Minimizing your least productive moments helps you become more productive.

It’s easier to raise your floor than to raise your ceiling. Cutting out the least productive moments is an easier way to help yourself become more productive than building in maximum productive moments.

Why is this true? Usually, unproductive moments are caused by external factors while moments of maximum productivity are a combination of opportunity, time, and personal clarity. It’s possible to identify those external factors and minimize their ability to impact you.

If there’s a person who constantly schedules pointless meetings, stop attending. If there’s a work location that causes you to be unproductive, avoid it. If you aren’t getting the information you need, build an improved network.

Your productivity is yours to control. Don’t just seek to be more productive generally, minimize the moments where you are least productive and you’ll see amazing results.

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Everyone can be a data person – that includes you!

I come across a lot of people who proudly proclaim that they are not “data people.” They avoid spreadsheets, they hate columns of numbers, and they claim to get confused easily amidst it all. I’m here to help them all understand – data is your friend and everyone is a data person.

Let’s start with a simple clarification about what “data” is. Data is simply information. It doesn’t have to be a million line spreadsheet, it can be the text of an email. Data is any recorded and referencable piece of information. That’s it. If you go through your email for the number of times you were asked a question, you are doing data analysis.

The common misunderstanding with data is that you need to know everything about Excel to be able to be a data person. Here there is a misunderstanding of the difference between raw data and formatted data. Anyone can work with formatted data but raw data is a different animal.

Raw data is that information which comes in that hasn’t been cleaned, checked, validated, or organized. This process of turning raw data into formatted data is not something that anyone should do. You have to understand the original intent of the data, understand relational data standards, and generally be comfortable inside of data tools. This is a specialized activity.

After the data is formatted, it’s now anyone’s to work with. At this point, working with data largely comes down to asking questions and using the data to answer those questions.

The basic skill set of many jobs can be boiled down to “knowing what questions to ask and getting the right answers.” Those answers may come from experience, reading tea leaves, interviewing other experts, or (most commonly) analyzing the data. If you know what questions to ask, you are 75% of the way to being good at working with data.

My favorite part of 2017? The reduced stress.

In January I wrote about how 2016 was going to be a cornerstone year in my life when looking back. Looking back, it’s easy to say how much I underestimated the truth of it.

Every month of this year I can feel the stress of past years continuing to wash off. I stopped doing much of my self-reflecting routines and fell into places that I never should have let myself get into. A personal failing of mine is refusing to allow things around me to fail if I can help it – even if it means taking on more and more and more. Sometimes it is necessary to let the first ball hit the ground and only keep the ones in the air that really matter.

Your body knows when things are out of alignment and stress is its way of telling you to slow down. Listen.

It’s amazing how quickly a year passes.

Days take forever. Weeks never quite feel like they end. Weekends fly by. Months never seem to flip on the calendar. But a single year flies by.

It’s all a matter of perspective I’m sure.

Most years teach you a lot if you are willing to reflect as they finish.

The best presentations leave out unnecessary detail.

It’s really easy to create presentations that include every step that was followed, every number that was generated, every risk and issue that was dealt with, a list of every person interviewed, and the conclusions that were ultimately drawn. The most natural story for a project is the one that actually happened from step 1 through to the end. This story is also long, complicated, and unclear.

The best storytellers know how to get to the core of what’s important. Most projects take unnecessary details, make unrelated discoveries, and generally have activities that proved to be excessive. No one likes to say that the tasks they did were ultimately of little value. And it’s not that those steps had no value, they probably had to be completed before it was possible to know it didn’t matter. Simply checking the box had a value.

But the story at the end doesn’t need to mention all of those detours and extra steps. Good storytelling is able to quickly summarize the important details, give context for why they are important, and then quickly get to recommendations without extraneous information. Good presentations typically go through a lot of bad versions before the right one emerges.

Unfortunately, plenty of bad presentations also leave out detail either because of incompetence, incompleteness, not enough editing, or the work was unrelated to what was actually needed to get a conclusion. Being able to tell the difference between the two is critical if you want to get right answers. I’d even venture that 9 out of 10 “good looking” presentations fall into the bad category.

