Category Archives: Team

how-to-be-productive

How to be productive – inspired by pancakes

In today’s fast-paced lifestyle, life can easily pass you by. Everyone needs to have a ‘how to be productive’ system that can fit into their hectic schedule. Husbands and wives have their home chore list. Students have their school assignments. Corporate employees have numerous reminders about the business reports that are due in a couple of hours. Often, an individual shares two or more different roles that need to be managed. Versatility, ease of use, and practicality are often a necessity to a productivity system. If you made productivity a full-time task, and you would still have a hard time efficiently developing a system that works for everyone. XKCD.com illustrates this perfectly.

how-to-be-productive

How to be productive when you don’t have time to learn

The problem is that the more time that you devote to improving your method, the longer it takes to make up for the time lost. The harder you work, the further behind you become. It becomes extremely complicated to devote time to that when you have so many other things going on. Eventually, “find new ways to save time” becomes just another item on your “I will get to it at some point” to-do list.

That is why I have decided to make it my goal to help you.

The problem is that I can only work on thoughts and ideas that are in my given skill set. I can only make pancakes.

how-to-be-productive

Photo by mroach

Pancakes?

I am the biggest pancake critic I know. Any breakfast restaurant that serves the delectable spheres of doughy goodness can bet my order will include a short stack at least.

The funny thing about this that until recently, I did not even know how to make pancakes. The recipe I was familiar with included a box of batter with the simple instructions “Just add water”. Why had I never learned to make scratch pancakes? The answer was one simple word, fear. There was a fear of failure and then ruining my favorite meal forever.

Tim Ferris relates to this types of fear in his TED Talk, – Smash Fear – Learn Anything. Similar to his experiences becoming a “champion tango dancer” my cooking skill improved as my ability to adapt to my personal thoughts came in. My first attempt at pancakes was straight out of the recipe book, and the result was something that tasted like it came from the box. Over time, I started experimenting with ideas that would make my pancakes a little better. Instead of 2 teaspoons of salt, I would only add few shakes. Instead of 3 tablespoons of butter, I just throw in half of a stick. Slowly but surely, my pancakes became better and better. Now other people compare restaurant pancakes to my pancakes. 

Making things better

Just like my little pancake experiment, productivity can be improved. Using my skill set and personal preferences, I was able to make pancakes that others also liked. I learned how to be productive at a task that is very important to me. Who is to say that I cannot use my skills in productivity (which are mostly technical) to improve the methods that you use in your system?

“But pancakes are just a part of a balanced breakfast.”

There may also be scrambled eggs, bacon (please have bacon), and some freshly squeezed orange juice. My improvements can only be used for the pancakes. I cannot use the same methods for the rest of the meal. There is no adding more butter to orange juice. It just will not work.

Perhaps someone else has a method that makes better bacon or better eggs. If I invite them over and we all start preparing our signature dishes, we are left with a meal that is absolutely delicious.

This is how my personal system works and relates to the same thought LifeHacker.com Writer Adam Dachis had in Knowing a Little of Everything Is Often Better Than Having One Expert Skill.

“Thinking of things without any connection, without multiple perspectives, leads to work that’s often un-relatable.”

Collaborate with others. Take ideas from those people implement them in your day-to-day. We may think differently, but most people reading this would like to achieve the same goal. That goal is a better life managed with less time wasted in developing it. I can provide some of the dishes but you may have the rest of the recipes to help make the entire meal worth eating.

One Dish from Many

One of the most delicious breakfast dishes is the breakfast skillet. It is simply a mash of many different dishes blended and proportioned together to make a completely new dish. Perhaps you have many complete methods, but you only need bits and pieces of each to make a functioning system.

how-to-be-productive

I have collected bits and pieces from productivity ideas. The more “hacks” I discovered, the easier it became to think outside the box. This prevented me from isolating my thought process to one central area. I could find more and more ways to incorporate pieces of techniques into my overall system.

I believe that the more people we have providing their “hacks” to productivity, the more we will discover unexpected and exciting recipes.  This will motivate people to take control of their system and their lives. It will also have people wanting to reach for better ideas, and promote productive creativity. Paul Arden talks about ideas in It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be: 

“You just have to put yourself in a frame of mind to pick them up.”

Here are some ways that you can  pick up ideas:

  • Create a list of problems and ideas, document them in a list. As soon as they come to you, store them in a list-management or collaboration tool like Twoodo and link them to your Evernote so you can expand on them later. (See my article  about linking your Twoodo and Evernote Accounts)
  • Keep a journal of methods you try. Be sure to identify both positive and negative aspects. (You may be able to learn something from them later).
  • Use read-later tools like Pocket to store the pages and articles with relevant short phrase tags in order to find advice on needed areas.

