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Category Archives for "Productivity"

Announcing ProdCast – the Personal Productivity Podcast

I’ve teamed up with my co-worker and friend Joel Lindstrom to create a bi-weekly podcast on personal productivity, called ProdCast (Productivity Cast). The topics we’re planning to cover are very much in line with the topics of many blog posts here at Connecting the Data–the apps, systems, and strategies that help with personal productivity and time management.

In the first episode, we discuss the format and direction of the show. Along the way, we cover a couple of tips from my recent Skype for Business e-book release.

You can subscribe on iTunes right now or listen to the latest episodes on the web at prodcast.show. We’re joining up with the crm.audio podcast network–so if you’re already subscribed to the CRM Audio podcast you’ll see ProdCast in your feed automatically as well.

 

via ProdCast 1: What is productivity

 

 

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8 Essential Skype for Business Hacks free e-book

I would never have guessed that I’d be announcing the release of my new e-book about Skype for Business. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used it as my primary workplace communication platform and online meeting service for the last 5+ years (dating back before Lync was rebranded as Skype for Business). Still, I’m surprised and excited to share my e-book with you. You can get your free downloadable copy by clicking here.

The early days of Skype for Business were pretty painful. There were compatibility, connectivity, and general usability issues that I’d run into for even the simplest of meetings. I also quickly learned that I wasn’t the only person with these problems (and also that it wasn’t just limited to my company’s use of Skype for Business). Over time, though, something happened.

Skype for Business became a viable option that competes with the other online meeting and voice over IP options

In my line of work, I find myself having to use different screen share/online meeting services. GoToMeeting, WebEx, Join.me, and others (even one called Blue Jeans). For a long time, Skype for Business was simply not on par with the other options. On paper it could check the boxes–sure–but there were lots of little nuances that “you need to get used to.”

Behind the scenes, though, so many Skype for Business users would grumble about features not working how you expect, compatibility issues, and a lack of trust.

In 2015 and 2016 there were many improvements made to the platform, the desktop client, and the phone apps, which have resulted in positive improvements in stability and usability.

These improvement in the Skype for Business platform, in concert with it being included with most Office 365 subscriptions, more and more organizations are using it as their online meeting solution.

With great knowledge comes great responsibility

As a long-time user, I’ve seen and helped people with the most common issues they run into when they start with Skype for Business. Several co-workers of mine have asked me for the last year or so when my “Skype book” would come out. I can finally tell them that the wait is over!

In this e-book, I’m sharing a collection of these Skype for Business essential tips, which fall into four categories:

  • Joining meetings from the desktop app – for internal team members
  • Joining meetings from a web browser – for external parties who don’t use Skype
  • Leading meetings – for scheduling and starting meetings
  • Recording meetings – for capturing meeting audio & shared content

You can get your free downloadable copy by clicking here.

Do you use Skype for Business? Are there any tips or tricks that you’d be willing to share with others? If so, sound off in the comments below!

Evernote Mobile Update – What About Android?

I usually see a lot of variety in my news feed, but one unexpected story that’s taken off is the release of the new Evernote mobile app for iOS earlier this week. I’m a big fan of Evernote, but I didn’t realize or appreciate the pain that my Apple-phoned friends were experiencing with their experience with the app. This got me thinking about the Evernote app for Android and why my experience is so good.

Evernote did its latest major release of the Android mobile app in mid-2016. I remember the user experience improvements that came with the update, as the whole app was a bit faster and less cumbersome. After over half a year of usage, I’m still really happy with this version. I’m not alone either. As of this post, the app has 4.5 stars on Google Play Store (with over 1.4mm votes).

There are a handful of things I love that make the app such a pleasure to use…

The Step-Saving Evernote Action Bar

evernote mobile widget

Yes, it’s actually that prominent on my home screen

From my home screen in Android, I have several easy-to-select actions that are hooked into Evernote. By tapping any one of these buttons (or the elephant head) I can capture a specific type of note without even having to open the Evernote app.

This makes good use of a key difference I really appreciate in Android that is lacking on the iOS platform: Adding widgets to the home screen. In iOS when you go to the main screen, you see icons that launch your apps (and maybe folders with apps in them). This is perfectly fine and does help make sure you can quickly get to a large number of apps. That is, of course, assuming that

Similarly in Android, the icons that launch apps are front-and-center. However, in Android, if you want to include special widgets that have special functionality. In the case of Evernote, they have a few widgets, my favorite of which is the Evernote Action Bar.

When adding it, you get to control which quick actions are shown (and what order they’re in). You can control the order, too. One of these options, the “Quick Note” doesn’t even open the app, it just provides a simple box where I can enter a title and/or note text. This is lightning fast, and each of the icons in the Evernote Action Bar saves a few seconds every time I use it—which adds up.

For those who are familiar, the Evernote Action Bar itself was not totally new with this release, however, it became part of the core application (rather than a separate “Evernote Widget” app that needed to be installed). The simplicity of having everything in the one app is important!

