Lean Back To Look Forward

Lean Back To Look Forward

Good Morning Sunshine!

Wake Up. Get Dressed. Prepare the kids for School. Send the kids for school.
Drive to the office. Get stuck in Traffic. Work. Drive back home.
Get stuck in traffic (again). Arrive home. Spend some time with the family.
Prepare the kids to sleep. Send the kids to sleep. Send the kids to sleep, again. Take a shower. Spend some time with my wife.
Watch TV/Read a book/Play Games/Workout/Work some more. Go to sleep. Wake Up….

Well, I think you got the picture…

This is my average day with minor tweaks (well I’m lazy so I don’t really workout…) and it more or less worked out pretty well for me.
Well, that is at least until I started to lead my own team.

From “Maker” To “Manager”

One of the most intense time in a leader’s life is during the transition period from a “maker” to a “manager”.
As a maker, you have your own tasks to worry about, own them, deliver them on time with great quality and that’s about it.
Now, as a manager, you need to lead a whole team. One of your main responsibilities as the leader of that team is to take the time and think about the future of your people, your product, your business and form a strategy around these topics.

During this transition phase, I constantly experimented using different methodologies and tools to manage the noise, keep up the pace and make sure I don’t drop any balls.
This helped me manage the day to day but I didn’t manage to find the time to think about the bigger picture.

“Thinking processes” usually don’t work for me during traditional working hours and definitely not in the office where I’m a target for constant interruptions from my beloved colleagues.
Pretty fast I realized that when I don’t take the time to think about the big picture things get stuck and I drop the ball on one of my biggest responsibilities.

I needed my quiet time.

A Shortcut For Silence

Luckily for me, I found out that there is a shortcut to my office that is passing through the beach. I started to use this route.
After a few days, I realized that this can be a perfect spot for my “quiet time” and I decided to start an experiment.
Instead of just driving through, I would stop at the beach and use the time to arrange my thoughts.

And this is exactly what I did.

There is nothing like the sea to clear your mind.

Each day, I would drive by the sea and stop for a time frame that varies between 5 to 30 minutes.
The time spent was directly related to the time I arrived at the beach, the amount of topics that bothered me that day, and, the tasks I wanted to accomplish.

I didn’t always do the same things each day, but I did have three basic habits that helped me start my day in a better starting point:

  1. I stepped out of my car regardless of the temperature in order to feel the wind and breath the air. This automatically cleared my mind and gave me a great kickoff for my day.
  2. I usually listened to music during my stay at the sea while working on the task I chose for that morning.
  3. I took a selfie before I left and sent it to my beloved wife attached with a “good morning” blessing. This jumped start both of our days.

During my stay, I had a lot of tasks I wanted to accomplish.
Each day was different and I planned what I wanted to accomplish during my stay on the way there.

Here are some examples of what I did during my stay:

  1. Planned my day – I set up goals for that day and decided on the 3 most important things I wanted to accomplish by the end of the day.
  2. Read – I love reading and this was a great opportunity to catch up with different posts and articles I wanted to read.
  3. Watch – More than I love reading I love watching great lectures.
    Depends on the mood I was that day I watched different lectures on different topics. (The TED app has some great inspirational lectures)
  4. Looked Forward- I took the time to think about the bigger picture that is related to my responsibilities and my team. I always summarize my thoughts. Those were probably the clearest thoughts I ever had.
  5. Self-Improve- I retrospect the previous days or recent occasions and tried to find things where I could get better.
  6. Clear my mind- Doing absolutely nothing is also important. I listened to some music. Looked at the sea and just cleared my mind in order to get ready for a busy day.

Lean Back To Look Forward

The purpose of the experiment was to see if this method will change my work habits.
I wanted to see if it can help me better control my day-to-day and most importantly help me improve my “thinking process”.

Well, it did.

I noticed a big difference between the days in which I stopped even for a short period of time (up to 5 minutes) versus days that I just drove straight to the office.
This method worked great for me and helped me both organize my thoughts and my day.

As the time pass, you will notice that the nature of your self-management skills changes. You will face different challenges that will require different solutions but one thing will not change, you will always need the time for yourself, the time in which you take a step aside away from the day to day, away from all the noise and take a look at a distance.

This is what I mean by saying you need to “Lean Back To Look Forward”.

For me, the sea was just a tool (and maybe an excuse) to help me better manage my “thinking process”.
You should find the right tool that best work for you.

Now, 1.5 years after I started to use this tool I don’t feel any obligation to stop in the sea anymore (although this is still my favorite method).
My context has changed and so are my challenges but one thing didn’t – the fact that leaning back is crucial in order to face my everyday challenges.

For me, this experiment was a success.
It helped me understand the importance of taking the time to clear my mind, ponder about different issues and challenge myself with hard questions that help me drive my team and myself to success.

This is the real importance ofleaning back to look forward” .
You owe it to your team and even more important, you owe it to yourself.

My Toolbox for Managing the Noise

My Toolbox for Managing the Noise

Every minute, every second of our lives, we are swamped with tons of information.