If you don’t like the eggs, you don’t have to eat them.
The best part about this idea is that you do not have to use all of it. You only need to take what is beneficial to you. Create a “recipe book” that has the dishes, their ingredients and steps needed to prepare them. If there is an item that you don’t like, you can leave it out. Just remember like all recipes there are essential and nonessential ingredients. Pancakes without flour are not pancakes.

Are you Ready to get started?
Scour Reddit’s
Productivity Channel and Lifehacker’s “How I Work” series and find the ideas and recipes that are out there. I plan to develop a site that hosts productivity information exclusively and allows for great collaboration and idea collecting. If you are interested in helping me with this idea in any way, including contributing content, please let me know.

Additional Photo Credits: Jeffrey W.

definition of teamwork

The Definition of Teamwork: biology, psychology and getting things done

This article will explore:

  • the definition of teamwork
  • the psychology behind teamwork based on human evolution
  • the different types of teams that exist in businesses, and how each functions

1) Teamwork is how it’s done

definition-of-teamwork

Naturally, you’ll know that nobody exists in a vacuum of solitude. The objects around you, the food in your mouth, the music from the radio… it’s all a product of human cooperation and collaboration. Very few people possess all the physical resources, bodily strength and various skills to survive alone. This is one reason why we have worked in roles for thousands of years: doctors, builders, teachers, writers, farmers, warriors, … and now developers, engineers, designers etc. Not everybody can develop expertise in everything due to time constraints, talent limitations and personal interests in a topic.

This can be seen in modern families: we are complementary because we need to be. People settle into roles that balance out what the family needs as a whole (or at least, that’s what is supposed to happen!). One person cooks, one person cleans…

And then there’s work, and the anxious managers putting “must be a team player” in job descriptions. It seems unnecessary, right? After all, we are by default all acting in teams day in, day out. Humans have always been cooperative by necessity, and also culturally. So why is teamwork such a challenge for managers? Let’s take a look at where it all started.

2) Human evolution and teamwork: it’s in our bones

definition-of-teamwork

Image credit

Humans are not the only species to work together, but they are amongst the best. Human society relied on teamwork to survive. This came in the form of coordinated hunting, for one. Teamwork played a number of roles in early human cultures that still stand true today. Did you ever wonder why you mostly treat inquiries from strangers with politeness and goodwill? We are instinctually inclined to be nice to strangers because there is a possibility that the encounter could become a mutually beneficial relationship. 

This lingering automatic goodwill is important for modern teamwork, where we are often mixed with people we don’t know.

The second interesting insight from times gone by are our deeply embedded rules for reciprocity: we reciprocate for status, for resources and for pleasure. In many cultures today, gift-giving and receiving rules are important to respect and understand lest a grievance be caused. Why is this important to teamwork?

We have a need to give back to someone who has given to us. This drives teamwork to be a pendulum of giving and receiving. Our need for status means that team leaders are unconsciously encouraged to go the extra mile for their colleagues. The desire for the “feel-good” factor will push others to participate in the team. Scientists argue whether it is for survival in a time of need; or, if it is to do with moral and ethical values that our part of our nature.

Our tendencies to reciprocate it make people ready for teamwork and ready to take on their roles in a positive manner.

However, there is evidence as well that our evolution has made us unfit for teamwork past a certain scale. The majority of human existence was carried out in a hunter-gatherer reality. This meant small nomadic groups highly reliant on each other, but in competition for resources to survive with other groups, or tribes. Loyalty to your closely-knit tribe and a sense of duty to win the most resources for them caused (and still causes) clashes between diverse groups and culturally differentiated people today.

In teamwork, this is why culture and diversity are so often talked about – we are deeply inclined to be suspicious of others dissimilar to ourselves, because in the past it often was a question of life or death. We are still the club-wielding apes of times gone by walking amongst skyscrapers! But we recognize the innovative value of differentiating life experiences and worldviews.

Larger and more diverse teams are more difficult to manage because we tend to form sub-groups within teams. This is due to our past protective mechanisms for survival based on trust and familiarity. But they are more valuable than undiversified teams.

3) Types of business teams

There are no specific numbers on the size of work teams, but there are multiple types of teams. The category of the team can help to understand each specific set of issues facing that team. They are as follows:

i) Task Force

ii) Cross-Functional

iii) Self-Managing

Because of modern technological developments and shifts in attitude, each of these teams also has the potential to be virtual or remote. “Virtual” cannot be a category in itself because it applies to all types of teams.

Task Force

Of this list, the “task force” is the most short-lived – a temporary group brought together to solve a specific problem or complete a temporary project. At the end, they disband and are unlikely to work together again. “Task force” is also sometimes used to refer to people who are grouped together to perform the same repetitive task (such as employees at call centres).

