Twitter

Category “organization”

Long-Term Goals

A while ago I realized that I had a pretty significant blind spot: developing long-term goals. Short and medium-term goals — the decisions that are a day, a month, or even several months out — were no problem. But sifting through sets of complex information to decide a way forward that might affect me a year or more out eluded me. I sat in the proverbial waiting space from “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” and just… waited.

Setting long-term goals can be easy if they’re lofty, like: make more money, or exercise more, or learn to cook. But these aren’t necessarily achievable (in that they aren’t quantifiable), and they don’t prescribe a way forward that addresses the complex nature of the problem. Why aren’t you exercising, what’s preventing you from earning more, etc.?

And so I set about to devise support systems that would help me identify root causes to issues that I faced, and chart a path forward to their solution. Not too much time has passed since I’ve done that, but I figured it might be interesting to share some of the things I came up with in case it could help anyone else.

  1. Find objective mentors in positions you’d like to be in. This doesn’t just mean professional mentors, but people who you look up to in life, play, and family. After you’ve developed that list, set up a regular meeting with them to lay out where you are at, what you’re having problems with, and what opportunities you see going forward. Having a group of outside mentors helps you bring in a more diverse array of information that may lay out paths you’d never considered. These might be paths you could follow, or paths you want to avoid.
  2. Ask yourself worst-case scenario questions. Your mentor might provide insight into where you need to go, or what you need to avoid, but they aren’t you. Only you know what the worst-case scenario is for any potential decision: could you lose your house, or your job, or something even more valuable? Asking yourself “what is the worst thing that could happen?” helps identify potential pitfalls that you force out of your mind. Even more, it forces you to think through why that thing might happen.
  3. Lay out multiple potential paths. There is no one correct way forward, and best options are subjective and time-based. For me, then, it’s important to lay out multiple potential paths and mentally map their potential convergences and divergences. How can these objectives complement each other? By doing this, you prevent yourself from putting blinders on and chasing after one goal when, in fact, another potential opportunity could overlap and complement it.

Using this short methodology, I’ve been able to identify three long-term objectives that I’d like to work on. Then I’ve started breaking those larger goals into shorter, more achievable tasks with milestones. More importantly, I feel like I finally have a productive path forward that is leading me toward what I want to do.

I’ll let you know how it goes in a year.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

6 Tools That I Use to Manage My Work

Omnifocus

Everything in my workflow inevitably finds its way to Omnifocus. It’s my secret weapon. In addition to the baked-in features that allow you to track to-do items based on context (i.e. home, work) and projects, Omnifocus offers plugins that allow you to add items to it through a browser plugin, or through your email client. Here’s how I use it:

  • Email: If something enters my email inbox, and I can’t reply to it immediately, I right click and “Send to Omnifocus.” This allows me to archive the email in my inbox, and set a date for when I should definitively respond to the item. The email then appears in Omnifocus as its Subject Line, with a link in the notes that opens the email in my inbox.
  • Browser: We’ve all had a browser tab problem at one time or another. I’ve solved this problem, in part, by using Omnifocus. If something’s in my browser and is important enough to warrant a to-do item, I click on the Omnifocus plugin, set a date when I want to come back to the website, and hit Save.

In addition to these two primary uses, I do a few other things in Omnifocus to keep me honest, including:

  • Thank You: I have a weekly recurring item that encourages me to send a “thank you” to someone who I appreciate.
  • Divergent Thought: I have another weekly recurring item to reach out to someone (from a large list that I’ve built) to see if they’re available to grab a coffee in the next week.
  • Write: T,W,Th of every week, I have an item reminding me to write.
  • Hustle: Every weekday, I have an item that reminds me to push some business or otherwise new endeavor forward.
  • Updates: At the end of the work week on Friday, I have a note to send a group of relevant individuals updates on what I did during the week.

Airmail

My chosen email client. I use Airmail to centralize my email inboxes, and also to keep track of the day-to-day things that I need to do. This one is a little less in-depth than Omnifocus, because I actually employ the Inbox Zero strategy that you can read all about over here.

Evernote

Over the years I’ve come to define a creative process that works well for me, and Evernote is an integral part of that process. In short, my process is:

  • Divergence, or Hunting
  • Narrowing
  • Action

Evernote fits really well into the divergence phase, where (in part) I need to collect information from multiple disparate sources. Evernote allows me to take pictures of my notes and make them text-searchable with OCR. It also gives me the ability to save other pictures, voice notes, websites, text notes, music, and any other form of media into buckets.

