How do I: take notes

Since I listen to podcasts on my smartphone, I often listen and pause the podcast episode that just mentioned something worth noting, since memory fades for everyone. How do I take notes?

I open up my “note-taking” app on my smartphone which is as simple as emailing myself and/or someone else who would benefit from this note along with the podcast episode link (or the source of this information) and when I heard it (timecode in the podcast). I would rewind the podcast 15 seconds or more as needed and play that part a few times to be sure I wrote down the memorable points for the note to reference in the future.

The same applies to note-taking conference calls. Note major points or action items with who is responsible. If it is due by the next scheduled meeting, I would include assignments per name in the schedule calendar invite as long as they are smart assignment.

Beyond podcasts and meetings, if any ideas are worth noting because they have value to you as needed/wanted experience, inspiration and/or knowledge, then capture them for future reference. Those ideas can spawn more ideas in the future. If the ideas and points shared have no perceived value to you, don’t note them. Note-taking is a value judgment and not an ego stroke. If you follow the ABC methodology (Always Be Capturing), then purge periodically. Not everything has value.

Do I use paper? Nope. Paper will get lost, ignored, and is not transferable to others without writing/copying it again electronically. Twice the effort is not worth it. Instead, formulate an email that can have your notes in that email shared with all in the meeting by the end of the meeting. No doodling needed. That email may include images of any whiteboard (virtual or physical) annotated as seen or links to slide decks/images/videos shared.

If all your notes are not accessible to you at all times, portable at all times, and transferable from anywhere to anywhere, they have little value. Those ideas should be as distant from you as your smartphone.

The idea behind note-taking is to make those ideas are available for future reference, not perfection. That future reference might be hours, days, weeks, months, or years later. Without such notes, all these fleeting ideas become forgotten details disappearing as fast as time today.

How do I: deal with low attention spans

When there are a lot of distractions going on, it is hard to retain anyone’s attention. So how do I deal with periods of time like this?

People are busy. So am I. If you want someone’s attention, ping them on a scheduled basis to see when you can schedule a short amount of time with them. Now is not likely the best time and you will quickly realize that when asking for their time.

Scheduling short meetings will help retain more focus and attention than hour (or longer) droning meetings. Imagine if you cut the chatter out completely and limited meetings to 15 total minutes or 30 total minutes. The people who need to make a point will get to it much faster than during a 1 to 2 hour meeting.

Need a 5-minute buffer between calls for a breather, a bathroom break or to get a beverage? Add the 5 minutes to your schedule and cut the meeting to 25 minutes instead. Emphasize that hard stop time in the beginning of the meeting. Give a reminder when all of you have 5 minutes left and hold to the scheduled end time as if it was your religion. Need more time? Schedule another block of time in the future. Make sure to get to points you need to cover and add those to a meeting agenda beforehand as a prequel for everyone to prepare as needed.

Now imagine if only the people who need to be there are invited and everyone starts on time regardless of stragglers or late people (no matter how important they might be). Record the decisions made and email it to people who need to know. If decision-makers are not there, no sense in being in the meeting at all. Just reschedule. If decisions don’t need to be made, email the update, and don’t waste time with a meeting. If you need to verbally tell lots of people something, video record it and send it to them. Fewer distractions. More focus. This is easier when everyone is remote and you don’t have to waste time walking to any meeting room or waiting for it to clear out from the last meeting. I don’t miss the useless office.

This goes for home life too. Schedule time with your loved ones as well as friends and be clear when they get your scheduled attention. They will hold you to it since it should work for all parties or reschedule.

If you notice your metrics (social media traffic, website traffic, emails directed personally to you) drop significantly, it will be noticeable and it often happens seasonally. For example, the last week of the year or just before a major holiday or during the last weeks of an election, don’t expect anyone’s attention nor true focus. Their mind is elsewhere. Schedule a time afterward.

If you do find the time, focus, and ideas to work on, take that less disrupted time to work on self-assigned projects that mean something to you.

Shiny objects will keep appearing. Everyone is out to steal your attention away from you. Guard your time by ruthlessly filtering out distractions that you have no control over. Realize what you do and don’t control among the many things that take your attention and time away from you. What do you want to do with your own time and attention?

How do I: deal with writer’s block

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Someone asked me recently how do I deal with writer’s block and what is the opposite of it.

Hypergraphia is the opposite of writer’s block.

As a writer, you probably don’t want writer’s block nor hypergraphia. Something in between works well. 

Some writers claim there is no such thing as writer’s block, just as much as no one suffers from speaker’s block (let us assume this is not public speaking which many people are afraid of).

There is a lot of reasons why writers find it hard to write sometimes. Author Steven Pressfield wrote about these challenges, excuses, remedies, and struggles in The War of Art. Note this is not by Sun Tzu who wrote The Art of War, but that is a good read as well.

