ABC

There's an acronym that often comes up when talking about sales. "ABC" or "always be closing". The idea is that if you're always closing (i.e. selling), you're always learning and improving.

Recently I found myself in a bit of a slump. Nothing seemed to be going right, and I felt flat and uninspired. I'd have plenty of rather than doing something about them. ideas, but would end up spending time surfing the net or playing games,

The cure turned out to be something rather simple. Create more.

When we create something new, we open up so many more opportunities than when we consume.

Creating something connects us. It opens up new avenues and feedback. Even if you create something that turns out to be a complete dud, you're guaranteed to learn something from the experience.

Sometimes it can be difficult to get started. It's so much easier to just browse another website under the excuse of "learning", but you can learn so much more by creating something instead.

This isn't to say that there isn't a place for these things. Athletes can benefit from watching videos to improve their form. However, they will gain much more from a training session.

If you're feeling in a slump, try creating something. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, but do it anyway. Make something, put it out in the world and learn from it.

Always be creating.

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Some More Templates

I just finished adding two new templates to the "Resources" section of the site. As with the others, they're released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Licence.

Time Tracker

I've written about how useful tracking your time can be, and this is just a simple sheet to make the job easier. Although there are a lot of great computerised systems out there, printed sheets are still useful, especially for non-computer tasks.

Download:

Project Sprint Sheet

This one is a little different, as it was created for software projects. However, I've found that some software methodologies (such as agile ones) are just as useful in non-software situations.

For me, a project sprint is really just a set of tasks to finish in a set timeframe. I usually stick to one or two week periods, as these are easier to manage. A project will consist of lots of sprints before it's completed, with each sprint creating something concrete and deliverable.

KEY:

  • BID – ID of the task (not required)
  • EST –Estimated Time
  • ACT –Actual Time
  • CMP –Completed (just a tick goes here)

There's space on the back for a post-mortem, which is useful for improving the system and working out the kinks.

Download

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Productivity Toolbox: Mind Mapping

What Is It?

Mind Mapping (also known as "brainstorming") is a creative way of putting thoughts and ideas onto paper in a semi-organised manner. There are a multitude of uses for this technique, from generating ideas to organising notes and articles. It's a great place to start if you want to create a lot of ideas, or if you want to explore different ways of doing things.

When Do You Use It?

The great thing about mind mapping is that it's so free. There's no right or wrong way to use it. For some people, it's useful when trying to come up with a list of ideas, but for others it's a good way of organising and idea they've already got and clarifying the various pieces.

As a general rule, if your task involves ideas of any kind, creating a mind map is a good place to start.

How Do You Do It?

mindmapexample.jpg

If you can draw on it, you can pretty much mind map on it. I prefer to use paper as it is more flexible (you can doodle or use colours to add extra context easily), but there are some good software solutions out there too.

The PAPER method

The best way to get started is to take a piece of plain paper. Draw a bubble with your topic in it in the center, and then add anything that comes to mind in bubbles surrounding the main one. Add more related items as you go along, and add lines to them to signify relationships.

There's no real "end" to this process, so go as long as you need to. I find it helps to rewrite the diagram later in the day when my subconscious has had time to stew on things, but it's purely optional.

REMEMBER: Mind maps are as individual as the people that write them, so if you feel drawing emoticons next to something would add meaning, go for it. If you feel something is in the wrong place, it doesn't really matter. Either draw some extra lines or scribble it out and move it somewhere else. The whole process is very organic, so just go where it takes you.

The DIGITAL method

There are plenty of great mind mapping applications out there, but here's a few to look at:

  • Freemind – It's free, cross-platform and easy to use, and you can produce good looking mindmaps easily. It's also quite keyboard friendly, so you can get ideas onto the screen quickly without having to fiddle with the mouse.
  • XMind – A little more heavyweight than Freemind, but still good.
  • LucidChart – An online charting app that supports mindmaps and multiple users at the same time, so good for teams.

There's a much larger list on the wikipedia page "List of mind mapping software".

What Are The Benefits?

In some ways, mind mapping is like a form of exercise for your creativity. It allows you to explore new ideas quickly and easily, and is good for overcoming mental blocks or finding alternative solutions to problems. More importantly, because there's no set structure you don't lose any creative juice trying to stick to a methodology or set of rules. Just grab a pen and paper and go for it!

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Five Quick Procrastination Busters

Procrastination is a curious phenomenon, and I sometimes wonder if it's exclusive to humans. We have such fantastic energy and abilities, coupled with an almost boundless enthusiasm for exploration and knowledge.

