Category Archives: Team

How-to-manage-email-and-not-let-it-manage-you

How to manage email and not let it manage you

Unless you do your job exclusively via email, there’s no excuse for you to have that tab or app open. There I said it..

But you do have it open most of the time, right? It’s hard to ignore. Suddenly you see the Inbox (1) in bold appear and you rush to see what it is. And it’s never a game changing message. But the micro-second between seeing it and comprehending it gives us a rush, and that rush becomes addictive. Email is an important medium of communication, indisputably. However, constant interruptions (let’s say every 30 seconds to 15 minutes) do not allow our minds to focus on a task at hand. Without focus, errors are more likely. Silly slip-ups that leave you banging your head against the wall and sending out a flurry of apologies. Or, it can result in serious accidents and poor decision-making with huge consequences. This is why disciplining ourselves on how to manage email is so important.

“…a three-second distraction can double the number of mistakes people make” – Live Science

But “priorities” doesn’t just mean your job. With smartphones, laptops and tablets hanging around the home – and with many public places now supplying free wifi – it’s easier than ever for our brains to get it’s fix of email-checking. We are wasting our precious time all the time. And on what? Why do we give more attention to apps and videos than to our loved ones or to our own self improvement?

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Why do we check our inboxes so often?

Psychology Today goes into more detail here on the points they believe are why we crave checking our inboxes so much.

1. Connecting to other people

Many tasks are solitary. Sure, there are meetings, but once your task is assigned you must go to your corner and get it done. If it is a time-consuming task this means long stretches of time alone. Despite our assertions of being able to work independently, we require human communication at intervals. The email inbox provides relief, but it’s overkill. Do you give a child a single candy, or do you leave a bowl of candy within arm’s reach? It’s irresistible to all but the most focused.

2. Respite from a difficult task

 

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Knowledge work is becoming a larger and larger portion of white-collar jobs. And knowledge work requires more brainpower, more creativity. This can lead to the mind feeling exhausted faster than a repeated task job. So, we find relief by looking at our email, or notifications on our phones and social media. It’s the mental equivalent of taking a breather after doing 10 lengths of the swimming pool.

3. Changing it up

When you are stuck, it’s good to do something else for a while until inspiration strikes again. This is especially so with tasks that require creativity. Unfortunately, instead of changing over to another worthwhile task, we waste time on trivial email. The ideal solution would be to have two projects on the go so that you could switch between the two when roadblocks are encountered in one. I personally found that freelancing a few hours a week with another company gave me a fresh perspective on working on my startup. And having your own startup is one of the most totally immersing things around!

4. Distractions make us feel better and are therefore addictive

Even if distractions don’t end in real results, it’s good to feel busy. It’s also good to feel noticed. Psychology Today states that you get addicted to email and notifications because of the low but regular feelings of worth, as opposed to the irregular but massive (by comparison) rewards of completing a challenging or long task. Self-discipline is not easy and technology has made it even harder. Multi-tasking, interruptions and distractions arguably make us more stupid. Our mental energy is spent trying to remember where we were in a task and getting back into it, rather than reaching a deeper state of concentration and insight that comes from focusing.

Email makes you focus on…

  • trivial newsletters
  • notifications
  • invitations to webinars, hangouts
  • updates of services you subscribe to
  • requests that are not the highest priority

“More generally, email puts you in response mode, where you are doing what other people want you to do, rather than send mode, where you are deciding what you want to do and taking action.” – Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton

Would there really be a life-or-death scenario if you didn’t check in more than once an hour? Alright, I’ll admit that once I lost a bid on an apartment rental… but that’s as serious as it’s gotten. Being overwhelmed by info, and being used to it, all day long has mental health consequences. Erin Anderssen wrote this excellent in-depth overview of the war for our attention by technology. Not surprisingly, as we check our email and notifications for the tenth time in the day and nothing is there – anxiety and depression lurk in the background. You may not even notice it. Being contacted makes us feel important, even if the contact is automated or unimportant. Eventually, NOT being contacted has the opposite psychological effect. She quotes Linda Stone – that perhaps we need to talk about “attention management” rather than “time management”. We’ve even developed “interruption science” which studies the effects of disruptions on job performance. And the guilty party is… “NOTIFICATIONS!” notifications-hell

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It’s that bad. There’s no shame in wanting to be connected, to take a mental break, to add variety to our day. But whilst we over-engage in the trivial, real life is passing us by. Are people at music festivals who spend their time uploading photos and videos of the event really enjoying the moment with friends? Time is precious. Use it to create and add value rather than get bloated on information we’ll never need.

