Cleve Gibbon

content management, content modelling, digital ecosystems, technology evangelist.

Please Keep It Simple

It’s hard to keep things simple. However, simple things get things done.

I was a long term user of Evernote. I used it for one thing; to take notes. On my desktop. Through the web. When traveling with my phone. Seamlessly syncing between my all devices. Simple note-taking was bliss.

But Evernote grew beyond my comfort zone. It added new features. Tagging. Presentations. Chat. Imports. Attachments. Exports. Reminders. Smart editing. Weblinks. All important things that helped organize, scale and make note-taking better.

But here’s the thing. Collectively, they didn’t keep note taking simple. Evernote pushed up against OneNote and Word. It made me stop and think, why Evernote? I could the same thing with Word and Dropbox. Overnight I just stopped using Evernote and fell back to notes on Apple. Why? Because I didn’t want reminders, or slideshows, and advanced editing. Simple note taking is still bliss.

So therein lies the dilemma with (productivity) tools that extend in perceived areas of growth. As soon as remove choice by going all-in, you risk customers going all-out! Personal productivity is predicated on keeping choice firmly within the hands of the consumer.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying Evernote is a bad tool – far from it – but it doesn’t serve the same simple purpose I bought into nearly ten years ago; simple note-taking.

In Five for Five

Image that says later or now and checks the now box

I procrastinate. I know when I’m doing it but struggle to avoid it.

However, I hate not getting things done more than I love to procrastinate. So I found this technique to just get me started. I’m calling it the In Five For Five rule.

When you next have something you know you have to do but don’t ever seem to get round to doing it, try this:

  1. In five minutes, commit to starting the task.
  2. For five minutes, just do the task.
  3. After five minutes, stop doing the task if want to.

Here’s the thing, nine times of ten, you complete the task! In Five For Five gets you over your own mental start hurdle. It doesn’t matter what the task is – washing the car, writing an article, something at work, cleaning the oven, doing the laundry, shopping, organizing photos – you get it done!

Try it. At the very worst, you get five minutes of something you’ve been putting off for a rainy day done today!

And do let me know how you get on 🙂

The 05 meeting rule

I’ve updated my simple meeting policy to include the 05 meeting rule.

My simple meeting policy shortens traditional 30-minute meetings to 25 minutes and 1-hour meetings to 50 minutes. However, that didn’t stop some meetings from overrunning and eating into that all-important extra 5 mins we were trying to protect for everyone’s peace of mind.

Last week a kind soul passed along this genius fix. I’m calling it the 05 meeting rule. It works beautifully with our shorter meetings policy. Applying the 05 meeting rule means starting your meeting 5 minutes later. That’s it! In doing so, a meeting starting at 9:05 and running to 9:30:

  1. Eliminates overruns. Meetings always end on time.
  2. Protected 5 mins. Take the time at the start to set up for success.

For one hour meetings, shortened to 50 minutes, the 05 meeting rule means that they are bookended with 5 minutes of your time.

Love it! One thing to watch out for thought. Let people know you’re doing this. If they don’t pay attention to the meeting invite and you don’t show up for 5 mins, they may drop off the call before you arrive. I try to get there a couple of minutes beforehand and say hey, chill out – be human – without it now eating into valuable, yet shortened, meeting time. Win-win!

My Simple Meeting Policy

This is my simple meeting policy. With more virtual meetings, we need more time to recover between meetings.

To any meeting organizer, I will commit to:

  1. Arriving on time.
  2. Leaving on time.

To any meeting organizer, I need:

  1. An agenda in the invite.
  2. Proactive management of the agenda to the allotted time.

To any meeting organizer, I encourage you to:

  1. Shorten your meetings (25min, 50 mins).
  2. Start your meeting 5 mins after the hour (e.g. 9:05 rather than 9:00)
  3. Adopt a simple meeting policy, like this one.
  4. Encourage others to do the same.

Nobody likes:

  1. Meetings that start late.
  2. Meetings that overrun.
  3. Poorly managed meetings.
  4. Running between meetings.
  5. Meetings!

So if you have to have a meeting, please, make it simple!