So why do we waste so much of our time worrying about doing what we're best at? Not only that, but we seem to go out of our way to do anything but what we should be doing. Whether it's web surfing, TV watching or just shuffling papers, we've all done it.

Here's five quick and easy things you can do to beat your procrastination. They may not be enough to cure it entirely, but they'll help you get over the initial hump.

Create a work friendly environment

Remove distractions from where you'll be working before you start. Turn the TV and radio off, close your internet browser and your IM clients. Get everything you'll need for the task ahead, and lay it out in front of you. Make sure there's plenty of light, and that you're comfortable. Nothing makes work harder than an uncomfortable chair or a messy desk.

Make a short list

Making a big list of what needs doing is helpful at times, but when you're battling with procrastination it can end up being de-motivating instead. Take an index card or small piece of paper, and list THREE things that you can accomplish in the day that will make a difference. It's tempting to pick something big, but it's important to start small. Even if it's just "tidy desk" or "send email to X about project Y", it's something you can work on.

Completing tasks is the best way of busting down the walls put up by procrastination, so think of them as a warm up before a work out. Once you feel more energetic and confident, move on to bigger jobs.

Start a timer

When I sit down to work on a task, I start a 30 minute timer. Then I start working. It doesn't matter if the quality of writing is good or bad, as long as I do something. By having the timer in front of me, I'm reminded to focus on the job at hand. Once the timer is up, I'm done.

It's often the case that I want to keep working even when the timer has finished, so it's great for making progress on tasks I've been putting off.

Monitor your time

I've written about keeping a time log in the past, and they're a good way to help you focus. When you know what you do is going to be written down, it's a little encouragement to do something worthwhile.

RescueTime is a handy tool for Windows that automatically logs what you're doing on the computer and lets you view statistics. After a week of use, you'll be able to see what your biggest distractions are. Be warned, it can be a little sobering to find out just how much time is wasted during the day.

Reward yourself

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. When you force yourself to work, you can reinforce the idea that work it's bad. Make sure you reward yourself, whether it's a movie, a meal or reading a book in the sunshine. Smile when you're working, to remind yourself that once you're finished you can do something enjoyable. Don't think of the task as a barrier keeping you from what you want, but as a journey to take to your reward.

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Starting Your Day In A Positive Way

Have you ever noticed how the first few hours after waking up can determine how you feel for the rest of the day? If you've ever found yourself saying "It's going to be one of those days", you know exactly what I mean. A few bad experiences in the early hours can drag your whole day down, to the point where everything seems to be going wrong.

Here's a few strategies for preventing this from happening.

1) Wake up earlier than you need to

If you travel any distance to work, it's important to wake up earlier than you need to. A stressful drive to the office, or missing your bus by a few seconds can really ruin your day. Leave plenty of time for getting ready and eating. As a rule of thumb, if you don't have time to eat a proper breakfast before working, you're not leaving enough time.

2) Review your goals and task lists

The more in control of your life you feel, the happier you are. Keeping a close eye on your goals and tasks keeps everything fresh in your mind, and you're much less likely to forget about them. Not only that, but it allows you to review things and to quickly spot troubles. And it puts you in a positive frame of mind.

3) Read your affirmations

Before I tried using affirmations, I thought they were a waste of time. However, having experimented with them I've found them to be an invaluable tool for improving my mood. Stick to two or three simple ones, such as “I have abundant energy” or “I make effective use of my time”.

Think of affirmations as a kind of mental scaffolding. They're useful for keeping you internally positive and uplifted until you can change your external situation.

4) Read something uplifting

Rent autobiographies of people you admire from the library. When you come across a good article on the Internet, print it off and read it later. Not only will this help reduce the amount of time surfing the net, but it creates your own personal library that you can refer to time and again.

Keep a highlighter handy when you're reading them, so you can mark any important points. Review these later and make your own set notes.

5) Listen to something uplifting

If reading isn't your thing, rent some audiobooks or listen to podcasts. There's a wealth of personal development podcasts out there, and the advantage is that you can do something else whilst listening to them. Such as exercise…

6) Do some exercise

Twenty to thirty minutes of simple exercises in the morning gets your blood flowing and improves your mood. It doesn't have to be too strenuous, and some light skipping or a gently jog around your area is just as effective.

Remember what you've achieved

So you've been up for just over and hour, and you've already managed to review your goals, read your affirmations and done some exercise. Sounds much better than stuffing down a slice of toast and running for the train…

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