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.

 

How do I: work remotely

Since working remotely and working from home is a hot topic that many people are forced to do this year (2020), I thought I would share how I do this. I have worked remotely on and off since 2000.

Where do you choose to work

Once adults, we choose where we live. We choose where and whom we work for. These are all choices, not forced requirements. We assume they are givens while they are not. They are choices throughout our lives along with the responsibilities that come with them. We can adapt to change if we are willing to change before change happens to us.

Some have chosen to relocate for a variety of reasons. In late 2017, I delocated from the Washington DC area to the southernmost tip of South Carolina. All of my wife’s family moved here and after visiting a few years ago, we understood why they moved. The beauty and year-round weather of the Lowcountry make sense for living here. Remote work from here makes even more sense.

I have a home office with a door to keep other residents out and minimize distracting sounds from my pets, my spouse, and the kitchen.

If I record a podcast, I normally record in my home office for optimal sound on my end.

Since I use a laptop with a long battery life, it provides me a portable workspace where ever I choose to work that day. I have the option to work in any room of my house that I wish thanks to wifi. I have the luxury spending a lot of time inside a screened-in porch or outside on the back porch under a patio umbrella when the weather permits it more than 10 months of the year.

If I want to work at a coffee shop, I have all of them fully scoped out (outdoors mostly). I know where to sit if I want the white noise of the shop, the right amount of light, and power outlets if needed, and the best wifi connection. I do not have scheduled work calls when I go there due to the noise.

Coffee shops can be uber-productive for focused work. I have written entire books at coffee shops within a few weeks with an endless supply of coffee and small meals provided during 12 hour daily bursts.

Work where you can get work done. Don’t limit yourself. Change it up and see what you have been missing.

When are your scheduled hours?

As a business owner, I work every day. More on some days. Less on other days. The productivity needle needs to move every day for my own satisfaction. I segment days of the week for availability for virtual meetings and calls vs. deep work without interruption. The learning needle needs to move on a daily basis as part of a personal fulfillment challenge to myself that does not end during life.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi

I loath and avoid any unproductive days. If nothing was accomplished and nothing was learned, it was a wasted day. I am very self-aware that I become very moody from the lack of productivity and fulfillment. I choose to move the needle by working to improve this daily.

If I am ever actively waiting for something, I am listening to an audiobook, podcast, or speaking with someone to learn something.

I have scheduled hours for calls and collaborative meetings on most days. I don’t pay attention to calls that come in before or after that time. I will check voicemail a couple times a day. People can not schedule time with me outside these hours because my calendar is blocked outside these hours.

I have scheduled focus time almost daily which is often in the early morning and late afternoon. No phone available, no calls. no emails during that time.

I schedule time for different clients and different projects.

If it is not scheduled, it will not happen. The schedule is flexible though, not rigid.

Any social activities are scheduled even with friends or I ignore them. If they don’t accept the calendar invite, I cancel the meeting with a templated email to see if they want to reschedule in a month. My wife has a hard time getting me to attend even family events because those need to scheduled too or I ignore them. Even if it’s my birthday. Scheduled or ignored. You see our time is too valuable to waste on unproductive tasks. And every task takes time. Life is too short.

When I am very busy, I even schedule sleep (normally between 11pm-5am) or in three-hour time blocks when I am super busy with large projects. Meals are also scheduled to stay on track so I do not forget those and whom I will have them with.

My morning and evening are purposely routine.

What do you work on?

I am either doing client work, taking scheduled calls, or self-assigned projects to create content like this, more podcasts, or new books.

I only accept remote work now. Whether it is for long term contract work or short term scheduled calls. I get calls every week to come to another metropolitan area to work for big company X (regardless of industry/sector) and I decline all travel now. Does not matter who, what, why, where nor how much. The answer is “remote only” or “No”.  The client has challenges that need to be resolved. Resolving those challenges is why I consult remotely.  It is not about seeing anyone, shaking their hand, breaking bread with them, and other such fluff, but rather effective communication and experience in successfully resolving challenging. I don’t babysit staff nor systems anymore.  That is what management does when they are not enabling, empowering, or assigning their teams how and what to work on. Leadership figures out what to do and when to achieve company goals.

When it comes to Digital Asset Management (DAM) work, the first keyword is digital. All digital work can be done remotely. If you don’t believe it,  you might not be effective and efficient in-person either. Fix the effectiveness of communication first. Then work on efficiency as part of the continual improvement process.

I can find and train people to manage day-to-day operations of any DAM system for any client. That can be done remotely too. No one needs to go to an office for that.