My buckets are defined, loosely, by the general directions I’m hunting in. If I’m working on a new hardware badge, it might get a bucket that begins to collect other related (or seemingly unrelated) things I notice on the Internet, hurried voice notes after a thought occurs to me, or anything else. Once the bucket gains direction, I begin to shift out of Evernote and into something like Basecamp (which you can read all about how to use here).

Pinboard

Pinboard is a pretty simple tool, so this won’t take too long. Honestly, to fight my hoarding tendencies, I use Pinboard to save websites and other information I might want to (but rarely ever do) come back to. It’s a way to get things off of my mind and off of my browser to clear mind space up for other things, but while also satisfying that little part of me that wants to hold onto everything.

Instapaper

I love Instapaper! In contrast to Pinboard, where I stash things that I suspect I’m holding onto for no good reason, Instapaper is where I save articles, journal pieces, short stories, and longer-form media that I’m interested in reading. I’ve built in a habit where every night, before going to bed, I flip through my Instapaper reads and make sure (after reading it) to either archive the piece, send to Omnifocus for some action item, or send to Evernote to inform a project that I’m working on..

Reeder

Most people don’t use RSS readers any more, but I think they’re still relevant and important tools for those of us seeking to exit the echo chamber of “news that bubbles up” through social media. Reeder is my app of choice, and I read it once in the morning, and once after work to catch up on possible relevant news. In Reeder, I’ve organized my news thusly:

  • Business
  • Design
  • Family
  • Games
  • Hacking
  • Higher Ed
  • Making
  • Outdoors
  • Politics
  • Science
  • Technology

And for those interested, some of my favorite places for news are:


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Subjecting Yourself to Criticism with 360 Reviews

I recently learned about 360 reviews after reading The Right— — and Wrong — —Stuff by Carter Cast, and decided to conduct one on myself. The basic idea of conducting this kind of a review is to subject yourself to the criticism of people who you work with, and who work for you, and discover the weaknesses that you don’t see. Weaknesses are, after all, the things that we’re often ignorant of, and they’re also often the things that cripple us from moving forward and growing as individuals.

A 360 review is typically done in a survey format, with a large amount of Likert scales measuring things like the kind of feedback you give to employees, how clear your instructions are, how reliable you are, etc. There’s also some room for more qualitative forms of data which, for my review, I found quite revealing.

My review revealed a few things that I need to work on. Here are some of them:

  1. I need to work on balancing the amount of work I handle. Or, more importantly, the amount of work I handle and how I let it affect the people around me. I tend to take on lots of tasks and, while I actually handle them quite well, allow the stress levels that I experience as a result affect my management of others and relationships with others. This means, to me, that I need to focus a little more on delegating and taking deeper dives into managing others instead of tackling tasks myself.
  2. While I’m actually pretty good at providing positive feedback, I need to work more on giving constructive feedback on how others can improve. This, I think, is something that I’ve been low-level aware of for a while: I don’t like having to tell people they aren’t doing a good enough job. But, I need to learn how to do that, and do it in a way that doesn’t ruin the spirit or the energy that I try to engender: a positive, forward-looking, get your job done kind of attitude.
  3. I should try to remember why I’m so passionate about the things that got me where I’m at in the first place. While I’ve recently poured some energy in developing custom hardware games, getting a HAM radio license, and other personal projects, very few of these things are “without purpose” like the near space project I worked on a few years back. I need to get back to making things, and to making things without purpose or cause or intent: just for fun. This is a kind of “North Star” statement.

What was interesting about running this review was how revelatory it was about weaknesses I wasn’t aware of, and also, how it highlighted some things that I already knew but had been putting off. Asking others around you what they think you need to work on, and doing it in an anonymous way where they feel they can be honest, is a pretty scary thing to subject yourself to. But it’s also quite liberating to know what people think about you, and if you approach a review like this from an honest angle of self-improvement, can help reveal weaknesses that you’ve never noticed.

It’s also an opportunity to help you get back to the basics: I hadn’t realized that I’d left some of my passions by the wayside in my pursuit of “getting the job done,” but people who work with me had. I also had no idea that it was so clear when I was experiencing moments of high stress, but the interesting thing about this is that it’s a critique of a symptom, and it forced me to look further into what my causes of stress were, and how I might rectify them (through delegation and smarter choices in work).

My takeaways here are that it’s important to solicit honest feedback of yourself. It’s also important to understand what that feedback is truly telling you versus what it says on its face. Finally, if the feedback from a survey like this reinforces something you already knew about yourself, it’s time to get working.

If you’re interested in getting started with your own review, look no further than this free template.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus