One of my 3 Words for 2015 was ‘Focus’. To be honest, it’s probably the weakest of the words I chose to guide my 2015, simply because it—ironically—lacks focus. However, I chose it because I think it was my biggest nemesis in 2014.
I won’t go into all of the reasons that focus became such a challenge for me (maybe in a subsequent post), but it’s sufficient to say that I needed a plan to clear out some of my distractions.
Tools Create Distractions
One of the big things I noticed in evaluating some of my key distraction was an abundance of tools. In my quest for organization, efficiency, and…yes…focus I had accumulated and continued to seek a variety of tools. Quite to the contrary of their promise, many of these tools actually increased complexity and friction in my workflow.
Here are a few of the things I noticed:
- It would take me several minutes to set up my workspace—opening all the tools I felt necessary to begin ‘productive’ work.
- I would often have to move (cut and pasting) data and text back and forth between tools.
- I often wasted time looking for where I had worked on or stored important parts of active projects. No exaggeration, I would probably waste up to an hour a day just hunting down assets I needed for projects.
- I found myself adding additional steps for the purpose of ’tracking’ or ‘organizing’ when the task was so simple it could have been completed quickly and was often only incidental to any significant objective anyway.
- I wasted lots of time setting up tools only to abandon or rarely use them.
- I wasted lots of money (a few dollars at a time, often forgotten and charging away every month on my credit card) on a bunch of tools that I rarely, if at all, used.
These observations led me to conclude a key source of my distraction were too many tools. Now for the solution…
Review of Important Workflows
My first step was to look at how I work and what I require to facilitate effectiveness in this work. Here’s what I came up with:
Client Communication - I run a marketing agency. Therefore the core of my business is client communications—collaborating on objectives, projects, deliverables, and outcomes. This communication is typically facilitated through email, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
Team Communication - Second only to client communication, in importance, but certainly number one in volume and frequency is team communication. This back and forth ranges from quick questions to frequent tasking and collaboration on projects.
Project Management - Much of my day is spent on some form of project management. I continue to be heavily involved in the direct management and delivery of many of the projects and services Kaleidico delivers to clients. This work requires me to work and supervise all facets of ongoing client projects and services, as well as have immediate access to the status and assets necessary to facilitate client communication.
Business Development - This is one of the areas where I intend to increase my intensity and focus in 2015. It’s an area where there’s little process or consistency. My work here needs increased discipline and system development.
Business Strategy - When you run a business your mind always needs to be in the big vision. At the same time you need to be continually breaking that vision down into little bite-size tactics. My efforts in this area needs more ‘clarity’ (one of my other 3 Words for 2015) and a process for iteration and refinement.
Business Administration - One of my most hated parts of owning my business. I loathe the administrative details of day-to-day operations. My work in this area needs to be refined to build reports, metrics, benchmarks, and habits that make this part of my work less onerous and more effective.
Content Creation - I love creating content. It is one of the true passions in my business. This work consists of capturing ideas, curative research and related content, outlining, writing, illustrating, and developing new content. This is one area that you can definitely get lost in all of the great tools, but most are full of inefficient workflows and significant friction in the end-to-end content creation process.
That’s what I need to get done. Now, let’s look at the slimmed down list of tools and how I plan to use them.
Review of Necessary Tools
When I reviewed my tools looking for the necessary and discarding the unnecessary I used a very simple set of guiding principles:
- Complete workspaces - Places where I can start, sync, and complete my work.
- Easy collaboration - Most of my work requires collaboration with my team—several of whom are virtual or remote workers. The core tools I work with need to make this collaboration simple and robust.
- Only the features I need - I’m trying to remove distractions. I don’t need a bunch of bells and whistles luring me down new rabbit holes filled with unnecessary configurations and processes.
With these concepts in mind I selected the following principle tools for 2015.
Google Apps - Kaleidico runs on Google Apps and has since adopting it as an early beta tester in late 2006, early 2007. Google Apps is at the core of our client and team communications, document creation and collaboration, and corporate archives. Google continues to improve this suite of business tools and it provides easy compatibility with any clients.
All of our final deliverables—documents, spreadsheets, and presentation—are created and finalized in Google Drive. This process ensures that we have a complete and searchable library of all of Kaleidico’s work products.
Google Apps will continue to facilitate much of the client communications, team communications, and much of my final content creation.
Basecamp - Kaleidico has also been a long-time user of Basecamp. This project management tool is the epitome of optimal feature-sets and collaboration. There is little fluff in this project management software, but exactly what you need to task, collaborate, and manage projects with a distributed team.
Every Kaleidico project goes into and is worked in Basecamp. This gives us a complete archive and record of everything we do for clients at Kaleidico.
Basecamp will continue to be the center of my project management activities.
Evernote - This is a tool that I have been using for many years, but also one that I have had and on again, off again relationship. In 2015, this will become my primary workspace. I selected Evernote to be the place where I spend most of my working time because it offers a lot of advantages for distraction free working. Here are some of the key advantages that convinced me this was my perfect solution:
- Works on and offline, while syncing to all my devices—Mac Air, iPad Mini, and iPhone.
- Allows me to capture ideas, research, and content snippets from anywhere—web browser, Feedly, email, camera, and voice.
- Lets me organize and reorganize in any way that makes sense at the time. I can simple create notebooks, stacks, and tags to put content together to support current and future projects.
- I see potential in the future for key features that I value, like collaboration (work chat and sharing), presentation, and reminders.
Evernote will grow in my workflow. It will begin to facilitate and organize many of my new systems for business development, business strategy, some business administration activities, and the majority of my content creation.
QuickBooks Online - This is another one of those painful necessities. QuickBooks has gone through a very painful (for customers) transition to the cloud from a traditional desktop application. However, for our size and complexity of business it is really the only solution.
To lessen the pain and distraction of this poor tool I have limited my interaction to a few custom reports that I have built to capture the key metrics and drivers of my business. Everything else about this tool is managed by our office manager and accountant—bless their souls.
QuickBooks will continue to be important, but minimal in my daily workflow. I will use it to inform my business strategy streamline my business administration tasks.
Miscellaneous Tools - There are a few miscellaneous accessory tools that warrant mention.
- Snagit – I use this all the time to build specifications, documentation, and content for client and team communication as well as final deliverables and presentations.
- Skype – This is principal means of communication for Kaleidico. It’s not the perfect tool, but it is our primary means of bringing our entire team—virtual and distributed—into a central cohesive work environment.
- Spotify – I started this discussion with the word ‘focus’. When you’re looking to get things done and silence all outside distractions, nothing is better than your favorite play list. Spotify does this better than anything, for me.
That’s it. These are my tools. I’ve banned everything else as an unnecessary distraction.
I plan to spend the majority of my day in Evernote, transitioning to Google Docs to create final deliverables. Basecamp will be the nerve center of our agency; bringing together all of our discussions, tasks, and files—organizing our collaborative workflows towards project completion and delivery.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my tool diet to decrease distractions and increase focus? What would you do different?