A few weeks ago some friends and I were having a nice conversation, and the topic drifted toward our favorite iPhone apps and other similar geeky stuff. But to my surprise, when I mentioned some of the podcasts I listen to, no one knew what I was talking about.
Podcasting is a form of audio broadcasting on the internet. The podcasters records a show, to which you can subscribe to using an app. Usually, the show airs with a fixed frequency (weekly, or even daily), but while this may be important for growing an audience, it is not a requisite nor essential to podcasting. Once published, you can listen to the show’s episode whenever it suits you best.
My favorite time for listening to podcasts is while driving over commutes. I’ve found that podcasts —and audio books— allow me to make good use of this otherwise idle time.
The easiest way to subscribe to a podcast is to find it through your podcast player. Most shows —and there are thousand available— are listed in one or more podcast directories. Podcast players like Overcast, Apple’s Podcasts App, or Shifty Jelly’s Pocket Casts let you browse those directories to discover and subscribe to shows. They take care of downloading the latest episodes each time one is available.
Some Podcasts you may find interesting
This is a list of some of the podcasts I am currently subscribed or have been subscribed to in the past. I don’t feel obliged to listen to every episode of them, and I purge my list frequently.
The Tim Ferris Show, where Tim Ferris deconstruct world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics and tools you can use. iTunes | RSS
The Knowledge Project. Shane Parrish, author of The Farnam Street blog, interviews key luminaries from across the globe to gain insights into how they think, live, and connect ideas. The core themes will seem familiar to readers: Decision Making, Leadership, Innovation. iTunes | RSS
Cortex. CGP Grey and Myke Hurley are both independent content creators. Each episode, they discuss the methods and tools they employ to be productive and creative. iTunes | RSS
Seth Godin’s Startup School Series by Earwolf. Seth Godin is a thought leader in the marketing and business world. In this rare live recording, hear Seth as he guides thirty entrepreneurs through a workshop exploring how they can build and run their dream business. iTunes | RSS
Writing and Storytelling
Writing Excuses Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Daniel Wells discuss writing techniques in a fast-paced, 15-minute format. “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” iTunes | RSS
The Story Grid Podcast. Join Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid and a top editor for 25+ years, and Tim Grahl, struggling writer, as they discuss the ins and outs of what makes a story great. iTunes | RSS
Tech/Geek oriented Podcasts
Under the Radar. David Smith and Marco Arment. From development and design to marketing and support, Under the Radar is all about independent app development. It’s never longer than 30 minutes. iTunes | RSS
Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP). Featuring Marco Arment, Casey Liss, and John Siracusa. “A tech podcast we accidentally created while trying to do a car show.” This show is always longer than 1 hour… iTunes | RSS
If you want to be more productive, then start at the start: get there on time. Whether it is a meeting, a flight, an appointment or a date, ensure you are there when you say you will be there.
Being on time is respectful to your hosts and also means you can effectively manage your day. Once you get behind, it is hard to catch back up again. Being punctual doesn’t mean rushing around the whole time. I always find the time to exercise - kitesurfing, tennis or cycling – and to spend time with my loved ones. It simply means organising your time effectively.
Being on time doesn’t mean working to a strict, rigid schedule. It means being an effective delegator, organiser and communicator. If it isn’t going to be possible for me to make an appointment, make that clear and apologise. If possible, find one of the team who will find it useful to attend on your behalf, and then ask them to feed back to you. If it really isn’t possible to be on time, call ahead.
How many books did you read last year? How many do you plan to read this year?
Reading books is in decline.
Taylor Pearson1 writes that “in a 1978 survey [US], 42% of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year, and 13% they had read more than 50. In a 2014 study, Pew found that just 28% hit the 11 book mark and only 1% had read more than 50%.2”
In our interconnected reality books have to compete for time against Facebook, instant messaging, mail, or whatever the app of the moment may be. As Seth Godin says, if we have to choose between reading a book and checking e-mail, e-mail wins. The chime of a text message coming in is so irresistible that for many texting while driving is a serious problem.
Our use of the Internet and social media trains us for short bursts of attention and jumping between tasks, not for deep reading or activities that require long spans of attention. Even if we find time for reading a book, we may have a hard time reading it effectively —which is essential for learning— because it has become difficult for us to focus in one thing for even half an hour.
Are books the only way of learning?
