of these features are not available for you.

You can also use tools such as IFTTT to tie OneNote in with other external systems for managing your information.  For example using IFTTT you can have any emails that come into your Google Mail account including a specific set of text in the subject line routed to a OneNote notebook for record keeping.

Collaborate

One of the biggest strengths of OneNote is collaboration WHEN the notebook is placed in a shared area such as a network file share or, even better, OneDrive / SharePoint. You can see what has been edited by whom, review previous versions, and receive visual notifications when changes are made.

One Note for Project Management

OneNote is an exceptionally powerful tool for project managers, as is Evernote. Where the success or failures of the tools come down to is the strategy, implementation, and follow through on their use. Make sure no matter what tool you choose, you have a plan and put it to work.  If you have questions about using OneNote for Project Management, feel free to let me know and I’ll be happy to chat with you about your needs. If you’re a Facebook user, you can also join the OneNote for Professionals group to find other ways to get more out of OneNote.

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Microsoft returns to the long game in education http://www.theideapump.com/2017/05/microsoft-returns-to-the-long-game-in-education/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/05/microsoft-returns-to-the-long-game-in-education/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 12:43:12 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=1146 Has Microsoft returned to a long game strategy for education?

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Microsoft announced yesterday their release of Windows 10 S for education and the free availability of Office 365 for teachers and students. Rather than digging into those I’d like to challenge part of the common wisdom as to why they are doing this.

Google has been making huge inroads into the education space on the back of Chromebooks and their Google Suite of applications. Both falling within price points that until this time (and possibly continuing) Microsoft and Apple couldn’t touch. The announcements from Microsoft signal to me a recognition of the importance of the education market not only as a revenue stream, but as a long term investment.

As students traverse high school and graduate from college and other schools, the familiarity they have with specific applications guides their decision making processes and comfort levels in the working world. To phrase it this way, how many businesses are running on Google Apps and how many are running on Microsoft Office? If you have a generation of people coming into the workforce more comfortable with Google’s offerings, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that massive market share Microsoft has spent decades cultivating.

Will the new devices and offerings flip the education market back to Microsoft’s favor? I don’t think we’ll see a massive shift in influence and implementations but it does mean that Microsoft is back in the game and is serious about competing. Will Windows 10 S devices beat Chromebooks?  My gut says no unless they can get to a ridiculously low price point and offer capabilities Google hasn’t even thought of yet. Will Office 365 supplant Google in the classroom? Again I have to say no, but I do see it taking a much larger bite of the pie.

When playing the long game strategically it becomes important to consider not only immediate investment and market share but also long term influencers and loyalty. Decision makers who grew up Apple helped Apple take a big bite of the education market for a long time but that is changing now.  Who will be next? Microsoft wants to be sure their name is in the running and remembers that the classroom is an excellent place to begin.

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I’m so busy I must be important http://www.theideapump.com/2017/05/im-so-busy-i-must-be-important/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/05/im-so-busy-i-must-be-important/#respond Mon, 01 May 2017 17:00:56 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=1141 Ever wonder why when you ask someone how they are the reply is, "Busy" we nod and agree that yes, we are busy too even if we may not be? Busy is worn as a badge of importance and success.

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Ever wonder why when you ask someone how they are the reply is, “Busy” we nod and agree that yes, we are busy too even if we may not be? Busy is worn as a badge of importance and success. It’s as if you’re not busy, you lack value and are not contributing to society as a whole. People “hustle”, or “work their side gig”, and we acknowledge with a little sympathy their level of activity as a measure of their importance. But how true is this?  Are we disguising our inability to manage our time and activity levels with updated jargon to make overwork appear to be a good thing? Why do we candy coat the fact we are working two or more jobs with the perception that one of them is us “hustling?”

In Episode 69 of NPR’s Hidden Brain, the idea of busyness being worn as a badge of honor is discussed briefly as part of the overall concept of value based on public perception. Think about the last small talk conversation you had with an acquaintance. If you asked them, “How are things going?” and they replied, “Good.  Not much is going on so I’m just taking it easy” how would you react?  Perhaps a twinge of jealousy at their available time because you’re so busy.  Maybe a question or judgement about why they don’t have more going on? Or just maybe a thought, “Wow, I have so much going on. Too bad he/she can’t achieve more like me. I need to do more things to make sure I’m even more busy, because busy is where happy is.”

