Do you backup?

I just read an email about an author from Port Elizabeth who has lost over 200 pages from a book that she is busy writing after her laptop was stolen. These are over 200 pages of the only draft!

While I feel sorry for her, I hear this kind of story almost every week. How simple is it to really backup your files? I am sure that right now, she is thinking that perhaps she should back up on a more regular basis.

A hard drive drive costs less than R1000, and a memory stick less than R99, so there is no excuse for loosing your data. Hey, I even sometimes make a dirty backup backup by simply emailing changed documents to my gmail account. It is free, effective and reliable! And of course entry level Google Drive and Dropbox accounts are free.

So, please learn from this and backup your files!

Schrodenger’s Restaurant

Isn’t it interesting that as soon as you find a quiet, out of the way restaurant, everybody starts going there. You know what I mean, the sort of place that is reasonably priced, serves really fine food, and has a fine ambience. Then everybody hears about this place, and before you know it you have to book weeks in advance. And then when you finally manage to visit the restaurant, its full, noisy and impersonal. Everything that you liked about it has gone. Why are all of these people visiting YOUR spot?

What is interesting is that the very act of you visiting the restaurant changes the ambience in a very subtle way. Similarly, the act of all of you visiting the restaurant changed it in a larger way. Many people doing this creates a critical mass, and that is when the small, subtle changes become far more pronounced.

Hence, the best way to not change the restaurant is to not visit it at all, which is pretty self-defeating. What’s also interesting is that everybody else is feeling exactly the same about THEIR spot.

What can you do about it? Not much really. You can continue to visit your favorite spots, and hope that the critical mass takes its time to accumulate, or that (hopefully) it does not accumulate at all, and the restaurant continues to satisfy the trickle of people passing through.

4 tips on PowerPoint

Use PowerPoint to enhance your presentations, not as a substitute for poor presentations.

  • Create your content first, and then create the visuals. Creating slides is far more fun that creating good content; don’t fall into the trap of creating great slides that support a weak message.
  • Budget your time. Allocate a set amount of time to create the slides, and budget that across all the slides you need. Otherwise your first 2 or 3 slides could be fantastic with no time to do a good job on the rest of the slides.
  • You don’t always need slides. Only use slides if they significantly enhance your presentation.
  • Focus on the message, not on the medium. Good slides will not hide a poorly crafted message.

3 acronyms to make email messages a little more effective

Hey are three acronyms you can use to make your email communication a little more effective.

NNTR / NRN

If you put NNTR in the end of the subject line (No need to reply, or no response needed), it tells the recipient that you are not expecting a response. e.g.:

Minutes of last night’s meeting attached NNTR

Personally I prefer to assume that unless you explicitly tell the reader that a response is needed, a response is not expected.

EOM

If you can fit the entire message into the subject line, put EOM at the end (End of Message) and they won’t have to even open the message. e.g.:

Meeting confirmed for today at 6pm EOM

FYI

If an email contains no actionable items add FYI to the subject line to tell the reader. e.g.:

Here is a copy of the project schedule (FYI)

These work just as well in text messages. Do they work for you? How effective do you find them?

What to get done

In my previous post I gave some tips on getting tasks done; here are some tips on what to get done.

  • Never accept a meeting on the same today – it messes up your planning
  • Know what you need to do today, and only focus on those – remember to eat the biggest frog First (Brian Tracey)
  • Don’t do other people’s work – it is too easy to say yes, but mean no – delegate!
  • Only commit to work that you can complete, and if you can’t complete it, don’t commit!
  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep.
  • Don’t let people flatter you, – if you don’t want to be involved, say no.

Ulysses – markdown editing

Before I tell you about Ulysses and why I think it’s a great piece of software, a quick primer on markdown.

What is markdown?

Markdown is an easy way to create rich documents using a plain text editor (with bold, italic, etc), and it is particularly useful to create HTML content. Markdown makes it easy to create blog posts without having to worry too much about the formatting, but you can still perform powerful formatting in a text editor. For example, you can create:

A headings

Or you can create

More headings

Or if you want a list it easy easy. Just use a *

Most modern text editors provide some sort of markdown support. But there is a single feature that Ulysses gets right. Even though markdown is simple, it is easy to get confused and mess up the formatting.

Ulysses shows you how your document is going to look in the plain text. You don’t need to switch to a markdown preview view. This makes it super-fast to write web content.

