A little bit of everything

How I keep myself productive


I’m always interested in improving myself. I’m particularly interested in everything that affects my productivity. For that reason I pay attention to what I do, how I do it and I try to find little nuggets that will get me to a better position.

In the past few weeks, I found myself explaining how I plan my days and how I make sure I keep them productive to several different persons. These conversations are always a great checkpoint for me. They keep me on my toes. I have to explain it to someone else, so it does have to make sense. And, as with almost everything, once you have to explain it, you understand it much better and find points of improvements.

In one of those conversations, when I was explaining “my process”, a friend challenged me to put it into writing and share it.

Well, challenge accepted.


Why I plan my day

To begin with, it’s important to understand how I got to this point.

We all have many things to do and we all live in a balance between importance and urgency. We’re easily drawn into urgent issues at the cost of important ones. Sometimes we’re pulled by issues that look like urgent (or even important) and that we find out are none!

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!”

So I found it of paramount importance to have it very clear in my head:

  1. What are the important goals I want to accomplish?
  2. Which are the tasks I have to perform to accomplish those goals?
  3. What’s the priorities of the issues I have to do?

Above all is important to understand that most of these hacks are a way of overcoming my shortcomings. I’m flawed and defectuous. I procrastinate if I allow myself to. I confuse important things with urgent things.

So, more than creating a way to be perfect, I longed for a process to be fairly productive. I’m also stuborn and some pighead determination got me to a better position. That’s what I’ll share with you.

Why I plan for work and personal issues

One other thing I realised as I thought more and more about how to organise myself and how to be more efficient, was the fact that I only live one life. This means that throughout my day I do things which are related with my work, but I also have to do personal stuff and familiar things.

My day, my 24 hours, are the same. Whether I use them to work, for leisure or any other interests I might have. That’s why I plan my day including everything I want to do: whether those are personal or work issues.

Did it ever happen to you to set an appointment for something personnal and then forgetting about it when you’re thinking about your calendar for professional issues?

It used to happen frequently to me. One day I was setting a business dinner and someone asked:

“Are you available Thursday?”

“Sure”, I replied.

Thing is, I had arranged with my mother, less than an hour before to have dinner with her, on that same Thursday! However, in my mind those were two different calendars. One for personal appointments another for professional ones. And when I was thinking about one of the aspects, I totally forgot the other. If some friend were to invite me to dinner for that Thursday I would not confuse myself and would quickly reply that I was not available. But as it was a business situation, I forgot about the arrangement with my mom.

The biggest problem was, I didn’t keep all my personal appointments on my calendar. So when I checked my agenda to confirm if I was available it didn’t show me the time slot was already taken.

These kind of situations, where I confused personal and professional appointments and forgot about some when setting up the others, happened more than once. I forgot medical appointments when setting meetings, or parent meetings at the kids’ school.

I don’t have that problem anymore. I set up calender appointments for everything, whether it’s personal or professional. Going to my daughter ballet presentation? Set it on my calendar. Lunch with my mother? On my calendar. Saturday morning sales presentation with the team? Well, you got the idea.

In the beggining there was nothing

There are two important ideas about planning my days.

  1. Every morning, I define what I want to do during that day.
  2. Every evening, I analyse what I did and register it down on a timesheet.

It sounds more complicated than what it actually is. In fact, this takes me 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon to actually accomplish this. And believe me, the results are just too valuable not to do it.

Plan the day

I plan my day. Everyday.

The first thing I do in the morning is to prepare what I want to do for that day. There are some places I check for this:

  1. My calendar, to understand what I have on the schedule for the day;
  2. My Trello board with all my lists: I’ll explain all those lists in a bit;
  3. My email inbox to see what came up during the night.

Once I have reviewed these, I mentally prepare my day. I make sure everything I want to do today goes to my “Now” list on Trello. Once I put something on the “Now” list, I also include an estimate of how long I think it will take. Usually the issues will take 1 or 2 hours. Some are minor and might take 0,5h or 0,25h. The total number of hours on the “Now” list for the day has to be less than my available hours for the day.

By doing this prioritization, I save myself the trouble to decide, as the day goes by, what should I do next. In reality, it’s more than this. There are all sorts of things that the “rational guy” within me knows will be necessary to do. But the “procrastinator” in me would postpone those tasks and substitute them with others he would deem more “interesting”. By prioritizing as the “rational guy” I’m taking that decision out of the “procrastinator” way.

Is that me disciplining myself? Yes.

Does it work 100% of the time? No.

