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Some Things I’ve Learned After Writing Over 4,000 Daily Journal Entries

Do you ever have those moments when you realize just how quickly the days seem to pass? Days turn into months and years faster than I can believe, but fortunately I have some ways I manage this. In fact, earlier this week I crossed a major personal milestone: On January 2nd I logged my final entry in the daily journal that I’ve kept for the last 11 years! That’s 4018 entries that span nearly 400 pages of a specially-designed journal that I received as a gift from my Aunt back in 2005.

daily journal pages

Here I am flipping through the pages of the daily journal that I just finished filling up.

Not only does this journal help assemble a chronicle that spans years of my life, but the simple act of journaling forces me to actively think about (and then write down) the little things that make up the many little steps along the way.

As I reflected on my accomplishment, and look ahead to starting the first pages of my next journal, I realized how much I’ve learned through the journaling habit. There are a few that stand out, which I’d like to share with you.

  • There’s something about a written journal that a digital one can’t compete with
  • There’s big value in a DAILY journal habit–and keeping up can sometimes be hard
  • It’s not the destination, but the journey–and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details

There’s something about a written journal that a digital one can’t compete with

When I take out my journal and put it on the desk, I hear an earthy [thud] as I let it go and it lands. It’s the same sound an ancient book would make, except the details inside are ones that I’m very closely tied to.

There’s also something very satisfying about flipping through the pages of a big book and seeing all of the memories that have been captured. Sorting lists of posts just can’t compete with that tactile experience.

Writing the day’s entry down helps better commit the details to memory–and I mean the physical act of putting pen to paper–much more effectively than just trying to remember the experience. The short entries I log in the journal allow me to pick out a few highlights (or sometimes lowlights) of any given day.

Daily journaling can be hard, but leverage some good tools to help make that easier

Typically I find some time on the weekend to look back at the week and scribble out a few lines for each day. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets busy with travel (usually work travel), commitments with family and friends, and other priorities that get in the way. Over the course of 11 years, I’ve fallen behind on my journaling a good handful of times.

Fortunately there are some great ways to piece back together what happened last Tuesday (or any day)–and this is a place where technology can help. Here’s a list of some of the different ways I catch back up:

  • Emails – I’ll sort my email (Outlook for work email, Gmail for the personal stuff) by date and look for the date in question. After reading a few emails I’m usually able to remember some other things that were going on that day.
  • Social media – while I’m not much of a Facebook user, I do use Twitter, Instagram, and other social media services. It’s pretty easy to go back through my timeline to find something worth writing about
  • Evernote – I’ve mentioned before that I love using Evernote–and one of the powerful capabilities it has is its search. I’ll search for items created or modified on the day I’m missing
  • Text messages – I will check the history with some of the important people in my life to see what we communicated about

There are certainly others, but you get the idea. These tools are actually helping me keep my classic paper journal filled with interesting stories.

It’s not the destination, but the journey–and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details

One of the best things about this specific journal is that it represents a very low time commitment each day.

picture showing the journal page format

You can see the layout of the journal with the page-per-day that is built out slowly over the years.

The per-day entry length is only 4-lines of a standard letter-sized page, which most days takes under 5 minutes to log.

Because it takes so little time and effort each day, I’m able to spend an extra couple of minutes looking back at “what happened this day 3 years ago”.

Much in the way Google or Facebook give reminders of old posts and pictures, the journal is set up so each day has its own page, making it very easy to look further up the page at “this day in my history”.

I look back and see entries that span from when my wife and I hadn’t even considered dating, through marriage, cross-country moves, and the birth of our wonderful daughter. I see my progression through different job roles–the many opportunities and lessons learned. I see little moments I captured after making new friends and keeping in touch with old. I see some of my thoughts on current events (and also the trends that didn’t last).

Today (January 5th) 5 years ago I wrote about taking my grandmother to the airport. I remember that time together, and as fate would have it that was our last time together before she had a stroke only days later. Would I remember that car ride, acting as “Matthew the chauffeur”, if I didn’t have this little reminder every year?

