Michael Adams

Trying to make each day better than the last and writing about it.

The 3 Productivity Hacks I’m Using to Get More Work Done

Do you hate the feeling of being overwhelmed?

I hate it. There’s lots to do at work, people to follow up with, friends to hang out with, kids to pick up from school, gym, eating healthy. All that stuff adds up. I’m sure you’ve battled it at least once.

The unfortunate circumstance of being overwhelmed is the feeling of getting nothing done. Sure, I do things. but they aren’t moving me – or my business – forward. Something had to change.

First, I identified why I was unproductive:

  • Email
  • Phone notifications
  • Not having a to-do list

Then, I went in search of a solution to help me control these 3 “triggers”.

Let’s tackle each of them using a system (because you all know I’m type A): situation, problem, and the solution I’ve found to help me (albeit some of them simple).

1. I hate my inbox.

Up until last week, my inbox owned me. The 60-80 emails I get each day controlled my every move during the work day. The little window that slides across my monitor saying I have a new message made me feel like one of the dogs in Pavlov’s dog experiment.

I’d click on it immediately.

But, what I found was that 8 out of 10 times, the email was useless. Maybe a sale on Express shirts I haven’t purchased in years, a Vistaprint sale on business cards, or some daily newsletter I signed up for 7 years ago.

And only on occasion would I get email I’d have to take action on. Maybe 5-10 a day required a response. The lesson? Email was taking over my day. This created a false sense of productivity.

Going through emails does not equal getting work done.

I started to research what I could do about. I wanted to find a solution that is easy to use and didn’t require me to create a new habit. Ironically, as I was wasting more time browsing Facebook, I stumbled on an article my friend Matt Wilson from Under30CEO wrote about email hacks.

In the article he wrote about InboxPause, a Gmail app that pauses your inbox so no new email can’t come in. After installed, simply click the blue “Pause” button and incoming emails get sent a hidden folder until you un-pause your inbox.

This has changed my life.

Inboxpause helped me:

  1. Check my email 4-5 times a day (working on making this 2 times)
  2. Process 50-60 emails in 15 minutes
  3. Get work done to move my business forward – not spin my wheels.
  4. Respond to people when I want to respond.

Give InboxPause a try. For the app haters (cough – Dad – cough) you could also log-out and back in to your inbox. However, to me, that’s not the same thing. I still would like access to my inbox to process what’s already in there while no new email is coming in. It’s batch processing and I’m falling in love with it.

2.  Phone notifications

Ok – so this isn’t a hack. It’s just helped me. And I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Last week, I shut off all the notifications to my phone except for text messages and phone calls.

The result: I love the silence.

Yes, I could put my phone on silent (which is what I had been doing) but then I miss phone calls and text (some important) from friends, family, and my kitchen manager.  I’ve had to scramble to solve several time-sensitive problems recently.

While I still have some Facebook notifications popping up (rather mysteriously, I might add), I’ve eliminated everything else. No twitter, Instagram, email, map, or calendar notifications. My phone is on and it alerts me when it needs to. I have less of an urge to pull my phone out of my pocket. And you know what? I’m less stressed. Before, I’d see a handful of emails, someone writing on my wall, and maybe a comment on Instagram. I’d feel the need to respond. Now, I don’t. And I love it.

In summary, I made my phone 90% dumb and 10% smart – because that’s how smart it needs to be.

3.  No to-do list

As a small business owner, there are a million things to do. And sometimes that feels like an understatement. One way productivity experts say to get more done is write a to-do list.

I tried that. And figured out I was doing it all wrong.

Months ago when I was on a to-do list kick, I’d write page and a half long to-do lists. I called them weekly lists so that what was on the page (which was usually 2 columns) would get done within the week.

But that just stressed me out.

The plan I’m working to implement now:

  • I hand-write a to-do list in my notebook for each day.
  • My list is no longer than 15 items.
  • The list includes 3 priority (or $ generating) items.
  • I write the time I’m going to stop working.
  • Tomorrow’s to-do list gets done at the end of the day.

And now, the reasons behind why my to-do list is so rigid:

1. Why I hand-write:

Writing commits your to-do list to memory because you read it over and over again. Plus, all we seem to do is type on our computers these days. Hand writing is falling by the wayside. My notebook stays right next to me all day. I use it to cross off to-do’s take notes during phone calls, and scribble down thoughts to mull over later. During the workday, it never leaves my side.