Famous task force: The Avengers
definition-of-teamwork

Cross-Functional

The cross-functional team is composed of workers from different departments, of different skills and/or from different levels of the hierarchy. This type of team can be disjointed. Working as a team can become fragmented due to hierarchical differences and narrow knowledge specialities (eg. accountant + designer + head of product). But it can also work wonderfully when people compliment each others’ skills gaps and learn how to work in situations where power is not equally distributed.

Famous cross-functional team: The Fellowship of the Ring
definition-of-teamwork

Self-Managing

The self-managing team acts with a lot of autonomy within the larger structure of the business organization. They can make many of the day-to-day decisions and perform multiple roles from production to customer service. Self-managing teams are close, supportive and democratic because it is required when a group is responsible for an entire ecosystem. There is normally a team leader but a generally flat hierarchy where everyone is accessible.

Famous self-managed/virtual team: WordPress/Automattic
definition-of-teamwork

4) Today’s definition of teamwork

“Teamwork” is often coldly stated in dictionaries as being the activity of a number of individuals coordinated to achieve a goal. Teamwork is much more nuanced than that. We all know that teamwork is not that simple. It’s a complex network of different individuals from different cultures, with different habits and views of how things should be done.

With the entrepreneurship craze over the past two decades, smaller and more agile teams have become what companies are striving for. Steve Jobs famously said that “Apple is run like a start-up.” Things simply move faster today, in every aspect. “Long-term strategy” and “business planning” is becoming more and more meaningless. Product cycles are shorter. Marketing is in real-time. Customer support has to happen immediately. If this means a trend towards the self-managed and virtual team, then this is a good thing. Our inescapable evolution tells us that small groups of people relying on each other for the entire spectrum of needs is what we are ideally programmed to function as.

The definition of teamwork will always be basically defined as a group of individuals working together to achieve an objective. But that detached definition of teamwork does not add the nuances of human behaviour in teams, which we often forget is defined by our long ancestry of surviving as small groups in an often inhospitable environment. That’s not to say that business teams have to put up with inhospitable environments now :) but our instincts are still built that way.
definition-of-teamwork

Image credit

The best tips for working successfully within a team come from Forbes:

  • communicate directly to your colleagues rather than through management,
  • communicate openly with them,
  • and try to go the extra mile to help them out with a problem.
author-bio

The insider’s guide to crafting an online author bio with SEO in mind

This article shows you:

  • how to construct the best online author bio for social profiles and guest posting
  • examples of good and bad author bios

A short professional bio has become increasingly important. Most of us suffer from information fatigue and cannot be bothered to read lengthy documents about anybody. Experts such as Matthew Levy reckon your bio is the most important document you will ever write.” - Jorgen Sundberg

The author bio – an innocent-looking piece of text on your social profiles, articles and website. Of course, we are going to tell you that it’s much more important than you think.

In approximately three sentences, visitors to your respective corner on the interwebs will decide if they like the sound of you or not. The information conveyed in the author bio can make or break a decision to a) subscribe to your newsletter, b) to comment on your posts, c) to share your product, or d) whatever it is you are currently peddling.

Takeaways from studying other people’s author bios

The basis of [future] SEO updates will be about finding the most trustworthy sources of information on the internet based on social sentiment. The number of times an article or person is linked to is what will increase rankings in Google. The author bio is part and parcel of your internet presence and can be used to increase your authority and also direct people to where you want them to go.

Here is what can be learnt by spending an hour reading bios from top blogs and websites:

  • the quality of your bio will get people to trust you
  • include your most impressive credentials (e.g. on most of the internet, getting a BA is not impressive – MA or PhD is fine)
  • keep it short unless you have a lot of cool credentials
  • what you say should relate to the website the bio is appearing – you need to make sense to the audience as to why you are there
  • write in the third/first person – a personal choice between professional objectivity and personalised outreach (generally, third person is more popular)
  • 30 words/3 sentences is a decent limit
  • if you are unknown, have social media links/website link
  • the links need to direct people to what you want them to see about you

Designing the perfect author bio

Step 1

What do you want people to do when they read it?

a) go to a website?

b) share this piece of content?

c) follow you?

d) contact you?

e) sign up for a service?

Decide what the call to action for your bio will be.

Step 2

Will your audience prefer first or third person?

The benefits of writing in third person are that it a) sounds like someone else wrote it, b) gives people your name directly “John Doe is…” as opposed to “Hi my name is John Doe and I…”, c) gives an aura of professional distance. Generally, sticking to the third person is more foolproof.