Besides focus, the structure is often one of those missing elements that may be a common blocker in the writing process. The structure can be used as building blocks for your project and help guide you to what still needs work. Without a structure, it is like creating a building with no plans and no timeline which would not work out well for any existing budget nor sanity. That structure may include an outline that becomes a table of contents. That structure can be fluid (like water) as contents expand and flexible (like bamboo) as it grows more mature and hopefully clear to what it’s for and who’s it for. You can use a mindmap to link ideas together. You can use timelines with multiple swimlanes to figure out time frames for events with each character. These tools will help you fill gaps in your book project.

Don’t waste your time. Schedule your writing time daily. Make your book project a daily habit for as little as 30 minutes a day when you have available time, energy, and ideas flowing.

Take that massive book project which is likely a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) and break that structure down into finite timely achievable goals (FTAGs). Each goal is a series of doable steps.

Perfect is not an achievable goal, so move on from the myth of perfect and just ship it.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

For help with your own book project, schedule consulting time online with Henrik de Gyor today

How do I: deal with change

Change is a constant. Understand how any change may affect you, your situation, those around you and what you could do about it if it matters.

Fear

What exactly are you fearing? Write it down.

Stop fearing change and adapt by being flexible and positive. Don’t dwell in it. Do your research from multiple sources. Do the work to understand what is within your control vs. what is not in your control.

Stop worrying about what might happen. Understand your options if/when something does happen. Be prepared. It is not about blame, but action to get to the root cause of what can be done in the short term (hours, days, weeks) and long term (months, years).

Failure

Stop fearing failure. It is just a word. It is a label. Failure is not a person regardless of how many times it occurs to them. All successes started with piles of failure whether it was ours or not. There is a lot failure out there however most don’t talk about it because worry about image, ego and perception around that.  Failure is a learning opportunity once we remove all of the emotion from it.  What is the root cause of the failure?  Where did you learn from it?

I often reframe failure by using the word challenge which many people are willing to share their own and challenges they have seen all too often. Among my podcasts, the most popular

Understand your calculated risks and rewards with a budget, schedules, levels of efforts, people, tools, tactics, strategies, and specifications on the expected outcome vs what actually happens. Understand which are sunk costs like time spent. We will not get those hours spent back into our lives to spend them again. Find the efficiencies, effectiveness, and usefulness of what each person is doing as well as what isn’t working as well so it can be improved at least incrementally.

Reverse engineer it from multiple angles. The product lifecycle, the consumer/user experience, the people working on it based each of their roles?**

What is it for everyone involved? What is it for you after the consumer gets something of value to them?

Emotion

Understand what you have control over and what you can not control.

Remove the emotion from many changes.

Empathy

If you are involved in a change, how can people understand what you are going through and what they will through? Empathy starts with an interest and a conversation.

Can you empathize with those involved? Do you care? Why or why not?

You will find some selfish people who not self-aware enough to exercise any empathy.

You can try to understand the pros and cons for those involved. If it does not involve you nor anyone around you, why exactly do you care? Do you need extra noise in your life nowadays?

Do you need to understand what they are going through and why? Is it a self-imposed matter? Is a matter around their locus of control? Do you and your actions determine your own future?

You do not have control over other people and their actions, however, you do control your reaction to them (emotions/actions) and you are very much in control of your contribution in any form at any point in time.

This often involves a few conversations. Start by asking some questions to those involved and listen carefully to their responses. Ask clarifying questions to get to the root cause.

Learning

Keep learning. Learning does not start nor stop with school. It starts at home.

School learning is prescribed to get a grade, regurgitate information for a test, prepare you for an outdated factory-style work environment and you might escape by learning how to apply said learnings to something in the future. Much of what you cover in school will not apply to any part of your life. Outside of any school, learning should only continue.

Learning should be a life long activity.

Learning should involve failure. Remove the school grade, the stigma of failure, the fear surrounding it, the social pressure, the blame game, the finger-pointing and put most of that emotional garbage in the trash where it belongs. Once you do that.  learn why the failure occurred by focusing on fixing the root cause. Welcome to learning new things that might not be on any test, assessment nor book.

Learning often involves doing some kind of action. Ask questions, listen, read, watch, record, move, smell, touch and/or do the work.

It could be learning:

  • Experience
  • Knowledge
  • Personally
  • Professionally
  • Skills

Does it matter as long as you learn something new?

What did you learn today by failing at it? Are you self-aware enough to bypass the emotion and focus on the learning? Or are you stuck on just feeling bad about it? Time to get over yourself, your feelings, and move forward with learning something about yourself and how to not fail that way again.

Trial and play

Rather than doing a big project all at once if it has not done before by anyone there, try a small pilot project. Invest in a couple weeks of trial and play. Yes, there will be a bunch trial and error in the process. Every time an error occurs, understand why it occurred and how to fix the root cause of that error. Do not dwell on errors and start blaming and finger pointing. Take ownership of the issue and fix it with the help that you need. Errors will happen. Accept it and play with them until those errors get resolved by playing with others.

Do not assume you can do it all by yourself within a short period of time. Sprints can help move past big challenges much faster than you assume you can by gathering multiple people each with different perspectives around the same challenge.

