My Daily Productivity Routine

History’s greatest thinkers and achievers have one thing in common; they are creatures of habit. Do the same thing day in day out, and it becomes second nature; you no longer have to think about it, it just comes naturally. Having a set routine is what allows you to perform at your peak.

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After reading millions of words on productivity, one thing that’s really stands out for me is the role habit plays in delivering on your objectives. Mapping out every minute in your calendar may seem like overkill, but it frees your mind to focus on what’s important. If you don’t need to think about what you should be doing at any given minute, you’ll have freed up the mental capacity to fully focus on the task in hand. It’s worked for Presidents and Prime Ministers, after all.

I’ve spent ages tweaking my routine. It’s Monday to Friday thing; I like to keep my weekends pretty freeform and enjoy the time I get to chill out with my wife, but here’s what it looks like at the moment.

The Morning

I used to be lazy. I’d get up as late as possible, have a shower, drink a cup of coffee and dash out the house in order to make it to the office on time. It was a hangover from my schooldays when I’d be late for registration on an almost daily basis. Eventually, though, I realised the power of a productive morning routine.

By using those early hours to plan your day, it puts you in control. Rather than spending the day chasing your tail like the rabbit in Alice In Wonderland, you can get into the habit of being proactive, rather than reactive, and take ownership of what you need to get done.

Here’s what my morning routine looks like:

  1. Have a shower
  2. Eat a healthy breakfast
  3. Watch the news headlines
  4. Drink a large glass of water
  5. Review my calendar
  6. Review my life plan and goals
  7. Review my next action list
  8. Decide on three daily success outcomes
  9. Read about personal development
  10. Write an article or blog post

My Commute

I’m lucky that I live within (relatively) easy walking distance of my office, but far enough to use the journey for something constructive. I load my smartphone with podcasts and audiobooks so I’m sharpening the saw every morning.

At the Office

Borrowing an idea from Ron Friedman, when I get to the office I think to myself “the day is over and I’m leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?” Taking the time to focus on what I want to get out of my workday helps me decide what’s important.

I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule; that 80% of our successes come from 20% of our efforts. By actively focusing on my success outcomes for the day, I’m better prepared to deliver that 80%. The last thing I want when I leave the office is that all-too-familiar feeling that I’ve worked my backside off and accomplished nothing. Much better to feel like I’ve breezed easily through some of my biggest goals.

Taking a leaf out of Tumblr founder David Karp‘s book, the next thing I do is check my inbox. I don’t process everything (I save that for later in the day) but I scan through my new mail to see if there’s anything that needs my urgent attention. I’ve followed Scott Hanselman‘s advice and use filters for my boss, my team and my biggest clients so I always know if I need to pick something up quickly.

I then make sure I’m connecting with my team and our customers. As Head of Support, I want to make sure everyone who interacts with my team are getting the service they expect; so I spend half-an-hour reviewing and responding to support tickets, sending emails and following up any outstanding pieces of work. I also quickly catch up with each member of my team to make sure there aren’t any issues I need to be aware of.

Lunchtime

At lunchtime, I get out of the office. Taking a half-hour walk gives me the perfect opportunity to recharge and focus on what I’ve achieved so far. It also gives me time away from my desk to work out what I need to focus on for the afternoon. When I get back to the office, I’m re-invigorated and ready to get on with the rest of the day.

To make sure I’m fully focused, before I start on any of my afternoon tasks I note down my successes and challenges from the morning and what I want to get done in the afternoon. I then process my inbox and review my calendar, moving any items in my schedule that I need to.

The Afternoon

If my morning has gone to plan, my most important tasks are already out the way. In the afternoon, then, I work my way through the rest of my todo list, completing as many actions as I can. For the last half hour of the day, though, I take time out to review what I’ve managed to get done.

I reflect on my day and decide if my time in the office has been as successful as I’d hoped. If not, I make a note of what I need to do better tomorrow to ensure I have a more productive day. I then clear my inbox to zero ready for the next morning, complete any low priority tasks that I’ve got time for then make sure I leave the office on time.

At Home

By the time I get home, my workday is well and truly done. Once I’ve had my dinner, I’ll put my phone on “do not disturb” and make sure I spend as much quality time as possible with my wife. The only people who are able to reach me are those on my “family” list in my contacts.

Most nights we’ll chill out in front of a movie, then go to bed at a reasonable hour ready to start again, fully refreshed, the next day.

What do you think? Do you have daily routine that helps you stay productive? Let me know about it in the comments.

