Measuring my productivity

I’m always for looking for new ways to get more things done, and figure out the kind of work I enjoy doing the most. Just before setting off for Seattle a couple of weeks ago I read a (guest) blog post by Cal Newport:

Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — and finishes by 5:30pm

Having read this I went over to Cal’s own blog and saved a load of content onto Instapaper to read on the flight. Needless to say I highly recommend taking a read, and start with the section ‘Patterns of Success for the Working World’:

The part that interested me most from the guest blog post was the story of Jim Collins (who’s books are great), keeping a stop watch on hand and monitoring how he spends his day. I often feel as though I struggle with focusing on the important stuff and so decided I’d do this over a week. The results were quite interesting. Creative work for me was programming – building new things…Communication was email and Skype, and admin was any other type of day to day work.

Creative Communication Admin
Monday 64% 16%
Tuesday 26% 25% 23%
Wednesday 65% 13%
Thursday 78% 14%
Friday 0% 25% 53%

First of all – in my case at least, having a stop watch running increased the amount of time I could focus. When I started working on the creative stuff, I started the stopwatch and closed Outlook, Skype and Yammer. The average time I was able to focus was around 60 minutes which I’m chuffed with, the longest being 90 mins. I’m hoping Cal is right and with training focus can be improved and lengthened as I’ve been able to see a big difference in what I can produce with being able to focus for 60 minutes each time.

Tuesday and Friday were interesting days. Tuesday is when we have out management team meeting in the morning (over Skype). After doing that first thing in the morning took up time, but then I also struggled to switch to the more creative work. Friday was a bit of a catch up day, with some admin work that needed to be done to the web site. I think I’m going to try and keep admin stuff batched together and attack it on one day rather than do a bit each day. Friday seems a good day to me.

Having the stopwatch running while doing email and Skype was also really interesting. It made me focus on getting the job of answering emails done, and then closing Outlook – and I decided to only log into Skype during certain, short periods of the day. This helped minimise  distractions when trying to focus on other stuff.

So am I going to keep the stopwatch running in future weeks? Definitely! This week has been one of the most productive weeks I can remember in a long time and also the most enjoyable. I can’t wait to see the results next week.

Notes from Rob Walling’s interview on Mixergy

Here are my notes from Rob Walling’s interview on Mixergy. I’ve been a member of the Micropreneur community for a while now and highly recommend joining.

Not happy as dev/consultant – hamster wheel
– when 50 will I still be doing this?
– wants to enjoy work

Years seeking freedom from bosses/clients – took 9 years
Freedom 1st goal, purpose second
Don’t stop learning – buying new businesses, new marketing techniques
Look for specific actions that generate sales
Divine restlessness – remodel business/work every 18-24 months
Worked day job, then 8 hours in evening working on own projects
Tried many projects this way, but they had no market
Would do marketing first now
Read/watch tactical stuff – take notes (action notes)
How to deal with significant other
– need to get their buy-in as there will be ups and downs
– explain why you want to do it
When you’re unhappy – the salary money doesn’t matter
– but money in the bank makes you happy and gives you choices
– being a slave to money and salary makes you unhappy
Changed goals – smaller ideas, served a niche
Hired VA to help with drop shipping
Does hibernate and go into focus
– heads down, massive strides forward
How to get so much done?
– only work on a few things at once
– VA tier one email support

Find a market before building a product
Learn Internet marketing
Provide value people will pay for

Notes, Clay Johnson The Information Diet

Here are my notes after watching the Clay Johnson interview on Mixergy about his book ‘The Information Diet

Decide what to consume
Better for your health
– sitting is killing you
Better social interaction
– not setting next to each other with TV on and laptops on
Challenge – just like being on a food diet
Quality not quantity
– people don’t get fat eating lots of broccoli!
Big benefits
– more time to produce
– enhance relationships

1, Measurement is important
rescue time app
Journal – simple textfile
– spot patterns
– am I reading too much on X, rather than doing it…
eg reading too much Lean Startup stuff

2, Realize the intent of the content
probably selling advertising?

3, Data Literacy
Understand in depth what you are consuming
Depth is more important than breadth
Internet makes us scatterbrains
Develop a mastery of a subject
Stuff that is actionable

4, Information Fitness
Attention spam – slowly improve it
– techniques like pomodoro timer
You don’t want to accidentally find yourself on FB/Twitter/etc
People lose track of time when looking at a screen
Notifications are evil

5, Create/produce
Even if no-one reads what you are writing, you are getting a benefit
– putting things down on paper, you think ideas out
Clay writes 1,000 words per day before noon
Producing creates mastery
Add more to the world


Changing my consumption habits

I feel as though I’ve been trying to consume too much information. From listening to Mixergy shows and other podcasts, to reading lots of books – I consume a lot but don’t always retain or action it. After sitting down and watching Clay Johnson’s interview on Mixergy about his new book ‘The Information Diet’ I decided I need to change my approach. Rather than reading a book, or listening to Mixergy in the bath – I’m going to study them. This means reading my current book or watching the next Mixergy interview and taking notes. Studying is something I used to do at school and university but somehow stopped as I got older. I learned a lot back then, but feel as although I’ve been consuming a lot, I’ve stopped learning as much.

