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January 16, 2012Posted by on
Over the holidays my family went on a trip to Costa Rica on our annual family vacation. It was an amazing trip and it was nice to “get away from it all.” Except for one problem, it sees impossible to actually get away from it all. In the old days (old, meaning about 5-10 years ago when smart phones barely existed) when one went on vacation they would do exactly that and go on vacation. Vacation days were taken, and the point was to relax and get your mind of work. On this trip I expected to do the same thing and found it nearly impossible. I had important emails that I was expecting, and would need to respond to quickly. And, of course, why wouldn’t the hotels in the middle of the rainforest, that are only accessible by boat have wireless service? I was able to respond to emails and make sure things weren’t blowing up back home while I’m on a family vacation. And I hate myself for it.
The point I am trying to emphasize is that technology has become so ingrained in our culture that we are almost continuously connected to the point that when we are sleeping is our only break. Even when you sleep is becoming a connected part of your day with sleep trackers and products like Jawbone’s UP. There really isn’t a part of our daily lives that allows us to remove ourselves from technology. Personally, I think that’s a major issue. I am all for technology and its integration into the daily lives of people, to some degree. It makes things A LOT easier. The amount of time saved because of technological advances is invaluable. However, it promotes an overworked lifestyle that prevents people from having time to themselves.
Personally, I make an effort to spend part of every day completely disconnected from technology. What exactly do I do instead?
- Go to the gym and unplug. Instead of listening to my iPod I’ll go music-free…except for the unmotivating Top 40 playlists continuously playing over the gym’s speakers. I focus on my breathing and stay tuned to how my body feels and how it can push itself to its limits. I love listening to music when working out, but there is a degree of separation once the tunes start playing that prevents you from being 100% focused.
- I close my laptop, turn off the TV, put down my phone and have nothing to do with technology for the last hour before bed. I love to read. I will almost always be reading before bed. It allows me to escape into another world and unwind from a stressful day.
- I’ll go for a walk. Self explanatory.
- On more than one occasion I have just laid out on my couch and just stared at the ceiling, thinking. It’s amazing what any form of meditation can do for the mind. It’s almost unheard of for someone to just do…nothing. But it’s actually really nice. I dare you to try it. Don’t look at a clock until you believe 15 minutes has passed.
The thing about technology is that it is stressful. Being connected at all times takes a lot out of a person. Here’s something you should try: the next time you get a text message when you’re sitting at home don’t answer it. I bet you’ll feel at least a hint of anxiety caused by your thoughts saying “who is it?” “what does this person want?” That’s not healthy.
The ability to truly disconnect is becoming more impossible every day. We’re even getting to the point where we’re going to have augmented reality overlays in our contact lenses. Does this not bother anyone? The amount of information we receive every day is amazing. Do we really need that much more? We can’t retain but a small fraction of it to begin with, why overload ourselves even more?
Do you think we’re too connected? When was the last time you truly disconnected from every bit of technology you own?
[UPDATE] I just read this article on Volkswagen. They shut their Blackberry email servers off after business hours to allow employees to disconnect. This is revolutionary and more companies should start embracing this. The stress caused by always being connected can cause real harm and VW is taking a huge step in the right direction to prevent their employees from getting burned out. Way to go Volkswagen!
(Coincidentally I also own a VW Passat so this makes me even prouder of the company)
December 20, 2011Posted by on
At work last week a group of Digital Innovation Group members got together to discuss 2012 and the trends we predict will happen in the approaching year. It was a great discussion, as most of our brainstorms tend to be, and a lot of intelligent and insightful points were brought up. For example, one trend that anybody who works in the digital space, and pays attention to the types of apps, innovations, and businesses that have been created in the last year or so, has seen is the emphasis on personalization online. From the biggest online companies like Facebook and Google, to the smallest startups, the internet is quickly becoming a place that caters to you and your interests. You can log in to online shopping sites and suggestions are no longer based on top reviews, but on your past purchase history and browsing behavior. Most advertisements are catered to what you have shown interest in while surfing the web. Everything is being tuned to what we already enjoy and like which helps businesses (it means we’re more likely to purchase the products we see) and users (because we actually are interested instead of feeling like we’re getting spammed).