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How to manage email

#1: Batch your time

Cal Newport, in an article for 99U, describes how he applied the most commonly-cited solution (batching your time) to a workday. This involves breaking your time into 30 minute batches of either one long task or a bunch of short tasks. If you decide to check an email, you are required to spend a full half an hour on short tasks. It’s all or nothing. “…if you survive the annoyance, there’s also no avoiding the reality that your work will be of a much higher quality” So, the payoff is the difficulty of arranging the times when you can look at email versus better results in your larger, more important projects at the end of the day. Not a bad trade if you can stick to it. But most people can’t handle the inconvenience.

#2: Check email/notifications at a specific time, for example 5 minutes once an hour

This plan offers more flexibility and freedom than the half-hour batching BUT the temptation is to go over the time limit. So, for example, if you end up spending 20 minutes on email in this hour then you miss your 10 minute stint in the following hour. Basically, the aim is to spend no more than 10 minutes per working hour, i.e. 80/90 minutes per day on email. If you think that is still excessive (it is almost 20% of your work day) reduce it to 5 minute blocks.

#3: Do a major email blast first thing in the day, and once in the afternoon

This is the nuclear option, some would say! Check, organize and reply to all your email at 9am and at 2pm. No matter how long it takes! And under no circumstances can you check in between those times. You can orient your contacts to this new system by including it as an email signature (due to email overload, all email will be responded to at the following times…). You can arrange to have your closest collaborators call you if something extremely important comes up. If there are contacts that are ALWAYS urgent, set up a “red alert” system only for these contacts.

#4: Don’t have an email address

Hmmm. I hate to say “impossible”…

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Collaborative Problems – We’re Not All Social Networkers

Social tech in the workplace: the new way to work

We can stop arguing that only young people use social media: the average across all age groups is 72% (with 30 – 49 year olds also at 72% in their own right). So, not only are employees using it but so are (probably) most of your customers. It can be leveraged both ways to improve access to information, have discussions and allow for more accountability. But what about those who don’t like social media, and by extension, social collaboration tools? There is a massive assumption that we all enjoy or are comfortable with using social media in professional settings:

Collaborative working environments support learning in these informal learning spaces driving social engagement primarily amongst generation Y-employees who are fully conversant with the capabilities of social media.

 

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Have we considered the collaborative problems associated with introverts, and others? Social media is something quite a few people are ‘forced’ to join in order to be included in many interest groups, local and private events, and so on. It’s not always ‘opting in’ because you personally came to the conclusion your life would be better with Facebook than without.

Social collaboration challenges the behaviour of both extroverts and introverts, for those who require instant social gratification and those who like to remain unnoticed.

 

There are also people who just simply prefer not to be social, which is also fine but an oft-forgotten fact. Or take it to the extreme, and you have people on social networks specifically to use apps not to meet people! Gotta love the irony.

Action #1: find out which social media platform your team/employees favor the most; it may indicate the best style of collaboration tool for you to implement.

 

Collaborative problems #1: not everyone wants to be social

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It is expected that up to 40% of jobs will be virtual by 2015, so teams are going to have to research the best tool(s) for themselves. And this is no surprise when you realize the impact social collaboration tools can have on your company. This list of statistics and trends says it all.

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How are the introverts going to be included? How are the skeptics of social networks going to be engaged?

Here were the top problems with implementing social collaboration strategies in 2013:

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Many resources are being invested in social collaboration by large business (and soon SMEs) – but, the execution is dismal.

The reasons for this failure is a) not understanding how your team works so therefore b) choosing the wrong platform or service and c) not having a company culture where social is openly accepted…

…all essential ingredients to enable social collaboration and remote working to reach its full potential.

Action #2: search for a tool that suits the way your team’s tasks need to be organized – whether it be generalized goals, daily recurring tasks or sprints with multiple issues to deal with.

Collaborative problems #2: social anxiety – could social collaboration tools hurt your team?