Simple markdown

If you look at the below screenshot, you can clearly see what I wrote, and this formatted blog post is of course how it appears. Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 2 59 24 PM

Sample markdown screenshot

Commands

While markdown only requires you to learn a handful of formatting commands, you don’t even need that! Your traditional CMD-B will turn test into bold, or CMD-I for italic etc. Or you can use the simple dropdown pallet for a shortcut of the main commands.

Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 2 59 50 PM

Command list

Word count

Ulysses gives a nice view of word coun,’ as well as an estimation of page reading time, and you can set goals and see your progress towards that goal.

Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 2 59 58 PM

Read time

Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 3 00 46 PM

Goal progress

Creating articles

Ulysses is good for creating ideas and draft articles; since everything is stored in a single notebook you don’t have to keep on creating and saving draft files; you just add a new page and start typing. This feature is very similar to Onenote and Evernote (except they don’t support markdown). In my workflow I create a group for articles, which is broken down into:

  • Ideas
  • Draft
  • Complete

Articles roughly move from ideas to draft then complete as they move through the writing and editing process.

Not just for web

While the main benefit of Ulysses is to rapidly creat HTML, since it is just rich text, you can easily use it for print formats as well. Ulysses allows you to export to docx (Microsoft Word), PDF, epub and text. You can also publish directly to a WordPress blog. Here’s a quick example of the PDF export (you can fully customize the PDF).

Screen Shot 2017 06 26 at 3 42 30 PM
PDF export

Other features

I have just touched on a few features of Ulysses, there are a ton of other features, including:

  • tagging
  • powerful search and filters
  • attachments
  • automatic sync across devices
  • automatic backups
  • Dropbox sync
  • Styling

Is Ulysses for you?

If you aren’t interesting in learning or using markdown, then no I wouldn’t bother using it. But if you already using markdown, or see it as a potential tool to create online content then I strongly recommend it. I have been using it for about a month now, and its great. It was easy to create markdown or HTML articles, the grouping and tagging allows you to use whatever workflow you want, and it has a powerful search capability.

Unfortunately for Windows users, it is Apple only (Mac and IOS) You can find out more on the Ulysses website.

Finally the disclosure. I was provided with a free copy of Ulysses for this review, and I used it to create this review. But I am finding myself using it more and more as a general note-taking application, and for creating and managing my blog posts.

Stop being interrupted

Some tips to avoid interruptions and get things done.
  1. Put your phone on silent and turn it over (so you can’t see the screen).
  2. Switch off your email. You can check your email when the task is complete.
  3. Turn off your messaging clients (FB messages, Lync, Skype etc). Even better turn off your network connection if your task doesn’t need you to be online.
  4. Hide – one of my biggest distractions is people coming to my desk to ask a question. If I hide somewhere else they will call or email me if it is really important (in a corporate there are plenty of hidey holes).
  5. Focus on one thing at a time – there is no such thing as multitasking.
  6. Keep a notebook handy (or text file) – so if something pops into your head you can quickly write it down and move on.

On running and pacesetting

 

Cds 2016 10 31 17 24 20

A year ago I started paceseting for races in Cape Town. My first race was the UCT 10k. I drove a (somewhat empty) 60 minute bus, and arrived in 59:10. Over the past year I have been a pacesetter for 20 races with a total distance of 704km (ok so I love numbers; I freely admit it). Even though it has only been a year, pacesetting has taught me both about running in a bus, and about running in general, and now my busses are a lot more full. Here are a few tips. I hope they help.

When running in a bus

Know the plan

Most pacesetters post their race plan on the WP pacesetters group a day or two before the race. If you are planning on running in a bus look out for their plan, or ask the pacesetter when you see him or her on the run. Most pacesetters have a different strategy for the race. For example for a longer race I like to do a run/walk strategy right from the start, but some pacesetters prefer to run the first half and then follow a run/walk strategy. Both are valid, just different. If they approach a race different to your style, join a different bus or do you own thing. And if you’re on a bus and it’s not workout out for you, rather leave the bus.

Don’t stick too close to the pacesetter

Yes I know you want to run with the pacesetter and you don’t want to get left behind, but please not too close. I have almost been tripped by people running directly behind me. I have had people rubbing shoulders with me for long stretches (literally rubbing shoulders). Just a little breathing room makes it a little easier.

Offer to help

When you pass a water table (especially in a big bus), grab a few waters and pass them to the people on the inside. If the bus drives asks for water, offer to grab it.