2. Why my to-do list is limited to 15 items

Big lists are, well, big. They’re intimidating. And beastly. I limit my list to 15 tasks because that’s enough to get done in a 9-10 hour day. Some are big, some are small. Some get completed in a couple minutes and some require a car trip. 15 is manageable for me so I’m going to stick to it and see how it goes.

3.  Why I include 3 revenue-generating items

I could easily fill my to-do list with 15 tasks that will not make me any money. Or I could mix in tasks that either bring me closer to making money – or make me money. This could be sending invoices, doing follow up calls, or managing Facebook ads. Most of the time these are the prioritized items unless an administrative task is time-sensitive.

4. Why I write when I’m going to be done

I work a lot. In fact, I work too much. The old “unproductive” me used to send emails at any time of day, work from 5am-11pm because I felt like I got nothing done. Plus, I left no time to relax. To think. To laugh. And to have fun. Being productive isn’t about working long hours. It’s about getting the most done in the limited time you have to do it. That means, if I write down 7:00pm (which includes breaks for lunch and dinner), I’ll have a set amount of hours to conquer my to-do list. And sometimes I write 3:00pm as a challenge – so that I can take the afternoon off (ok – I’m kidding – I’m still working on that).

5. Why tomorrow’s to-do list gets done today

I used to wake up in the morning, hit the gym, take a shower, eat breakfast, and sit down to my laptop without a thought to what was going to get done today. Now. I try to make a list the night before that is at least 5 tasks long and includes 1 priority item to get me started for the day with some “quick wins”. I’m still getting into the habit of this and hope to have it down in a couple weeks.

So that’s how I’m increasing my productivity. While it largely centers around a rules-based to-do list, InboxPause has mad the biggest difference in my productivity.

What about you? How do you get more work done?

Photo courtesy of Flickr 

 

My Dad Has Been Trying to Teach Me This for 26 Years. I Finally Get it.

It only took 26 years.

My Dad complains the only reason people call him is when they have a problem or need advice. I’ll be the first to admit that’s pretty much true. I mean, there have been a couple times I called him to celebrate in ridiculous excitement (because Mom didn’t pick up the phone), but he’s right. Most of the time, I have a problem. Some are stupid. Some are crushing. And some are legit “how-the-heck-do you-(insert problem here)?”

I’m conditioned to ask my parents for help. (Damn you, millennial tendencies).

My immediate reaction when I have a problem I can’t solve is “DAAAAAD!” Am I right? Seriously. I think every child and young adult goes through this — and some daily. We automatically throw our problems onto someone else to solve. In short, we give up. I give up. And I shouldn’t.

I want to tell you a story.

When I signed the lease on my apartment two years ago, I bought a couch. When the couch came in, I brought my Dad to get it from the factory back to my apartment. We drove the SVU over together and I helped him load it into the back of the car.

But, how was the couch going to stay in the car?

Knot tying blows my mind. And (from his college sailing days) my Dad knows every knot. Me on the other hand?

I can tie my shoes.

He got down on the ground to tie a trucker’s hitch – in fact, multiple – to the car. A couple huge loops around the roof-rack and through the car to finish up and we were good to go. When he was tying the trucker’s hitch, I said something I always think about when I call him with a problem:

“Dad, if you were hit by a truck right now, I would be so screwed. I don’t know any of this stuff.”

He looks at me with a smile on his face. “Yep.”

This goes beyond knots.  It includes all the stuff he knows about solving life’s problems. Like, McGuyver stuff. You know, all those school projects our parents helped build, all the car maintenance, and even simple tasks.

Let me tell you another story.

Last week, I traveled to NYC with my parents on “business” (aka eat the biggest gyro of my life). The first morning, I went to take a shower. The shower was ancient. It had 4 knobs to turn. Without hesitation, I yelled “Dad, how the heck do you turn the shower on? There’s 4 knobs!”

“Just think” he yells back.

I stared at the four knobs (granted, I didn’t have my contacts in so I couldn’t read a thing). A couple seconds later it hit me. The top two knobs were hot and cold for the shower head. The bottom two? Hot and cold for the bathtub part. It was a successful shower.

The bigger lesson hit me when I got home. I could eliminate nearly half the calls to both of my parents if I just thought about it first. It sounds stupid and well, it is. But, seriously.

Think about it.

Whatever the problem, try to solve it first before you call anyone. Because, you know what? There’s going to come a time where your parents (who by default know absolutely everything between the two of them) aren’t there to solve your problems.