I’ve worked in startups and SMEs for over 10 years now. Saying whatever I want to my colleagues comes naturally when we use the collaboration tool we are building (Twoodo). But what about an organization of hundreds or thousands of people? People are cautious to speak freely in larger organizations where they don’t know each person. They are aware of consequences of rubbing someone up the wrong way, personality-wise.

So could a social collaboration tool actually act as a gag mechanism rather than a speakerphone?

Or would it actually encourage employees to be more considerate about how they express themselves? Do social tools actually make it easier for the shy ones in the group to thoughtfully respond on their own terms, rather than be put on the spot in a meeting? There could be many psychological blockers unclear to the more easygoing types in the team.

It is risky to show people your unfinished thoughts. Technologies for a long time could let you do that; people did not always do that. Social software, to the extent that it is helping people build trust and be comfortable with more casual, lightweight communications, could make it possible for more of our attempts at collaboration to be real collaboration. – Technology Review

It also goes deeper than that. People have been found not to represent themselves honestly on social media – rather, what they think is the best/ideal version of themselves. So whilst social collaboration aims to bring teams closer together, it may surprise you just how differently people will act online and offline. Whether this is a good or bad thing in work environment is hard to tell at the moment.

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Then there are the deeper social psychological issues of a social network. This study on the effects of ‘unfriending’ in social networks found that the more loosely connected people were, the less likely they were to have significant relationship failures down the line.

So it could mean that in order for companies to get the best out of social tools and their teams, an ‘arm’s length’ approach rather than ‘getting actively involved’ may be the more harmonious option.

 

Relationship management is hard, especially when you don’t really know the temperament of the person you are dealing with. Up to 18% of the USA alone suffers from some form of anxiety disorder – significant if you are trying to understand the consequences of going 100% social without proper preparation.

Action #3: don’t force people to change their habits – if the team normally tells each other what they have achieved on a weekly basis, keep that going; if they share GIFs frequently, let it happen; if they simply contact each other about tasks, let it be.

Psychological Science points out that studies on how people build social networks and create social relationships are hugely skewed towards people who are already excellent at establishing such relationships.

What we are left with is very little actionable information with which to understand social processes between introverted, shy or anxious people.

 

In other words, there is little evidence available to really explain collaborative problems. Managers need to remember this next time they are reading up on studies of social media and social collaboration in the workplace. There are many benefits to social collaboration – reducing email; recording exchanges between colleagues; capturing ideas on the fly; nurturing team spirit; enabling teams to cross barriers of department and hierarchy. Understand the team. Take your time to get the right tool. Take a leap and be the first one to use it regularly to encourage the crossover. Don’t just buy into one to keep up with the Jones’s!

 

Want to know more about workforce communication and collaboration? Check out these snackable stats and trends to get an effortless overview.

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The Surprising Secret To Team Productivity Improvement

Productivity improvement in your team and company… it’s not as clear-cut as you think

If you’re like me you also think that “productivity” is doing the ‘right thing’, the ‘right way’, at ‘all times’. In this way you achieve quality for free. But how do you convince the rest of your team or company to be in that frame of mind at all times?

There are different kinds of people searching for ways to improve their productivity. First, there are the people fascinated with making every aspect of their lives more productive, from reusing toilet paper rolls to planning the grocery route down to a T.

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Then there are the people in high-pressure jobs with a million-and-one things to do in a day who avidly search for the golden nugget of productivity wisdom to make all their team efforts fall into place.

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Next, you have the middle managers sweating under their collars – how are they going to show the next set of pretty upwardly-trending graphs at the monthly round-up?

Then there’s everyone else, who just want to do their job, be happy and have time for their family and friends.

So what IS the secret sauce to productivity improvement?

 

 

wait for it…

 

 

you’re gonna find this cliché but you should take it very seriously…

Happiness!

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this extensive study posted in the New York Times even though it revealed some saddening facts:

“people are more frustrated and exasperated with their jobs than ever before.”

These negative feelings impact hugely on an economy as big as the United States, with billions of potential being lost due to a lack of productivity.

Companies traditionally incentivize “happiness” by handing out titles (“manager”), more money (the “raise”) and perks (gym membership, anyone?). But pick up any book on psychology and wellbeing, and you’ll find that money is rarely what makes people truly happy.

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Apart from the power-hungry megalomaniacs in our society. Yes, we all need a basic income to survive, but the rest is quite simple. You can’t buy self-esteem, true loyalty, pride in your work – these are the golden nuggets for productivity improvement.

