• Take control of your email

    This week, I realized that I’ve got a problem with email. I was wondering why I struggled so much with finishing my important tasks and found that I've been living in my inbox. I’ve been constantly looking out for new messages from colleagues and customers. While this made for great response times, it prohibited me from concentrating on what I needed to work on. So many times, I have read the advice to not get addicted to my inbox and still, I did.

    That’s why I’ve decided to limit my checking for new email to a few times per day. I’ll still be notified of anything important or urgent by AwayFind and by the support request escalation of our Help Center. I’ve also reinstalled the Concentrate app on my computer to minimize distractions while I’m working on a certain task — for example writing this blog post.

    Since email is obviously a both useful and disruptive medium, I’d like to point you to a great article by Kelly Forrister, a Senior Coach with the David Allen Company. In Email best practices for your team, Kelly gives the following tips:

    1. Match the message to the best medium.
    2. Be discerning about your use of “To:” vs. “Cc:”.
    3. Use subject lines that clearly describe the topic; add short codes for minimum reading effort.
    4. Resist the urge to simply click “reply to all”.
    5. Set a standard for response time and use the leeway it gives you.

    Since I seem to have blind spots regarding the influence of email on my productivity, I’ll take a good look at which of Kelly’s tips might further improve my work style. Read them on the GTD blog in full length!

  • What is a goal?

    "A goal is a dream with a deadline." (Napoleon Hill)

    For years, we had the dream of moving from Germany to Ireland. The quote above helped us to make it a reality. Our flight is on August 3rd.

  • Working hours vs. living hours

    Following up on my recent post on Tactics against burnout, I'd like to shed some light on the aspect of working hours. In the tech space, it seems popular to boast with insane work durations. "Mine is longer than yours", anyone?

    Rob Ashton disagrees with this behaviour, as do I. What he describes in his article "A note on working hours and working at home" is basically an example of what is called "ROWE", a Results-Only Work Environment. (You can read all about ROWE in the book "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution".) In short, work should always be about the results you generate, not about the time you are (seemingly) busy. If you can finish your tasks within 5 hours, there's no sense in doing 8 more just to impress someone (whom anyway?).

    I can't see any contradiction in his approach to the Github article with which he "passionately disagrees", though. The article is even titled "Hours are bullshit" and in it, Zach Holman explains:

    "When you're in the right mindset, your best day of coding can trump weeks of frustrated keyboard-tapping.

    Again, it's not about how long you're busy but how effective you are. Both guys also have similar conclusions:

    Zach: "By allowing for a more flexible work schedule, you create an atmosphere where employees can be excited about their work."

    Rob: "When I decide what I'm doing with regards to work (when summer hits), I find it hard to believe I'll be working at any company who is enforcing 9-5, or have some rigidly described "flexi-time" as part of their contract in an effort to seem cool."

    Okay, one sentence in Zach's post might be easily misunderstood:

    "Ultimately it should lead to more hours of work, with those hours being even more productive."

    In my experience, having the freedom to decide when to work often actually leads to more time spent working than in a normal 9-to-5 frame. Nobody is productive all the time, right? When I start to feel tired at 15:30, I don't have to spend the remaining time mindlessly staring at my screen or scrolling through Google Plus for another 90 minutes, just to leave as soon as the clock strikes 5. In the long run, this just makes people hate their job. Instead, I take a break, go for a walk or maybe even spend some time at home with my family. Rob obviously handles this similarly.

    Now, if I don't have other important things, I'll continue where I left off later. I might now work for another 90 minutes, but maybe also for 120 or 180. Because I'm working at a time that's right for me and because my efforts have a visible effect. Which lets me keep loving my work.

    Yes, this blurs the line between work and the other important things in my life. Because my work is actually one of them. And I think that's what Zach meant with "Working weekends blur into working nights into working weekdays, since none of the work feels like work." Work isn't something evil that keeps me from enjoying life, it's an integral part of it.

    Or as Markus Cerenak puts it in "Warum das Konzept “Work-Life Balance” ein Irrtum ist." -- "Why the concept of work/life balance is a falsity":

    "When you follow your passion, you don't have a need for balancing."

  • Complaining? You're doing it wrong.

    I'm a stoic. Have been for a long time, will ever be. "Love it, change it, or leave it." That's my motto. I hate listening to people complain. Complain about their job, complain about their neighbours' kids, complain about their car mechanic, complain about the economy, complain about the weather. Please stop it. STFU.

    Fortunately, D. Keith Robinson wrote "A Short Manual" on how to effectively stop ineffective complaining. It comes down mostly to being honest with yourself and with the people around you.

  • Tactics against burnout

    Being an entrepreneur in the tech space means working 60 to 80 hours a week and hustling from one opportunity to the next. That's what many people think. That's what many entrepreneurs in the tech space think. It's what I thought, too, when I started freistil IT in 2010. The temperature started rising. It felt like a fever. And I mean that in the literal sense.

    One busy day, my body started heating up and I started to feel weary and devoid of energy. It felt similar to a flu, but I had no other flu symptoms on top of the 40 degrees. I remembered that I had experienced this before. Back then, I went to a doctor and had blood samples taken. No conclusive results at all. Now that it happened again, I started to recognize a pattern: This was how my body alerted me that I was hitting my limits. So I dropped what ever I was sweating about, went straight to bed and switched to private mode completely. No email, no phone calls, no pondering business issues. Soon, the fever vanished and I slowly got into business again, carefully ramping up my workload. Since then, it never happened again because I've become much more aware of what drains me of energy and motivation, and because I learned how to replenish my mental fuel.

    Andrew Dumont describes his experience with this issue in his blog entry "Avoiding Burnout". These are his tactics to stay in good shape:

    • Morning Workouts
    • An Evening Walk
    • Fiction Reading
    • A Day A Week
    • Intellectual Hobbies
    • Small Wins
    • A Healthy Diet
    • Limiting Decisions
    • Yearly Unplugs

    While I'm doing many of these myself already, the yearly unplugging is something of which I still need to make a habit. When work -- even hard work -- is fun and fulfilling, it's sort of addictive. But Andrew is right in that work as an entrepreneur needs to be more than just hard:

    It's taken me years to realize that overnight success is fictional. Overnight success comes after years of hard, sustainable work.