 

 

The app design is simple but powerful

Over the last near-decade, I’ve seen the Evernote service grow–which brings opportunity to overload the user interface with too much stuff. With various releases of the Evernote mobile app, this has been one of the biggest challenges. The Android app was updated in the middle of 2016 and re-introduced this simplicity. From what I’ve read (and seen) this is exactly what this week’s iOS release was all about. Finding ways to simplify the user experience to make it fast and more intuitive. Here are a few examples from the Android app:

  • The first screen you interact with is all about notes
  • New note button perfect location for right thumb, and tapping on it lets you pick the type of note to capture (text, photo, audio, etc.)
  • Swiping from the left brings access to notebooks, shortcuts, tags, and, most importantly, search.
  • The quick note in the Action Bar doesn’t force me into the app–saving on load time and distraction 🙂
evernote mobile - several screenshots

Looking through some of the screenshots on Android

Final thoughts

Despite the fact that my primary phone is an Android, I’m glad to see that the iOS experience has been updated. The more happy Evernote users are out there, the more stability they have as a company, allowing them to innovate. I’m actually quite excited to see some of their upcoming offerings that will leverage machine learning to improve the user experience.

Are there other things you want to know about Evernote mobile or what their service is like? Let me know in the comments!

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Why 168 is my most important number for time management

When I say time management and mention the number 168, does that mean anything to you? For most people I talk to, the answer is “no”. I find this to be fascinating. My follow-up question is then “have you ever added up how many hours are in a week?” At that point, most people have figured out what 168 is about, but they want to know a little more.
The core practice that I’ve adopted is to do a weekly review session, part of which includes looking forward to the next week’s activity. There are a few reasons I focus on the one-week time frame:
  • Planning 168 hours is more “in your control” than 24 hours
  • Looking forward one week is more tangible than a month or a year
  • I find that much of my time management success comes from reflection
I’ll let you in on a few of the details of why these are so important.

Planning 168 hours is more “in your control” than 24 hours

When I look at what I’m going to be doing tomorrow a lot of those decisions about time management seem like they’re “already made”. I know when I’ll get up, eat, get ready, and later go to bed. Most of my plans with other people are already in place (or the time is at least mentally blocked off) and there’s a mounting list of “important” things that I know I’ll need to do.

time management by planning the week

Looking at the upcoming week…

By putting a plan together for the next 168 hours, instead of the next 24, I’m able to re-acquaint myself with what’s been scheduled while there’s still time to influence that schedule.

  • Is there a meeting that is not actually important? Suggest canceling or deferring the meeting.
  • Do I have a meeting scheduled that I’m not quite ready for? Block off some time to prep.
  • Are any of my plans with friends or family in flux? Use this chance to reach out and firm up the situation.
  • Am I including time for the other projects that are important to me? Make sure I block off that time.

Looking forward one week is more tangible than a month or a year

You might think to yourself that I’m suggesting that we all just look further out when doing planning, but I contend that there’s a specific time management sweet spot by looking out one week. Most weeks (for me) there are a number of assumed things (sleep, eating, etc.), known activities (meetings, social events), and important tasks (which may or may not be scheduled).

By limiting yourself to only looking a week out, it’s easier to get a feeling for how hectic the week is. It’s also easier to see where you might be able to re-prioritize things so you can focus on the things that are most important to you, without having to compromise on your commitments to others.

Let me be clear that looking out further than one week is also very important. This is actually a skill that can be practiced and developed over time. In fact, many of the skills for looking out 168 hours are foundational to looking out months, years, or even decades (as crazy as that may sound).

I advocate looking at the upcoming week, each week, to build the habit and practice that skill of prioritizing, then periodically looking further out.

Much of my time management success comes from reflection

In the words of a good friend of mine, “planners gotta plan”. As you may have gathered above, I fit into this category–but I’m also a believer that review and reflection are as important as putting together a plan.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how perfect a plan seems, I never follow a weekly plan 100%. That’s expected and okay! I’d also like to clarify that when I’m scheduling time in the week, there’s still flexibility that I allow myself day-to-day. Instead of getting upset about these changes I find it best to roll with the punches throughout the week then take time later to review where things got off the rails.
This exercise isn’t about beating myself up, it’s more about awareness. That’s an awareness that I then carry forward to planning the next week.
 

Final thoughts

I’ve barely scratched the surface of how powerful the 168 hours mentality has been for me. I don’t claim to be perfect when it comes to time management (I’m certainly guilty of making mistakes) but I do find that thinking about things in weekly chunks has worked really well for me.
Do you use a similar approach to how you manage your time? Let me know in the comments!

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.

My “Everyday Carry” – Solutions Architect Toolkit 2016 Edition

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of “everyday carry” for years now. If you’re not familiar, you may know it as simply “what’s in your bag“, but the idea is to get people to share a photo and a description of the contents of the bag/briefcase/fanny pack/backpack that you regularly bring with you to work/school/wherever. Today, I’m posting my solutions architect toolkit for 2016 to highlight some of the tools that help support the success I’ve had this year.