People need to get deep, personal value out of the job – whether it be great workplace friendships or becoming top of their class in their niche.

Working “smarter, not harder” is one of those easy-to-hate phrases that get used a lot in meetings and at conferences. The principle behind it is that “working smarter” means you have figured out an economical way to complete a time-consuming part of your job (with equal or more effectiveness). The thing is, you have to “work hard” to become like this (unless you are a natural genius). You need to learn many things in order to merge them into creative solutions to apply to your situation. And guess what? Creativity is much more likely to occur when a person is happy in their role than unhappy.

Improving productivity should be the reward for good management, not the goal

Some people are motivated by targets and competing with their colleagues. Some are motivated by being a helper to the team. Some get their satisfaction from taking on the responsibilities of leadership. A great manager will be able to recognize the particular motivation for an employee. Happiness at work is also brought about by the following factors:

  • varied tasks

  • getting positive feedback

  • being challenged enough

  • be part of a project from start to finish, not just contribute a section

  • having friends at work

  • having a workplace where you are not distracted

  • short commute/no commute

  • autonomy over tasks

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Overall, what people are looking for in life are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy in that you have control over life; mastery in that you become better and better at something meaningful; purpose in that your everyday life is part of something greater than you. When people are asked “what do you do?” it is referring to their job. The job is the main vehicle for most people to achieve happiness (or not) in life.

Managers can make sure these needs are provided for. Here are a few steps that can be taken to win the hearts and minds of your employees and experience productivity improvement as your reward:

1) let your team members make decisions

2) encourage and let them be part of as much of the project as possible from end to end

3) offer training courses or allow time to attend seminars

4) have regular informal individual meetings to check in on how they are doing

5) make sure the company communicates a strong, clear purpose and an ambitious vision

6) keep barriers low between departments

 

I can promise you that with these tips, the graphs will trend upwards and your colleagues will have a spring in their step…

Future Of Work | Statistics And Trends

We thought you’d love these delicious statistics and trends on the future of work…

Horizontal hierarchy, flexible work arrangements, holacracy, social collaboration tools, access to information…if you’re interested in the future of work, these statistics and trends are for you.

So it all started when we read that according to a McKinsey Study on the Social Economy, social collaboration tools could increase employee productivity by 20-25%. We thought WOW that’s huge!!

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After reading some more we found that this same study shows that access to a searchable store of social information can reduce the time spent on finding information by up to 35%. This basically meant that workers could gain back 6% of their workweek. How much is your time worth??

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However for these benefits to take place (uh-oh here comes the disclaimer..) they require a change in management practices and organizational behavior management. Easier said than done. So we’ve decided to list some of these trends of the future of work here…and this list will grow with time.

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Much more coming soon!!

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Why The Shared To Do List Is Linked To Our Ancient Past..And Wheat

Rice or Wheat? Depending on what your forefathers grew, it affects how you collaborate now!

When we want a break from revolutionizing the ways teams communicate at Twoodo, our whole team likes to dive deep into the history of human collaboration. After all, the behaviors we have today are remnants of our past.

For thousands of years, we farmed for ourselves and our community. Wheat is a mainstay of “the West” and rice is a staple crop of “the East”. What is so interesting about these two crops is that they quite possibly changed the way we collaborate today. A study was conducted to see why Eastern cultures in Asia (generally speaking) are more collaborative than the individualists of Western regions such as the USA and Europe. The researchers say the cause is rice and wheat. Not kidding!

Growing rice and growing wheat are two very different activities. Wheat is relatively simple – plant, water, wait. The activities afterwards, like harvesting and grinding into flour took a group effort that ran up until recent times, but did not involve an entire community. Rice is different. A rice paddy requires many hands throughout the growth process to maintain the irrigation.

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This way of life affected the culture to become interdependent rather than independent, and strongly based on custom rather than exploring new ideas. Yes, the Chinese in particular learned to be great at community collaboration – but because of excessive groupthink and abiding by custom, analytical thinking and innovation was lowered. They were 700 years ahead of Britain in forging iron, yet the Industrial Revolution did not happen in China. The practice was all but forgotten.

This is not to say that the wheat-growing West is all the better for being more independent. The European Union was developed since WWII at first as an economic institution, but then as a larger institution built to drive better cooperation amongst Europe’s fragmented nations and cultures. But the base philosophy of this area of the world supports the rights of the individual – and with that comes freedom from community duties and the chance to think differently, to try out new ideas without being a social deviant.