The good news is I’m going to publish my study information/notes here – just to prove to myself I have been studying, and hopefully to help someone else. Get ready for the first set of notes from the Clay Johnson Mixergy show.

Learning to be successful

I read an interesting blog post by Daniel Teller this weekend titled Successful people are successful. Jason Fried wrote in Inc magazine a little while ago about ‘How to get good at making money’ and how he has been practising making money since he was a young teenager. The more you practise the better you get at something – whether it is golf or business. Well I think the same can be said for being successful. As Daniel Teller says in his post – too many people are aiming for the big success, sacrificing lots of small successes along the way. I can see how this has happened to me, I’ve sacrificed my health (I’m overweight), my general happiness and free time (working too much) on a daily basis. Whereas if I was targeting lots of small successes along the way – such as eating healthy (meaning no chocolate), making sure I take breaks from work and finish on time, spend time on hobbies that make me happy – then each day I’ll have small successes. And once you get good at small successes they amalgamate into bigger successes. For example 30 days of eating healthy will lead to loosing weight, small amounts of daily golf practise will lead to me shooting better scores. And as you can probably guess these medium successes will lead into the bigger larger ones you are looking for.

Don’t feel as though you have to go 5 to 10 years without being successful to try and get the big startup payout! Be successful daily – and see how it becomes a habit!

Starting with the end in mind

Note : I don’t know all the answers around this. I’m putting my current thoughts in writing as it helps me get them out of my head and hopefully I can make more sense of them.

I’ve started way to many projects and not seen them through to the end. I think this could be happening for a couple of reasons:
– I’m not as interested in the project itself as I thought I’d be
– The project won’t take me to where I want to be

‘Where you want to be’ is an important question when starting a project that you hope to turn into a product or solution that you can sell. Without putting this thought in up front you risk being unhappy if your idea succeeds. I know it sounds weird – being unhappy if your ideas succeeds, but trust me it happens more often than you’d think. In fact I think it happens most often, because people end up taking the path they think they should be going along, rather than the path they want to. This can lead to:

– presuming you have to grow
– trying to grow too quickly
– building products nobody wants

How many company founders have you spoken to put a brave face on when you ask them how things are going – but when you dig deeper you find they are working 12 hour days and doing work within the businesses they hate?

There are 3 levels of company success I generally think about:
1, A successful Micropreneur working by themselves
2, A bootstrapped company
3, A company getting VC funding and shooting for the stars

Some thoughts around what each one means to me:
1, Micropreneur
A term coined by Rob Wallling and Mike Taber, a single person company that owns one or a number of web solutions or sites. Tasks can be outsourced, but the company never grows past the founder and all profits generated are income for this person. This may be a person who values their time more than working their ass off for the big pay day. Often it is someone who enjoys all aspects of business from product development, marketing and sales. I think people quite often start a business with the micropreneur goal in mind, but end up moving to option 2 and 3 without evening realizing it.

2, Bootstrapping
Starting a company with little or no money, and investing the profits back into the company to grow. If you want to grow a company but keep your own destiny this is the road for you. Out of the three options – I think it’s probably the hardest, but also the one that offers the most reward – if done correctly. You can still decide to sell your company if you wish – or you can keep and run it for the long term. What you do need to be careful of is ending up running yourself into the ground. Many people start a company because they like doing a particular thing – but if you bootstrap and grow a company it is likely you’ll end up running a company rather than doing that thing. Be careful not to just create a job for yourself, but to build a business. A business that can run while you take the 4 week break you deserve!

3, VC funding
I know that getting VC funding itself isn’t a successful outcome – but that is the way many people think. Getting VC funding and selling the company in 5-10 years time is the big success. I’ve no experience of going this route – and I don’t think it is the route I’d choose to take myself. I’m not against funding – but the lottery the VC’s play of 1 or 2 big successes out of every 10 investments aren’t odds that I’d like to take.

It is easy to change your mind and go up the scale – from Micropreneur -> Bootstrapping -> VC funded. What is usually impossible is going back the other way. If you have taken VC funding the VC’s are going to want their payout or shut the company down. It is unlikely you would be able to move back to bootstrapping. If you are bootstrapping your company and have a number of employees and maybe co-founders, it is extremely hard to reduce that back to being a sole enterpreneur and a micropreneur business without a lot of pain while downsizing.

But it is easier to go the other way. If as a Micropreneur you are doing really well and have profits in the bank and you feel you want to grow, you can employ another person that will help achieve that growth and move into the bootstrapping category. If you’ve been bootstrapping and spot a real market opportunity you feel is worth playing the VC lottery for – there are always investors looking to back a good idea.

Of course it seems a natural progression to go up these steps, Micropreneur -> Bootstrapping -> VC backed. But this is where you need to start each project with the end in mind. If you want to stay as a single person company, take the decisions you need to so you can remain that way. If you are profitable and doing well, there is no point going after other opportunities that would require you to take on staff. That’s not what you want to do remember – you want the company to be just you.

