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.

What The Mercedes F1 Team Can Teach You About Success

Mercedes-Benz know a thing or two about winning. A quarter of the way through the 2014 Formula 1 season, the team top the table with six wins out of six. Already, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg look unstoppable; but what’s changed for a team that struggled to match the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren last season?

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Formula 1 is a sport built on success. There’s no glory in coming second. From Aryton Senna to Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansell to Niki Lauda, it’s the champions that stick in the memory; not the runners up. But with millions of pounds at stake for each race, winning is about far more than the man behind the wheel.

But what can this season’s pace-setters teach you about success? What is it about Mercedes that means, barring any mid-season screw-ups, they’ve already got their hands on the crown? What tips can you take away from a team of also-rans who have transformed themselves into champions-in-waiting?

Success is a Team Effort

If you’re going to be successful, then you’re going to need some help; no one can deliver their best by themselves. Stephen Covey talks at length about synergy, and it’s this habit that drives everything that the Mercedes team does.

Put simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one”; it’s the habit of creative cooperation, teamwork, open-mindedness and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. From the designers to the drivers, the pit men to the PR team; everyone at Mercedes works together to make sure they’re miles ahead of the pack.

Using Different Tactics Can Get You The Same Outcome

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are very different drivers. Their individual approaches are poles apart, yet they’ve finished first and second in their last five races. The team has an innate understanding that playing to the strengths of their drivers can deliver success for them both.

If Mercedes standardised their tactics, if they compromised and settled for a “best fit” that suited both their drivers, chances are they’d achieve nothing. By developing two very different approaches both designed to win, they’ve managed to deliver success all round.

Planning, Preparation and Flexibility are Key

The Mercedes team openly admitted that last season was all about development; they didn’t set out to win, just to understand what being a winner in Formula 1 actually takes. Rather than jump in head first, they used it as an opportunity to plan and prepare.

As Second World War hero Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Mercedes made a conscious decision to plan for the future, which this season’s results prove stood them in good stead; but they are also flexible enough to revise those plans as this season develops.

What do you think? What other lessons can you learn from the Mercedes-Benz F1 team? Let me know in the comments.

Keeping It Analogue; Three Reasons I Still Love Pen And Paper

I’m no techno Luddite; I carry my iPhone and iPad everywhere and swear by a host of apps to help me get things done on a daily basis. But, when I want to be truly creative, I always go back to pen and paper.

Like the resurgence of vinyl as a punky two-fingered salute to the soulless ubiquity of digital music, analogue productivity methods have been one of big successes of recent years. From the hipster PDA meme that did the rounds a couple of years ago, to Ryder Carroll’s brilliantly simple Bullet Journal hack; there’s been an explosion of anti-electronic ways of getting things done for those growing tired of our increased dependence on technology.

Me? I’m not going to throw my laptop in the river just yet; I’ve experimented with managing my life with a Moleskine and a gel pen, but the ease of going digital far outstrips the hipster cool of whipping a Hemmingway-esque notebook out my back pocket in a meeting. When it comes to planning and creativity, though, I’m yet to find anything that outperforms an open mind and a blank sheet of paper.

The Physicality Of Pen and Paper Lets Me Truly Connect With My Thoughts

Writing on a tablet or laptop always makes me feel disconnected from my words. It’s as if there’s a robot playing back my thoughts in a sterile, unimaginative way. I’ve tried countless apps and methods to make it more fluid, but I haven’t found anything that beats a pen and paper for properly capturing my thoughts.

Whether it’s the familiarity of my own handwriting, or a subconscious attempt to map out the workings of my mind, writing on paper feels fluid, organic and utterly personal. All my best work has been done with a pen in my hand.

With Analogue There Are No Restrictions

The problem with even the simplest writing app, no matter how minimal, is you’re tied into the workflow ideas of the person who programmed it. There are some digital tools that are close to being a blank canvas for your thoughts (Drafts, Trello and Daedalus for starters), but can they really be better than a blank sheet?

I’m a huge fan of mind-mapping as a way to consolidate my ideas; by drawing them out freehand with coloured pens, highlighters and pencils, I can free them from my mind and really focus on what’s important. Yes, I’ll turn them into digitised project plans, but the initial gestation always happens on paper. I’ve tried to do it on a computer, but it doesn’t feel the same.

Analogue Has A Sense Of Permanence That Digital Doesn’t

I’ve been using computers to write my final drafts since I was a university student in the late nineties. I must’ve typed up millions of words in essays, articles, blog posts and reviews, but my digital archive only goes back as far as the last time I cleared out my hard-drive. The only writing I’ve ever kept is in notebooks, journals and files of magazine clippings.

Digital, for all it’s simplicity, feels throwaway. There’s something far more permanent about putting pen to paper instead of fingers to keyboard. With everything stored in the cloud, there’s a sense that nothing actually exists anymore. Like Frank Skinner pointed out in a recent episode of Room 101, the Nazis would have seemed far less intimidating deleting ePub documents instead of burning books.

What do you think? Does pen and paper still have an important role in our increasingly digitised world? Let me know in the comments.