Food is survival. Cultivating it has been the primary activity of humans for a large part of our existence. It is no surprise that the manner in which we cultivated it would strongly impact our relationships to each other and our perceived roles in a community.

Blending both for the optimal mix – the shared to do list

We have moved on from our agrarian past to city life and labour. But we carry vestiges of our long history of how we grow and gather food. Large projects require many hands. Creative tasks require thinking differently. Individuality and teamwork have both pros and cons, but it is a skilled manager that can harness the pros of both for his team. As a project grows larger, roles need to be defined better. Tasks across individuals need to be known by the group at large so that the scope and progress of the project is clear. Even a community project is a series of individual tasks all combined fluidly together. A lack of knowledge as to who is doing what can unravel the operation. This is why shared task lists are such a simple and effective of collaborating but within the scope of individual and communal benefits.

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The other barrier to working as a group but in individual roles is the clash of tools. If information cannot be transferred effectively in a group, it damages the success of the project. Imagine if half the people working in the rice paddy spoke two different dialects of Chinese? A vague notion of what needs to be done is understood but precise actions are a mystery. I have encountered this often in my freelancing projects. Different people use different tools just for the simple action of exchanging information. I have to download multiple programs or learn different tools that I abandon as soon as the project is over. Or we both have to learn new workflows, for something as simple as she’s on iOS and he’s on Android. And this is despite our technological prowess.

Why do we collaborate now?

New machinery has changed how we cultivate food and work together. In fact, you could argue that it has encouraged even more individualism as we depend less on other people to help us out. Is there a risk that we are forgetting how to work together? Are our individual, creative ideas worth much if we cannot work well as a group or a community to bring the idea to fruition?

We are developing a collaboration tool to help teams communicate naturally. One of our biggest challenges is getting people to use it with their whole teams. As we talked to our super-users about why they collaborate, we found ourselves in a somewhat philosophical moment as we searched for the real “why”. Why do people used shared task lists and project management tools?

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A method developed by the founder of Toyota, and later repurposed by Eric Ries for The Lean Startup, seeks to find the root cause of something. It is commonly used for problem-solving, but it can also be used for behavioural analysis. We knew why we loved using our tool. We wanted to explore why our super-users loved it, and understand more profoundly the added value. This information could be used to refine our brand, streamline our copy, become the base of our design choices. Here is what we found out.

Question: Why do you use a shared to do list or project management tool?

  • “To get things done in team projects.”
  • “To coordinate our team’s efforts”
  • “To know what everyone is up to?”

Why?

  • “To meet our objectives.”
  • “To reach our goals”
  • “To make sure all deadlines are respected and projects are successful”

Why?

  • “To get recognition from the rest of the company.”
  • “Because I’m responsible for this important project”
  • “To make the company successful without having to work 16 hour days”

Why?

  • “To feel good about myself and get a raise.”
  • “Because 21 people’s job depend on it”
  • “To be more relaxed”

Why?

  • “To have a happier life.”
  • “To maintain stability and comfort in my life and that of our employees”
  • “To have more time for my family and friends”

After the 5th “why” the answers tended to all be the same. Collaborating on projects and tasks is ultimately in pursuit of happiness!

With the comfort of hindsight, we can look back at wheat and rice growing communities and see how Eastern and Western societies have developed different attitudes to collaboration. We can zoom out to compare and contrast the results. The takeaway? We have the tools to take the best of both worlds and apply them to our workflows. Despite our deep ties to the past, we have an amazing capacity to adapt to new and better ways. To be happy.

A Simple Dissection of Online Team Collaboration

At Twoodo we’re continually obsessing over how to make online collaboration better and more human. Part of this is looking at usage data to understand how people use our online collaboration platform. What is the DNA of online collaboration? We played around with some numbers this weekend to uncover this simple dissection of online team collaboration.

Based on 100000′s of events carried out by users on Twoodo over a 2 month period and due to the fact that Twoodo allows to integrate actions into conversations, we came up with this very simple pie chart.

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It’s clear that collaboration is first about communicating and exchanging ideas and thoughts. This is followed by action in the form of tasks. It was also very interesting to see that file sharing has a much lower rate than we thought.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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