Solutions architect is one of the most generic-sounding titles, so here’s a little more context (and if you just want to get to the picture, scroll past this list):

  • I’m primarily a presales solutions architect, so many of my discussions have been with prospective clients who are early in their project (if they even have a formalized project at this point)
  • My company focuses on business software solutions that include some combination of customer relationship management, resourcing, project management, document collaboration, internal communication, sales/service/marketing management.
  • Our targets are typically using the Microsoft platform, especially Exchange for email and Office 365 for productivity software. That said, the audiences I have are a spectrum ranging from non-technical to overly-technical so I switch hats pretty regularly
  • I have discussions with our implementation team as well as our clients to see what worked (and what changed from the original plan) in order to have more productive conversations
  • I do a lot of presenting. Often this is to smaller teams within a company or the business decision makers (typically 5-15 people) but I also find myself in front of larger groups at conferences and on webinars (typically 15-300 people)
  • This year in particular, I tried to embrace “digital whiteboarding” but I will also say that it seems weird to have omitted whiteboard markers from my picture.

Enough preamble. What’s important is that we…

Get to the picture!: My solutions architect everyday carry

solutions architect everyday carry

This simultaneously looks to me like a lot of wires and actually not that many…

  1. 3-in-1 USB cord (Micro USB, Lightning, iPod) – For charging devices. While I haven’t used the iPod connection in quite some time, I’ve been able to loan it out to someone else who was amazed that someone else had one handy
  2. USB DriveFor exchanging files and easy printing to hotel printers. 64GB and the smallest form factor I’ve found that still has a metal cover (that won’t get lost)
  3. USB Multi-Device Power SplitterFor charging multiple devices at the same time. Shout out to Veeam for the conference tchotchke
  4. 6-foot Lightning CableFor charging the iPad. Also for loaning out to the many, many people with iPhones that always seem to need a charge but don’t have a cable for some reason
  5. Apple USB Power AdapterFor charging all the devices. Enough said
  6. HooToo TripMateFor redundant power, network freedom, and file sharing. I absolutely love this device. It’s an especially helpful safety net for when I’m on a guest wireless network (e.g. so I can still use AirPlay for iPad screen sharing)
  7. Microsoft Bluetooth MouseFor mouse-ing. Small, simple, and reliable for the last 3 years.
  8. Logitech Professional Presenter – For controlling slide shows and pointing at things with a green laser pointer. It’s a USB device and has been exceptionally reliable. The roughest part here is that laser pointers are less and less practical (anyone else agree?)
  9. iPad Air 2For showing tablet apps. This is my personal device, but I use it in over 90% of my presentations to demonstrate the Microsoft commitment to iOS devices.
  10. Mini-display to VGAFor connecting to projectors. I prefer the HDMI connection, if possible, but I still see more VGA when I go into conference rooms
  11. Mini-display to HDMIFor connecting to projectors. For the preferred HDMI connection when in conference rooms.
  12. Moto X Pure – For showing mobile phone apps. Like the iPad, this is my personal device but I include it here to highlight the Android ecosystem.
  13. Headphones (1/8″ wired) – While I went through several attempts at wireless headphones, this cheap wired set made it through the whole year.
  14. 10-foot VGA Extender (female to male) – For connecting to projectors (without getting stuck in a weird spot). Like I said, lots of conference rooms have a projector with VGA connector–but I hate getting stuck at the back of the room when the projector’s back there and there’s only a short VGA cable. This extension gives me the flexibility to sit in the right place around the table.
  15. 1/8″ audio to RCA (male to male) – For connecting to sound systems. It’s more often that I use this in my hotel room to connect my phone up to the TV when I don’t want to listen on my headphones while burning the midnight oil
  16. RCA to 1/8″ (female to male) – Used in conjunction with #15 when I need a male to male 1/8″ audio connection. It’s not going to be audiophile quality, but it’ll do in a pinch.
  17. 4-foot Micro USB – For charging my phone and having some slack to still use it
  18. 20-foot Cat-6 network cableFor live software demonstrations on a wired network. Wired connections almost always yield better performance vs. guest wireless networks, and this cable makes sure I’m not stuck at an awkward place around the table.
  19. (not pictured) 20 foot HDMI cable (male to male) – For those times when I need a longer HDMI cable. Very similar to #14 but for HDMI instead of VGA.
  20. (not pictured) Belkin 3-Outlet Travel Charger and 8-foot grounded extension cordFor sharing power when limited plugs are available. Especially useful in older conference rooms. It’s also great for making new friends at airports when there’s a limited number of public outlets.
  21. (not pictured) Laptop computer – Over the course of the year I changed computers 2 times, as folks in my role tend to do. All were Windows 10 machines with touchscreen capability.

So there you have it for my solutions architect everyday carry for 2016. Did any of this catch you by surprise? Have you posted your everyday carry somewhere? Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas.