community building Entrepreneurship

Working on my productivity – 6 tips to get more of the right things done 

Richard Lucas September 2017


I am publicly committing to improving my personal productivity. Why ?

A few months ago I signed up on a course Productivity Step by Step run by Piotr Nabielec who spoke at a Krakow Enterprise Mondays event I hosted.

I also interviewed him for the Project Kazimierz podcast here. I recommend podcasts as a way of both enriching life and enhancing productivity. If podcasts are not part of your life, and you spend time doing things like driving, cooking, commuting or working out when you can’t look at a screen – listening is a great way to stimulate your thoughts and learn new things. I would add the proviso that sometimes it is better to have time to think, so always having podcasts and background noise is not a good idea.

The productivity course started two days ago. I have a task or two every day. One of my tasks, as part of the course, is to make a public commitment to improving my productivity. This is that public commitment.
I was talking about this course with my American business partner and friend Kimon Fountoukidis who I interviewed here for my Project Kazimierz podcast more than a year ago. I am making this commitment to him. Yesterday while talking about the course, he showed me his diary – and described his own time management processes. Without – as far as I can see – training or courses of any type – he has such a good personal productivity process that I’ll be inviting him back for another Podcast interview. He is not crazily busy, is excellent at prioritization, delegation, and good at saying “no” to suggestions that don’t fit his plans. He’s also good at business. The company he has run since its founding – Argos Multilingual – is the largest and consistently profitable of all the companies I am involved in, with a terrific team and tremendous growth prospects.
I am not a “newbie” to the idea of personal productivity processes being important.
In the mid 1990s – SKK (now SKK Global) – was growing into being the market leader in automatic identification based on bar code technologies in Poland. The business was doing well but I wasn’t. I was not coping at all well with the organizational demands of business success.

My approach to life had seemed to be working just fine – at least in career terms – until then. It had got me from school into Cambridge University in the UK, a good job in a consulting company and I had founded a business that was succeeding when I was 24. But this approach was not working any more under the demands of leadership of a successful medium sized enterprise in the mid 1990s in Poland.

I found a book “The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management”

and signed up to the course that the author Hyrum Smith’s company Franklin Quest provided.
Years later they merged or bought the company set up by Steven Covey -whose best selling “7 habits” book is well known to this day.

When Piotr Nabielec was asked at the Krakow Enterprise Mondays meeting what people could do to improve their productivity, he gave a simple answer which took me straight back to Hyrum Smith’s book from 20 years ago. He said,
“Think about the most three important things you have to do today”
“Then think about the three most important things you have to do this week”
“Then think about the three the most important things you have to do this month”
“Then think about the three the most important things you have to do this year”
and then do them.
The “10 laws” book is almost exactly the same, only in reverse. Think about your fundamental life goals, write them down. Then make a yearly, monthly, weekly and finally daily plan. When, vitally, you are thinking about the things you need to do today – take into account your longer term goals – resulting in a prioritised daily task list. Do things that are important before those which are urgent. Focus each day on the tasks that really matter.

It’s simple, and powerful.

As I read that book – I had that feeling – not for the first or last time – that if you can get through your education to the world of work – without anyone teaching you how to be productive – there is something badly wrong.

I have had supposedly one of the best educations that the UK used to offer., and yet, no teaching at all on motivation, personally effectiveness, team work, management or leadership. These are vital life skills – if you want to make the most of your talents.

The idea of planning and knowing what you need to get done is not revolutionary, But there are many people who don’t do it at all.
This blog post is not going to be a summary of all the techniques and habits I have learned or I am learning. However, here are a few observations and tips that I will share.
As Hyrum Smith argues, your life is measured in terms of years.

1 Get control of your time – and you get control of your life. When people are stressed they say things like they ‘aren’t managing’ or ‘things are out of control’. Getting control reduces stress. Your priorities can (maybe should) include family, relationships and fun. It’s a book for everyone, not workaholics.

2.Having good “to do” list, calendar/diary and email inbox management is vital. Getting things out of your brain/into your calendar means you don’t have do use valuable mental energy remembering things. A way to manage your inbox effectively is by using something like a shared inbox software from ClientFlow. This will make communication a lot easier when it comes to replying to emails and staying in touch with potential clients. Having everything in one place allows for better organisation and productivity. The use of programs that are available online makes it a lot easier to manage any aspect of your business, no matter that industry you find yourself in. From being a restaurant owner, where they use of restaurant operations management systems will come in handy, to owning an E-commerce, where creating a website for your business is essential. With the help of the internet, there is always a way to make managing your business and brand a lot easier than it used to be. Something else that can be effective in productivity is making sure your employees are trained in relevant sectors of their business, From this, as their boss, you’ll then be able to safety issue them with high risk work licenses (if you work in a construction environment) or other form of certificate to acknowledge their productivity and success in their training. This way, if any unfortunate accidents were to happen, at least they will know how to handle it. Anything that helps to boost productivity is always a positive within any business.

3 Setting up an environment that means you can focus, with the minimum of distraction, is vital. Switching off notifications on your phone and laptop really helps. For me, this also means making sure that my office is neat and tidy. If life has taught me anything, it is that I simply cannot work in an untidy office! With this in mind, I have found that regularly decluttering my office has had a huge impact on my productivity. For instance, every few weeks I make sure to box up any loose paperwork and folders into storage. A friend of mine actually recommended that I should get some storage boxes and I am so glad that I took his advice. Without a doubt, if you are struggling to focus, there is a good chance that your office environment might be holding you back. Staying on top of your clutter is therefore vital.
4. Learning how to run meetings effectively is really important. Golden rules include:
1. A clear agenda and goals defined beforehand,
2. Starting and ending on time
3. Being good at taking not postponing decisions about action items
4. Having a record keeper, and agreeing whose job it is .
5. Communicating who needs to do what by when to all present afterwards.
5. You should set an example. If you don’t answer e-mail, show up on time, you are a hypocrite if you expect it of others.
6. Having good record keeping systems so you know where to store and later find information is important.
Being personally effective is necessary, but not sufficient. If you want to get more done that you can do yourself – you need to know how to lead and manage other people. A brilliant podcast and training resource for this is the American I dearly wish I had known what they teach 30 years ago. The four key activities of all managers are
1. “One on ones”,
2. Feedback
3. Coaching
4. Delegation
If you are an audio person listen to the podcast here By pure chance, their most recent podcasts at the time of writing are about focus and effectiveness.
If you are a video person, check Mark Horstman’s outstanding talk “What you have been taught about management is wrong” at USI. If you are a reader, check Mark Horstman’s book here.

Putting time management into practice means developing habits – this takes time, according to Piotr Nabielec, 30 days, in his book, Effective Multitasking, which I also recommend.

My father JR Lucas of Merton College Oxford University always had with him a notebook – he called it his “tiny mind” – into which important things were written.

If your systems work and you are in control of things, there is no need to change. If you feel overwhelmed, following the advice I give here may have a bigger impact on your life than you can imagine.

Tough fun fact
If you want a rough and ready check on how someone is dealing with their tasks and responsibilities, ask to see their diary. While a full diary does not necessarily mean someone is productive, an empty diary raises questions. I know of a senior manager who was fired because a diary inspection by his boss (and my business partner) revealed that he was lying about what he was doing, making himself inaccessible to those who reported to him, and not using blocked off time to work on key priorities. Get your diary into shape!

