Small Seeds #3 – Distraction Lists

So, everyone likes a productivity hack don’t they? 

This is one of my absolute favourites! 

I like to think of myself as a bit of a creative …I love to write, playing with PowerPoint is just about my favourite activity to pass any amount of hours and I am a visual learner. 

All great things for my work and life in general. But, there is a but! 

It means my mind tends to wander and be easily distracted on those wanderings. 

In many ways this serves me well and is something that I love. After all it is only by having a wandering and imaginative mind that you build up a colourful and broad knowledge that feeds creative endeavours.

However sometimes it can be a problem when I have a deadline or really need to focus on one thing. Then, being distracted is just a colossal pain. 

Because, I know that – however brilliant that idea might be for a presentation or that topic would be great for a blog or that article really would be a brilliant tweet for my followers – if I move away from that thought I am likely to not come back to it after I have finished whatever I am trying to focus on at the moment. 

Enter the Distraction List! 

Write it down, add it to your list of things to come back to so you remember your brainwaves. 

The practicalities are up to your personal taste but my advice would be to pick one method and stick to it. Scrappy pieces of paper or reminders in the middle of the days notes just get lost. 

I’ve found that the best way is to have a dedicated place to put these thoughts, somewhere you can easily get some inspiration when needed! 

I’ve tried Trello, Wunderlist, One Note, emailing myself … The possibilities are endless! Just ensure you find the method that most suits the way you like to work so it isn’t a drag. 

Personally I find a pencil, yes a real one made of wood not plastic, and my favourite A5 softcover Moleskine are the best thing for me ūüôā It comes with me everywhere and I don’t know what I would do without it now. 

Looking for a high impact low effort productivity boost? Give it a try, I highly recommend it! 

My Top Tips For PowerPoint Perfection

I think of Microsoft PowerPoint as a test of my basic marketing skills.

To create a presentation that doesn’t annoy and put off the people looking at it¬†I need to demonstrate design skills, technical literacy, an immaculate¬†attention to detail¬†and a sense of personal style.

If the presentation has a problem¬†…

An Unintended Font

A Broken Link

Unreadable Text

or

A Horrible Quality Picture

… then I‚Äôve probably failed the test.

Even if my delivery of the presentation is well rehearsed and seamless, a bad visual experience can, and more than likely will, ruin it for the audience.

Expertise¬†rings hollow¬†if you don’t take the time¬†to create a¬† well thought out and professionally constructed presentation to back it up.

I liken it to presenting a CV with typos, bad grammar and sloppy formatting Рis that something you would do???

A little caveat before you click on the link below, I had¬†quite a lot of creative¬†fun with this presentation and it is not the kind of thing I would recommend for a corporate offering ¬†ūüėČ

My Top Tips To Building A Presentation That Is Practically Perfect In Every Way

Need Fabulous Artwork?

They say a picture speaks a thousand words and in the case of business websites and social media it is very true.

This will be a quick blog and is really just a quick tip pointing you in the direction of one of my very favourite websites.

Over the years I have spent so much time trawling Google for artwork for presentations and the like that I am putting together, then spending more time trying to find out the copyright status/ finding versions that are big enough and of good enough quality. Who has time for such things?

And then I found Pixabay, what a revelation! The website is slick and wonderfully intuitive, the photos are plentiful, of great quality, free and largely copyright/ attribution free.

I’ve spent time exploring sources of artwork on the internet and have yet to find a competitor¬†that comes even remotely close to beating it.

Searching is made easy with the tags but if you are wanting some inspiration I recommend having a wander through the unsorted and regularly updated photo stream on the home page, it is one of my favourite relaxing time wasters and often the source of lightbulb moments of inspiration.

So herewith some of my favourites, and apologies if you are familiar with my powerpoints, marketing material, social media, website or client work because you will definitely have seen some of these before.

Syllable Of Recorded Time

Minutes are simply notes taken during the meeting to remind everyone what was discussed, decisions that were made and actions that were agreed upon.

It doesn’t sound like rocket science does it?¬†Well you would be surprised how many people stuggle with this relatively simple¬†task and ask me for advice.

I’ve never met a busy person who wasn’t fighting a battle to minimise the amount of time they spend in meetings, who understands the importance of them but resents the time they take out of their precious 24 hours.