Document everything including the errors and potential fixes and every iteration of change. Build an MVP.

Create a prototype and then build a better one based on feedback outside of those who created it by those who will actually buy it and use it. Repeat. This is how you improve something and find your audience so it can grow.

Control

Understand what you have control over and what you do not have control over.

Is it a matter of understanding your own locus of control?

Be aware and informed about what you can and can not control before either one really matters. Be prepared.

Your future is in your hands? Is it determined by your own actions?

Priorities

Is it Netflix and Chill? Or investing in yourself by learning something you can use?

Is wealth over health or health over wealth? If you don’t have your health, who can you help?

Is it building or selling?

Is it spending or earning? Whose money is it? How is it earned?

Action or comfort?

What is your priority?

Progress

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. This is how you achieve progress.

Remain curious. Ask questions.

The best investment is investing in yourself by learning, removing the fear of the unknown, and preparing in advance to deal with known fears and upcoming changes.

 

Things I Don’t Use: Paper

There have been a lot of efforts to become paperless over the past few decades. If a company has piles of people, that is hard to make it a paperless company you mandate being paperless unless you make it a chore to print anything.

If we can clearly display what might be printed on a large enough screen that is the first step. Users, readers, and reviewers of said content still need the ability to:

  • annotate
  • approve
  • assign
  • collaborate
  • edit
  • iterate
  • read
  • share
  • sign
  • view
  • write

on the content that could be printed but rather not today. And all of these actions can be achieved without printing anything by any number of productivity software suites we are all familiar with by Google, Microsoft, and others. Printing on paper makes little sense nowadays since it, by definition, limits the uses and viewability of the printed content. Again, if you want to limit its viewability, do not print it in the first place assuming the content is born-digital.

Unless the point of printing something is to reduce distribution today and/or limit royalties without the means to actually track its readership, printing on paper has no further purpose.

Print for work

I have worked with organizations that have at least 1.2 printers per person which only encourages printing. Most of the printing was done uselessly unless the print out was a project deliverable…instead of soft (digital) copy. Having printers next to you without getting up from your workspace promotes endless printing for senseless reasons. Remove the printers and remove the urge to print pretty quickly.

I have worked within very few companies that have no printers available anywhere unless you hunt for them, then get permission to output paper for some other (often useless) reason. The harder you make it to print anything that can just be seen or worked on a screen, the less likely anyone will print something.

Print to read

Some people think it is required to print something in order to read something once or maybe twice. We realize after that, the paper gets lost or trashed. Some print something to hand the paper to someone rather than sharing the content to that same person electronically. I have spoken to quite a few university professors that are guilty of this phenomenon.

Awareness

It has nothing to do with retention nor archiving because that grossly assumes organization and that this paper can be found quickly again for reference.

It is not a luxury to print on paper, but rather a selfish mindset to print uselessly. It is a point of awareness to not print at all. You don’t actually have to hold it in your hand in order to read, sign it or pass it on.

Signatures

No one (aside from maybe ourselves) pays any attention to our own signatures. Yes, that’s right. Physical signatures are useless.  Complete wastes of time. Authentication via e-signatures with the date, timestamp, IP address, and GPS location from where it was authenticated is much more specific than anyone’s handwriting will ever be. Courts of law accept e-signature far more than handwritten signatures. Why? Ever heard of forged signatures? You can literally draw anything instead of your own handwritten signature and no one will pay any attention to it today. Including your bank and your credit card company today. Same reason why many merchants don’t require any signatures for payment anymore. Signatures are a total waste of time and resources to supply the means to sign. Even printing receipts which are rarely kept and can not be archived since they are often printed on thermal paper where the writing fades after one year.

Some people print something in order to sign it, then scan the signed paper, only to email the scanned PDF to someone else. E-signatures resolve all this. All useless by today’s digital-first and remote-first work standard now for those who actually care about their workforce since their own work does require them to move anything physically.

Nostalgia

Already a distant memory. Forgotten for the same reasons as writing checks. If you remember writing checks as a means of payment, you likely remember what fun it is to stand in line as each person drafts a check from scratch as you wait and watch. Slow, cumbersome, and useless today.

Payment

Fraud not only led Europe to ban all checks years ago, while the US was getting chips on credit cards.  Contactless apps transfer funds faster anywhere in the world or locally down the street.

Handwriting

Remember all those handwriting lessons from elementary school? Well, they don’t even go to school anymore let alone learn to draw their own name with characters. Typing on a screen is the norm. My handwriting is illegible, just like a medical doctor’s handwriting. I will let you guess which one is more important to be clearly understood. Just another reason to get rid of handwriting altogether.

Why USe Paper?

So why use paper? Paper does not help to organize anything we do. We are clearly terrible at using it properly, storing it, archiving it or finding it again in an efficient and effective manner. We don’t need to use paper to read, write, collaborate, iterate, sign nor transfer its contents to anyone. I loath paper and avoid using it at any cost.

There is one use for paper products that may have a future unless we go back to older ways before toilet paper existed.