Take notes on paper instead of laptops

But iPads are okay, right? Right?

This final test clarified that the simple act of verbatim note taking encouraged by laptops could ultimately result in impaired learning. “Although more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content, as is more likely the case on a laptop than when notes are taken longhand, the benefit disappears,” said Mueller and Oppenheimer.

What You Miss When You Take Notes on Your Laptop – Maggy McGloin, Harvard Business Review (31 July 2015)

Read the full piece for exactly what was tested and the – to me – rather distressing reasons for the conclusions.

The best time of day to do anything productive

Fast Company doesn’t share all its working out but its article by Stephanie Vozza has specific advice on when best to get things done, particularly when you’ve got to work with other people. Two examples:

If you want to get a reply to your email, consider sending it early in the morning, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Reply rates are highest in the morning—about 45%—according to the Yesware study.

Fewer emails are sent during these time slots, lowering competition. The study also found all weekdays to be equal. So don’t worry about the day; focus on the morning, instead.

Monday-morning meetings are a staple at many companies, but if participation is low, there’s a reason why. Only one in three employees is likely to attend, according to a study by the online scheduling service WhenIsGood.net: “If you have a meeting at 9 a.m., employees will need to prepare the day before, or turn up underprepared,” research coordinator Keith Harris told Inc.. If they’re not prepared, they won’t come up.

Get more participation by holding meetings at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, the company found. Tuesday afternoon stands out “because that is the furthest you can get from the deadlines at the end of the week without bumping into the missed deadlines from the week before,” said Harris.

The Best Time Of Day To Do Everything At Work – Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company (23 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

Blowing bubbles before your next meeting

Not you. Your calendar. You can’t actually buy it, I’m afraid, but there is a concept device called monYay: Notifly – and that’s a really hard thing to type because autocorrect goes crazy trying to fix that cap Y and change the second word into notify – which sits on your desk until it’s time to go to your next meeting. Then:


The monYay bit of the name comes from wanting to change Mondays into Mon-yays! and I can get behind that even though I quite like Mondays. Read a little more on the official website, along with lots of other excellent ideas.

Via Swiss Miss.

How to survive boring meetings

This is about meetings at work. If it’s a commissioning meeting about you or you’re pitching to someone, you won’t be bored. Every other meeting, you will. Now, clearly, the most useful and productive thing you could do in a typical work meeting is to get out of it. But since you’re lumbered, do this instead.

Next time you’re in one and somebody is droning on about stuff you have no need or use or desire for, make notes as if you have need and use and desire for it all. It passes the time and that’d be enough because anything that gets you through a meeting is worth it.

But along the way, there are going to be things you spot that actually might be interesting. Usually they’re lost in the droning, but you’ve got them there and they’re standing out at you. Also, you will often get lumbered with some task you have to do. Treat these the same way.

Specifically, when you’ve written in the meeting, put this in the left margin next to them: “- – “. Two dashes. Some people draw a little cube. Some just swipe the pen down to make a large stroke before the first word.

Whatever mark you make, make a mark. Whether you’re handwriting on paper or typing into your iPad, make a mark like this and later you can very quickly see what you’ve got to do. You can very quickly pick out the tasks from the droning.

You know I like technology, though, right? I do this in Drafts 4 on my iPad and recently I’ve been using the @ symbol followed by a space, my name and a colon before the task. That sounds tedious and unnecessary but for how there is a free script you can get for Drafts. Press one button and it scoots through all the droning, finds those @ marks and pops each one into my OmniFocus To Do list.

If you have Drafts 4 – er, and also OmniFocus – go get that script here.

The fun of dead time

You can’t plan this, that’s the point, but unexpectedly having a couple of hours in which you can’t do anything is great.

Today was timed to the minute for me with rushing everywhere except for one long meeting scheduled for 14:00-18:00. I then had to nip off to another thing for 19:00 and be back on a train for no later than 21:15.

Right now it is 20:24, I’m getting a train in a few minutes and everything is preposterously relaxed. The long meting wrapped 90 minutes early and we all went to a pub. I could stay, I did stay, I couldn’t go to my next thing for ages so I didn’t go to my next thing for ages.

I got maybe an hour relaxing and that on a day I was half dreading for how much I had to get done.

I still have a lot to do but I’m carrying on that preposterously relaxed feeling even as I do it.

So go on. Schedule your day tightly and then enjoy the cracks between than become chasms.

Mind you, I’m glad the train has mains power or it’d be a very boring ride home.

Walk out of meetings you don’t need to be in

There’s a true story of Apple’s Steve Jobs telling someone they weren’t needed in this meeting, go away. But there is also the endlessly true endless story of our endlessly ending up in meetings we have no interest in. Worse than no interest, we have no stake in, nobody cares what we think, we don’t care what we think, we are there in body alone.

So go away.

Five or ten minutes into many meetings at Etsy, Eric Fixler, a senior software engineer at the time, would pick up his stuff and just walk out the door, mumbling something about not being useful here. If he had nothing to contribute, he went and found a better use of his, and our, time… teaching me a valuable lesson along the way.

There is no reason to sit in a meeting to which you add no value. Everyone invited should be there for a reason, and if you are there for a reason, you should be actively contributing, regardless of role or seniority. We hired you for your experience and insight, not to be a wallflower. If you can’t actively contribute to this particular discussion, there should be nothing wrong with leaving. We certainly don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time. Everyone at a startup has a million things to do.

