On getting tasks done

Some tips on completing tasks.
  • Avoid add a task to today’s todo list, rather add it to the future. Adding it to today’s list adds additional pressure to completing what you have already committed to do.
  • Does a task need to be completed perfectly, or just good enough? Remember the 80/20 rule. Often good enough is good enough.
  • Remember – you will always have things on your todo list.
  • Delegate the fun stuff – then it will get done.
  • Have one todo list only.
  • Take a break – you cannot be productive all the time.
  • Types of tasks
    • Should do
    • Must do
    • Don’t need to do
  • Remember David Allan’s wise words:
    • Do
    • Deletage
    • Defer
    • Delete (you will be surprised how often a defer turns into a delete)
  • Finally, review your task list at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day (just for a few minutes).

Presentation tips for PowerPoint

This is an extract of a training session that I present “Putting the POWER back into PowerPoint”.

Nowadays, many of us use PowerPoint for our presentations. While there are many courses and books on the technical side of how to create slides, there is very little material available on how to create effective slides and presentations. This course helps to address that issue.

Only use slides if appropriate. Nowadays, we often automatically haul out PowerPoint when asked to do a presentation. You need to ask yourself if the particular presentation really needs it, or if slides are not really necessary

Create slides around the presentation, not the presentation around the slides. Remember that the slides are there to enhance and not replace your presentation.

Use few and simple fonts and colours. The fewer you use, the easier it is to read.

Use contrasting colours. As above – it’s easier to read. Also test your slides under a variety of conditions to find what combinations work. My favourite is a navy blue background, with yellow headings and white text.

Use the 7×7 rule. No more that seven words per line; and seven lines per page. Rather put your main points onto the slides than a transcription of your speech. It is easier for the audience to remember a few points than an essay, and it allows for larger fonts to be used, hence making the slides more readable (especially from a distance).

Check spelling and grammar. This is just plain professionalism – it goes without saying.

Don’t read the slides verbatim. We can all read. Rather give us a few seconds to read a slide before speaking about the points on the slide. If you are presenting the slides point by point, then show the point while you discuss it. But please don’t insult me by reading the points aloud.

Use animated effects only if appropriate. They can really look cute, but can be distracting to the main point.

Audio and video clips add complexity to the presentation. Use them only if appropriate.

Rather use graphs than numbers. They are easier to read and simpler to understand. Remember that numbers tell, but pictures sell.

Rehearse with and without the slides. This gives you the power to still deliver a presentation should you have a major catastrophe with the slides (eg: the projector stops working half-way through a presentation).

Arrive at the venue early. This gives you plenty of time to setup and ensure that everything is working. It also allows for you to resolve any issues well-before time. If it’s a really important presentation, try to get there the day before as well so that you can check out the venue and ensure that all equipment is working.

Bring the following to your presentations:

  • Printout of slides- in case the projector fails.
  • Electronic copy in a few formats – so you can connect to another laptop should the need be required.
  • Long extension leads & multi plugs – so you can plug in wherever the plug points are.
  • Masking tape – tape down any long cables that you (or others) may trip over
  • Laptop and power supply – even if you know they are supplying equipment, rather have it there as a backup.

Finally two pointers for running the actual presentation:

Don’t run the laptop off batteries (no matter how fresh). I have seen many laptops shutdown or go into standby mode because the laptop was running on batteries, and either they went flat, or the presenter forgot to put the laptop into a “don’t go into standby” mode.

Speak to the audience, not to the screen. Many presenters read the slides (see point above) while facing the screen. This prevents you from making eye contact with the audience, and prevents them from hearing you. It’s also rude.

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.