Each entry sparks another memory of related stories, some of which I didn’t even journal about, but I still remember when I take that walk back through my own past.

Final thoughts

My aunt, who gave me the Journal 10+ over a decade ago, was over at the house during the holidays and I pulled out the journal to show her that it was nearly complete. After we swapped some stories about journaling, she asked me if I had a new one to continue in the new year. My answer was “of course”!

If you’re interested in the specific journal I use, you can find more information and order it here (non-affiliate link). If you do order one, or if you want to keep a regular journal, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

It’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools – I both love and hate this phrase…

…and I use it all the time for that exact reason. I’ve been involved with many projects both in my personal and professional life where I have a responsibility to make things work. Whether I’m building a system to collect forecasting data for business planning or making a podcast with my friends, there are a collection of different tools and processes involved. And in both of these situations the right tools can help make a big difference, but they’re also just one piece of the puzzle.

It’s easy to point at tools as the reason for failure

The tools we use, whether we’re talking about a microphone, a notebook, or a software platform, it’s easy to call out how it’s holding us back. I know for me, if I’m trying to do something and it doesn’t go as planned, one of my first reactions is to look outward at those very tools as the resason things didn’t go better.

It’s then very tempting for me to examine all of the reasons I need a better tool. It’s temping to do this as a way to avoid looking inward at how I’m actually asking people to use the tools we have. Are we experts with these tools? Do we really know how/when to use them?

Instead of taking the easy way out–casting blame at the tools–I prefer to pause and understand how we might be able to make better use of the tools. Figure out what went wrong or where the gaps are where these tools don’t seem to be good enough. More often than not I find that there’s some room for improvement of the process.

Then again, sometimes tools really do matter

Tools do matter (this is precicely why I have the love/hate relationship with this phrase). I find that this is especially true when our skill levels are either really low or really high.

When our skill levels are really low, fancy tools can help cover up mistakes. Autotune for a singer is a great example here.  Someone with practically zero skill, experience, or understanding can sound like a reasonably decent singer. There’s an unnatural quality to it, but it has better appeal than their natural singing voice.

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When our skill levels are really high, then better tools can offer a greater level of precision, or help out with some of the low-value work to free up more bandwidth to focus on the finer touches that a true craftsman can bring to a job. This is the singer whose talent is showcased through a well-produced recording.

It’s a trap!

The point in all of this is the following: Tools are important, but they’re only one aspect of what we need to be successful. With the autotune example above, this can also be a trap for someone. They can rely on this tool as a crutch.

When starting out with something new, there’s an additional hurdle that we don’t even know which tools are good or bad for solving our problems. This makes matters worse–especially in a group setting where people will express their deep concerns over this or that tool. The fact of the matter is that every tool will have trade-offs. Once a decision is finally made on how to move forward there’s a feeling of finality, when in reality this is only one of many tools that will be used along the way.

Making do when you need to (but aspiring to more)

What I advocate for (which is where I’ve experienced the most success) is identifying a reasonable starting place. Do enough research about the available tools to get an understanding of what some of the appropriate options are. Ask around–there are probably experts with just about every one of the tools solving similar problems to the ones you’re trying to fix.

The next step is to make a decision for the starting point. Which tool can we try out that seems like it might be the one for the job? There is almost certainly NO “perfect” tool with where you’re at in the process. Even if you pick the one that ends up being the perfect thing–it may take a long time to realize it.

The last step here is so important: take time to objectively evaluate the tool. This is different from blaming or praising the tool in the heat of the moment. There will be good jobs and bad ones using the same set of tools. Taking the time to review the effectiveness of these tools over time enables us to identify when to make a move and to make more informed decisions in the future.

Which tools do you use today that you really like? Which ones are you using that you want to upgrade? I want to hear and respond in the comments!

Photo Credits:

 

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Re-Connecting

It is with great excitement that I set another post to go live on Connecting The Data after nearly two years of posting to my company’s blog. I’ve missed some of the freedom that comes with posting here (variable post length, topic variety, sharing more opinion, format variety to include video & audio, etc.) .