The secret with minutes is to find the balance between containing enough detail to be an accurate record but not to take any more of their time than necessary in the reading of them!

Don’t be too sparse with the context and detail though … if someone goes back to them in 6/ 12/ 18 months time to track the route to a decision they need to be able to understand it with potentially no memory of the events.

So here are a few of my thoughts and tips on how to streamline and improve your process.

My Number ONE rule?

Go out and buy a digital Dictaphone, immediately!

I regularly minute 7-8 Hour Board meetings (definitely more of a marathon than a sprint) and would not consider doing them without my Dictaphone to hand. The reasons:

  1. It means¬†I can¬†RELAX! If you miss the 4th bullet point reeled off in quick succession, don’t understand one of the technical terms or get distracted by an email notification that popped up on your laptop screen you know you can go back to it on the recording.
  2. It means I can LISTEN! It is important to understand the broader context and interactions of the attendees of a meeting to get the minutes right, to do that you have to really listen.
  3. It means I can be REMOTE! I have the software downloaded on my laptop so if for some reason I can’t be in a meeting, a colleague needs me to transcribe their minutes or a remote client wants me to transcribe an interview/ meeting it can all be done by simply sending sound files.

Shorthand?

I did try to learn how to do it once, and actually quite enjoyed it. The symbolic nature of it brought back memories of learning Greek at Uni.

BUT I quickly realised that it is¬†a long studied and hard won skill, and if you don’t then use it regularly you will lose the speed and accuracy, which is after all the whole point.

It is definitely more difficult than riding a bike – it looks great though …

Pitmans.jpg

So I use my laptop – and it is fabulous typing speed practise!

You can try and write them if you want to – depending on how long the meeting is your hand will start to ache at some point, your writing will inevitably become illegible and you will only have to type it all up after the meeting. Why not just take a laptop in the first place and just have finishing touches and formatting to do after the meeting is over?

I have a copy of the last meetings minutes open so all the formatting and attendees etc are largely right, why needlessly waste time formatting after the meeting if you don’t need to.

A couple of things to always keep in mind

They don’t need to be long or complicated. As with many things in life it is quality rather than quantity and all of the attendees will thank you for a succinct, readable and to the point record.

They do need to record clearly and simply what decisions were made at the meeting and who is going to carry them out.

There will be things that should be left out Рprivate side discussions, inappropriate comments, complete irrelevancies. A great minute taker will instinctively know where this line is without having to be told.

Things to have with you

Make sure you remember your laptop charger if the meeting is going to go on a while, I am terrible for forgetting this important detail.

Always have a hard copy of the agenda next to you and have a good sense of attendees and timings before the meeting starts. I am often called on to let everyone know when we are overrunning, who is coming in next, email colleagues during the meeting to update them on timings/ overruns. Another GREAT reason to have a Dictaphone, it is difficult to concentrate when interruptions happen.

Format

I’m not going to go into this hugely because¬†I have always found that everyone likes their minutes done differently.

As with any other document you should put some thought and care into the formatting, keep it consistent throughout, use headings/ bullets to make it easier to read, use a sensible font like Arial 11 and don’t be sloppy.

The minutes are no less important a document of record than the papers that are sent out before a meeting and it is no less important that they should be an enjoyable read Рcertainly not an excuse to forget about good grammar and readable sentence construction.

Whenever I start to do minutes for someone new I always seek feedback – enough information, too much information, fonts etc. Tailor them to the audience!

What should you write down?

One of the most difficult things about taking minutes is knowing what to write down and what to leave out.

Keep these two central points in mind:

  • Don‚Äôt try to write everything down ‚Äď it takes forever¬†and is really not useful. Minutes are not a word for word description of what was said, try to capture the essence.
  • Concentrate on what has been decided and who is going to do it.¬† The purpose of minutes is to record decisions and actions agreed by the meeting.

Actions

Perhaps the most important aspect of taking minutes!

Always note the person and their action, I like to colour them red so they are easily picked out when scanning through.

It depends on the length of your meeting (my last minutes were 7 hours/11 pages long) but I always put a collated list of actions for each of the directors at the end for very quick reference.

DON’T procrastinate

As tempting as it is to get ne with the things that have been stacking up whilst you were trapped in a meeting room, don’t wait too long to finish them off. The fresher your memory the quicker the job will be.