However, there’s a big flaw in the personalization of the internet that occurred to me during the team brainstorm: we are slowly moving away from the exploration and discovery that makes the internet so great.
This is really important, because the internet allows anybody access to information and resources that they would never have had twenty years ago. Our ability to find funny videos, end up reading interesting (yet, irrelevant) articles on Wikipedia, or “stumble” onto cool content via StumbleUpon is something that our (read: my generation) parents could barely have dreamed about. But we’re slowly losing the ability to find new content because everything is being spoon fed for us.
Take StumbleUpon: you hit a button and a random webpage is given to you. When you create your account you can choose your interests so that the random webpages will somewhat cater to what you’d want to be shown. I clicked as many interests as possible, even if they are only slightly interesting to me, because I want as much random content as possible. If I had only chosen sports, fitness, food, and advertising I would never see the beautiful pictures, hilarious articles, or original videos that I do end up seeing because I chose so many interests.
My mom brought me up always saying two things “Make good choices” (trying my best), and “Don’t take the easy way out.” Being fed our content is the easy way out. Sure, it makes being online easier if you have a specific goal in mind (i.e. shopping for something specific), but what about when you want to just browse around and explore? There are so many doors that are automatically closed to us. I love to explore and read about anything interesting to me. This doesn’t necessarily parallel with my browsing history or past preferences.
I think the technology to personalize the online experience is great, I really do…for certain things. When I’m going to a specific company to order something, show me what I may like from that company (I’m probably going there for something similar anyways). But, if I am just browsing the web I wouldn’t mind stumbling on to some hidden gems that don’t necessarily go along with what I’m normally interested in. That’s exactly what makes them interesting.
Are you prepared to pay the price of personalization, even if it means sacrificing your ability to explore and discover?
November 9, 2011Posted by on
Have you ever sat in the passenger seat of your own car while somebody else drives it? It feels weird, and almost uncomfortable, right? I recently was thinking about this, as I examined how I’ve approached my professional career, and realized there are a lot of similarities to driving a car and living in the post-graduation world.
When you’re fresh out of college ready to take on the world you think nothing can stop you. You’ll be nervous, of course, but you’ll still have a bit of that “I’m invincible” confidence you get when you’re in college and are able to succeed under most circumstances. The truth is, classes in college don’t prepare you for the real world. They teach you some necessary, and many unnecessary, bits of information that you may or may not need to remember at some point in the future. What teaches you most is experience. That experience can come from internships or jobs you may have held before graduating. When you hit the ground running after graduation and (hopefully) land that first job, you need to understand what you’re getting into. In college you can pass with flying colors just by going to class and doing assignments when they are given to you. You’ll get a “good job” from your professor if you really bust your ass. After college, this passivity will get you nowhere. You need to learn to focus and take the wheel (here’s the driving metaphor now).
When you’re in the driver’s seat of your CAReer (see?) it’s all about staying focused about what’s ahead. Sure, you’ll take a peak in your side and rear view mirrors occasionally so that you’re in control of the present situation, but you always have to be looking for what’s down the road. You need to stay proactive and alert. Do you see brake lights up ahead? Think of those as potential hiccups or obstacles you might encounter. Get a grip, change lanes, and bypass the problem by being prepared. Be sure to flash your left/right signals to let everyone know you’re changing lanes. Keeping people around you aware of what’s going on will keep thing running smoothly, rather than creating a bigger problem.
One thing I’ve learned is that it is very easy to fall asleep at the metaphorical wheel of your career. It’s easy to start drifting out of your lane, and it’s easy to not realize you can be more than just another person stuck in traffic. Don’t set your car on cruise control. It won’t help you, and it won’t get you anywhere faster. It allows you to become distracted from reaching your goals. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn, but an invaluable one.
September 15, 2011Posted by on
Klout, the most popular online influence measurement tool, has finally released their long awaited topic pages to the enjoyment of, well, me. I love Klout. But I haven’t talked to anyone else about the new feature yet so for now it’s just me being happy.
For awhile users on Klout have been able to award +K’s to their connections who are influential in certain topics or categories. For example, I’ve been +K’d in categories like Social Media, Facebook, Beer, Burritos, Chipotle (typical 23 year old Community Manager things). This feature didn’t do too much other than allow people to say that others are influential about things. If it increased one’s chances at earning Klout Perks then it wasn’t advertised as such (from what I have seen), but would have been a fantastic incentive to help increase engagement on the site. But until today there wasn’t much you could do with those topics.
