Taking Note

When was the last time you took notes? Over the past four years I have tried countless (yes, countless) methods of keeping notes. Why keep notes? Reflection. There are so many times where I go “did I try this?” or “damn, I can’t remember what I did that worked so well.” Funny thing is, taking notes is easy and the payoff is huge. The question becomes how and when to take notes.

As I said, I have tried a million methods. Moleskin notebooks, lab notebooks, Evernote, Google Docs, white paper, you name it. I have found it actually depends on the type of notes I am taking. Right now I use two methods: (1) white computer paper and (2) Evernote. The paper method is my go-to for school work (allows me to work out problems in the empty margins) and Evernote is my choice for personal notes.

I have run several projects focused on my body and my career. Anywhere from dropping 20%+ of my body fat in 12 weeks to getting into graduate school and a new job. Each of these “projects” are kept in an Evernote notebook. I record things I did each day or every other

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day (seriously takes 5 minutes) and think about what I could do differently tomorrow to improve or make progress. This simple process pays huge dividends when you look back a few months from now and have a history of things you did and progress you made. Just don’t get overwhelmed with taking too many notes (I did this). Keep it simple, keep it concise, and keep it focused on one thing at a time.

I was once told by a former mentor “reflection is the sign of a successful person.” It’s obvious why: successful people adjust course when something doesn’t work. They try again. They try something new, measure, readjust, and continue to kick ass. I encourage all of you to grab a notebook (or a keyboard in my case), think about what you want to achieve, start taking note about your progress towards that goal and make sure you “take note” on what does and doesn’t work :).

Happy learning,

Nick

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Experiences

Remember that feeling when you were going on vacation to an unfamiliar place as a child? That nervous, anxious, and yet excited anticipation of a new experience? Move forward a few years when you are getting ready for the first day of high school. The same feeling is there: excitement and anticipation for the unknown. We all secretly love new experiences. We all wish we traveled more, did more, and saw more because the excitement and anticipation we had as kid, teenager, and adult is something we crave. Why do we want to do things so badly but then never end up doing them (only to talk about wanting to do them)? Is it time? Money? Laziness? I run into these mental barriers all the time. “I can’t do that because I don’t have the time this year, sorry” or “I am too busy with other stuff.”

Just like forgotten New Year’s Resolutions, there is a simple reason why we don’t experience new things: it’s easy to do nothing. It’s easy to talk about new experiences, but it seems impossible to do them. We let limitations stand our way and complacency overcomes us. I want you all to take action, to spend the time to think about what you want to calvin-and-hobbes-wagondo and how you are going to do it. Regain that feeling you had as a child and experience new things (notice the Calvin and Hobbes comic…a true reminder of children’s excitement for new experiences).

My quest for an MBA is that childhood desire coming out. I was getting complacent with my current state of learning and wanted to see more, do more. Will it stretch my time thin and test my ability to get more work done with less time? Already has. Will it stress me out at times? Already did. Will it cost a lot? You bet. Will it teach me new topics and expose me to new avenues of learning? Every day. You and I can always manage our time better then we think (go back to my first post) and money can always be made if we find creative ways to do it. What you can’t get more of is time to learn and experience, so make the best of the time we have.

There is a great website I read often called “Impossible HQ” (thanks for the reference, Jason). The following link talks about living life “in draft mode” all the time. Don’t let this happen to you. Get out there, experience new things, and keep the momentum of life going.

http://impossiblehq.com/life-in-draft

Happy Learning,

Nick

Sweet Music to My Ears

I think all adults these days have ADD. Seriously, think about it. A new gadget?! A new post?! Our attention spans are about as big as a Short Gamma Ray Burst (.2 seconds). I am guilty as charged, but what I like to do is find methods to increase focus in short “bursts” to increase my output. Then I go take a walk. Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal had an article last week about “The Biggest Distraction in the Office is Sitting Next to You”. The article points out (through a 2011 study by the journal Organization Studies), tasks have an average of 12 minutes, 40 seconds. What’s more staggering is the almost 30 minute average time to return to a focused task. They also discovered it takes approximately 15 minutes to return to deep, focused work (like writing this blog post :)). This means most tasks aren’t focused enough and you spend too much time at the office due to distractions, not workload!

Some of you may have experienced this “distraction faction” at your work, where people stop by countless times or you yourself find excuses to get up for “another coffee or water” (I do!). The first part, keeping people away when you want to work, can be difficult. I have tried anything from signs on my desk to pointing in other directions so I don’t see people. The other variable, you, is much more controllable. As the title of this post points out, music is the best way to get in the zone, focus on the work at hand, and be more productive in less time than ever before (so you can get up and get those walks/workouts in!).

Music is one of the best tools to return your brain to a focused state. It improves mood (older WebMD study here) and gives you a burst of energy. I use it daily (using it right now) for any of my tasks. downloadI couple it with the Pomodoro Technique to knock off a task list or specific project. Make sure you pick the right music for the right type of task/time of day. You would be surprised how the time of day can play such a big role (I only listen to Jazz/Classical in the mornings, anything else is too much).

You have to be careful with music too. We are all guilty of spending far too much time looking for songs in our library, exploring Spotify, or clicking through Pandora stations. I always opt for internet radio when I need to get work done to avoid the need to “choose” a song. Some of my favorite stations are below…you can also search for “focused music” on YouTube for longer music sets.

Focus@Will – by far the BEST work music station out there. I have sometimes gotten into zones for a few hours without noticing how much time has passed.

Soma.FM – great stations, excellent music.

JazzRadio – there are a ton of stations here for any mood/style.