Reading books is of course not the only way to learn things.
For example, the offer of open or paid online courses today is better than ever, with plenty of alternatives from serious institutions and companies. Some universities like MIT have published almost all of their course content online for free. But online courses have their own problems. For example, according to a 2014 study3, only an average 6.5% of enrolled students complete open online course, and the rates are negatively correlated with course length.
TED is another great way of learning. TED offers interesting talks, and maintains its quality thanks to the events organizers and the TED community. But I think part of its success is because the talks are around 15 minutes long. Watching a 15 minute video of a talk by an interesting speaker —many times a reference in her field—, with good text transcriptions, is something most of us can do.
Shane Parrish makes a distinction between reading for information and reading for understanding4.
A good heuristic: anything easily digested is reading for information.
Consider the newspaper, are you truly learning anything new? Do you consider the writer your superior when it comes to knowledge in the subject? Odds are probably not. That means you’re reading for information.
There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s how most people read. But you’re not really learning anything new. It’s not going to give you an edge or make you better at your job.
Learning something insightful is harder, you have to read something clearly above your current level.
Listening to a 15 minutes video may give you some insights and ignite the spark of curiosity needed to learn further about a specific topic. But if you need a deep and thorough understanding of the matter, books are still one of the best choices.
Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.” — Francis Bacon, The Essays.
The benefits of reading books are widely known. Reading broadens our understanding of the world, improves focus and concentration. It enhances our imagination. Reading books allows us to have a conversation with men and women of the present and past, learn from them, and let them affect our lives.
“People who do little or no serious reading (that is, reading for other than practical purposes or shallow amusement) don’t comprehend others, or their culture, or the complexities of reality, as well as those who do such reading.”5
The habit of reading correlates with better reading skills and higher academic achievement7. “Learning constantly is one of the best ways to get results in life. And reading —reading effectively, and reading a lot— is one of the best ways to learn8“.
According to his father, Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates was an avid reader since an early age6:
Just about every kind of book interested him -–encyclopedias, science fiction, you name it. I was thrilled that my child was such an avid reader, but he read so much that Bill’s mother and I had to institute a rule: no books at the dinner table.
As you can see from his book recommendations page on his personal blog, despite his multiple responsibilities, Bill hasn’t stop reading.
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose challenge for 2015 was to read a new book every other week —with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies— states that books allow us to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today.
Whether or not people read, and indeed how much and how often they read, affects their lives in crucial ways. (…) The data (…) demonstrate that reading is an irreplaceable activity in developing productive and active adults as well as healthy communities.
Amazon’s best selling business author Taylor Pearson, who reads around 60 books a year, writes:
For all the tricks I’ve developed to, the real reason I think I read so much is that I see it as a career competitive advantage. If I have to cut something out of my schedule, reading books is one of the last things to go. (…)
As less and less people read books, it’s getting even more valuable. As more people are focused on USA Today [newspaper] articles on their phones, the more profound the benefits from older books.
Reading is also an expression of who we are. Harold Bloom’s answer to the question of why should we read is that “only deep, constant reading fully establishes and augments an autonomous self.” Read not to change the world or to be a better person but simply to know, to become, yourself9. We read (…) in order to strengthen the self, and to learn its authentic interests10.
All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. With each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not. — Nick Hornby, Ten Years in the Tub
We read Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Dickens, Proust, and all their peers because they more than enlarge life… We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are. Yet the strongest, most authentic motive for deep reading of the now much-abused traditional canon is the search for a difficult pleasure. I am not exactly an erotics-of-reading purveyor, and a pleasurable difficulty seems to me a plausible definition of the Sublime, but a higher pleasure remains the reader’s quest… I urge you to find what truly comes near to you, that can be used for weighing and for considering. Read deeply, not to believe, not to accept, not to contradict, but to learn to share in that one nature that writes and reads.
How many do you plan to read this year? Set yourself a goal, it’s worth the effort.
