Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

Follow that feeling

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

You’re driving down the road, when an oncoming car swerves into your lane. Before you know what has happened, you’ve braked, steered away from the car and are probably already past it. You definitely didn’t take the time to consciously analyze the situation and make a calm decision about what to do. Instead, instinct took over, and your body almost automatically made the right moves to keep you out of harms way.

Obviously in this situation there is no choice, you can either let your intuition take over or you can crash, but what happens if you let the same force guide you in the major life decisions you face. Looking back on those decisions now, quite often you probably knew the right decision in your gut long before you decided for sure.

I’ve had several experiences so far where a major life decision was decided by that gut feeling, and every time it has turned out for the best.

The first was my college choice. I’d been accepted at several universities, and was visiting them all to make my decision. When I finally got to Northwestern (the last of them that I visited) I walked onto the campus and knew instantly that it was the right place for me to be. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the school with the strongest program in the area I wanted to study, it just felt right. Later, in explaining my decision to my parents I told them, “There was the right proportion of flannel shirts.” Whether I had a strange obsession with flannel shirts in high school or not, it was my way of stating that I felt the balance there was right.

Fast forward four years, and I wanted to go to grad school. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, and I thought it would give me more clarity as to where to direct myself in the future. However, because of that, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, until one night when I was thinking and decided, “I want to go to school in Australia.” Several months later, I had applied, gotten in, and was on my way to Sydney, all because of a sudden thought one evening. The life experience was invaluable, and even though I may have gone to grad school for the wrong reason, I believe that I learned a great deal about myself through the process, and I think that was more important than the coursework itself.

Finally, I was back in the states and was interviewing for positions at several different firms. I ended up with two offers from two wildly different places. One was a large corporation with tens of thousands of employees, a well established training program and a well recognized name, while the other was a small, British firm with a comparatively minor US presence. The advice I often received was to go with the big name, and have a great start to my career with that name on my resume. However, after my final interview with the British firm I knew that it was the right place for me, and I took that position. So far it has been an amazing experience, and I feel that I’ve had opportunities to grow, learn about many different aspects of the business and help my team transform itself. While the other opportunity might have given me a similar experience, I don’t know if the camaraderie at my current place could ever be matched anywhere else. Plus, who has more fun on a night out than the Brits?

So, to sum it up – follow your gut and trust your instinct. It will often take you to places you never thought you’d find, and even if things don’t work out you’ve always got a good story out of it.

Have you been wandering around listlessly?

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Every morning when I get into work, I sit down and write out a list of tasks I need to accomplish for the day on a legal pad I keep by my desk. It usually ranges from five to ten tasks, and gives me a good sense of how to structure my day. This list lets me order the tasks to be more efficient, and allows me to construct the day such that one task flows naturally into the next.

I can also add things as needed throughout the day if something new comes in, or make a note about something that will have to be done at a future date. It also helps me to remember everything that needs to get done, because a quick scan at the end of the day lets me quickly see if there is anything I haven’t gotten to. If I were keeping this list in my head, its very easy to let a task slip through.

I also have other lists close at hand, including the various major projects on which I am working, consultants that need to be paid, and issues that need to be discussed, either with bosses or co-workers. Each of these gives me a sense of control over what needs to get done, and gives me a visual representation of which tasks still need to be accomplished. Plus, it’s fun to cross something off the list when it is finished.

Handwritten lists on a pad aren’t for everyone, and there are many other ways to keep a good to do list around. Some people use a small notebook like a Moleskine, which can easily be carried around, and I actually use one of these for my own personal lists. Others use built in software with their PDAs or Blackberries, while others may use an online service such as Remember the milk, Backpack, or even a modified GTD system using Gmail or some other client.

Regardless of how you choose to implement your lists, they provide an important service, and can provide a useful boost to productivity at work and at home.

Putting a hobby to work for you

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

Hobbies are a great way to spend your free time. They give you the opportunity to do something you enjoy, and should bring you pleasure. But what if there was a way to get more out of your hobbies, or to find a new hobby that could do more than just help you pass the time.

These are a few things that I’ve gotten involved in recently that are able to give something back to me in exchange for my time.

1. Writing: Whether you like to write fiction, non-fiction, short stories, or snippets of advice, there is always a market out there for good writing. This writing can be for yourself, for someone special to you, or for the world. In this day and age it is incredibly easy to get published, because anyone can do it themselves on the web. Personally, I started this blog as an opportunity to push myself to start my writing again. I had been a fairly prolific writer, mostly about my travels, several years ago, but had last the push to write for myself and I’m hopeful that this blog will help me to hone those skills again. The benefits of writing can run the gamut. Some are intangible, such as the ability to express yourself in a way you couldn’t before or to let someone else understand your point of view. Others are more concrete, and many people make money off their writing, either by selling it directly, or indirectly, through advertising or other means.

2. Knitting: While I haven’t taken this one up myself yet, I have attempted a few stitches. The results aren’t pretty so far, but I have gotten numerous hand made gifts from friends that range from scarves to coasters to an ipod cozy. All it takes is a little bit of time and some yarn and you can create a nearly endless supply of handmade goods for both yourself and friends and family. And while you may not have enjoyed that annual red sweater from your aunt when you were a child, you can be creative and give a friend something knitted that they will enjoy. To get started just find a store that sells yarn and needles, and talk to the people there. Chances are they know either a local knitting group that can give you pointers or they may even hold workshops in the store itself.

3. Hiking: I’ve been an avid hiker for years, and not only is it a way for me to escape the city for a while and be relaxed and in tune with nature, it is also very healthy. I get my Lose Weight Exercise and get to see a bit of green (or an endless yellow-brown if it’s a desert hike). No matter where in the world you are, there is someplace to hike close by. You don’t have to have a famous trail in your backyard to get out there. If you need a little help finding someplace to go, try and find a local hiking club that can point you in the right direction. The Sierra Club is a good place to start as well.

While the examples I give may not be for you, there is something out there that you can do to both pass the time and give something back to yourself. It never hurts to try a few things, take what you like best out of each of them, and see what you can come up with. Feel free to pass along any hobbies you’d recommend in the comments, as I’m always willing to try something new.