“You don’t understand me.” Have you ever felt this way? Misunderstood? It happens often in our places of work, in our relationships or at our homes where most of day to day interactions lack deeper sense of connection, understanding, emotional identification, compassion or feel. In fact very few of us are confident that people they live with or work with can testify that they are good listeners- whether in routine conversations or in very tense situations. Instead of listening to what the other person has to say, we may find ourselves contemplating our next reply. As a result, the other person feels misunderstood and neglected. The hard truth is that few interactions qualify as perfectly empathetic. According to Dr. Bookbinder:
“Only 2% of interactions include acknowledgement of the other, the foundation of all human interactions.”
To understand the other person, you not only need to listen actively but also emphatically. Perfecting the art of emphatic listening is not easy. You may get sloppy if you don’t try hard or get derailed when tense situations show up. The question is how can we listen emphatically? Read more »
How many times did you find yourself postponing a task? Everyone struggles every now and then with procrastination, according to the magazine, Psychology Today:
“Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions—which, unfortunately, are increasingly available”
The question is, how can you re-adjust yourself and harness your mental energy to enable yourself overcome procrastination? Here are few suggestions:

Establish what causes you to procrastinate

There are many reasons that make us enjoy short-term pleasure of putting off certain activities. We need to establish exactly why we procrastinate. The following are number reasons that may make us procrastinate:
  •  General disorganization.
  •  Feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand.
  • Doubting your capabilities.
  • Having a perfectionist mentality
  • Having underdeveloped decision-making capabilities
  • Failure to enjoying the task you’re involved in.
 

Have someone to check up on you.

image1You should never underestimate the power of peer pressure. It works. After all, youcan’t let down your expectant audience. We need to declare your intentions to friends, family members or colleagues. Avoid taking onboard someone you can easily manipulate. Go for someone you will work hard not to disappoint.  

Shun distractions and time wasters.

image2 Just imagine you are goring a project that requires a lot of attention. You are brainstorming hard. Then you get a phone call that snaps you out if your flow. You talk for about thirty seconds, you hung up. Then you start checking what’s happening on your email, twitter and Facebook. Your attention starts to wander and your focus slowly dies off. Sounds terrible? To make it harder for yourself to procrastinate, make it your habit to reduce the available distractions. Know how to break bad habits. Keep your phone off and disconnect Internet connection. Schedule when to check your mails, perhaps three times a day. Isolate yourself as much as possible until the task at hand is done, and done satisfactorily. For instance, you cannot work at home because you have too many distractions, try a coffee shop.

Organize yourself

image3 When you are disorganized, you tend get lost on what task to tackle, at what time and for how long. If disorganization is your problem,
  •  Ensure that you have kept a TO-DO list that allocates time for all of your activities-including the ones that overwhelm you
  •  Use techniques like Pomodoro to instantly increase your productivity.
  • Set yourself time-bound goals.
  • Be a pro in scheduling and planning your project so that no important task is left out.

Break the project down into smaller tasks.

image 4 For your information, the manner in which a task is presented to the brain has an impact on how motivated you will be to take action. A big project can be overwhelming to the mind. So trick your brain into the task by breaking the project down to smaller easy tasks. To prevent your brain from building up resistance to start the project, define which task should start and the order in which subsequent tasks should be executed. Where possible, execute the smaller tasks then proceed to large ones. Smaller tasks are easy to complete. Every time a task is down, the rewarding feeling you develop gives you the much needed momentum to proceed to the next task. On and on until you complete the project.

Never dread deadlines: Use them to your advantage.

image4 People consider deadlines stressful and cumbersome. However, deadlines should not be seen on that perspective. Have you ever worked on a project where timelines bleed on and on? How long did it take to complete the project? Flexible deadlines breed a lazy work-culture. Projects take longer to complete. How useful is a deadline to a project? It makes easy for the client, you or your team to stay focused on end.

