Oh My!

A reply to a tweet is now the topic of my first blog post for this site in AGES!

Well, people wanted to know about it — to my surprise.

I’ve experimented, with varying degrees of success and irritation, with MANY time management processes and tools over the years.  Most had tidbits I liked, some had tidbits I loved, none had everything I needed, all had a bunch of crap that, in the end, made me feel horrible.

I knew that a virtual-only solution wouldn’t work (I enjoy the tactile feeling and immediacy of writing on paper too much), and I knew that a paper-only solution would be worse (my God, the post-it notes would be EVERYWHERE).  So I started to combine the two.  At first it wasn’t intentional, I just did it to survive each week.  I tried a bunch of different things…some analog, some virtual, some apps, different laptop and phone calendars.  The list of places I had to “check” got longer and longer, but I was learning what I did and did not like.

To make matters worse, I have an inherently complicated way of working.  As an affiliate who often works through larger consulting companies, I juggle up to six email addresses (and their associated calendars) each day.  Because of client security protocols, I can’t even consolidate some of them into a single application like Outlook or google calendar.  It’s a recipe for disaster and frustration.

Then I saw the tweet above, and realized “Hey.  Everything worked this week.”  And I said so on the tweet.

And people asked me what I did.

What has been working for me is a combination of Bullet Journal (not the artsy kind), block schedule, Getting Things Done, the Fabulous App, IDEO’s Highlights, and (yes) clipboards.

I still have to use multiple electronic calendars, but I built in a way to check them so that I don’t miss meetings or calls.

  • Bullet Journaling to keep the high-level stuff going.
  • Block Scheduling to keep the days humming (with one technique from GTD within the block schedule).
  • IDEO’s Creative Confidence “Highlight” to set one focused intention for the day
  • The Fabulous App to build and maintain the small habits I want to be part of my daily life.
  • Clipboards to keep my focus.  I no longer believe that multi-tasking is actually a thing.

Here’s how it works.

Bullet Journaling

Two parts of the Bullet Journal really worked for me.  One is Collections.  I’ll talk about the other in a minute.

My Bullet Journal isn’t one of those pretty ones you see on YouTube with the calligraphy and inspirational quotes and stickers.  (Some of those videos seem almost competitive to me, even though Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal Method, discourages this.) I draw a little in it, I have clear handwriting, and I use good markers and all that, but it isn’t a work of performance art.

The back of my Bullet Journal (I use a soft-backed kind that fits in my bag) is full of lists.  Each list is a Collection.  These Collections are both personal and professional.

I have a Collection of project ideas for my business.  I have a Collection for when my medical appointments should be during the year (so they don’t bunch up together).  I have a Collection of house projects I want to get to.  A Collection of stuff for the handyman to do if I ever get him to return my texts.  A Collection of what month each dog should go to the vet.  A Collection of books I want to get to.  A Collection of movies I want to watch.  A Collection of blog ideas for my forthcoming site of on-line learning.  Any time I have an idea, or realize that I need to keep track of something that will need to get done at some time in the future, I put it in a Collection.  If a Collection doesn’t exist, I create one.  Each Collection is on its own page.  I use a different color ink for each collection, and I try to at least make the heading somewhat artsy and attractive, but that’s as far as I get on the “competitive” BuJo front.

At the beginning of each month, I read over the Collections to see what I want/need to do in that month.  As you may have guessed, that’s the other part of the Bullet Journal that worked for me — setting Monthly goals, coming from my Collections.  I transfer them to a page in the front of the journal designated for that month.  I don’t feel pressure to do everything in all the Collections during any month, because I know I have all my ideas and obligations captured in the back. I’ll tackle them when the time is right.  That is an incredibly comforting feeling.  I used to keep a giant to-do list of everything I wanted to do in one place — ugh.

So now, I have a set of goals for the month, and I need to manage the days.  Here’s where the Block Schedule comes in.  I got the Block Schedule from Jordan Page, who is an extremely intense sort of person.  You’ll see.

Block Scheduling

Jordan’s Block Schedule has been an extremely freeing technique for me.  To adapt it for myself, I created a Master Block Schedule according to her guidelines.  My blocks are Morning, Brain Work, Out In The World, Routine Work, Learn, Dinner, and Relax.  I made sure it fits on one page.  Each day, I print a copy of this sheet.

I first define my Highlight for the day (basically my big focus for the day, and what will take up the majority of the Brain Work block. The concept comes from a webinar in the IDEO Creative Confidence series).

Then, I write in the specific things I will do that fall into the other blocks, from the monthly Bullet Journal page.  I also check all the online calendars and write in any meetings or calls that are scheduled (I try my best to schedule/accept calls during the Routine Work block.  In-person meetings are in the Out in the World block).