The final steps

A quick sense/ typo check is never a bad idea Рand if you can get someone else to cast fresh eyes over them before sending them out all the better.

If you have put a collated list at the end of the minutes then paste it into the body of the email that you send¬†them out in for quick reference, it is after all the little thoughts and touches to make everyone’s life quicker and easier that make¬†for a great¬†PA/ VA.

And if all of this sounds like a complete drag, Click Here

Delegate

Helping The Good Get Better, And The Great Become Superb

Focus is such an important aspect of an increasingly busy modern life but so often overlooked. I firmly believe it’s fundamental to everyone, we all have the same number of hours in the day and why would you not want to maximise what you can potentially get out of them?

Busy and Proud

It seems to have become a badge of honour to be hugely busy with an unmanageable amount of work and to declare it loudly and often. I have to admit to this being my absolute pet hate, there just seems to me to be no need for it.

I work incredibly hard and often have more on my¬†plate than I can hope to deal with in the timescales I’m given.¬†Yet I aim to always be calm and approachable, to always get everything essential done and¬†to always be¬†home at a reasonable hour. It isn’t always easy and I will admit I am not always entirely successful but it is a way to live life in general that is worth the effort for the overall benefits it yields.

The Pareto Principle

Have you heard of the Pareto Principle? There is every chance that you may know it as the 80/20 rule.

It is a very simple yet very important theory that is named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher.  In 1906 he noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population and that in his garden 20% of the pea pods contained 80% of the peas .What was most important about Pareto’s finding was that this 80/20 distribution occurs extremely frequently.

You can apply it to¬†economic conditions today –¬†a small percentage of the population controls the biggest percentage of wealth and resources,¬†a small¬†percentage of employees are responsible for¬†a¬† disproportionately large amount¬†of a company‚Äôs output¬†and¬†a minority of¬†customers are responsible for a majority¬†of the revenues.

These are not hard rules! Not every scenario will be like this and the ratio won’t be exactly 80/20, but chances are if you look at many key metrics in business and society there is definitely a minority creating a majority.

How does this apply to me?

If you really think about it, can’t you apply this principle to many aspects of your life? I know I can.

By looking at your daily habits you can find plenty of examples where the 80/20 principle applies. You likely spend a large amount of your money on few things, you probably only consistently sit in few of the available places in your home, of all the shoes that you have you probably wear a few of them most of the time and there is a good chance that you spend most of your time with only a few of the people that you actually know.

The important thing to understand is that in your life there are certain activities you do that account for the majority of your happiness and outputs.The actual numbers really don’t matter, the important thing is that paying attention to this principle helps you identify what is working for you and what is not.

Pareto’s Funnel

The relationship between effort and results are often unbalanced and whilst it would be easy to rail against how unfair that is, surely it is much more productive to accept and work with it to maximise your chances of success?

Understanding the 80-20 Rule is vital as you analyse your productivity and daily strategies. It is an incredible tool for maximising your time or for growing your business. It allows you to identify and focus on the 20% that proves effective, thereby separating out the less effective.

It is worth the initial effort?

For me, applying this principle to my life and work allows me to maximise not only my time but perhaps more importantly ‚Äď my IMPACT!

I love the fact that people see me as a go to person who will not only deliver the goods but do it with a quality outturn and reliably ahead of schedule. That is because I use the Pareto Principle as standard, so much so that I don’t even think about it anymore. I don’t just consider deadlines when prioritising my time, I consider the impact and my enjoyability in completing the task too!

There will always be things that you have to¬†spend time on¬†that you don’t enjoy but the point is that you can work smarter TODAY to find greater fulfilment. That is what living an 80/20 lifestyle is all about – consistently tapping in to what you do best and making sure you are focussed on doing it more often.

It is a process of constant reassessment Рdoes it work, could it be quicker, could it be better, do I REALLY need to be spending time on this? It seems like an effort but once you get into the routine it just becomes second nature. In every important sphere of your personal and professional life it is important to work out where 20% effort can lead to 80% returns.

 

Focus on areas of exceptional productivity, rather than raising across the board efforts.
Strive for excellence in a few things, rather than good performance in many.
Target your most valuable goals rather than pursuing every opportunity
Look for the short cut, rather than run the full course.
Exercise control with the least possible effort.
Be selective, not exhaustive.