 Make the most of the willpower muscle.

  image6 Will power is like a muscle. What you might not know is that the muscle can exhaust more quickly than you might imagine. That means you have lost your ability to self-regulate. If you suspect your will power is fast slipping away, reminding yourself of your values can help invigorate it. Work out your will power muscle to make it stronger. Just like resisting the weights of barbells makes your muscles stronger, so is your will power muscle. Carrying out actions that you would rather avoid doing strengthens your will power despite the inner resistance your body is giving. However, don’t overdo it as overworking muscles weakens them. Do one thing at a time. Give your body and mind time to rest. Take healthy meals that keep your mind energized. Remind yourself why you needed to do the task. The why is great motivator and helps to boost your will power to proceed with doing the task. Besides, doing a mindful meditation will go a long way in regulating your mood and restoring your mental energy. More importantly, always keep your full attention on your activities.

Adopt ‘Time travel’ technique

image 7 Engaging yourself on a task when you are not motivated may lead to procrastination. If you can’t’ get yourself on a task, adopting ‘time-travel’ technique can go a great way in unleashing the inner power that gets you productive. Besides, fast forward the task to the point where you have satisfactorily completed it. Build a vivid mental picture of your fully completed project. Immerse yourself completely into that state. Don’t you experience a surge in mental energy? Well, now that you know, enjoy the perks that come with getting it done. So next time you find yourself stuck in “don’t feel like it’, try time traveling in your imagination. It works big time.

Procrastination is not a cognitive disorder but a learned mental disposition that makes people postpone tasks. Overcoming procrastination is not a one-day affair. It takes time for the habit to die off. So if you find yourself putting off tasks, don’t sit down and wish that it will end soon. Start the fight. Learn how to manage your time properly. Use the power of time travel. Shun distractions. Win gracefully. What other ideas do you have for overcoming procrastination? We would like to hear from you.

As part of my work on WeekPlan, I constantly try to find ways to help people be more effective.

Being more effective comes from identifying what matter most and working on it. But what should you do with the things that are not that important and yet still need to get done?

Before working on WeekPlan, I created the outsourcing marketplace TaskArmy (http://taskarmy.com) to help people leverage the world of outsourcing.

I have always been passionate about finding ways to use my time meaningfully and I think that outsourcing can help tremendously.

But I understand that starting outsourcing from scratch can seem daunting.

  • What can a personal assistant do?
  • How to find the right person?
  • How much should you pay?
  • How can you collaborate with that person effectively?

I am going to answer these questions.

What a personal assistant can do for you

First of all, please understand that you can outsource almost anything (web development, cooking, cleaning, shopping, delivery, etc…). Today I am going to focus on helping you find an online personal assistant: someone who can do general admin tasks and support you everyday.

If you are an entrepreneur, I have already discussed the various ways you can use an assistant in your business in this blog post: http://aymeric.gaurat.net/2012/tasks-a-virtual-assistant-can-do-for-an-online-entrepreneur/

If you are a busy individual, you will need to work out why you are so busy. Usually busy individuals tend to overcommit, even to things that aren’t that important to them. To avoid being busy, the first step is to be picky with what you commit to.

Second, you need to identify which tasks you find taxing. The tasks that you have a hard time doing and procrastinate the most. These tasks will drain your energy and are great candidates for elimination, automation or delegation.

Third, once you have a list of wasteful activities, you can try to solve these problems with three actions: elimination (just stop doing them, remove yourself from the commitment of doing them), automation (automate the payment of your bills, ask for home delivery of your groceries, etc…), and delegation.

Delegation is where your personal assistant can help. Anything that cannot be automated may be outsourced. For example, finding the cheapest flight ticket is hard to automate but if you can express your needs clearly, someone can spend the time finding the right flights for you.

You need to see your personal assistant as an building block in your productivity system. Look at the tasks you do, which one should be eliminated / automated / delegated?

How to find the right person

In today’s world, finding a personal assistant is very easy. Dozens of websites will help you find one.

Some of my favourites are http://taskarmy.com/virtual-assistance-outsourcing (of course) and http://odesk.com Why I recommend you to check TaskArmy out is because the personal assistants there are manually screened before being listed on the website. Some have actually been screened by me directly! So the quality of the work you will receive should be higher than on oDesk but oDesk has the largest numbers of assistants listed (= more choices).