The beauty of Jordan’s Block Schedule is similar to that of the Bullet Journal:  It frees me.  Knowing that I have made the decision to invest a certain amount of time in different sorts of things each day keeps me from piling on unreasonable amounts in any block.   If I don’t get to it today, I know I will get to it tomorrow.  But I won’t forget it or lose track of it.  I set alarms in my phone to tell me when the work-related blocks (Brain Work, Out in the World, and Routine Work) begin and end.  The rest I just manage more casually without alarms.  (I do NOT use the horrible bell sounds that Jordan plays in her videos — agh!  I use a nice chime that I actually respond to mentally with “Oh, great, time to move on.”)

The Getting Things Done technique that I use within the Block Schedule is the Email Scan.  During my Morning blocks, I do a quick scan of all the email accounts just to make sure nothing has blown up and needs my immediate attention.  Then, during the Routine Work block, I actually process emails.  I do another scan at the end of the Learn block.  Unexpected bonus — I have found that doing things this way reduced the overall email volume I receive during the day, as I don’t get into as much “back and forth” throughout the day.

At the end of each block, if I spent billable time, I list the time and the client at the bottom of the block.  Then I know what to bill at the end of the week.  (This is something that many people would do as part of the Bullet Journal, but that didn’t work for me as well as this does.)  If I didn’t do something I meant to do, I transfer that to the next day’s Block Schedule sheet.

The Fabulous

Next up:  The Fabulous App is on my phone, and I use it for small personal habits in the mornings and evenings.  At first, I tried tracking these in my Bullet Journal (a lot of people do), but I didn’t always have my BuJo with me wherever I was in the house.  I always have my phone with me, so the App can always give me the pretty little chime that tells me to start the routine.  My morning routine includes drinking water, taking meds, my face care, stretching, meditating, and breakfast.  My evening routine includes face care, flossing, taking meds, being grateful, and doing situps.  I like that the app reminds me (and rewards me) for doing these things without my  cluttering up my schedule with them, or feeling like I’ve scheduled every waking moment of the day.

Clipboards

The last element is the clipboards.   Super Analog!  I have six clipboards that attach to 3 magnetic strips on the wall next to my desk.  Each clipboard represents a project / client and has a different color cover sheet.  When I set my goals for the day on the Block Schedule, I know which clipboards I’ll use during the day, but I don’t take a clipboard down until I’m ready to work on that project.  That way, I have a visual / tactile reminder to stay focused on the project on that clipboard.   Even though most of my work is done on the laptop, I use the paper on the clipboard for notes, especially during calls.  When I’m done working on one project and ready to move to another, I hang that clipboard up and take down the next one.

That’s what is working for me for now.  I’m sure I will continue to refine and evolve it, and I’d love to know what other things people are doing to make their own time work for them in a way that doesn’t make you feel horrible.

Hamilton!

It’s off topic, I know.  Bear with me — it’s almost the holidays, and I’m feeling creative.

We have been listening to the soundtrack of the new Broadway show, Hamilton, at home, and suddenly I understand the appeal of hip hop.  It’s seriously fun.  My new goal for the end of the year is to be able to “drop” one of these songs.  (I’m a long way from that goal.  It’s hard.)

Since we started listening to it, I’ve heard a couple of interviews about it on NPR.  One especially intrigued me — a grant awarded to allow NYC students to see the show.

My 14-year old niece, Mia, is coming to stay with us over the holidays, and I really want her to love listening to this soundtrack.  She loves scavenger hunts, and that gave me an idea.  In preparation for her visit, I prepared a scavenger hunt of lyrics in the songs, each tied to an important part of Hamilton’s story.  My plan is to have her read this out loud to me in the car on our way from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and then let her listen for the lyrics as we hip-hop out to the songs while we bake cookies and decorate for the holidays.

Maybe you will enjoy a scavenger hunt too.

Mia’s Study Guide in Preparation for the Hamilton Soundtrack

I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry. –Hamilton

I will kill your friends and family, to remind you of my love. – King George

  • He soon became the senior aide to General Washington, the American forces’ commander-in-chief. Washington sent him on numerous missions to tell generals what Washington wanted.

Watch this obnoxious, arrogant loudmouth bother be seated at the right hand of the father.  Washington hires Hamilton right on sight! –Aaron Burr

  • He married Elizabeth Schulyer, who had 2 sisters (Angelica and Peggy) and was from a very wealthy family in New York.

Down for the count, and I’m drowning in them. – Eliza Schuyler

Every day you write like you’re running out of time! James Madison wrote 28, Hamilton wrote the other 51! – Aaron Burr

  • Hamilton became the leading cabinet member in the new government under President Washington. Hamilton emphasized strong central government and successfully argued that the Constitution provided the legal authority to create the government-owned Bank of the United States.