Writing in the first person allows you to be more personal and share some quirks that your particular audience enjoys. This works well for those who have an identifiable following or are in a more creative industry. It is less advisable if you are relatively unknown. People are not so willing to put faith in a stranger who says he loves vampire movies, despite being a talented whatever. It also may sound decidedly un-businesslike to some as well.

Use third person when you are on other people’s websites and on commenting tools such as Disqus. Use first person on your home website and personal social media profiles. Decide what the “personal quirk” for your personal bio will be (no politics, religion or other highly divisive issues).

You will need a third person and a first person bio prepared.

Step 3

What are your most impressive accomplishments?

  1. top awards?
  2. building a successful company?
  3. position on a company?
  4. working for a big name/brand?
  5. publications?
  6. personal achievements?

Choose 2 – 3 of your achievements/characteristics most relevant to where your bio is appearing.

Step 4

What are you doing right now?

Most people define themselves by their jobs. You can be more creative about it if you like – a blogger could also describe him/herself as a “wordsmith extraordinaire”, if they wanted to add some flair. This would, again, depend on the audience you are expecting to win over.

Write a 10-word sentence about what you are doing right now.

OK, so what have we got?

  1. You will need a third person and a first person bio prepared.
  2. Write a 10-word (max.) sentence about what you are doing right now.
  3. Choose 2 – 3 of your achievements/characteristics most relevant to where your bio is appearing.
  4. Decide what the call to action/purpose of your bio will be.
  5. Decide the “personal quirk” for your personal bio.

Case study #1: Denis Duvauchelle’s author bio on The Next Web

What is Denis doing right now?

Denis stated his full name (linked to his Twitter account), most important title, and included a website link (with a tracker code so he would know which bio got clicked) of where he wanted people to go:

Denis Duvauchelle is the CEO and co-founder of Twoodo ...

What is the call to action/purpose?

To tell people about what his product does:

… helping your team organize itself using simple #hashtags.

Relevance to the publication

This bio appeared on The Next Web, and Denis wanted to attract startups, people interested in collaboration tools and supporters of remote working – Twoodo’s brand. The readership of The Next Web was identified as an ideal audience for this. The long-form author bio is currently this:

author-bio

Case study #2: Denis’s personal bio on Twitter

What is Denis doing right now?

He establishes authority by stating that he is CEO and a contributor to a top website:

#productivity freak. CEO of @twoodo Help your team organize itself using simple #hashtags Contributor to @thenextweb.

What is the call to action/purpose?

To tell people in a simple manner what his product does.

Relevance to the publication

Twitter is a platform for seeking like-minded people, so he puts the hashtags they are most likely to use in his bio to make his profile easy to find:

#productivity and #hashtags (the tool is based on hashtags)

Full bio:

author-bio

Other factors to take into account…

  • word limits (the famed 140-character limit)
  • link limits (usually 2)
  • editor of a publication may define what you specifically can and cannot say
  • are you representing a company or representing you?
  • you may need a long-form bio for some places

And remember…

Keep an account of where your bios are visible, and preferably what each says. When you change career, change the call to action and so on you will need to update all of them. Re-visit your bio every 3 – 6 months (i.e. a reasonable amount of time during which you think you will have something different to say).

Here are some additional questions you should ask yourself before you begin to write your online author bio.

Let’s rate some bios!

Example 1:

author-bio

This is extremely short and concise. We know this person’s two occupations and specialities in two sentences. We know she is a great writer because the website she writes content for only accepts the best, so she doesn’t need any more credentials than that. We can easily find her on Twitter and Facebook, and also visit her website which shows transparency. The photo has her wearing a crown, conveying a humorous character. It is neither showing off nor being humble – the tone is perfect.

Trust rating? 8,5

Example 2

author-bio

Too long! The first sentence was enough. There was also no reason to ask people to follow her on Twitter since the social share buttons are just below. This comes across as far too self-indulgent but yet does not specify which places she has actually worked for. The ending tries to get some humour across but most people wouldn’t have bothered reading that far. The photo was pretty big so I cut it out – it was nice, I promise.

Trust rating? 6

Example 3

author-bio

Impressive credentials make this serious bio interesting to read. It shows off skills but in a matter-of-fact tone. There are no social media connections available nor website – however, the publications listed mean he is probably pretty easy to find.

Trust rating? 9

Example 4

author-bio

The first accomplishment mentioned is boring. This bio takes a more story-like form, which works for those in the literature industry, which he clearly seems to be aiming for. However, this was on a tech website. I’m confused – why would this tech website be a perfect place to write for him? It sounds like he’s forcing out as much fancy wording as possible with the hope of… I have no idea. If I’m on a tech website, I want someone who knows how to write about tech.

Trust rating? 4