When I was looking for a personal assistant, I would look favorably for people from the Philippines. Most can speak English, they are generally trustworthy, and have very competitive rates (starting at $2 per hour!).

How much does it cost?

A general admin virtual assistant from the Philippines or India costs around $5 an hour.

If you need to outsource software development, it starts at around $12 per hour (look for freelancers in Eastern Europe).

I like paying per hour because I only pay for what I need. A month, you might only need 10 hours worth of work ($50), and some other months, you might need more. It is great to know that you have a personal assistant available to take some work off your list.

How can you collaborate with your assistant effectively?

This is where people fail when outsourcing for the first time. Outsourcing is learned skill.

People get outsourcing wrong for many reasons: they give tasks as if their assistants could read their mind (not clear enough). They lack cultural sensitivity (certain cultures will resist telling you that something is wrong. Or they expect their personal assistant to be excellent at everything for $5 per hour.

Outsourcing is a learned skill, and you need to start small to reduce the risks involved in outsourcing (time wasted, money spent, etc…).

Start with tasks that have no deadline or quality requirements grow from there.

I would like to give you a few tips that have worked wonders for me.

My #1 tip comes from the IT industry: ask your assistant to send you a daily update of what was worked on and what is coming next.

I found these emails were a great opportunity for me to ask questions, clarify certains requirements and identify issues.

My second tip is to build the relationship with your assistant. Some people see their assistant as nothing more than just an email address you send stuff to. A good way to not fall in the trap is by having weekly Skype video calls.

Last tip: train your assistant by recording videos. Videos are a great way to show something and they often take less time to record than the equivalent text page with images. On Windows, I use Open Broadcaster Software (https://obsproject.com/) and I hear that Screenflow is great for Mac users (not free though).

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I hope this article gave you enough information and motivation to start outsourcing. If you have any question regarding this topic, just leave a comment.

Thanks! 

Weekly Status Report

 

Summary

I finished writing a 30 pages ebook that explains the methodology behind WeekPlan. I am currently asking for feedback to polish the ebook. The goal is to send the ebook to people who signed up on the mailing list a long time ago to “warm up” the relationship with WeekPlan a bit.

We welcomed a new team member in the development team. Khurram has started helping us by writing more automated tests.

I spent some time clarifying some of the incoming work. Having three developers helping me means that things should go faster and I don’t want the requirements to be the bottleneck.

Lots of bugs have been squashed and some usability issues have been ironed out.

A new feature that has been added is the ability to @mention someone in a task notes or comment. The @mention will add that person to the task.

I have decided to start a new experiment. I will document what has been worked on this week in a weekly status blog post.

The idea is to show the progress made, and to document how we use WeekPlan to manage WeekPlan.

 

Weekly Status for WeekPlan

 

Summary

The biggest focus was killing usability issues and publishing the app to multiple appstores.

WeekPlan can be found on the Windows Phone store, the Windows store, the Opera marketplace, the Firefox marketplace and the Amazon appstore.

Work has continued on new features for teams, like allowing @mentions and showing the time in the local time of the user.

When I was a student, I was too lazy to write entire journal entries but I still wanted to develop my self awareness.

In my journal, I would write just a few keywords that best described what was on my mind at the time instead of writing a full blown entry.

That’s how the concept of Cogitorama was born.

The name Cogitorama comes from the latin “cogito” (thought) and the greek “-orama” (see).

I guess you could see it a bit like the Twitter of journaling, you keep the essential of journaling.

Let me give you an example, my cogitorama for today would be:

+australia +weekplan -bangkok -tired -hot

(As you can see, I am not a big fan of Bangkok…)

I prefix the positive keywords with a +, and the negative ones with a –.

 

The Cogitorama extension for Week Plan

In WeekPlan, you can enable an extension to be able to use the Cogitorama concept, it looks like that:

Cogitorama

Positive keywords are in green, negative in red.

The keywords that are used more regularly get shown bigger. Also, there is a global positivity score for the day to show you how you are feeling over time.

 

I hope some of you will find it useful!