It’s the last sentence where the lie lies. Some people are exceptionally happy when they’re busy; running full speed all the time. Others, not so much. What kind of a person are you?  Do you prefer to be busy, always ticking off boxes and updating your lists as you knock down one task after another? Are you a person who would rather savor your idle time over finding ways to fill the hours? It is the false equivalence that busy people are happy people that trips up so many.

We wait longingly for the idle paradise of our vacations, but then take our computers with us to check on email and statues because, if we’re not busy, we’re not valuable. Many cultures encourage and praise the concept of idle time as a matter of success, or at least did in the past. We’ve taken the concept of working to have non-work time and turned it into non-work time being a nigh impossible goal. This isn’t just employment focused either. We watch our children’s sporting events with smartphones in hand, checking social media and text messaging to line up the next activities for the day and week. We measure our lives based on our activity level over our satisfaction level. What can we do to flip this equation and focus on the value of not being busy?

If you want to truly revel in being productive you have to look at completed tasks as successful accomplishments, not as openings to stick something in their place. Taking time to not “do” anything but rather focus on resetting your mind, your body, and your goals can be the best “busy work” you could do for yourself. The next time someone asks how you are, try answering “Busy, but I’m getting better” and see how they react. It’s a good use of your time no matter what.

 

 

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The sorry state of Android upgrades http://www.theideapump.com/2017/04/android-upgrade-rant/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/04/android-upgrade-rant/#respond Fri, 07 Apr 2017 13:20:21 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=1111 This is going to be a bit of a rant today so be prepared.  I’ve been an Android fan for a long time, using phones, tablets, and wearables since early in the alphabet of software versions.  It’s those software versions causing my pain and anguish today. Android updates – Hurry […]

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This is going to be a bit of a rant today so be prepared.  I’ve been an Android fan for a long time, using phones, tablets, and wearables since early in the alphabet of software versions.  It’s those software versions causing my pain and anguish today.

Android updates – Hurry up and wait

It’s unacceptable that it takes so long, if ever, for Android devices to receive software updates.  Now before you break out the flamethrowers understand that I get the idea some devices are too old to support upgraded operating systems. Those devices that are out of date I don’t have a problem with being left by the side of the road (unless they’re only a couple of years old, then I start sensing the ugly head of planned obsolescence). Where I do have an issue is when a flagship device (something sold at the high end of the pricing scale) either does not receive updates until long after other devices more recently released of possibly not at all in their lifecycle.

Apples and Androids

This is usually where I get told, “Well, if you used Apple devices you’d have your updates.” Yes, and if I cared about Apple devices I might do that, but I use Android. It’s not a difficult concept. To have to change platforms, both hardware and software, just to keep your devices current is poor engineering, plain and simple.  I know this can be accomplished.  Look at how Chromebooks are kept up to date.  Hell, even Windows manages a better update cycle than Android devices.

Would you like a two-year contract?

There are so many benefits to the open Android environment from not only an application but also a flexibility position. You would think that one of those advantages would be the ability to not abandon devices by the side of the road when it comes to operating system updates.  Yes, I’m aware the carriers are a major obstacle in the upgrading cycle. But yet, they’re not an obstacle in the Apple world?  Hmmm, seems selling Android’s soul to the devil continues to cost the users when it comes to the lifespan of their devices. Take a look at Android Wear devices as another example. Updates are rolling out to older, less popular Android Wear devices, leaving flagships from key companies such as ASUS languishing.  Is this any way to treat a loyal customer base?

Enough is enough

Google, get your act together when it comes to software updates.  Find a way to fix this problem. The issue only continues to grow and your lack of response is an ongoing embarrassment to the Android community. Hell, it’s not like this is a complicated as unifying your messaging strategy.  Oh, wait…strike that.

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Create a bullet journal index in OneNote http://www.theideapump.com/2017/04/create-a-bullet-journal-index-in-onenote/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/04/create-a-bullet-journal-index-in-onenote/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 14:27:23 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=1092 When you’re using the Bullet Journal approach in OneNote, one of the things you’ll want to build as you go is a table of contents for your notes.  I don’t recommend relying on the page and section listing as your table of contents because they don’t facilitate referencing your content […]

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When you’re using the Bullet Journal approach in OneNote, one of the things you’ll want to build as you go is a table of contents for your notes.  I don’t recommend relying on the page and section listing as your table of contents because they don’t facilitate referencing your content if it is in other notebooks. Rather I recommend creating a page in your main notebook as the index for your Bullet Journal and then using links to create the connections.