Now Klout has finally rolled out their topic pages that promise to make these topics a little more interesting within the site. Topic pages allows users to see the Top Influencers, Top +K Recipients, and influential buzz about specific topics. In the image above you can see the three sections of topic pages on the left side of the page.
What does this mean for users? Users who are influential about a topic tend to talk A LOT about a topic. Now all that chatter is resulting in visibility for the user. You can see that I am the second person listed in the Top +K Recipients section for Chipotle (something I am way too proud of myself for). Now, anybody who views the topic page for Chipotle sees me. While I am relatively insignificant in the only world right now (just you wait) I can only imagine that if I was a company or bigger online presence this would help increase both my reach and number of connections. If I go onto the page for a topic I am passionate about (social media or beer, for example) and I see people or companies rated as the Top Influencers or Top +K Recipients, I will probably follow them on Twitter, or at least do some research on who they are. This is a big deal.
The “Best Content” section displays some of the recent influential buzz on a specific topic. For now it appears to be only tweets, but there is no distinction so I may be wrong. This content shows what people are saying about a topic, and who it has influenced. How the content is chosen is ambiguous at best right now. On the Klout Blog they do give us this: “we curate topical content based on the engaging influencers, and their interaction with the topical content.” Not the most precise explanation, but their algorithms and formulas have always been a tight secret.
Klout also says that these pages will eventually have information on trends and related content, as well as some form of analytics. All of these changes are great in my opinion. If I was a company or leader in a product category, I would utilize everything Klout has to offer to really reward the people who love what I do. If those people happen to be great influencers then even better. Hopefully brands start embracing the influence “factor” and understanding what it can bring to the table.
September 13, 2011Posted by on
The word characteristic is defined as “a distinguishing feature or quality.”
The word productivity is defined as “the quality…of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.”
I have a problem with the above definitions because they imply that productivity is indeed a quality, or characteristic, of an individual. I disagree with that. Rather, I believe that it is a result of a combination of four factors: motivation, focus, organization, and knowledge.
- Motivation: Motivation is the first part of the equation because without motivation, you will not be able to achieve anything. There isn’t an action you perform that doesn’t have some motivation behind it. From big things (starting a new company) to trivial matters (eating breakfast) you are motivated to achieve some sort of goal (to provide a new product/service or to ease hunger). Motivation is what gets you out of bed in the morning and, after a cup of coffee (If you’re a coffee drinker. I’m not.), gets you going for whatever you have to accomplish that day. But being motivated is tough. I’ve learned that to be motivated you have to be happy with what you’re doing, enjoy the people you work with, and be willing to learn and make mistakes. Once you’re motivated, even the roadblocks that you will inevitably run into won’t be a problem because you’ll push through them In other words, act as if YOU are a startup company. Motivation is the spark that gets the engine running for the next three parts.
- Focus: I wrote a post on focus being a key to success and believe that it may be the most important step on the way to productivity. In keeping with the definition theme, focus is defined as “a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity.” When you need to be productive you must focus. The biggest problem I’ve faced in my professional life has been focusing. Having multiple projects with approaching deadlines is my biggest hurdle in being the worker I want, and need, to be. If you have too much and try to get them all done simultaneously you will get none of them done on time, and they will be of inferior quality than if you focused on them one at a time. Schedule time in the day to work on a specific project, and stick to that schedule. It is okay to say no to people who ask you for help. Tell them that you can get to it later, and if that isn’t an option, refer them to a person who may be able to help. Put all of your focus into one project and it will be done quickly and done well. Try to please everyone by completing all projects at the same time and you will be overwhelmed. Which brings us to our next step…
- Organization: If you are not organized you will miss things. Emails that should have been sent will be forever lost in your “drafts” folder. That one update you meant to make will go unmade. To be organized you have to be disciplined. Writing out a to-do list, or using programs like Wunderlist or Workflowy, is a great start. Personally my first step when an assignment or task comes through is to schedule it into my calendar. If it’s something that will take no more than a couple of minutes I will do it immediately to get it out of the way, unless it can wait until later. If it will take five minutes or more I schedule it. My calendar has become my to-do list. I check it every morning to see what meetings, projects, and miscellaneous things I will have to do that day. Do something that fits your style and works best for you. But make sure you DO it, and stay on top of it. If you can stay organized, you will be able to rip through things you have to do amazingly quickly. Getting things done ahead of time and getting a surprised look from those waiting for it is one of the best feelings you’ll get in the work place.