Measure What Matters

Measure What Matters

So I read Measure What Matters. It was awesome. The book outlines a goal setting system that scales from small projects to the large programmes of work. Started at Intel, popularised by Google, Objective Key Results (OKRs) are widespread from Bono to Bill Gates. Today, OKRs are a proven approach to operating excellence that focuses teams to measure what matters.

My recommendation for anyone, particularly in managerial or leadership positions to read the book. It’s an example-driven, people-oriented account of how to bring order out of chaos.

Objective Key Results

The model is simple. Objectives define what we seek to achieve. They are directional. Sometimes aspirational. But always clear and concise in their description.

Key results are how to achieve objectives. They have concrete steps to success. Always specific, measurable actions, and within a set time frame.

Time for example. Here is a 4 year OKR from YouTube set back in 2012. It was further broken down into a set of rolling, annual objectives and quarterly, incremental key results.


OBJECTIVE
Reach 1 billion hours of watch time per day by 2016
KEY RESULTS
Search team + Main App (+XX%), Living Room (+XX%)
Grow Engagement and gaming watch time (X watch hours per day)
Launch YouTube VR experience and grow VR catalogy from X to Y videos


Plans, Progress and Problems Report

OKRs are your target and steps to get there. However, you still need to continuously track progress towards success. Weekly checkins with your teams are important. And that’s when I realised what was missing. Let me explain.

Back in 2013, I shared the power of PPP reports for effective communication of problems and progress against a plan. Plans needs clear targets, however, these were always difficult to standardise on.

But what if OKRs are the plans (objectives) with the milestones (key results). Combining OKRs with PPP reports, we suddenly have an framework to track progress and problems against clear plans, or OKRs.

There is definitely a bit of trial and error going on here, but I think it worth a try. So I decided to put this into action. Give me a quarter and I’ll share whether they are a match made in heaven, or not.

Summary

OKRs are simple but effective goal setting system. The simplicity comes from the investment in time and people to write good OKRs. They should not be delivered from on high (directors) to the little people (doers) with consultation. Instead, OKRs writing requires pro-active engagement of top-down and bottom-up thinking.

PPP reports provide a great vehicle to track and report progress against OKRs.

Separate Work from Home

Separate Work from Home

I’m a big fan of productivity. There is always too much to do. That’s why I’m continually looking for ways to do more with less. Over the last twenty years I’ve adopted best practices (e.g. GTD – Getting Things Done), embraced planning methodologies (e.g. PPPs – Plan, Progress, Problems ), and picked up new habits (e.g. DDD – Delete, Delegate, Do). Then, sought out the best tools to make it easy to use across the many devices I work with. I done an okay job of that. However, I have always struggled to separate work from home life. Why?

What’s the problem?

Over the last 14 years working at Cognifide, I have always used the same devices to carry out my work and home tasks. As a result, I never really switched off. Ever! That’s the problem. It is too easy to switch from work to home, and vice-versa, when both worlds live on the same machine.

What did I do?

On December 31st 2018, I decided to physically separate my work from home life. Let’s call this Separation Day!

Prior to Separation Day I had a MacBook laptop and an iPhone. I had multiple profiles and documents for both my work and home life across these devices. My Dropbox for Business was the unifying filesystem where everything was stored.

On Separation Day, I bought a MacBook Air and another iPhone. I purchased a personal Dropbox Account. Then I moved all my personal files, data and documents across to my new acquired MacBook Air, and deleted all aspects of my home life from the work MacBook. I went through a similar exercise with my iPhone. It was bloody painful. It took a month to sift through all everything, but by the end of January, it was all done. I had separated work from home.

What happened next?

I carry two phones now. My home phone is always with me, where my work phone travels with me for work only. I have two laptops. Same deal. My work laptop is for work. I keep it closed at home and use my personal laptop when not at work.

Over time it became more and more comfortable to not work at home. It is easy to walk through the door, put down my work phone, and leave my work laptop in my bag. Prior to Separation Day this was impossible.

If I need to work, it is for a discrete task, and when it was done, the laptop goes away. The work laptop is no longer always on, which means, never am I. This was by far the biggest mindset change for separating work from home.

What other changes are happening?

I rarely use my work phone at home now or my work laptop at home. I love opening up my home laptop because that is for fun. My wife is cool when I’m at home on my home laptop, because I doing my stuff.

