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A peaceful story for the overwhelmed

Some time ago, I was feeling down every day. Not everything at work went well. You have probably been there too. I felt anxious all the time. Not a happy time. Until one day…

Life feels easier written down

One day, I tried one thing that changed it a lot. I sat down, closed all the browser tabs, e-mails, turned off the phone and I simply started writing. I carefully described the work related problem I felt the anxiety about. It felt so great and relieving. But the key point was that when I read what I wrote, the problem did not seem so crushing, impossible and devastating like in my thoughts. I learned that when I write things down, it helps me understand that the problem is not so bad and there is a way how to tackle it.

Try writing a todo list like a story

Because of that, I started looking for other areas where writing can help me and I found it.  I am always overwhelmed with todo lists with hundreds of items. I even have lists of todo lists. Every morning, it is hard to find out where to start, what is important to do. So sometimes I write what I want to do the next day, but not as a bullet list, but as a story in plain text. It works great! I wake up easily and I’m productive, because I already visualized my day the night before. I recommend trying it.

Write down the good things

Finally, I discovered one more thing. I felt more organized and in control, but after many busy days, I was not even sure why I am doing all this. So I started writing down three things that made me happy each day. It feels great as well.

Writing down just makes my life better. It relieves stress and anxiety. It gives me back control when I am overwhelmed. It helps me remember what makes my days great. If you haven’t tried, do it today.

 

 

 

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It spreads like Ebola

I hated it. I believed that instant messaging at work is just for nerds that dislike face-to-face contact. We started using Slack last week. The result surprised me.

This is a list of my findings, some exciting, some terrifying:

#1 Slack makes us productive

Slack is the new rising star of business apps, helping teams work smarter. The team that brought robots to Mars uses it. It spreads like Ebola. Every cool startup team uses it. I was hesitant. But I found out it is great. We use it within the team as a quick way to ask questions and share information. It feels awesome.

#2 It is a great servant, but an evil lord

Instant messaging at work is great when under control. If you keep it on all the time and people keep misusing it for lengthy conversation, it can eat up the whole day. Luckily, everyone in our team has got the right understanding how to use it so not to waste everyone’s time.

#3 Discussing anything is a waste of time

Question. Answer. Clarifying question. Answer. This is what  Slack (or any texting/messaging app) is made for. Efficient, quick and fast communication between team members. If it goes any longer that, you pick up the phone. It took me some time to understand it, but since then, I can stay productive and instant message at the same time.

#4 Arguing is great if you want to harm people without solving anything

I failed this several times, but I swear that I will never ever do it again. Arguing over instant messaging or texts is harmful both in life and at work. The problem you argue about will not get solved. The pain threshold for saying nasty things to other people is low. You will:

  1. Waste a lot of time
  2. Solve nothing
  3. Hurt the person on the other side

Therefore, good old offline 1 to 1 meetings and phone calls will never get obsolete.

The result

I am a long time instant messaging user, I started in 1998 when ICQ came out. I did waste a lot of time using it, I admit. But it does not have to be that way at work.

If you use Whatsapp, Messenger or Slack, it does not matter. If used right by every member of the team, it can help the team survive in the fast paced word.

I love the way how our team adopted Slack. We are changing how people travel in Czech Republic, one instant message at a time. Please, let me know your experience with instant messaging at work in comments bellow.

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The joy of resting more

It surprised me how well it works: I started to rest more during my work day and I am able to do more things. How is that possible?

The name of my blog is “I help companies work smarter.“ I help not just companies. Figuring out how to make anything work better, faster, or more efficient is my passion. This is leads to another idea I am blogging a lot about: How do use the time we have in the best way.

I already told you a story how choosing the right thing is much more important than working fast. There is one more important thing I found that keeps me productive:

Strategic resting.

Few years ago, I did it all wrong. I tried to work as many hours in a row as possible, skipping breaks. I felt very productive, but in reality, my energy level went down a lot after a while and I did not accomplish much. So I did some research to find out how to keep my energy maximized. Alternating chunks of focused work and break is something that is obvious. What is less obvious is how long these chunks should be. I tried pomodoro technique. That is usually 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest. This did not work for me, as 25 minutes is a short time and I tend to skip breaks when I enjoyed my current tasks. I also tried chunks of 90 minutes, but this seemed too long.

Then I found this article. It says that research proves that it is most productive to alternate 52 minutes of work and 17 minutes of rest. 17 minutes of rest after 52 minutes? That seemed too long. But I gave it a shot.

The perfect work rest cycle

The result surprised me.  52 minutes is a perfect time frame. It is long enough to accomplish something and short enough to not to get too tired. 17 minutes is a perfect rest time. Using this scheme, I can easily keep working for 12 hours a day or more without geting tired. Unfortunately, I can use the strategy for 1 day a week when I work from home and have no meetings. It is still great though.

There is one more thing that is necessary for this to work. I have to stand up and leave the screen during the break. I usually do some housework, stretch, eat, excercise or have a short walk. Checking Facebook for 17 minutes does not count, unfortunately.