community building

Between expertise and ignorance – be a generalist

Richard Lucas January 2016
What I don’t know, why it matters, and the importance of knowing the right questions to ask
I spent a serious amount of time looking for answers to questions that are relevant to the businesses I am involved in, or researching business projects. If I find what I am looking for, I forward it on with a few comments to the person to whom it is relevant. Other times, I can’t find what I am looking for, which means an unsolved problem.
My search for answers is also inefficient because along the way I find out facts,  issues, problems and ideas that are new to me,  meaning that I distract myself with my own curiosity, and often have new business ideas.
My process involves Google (and learning how to search Google well is a skill – that – like others – can be improved), Googling people I hear on the radio,  all kinds of social media,  Linkedin, Youtube, Slideshares, Investor  information sections of listed companies, Trade Associations, Event speaker, attendee and exhibitor lists, this list is long.
When I cannot find what I am looking for I sense an opportunity. If what I want to know is valuable, the value of knowing it may be high (or perhaps worthless:-))
Years ago, a startup magazine called Proseed published a column where I acted as a kind of “Agony Aunt” to entrepreneurs.   I am not so arrogant – I hope-  as to share my “wisdom” about everything I read.  If I don’t have something to say it is better to stay quiet.   Derek Sivers shares his notes about the books he has read and recommends on his excellent blog – but he is successful with some excellent and hugely popular TED talks behind him, not to mention his business success with CD Baby which he sold for US$20 million.

I am however going to flip it round. I am planning to start posting questions I don’t know the answer to, and to explain why these are important.

If some contacts me and can help, then maybe they can be a business partner, or potentially work for me finding the solution.

Why bother? why does this matter?
The gap between being ignorant, a generalist and a specialist is important to understand.
To be a successful entrepreneur – I recommend the advice of my father J. R. Lucas – who said to me when I was a teenager – “don’t be a specialist – if you need a specialist you can always find one” and that once you have a specialist skill you may well end up working using the skill in which you specialise for the rest of your life, because that will be the best rewarded in the short run.  This is not a bad outcome if this is what you want to do, but is not for anyone who doesn’t love their job.
My father’s advice is not great for anyone who has not worked out a way of generating income for themselves. Anyone who has never held down a professional salary should read  So Good They Can’t Ignore You  which sets out the opposing case for getting really good at something rather than following just your passion. The book is well summarised by Derek Sivers here .  If you are able to bring in more than enough money, without having a specific skill – this means you may never need to get one.  You may have the “what it takes” to be an entrepreneur. The ability to persuade people to buy things from you when you don’t know what you are talking about is worth having.
(thought the wherewithal to sell things you are not a specialist in, while showing an impressive ability to be convincing,  may involve taking risks of major problems).
While there are reasons not to be a specialist, I am not arguing for, or celebrating ignorance.  You should aim to be a generalist, to know enough to ask the right questions, to tell if someone is BS-ing  you, and to be able to tell a specialist what you want and why.  A version of the 80/20 Pareto rule applies –  that you can learn 80% of what matters quickly, the remain 20% may be for the specialist. Read the Wikipedia entry, watch a TED talk or two, read The Economist. listen to a podcast, watch the most popular slideshares, skim the top ten entries on Google, and within an hour you will know much more than most, and maybe enough to find a specialist.  Maybe then you can hire or find the specialist.
I regularly listen to the Digital Marketing Podcast from Target Internet for its clear language, sensible advice, easy to understand and recently I heard this episode about Programmatic Advertising.  (Once when I wrote to Daniel Rowles – the CEO and founder – and he wrote back immediately with helpful advice, a great way to make him a potential partner in the future. I am researching B2B marketing using Adsense type marketing. This podcast enabled me to search intelligently, finding list like this  with specialist firms, and making me confident to post here on Facebook.
European B2B Startup Group on FacebookThe post shows that as well as needing a specialist I know enough not to be ripped off and to deter digital marketing agencies that don’t know what they are talking about. I’d heard of Real Time Bidding RTB before, but not SSP,  DSP and various another acronyms.
The conclusion – > Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know ad hoy are not a specialist but not before you have spent an hour or two turning yourself into a generalist.  And here is another great podcast from Daniel about how to keep your digital skills up in the world of specialists. Effectively he is advising listeners to be generalists.
And if you know how to help organise our RTB on line research, get in touch.