But Hamilton forgets, his plan would have the government assume state debts.  Now place your bets as who that benefits – the very seat of government where Hamilton sits! –Thomas Jefferson

Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky.  Imagine what’s gonna happen when you try to tax our whisky.  –Thomas Jefferson

  • When Jefferson and Burr tied for the presidency in 1801, Hamilton helped to defeat Burr. When Burr ran for governor of New York, Hamilton crusaded against him. Burr mortally wounded Hamilton in a duel, and he died the next day.

And me, I’m the damn fool that shot him. — Aaron Burr

7 NEW Tips for Your Next Facilitation

IMG_0362

I know, I know….plenty of folks have written fabulous Facilitation Tips posts.  But these are different.  These tips focus specifically on creating a productive experience to increase engagement with your participants while (oh, yeah!)  meeting your objectives.

1.  Speaking of objectives — state them. (This isn’t new, of course, but it’s so important I couldn’t leave it out.) Try these hints for a new twist.

  • Write no more than 3 objectives on ONE flip chart in big letters, each in a different color. 
  • Stick the flip chart on the wall, front and center, so the objectives remain visible throughout the meeting.
    (If you’re meeting virtually, most conference tools will allow you to do this in some way — although you may have to get creative.)
  • Throughout the meeting, refer to “our blue objective” or “our green objective.”  Referring to colors increases the likelihood of participants remembering the objectives once the session gets going.

2.  Invite the right people, invite them WELL – and no one else.

  • Invite everyone needed to meet the objectives.
  • Make your invitation engaging — to signify that the meeting itself will be too.
  • Make it clear that they were selected to attend, and that their participation is needed.  If someone can’t make it, either reschedule, ask them to send an authorized proxy, or get their support to move forward without their input (but WITH their support).
  • Discourage observers or anyone not directly involved in the objectives.

3.  Design a meeting that demands full engagement.

  • You invited the people you need — now you need them to contribute. Otherwise, what’s the point?
  • It’s your responsibility to create the kind of meeting that will get the best out of each person.
  • Create activities or structure discussions that don’t allow for sitting back, or monitoring email on their phone or laptop.
  • Prevent laptop surfing by keeping people moving around — going station to station to learn, problem-solve, or discuss (like a World Cafe).
  • Ensure everyone participates by turn-taking, but don’t just “go around the table” (yawn).  Deal cards, then go highest to lowest.  The best methods of all aren’t predictable (so people HAVE to pay attention to know when it’s their turn).

4.  Keep them moving.

  • Especially if your meeting is longer than an hour — don’t let people stagnate in one spot.  Move them to different seats, force  interactions with different people.  Hold parallel discussions in small groups of 4, then have each group report its initial recommendations.  Compare to other groups and facilitate to a cohesive solution.

5. Surprise them.

  • The element of surprise naturally keeps people engaged and wondering what will happen next.
  • By surprise, I mean small surprises —
    • Using a variety of facilitative techniques throughout the session
    • Taping key info or assumptions on the floor so people step on it as they come in
    • Playing music with lyrics that reference your content at transition points (the Rolling Stones have great fodder for this).

6.  Think ahead — get the dumb stuff out of their way.

A big part of the facilitator’s job should be anticipating and eliminating non-value-added activities and transitions.  Think through every transition in your agenda, and anticipate any non-productive time-wasters.  Then come up with a fun and efficient way to move the participants through that transition.
Examples:

  • If you’re splitting people into breakouts, decide who is in the groups ahead of time and put those names on a slide.
  • If you want them to choose their breakouts, put flip charts on the wall with the topics of the groups and the right number of sign-up slots.
  • Name breakouts by color or symbol, not topic or number (unless the topic is also a symbol).  PURPLE or ELEPHANT is a lot easier to find (and remember) than “Group 3.”
  • Put a sign with that color or symbol in their meeting space.  Draw a picture of the symbol — even it it’s clumsy.  A funny, clumsy elephant drawing is way more engaging than a 3.

7.  End with a call back to the objectives — but in an interactive way.

  • Ask each person to write on a sticky note their 1-3 biggest takeaways from the meeting, 1 thought per sticky.  Give them 1 minute to think and write.  Play the Jeopardy  music while they do it.
  • Then, ask them to post their thoughts on the objective they relate to.  If they don’t relate to an objective, ask them to post them on a blank sheet next to the objectives.
  • When everyone has posted, discuss what, if anything, these post-its tell us about next steps.
    • Objectives that received several post-its
    • Objectives that received no post-its
    • Post-its that didn’t relate to an objective
  • Variation – conduct this step just before any action planning.