I review 1099 Corp to Corp contract work only. No W-2 work what so ever. I own my consultancy, so I am no one’s employee. I am a short-term contractor. Short term means 1 hour, a few weeks, or up to 9 months. Identify problem > Fix problem > Move on > Repeat for next client. This is what a consultant does. I do not milk clients endlessly for ever-increasing headcounts delays and billable hours like other consulting firms.

How do you get client work?

They call me, email me, or schedule me online.

As a remote consultant in a specialized field, I decline 100% of all client contracts that do not accept remote consulting, whether the work requires a few weeks of work or a few months of work. I have done that since 2019. That policy goes for any client of any size, most of them are global companies.

Previously, I would establish access, connections, trust, and toolsets needed in person, then go remote.

Once we realize that none of these things needs to be done in person, remote work is possible for everyone. I am not here to justifying anyone’s commercial office real estate spend. Those days are over and so is the office in my opinion. That realization will come shortly as soon as the mindset adapt to the new normal, not how we did something in the past. Remote work is work. Location is almost irrelevant. There is no more ‘magic’ that happens at the water cooler, office kitchen, coffee machine nor bathroom. This is because everyone’s already disappeared from the office that matters and there is no available audience in person.

Adapt, iterate, and thrive. Otherwise, let someone else run things as they should without fail nor delay.

My time is too valuable to waste traveling to any location when 100% of my work is digital and not physical.

Full disclosure, I don’t hire any staff for my businesses. All of them are fixed-term contractors for client work or they are task-based contractors.

Not surprisingly, 100% of everyone I have surveyed about remote work wants more remote work opportunities, whether they are gainfully employed or not.

I spoke with a few people hired last month in the field of DAM. To work remotely, of course, not just during COVID-19 and then run back to an office for senseless purposes.

If someone does not move nor create physical objects for work, they have no reason to work in a commercial office environment. Even after COVID-19 is under control. Remote work and distributed work is the new norm. It is time to get used to it.

What are you listening to while working?

Whether I am on a call or not, I am often wearing noise-canceling headphones.

Often I am wearing noise-canceling headphones much of the day.

When I am walking on the beach I have a Bluetooth earbud in one ear that is not facing the ocean which I alternate when walking back. This allows the effects of hearing ocean waves in the other ear as additional stimulation. While walking on the beach, I am listening to an audiobook or podcast to learn something.

When focusing on a task, sometimes light jazz instrumental music in the background from Spotify helps my focus.

When I doing less focused work, I may listen to an audiobook, a podcast, or a webinar.

Silence is very welcome when true concentration is needed.

What about job security?

You can work on your own dreams or you can work on someone else’s dreams. Owning your own business is the way to work on your own dreams so they can become a reality. Even if we are the most important person in a company, there is still no job security because the company can still fail. Job security is a myth. ‘Permanent’ positions are a myth too. Even if you are a government employee or employee of a multi-national corporation. All employees are expendable, even the CEO. Everyone is replaceable. And so is every company. Stop believing in myths and make a difference that matters.

What do you do for entertainment?

I will watch a movie or a series online as a reward at night before sleep however I may not finish it for a week if I am exhausted and fall asleep during the show, but it is on-demand so it does not matter.

No gaming. No alcohol. No drugs. No in-person group activities. Minimal sugar per week.

I can count the number of parties I attend per year on less than one hand and prefer to keep it that way.

Friends are scheduled for a call online once a month.

Do you travel for work?

Not anymore. Since travel does not benefit me nor my clients, there is no point considering where I live. It is a waste of time for all parties. I used to schedule travel early in the morning or late at night. I did not want to waste daytime hours traveling without a benefit to me and my clients. Most people work during the day and rest at night.

When I travel (not since 2019), I usually avoid working in a car, plane, train, subway,  or other means of transport because I find it too cramped and prefer resting during the travel. Business-class or first class can fix the cramped space challenge if you really plan to work. It can be better for networking depending on who you sit near. I have heard of other authors flying during very long flights (to Asia and back) and executing most of a book by effectively using that uninterrupted time during the flight at cruising altitude since meals and drinks are brought to you in a scheduled manner. You did not even need to ask, just acknowledge, confirm, or decline.

With noise-canceling headphones in flight, you can drown out all the plane’s droning noises which are amazing to have near silence on a plane in flight.

I used to drive up to 40,000 miles a year. Now I have my car self-drive me less 400 miles a month, mostly to the beach a few times a week in the early morning. Not for work.

Resources

If you need proof that there are very successful companies, both large and small, that have done remote work or distributed work for years, you can listen to a number of examples and hear how they do it:

https://distributed.blog/podcast/

https://remoteworklife.io/