I’m very proud of the recognition and reach I’ve achieved with my blog posts on the Hitachi Solutions blog. It has been a great opportunity to work with that larger audience and do my part to help showcase some of the talent and leadership we have in our organization. We went from having only a handful of authors who each needed to post 1-3 blogs per month, to a stable of over 25 bloggers. This is great growth for Hitachi, but it’s meant that my ability to share my thoughts on interesting topics needed a fresh outlet. I knew there was a reason why I just couldn’t let go of Connecting The Data 🙂

The timing is appropriate as well. The advances by Microsoft in their entire Office 365 suite and the pivot to leverage an open data service for their Dynamics business applications, expansion into machine learning and predictive analytics, visualizations with Power BI, and the improved capability for true productivity applications are just some of the developments that speak to the meaning of this blog’s namesake. MS has really adopted the notion of “connecting the data”.

I’m also excited to expand even further some of the content. I’ve found that my most-read posts involve me sharing creative problem solving using tools and technologies that are approachable to an “average” person without a computer science degree. This means some more fun examples that go beyond using just the core office suite (Scrivener, Audacity, and Paint.net just to name a few). I’m also going to broaden my horizons and use real world examples that go beyond a business scenario, diving into how I use these technologies as part of getting stuff done outside of the office as well.

I’m looking forward to connecting once again! 🙂

Read more…

Thanks for stopping by. As of January 2015, Matthew’s CRM-related blogging efforts have been refocused into the Hitachi Solutions blog. Excel-related blogging has been moved to his personal blog. The content on Connecting the Data will remain available in an archive state.

CRM 2015 – Quick Public Service Announcement For Administrators

Microsoft has released CRM 2015! In related news I thought I was losing my mind while I was setting up a test organization. I couldn’t find the User administration section. It’s been under Settings->Administration for quite a few releases now, but with 2015 it’s no longer there.

CRM2015Admin

Instead, take a look at the Settings->Security section where you will find Users along with some other items that moved: Teams, Security Roles, Business Units, Field Security, and Access Team Templates. Some new features can be found here as well, including Hierarchy Security and Positions. Both of these will come in handy for better accommodating things like selective access for regional or departmental management teams.

CRM2015Security

You can use the following link to sign up for a CRM 2015 online trial today:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/crm-free-trial-overview.aspx

You can download the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Server 2015 files here:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=45012

Three ways Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 Will Speed Up Quoting

During my time in sales operations, a constant frustration is that quoting can be a real hassle inside of any CRM system. There are some great tools that help with making certain aspects like configuration much easier, but at the end of the day this is an area that can always be improved (both as the person doing the quoting as well as the person managing what can be quoted).

The recent announcement of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015, which is scheduled to come out in December 2014, comes with exciting updates to quoting products or services. I’ve submitted a blog post Three Ways Dynamics CRM 2015 Will Speed Up Quoting to the Hitachi Solutions CRM blog.

I recently learned that reposting the same article content to multiple blogs can actually hurt your search engine rankings, so you’ll have to jump to the full article via the link (re-linked here) 🙂

Dynamics CRM 2015 Preview: Sales Process Enhancements

Anyone who has talked to me about the last two releases of Dynamics CRM knows that I am a huge believer in the Sales Process functionality that Microsoft has developed. I think back to my Sales Operations days and can only shake my head at how much screwing around could have been avoided if this toolset was available today (for sales reps and for my team).

The picture doesn't do justice to the concept...

The picture doesn’t do justice to the concept…but you can click to enlarge the image which will help a little bit.

The CRM 2015 release preview brings even more excitement, as there are even more strides in the ability to guide users through a business process flow. In the last release, we were still limited to a very linear process flow. If there were indicators on an Opportunity that certain stages should be skipped or handled in a different order, it took lots of time for a clever BA or some custom development from an IT pro to make that happen. If the business wasn’t willing to invest in that, then the burden fell to the salesperson to “just know” what was relevant (which meant some people filled in everything while others filled out nothing…garbage data).