And to those who haven’t grown up with Mom, Dad, or either parent, you kick some serious butt every day. You’re the best problem solver out there. I think we use our parent’s as a crutch to get ourselves through life. (Mom and Dad, I’m still coming over for dinner – especially when steak is involved).

Since things are always better in three, here’s my final story:

Last night, my vacuum stopped working. Through hell or high water was I going to use the hose extension to vacuum my apartment. I reached for my phone. I could hear the conversation playing through in my head “Dad, my vaccuum’s broken. What the hell.” “What’s wrong with it?” “It won’t vacuum.”

I mentally slapped myself in the face. You moron. That won’t help at all.

I flipped the vacuum over and checked to see if the brush was clogged. Nope. Then, I noticed 2 screws holding the bottom together. I got my screwdriver and loosened the screws. The cover was not coming off. Turns out I missed three screws. Ok, the cover is off.

I unclog a couple parts and then see the belt. It’s broken. Now I know that if the motor in the vacuum is running, it’s probably a clog or a broken belt. Broken vacuum belt. “Dad, how do I…..” — No. I was so close. I was going to solve this by myself.

Hello, Google!

“Broken vacuum belt” — TADA! It showed me how to replace the belt, how much it’s going to cost (~$4) and where to buy them. Thank you, Google. You’re like my Dad, but digital.   (Not quite).

I scribbled the part number down, the vacuum brand and the model number. I’m all set for a trip to the hardware store in the morning to solve the whole broken vacuum problem. And Dad wasn’t needed. Boom!

So, what’s the point here?

I hope you don’t think the point here is that I’m an idiot. Yes, I should know how to solve these everyday problems. But there comes a time when I don’t know how to solve a problem.

For 26 years, my parents have been trying to teach me to JUST THINK. You have a problem? Solve it. Other people won’t be there for you all of the time. Soak it all up when you can. Know that a tire should be at 30-35 PSI. Know how to fix a vacuum belt. And know how to design a boat to win your kid’s 5th grade boat race. Think about it.

I know this sounds simple. But, all too often, I want to throw my hands up in the air and quit. The problem has beat me. Time to call my parents. They’ll know what do. Well now, I’m going to consciously try to beat the problem.

Photo courtesy of Martin Abegglen

 

What I Learned From Running My First 5k

Today, I completed my first 5k as part of a relay team in the Vermont City Marathon. It was my first time running a race. I’m used to running the loop around my neighborhood – 2.9 miles – a couple times a week. I’m by myself – just my ipod and heavy breathing. Oh, and tight calves.

But this race was different.

I was part of a team. A team of which I only knew one other person. I met the rest of the team an hour before the gun went off. Great group of guys, super encouraging, and in high spirits to complete the race. We weren’t going for time. We were in it for fun.

Here’s how this whole running thing happened in the first place…..

On April 30th, I got the text from my friend, Mike.

“Want to run the first leg of my marathon team? It’s 3.3 miles. We had someone drop out.”

I was sitting on my parent’s couch watching the news. I hadn’t gone on a “long” run in almost 6 months. The harsh Vermont winter kept me inside lifting weights, putting on a good amount of muscle.

I needed to do more cardio, anyway. But…..

“Maybe I shouldn’t do it. I don’t know if I can run 3.3 miles in three weeks,” I told my parents. Doubt settled in – and it wasn’t even 10 minutes. I needed new running shoes ($125).  Training needed to start immediately.

Screw it. Let’s do it.

I texted Mike back: “Why not. Gotta start running again haha.” It was starting to get warmer out. I figured I could at least run 2 miles non-stop, so what’s another 1.3 miles?

I bought my new running shoes, assembled a playlist of top 40 hits and hit the pavement. I trained 3 times a week for the next three weeks and took two days off before the race. I also used this as an excuse to eat bread and pasta (YAY carbs).

Race day was here.

I was more nervous about getting a parking space in downtown Burlington than the race (ok, maybe not). I arrived at the parking garage at 6:15am — plenty of spaces left. I couldn’t wait any longer so I got out of my car in search of a bathroom. Pre-race jitters were here. Was I going to make it? Was I too dehydrated? What if I don’t hit my time? What if I have to go to the bathroom again? (Personal side-note: I went 5 times before the race started. I was freaking nervous.)

I met up with my team, pinned my race bib to my shirt, and headed to the start chute. I had to ask three people if I was in the right place. It was impossible to know — I mean, 8,000 people were at the starting line. It looked like everyone was just standing around. Type-A-me had to make sure.

The gun went off. It was go-time.