Before starting a project
Begin with the end in mind. What do you want to be doing in 2, 5 or 10 years time? I know it may sound silly thinking this far ahead when you are yet to start investigating your market or building a product but the sooner you do it the better. Leave it later, and decisions you may have already taken about your product may be working against where you want to go. For example:
– you might build something that requires hiring support people
– it might need a sales team to sell
– the market might not be big enough to support a company with employees

So do yourself a favour. Go somewhere quiet where you do not normally go with a pen and your notebook. If the weather is nice get out in the countryside, maybe sitting by a lake (sounds nice eh?!) with the sun shining. If the weather is bad go to the coffee shop you have been meaning to try. Open your notepad and at the top of 3 pages write down 2 years, 5 years and 10 years. Then on each page write down how you’d like your life to be like at those times. Think about:
– where you’d like to live
– where you’d like to work
– how much you work
– how much you travel
– who you’d like to work with or without
– who you’d like to know
– how much yearly income you’d like to be making
– what you do in your spare time

This process becomes more difficult when you have co-founders involved. I think a company with co-founders can still be a Micropreneur company – it just needs to stay the size it is. The problem is the more people you have involved, the more chance their is of people changing their mind. This can lead to conflict and people being drawn down paths they do not really want to go.
But a company can’t be a stick in the mud – it needs to be flexible to change in conditions and market – how to find the balance? I don’t know the answer to this one – I’d suggest doing the same thing with the notebook and the 2, 5 and 10 year plan, and then comparing with the people you are looking to start the business with. If your ideas differ dramatically then maybe it’s not a good idea that you work together. And perhaps do the 2,5 and 10 year personal plan every 12 months and comparing again. At least then you will spot when peoples priorities have changed before they become and underlying issue in conversations.

Book : iWoz

I finished reading Steve Wozniak’s books today – iWoz. It’s a great read if you are a developer, programmer, engineer, designer…pretty much anybody that builds things.

I thought there were some big gaps, such as why he wasn’t involved in the Apple III – but I didn’t read it to get a historical perspective, more to understand Woz and the way he works.

The biggest take away from the book – if you want to build things that are different – work alone. Design by committee leads to generalized pieces of crap! Whenever I think of a project these days I ask myself whether it is something I can design and build myself – or will it need others. If it’s something I can take forward by myself then it is something I might work on. May be I’ll need a little design work doing here and there – but those can be contracted out as one off pieces.

Great book – should definitely be on any hackers bookshelf.

Building Task Hub

I’ve been building yet another todo list/task management application called Task Hub. It’s my take on the Getting Things Done methodology. So why yet another productivity tool? Here’s my thinking…

As for as I am concerned there are two main ways of building something new

Lean Startup
– Scratch Your Own Itch

I think the Lean Startup method works great if you are building a product for other people. A number of times however I have found myself working on a Minimum Viable Product, testing it out and getting some initial traction only to find it is something that doesn’t really interest me.

When starting anything which may turn into a long term project or business I’ve started considering whether I would want to be doing this in 5 years time. Also is it a project that could be successfully run by just a single person? And this is where I’ve stepped back a little bit and thought more about ‘scratching your own itch’ ie building something for myself.

Of course this might be why so many programmers build yet another bug tracking solution or task management app, but you know I don’t think it matters. If the idea interests you and it is something you are going to use yourself then why not build it? It is better to use your time to build something that will improve your life than sit there and wait for divine intervention/inspiration. And of course building something for yourself allows you to dog food your own product. It may be likely you are your own products biggest evangelist and user! It may be that you end up being the only person to ever use your software – but it doesn’t matter, as it scratches your itch and makes your life better.

As a programmer it’s also good to have a ‘real’ project to try new things. Found a new javascript library you want to learn? Use it on your own project. There are only so many sample projects you can create – you will only really start learning something when you put it into production. Even if the only real user in production is you.

Book: The Medici Secret

After reading 2 Jack Reacher books in a row I decided I wanted to read something a bit different. I really liked the Dan Brown books and so was attracted to The Medici Secret as it has a similar type cover and seemed like it would be a similar type, fast action paced book…

The Medici Secret

The book annoyed me a bit as it kept jumping around different centuries/years which I sometimes struggled to keep up with. There were quite a lot of different characters in it too which was sometimes confusing, but if you didn’t remember all the details it didn’t seem to matter as I followed the story along OK. The author tried to put in the usual surprise/twist at the end, but to be honest it didn’t really make that much difference to the story! Every book I read now I keep wondering what the attempted twist will be at the end…

A good read, not the best book of the last 12 months but not the worst either.

Book: Tripwire by Lee Child

Finished reading Tripwire by Lee Child recently. This is the second Jack Reacher book I’ve read in succession and I think I need a break before reading anymore. Tripwire was certainly a good book, but a little bit too long for me. It was also a bit weird that the first Jack Reacher was written in the first person, but this one was in the third.

Tripwire by Lee Child

Anyhow – a good book I’d certainly recommend to people. Will be going back to Jack Reacher after a little break reading a few other things.