Pacesetters are human

None of us get paid to be a pacesetter. We do it for the love of the sport and to give something back. Sometimes we mess up, and somethings things just happen. Some examples:

  • On Cape Town marathon without any warning I cramped at the 40k mark, so I limped in to the finish, but thankfully my co-driver Buks brought the bus in spot on time (the only time I have missed my target).
  • I’ve had a marshal on a 15km race send the runners on the wrong route. This made the course about 1k too long with a 2km uphill to the finish that was meant to be a 2km downhill to the finish.
  • I’ve had a 10km race that was only 9km. On that one my 60min bus came in at 53 minutes which (relatively speaking) was spot on time. If we mess up, move along and enjoy the next race. We are doing our best.

Have fun

The bus is a little running community. Have fun. If you bus is singing songs, sing along. If they’re chatting, join in. The camaraderie is what makes the miles go by so fast when you’re on a bus.

On running

Here are some things that I focus on as a pacesetter, but they also help me when I’m running for my own goals.

Have a plan

Screen Shot 2017 05 04 at 10 05 41 PM The first time I was a pacesetter my plan was to just run and come in on time (in short I was winging it). I did, but as I mentioned above, with a mostly empty bus. That is because the UCT route is quite hilly, and winging it wasn’t good enough. Some things to think about in your plan are going slower on the uphill, speeding up on the downhill (how much?), taking into account that you will be more tired towards the end, noting that your GPS watch won’t match exactly to the km boards and making provision for walk breaks. A pacing chart makes a huge difference (now whenever I race I have a chart of my planned splits per km). In Cape Town we are lucky, because one of the pacesetters, Rassie, is a wizard at creating excellent pace charts. On the right is an example of one of his charts (he usually posts charts for the bigger races in the WP pacesetters group).

Now I always run with a pacing chart, even when I am not formally pacesetting. But you still need to work hard on the day to stay on track.

But be flexible

At the Milkwood 21k, the wind was howling. There was a long 5k uphill into the wind in the second half. So I had to on the fly consider how I was going to account for that while keeping the folk in my 2 hour bus on time. My solution was to push a little harder in the first half to get some extra time for more walk breaks into that wind. The bus came in spot on time. If you’re running behind how are you going to catch up? If you’ ahead are you going too fast, or are you ok to bank that for slightly longer walk breaks later on? Is the wind howling in one direction?

Make time to walk

I am convinced that plenty of walk breaks makes for a faster run. Both my marathon and 2 Oceans Ultra marathon personal best were achieved with plenty of walk breaks (starting at the first water table).

Know the route

If you know the route, you know the scary steep hills, the long downhills, and great smooth sections where you can cruise. That makes it easier to both plan your walks on the steep bits (you loose less time), and it helps to know what’s coming up. On West Coast Marathon there is a really steep hill just before the end, but it helps hugely to know that it is only 600m long! Ideally you will have at least driven the route, but if you can’t (I’m running Athens in Greece in November and I won’t have a car), you can still study the route, and look at Strava profiles from other athletes’ previous runs.

(and again) have fun

Yes we love to chase our own goals and to get a PB. But ultimately we are there to enjoy the atmosphere on the route, to experience the camaraderie of our fellow runners, and the amazing crowd support. But if you’re not having fun, you are missing out.

And finally thanks to everybody that runs with me, without you I wouldn’t have a bus, and a huge thanks to Paul and the amazing guys in WP Pacesetters that have taught me so much about running and pacesetting!

See you on the road. My next races are Slave Route, and CT12 – look out for my flag there!

Servant leadership in a restaurant

An example of servant leadership happened in a restaurant last night.

My wife and I were enjoying a meal in a local restaurant. We were not enjoying our drinks, because even though we had repeatedly asked for them, the drinks failed to arrive. A waitress, Jade, who was working another table saw that we were having a problem. When we told her she went off to the bar, spoke to the barman and came back immediately with our drinks.

Later when we wanted to pay we could not find out waitress – the same waitress that never managed to find our drinks. So Jade once again came to the rescue and sorted out our bill. At her own initiative she took the drinks off the bill because (as she put it) we shouldn’t have to pay for drinks that took so long to arrive.

Remember that Jade was not our waitress, and was not even working our table. She saw and solved a problem in her workplace. She made a very grumpy customer a lot happier, and she possibly made the difference in us going back there. I asked for her name because we want to make sure that she serves us next time we eat there. Jade was an ambassador and she will go far.

This is a fairly trivial example, but how often does it happen? When last did it happened to you, and what did you do? How did you action impact your business, or the people around you?