I come across a lot of conclusions that missed the real details of what should have been important. Usually, it’s as simple as:

  • Verify the problem
  • Review the root cause issues
  • Address how to improve the issues
  • Recommendation/next steps

It’s that easy.

Check your ego before you start the day.

All of us experience swings in our ego and confidence from day-to-day. When we are on a winning streak, it’s easy for the head to start to inflate. When we’ve hit a few roadblocks and things aren’t quite going our way, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of worry and quiet. Neither is ideal for operations.

I used to be bad about letting my ego do the talking for me. I’d focus on what things meant to me personally instead of just getting on with the job. It’s an easy thing to do when you think you know more about a topic than anyone else. Problem is, operating like that leads down the path of ego vs. ego instead of getting things done.

My current process is to try and stick to just the facts. If you remove ego entirely from the decision-making process, you allow everything to be driven based on the known information. At the end of the day, getting the job done is why we each have a job. If ego is more likely to cause problems than simplify the solution process, why let it influence what is going on?

The way I think about Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the like.

Ever since I told people I have started dabbling into bitcoin I get asked about it all the time. People are curious about this thing that is more and more frequently showing up in headlines. For simplicity, I’m going to reference bitcoin throughout but it’s largely shorthand for altcoins (excluding ICOs which is a whole thing unto itself that I won’t currently touch with someone else’s free money).

Questions generally come in a few flavors:

  1. What do you mean you’ve bought some bitcoin? I think I’ve heard of it but it seems out there.
  2. Ha! You mean you’re one of those suckers that have gotten conned into that bitcoin thing?
  3. Bitcoin, I’ve heard of that. Isn’t it an investment?

I have yet to have anyone ask out of jealousy of missing out on the spike through this year. I have also yet to meet many others who have bitcoin that want to talk about it. Most of the conversations turn theoretical fast for one good reason: you can’t really do much with bitcoin yet.

But for the rest, here are my answers to the common questions I get. This may help you decide if it’s right for you or maybe just give a few more people a comfort level with this new-fangled technology.

I think I’ve heard of it but it seems out there. It’s perfectly fine for most to have not heard of bitcoin but it still feels surprising. Buying bitcoin the first time is a bit daunting. You have to sign up for an account to purchase it through, you have to make it through big disclaimers about private keys, you have to worry about accidentally losing everything. But never fear to ask for help, there are more and more people that have gotten into it over the past twelve months. You must definitely do your research if you are going to jump in though.

Sucker that got conned. I get this a lot. Many, many people (possibly a majority?) think that bitcoin is like the tulip craze: here today, gone tomorrow. I get a lot of joy out of answering this particular question because most people don’t understand the current US (or global) financial system. The US Dollar is based on trust, central control (opaque), and a couple centuries of track record. Bitcoin is based on trust, decentralized control (open source), and a 9-year track record. Look back at the first few decades of US currency and see how it behaved. This leads to:

Isn’t it an investment? Bitcoin is NOT an investment because it is based on something different than a typical investment instrument. For the most part, there is nothing you can go out and spend your bitcoin on that you can’t more easily buy with your Visa card. And with the current growth path of bitcoin, few are clamoring to spend bitcoin when they can buy things some other way. The price of bitcoin (as far as I can figure) is based on a combination of (in order of impact on pricing):

  • Speculation that bitcoin will be worth more in a month than it is today.
  • Speculation that bitcoin use cases will begin to be deployed at scale over the next 12 to 24 months.
  • Investors that don’t understand what bitcoin is but want to be part of it.
  • Technology companies building companies around altcoins.
  • People that want to put their money in a place uncontrolled by the traditional finance industry.
  • People in countries facing currency crises and needing a safe place to put it.

(For what it’s worth, I fall into the first two buckets and sometimes the third.)

Bitcoin still doesn’t have the technical maturity to make it something I’d recommend to someone that isn’t jumping to get it. It’s hard, easy to screw up, difficult to understand, and definitely not a typical investment. But while not for everyone, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.