Thus was born The Fixler, a simple and powerful rule: If you are sitting around a conference table and your presence isn’t necessary nor adds value to the others in the room, you may get up, say ‘Fixler’, and walk out without explanation or penalty.

Pull a Fixler – Jesse Hertzberg, Title Needed (6 February 2015)

Read the full piece. Also, hat tip to 99U for finding and analysing this.

“No Meeting Wednesdays” and other good advice

Dustin Moskovitz, the co-founder and CEO of Asana and former co-founder of Facebook holds, “No Meeting Wednesday’s.”

Moskovitz says that, “No Meeting Wednesdays” is something he borrowed from Facebook. “With very few exceptions, everyone’s calendar is completely clear at least one day out of the week whether you are a maker or manager.” He goes on to explain, “this is an invaluable tool for ensuring you have some contiguous space to do project work. For me personally, it is often the one day each week I get to code.”

He explains further in a internal document you can read the full post here.

Tech CEOs Favorite Productivity Hacks – Julie Bort, Business Insider

I think this is my favourite of all the advice in Julie Bort’s Business Insider article – and not just because today is Wednesday. (I do have meetings today, by the way.) But she’s collected productivity tips from many CEOs and while they’re all bosses of technology companies so, as you’d expect, tech tips score heavily with this group, there is much for everyone. Read the full piece.

Quick notes: get meetings faster and get out of them quicker

This is mostly for when you’re meeting a colleague. It doesn’t work so well if you ring up Steven Spielberg and ask for a meeting when he’s never heard of you.

But when they have heard of you and you can get meeting with them, do it like this. Say immediately, right up front, now when exactly you want it. So rather than get into the “can we meet? when’s good for you cycle”, ask: “Can we meet on Tuesday at 11am to discuss X?”.

The first and most startling thing you’ll see is that it is preposterous how many times people say yes. But even if they don’t, the next most likely thing is that they’ll say no, how about Wednesday? You already a step or three down the line. But above all that, this also tells them that you’re serious, it therefore tells them that this is genuine and purposeful meeting, and it can start to train them to be the same back.

When you get them, make meetings shorter than you think you need and also be very clear about that. When you schedule a meeting, email everybody saying what the start and end time is, plus a list of things that will be covered.

Then cover them, assign each task to somebody (though it’s usually you), and end the meeting. Get out to your next thing and you’ll train people (including you) to cut out the nonsense vocal exercises that are most meetings most of the time.

I recommend 15 minutes and the fewest number of people you can manage. Also, as well as sending everyone that start-and-end-time kind of agenda, email them after the meeting too. This like the news thing: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them it, then tell them what you’ve told them. Those headlines again: short meetings, specific actions, reminders afterwards.

When I run a meeting and also take the minutes, I do send them around as an attachment the next morning but I also append a text task list to the email body. Few people read the minutes to any meeting in any organisation but this way they can see what they’ve promised to do.

Busy doing nothing – official

It’s possible that you cannot clear any time in your day to do nothing. It’s entirely possible. But Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, says he does precisely this and that it is a boon for him.

If you were to see my calendar, you’d probably notice a host of time slots greyed out but with no indication of what’s going on. There is no problem with my Outlook or printer. The grey sections reflect “buffers,” or time periods I’ve purposely kept clear of meetings.

In aggregate, I schedule between 90 minutes and two hours of these buffers every day (broken down into 30- to 90-minute blocks). It’s a system I developed over the last several years in response to a schedule that was becoming so jammed with back-to-back meetings that I had little time left to process what was going on around me or just think.

At first, these buffers felt like indulgences. I could have been using the time to catch up on meetings I had pushed out or said “no” to. But over time I realized not only were these breaks important, they were absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job.

The Importance of Scheduling Nothing – Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn blog (3 April 2013

Read the full piece for the details of why he does this and exactly how it has helped.

Hat tip to the Sydney Morning Herald for mentioning this today.

Using OmniFocus for meeting agendas

This is entirely stolen from Asian Efficiency: I just read this on there and it’s like they knew what I needed. I now run a particular regular meeting for the Writers’ Guild. More than other meetings, this one seems to have tasks that keep coming up: generally things I have to tell the committee, things they’ve asked me to discuss, that kind of thing. And I’ve struggled a bit because I have an OmniFocus project devoted to the Guild and it’s already pretty long and big and messy. I was thinking of turning that into  folder with some kind of General Writers’ Guild Bits project and a Things for the Meetings kind of project.

But that idea is about as ugly as the names I was giving them. And as I pondered ugliness versus efficiency, I read this:

The easiest way is to set up a single action list called “Agenda” and you dump all discussion items in there. So whenever you have an idea, you can either dump it into your inbox or immediately move it to your “Agenda” single action list.

If you want to elaborate a little, use the notes section of the task where you can freeflow and type all your thoughts about a particular agenda point (on desktop, click on the paperclip icon on the right or press CMD+’ (apostrophe)).

The next time you have a meeting, pull up the “Agenda” list and simply go through each point you have in there and check things off. It’s that simple!

How to Setup and Use OmniFocus as an Agenda for Meetings – Thanh Pham, Asian Efficiency (26 March 2014)

Do read the whole thing, would you? It’s written in a way that’s hard to usefully quote but easy to read: it’s an article based on a discussion that took place in Asian Efficiency’s paid-for premium service. What’s convinced me is the Socratic way it builds up into a picture.