I’m also much more productive on my work machine . I’ve removed things like instagram, facebook, and all the other distractions from work. I have greater focus now with fewer distractions. If I need to have a break at work, I pull out my home phone and play. When I’m not working, my work machines become instantly irrelevant. Literally, no interest to me! In much the same way that when I’m on my home laptop, work never comes to mind. I will never have a work document on my home devices .

Why does it work?

Hard boundaries work. I needed that physical separation of laptops and phones. Only now do I have clear water between my work and home life. It’s really working for me. I wholeheartedly recommend this for you.

Soft boundaries don’t work. They are conflicted. I had Chrome for work and Firefox for home on the same laptop. Always convincing myself that I had go this sorted. I was kidding myself. It didn’t work. I found myself switching between the two often. It was way too easy and tempting to slip into work at home, to check that last email. The hard boundary put a complete stop to that.

Separate Work from Home

I’m much more productive at work now, and I can completely switch off at home.

At the end of this month, I leave Cognifide, UK to join Wunderman Thompson North America as their CTO. Thankfully, the work transition is painless. I had done all the hard work back into January on Separation Day. I will hand back my work laptop and phone here in London and pick up a new work laptop and phone Seattle. There are no work-to-home life conflicts to deal with. Life is simpler.

I will never go back to putting for my work and home life on the same devices. I’ve blown up that bridge. They are mutually exclusive. Trust me, once you make the change, guaranteed, you will never look back. Well, you’ll ask yourself, why didn’t I do this before? But don’t beat yourself up, just make the change now, and enjoy your new freedoms.

Block Days for Getting Things Done

I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. Always. With so many things to get done, I’ve been a long time subscriber to the getting things done philosophy. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been toying with a block system to better structure my work day. Last week, I put block days to work.

The Block

A block is a period of time. Blocks come in various sizes. 30-minute blocks. 20-minute blocks. One hour blocks. You decide.

The goal is to break up your work day into blocks.  Then decide what you want to do in each block. That’s it. The theory is simple, but the execution is a little harder.

Block DaysTime for an example. When I get up and decide its a block day, the first I do is grab a sheet of paper and block out the day. At the top, you see it’s Wednesday and my day runs from 7am to 7pm. I tend to use 30-minute blocks giving me 24 blocks in total to play with.

I work at Cognifide. I’ve assigned 10 blocks (5 hours) to Cognifide, a paper I’m writing has 6 blocks (3 hours) and other stuff I need to do in the day makes up the remaining 8 blocks (4 hours). I capture high-level outputs/outcomes for each of these block areas. For example, I want to complete the research section of a paper I’m writing today using the allocated 6 blocks.  When I’m planning the block day, I make I’ll be happy with the outcomes/outputs.  Then the day is around doing the activities in the blocks to hit those goals.

When I first started blocking out my day I got too fine grained. I had lots of block areas on the left, typically 2-4 blocks, but that didn’t work. So I got more coarse-grained in my planning. I introduced the bottom section to illustrate the activities I’d perform within each block area. This worked well. I tend to add and remove actions in this bottom section as I progress through the day. Always use pencils, and have an eraser nearby.

Finally, as you progress through your block day, mark the blocks off. This is so important. You are rewarding the progress you’re making. Marking off blocks is a great feeling and pushes you towards the end.

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Planning, Productivity and Progress – The Power of P

cookie-monster-letter-pI love the letter P.  A powerful plosive that you can’t pronounce without putting your lips together – go on, do it – and then POW!

We need to mind our P’s on projects, specifically around planning, productivity and progress.  All important.  Seldom meeting everyone’s expectations.  Because they’re hard and gnarly things to get right.  Across the board. Think about your current or past projects, how did you get on? So, so? Room for improvement?

There’s always room for improvement. We have to get better at doing them or continue to be average in our project outputs and outcomes.  And frankly, who strives to be average these days? Interested? Good.  This way.
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About Cleve Gibbon



I'm Cleve Gibbon, CTO at Wunderman Thompson where we are passionate about digital content.

My sort of up-to-date cv tells you my past, linked in shows you my professional network and on twitter you can find out what I'm currently up to.