If you were wondering about reading habits in Peru (where I live), according to a survey by Ipsos, only 19% of adults in Lima read a book the previous year, compared to 24% in 2010 and 25% in 2009. Note that there is no mention for adults reading more than one book a year, so the data wasn’t worth mentioning. According to another survey by Arellano (2014), 26% of peruvians have never read a book. ↩
Micromanagement kills ownership. Shane Parrish quoting Michael Abrashoff describes the problem when top performers become managers but continue to focus on individual contribution instead of on real leadership:
The difference between thinking as a top performer and thinking like your boss is the difference between individual contribution and real leadership. Some people never make this jump; they keep doing what made them successful, which in a leadership role usually means micromanaging. My predecessor on Benfold (the ship Abrashoff commanded), for instance, was extremely smart—a nuclear engineer and one of the brightest guys in the Navy. He spent his entire career in engineering, and when he took command of Benfold, he became, in effect, the super chief engineer of the ship. According to those who worked for him, he never learned to delegate. The more he kept sweating the details, the less his people took ownership of their work and the ship.
It comes down to this: only people can have ethics. Ethics, as in, doing the right thing for the community even though it might not benefit you or your company financially. Pointing to the numbers (or to the boss) is an easy refuge for someone who would like to duck the issue, but the fork in the road is really clear. You either do work you are proud of, or you work to make the maximum amount of money. (It would be nice if those overlapped every time, but they rarely do).
Don’t Reply All: 18 Email Tactics That Help You Write Better Emails and Improve Communication with Your Team, by Hassan Osman
Hassan Osman has a vast experience managing projects with large, geographically distributed teams. His previous book, Influencing Virtual Teams, offered no-nonsense tactics to help you managing your team.
Despite the huge advances in communications and the little improvement in email systems, email is here to stay. And it makes sense, because email remains one of the most effective and frictionless form of communications.
Reading, writing, and answering emails consumes a significant amount of everybody’s time.
According to a 2012 McKinsey study cited by Osman, the average US worker spends 28% of his/her workweek reading and responding to email. Most people recognize that they should do something about how they deal with mail, the actual number of people taking some real action is small.
This book is not about managing your inbox —no “inbox zero” pretentions here—, but about down-to-earth tactics to help you and your team become better and more effective communicators. The value of the book is not in its novelty —”There’s nothing earth-shattering about the contents of this book. In fact, many of my tips are common sense that you’ve probably read somewhere before”— but in that it offers proven best practices that you can adopt immediately, and that you can share with your team immediately.
The tactics described in Don’t Reply All can be divided in two groups, tactics 1 to 5 being the most important and effective ones. “If you take away a handful of lessons from this entire book, they should be those five tactics. They are your 80/ 20—the 20% of actions that will produce 80% of your results.”
These 5 tactics are about how to write meaninful subject lines, keeping the content of your emails short and to the point, and assigning tasks using the “3W”s:
The Who. Use the name of a single person of the name of the persons, don’t address people using “all”, “team”, etc.
The What. Don’t be ambiguous and avoid making assumptions.
The When. The exact time and date a task needs to be completed by. Always use a deadline, even if it’s fake.
The remaining 13 tactics in the book cover other no-nonsense advice like why you should steer away from asking open-ended questions in mails, how to use delayed delivery for sending emails when they are most likely to be read, and the maybe the most important one: do not hit reply-all when only the original sender needs to read your message.
I think that anybody whose work involves using email for communicating with coworkers and clients will greatly benefit from the tactics offered in this book.
Tags: book review, productivity, email, communication, effectiveness, team building
The ultimate goal of copyright is to expand public knowledge and understanding, which copyright seeks to achieve by giving potential creators exclusive control over copying of their works, thus giving them a financial incentive to create informative, intellectually enriching works for public consumption. This objective is clearly reflected in the Constitution’s empowerment of Congress “To promote the Progress of Science… by securing for limited Times to Authors… the exclusive Right to their respective Writings.” Thus, while authors are undoubtedly important intended beneficiaries of copyright, the ultimate, primary intended beneficiary is the public, whose access to knowledge copyright seeks to advance by providing rewards for authorship.”
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The ignored secret behind successful organizations (and nations) is infrastructure. Not the content of what’s happening, but the things that allow that content to turn into something productive.
(…) Here’s something that’s unavoidably true: Investing in infrastructure always pays off. Always. Not just most of the time, but every single time. Sometimes the payoff takes longer than we’d like, sometimes there may be more efficient ways to get the same result, but every time we spend time and money on the four things [Transportation, Expectation, Education, Civility], we’re surprised at how much of a difference it makes.