Buy a Baroque (or any classical period) CD.

I will leave you with a TED talk I watched last night that blew me away. If you aren’t a fan of classical music, see if this composer can convince you otherwise.

http://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion.html

Actions (10 min – The Rest of Your Life)

1) Find your favorite type of music for your different moods/work cycles.

2) Play those types of music when you need to get work done. Play those types of music when you want to be in a good mood. Play those types of music whenever :).

3) Continue to explore new music genres and have fun!

4) Share your internet stations with me!

Happy Learning,

Nick

Human Investments

Carrying on the theme of time as an investment, you also need to consider your circles of friends, contacts, co-workers, family and connections as an investment. Like all investments, you need to put more money (in this case time and effort) if you want the overall value of the investment to increase (unless of course you hit it big in Vegas).

Networking

Many of us have been taught to “network” and “get connected” in order to build opportunities for future employment, but you lose the joy of having a rich network by using networks as a means for personal gain.
For this post, ask yourself this question: would you grab a beer (or wine) with this person and enjoy his/her company for more than an hour? Now, how do you organize all those people you know?

You will notice a trend of mine here: categories. I love them. They bring order to chaos. So in my typical fashion I broke down my network into categories. I should also mention this exercise is similar to one I performed as part of a homework assignment for IU, so I can’t take ALL the credit :).

  • A – Current Employment
  • B – Past Jobs/Bosses
  • C – College/School
  • D – Close Friends and Family
  • E – Mentors (Work or Life)
  • F – Top 5 People You Would Start a Company With (more on this in a minute)
  • G – Acquaintances

You can narrow this down more, but I like to keep the category number small to save me the trouble of parsing through tons of names and too many categories. F and G are probably the most confusing. F is a list of 5 people you would call if you all of a sudden decided to start a company. These are you closest comrades who share a passion for work like yours. You would never second guess spending hours upon hours in a small office working on the next Facebook with them. G is a “catch all” for those people you meet and don’t want to lose touch with.

Take the time to fill out this list. You will probably realize you can’t fill out all 5 spots for category F…that’s okay. These lists are always growing and changing. Once you have the list of people, add a column for “Last Spoken With”. Now here’s the most important part: set 30 minutes/week, every week, to reach out to one or two people on your list. Fill out the “Last Spoken With” column and spend some quality time on the phone, in person, over drinks, etc. Invest in these people!

Further Reading

There are TONS of articles out there on building networks, reaching out, staying connected and everything else under the sun. I strongly recommend reading The Start Up of You and checking out Google searches for “making genuine connections.”

Life Hacker Article

The Start Up of You

Actions (30 – 45 minutes then 30 – 60 min/week)

1) Pick your categories.

2) Think hard about the people you put on your list. Spend time here.

3) Set time on your calendar (I run my life in Google Calendar) to reach out to at least 2 contacts. Catch up, be interested, help out.

4) Build a strong network and encourage others to do the same!

Happy Learning,

Nick

First Things First

Last time I wrote a blog, I had more time than I knew what to do with. I took standard classes in an international setting where there wasn’t too much demand on my time. Fast forwarding a few years, here I am with a full time job that demands almost all of my time and a full time MBA program just launching. I have a wonderful fiance and hobbies that keep me in shape and sharp. The funny thing is, the 24 hours/day I had in college are the same 24 hours/day I have now.

So how am I able to accomplish more with the same time? I think we all have felt this feeling before and the answer is simple: we prioritize our time naturally. What can happen, however, is we gravitate to what we perceive to be the right things. When you start to look at your growing task list, you scream “I can’t possibly get all this done!” Let’s look at this so called “part of growing up” in more detail.

My recent investment in grad school is not just a financial one but also a time based one. As we all know, time is the only currency we can’t make more of. Being an analytical person (thanks engineering), I wanted to approach this problem with a framework. I started by breaking down my time into larger categories of what I spend my time on.

Time Priorities

Think “work”, “writing”, “family”, “hobby 1”, etc. and number each category from 1 to 5 (or more if needed). Now carefully think about how long you spend on each thing each day. Finally, rank each category in descending order based on priorities in your life (use letters to not confuse them with the numbers). Add up the time you spend on A, B and then C, D, E. Step back and go “oh crap, I spend my time on the wrong things.” Revelation! Now what?

I did this and was amazed I spent 2:30 hours on my top 3 and 14:30 hours on my bottom 3 (I did 6 items). WOW. Time for a re-adjustment! The next step is determining how to salvage your time. I am currently rethinking my work schedule, reducing meetings, saying no to checking email and performing a number of other tasks to ensure my A, B, and C categories get more of my time. Of course you can’t put 100% of your time into those top three since there are constraints holding you back, but you can at least try your hardest. Learn to readjust more frequently and always be aware of wasting your time. Don’t get too crazy though, you have to enjoy your time too. After all, if time is money, then invest and spend wisely :).

Additional Reading

HBR Article on Measuring Time (not the full thing, but dig for the real one)

Four Hour Workweek on Time Wasters (oldie but goodie)

Actions (10 min)

Write down your time “categories”

Figure out time commitments and prioritize.

Re-adjust and live better!

Happy learning,

Nick

Welcome!

I spent over half a year in Germany while studying at Boston University back in 2006. During that adventure, I maintained a blog to share my travels, stories, and thoughts. While that was years ago (damn time flies), I look back to it and enjoy reading the posts. A lot changed during my time there, and I want to have the same experience during my adventures in graduate school. I plan to work full time while getting my degree, but that doesn’t change the fact I will be experiencing a new lifestyle and a lot of changes. Please see the about me page to read more on how I got here…