Progress with iDoneThis

Progress with iDoneThis

I have been using iDoneThis for just over 3 weeks now.

It is really simple to use.  You set up the project(s) and then are prompted regularly to fill in the progress you have made.  You type in some text and can include tags.  Progress items can be reviewed with a simple calendar or on a list.

As I said when I mentioned I was going to use this tool in my last blog post, I am using it for projects that I am doing on my own.  And I have come to the conclusion that I am not getting the best from it because I am not using it in a team environment.

It is a good discipline to write down the progress I have made and sometimes the daily mails remind me to focus on the next steps.  But I tend to track my work anyway in a daily time planning spreadsheet, so I am not gaining much.  The othe feature that could be useful is the ability to review individual small steps to see how long they took and when I was able to achieve them.  So far, I have not found the need to do this.

If I was in a team, I am sure it would be motivational to share progress and to see the progress others were making.  So I will definitely put this utility on the list for future shared projects.  But for the time being I am going to stop using it.

One other good outcome from the test of using iDoneThis is that it has reminded me that I need more external feedback even on my own projects.  This is for two reasons: firstly, to make sure that I am working on developing services that will meet user needs in the future; secondly because of the stimulus that external feedback provides – hopefully good feedback but you can even use criticism as a motivator.

So a new habit for me to develop is to spend more time making and renewing contacts.

Tracking progress

Tracking progress

I often work on my own.  When working for a client, it is very often from home and involves creating content or marketing material which requires research and self-organised activity with weekly reviews.  Then there are my own projects that I am trying to develop in the long-term; although they need input from other people and I also aim to ask for feedback and advice from mentors and associates that I trust, this does not happen every day.

Some days it is easy to make progress, others it is difficult to get started.  Always there is the danger of distractions. There are no team members with whom to share each day the progress and the frustrations; there is rarely anyone whose work reminds me to get on with my own. So I am constantly on the lookout for new ways of working or tools that will help me to be more focused and get things done.

Today I signed up for a trial of iDoneThis.  Very simply this will send me an email at the end of each weekday asking me to state what I have achieved during the day; I am currently reviewing five possibiliities for new projects and so the email will focus on the progress made in evaluating them and choosing which one(s) to take forward.

Writing things down has been shown to help you focus on what needs to be done.  Will writing down my daily achievements encourage me when I have made good progress and spur me on when things have not gone well?

The 14 day trial will help me find out.

What tools or tips do you use to motivate and focus when you work on your own. Do comment below
Active participation

Active participation

I made a mistake this morning – or perhaps I was just lazy.  The Sussex branch of the IoD (Institute of Directors) were holding a breakfast meeting on the subject of “Company Pensions – a millstone round your neck or a milestone to a better future”, which I attended.  My consulting company may be micro in size but like all other companies it will be covered by the automatic enrolment legislation.  So I thought I had better find out more before my staging date of 1st April 2017.

The presenter was Alan Salamon, a pension and investment expert, and I went along to hear him speak.  What I forgot to do was think about how to get the best out of the networking opportunities before, after and even during the meeting.  The value mostly comes from what you learn from others and can share with them, rather than any direct pitch.  For me, it takes an effort to socialise easily with those I do not know, so I should have prepared myself mentally to make the most out of each conversation, finding out about other people, their roles and operations, their current business challenges and views.

It was a reminder to me that you always need to work out how to be an active participant at all meetings, to think about what you can put in as well as what you can get back, to try to build conversations and communications that might grow in the future.  Next time I should put aside a short period of time to prepare to put more in and get more out.

In praise of short thank yous

In praise of short thank yous

I have just read an article by Sarah Pavey of MindTools about the need to set rules for communications within companies & groups to make interactions efficient.  It makes lots of good points about this very important subject.

But one point I disagree with.  For me short thank you emails are very worthwhile for a number of reasons

  1. they acknowledge that the recipient has seen the mail.  As the article points out, depending on the recipient you may not be sure that they will read your mails swiftly, and the thank you puts your mind at rest
  2. They show appreciation and we all need appreciation.  Even a thank you for something small can boost our feelings of positivity
  3. They build the relationship and team feeling.  This may be in a trivial way, but strong effects are constructed from many small actions
  4. Saying thanks reminds you of how you rely on others.
  5. It takes only a few seconds and saying thanks has a positive effect on you as well as on the receiver.
Although I am often swamped by email, I would gladly add another ten small thank you emails a day – and I will try to send them as well.
5 reasons to go with gut feeling

5 reasons to go with gut feeling

I recently read a McKinsey article on “Learning from Google’s Digital Culture” in which Google VP Jon Kaplan talks about the company being data driven and that “At Google, you really don’t walk into a meeting talking about your gut feel on something”.