Working from home and working remotely have been getting more attention from companies in the past years, as can be seen from articles published in business magazines like Harvard Business Review and Forbes1. Among others benefits of having remote workers, executives mention the posibility to seek for talent globally, regardless of location; improvement in retention rates; increase in productivity; and reduced office space costs2.
Another interesting question is why do employees want to work from home. According to Microsoft’s Work Without Walls Survey (2011), the main reasons of information workers across several industries for working from home are: less commuting; better balancing work/home priorities; the need to finish work that can’t get done at the office; they are more productive at home than in the office; and, working in a less stressful environment.
Whether you work for a company that allows some kind of remote working, or are a freelancer or entrepreneur who works from home, be aware that while some people thrive working remotely, not everybody is able to work effectively from home or enjoys it.
For example, some people miss office chit-chat, and the physical interaction with their colleagues. They find it difficult to work as a team without face-to-face interactions. Others get nervous because the fear of losing “visibility”, or being left out of office politics, or that their bosses3 will judge them negatively because an unconscious —or not so unconscious— bias against remote workers.
Can you be effective working from home?
An adequate place to work
If you search the internet for requisites for working from home, you’ll find articles that focus on infrastructure. Having a separate room at home with a closed door to use as an office is ideal. You’ll also need ample desk space with good lightning —best if it allows to alternate between sitting and standing. Of course, since you’ll be spending an important part of your time at your desk, the best chair in the world or some of its clones is a must. Also, know that several studies show the benefits in having a window looking to an open place.
Don’t let those articles fool you: none of those things are indispensable. If you work full time from home, it may make sense to make some investment in your home office. But your focus should be first on doing outstanding work. In many cases you can start with what you have, and invest in furniture and equipment only when you’ve acquired some experience working from remotely.
For starters, you will only need a desk or a table that you can call your own during your working hours, in a place where you won’t get interrupted just because you are in the middle of the house’s traffic or activity. And of course, a decent-speed internet connection and your laptop.
You will also need a backup place.
Be realistic. Interruptions at the office can be a problem. But if your children are having their friends coming home to play in the afternoon, chances are you won’t get any work done during those hours. So, you’ll have to either decide that you’re not working that afternoon because you’re playing with your kids, or head to your favorite coffee shop for some hours to get your work done.
Other times, you’ll just get tired of the same four walls and having a backup place helps a lot. A nearby coffee shop, or a coworking space will do.
Acquire the necessary habits
The real key to working effectively from home —or elsewhere, for that matter— lies in your working habits and skills. Are you a self-starter, or do you need the pressure of a boss behind your back to get work done?
The ethos of someone working from home can be summarized in what Steven Pressfield, in his book Turning Pro, calls the pro mindset :
The pro mindset is a discipline that we use to overcome resistance. To defeat the self-sabotaging habits of procrastination, self-doubt, susceptibility to distraction, perfectionism, and shallowness, we enlist the self-strengthening habits of order, regularity, discipline, and a constant striving after excellence.
For example, having a personal schedule is indispensable. You need to decide beforehand not only at what time you’ll start to work every day (if you work for a company, probably they have some policies about this), but how you structure your day, and stick to that schedule.
Keep track of what you do during your working hours, and make a review at the end of the day. There a bunch of free or nearly free apps for your smartphone that can help you track your activities. (See Resources at the endo of this article.)
There is lot written about routines and rituals —see, for example Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a good recompilation of the habits of several artists— and how important they are for doing meaningful work. (More in a moment about how to structure your time.) The good news is that acquiring an habit is within the reach of everyone. Start small, but be consistent. According to some studies, the average time to acquire an habit is around 22 days, depending on your previous habits and difficult level of the habit itself.
Be clear on what you expect to achieve every day
Any coach on time management will tell you that having a clear understanding of your priorities and then blocking out time daily to accomplish the most important tasks is critical.
Defining your priorities, filtering what’s important from what’s just landed in your email inbox, is crucial for being productive. As Shawn Blanc explains, decisiveness brings motivation for action. Action brings clarity. Clarity helps us make future decisions4:
Keep in mind that a big part of setting a goal is to be decisive for the sake of boosting your motivation and sparking action. And it’s in the place of doing where we so often find the additional clarity we had been waiting for all along.
Oftentimes the clarity we’re waiting for comes after we start making progress. Because what we needed was experiential knowledge, not just head knowledge. There are times when, yes, we do need more information. But sometimes we just need to pick a direction and start moving.
