Posts in Software Apps
How to Get Into the Zone When You Work

Have you ever had one of those days when you were like a stick-shift car?  Back and forth, herky-jerky...

 My first stick-shift was an old pickup truck and a summer job allowed me to deliver engine parts to local garages.  I was a terrible driver and I was lucky that I wasn't fired- it was that bad.

Work can feel like this too- back and forth, tossing and turning from one thing to the next.  The modern workplace is built to chop up our day into small blocks of time.  The problem is that the boundaries of our "blocks" are fuzzy.  Every "got a minute" takes us away from our ability to focus.

When our days are filled with lots of interruptions, it's very hard to get our heads back to a focused state.  It can take several minutes to refocus after being interrupted.  Meetings are much the same, draining our energy and taking up an awful lot of time.  

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Too many interruptions (and/or meetings) can leave your head spinning and your day totally wrecked.  These work-killers are nothing more than "noise", creating a slow hum of displeasure in the day.  With each interruption, you lose your head of steam and become more and more irritated.  By the time you leave, you are frustrated and can feel defeated.

To counteract these pesky bugs, one thing is necessary: deep work.  Deep work is the ability to focus, without interruption, on meaningful and challenging tasks for a prolonged period of time.

Check out this post about how deep work can help clear your head and further expand your ability to do deep work.  The question remains- how much deep work do you need in order for your day to feel good?  After all, most of us can't afford an entire afternoon alone in an office, doing deep work.

An hour without interruption might be satisfying enough.  Imagine a day with just two blocks of uninterrupted time?  As you begin to experience time-focused periods of your day, you'll begin to notice something.

You'll notice that you're not as frustrated when the interruptions do come along.  This is because you know that you've already tasted "the good stuff" (of uninterrupted work) and you desire it even more for the rest of your day or later in the week.  Having a block or two of deep work under your belt helps to "absorb" these interruptions.

Let me share a personal story to help make this point.

I was feeling particularly disjointed a few weeks ago.  I knew that this was the result of not scheduling several hours of focused (i.e. "deep") work.  As a person of faith, I try to see my work as part of my relationship with God.  As such, I turned to prayer in order to recalibrate my day.

My prayer was very, very simple, "Lord, just give me the courage to do deep work, if even for a briefer time than I would like."  I just needed to get into the zone and then all would be well.  No more distractions, just focused and deep work.

This turned out to be exactly what I needed and my day went much better.  I turned off the noise in my head and the noise around me using an app called Self Control.  This forced me to write, to create and to ultimately finish a project that was in need of closure.  When all was said and done, I felt great.

My day was rescued because I was able to dial back the noise, focus and put my head down in order to work.  Can you relate?

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If you look back on the past week, can you name a day when you went home and felt as if you got absolutely nothing done?  As you look forward to the week ahead, where can you schedule blocks of deep work when no one and nothing will be able to interrupt you?  Once you schedule these blocks, you'll be in the zone and feel great about it!

What Collaboration Looks Like Within a Digital Task Manager

People toss around the word like it's a nerf ball.


Some (think, Susan Cain) feel that it's been overused and that schools have hurt students in an effort for kids to work together.  As an introvert, I tend to shy away from using the exact word collaboration and instead, favor "working together".  Same thing?  Maybe but it doesn't conjure up bad memories of having to work in a group in middle school.

How about task managers and collaboration?

I've been using Nozbe, a digital task manager, for several years but only recently did I find that it can help a team collaborate.  Todoist and TodoCloud do this as well so Nozbe isn't alone. It's just the app that works best for me.

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Here's the process that my assistant and I use and it works so well, I thought I would share a sample from a project called "Podcast":

  1. I created a project called Podcast.
  2. I shared it with Karen.  At that point, the project became a shared initiative.
  3. Inside the project, I provided the script that I wanted Karen to use when she invited people to be a guest on the podcast.
  4. Karen then invited guests via email with the script that I had provided.  As guests indicated their "yes" or "no" to being on the podcast, she would then enter into Nozbe a separate comment with the guest's name and email. 
  5. From there, I would then follow up with each guest, scheduling them.  I would add a subsequent comment for Karen to see such as , "Just spoke with Barry; scheduled for October." 