Why I Won’t Order Anything From Argos Again

Being Head Of Support for a software company means I’m fiercely passionate about great customer service. Taking Disney as my benchmark, anything that falls short needs working on. Thankfully, in my team, that’s not too much; I’m blown away by how poorly many other companies deal with their customers, though.

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Take Argos, for example. Like many Brits of a certain age, the Argos catalogue was like Santa’s Grotto when I was growing up. My sister and I would spend hours drawing felt pen circles around all the toys we wanted (but knew we wouldn’t get) for Christmas.

There’s an emotional connection there, so when it came time to replace my TV where did I turn? You’ve got it; Argos. It’s unlikely I’ll make the same mistake again. Arranging delivery for a Saturday I knew I’d be in, I was looking forward to firing up my nice new LG and watching some movies. But it never arrived.

Really, though, it wasn’t Argos‘ inability to fulfil their delivery obligation that annoyed me the most; it was the absolute failure of their customer service team to rectify the situation.

The delivery window on a Saturday is 7am to 6pm. That’s 11 hours to shoot at; when my order hadn’t arrived by 6.30pm I decided I’d better get on the phone. Half an hour later I was still on hold, enduring the virtual waterboarding of painfully shrill Mozart interspersed with “we value your custom” messages. Time to turn to social media.

After several ranting tweets and lengthy conversations about bad customer service, I still hadn’t received a response from Argos. Social media in their world, it seems, is office-hours-only. So I gave up, sitting down with my wife to watch a movie on our small, old and obsolete Sanyo.

By the time I got through to Argos‘ customer service team on Sunday morning things didn’t improve a great deal. Finally speaking to a real-life customer service representative, I was flipped the proverbial bird of “there was a problem with our couriers so hardly anyone got their orders yesterday.”

The underlying message? I’m not an individual, my custom isn’t valued; I’m just part of a mass of disgruntled customers to be dealt with and moved on, ready for the next one. No apology, no explanation; just the half-baked resolution that my order was out for delivery on Monday instead.

So, what should Argos have done, if they really valued my custom?

Let me know there was a problem with my order

When I filled in my contact details for my order, I gave my mobile phone number and my email address. If Argos knew there was a chance my order wouldn’t be delivered, they could have let me know.

By managing my expectations up-front, I wouldn’t have been fuming by the time I spoke to a customer service representative. The fact that my order wasn’t delivered wasn’t the issue, after all; it was the fact that I’d never been told what was going on.

Paid attention to me social media rant

Social media has transformed the way we interact with businesses. If we’ve got a problem, we won’t think twice about taking to Twitter or Facebook to tell the world about it. Many businesses, though, are failing to keep up. In our ever-connected lifestyles, we expect the companies we do business with to be the same.

It’s no longer acceptable for big name brands to have a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday social media presence. By ignoring queries and requests made at the weekend until their social media intern turns up for work on Monday morning, they’re missing the opportunity to defuse problems before they go viral.

Treated me as an individual and apologised

I don’t care that everyone’s order was impacted; I only care about mine. Telling me I’m just “one of many” doesn’t diffuse the issue, it makes it worse. It shows a lack of empathy for the customer and indicates, in a few short words, that Argos views them as a single mass to be “dealt with”, rather than individuals they’ re aiming to please.

In the digital era, customers are treated like human beings less and less often; and that’s why, in many cases, we’re becoming disillusioned with the brands we used to love. It’s not that difficult to say “I’m very sorry Mr Rogers, we’ll do our best to rectify the situation for you”. So, why do so few companies do it? Argos, you’ve got a lot to learn.

What do you think? Is Argos the exception to the norm, or are companies getting worse and worse at customer service in the digital age? Let me know in the comments.

When It Comes to Staying Productive, the System is More Important than the Tool

Don’t believe the hype; there’s no “next big thing” in the App Store that’ll fix all your productivity woes. Applications that promise to make you better at getting things done are the Emperor’s new clothes for productivity geeks. It’s not the tools you use that’ll make you successful; it’s the way you use them.

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Omnifocus and Evernote are no better than pen and paper when it comes to mapping out your goals. Don’t waste your time searching for the perfect tool for organising your life; spend it actually getting organised.

Here are the five most important steps:

  1. Define Your System
  2. Find the Tools That Fit
  3. Make Productivity a Habit
  4. Review, Review, Review
  5. Remember Productivity is About Goals, Not Numbers

What do you think? How important is the system you use when it comes to staying on top of your goals? Let me know in the comments.