Creating links in OneNote

The easiest way to create links in OneNote 2013 or OneNote 2016 is to use Ctrl-K. This will pop up a window of your open notebooks, sections, and pages and allow you to create the link by just clicking on the destination.  If you have  content you want to link to outside of OneNote, you can enter a URL directly in the same dialog box.

Moving things around

One of the struggles of Bullet Journaling is if you’re using a notebook that allows you to move pages around (such as a Discbound Journal) keeping the index relevant and accurate becomes almost impossible.  That’s not the case here.  By creating an index page with links, it doesn’t matter where you move your destination pages to because OneNote will update the links accordingly.

Pro tip

You can create index lists at the notebook and section level quickly and easily, but I’ve got a twist I use all the time.  If I need an index page around a specific topic such as a project, I just create a link page with all the relevant links I need and save that to my notebook. From then on when I need related content on the topic, I just have one page to go to rather than trying to track my information down across all my notebooks.

Other helpful articles:

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Getting the most from a Millenial – Part 1 http://www.theideapump.com/2017/04/getting-millenial-part-1/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/04/getting-millenial-part-1/#respond Thu, 06 Apr 2017 13:13:12 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=1059 Millenials have developed a significant reputation in the workplace often through no fault of their own. Rather than harm on the challenges of working with Millenials, this series is going to focus on ways to successfully work with Millenials. Now to level set, I’m not a part of the Millenial generation, but […]

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Millenials have developed a significant reputation in the workplace often through no fault of their own. Rather than harm on the challenges of working with Millenials, this series is going to focus on ways to successfully work with Millenials. Now to level set, I’m not a part of the Millenial generation, but rather Generation X, a.k.a. the MTV Generation. Being part of this generation we’re starting to see men and women entering the workforce placing us in an awkward position since they are of the age, for many of us, of our own children. How do you work with men and women without adopting a parental mindset?

Experience wanted

There is the general assumption Millenials do not have much to contribute due to their lack of experience in the workplace. Aside from resisting reinforcement of this ageism stereotype, this is a chance to change the conversation right away and leverage that “lack of experience” when it comes to work. Most Millenials are coming to the workplace having learned the popular “best practices” in college, something that can be a reminder and level set for those working on long established processes.  While there are always reasons for processes to be what they are, taking advantage of the new eyes of Millenials can help in providing a reset perspective when evaluating how things operate.  The most important thing is to level set how their provided insights will be used from the beginning.

Take me seriously

One of the common complaints of Millenials is that their ideas aren’t taken seriously. This perception is created as a  reaction to three things: their perceived lack of experience, their lack of business knowledge for existing systems, and our natural resistance to change. If you’re going to learn to leverage a Millenial to provide a new set of eyes you both need clear understanding from the beginning that just because insights are made it doesn’t mean changes will also be made. Communicating and helping them understand the value of critical evaluation and researching all aspects of a problem rather than locking into the “obvious” answer goes a long way towards keeping them engaged without undue effort on your part. Many of these men and women grew up in a time when their parents demanded they be acknowledged just for showing up, a.k.a. “The Participation Trophy”. We’ve come to associate that with Millenials and assume if they don’t get acknowledged for everything they do they won’t be happy.  This so often is not the case.  Usually the last thing they want is a participation trophy. What they really want is opportunities to contribute, make a difference, and THEN be recognized for their contributions.  When you look at it that way it doesn’t sound all that unreasonable now does it?

Find common ground

Another way to battle the “lack of experience” label is to take a little time to learn about where they do have experience.  While they may not  have your years in the field, they may have participated in activities in college or early in their career that you can leverage as part of the process.  Millenials want to contribute.  They want to feel like they are making a difference (don’t we all). What they aren’t normally willing to do is to wait quietly until their contributions are recognized.  It is still common for members of our generation to be in roles lasting for years; the “company man/woman” has not gone by the wayside just yet.  Part of this comes with the shifting mindsets around risk and stability as we age, but assigning those same mindsets to someone not at the same stage of life is a critical mistake on our part. Mentoring them on how to self-actualize their contributions rather than relying on affirmations through business channels goes a long way in helping them fit into the up and down environment of most traditional businesses. Recognize though if you personally, professionally, or organizationally are unable to move beyond the traditional “cog-in-the-machine” mindset, you will always struggle for common ground with a Millenial.