The end product was a truly collaborative process, resulting in a new podcast that has now recorded five episodes.  We simply could not have done this without having a digital task manager like Nozbe.   Want to check out the podcast?  You can listen to it here.


What My Non-Smartphone Taught Me About Life

I'm a techie.


I admit it- if it's new, shiny and requires a power cord, I'm interested.  If Apple makes it, I'm looking for my wallet.


For better or worse, this "trait" has been passed on to my children.  They know the value of data.  They routinely look for wifi in public places.  They are a chip off the old block...


And then something serious happened about a month ago: we ran out of data.  This was cause enough for a Family Meeting, which of course the kids hate.  Bear in mind that not ten years ago, this concept (losing data) would have made no sense at all but in 2016, data is a big deal.


We see data as a right, an entitlement and a part of everyday life.


I was traveling for work that month and needed to use a lot of data and returned with two weeks left in our billing cycle with (gasp!) very little data to spare.  Since we have a family shared-data plan, this became a family problem.


We shut down almost everything that would consume data and by the end of the month, just made it with .07GB to spare. Phew!


But you know what?  Those two weeks with basically zero data taught me a few things.  First, I learned that most of the stuff I do on my phone is kind of lame and going without it was no big deal.  So I can't check Facebook?  Ok.  So I can't see Instagram updates when I'm at the grocery store?  No big deal. 


And, even better, I learned to daydream.  I learned to be bored again.  To stare out the window and watch stuff.  It was nice.


As it turns out, my not-so-smartphone without data taught me a great deal.  It made it easier for me to unplug and just be with my family and friends.  It taught my kids the value of margin and open space. 


One final thing: it taught me that Facebook and Instagram aren't nearly as interesting as I had previously thought. 


Here's to the simple things in life... With or without data.

An Introvert's Guide to Navigating Social Media

Many introverts excel when it comes to social media.  I'm often surprised (although I shouldn't be at this point) when I see someone on Facebook or Twitter who is outspoken but then in "real life" is more reserved.

Social media, for introverts, is a level playing field.  Twitter gives a voice to those that might be hesitant to express themselves.  Instagram enables introverts to connect with followers, all via photos and video.  

Introverts, not necessarily shy, crave connection but not via big crowds.  They appreciate relationships but prefer to form them thoughtfully, with depth and on their own terms.  

But, and here is the problem- social media, with all of its benefits, can be overwhelming.  Take me as an example.  On an average day, I can check and update Facebook but I find that I can't keep up with Twitter and Instagram.  LinkedIN?  Forget about it.  It's just too much.

So how can an introvert navigate social media without the process becoming overwhelming?  Here are three suggestions that will help:

  1. Choose one network to post.  For the rest, just check.  This is my best piece of advice.  Post to one and then check the others.
  2. Don't feel as if you have to be everywhere online.  Seriously, it's ok if you don't enjoy Twitter.  It's not as if we're talking about world peace.  Go where you want online and make it fun.  
  3. Take a day off from all social media.  So that introverts don't feel pulled in all sorts of directions, pace yourself by taking one day off each week from social media.  Trust me, this works wonders.

Social media doesn't have to suck the life out of you, as many introverts are finding.  Still, some self-pacing and moderation can keep social media fun and a great way to make meaningful connections with others.  

Part 5 of 5: Control Your Calendar

This is part of the series entitled, The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice

In the introduction to this series, we made the case that grad school programs and most organizations don't teaching rising leaders the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

In Part 2, we discussed the importance of managing your email daily.

In Part 3, I taught a better way to run meetings

In Part 4, we talked about the ways that executives need to synthesize large volumes of information.

In this post, the last of the series, we wrap it up but not before we deal with the final skill: control your calendar.