Seven Lessons In Success From Germany’s World Cup Win

When Germany were beaten 5:1 by a rampant England team in 2001, it was a new low for the proud footballing nation. Dumped out of the European championship without a win in 2000, the then three time World Cup winners were no longer a force to be reckoned with.

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One of Europe’s footballing giants, Germany had fallen from grace spectaculary in the decade or so since their last World Championship win over Argentina in Rome in 1990. Defeat by Brazil in the 2002 final was scant consolation for fans used to a culture of footballing success.

Hitting rock bottom, though, was the catalyst for a complete restructure of German football. While England spent ten years basking in the glory of those ninety minutes in Munich’s Olympic Stadium, Germany rebuilt their team from the ground up, implementing a coaching and scouting network that looks set to see them dominate European football for years to come.

Here are seven lessons in success you can learn from Germany’s dramatic footballing revival:

  1. Your Lowest Point Can Be Your Springboard
  2. But You Need To Have A Plan
  3. And The Patience To Implement It
  4. With The Buy-in From Everyone Involved
  5. Because Success Is Based On Team Effort
  6. That Doesn’t Rely On The Skills Of One Individual
  7. But Is Embedded As A Habit Through The Core of Your Team

What do you think? Can you really learn how to be successful from Germany’s World Cup win? Let me know in the comments.

Three Tips For Great Presentations from the Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art Of War

Presentations can be difficult. Anyone who has had to stand up and present an idea in front of an audience knows that delivering even the simplest material can be full of pitfalls. Thankfully, though, after years of briefing two-star generals and beyond, legendary flyer John Boyd got it down to a fine art. Here are three tips on presenting your ideas from the fighter pilot who changed the art of war.

F86 and F15 In Flight

John Boyd wasn’t just a great pilot. A veteran of World War 2, Korea and Vietnam, his innovative theories about airborne combat transformed the way military aircraft were designed, giving rise to the likes of the A10 Thunderbolt and F-16 that proved so successful during Operation Desert Storm. But, like any visionary thinker, his ideas weren’t always met with support. Challenging the dogma of his United States Air Force employers who were more concerned with signing multi-billion dollar contracts for their corporate buddies than the performance of their fighter jets, Boyd needed to develop a briefing style that meant he couldn’t be ignored.

It’s not just military officers trying to put across their latest theory that can benefit from John Boyd‘s advice, though. Anyone who has to stand up in front of their peers and present them with facts and figures can learn some valuable lessons from the major who hosed colonel after colonel with his unprecedented knowledge. Sometimes, presentations can feel like a dogfight; why not tackle them like the most skilled fighter pilot in American military history?

Tell Your Audience What You’re Going To Tell Them, Then Tell Them, Then Tell Them What You Told Them

There’s a cliche that the higher up the military echelons you go, the stupider the people are that you have to deal with. John Boyd certainly thought so. To make sure he got his ideas across, he took the approach of telling his audience what he was going to tell them, told them, then told them what he’d just told them, just to make sure it sank in.

John Boyd believed wholeheartedly in his ideas and wanted to ensure everyone else understood them too. Keeping things simple and handholding your listeners through your presentation is an ideal way to make sure they take away everything you want them to; don’t make the mistake of assuming they’re all smart enough to pick out the key points by themselves.

Be Prepared to Answer Every Question Quickly and Confidently

If you want to sound authoritative about a subject, then you’ve got to be confident. John Boyd treated every question and comment in his briefings as an opportunity to dogfight his challenger; and he was rarely (if ever) defeated. The man known as “Forty Second” Boyd, due to the speed with which he could dispatch an opponent in simulated air-to-air combat, was just as deadly in the meeting room.

Questions shouldn’t be a way for your audience to undermine your ideas, but an opportunity to expand your thoughts in more detail. Always answer questions quickly and confidently and you’ll come across as a presenter who really knows their stuff. ** John Boyd** approached the questioning process like a duel; when challenged, always make sure you’re the winner.

Know Your Material Far Beyond What is Displayed on your Slides

Nothing undermines your reputation than sounding like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Listeners will tolerate mistakes, nervousness, disjointed presentation and other minor errors; but if you don’t know the detail then you’ll lose your credibility pretty quickly.

John Boyd was notoriously well-prepared for every presentation he ever gave. A ten minute briefing would be the result of months of study; there’d be nothing Boyd didn’t know about his subject. But that didn’t mean he’d overwhelm his audience with information, though. Make sure your tone is right for your listeners, but always ensure you know as much about your material as possible; you want to come across as authoritative, after all.

What do you think? Can John Boyd’s ideas help you win at presentations? Let me know in the comments.