You could start your work day by defining the most important action for that day, and deciding when are you going to do it. Or you could ask yourself everyday what Gary Keller, in his excellent book The ONE Thing, calls the Focusing Question:
What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
Allocate blocks of interruption-free time for Deep Work
Cal Newport, author of the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, coined the concept of Deep Work: cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve. This is the kind of work that matters.
But as Newport explains, deep work is not part of most knowledge worker’s diet:
Knowledge workers dedicate too much time to shallow work — tasks that almost anyone, with a minimum of training, could accomplish (e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media, and so on). This work is attractive because it’s easy, which makes use feel productive, and it’s rich in personal interaction, which we enjoy (there’s something oddly compelling in responding to a question; even if the topic is unimportant).
The manager’s schedule follows the appointment book, where the day is cut into one hour or half hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if needed, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. This is the time for meetings, making phone calls, reviewing reports, doing follow-up tasks, answering mails and the like. Interruptions during this time may be annoying or not, but don’t have a great toll on your productivity.
There are other tasks, however, that require a longer time span and great attention. An hour for this kind of task is barely enough time to get started. This is the maker’s schedule. Knowledge workers in particular need this kind of time. It is in this kind of uninterrupted work where you find relationships between ideas, get to the root cause of a problem, or where you are able to synthesize complex reasoning into simple and clear statements. You enter a state of flow, where you produce great stuff through absolute concentration.
Awareness is key here. Your more meaningful work requires, with high probability, to work in the maker’s schedule. Time-block your schedule so you can work on the most important things. There are no guarantees that there won’t be interruptions, but at least you are fighting hard against self-interruptions and dispersion. (This, too, is an habit that can be acquired.)
There is abundant literature on how to run effective meetings. Sorry to tell you, but very few people know how to do it.
People in managerial positions tend to view meetings a the way to resolve things. Meetings are the natural way managers have for dealing with anything of some importance.
Without pretending to be exhaustive, some tips that may help to better run meetings:
Show respect to others: Arrive some minutes before the meeting. Silence your phone. If you are expecting a call, say so before starting the meeting. Otherwise, do not answer phone calls.
If there is no agenda set, always ask for the agenda. Everybody knows and has read about the importance of the agenda, so nobody will disagree with you about this point. (That is, nobody except the person who scheduled the meeting and forgot to send the agenda.)
Take notes. I take notes of every meeting that I attend, not only because I find it indispensable for later reference, but because it helps me greatly to be focused on the topic at hand.
Don’t speak your opinion about every topic discussed. (It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt5.)
That said, learn to disagree and make your points clear when needed.
Learn to use the proper tools
I prefer to favor process over tools. That said, knowing how to use tools effective spare you lots of time. Which tools you use will depend greatly on whether you work on your own or work for a company.
For example, consider email. Even if there are some great tools that partially substitute email (for example, Slack), email is here to stay and the preferred method for communications on most organizations.
Successful remote work is based on three core principles: communication, coordination, and culture. Broadly speaking, communication is the ability to exchange information, coordination is the ability to work toward a common goal, and culture is a shared set of customs that foster trust and engagement. In order for remote work to be successful, companies (and teams within them) must create clear processes that support each of these principles.
An important part of culture, Graber continues, is developing trust. Cognitive trust (based on competence and reliablity) can be developed remotely. Affective trust, however, is based on feeling, and is trickier to build virtually.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. I find it very appropriate for doing deep work, i.e., working in the maker’s schedule.
The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are known as “pomodoros”, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro meaning “tomato”. The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.
Freedom, an app that blocks Internet access for a defined period of time you define so you can focus on the work at hand. (The only way to re-enable internet access before the timer ends is to reboot your machine.) Available for Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android.
Hours. A time tracker for iOS with a nice user interface, and customizable notifications. Free for a limited time. You can see it in action here.
Coach.me. A free app for iOS and Android that let’s you track personal improvement toward goals. Very useful for building habits.
Microsoft’s Work Without Walls Survey (2011) mentions as a problem for remote workers that “business leaders assume employees who work remotely and take advantage of the policy are not really working. This is because of the loss of control. Employers lose direct oversight and cannot witness productivity firsthand.” cfr also Krauthammer’s Out of sight does not mean out of mind. ↩