Emails from your manager, your team members, your colleagues.
An interesting post your friend sent you; a Ted video that everyone is talking about; or just a new idea that crossed your mind and you have to write it down before someone catches you in the hall and you’ll forget about it.

We are constantly struggling to make some sense in all of this noise and be on top of everything.
This insanity triples once you get to a managerial position – because when you need to be in a wider context, the noise gets even bigger.

Managing the Noise

Since I became a team leader, I experimented with various tools to manage the noise. Some worked, some required practice in order to make them work and some just failed for me.
I’m constantly experimenting, but I got to the point where there are some basic tools and methods that work for me and might also work for you.

So here is my Toolbox for managing the noise:

Quiet time each morning

  1. Morning shower:
    Not sure why-and it has to be a scientific reason-a morning shower is the best time to get ideas.
    Most of the time, the result of a 10-minute morning shower is 5 minutes of email writing to myself or my teammates, about ideas and random thoughts that crossed my mind or stuff that I want to accomplish.
    Most of the time, those thoughts are the best I have at any given time.
  2. Arranging your day:
    I’ve realised that one of the things that helps me manage the noise is to find 10 minutes each morning in order to plan my day.
    This is crucial in order to be focused, set up a goals for the day and get that feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day.
    When I don’t do this exercise, I find myself “going with the flow” and having a nonproductive day.
    For me, 10 minutes at the beach on the way to work each morning did the trick and helped me to organise my thoughts and start the day.
    It can be 10 minutes with the morning coffee or 10 minutes with a cigarette -what ever works for you – but those simple 10 minutes will do miracles for your day.
    In those 10 minutes I create a list of tasks I need to accomplish. Some of it is for today, some of it is more long term and some of it I delegate to the team.

(Almost) Inbox Zero

When I started as a manager, I used rules and folders to organize my emails. During the years when I become better at managing myself and my time, I started to remove more and more rules in order to be on top of more things in parallel. Today I hardly use any folders.
This method allows me to use my inbox as a list of tasks I need to accomplish.
In general, I strive to have less than 10 unread messages in my inbox at any given time.
The unread messages at any given time are tasks/issues I need to follow up and want to make sure I don’t drop the ball on.

Tools and Productivity Apps

I’ve experimented with tons of productivity apps and tools that can help me manage the noise. The list of apps/tools below is the current list I use on a daily basis.

  1. iOS VIP Users:
    I’m a mobile person. I use my mobile a lot more then I use my Mac and sometimes I find myself sitting near my mac but answering emails from my iPhone.
    One of the downsides of having all the emails coming to your inbox is the email notifications that flood your screen and create a lot of noise.
    Most people just turn them off. But because I want to stay very responsive and give very good SLAs to my team members or colleagues, I’m using another method — a dedicated VIP users list.
    The VIP list includes my team, my managers, (My wife…) and some important interfaces. Only emails from those contacts will appear on my screen.
    This method makes sure I see only the really important stuff on my screen and allows me to be very responsive to any issue.
    At the same time, it doesn’t bother me with every incoming email.
  2. FollowUpThen:
    A service that returns any email you send it after a given time period.
    For example, if you send an email to oneday@followupthen.com they will send you that email back after one day.
    This service helps me clean my inbox of stuff that I just want to make sure happens, but I don’t need to follow up on every day.
    If I want to follow up with an assignment I gave to one of my team members, I send him an email and send a copy to “threedays@followupthen.com”.
    Three days later, I will get a reply from the service and all I need to do is ping my team member about the task and ask for a status update.
  3. GetPocket:
    Another tool to clean my inbox-when I don’t have time to read all the great stuff that people are sending (articles, ted videos, benchmarks), I just send an email to “add@getpocket.com” and it automatically saves it to Pocket for a later time.
  4. Note to self:
    When I don’t want to forget something, I just send an email to myself, because I’m in inbox zero:it’s just another task I need to close.
  5. A pen and a notebook:
    Call me old-fashioned, but I have a no-laptop-in-meetings rule.
    I don’t like people playing with their laptops/smartphones in a meeting.
    On the other hand, I still want to be able to write down notes to myself about the meeting or any other thing that crosses my mind (in case the meeting isn’t that interesting….).
    A pen and a notebook give me the ability to do exactly that. The meeting moderator will also appreciate it (and think that you are writing notes from the meeting).
  6. Trello
    Trello is a great service for managing and organizing your personal and work-related projects.
    It has a great, easy-to-use mobile app that allows you to control everything just like you were near your computer.
    I use it’s service as a “To-do” list for my personal stuff, add ad-hoc work tasks and also manage bigger work-related efforts.
  7. IM:
    It can be the team’s Telegram/WhatsApp/Skype group or whatever solution you like (Slack?) – the bottom line is that a messaging solution really helps manage the noise by quickly delegating any issue to the team.
    Don’t forget- delegation will set you free.

That is it.
Those are the main methods and tools I use day to day.
I’m experimenting and constantly changing stuff that doesn’t work for me.

I hope that these tools will also help you control the stream of information you need to process day to day.