Soon, a simple configuration will allow conditional branching to stages based on criteria specified by the process. This capability will be baked right into the 2015 process flow designer, To the right I’ve included an image from the preview guide showing this conditional branching, which should layer very nicely with the existing Business Rules to show/hide relevant fields..

What this means is an even more intuitive experience for the business development team. Fewer refreshes and flickers on the page. Ask only for what’s needed…automate the rest. Get the management team the detail they need for forecasting and decisions, without burdening the sales organization with a bunch of busywork. This is useful in a variety of situations, including:

  • Handling variations for different types of sales (inside sales, add-ons, contract renewals, etc.)
  • Time to productivity when onboarding new salespeople
  • Managing sales cycles that vary if they have a short-fuse or time-based incentives

Keep it coming Microsoft Dynamics CRM Team!

Note: In this post I discuss future products and features that have been announced publicly but it is always important to remember that this is subject to change with the final release

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Microsoft Announces CRM 2015 Details

Hot off the presses, Microsoft has announced Dynamics CRM 2015 and posted some pre-release information out to their CRM customer center website. This includes updates to both Dynamics CRM as well as Dynamics Marketing.

Here are some particulars of note:

  • A specific release date has not been described, however they have specified “before the end of this calendar year”
  • CRM Online customers will be able to drive the specific timing of the upgrade for their organization. This is similar to the 2013 update for SP1 and they point toward the same technet article on how this works
  • CRM On-premise customers will be able to apply the update as they normally would (assuming they have software assurance)
  • Dynamics CRM functionality updates hit the sales process, mobile (tablet) experience, product detail, case management, Outlook, and the help system
  • Dynamics Marketing functionality updates will provide several updates around what will be a more collaborative experience for users

As a partner and member of the CRM community, I’d like to offer this reminder to folks: back when MS announced the CRM 2013 Service Pack 1 (Spring 14 release) they also mentioned that there will be several changes in what the platform supports “for the next release” which they were terming the Fall Release, but is now (which is now called CRM 2015). Read the details over on the Dynamics CRM Blog to make sure you’re aware of some prep-work that may need to take place before upgrading to CRM 2015.

Spring 14 Update is here

Microsoft has released the Dynamics CRM Spring 14 update (AKA Dynamics CRM 2013 Service Pack 1) and my team has been playing stump-the-chump with each other on all of the new features. PS, there’s a lot of them.

In a previous blog I covered the Microsoft increased focus on the CMO. Dynamics Marketing and Social Listening both drop with this release, but it doesn’t stop there. Below are a few other teasers of the new functionality.

Timers

There have been many situations, particularly in a customer service setting, where we need robust timers that can help manage expectations and highlight the good, bad, and sometimes ugly situations caused by delays.

The great part is that timers can be used all over the place. A couple of sales examples include managing response time and escalation for reseller quote requests or deal registration.

Customer Service Functionality

Microsoft isn’t banking on Parature for all of their Customer Service workload improvement. Far from it. The offering that comes with the spring update brings several key features that have required customization and configuration in the past:

  • Entitlements-This is the logical replacement of “Contracts” in Dynamics CRM (though Contracts haven’t disappeared) that I like to refer to as “Contracts on steroids”
  • SLAs-Set SLAs based on factors such as issue type and time zones
  • Timers-covered above 🙂
  • Routing Rules-Escalation/workflow based on entitlements, timers, and SLAs. Dynamics CRM now builds the workflow automatically!
  • Personal Queues

Other Tidbits

Plenty of detail on Microsoft’s CRM updates website, which I must say has been much improved over the course of the last year or so. A couple of nuggets are the improved integration of the InsideView product (now renamed “Insights” for Dynamics CRM Online customers) and the updated Solution file versioning.

Additionally, Microsoft has released Unified Service Desk, which is a companion to Dynamics CRM to help in specific customer service settings.

Very cool stuff and I’m excited for more.

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