- Knowledge: Knowledge is the glue that holds everything together after the first three parts build your foundation. You can be motivated, focused, and organized more than any of your peers, but if you lack the knowledge your responsibilities require then then those qualities matter very little. Knowing the answers to questions you haven’t been asked, and knowing the best ways to optimize your work pulls everything together. You also have to realize that as much as you think you know, there is always more to learn. Never stop exploring. Never stop learning.
These four “pillars” are the basis for productivity. You lose one, and the whole thing falls apart. I’ll be honest, I am inherently an unproductive person in many ways. I am very relaxed, don’t like to feel stress (who does though?), and like to play things by ear and think on my feet. Now that I am part of the real world in a full time job with actual responsibility and other people depending on me, I’ve had to change things. A lot. I’ve had to start going to bed earlier, make to-do lists, and plan out my days and weeks. In a way, I’ve hated it because it’s not who I like to be. But at the same time I love it because it’s taught me a lot about responsibility and pulling my own weight. This isn’t to say I’ve been a terrible person to work with, or a terrible student, but I have definitely learned that I needed to improve in these areas drastically to make it in the real world. Productivity isn’t something that some people have and some don’t. It is a result of a combination of things that you must have.
What makes you productive? Do you have a process or are you looking for one?
September 7, 2011Posted by on
A coworker and friend of mine, @drewhawkins, tweeted out a link to an article on why freakonomics trumps logic when it comes to marketing. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, freakonomics is essentially the law of unintended consequences. A broad definition, sure, but when applied to business it makes a lot of sense. A hypothetical example would be something like a high national crime rate being the result of McDonald’s releasing a new McFlurry flavor. Two seemingly unrelated things now have a relationship.
In short, the article linked above talks about how businesses that take the logical approach, like adding additional menu items (Burger King), to grow business actually end up diluting the market and result in a decrease in business. An illogical result, unless you use experiential logic to understand it.
What do I mean by experiential logic? It is a term that may very well exist and have a meaning but I’ve made up my own meaning for it right now. What I mean by experiential logic is: apply your own experiences to expectations instead of what typical practices call for. For a personal example…
When I have had a lot of work to do, and I mean A LOT, I get overwhelmed and try to finish everything at the same time. When I do this only two things can occur: 1) I will pull everything together very quickly, but not do as well as I could have on any single thing, or 2) I will jump around and finish nothing on time. So what’s the solution? Pick one thing. ONE. Get that done, and make it good. Then go on to the next thing and do that with the same quality. And so on.
Now let’s back up and apply this to real businesses. The Burger King example from the AdAge article continued on and compared BK to Five Guys. BK tries to experiment with a ton of new menu items and their business decreases. Five Guys sticks to the nuts and bolts: burgers and fries, with some extras like grilled cheese and hot dogs. They don’t try to serve smoothies and salads. Five Guys’ business increases in the same time frame.
The second of two points I brought up in this post is something I’ve observed for a while now, and the AdAge article gives yet another point of view in support of it. If you try to make everyone happy, it’s going to hurt you in the long run. Let’s change that a bit for this example: Less is more. Yes, in this case that cliche works perfectly. Five Guys is a burger joint. And it embraces that. They aren’t adding menu items to feed people who want smoothies and salads. They are going to serve a small number of items, but makes sure those items are of a very high quality. And it helps them succeed.
Focus is what it comes down to. There is a limit to what you can focus on without it decreasing the quality of your work (or product, or business). Stick within your limits and you will succeed. The chances of failure doing what you do well (Burger King making burgers, for example) are slim. The chances of failure doing what you’ve never done to appease others (Burger King making…smoothies) are much higher. Become #1 in one thing before trying to be #1 in everything. Otherwise, you’ll never get there.