When I was your age

Those of us not of the Millenial generation have to accept some blame for aspects of the mindset Millenials are commonly stereotyped with such as not appreciating experience. For the past 20 years we have idolized the “startup” mentality, whether it’s from the Dot Com era of IPO millionaires or or the social media moguls who accomplished all their goals before 30 after dropping out of college.  What we haven’t done is reinforced the understanding these are the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy winner who then wins the Super Bowl in his rookie year.  They’re feel good stories but they’re not reality.  Unfortunately we tend to take a small bit of perverse joy when we see someone we think feels they are “entitled” to success we ourselves would love to have accomplished but have not gotten even through all our hard work. Their “lack of experience” is our excuse to dismiss them and go back to work.

Things change and things stay the same

Don’t spend your time trying to change their thinking to your way of thinking.  They grew up in a different time with different rules and goals.  Rather, look for the commonalities you share and the aspects of their personalities that offset or strengthen weaknesses in your own and you’ll find a Millenial need not be the problem the media and blogosphere would have you fear.

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Could Visio have met it’s match? Meet Lucidchart. http://www.theideapump.com/2017/03/could-visio-have-met-its-match-meet-lucidchart/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/03/could-visio-have-met-its-match-meet-lucidchart/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:24:50 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=998 In the world of diagrams and flowcharting, Visio by Microsoft has been a standard go-to tool for years. Due to the new way I work (heavily cloud centric) I wanted to see if there was anything out there that could hold a candle to the capabilities of Visio.  Lucidchart looks to […]

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In the world of diagrams and flowcharting, Visio by Microsoft has been a standard go-to tool for years. Due to the new way I work (heavily cloud centric) I wanted to see if there was anything out there that could hold a candle to the capabilities of Visio.  Lucidchart looks to be a worthy alternative to the long standing Microsoft application.

A brief history

Now Lucidchart is by no means new to the diagramming game, with the company having been founded in 2008. In cloud years that makes them an old and stable player in the space. They have raised funding over the years to continue their growth and offer both free and paid packages of their service.  It’s always good to find a company on the web who has a solid revenue model, especially when you’re counting on them to help you generate your own revenue.

Getting started

Working off an interface similar to the majority of tools in this space, I’ve found Lucidchart to have a short learning curve and enough functionality to meet the needs I have in creating flowcharts and process diagrams. The traditional collection of shapes are available leveraging drag and drop to make placement and reorganization a simple matter. You’re not limited to the standard set though as Lucidchart has collections of shapes to meet almost every need.

Creating a new document is a simple click and you’re off and running creating your diagram. One of the nicest features I’ve found is how well Lucidchart handles when you move objects around. Part of my work involves dynamically building process flows with a team on a projector and that is not someplace you want a clumsy user experience.  I’ve left meetings and had people asking, “What’s that tool you were using?”

Working together

One of Lucidchart’s strengths is it’s ability to facilitate collaboration. Being cloud based, Lucidchart has built into their tool effective controls for letting more than one person work on a diagram at a time. Preview links, embedded comments, and multiple types of sharing all build to helping your team coordinate on the diagrams you are constructing.

For example, I have taken diagrams in initial stages, created shared links allowing commenting, and posted those links to team discussion threads to get feedback from the team. By doing this we avoid the waterfall of emails and lost discussion threads. Focusing on efficient communications and collaboration is a strong differentiator between Lucidchart and Visio, but it’s also one of those areas I could see Microsoft sweeping in with their Office 365 offerings.

Lucidchart supports importing and exporting Visio formats as well as SVG and PDF versions of your charts. Couple that with multi-browser support and you wind up with a tool useful regardless of what machine you’re using or where you happen to be.

Worth the price?

At the Pro level for a single user, the price of Visio Standard 2016 will pay for two years of Lucidchart. To me that’s a good investment (subscribing to Lucidchart that is) since you get all the updates automatically as well as an easy way to keep growing as your needs grow. I recommend Lucidchart to anyone who needs to work with diagrams and flowcharts and doesn’t want to drop a large chunk of change on a platform locked application.

 

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Can you be productive in 40 hours? http://www.theideapump.com/2017/03/can-you-be-productive-in-40-hours/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/03/can-you-be-productive-in-40-hours/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:49:09 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=958 Our modern work culture has trained us to think the only way we can be successful is by working extraordinary numbers of hours each week. I have to wonder, are they being as productive as they can be, or are they compensating for poor productivity with increased hours.