Everyone complains about meetings.  Make yours the the one meeting in the day that none of your participants regrets.

Want more?  Let’s talk!  

Vancouver, LEGO, and Aural Art

I had the immense pleasure of visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery last weekend.  Catherine Holt, one of my fellow LEGO travelers,* recommended that I see Douglas Coupland’s “Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything” exhibit.  I quickly googled Mr. Coupland, so I was  prepared for some unusual visuals — including some LEGO!  When I arrived — bonus! — the Lost in The Memory Palace exhibit was going on too — which features aural art.  These two made for an interactive and thought-provoking morning.

Mr. Coupland encourages photographs of his work.  This turned out to be extra fortunate for me, because the book on the exhibit was tragically sold out.  (I did, however, pre-order it on Amazon Smile.)

One of the most interesting sections for me was this giant exhibit representing the sections of Coupland’s brain.  There was a guide on the wall describing how the six sections corresponded to the different parts of the brain (subconscious, id, etc.)  It was full of furniture, shelving, tchochkes, lights, street signs, and all sorts of interesting things.  This could have been an independent exhibit.  It also made me wonder what my own sections would contain, if I built one for myself.  (I don’t have the closet space anyway.  

 IMG_1977

In a room designed to look like a Canadian basement, our tour guide told us about these 2 chairs.  One represents the relationship and land allocation between Canadian English and the original native peoples.  See the tiny sliver of seat the native people get?  It’s on the other side of the red plaid. 

     IMG_1984

The second chair is built kind of like the old “kissing” chairs of the Victorian age — with two people able to sit and converse side by side, without actually sitting together.  In this piece, Coupland is reminding us about how the French and English populations in Canada are seated together, but often facing different ways.  (And, presumably, that it would be easy to lean over and kiss.)

IMG_1985

On to the LEGO!  I love this quote about LEGO “latent with endless creative possibilities…”  I had just spent 3 days working with LEGO in business situations to predict scenarios, develop teams, spur innovation….so it was fun to see the same bricks used in such a huge way.  

IMG_1986  IMG_1988 IMG_1989

If there were two of you, which one would win?  (Hey, Douglas, you should tweet that.)

IMG_1990

  Next there was a room filled with these postcard-like quotes.  Some were quite touching, others provocative, others meaningless (to me), and I was reminded of how much diversity affects our perceptions of meaning and value. IMG_1993 IMG_1994 IMG_1995 IMG_1996 IMG_1997 IMG_1998 IMG_1999

 I wasn’t able to take photos of the “Lost in the Memory Palace” exhibit (the entire thing was often in the dark!), but there is a wonderful on-line experience of the different rooms — as well as an app in the itunes store and for android.  My favorite room was the one containing the Wish Machine — especially because when I sat down to make my own wish, the wish of the person before me concerned Clarity.  Another favorite was the Killing Machine, as it reminded me of Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony,” which I recently read.  Very creepy to see something similar to my imagination in action.  Lastly, I really enjoyed the room where shadows playing against sensors caused sounds to form and echo from a table full of speakers.

*NOTE:  I was in British Columbia completing my certification to use the LEGO (R) Serious Play (TM) methods with Jacquie Lloyd-Smith of Strategic Play.   You’ll be hearing a lot more about these methods on my site and in this blog.

“ ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—…”

My former English major self is fighting to get out again these days. I’m re-reading Murakami’s Kafka On The Shore*, and Emily Dickinson keeps yelling at me with quotes like the title of this post.

So — hope. Business is an intensely hopeful thing, isn’t it? Always new projects, new ideas, new new new fast fast fast hurry hurry hurry. Get it done! Seize the day (oops, there it is again)!

My hope for myself, and for you, is to capture that thing with the feathers, identify its species, tag its ankle, catalogue its wingspan, and figure out what direction it can take you.

 

* Which, of course, also brings up Kafka himself — so Craig and I read “The Penal Colony” this weekend, and let me just say, that little piece of work does not make for much hope.

Keynote Alternative

I’ve always been interested in making gatherings of people more interactive.  (Maybe “always” is a strong word…let’s amend that to “as an adult”; as a child I had more interest in horses and reading Jane Austen novels, which tells you a lot about my state of mind as a 10-year old).

I’m currently exploring ways to make large meetings — conferences — much more interactive and hands-on, with the goals of increasing the depth of networking participants can accomplish, learning something though doing it (or experiencing it), and having more fun.

Building things — big, physical things, or small, tabletop things.  Playing a game, maybe.  Doing a lot of laughing.  Using both sides of the brain.  Pressing the levers for all the ways adults learn.

Fun stuff.