I once worked with a wonderful woman who would listen to anyone's problems and offer sage advice.

The only problem was that her entire day would be caught up with person after person who wanted to sit and chat. And, you know what happens when someone sits down- they stay down for a bit longer than is really needed.  A five minute chat can quickly turn into 

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My friend's entire day (and week) would thus be consumed with the priorities of others. Instead of being "master and commander" of her own week, she operated at the whim of those around her.

That spells disaster for any executive.

Why? Quite simply, your boss doesn't care about the priorities of others. He or she only cares that you carry out your most important tasks.

So how do you avoid the situation that my friend found herself in and control your own calendar? I suggest three strategies:

If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.
— David Allen
  1. Use one calendar. Whether it's the old-fashioned print version or Google Calendar, it must be used. If you have multiple calendars (I.e. Family, work, civic duties), make sure that they all find their way onto or into your one total calendar. This strategy may seem simple because it is. The problem is that too many people keep their appointments in their head rather than on a calendar.
  2. Use one digital task manager. The second strategy is related to the first except that it deals with your many "todo" items. Just as you will place all calendar items on your calendar, the second strategy calls for the countless little todo's into one digital task manager. I've used OmniFocus and it's great. My current task manager of choice if Nozbe (full disclosure: affiliate link). A digital task manager is critical because it will clear your head with every small item you pop into your task manager. You'll have more peace of mind because you won't be constantly thinking about what you need to do. Your task manager will do that for you.
  3. Theme your week. This final strategy is where the best executives excel. By theming your week, you actually trick your brain into knowing what your day will basically be filled with. For me, this looks like the following:
    • Monday: Personal (I conduct 4 one-on-one meetings)
    • Tuesday: People (We have our two staff meetings)
    • Wednesday: Populous (Out and about day)
    • Thursday: Planning (Taking time off-campus to look at the top priorities)
    • Friday: Prep (Getting ready for the next week)

By practicing these three, simple strategies, you will gradually take control of your calendar. This is the final skill that will nudge your productivity over the top.

Did you enjoy this five part series?  You may want to subscribe to my mailing list and receive the eBook, "The 6 Fastest Ways to Supercharge Your Career".

How to Be More Authentic on Social Media
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Authentic is the buzzword these days when it comes to job interviewing.  Recruiters will tell you to walk the fine line between "just be yourself" and "boldly promote your talents".  Somewhere in the middle is authenticity. 

But how about when it comes to your online presence- do others see the real you?

It’s worth a bit of reflection to consider how social media outlets like Twitter and LinkedIN fit into your career.  A savvy approach is to consider them as part of your total portfolio.  They should "fit" into the kind of person you want the world to see.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m all for social media and enjoy Facebook and the rest of the crew.  Still, many are finding that social media can feel overly self-promotish and a tad bit like reality tv- not actually real at all.

Consider the person who only posts photos to Instagram when things are good.  Follow them for a while and you’ll feel as if their entire life is one big party.  Newsflash: it isn’t.  They still put their shoes on the same way as you and me.  

Or, take the person who only rants on Facebook about the latest Democratic debate and how awful the candidates are (in their eyes).  Follow them for a while and you feel as if all they care about is finding a new issue to complain about.  

Quick tip: when you read something from someone else on social and it bothers you, it’s time to step back.  This may mean a week away or limiting your “checking” to once a day.  

Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.
— St. Augustine

Seriously, you could do this if you wanted or needed to.  I recently deleted Instagram from my iPhone.  I was spending too much time checking for updates.  

Here’s some advice from others who suggest a more moderated approach to social media:

To conclude, we’re not suggesting dropping off of all social media outlets.  Rather, moderation is best.  Post to Instagram when you feel like it rather than because you feel you “should”.  Update your Facebook page because you want to instead of a response to guilt or as a way to procrastinate other more meaningful things.  

Do social on your terms.  You’ll feel more in control and I would be that you’ll come across as more authentic.