While not denying the power of basing decisions on data, I think there are five reasons why you might want to base your decisions on gut feeling:

  1. Firstly, there are the quick decisions that we take (“Whom should I talk to first in a room full of strangers?”, “Which of today’s tasks is most important?”, “What should I wear?”).  We do not have time to check all the data, we need to get on and do something.  But we normally rely on rules of thumb, which leads to the second reason:
  2. Often we have built up experience and can instinctively make good decisions.  They may be difficult to explain but our gut feeling can be a reliable distillation of what we have learnt subconsciously, for example in terms of dealing with people or prioritising certain tasks
  3. Sometimes there is not enough data available in a quantitative form.  This may be true even for big decisions, like choosing a job – the salary and the career opportunities might be good, but even after talking to a number of people, we will not know for sure how we will enjoy the work atmosphere until we try it out.
  4. When we are passionate about something, or come up with something innovative, it may be a case of following our instinct and convincing others to follow us or try out something new.  Leaders and innovators do not always have data because they are able to change behaviours so that previous data does not apply.
  5. Lastly, testing may be the best way to collect the data – a case of going with gut feeling and checking the results.

The last point is vital.  It may be worth following gut feeling because of our passion, our experience, our lack of time or lack of data.  But it is always important to test that it is working: are people signing up for our innovative products? Is our (subconscious) experience relevant in this case?  Are the results of our test providing the data to back up our decision?

Remember also that gut feeling only works if you are in charge of the decision.  In the words of Jim Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape  “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”
Do you have good or bad experience of using gut feeling?  Please share your thoughts or opinions in the comments

Handling conflicts in groups and teams

Handling conflicts in groups and teams

Clip art image of conflictThere seemed to be no avoiding the topic of hadling conflicts yesterday.

First on LinkedIn one of my connections recommended a blog post by Bernard Marr, a LinkedIn INfluencer.  I read it and then continued to the next post: “The Vital But Forgotten Soft Skill of Truly Successful People”.  In it he discusses how a vital skill for leaders is the ability to address and resolve conflicts rather than leaving them to fester.  His five point plan on how to address them is simple to understand (you could summarise it as – Breathe, Acknowledge, Listen, Focus, Respect) but, as he points out, takes a great deal of practice to implement well.

But it was the point made at the end of the blog that struck me most – conflicts can often be opportunities for “learning, innovation and even team building” with issues explored and people helped to listen and understand different views.

This article tied in strongly with another that I read shortly afterwards.  A post on the eFront blog about rewarding users of elearning referenced an article by Clay Shirky “A group is its own worst enemy“.  Although the Shirky article is ten years old and the technology has moved on since then, the points remain valid.  You may not know the examples that he uses, but the risks of groups descending into internal squabbling remain today.

Clay Shirky suggested four ways that groups could be designed to avoid or deal with internal issues:

  1. Ensure users have an identity (a “handle”).  Even it is a nickname it gives others a chance to learn about the views and approach of each user and so to form opinions about them
  2. Have a way for users to gain a good reputation and for this to be shown.  This allows the committed users to have a greater stake in the group
  3. Put more control in the hands of the committed members and do not allow a large number of not very involved people to determine the future of the group
  4. Work out how to scale the group so that it still retains a way for members to have conversations with close associates and for relationships not to become swamped in a large mass of communication

I have not done the article justice and you should read it yourself to find out more.  But like the Bernard Marr article I talked about initially, it deals with conflict resolution and with addressing issues that arise between people, though in the Clay Shirky case it is in relation to online groups rather than groups in physical organisations.

Synthesising the two different articles has lead me to three key points:

  • accept that there are always going to be conflicts between individuals in any groups and plan how to make the best of it
  • the conflicts can be beneficial if they result from different views of people who are committed to the group, and give members a chance to understand each other’s viewpoints
  • there needs to be a mechanism for resolving the conflicts, which needs a leader or group with the power to listen to different views, try for consensus but then act to carry the group forward