Sometimes I skip one task and do something else that was not on the list. But in the afternoon when I come back to what I actually did, I’ll have time to “punish myself”.

If something comes up during the day that will take me non-planned time (and it happens everyday) I’ll consider if I really have to deal with it then, and if it is more important do complete that task today (instead of one of the tasks I had planned).

This process to plan my day takes me 5–15 minutes everyday, including the process of going through the emails. This is a very small toll to pay to improve the productivity everyday and making sure you do what you really think it’s important to do.

Review what you did

I keep a timesheet, to check that what I did matched my priorities. I don’t micro-manage what I did, but I categorize it. In the beginning of the year I established the main areas where I want to focus my attention and everyday, before calling the day, I divide the hours I was working through those categories.

Screen_Shot_2017-03-01_at_10_58_46 2

My current timesheet

This year, my categories have to do with the most important issues managing Near Partner. So everyday, I divide my time into:
  1. Strategy;
  2. Business as Usual
  3. Internal People
  4. Other issues (related with my company)
  5. Issues related with my previous position

I have considered the importance of all these categories and so I’ve established the target for each of them, and from time to time I analyse how am I going and how that translates into my priorities for the future.

This analisys is also important to understand which important tasks I did not complete and why. That’s when I usually understand how I allowed the “procrastinator” take the best of me and postponing something that would be important to be done. It’s also, the moment I’m preparing the planning for the next day:

“This are the things I did not do today that I must complete tomorrow!”

It’s more difficult to relapse when you have to think about your faults by the end of the day. And even if you do it once, it’s less likely to happen again tomorrow if you are aware of it.

I have a Trello board with my to-dos

  1. I have a Trello Board with several lists. It’s my personal board.
  2. The main lists, where I look for to-dos, are:

a) Now

b) Next

c) Later

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 10.08.06

Then I have some other lists:

  1. Follow up: this is the list where I go everyday to look at things that are to be reviewed by me or that I should confirm are going on (but which I don’t have to act on directly)
  2. Inbox: is the list to where I send emails I can’t deal with right now. This list is not prioritized and only has items sent from the email. (more on this later)
  3. To-do (for sometime): this is a list where I put things that I might or might not do. It is what I call “Issues that time might solve”. If one day I have some spare time (as if it ever happens…), I’ll pick issues from this list. Otherwise, I won’t.
  4. To see: this is the list where I have things I want to see later (namely videos, talks or shows). For this list I use a very simple algorithm: if sometime has passed and I haven’t yet seen or paid attention to the issue I just delete it or I move it to the now or next list. The logic is simple: If I haven’t seen this yet, it means that it either is nor important (for me) or that it is but I haven’t have any time for it. If it is important, I’ll have to find some time anytime soon (and it goes to the now or next list). If it isn’t I’ll just forget about it.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 10.08.22

I also create some other ad-hoc lists for issues that temporarily are on my mind, and that I want to keep track of.

For instance, as I write this I have a list called “Recruitment” because I have a lot on my mind about this right now. We are very actively hiring people to Near Partner and I want to follow that issue very closely. When this matter becomes less important, I’ll just archive this list and move on with it. Nonetheless, the issues I want to act upon, even if they are related with recruitment have to be created on one of the To-do lists (“Now”, “Next” or “Later”).

Deal with email: Touch it once

Email is a bitch. It can be a major problem to deal with and it might be a huge problem in your productivity.

I’m pretty happy with the way I deal with emails nowadays. But it wasn’t always like this. I used to read any given email at least 3 times. First to know what it was. The second time deciding if that was something I wanted to do right away or could reply immediately. And usually a third time, when I would really deal with it and do whatever I had to do in order to “resolve it”.

Now I have one rule: thouch it once!

The process is more or less as follows:

  1. I check my email 3–5 times during the day
  2. On those moments I allow myself to spend some time going through it and answering (15 mins top)
  3. If I can, I reply immediately or do whatever I have to do to make sure it can be archived; If I can’t, I’ll send the email to my Trello Board to be dealt with later.
  4. When I finish this, I’ll have my “Inbox” list on Trello with several issues. I’ll go through it and decide immediately to which lists those issues should be moved. If they are very important and have to be dealt with today, I’ll move it to the “Now” list. Otherwise, I’ll move them to the “Next” or “Later”. As I’m sure I’ll go through these lists every morning I don’t have to worry to much about them. Tomorrow, when I’m planning my day, I’ll look into these again.