A year of experiments

If you like experimenting with productivitiy, you should read a Life of productivity. It is a blog of Chris Bailey, who spend full year doing productivity experiments. This is the best resource about productivity I know. By the way, reading about productivity is my favorite way of procrastination 😉

How do you rest during your workday? What time periods of focus work for you? Please let me know and I will share your experience here.

 

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The real-life Google: How to appear first

It was a warm afternoon of May 2015 when I learn one of the best things I use work. It is practical for anyone doing business development, sales, startups or freelancing. In the new economy, it is almost anyone.

It was a freelancer meetup at one of the coworking spaces here in Prague. John Niland, author of  „Courage to ask“ was the speaker. He showed us how to encourage other people to bring us business and opportunities. I was sure it is working from the first moment: I got a consulting job during the workshop from one of the other participants.

How Google optimization works

Let me explain how search engine optimization (SEO) works in a simple way. If you want people to come to your website, you have to have something they want. Sure thing, but this is not enough. You also need to know what keywords people type into Google while looking for what you offer. Then, you use these words across your website. This will make your website easier to find.

How your job works

  • A graphic designer, lawyer or a real estate agent needs clients
  • An early stage startup founder need investors, partners
  • A sales person needs leads

If you read is blog, chances are high that you are in the same position as in the examples above. I am a startup CEO, looking for new partners, clients and team members. I am also a freelance management consultant, but I do this much less now as developing eHotel.cz is a clear priority.

The power of word-of-mouth

You will probably also agree on this: Word-of-mouth is the best way how to get new clients or opportunities. The key thing I learn was: „If you want people to recommend you, they need to understand clearly what you do. You need to teach them your keywords.“

In my case, it goes like that:

Person A: „I run a hotel, but I need more guests.“
Person B: „Hey, I know Jiri, he does something with hotels. I am sure he can help. This is his contact“

Or:

Person A: „I would like to start or join a tech startup company.“
Person B: „Hey, I know Jiri, he does something with startups. I am sure he can help.“

My keywords are „startup“ and „hotels“ for eHotel.cz. I also have „lean“, „factories“ or „excel“ for my freelance business.

What I learned about personal keywords

1) It is important to keep them easy

The easier to understand it is, the more people will recommend you. When my friends and colleagues asked me what I do as a consultant, I used to stay: „I optimize core processes across industries to maximize customer value.“ Now I know that this is nonsense. Very few people can imagine anything under this, so obviously they cannot recommend me. So I made a change. I told people „I fix factories“. People at least remember that I do something with factories and they got to me much more often.

2) It is good to keep it narrow

This is how it works with Google: Lot of people search for words like „graphic design“ or „lawyer“. There is also high competition and it is very hard to appear first. The same works real life. People in marketing business know a lot of graphic designers. It is hard to „come up first“ when they recommend someone, unless you are a superstar. It is better to think of a narrower, „long-tail“ personal keyword, like „wedding graphic designer“ or „real estate lawyer.“

The right question

See the difference between these two questions:

  • „I work as a real estate agent. Do you need help with real estate?“
  • „I work as a real estate agent. Who do you know that needs help with real estate?“

It is obvious that the second question is so much powerful than the first one. I know that if you want something from someone, you got to ask them directly. If you want people to recommend you, you have to teach them your keywords and then ask for recommendation directly.

This is how you appear first in real life Google. If you want something, ask the people and they will help you. Thanks for reading and enjoy your day!

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Never do this at work:

The more I work with I team, the more we come to this challenge. The hardest thing for every startup team is to find what not to do.

Few ears ago, I worked as an consulting intern at KPMG. I really loved my job for the great feeling of accomplishment. The tasks usually looked like this: I got to do a Powerpoint presentation or crunch a spreadsheet. I worked few hours on it, submitted to my boss, fixed few minor things and  I was done. Then I got a next task. And so on and so on. That felt so good.

The never ending backlog

Now, our team has a huge backlog of ideas that we want to do. Our team at eHotel.cz is 16 people. I am sure that if we hired another 150 people, we would have enough productive work for them for a year. That is not going to happen, though. So the huge backlog remains for us.

We can try only about 10% of ideas we would like to do because we just have that much time for them. The big question is: How do we choose what to do? How do we choose what not to do?

If 90% of the ideas were crap, the choice would be simple. The problem is, that most of them are probably good things to do:

  • Add that feature for the product
  • Enter that new distribution channel
  • Create that amazing advertising campaign
  • Talk to those potential big customers.

How do I know what to choose? Every day, the backlog goes bigger and bigger. What not to do? That is the question.

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.

Michael Porter

No more ideas!

My friends or former colleagues often come to me and say „Have you tried this or that?“ This is good, because some of the great sources of success emerged that way.  Deciding what to choose is the task that not so many people can help me with, though.

The decision

As a CEO, I am the one responsible for the ultimate decision. I sometimes direct what to do. But mostly it should be the team who propose what to do next and what to do later. My role should be to give the team as many information, training and support to come to the right decision. This is hard to do, but we are trying.

If you work for a startup team with similar challenges, how do you do that? How do you thing about the choice? Please comment bellow.