I launched my playlist (which also served as a timer — if the music was over, I was behind).  We started out packed like sardines, as we trotted up Pearl Street.

People passed me left and right.

Good for them. People were behind me, too — I was middle of the pack.

I had two goals for this day: Maintain my 10 minute mile pace and run all 3.3 miles - no walking. Every turn was an accomplishment. That’s how I got through it:  I cut the run up into turns and simply ran to the next turn. Brilliant.

I saw a couple runners I knew – and just past the aid station, I saw my first familiar face cheering runners on. I pointed and waved. It was nice to see someone I knew. It gave me the extra encouragement to finish the last stretch.

As my leg came to a close, I got a little bit of shoulder pain.

It’s something I’ve got to work on. I pushed my shoulders down and back – chest out – to get my blood flowing. As I rounded the final corner, I saw my relay team cheering me on – pointing to where my hand-off, James, was. I was so focused on finding him, I didn’t even realize the bib numbers were categorized with signs.

I connected with James, handed off the relay bracelet, and wished him good luck.

My run was over.

The 3.3 miles represented more than a 5k, though (yes, I realize it’s slightly longer). Pounding the pavement through the streets of Burlington was rewarding, inspiring, and, you know what? It was fun, too.

As I do in many of my blog posts, I like to reflect to see what I learned. Here’s a list of what was running (pun intended) through my head as I took each step – and after my leg, too.

What I Learned:

1. Take risks

I don’t know what made me do it, but saying yes to running a 5k with 3 weeks of training was crazy. I just had to plan, train, and get in the game.  I made time in my schedule for runs. And it paid off. One of the biggest hurdles my – and probably your – life is getting over fear. The only way to get over fear is to take action. I did it. I ran 3.3 miles. What risk are you going to take today?

2. Anyone can run

Several kids under 10 blazed by me. I ran past a man who must have been in his 80′s. I saw all body types – skinny, heavy, muscular. Even a couple “you gotta be kidding me’s”. But you know what? They’re out there running the race – right alongside me. They put their mind to it to run the marathon. Whether running the whole thing or as part of a relay time,  everyone killed it out there. It doesn’t matter what time they finished. What matters is they finished. They accomplished their goal.

This could not have been more apparent than the Brainfarmer team wearing the sky-blue t-shirts. There must have been 12 of them – aids running alongside cognitively disabled kids. Anyone can run.

After finishing, I caught my breath and walked over with my team to watch the runners. A few minutes later, several of the Brainfarmer runners came by with their aids. The crowd went wild. I smiled and let out a big scream. The kid raised his arms and cheered. He was exhausted. But I could tell he felt accomplished. Amazing.

3. More cowbell

Along the whole run, there were residents, family members, friends, and a whole bunch of random people cheering everyone on. People literally didn’t stop clapping. While there were more people in certain places, the energy was amazing. It didn’t matter if you knew one runner or hundreds, every cheered for each other. And man were there a lot of cowbells! I loved it.

4. Focus on what’s in front of you

For me, it’s a struggle to “turn-off”. I never stop thinking about my business. During those 3.3 miles, I did not have one single thought about my business. It was freeing.  Seriously.  How did this happen? I focused on what’s in front of me.  I wanted to finish the run. That’s all I wanted to do. So, how can I transfer this to my business? Well, I need to get tasks done. Don’t start another project until the first one is done. No more doing six different things at once. Focus. Execute. Move on.

5. Be part of the community

I love Burlington. It’s an awesome city. From the free high fives on the second leg, to the cowbells (see #3), and the energy of a supportive 42,000 residents, I’m proud to live here. I’m happy to see people supporting each other (I’ve never heard so many “Great jobs!” in my life), cheering each other on, and being part of something that happens just once a year. People are helpful here. People are friendly. And people are happy. This community is undeniably one of the best I’ve been a part of.

6. Reward yourself

I legit pigged out after my run. Greatest cheat day ever. Do it every once in a while. Work hard. Eat hard. (You could play hard, too, but well, eating is WAY more fun).

So, that’s what I learned. After my part of the race, I debriefed with the guys about how it went. My friend, Mike, who originally got me to run, turned to me and said:

“I want to get you to run a longer leg next year. You in?”

I looked at him and said “Yeah. I’m game!”

This run was good for me. It was 3.3 miles of life lessons. Imagine what 5.8 would bring.

Congrats to everyone who ran in the Vermont City Marathon. A big thanks to the volunteers, the drag queens directing runners, event organizers, company sponsors, and everyone else involved. Definitely doing it again next year. You in?

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