This takes me more or less one hour during the day going through the emails. Which is good given what it used to take me before I had this process in place.

Conclusion

My main thought through all of this is: I want to make sure I do important things, not urgent.

Everyday, when I’m doing my planning, I go through all the lists. I move issues around. I archive some issues “time solved” and which don’t need my attention anymore or are now obsolete.

When planning my day I consider both personal and professional issues. My time is the same, so if I’m doing one thing, no matter the “category” I won’t be able to do another.

There are other issues that muddle in the way of your productivity. Interruptions are probably the most important.

I usually have my notifications turned off. To me that’s very important. I’m someone who is easily pulled to something if I see a notification. To avoid this I only check messages, emails or slack when I’m moving from one issue to the other. This way I minimize the “context change cost”.

However, the truth is many things I do during my days demand a great deal of interaction with others. How, when and why that happens is very important. Communication is a very important topic and its relevant to manage it. But that’s an issue for a different post.

My productivity hacks are always “Work in Progress”. There are always changes and some tweaks that will improve this process. However, I’m happy with the way I deal with my issues and priorities. I guess this must be true for almost everyone. Give it a try. Let me know how it went.

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The Himmler brothers or the ironies of life

Life is just full of ironies. This book is based on one of those.

Katrin Himmler would be a normal German woman, born in 1967, and graduated in political science, if it wasn’t the fact she was the great-niece of Heinrich Himmler, the head of Hitler’s SS and one of the leaders of the Nazi regime.

In that fact lies the irony. Katrin is married to a Israeli jew.

After their son was born she decided to study in depth her grandfather, Ernst Himmler, and how was his relation with his older brother, Heinrich. Moreover, she wanted to understand and figure out how much was her grandfather involved in the genocide occurring while he was also a member of the SS. This book portrays the findings of that research.

Several years ago, as I was doing my MSc in the Univeristy of Reading, I developed a routine. I would fly to London early in the morning and so I would have a couple of hours in town before heading to Reading. Usually, I spent those hours in the Waterstones in Picadilly. Up till today I think it’s the finest bookstore in the world. And I’ve visited a few…

On one of those visits, I did the usual thing: I wandered around my favorite sections: History, Business, and Biographies; then I chose a couple of books that reasoned to me, and I began skimming through them; I sat on one of their comfortable sofas, and read introduction or the first couple of chapters of the books.

With the “Himmler Brothers” I read the introduction and the first chapter and couldn’t let it go. I had to buy it and continue reading it, which I did. In a couple of days I had finished the book.

If you’re interested in History and particularly in the Second World War, this book is for you. I find most interesting to read about historical figures.

The way I see it real life stories are much more interesting that fiction ones…

 

Fermi´s Paradox

To think about things is one of the most fascinating capabilities we have… This is a great video about it!

I confirmed I’m an entrepreneur (by working for someone else)

For the first time in more than 12 years I’ve accepted a job… and the funny thing is that it just confirmed that I am an entrepreneur.

I was 23 years old when I got out of college. As I landed my first job I didn’t realize there were other options besides getting a job working for someone else. The option of being self-employed was there, but it wasn’t normal and it didn’t strike me.

Not long after starting my first job I began to understand that I wanted to do more. I wanted to decide more. I wanted to build more (which is a curious choice of words since I’m a trained civil engineer and I was working as a construction manager, in a construction company by then). That said, I quit and started my own company. And that has been the story of my life for 12+ years. Start businesses. Build things. Face new challenges. Do it again.

Last year, when Limetree crashed and burned, I was invited to join Premium Minds. I guess I should say I was offered a job, but it felt more like an invitation. Like when a friend invites you to go to her house for dinner.
“Come and join us. We do great stuff. We have fun. It will be great to have you here.”

The funny thing is this job offer didn’t have a “job” attached.

As I found out, Premium Minds doesn’t hire people for a job. Premium Minds invites people to join the gang. And that feels good.

As I “joined the gang”, I felt the need to answer the same question several times (many of those times to myself): “What about that entrepreneurial spirit?”

What I learned during these past few months was the spirit does not depend on the ownership… It depends on what you’re doing; with whom; and how much you are motivated to do it.

At Premium Minds I found a team of people that share my mindset about some fundamental values:
– be true (to yourself and to others);
– be happy and help others with their happiness;
– be honest (and don’t trade it for anything);
– be responsible for what you do, but give others a break on small mistakes you know everybody does.