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Our modern work culture has trained us to think the only way we can be successful is by working extraordinary numbers of hours each week. People working their “hustle” (honestly I don’t care for that term) will all but brag about the 70, 80, 90 hours each week they put in. I have to wonder, are they being as productive as they can be, or are they compensating for poor productivity with increased hours.

Many people in the technology field work as contractors, obligated by said contract to a 40-hour billable period each week. However, as is often the case, they are limited to not “over-bill” a client if they need to work more hours.  How do you balance a hard limit of hours with milestones and deliverables set in conjunction with staff personnel who do not have that hard limit?

Learn how to estimate

One of the best tools in a consultant / contractor’s toolbox is the ability to estimate work accurately and consistently. Building this skill takes experience and effort but there are some hacks you can use to help this along. First, write down how long it takes you to do each task no matter how long or short.  What you’re building is a historical record for you to use for reference in estimating your workload and what can be done within a fixed amount of time.

Let’s say for example you’re working on a spreadsheet and one of the requirements is to create a Pivot Table and accompanying chart for analysis. When finished you found it took you about an hour to create the table and chart to a level of completion suitable for submission. That hour number becomes a reference measure for your future estimates. Now when asked to create three Pivot Tables and accompanying charts, you could comfortably respond it will take four hours.

Wait, your math is off

If you’re paying attention you’ll notice I added an extra hour to the estimate.  There’s three reasons for this. First, there is start and stop time to be included when transitioning from one objective to the next. Second, you need to provide a buffer to allow for unknown problems that will likely creep into your work. Third, any task longer than an hour is likely to get interrupted, so you need to allow for the loss and regaining of focus.

Things start to add up

Working from a fixed pool of 40 hours, you start to subtract from that number rather than adding up task estimates to get there. So at this point we’re at 36 hours after estimating our three table project. Factor in meetings (1.5 hours for a 1 hour meeting – including prep and recap), recurring administrative tasks, and known scheduled activities such as SCRUM sessions to get to a realistic number of hours you have available to work that week.

It’s important you keep those estimates recorded as the week progresses so you can be sure not only are you not overextending yourself, but that you’re also not overbilling your client AND you’re getting done the work you’ve committed to.

But I’m not restricted to 40 hours

If you’re in a position where there is an expectation you will keep working until the job is done regardless of the number of hours you have to put in (whether that comes from management or yourself is a different article) using the 40-hour measure can be just as useful. By tracking your time, refining your estimates, and projecting your workload you can balance your effort against your periods of peak productive flow.

How do I get started?

Begin by recording the time you’re spending on the work you’re doing. Keep notes and at the end of the week do some analysis around creating the building blocks for your estimating system. If you can get your time under control, you’ll be able to use it more effectively and treat it like the non-renewable resource it is.

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Regaining your momentum with @kickstart http://www.theideapump.com/2017/03/regaining-your-flow-kickstart/ http://www.theideapump.com/2017/03/regaining-your-flow-kickstart/#respond Fri, 17 Mar 2017 12:31:40 +0000 http://www.theideapump.com/?p=945 Regaining your flow when you’ve been interrupted or have lost focus can be an almost herculean effort if you haven’t planned in advance. There’s a hack I recommend regardless of the system to get your momentum back with some quick wins in being productive. It’s all about preparation Personally I use […]

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Regaining your flow when you’ve been interrupted or have lost focus can be an almost herculean effort if you haven’t planned in advance. There’s a hack I recommend regardless of the system to get your momentum back with some quick wins in being productive.

It’s all about preparation

Personally I use Todoist to track my tasks but this hack works for almost any system. The hack is a simple one. When reviewing my tasks if I find one that can be accomplished in under five minutes but doesn’t need to be done right away, I tag it with @kickstart. I usually have anywhere from 5-10 @kickstart tasks in my lists waiting for me. Where the hack comes in is when I realize I need to get back on track.

Using the hack

Part of regaining momentum comes from a few small successes to act as a positive motivator. By filtering my list for @kickstart I can find a few tasks I can knock off the list right away, have a sense of accomplishment, and get back in the being productive flow so I can move on to bigger and better things.

Being productive is about more than just checking off task boxes.  It’s about putting yourself in the right state to continue to be productive again and again in a constant and predictable manner.

Pro tip for analog people

If you’re not a digital person but rather an analog one, you can duplicate the same type of effect. Create a list in your notebook of @kickstart tasks and then just refer to the list when you need to restart your flow.


Another article you may find helpful is Regaining your momentum.

 

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