What I learned was that these values are enough for me to want to build something with these guys, for as long as they want to build something too (and they do!). And if whatever comes out of this is not completely mine, it’s ours, and that’s even better when you think about it.

That’s the reason behind the big challenge we posed to ourselves in 2015: let’s build a product together. Let’s create something that will make us proud, happy and fulfilled.

This wasn’t something completely new at Premium Minds. We do have a creative day every month focused on experimenting and trying different things. We have found it to be very good for both personal development and for morale (people like to do different and funny things).

Now we have a services company deciding to actually build a product. We began with Innovation Cast to show us the way forward: what to build; how; and to whom.

We’re just beginning and we don’t know how it will end. If nothing else I’m sure it will be a great learning experience for everybody involved.

As for myself, this experience has assured me I’m an entrepreneur: I want to build things. I want to change the world. I want to have fun doing it.

I found a place to keep doing it!

(Originally posted here)

How do I feel?

Last week we made the decision to close Limetree. It was a hard decision to make and we didn’t act lighthearted. It was made after so much consideration that the decision was almost obvious when we made it.

After the announcement, I received hundreds of emails. I spent 3 days in a row answering to them until 3 am. But since the beginning we have decided to talk directly to our users, our friends and give them the best customer service ever. This was not the time to stop doing it.

Many of the emails I received asked me the same question:

How are you?

Some presented a variant to it:

I imagine how you’re feeling and how hard it has been.

Finally, a couple of days after the announcement I could actually write a reply that represented exactly how I feel. It went something like this:

The decision was sad, but I’m not sad.

Our success fell short to what we expected, but I’m not disappointed.

I didn’t match the expectation of many (including my own) and that is disappointing, but I’m very proud of what we accomplished and very happy of the path.

Now I’ll face new and different challenges that will also bring me success, joy and accomplishment.

Bottom line, I’m feeling excited about what’s to come… and that’s my strongest feeling now!

Limetree | The end

Limetree is going to close.

Almost 3 years ago we have decided to launch a platform where every parent could save and enjoy the best moments of their children’s lives.

Along the way, this project evolved. It became mobile, with an IOS app and it also became international, reaching every continent. We’re very proud of this.

Today Limetree comes to an end. Many of the challenges parents faced when we began remain unsolved, but we were unable to reach a sustainable way to do it. And we’re so very sorry.

It is with utmost sadness and with a huge sense of frustration that we decide we are not going to work on Limetree anymore. We failed to secure enough funding or a sustainable business that would allow us to proceed.

Since the beginning, our biggest concern lies with our users privacy. It has not changed. All your memories are safely stored with us, but they’re yours. And they will always be. To ensure it, we will allow everyone to download all their memories until the 30th of November.
After that period, we will completely delete all the contents and informations from our users accounts.

The same way we will refund our paying customers for the remaining of the duration of their accounts. Last but not the least we have to thank you for all the support, feedback and love. Thanks to you, this has been an unforgettable journey. With all our hearts: Thank you!

See you soon,
Pedro

Hiring for startups…

A startup is not a regular business and it definitely is not the small equivalent to a big company.
Entrepreneurs get it (sometimes the hard way) but, many times, they face several problems related to hiring and retaining talent.

This happens for several reasons and it’s not easy to solve the problem. From my part, I think that a good first step is to read this article and make sure that everybody you hire for your startup also reads it.
Hope it helps…

Hack it!

Zendesk was hacked and announced it in the most straightforward possible way:

We’ve been hacked

No BS, no complicated words, no useless explanations. But more, they also said:

We have an investigation underway and do not have the answer to every question.

And that’s it. 

Bluntly…

Just to understand how it worked, today I clicked on the button that says “Follow” on the top of my blog. 

A model option opened with a field to write the email address. So far, nothing special. Until I read the text over it: “Join 350 followers and receive the new posts on your inbox”. Cool, right?

Wrong. I don’t have 350 followers. Sorry to let you down, but I have a very limited audience… 

Still it’s good to understand how WordPress is pimping its blogs…

How do you fake urgency?

Urgency boosts productivity. You don’t do it perfectly, but you’ll do it much, much faster. But it is necessary to be in a hurry to be able to do that. And most of the times you can’t do it the same way if there’s no urgency in it. And not even the prospect of an urgency is enough to make you run as you do when you really have to.
There’s a similitude between work and the famous law for gases: gases will use all the space available; work takes all the time you have available. The same task might take you 1 week or 1 month, depending on how much time you have on your lap…
So if you want to make sure you ship… The question remains: how do you fake urgency?

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