Archive for May, 2017

The Frontier Fitness Week

It’s been just over a year since we started our Fitness Initiative (which you can read about here). How did we do so far?

Well, in a word, meh.

Wait, let us explain…

Initially, team members were encouraged to start activities that contributed to their fitness and they did! Several team members joined gyms, took up yoga or just started walking more.

Day 2: We went Cycling/Running

But we believe that no one likes to be forced to do something they don’t want to do and when they are the results are, generally, not great.

So, we put it to the team. We asked each team member if they’d like to “opt-in” for our fitness initiative and this worked out better than expected – only one team member opted out.

 

Working together vs. working alone

Things were moving (get it?), just not enough – and we think we figured out why.

Yes, all team members were encouraged to start some fitness activity individually, but that takes a lot of motivation and effort. We decided to try out group activities, where the team could share each other’s motivation and get moving! (A little bit of friendly competition didn’t hurt either!)

Day 3: More Badminton!

We started small, scheduling weekly walks/runs (again, attendance was voluntary). While motivation was lacking, we figured what you won’t do for yourself, you will do for others. In that light, we asked the team to use our weekly walks as “training” for an upcoming charity run.

This worked out initially, but attendance waned after the charity run passed. We realized that walking wasn’t the kind of exciting “sport” that had people raring to go each week. So, we decided to get a few more options by calling for suggestions from the team. After too many a few anonymous internal surveys, we had a list of activities that the team would like – ranging from badminton and football to cycling and Zumba.

 

Day 4: Because no one wanted to take pictures at Zumba

Enter the Frontier Fitness week.

We decided to try a few of these activities, over the course of a week, during the holiday period in April. As an incentive, we decided to treat all qualifying team members to an unhealthy pizza extravaganza a dinner at the Hilton and with a walk around the Colombo Fort area. How do you qualify? Well, here were the rules:

  1. There will be 5 core activities. Team members need to attend at least 2 of these to qualify.
  2. If at least 3 team members attend all 5 (only one of us did), they would get another treat.
  3. Team members are free to organize their own activities as well.
  4. Each activity needs a minimum of 3 team members to qualify.

Overall, the fitness week was a success!

We played badminton on two days, went cycling, took yet another walk and even tried Zumba! Badminton took the cake, in terms of attendance, but cycling and Zumba were rather popular as well.

Day 5: Rounding it out with a jog!

The fitness week gave us a better understanding of the types of activities the team prefers and has really helped us plan out our future fitness activities (we’ve sprinkled in a few Badminton games amidst all the walking now – #progress).

 

Health is more than just exercise!

We also broadened our vision from just fitness/exercise to overall health. In that respect, we partnered up with Hemas. In case you haven’t heard, Hemas recently released an online “Wellness” platform – offering everything from medical checkups to activity tracking on one platform, with a monthly subscription. We’ve been using the said platform for a few months now and, while the activity tracking hasn’t kicked off with us, we recently concluded our first medical checkup through the platform and came away rather satisfied.

 

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for our next update on the Frontier Fitness Initiative!

 

Stephen Hawking’s Productive Laziness

Productive Laziness. It may sound like a silly oxymoron, but even minds like that of Stephen Hawking practiced it. So, what is it? Read on to find out.

 

In the 1980s, at the height of his intellectual productivity, Stephen Hawking used to head home from his office between five and six. He rarely worked later. Here’s how he explained his behavior to his PhD student Bruce Allen (now a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics):

“Bruce, here’s some advice: The problem with physics is that most of the days we don’t make any major headway (on our projects). That’s why you should do other stuff: listen to music, meet good friends. There’s one exception to this rule: If you find a solution for a given problem, you work 24 hours a day and forget everything else. Until the problem is solved in its entirety.”

I’ve seen this behavior before from other elite level creatives. For them, deep, audacious results are the only currency that matters. The idea of being busy for the sake of being busy in between those big swings seems superfluous.

To be sure, they constantly seek inspiration in reading and daydreams and conversation with other elite producers, but this is a pleasurable background hum that precedes the cacophony instigated by the eventual epiphany.

Most of us are not Stephen Hawking and never will be. I wonder, however, if there’s not a more general lesson lurking for anyone who wants to produce valuable things: go big when the work demands it, but outside those situations leave plenty of time for music and good friends.

 

“Go big” when you need to, but leave time for the other stuff when you don’t (they’re important too!)

For more, check out Cal Newport’s Blog.

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Never Run Another Bad Meeting. Here’s How.

This week, we’re going to talk about meetings (yes, again). More specifically, how you can run a “good” meeting:

 

Many meetings fail because they try to do too much. The problem is that the meeting becomes so jam-packed with stuff that it has no focus; it’s a messy closet where you can’t find the thing you need most. That’s why the most important part of the meeting happens way before it starts. This is when you take time to work on two fundamental elements: Objectives and an agenda.

First, set objectives to create clarity about what the meeting needs to accomplish–your desired outcomes. Limit the number of objectives to one to three (and no more) outcomes that matter most.

But there’s one aspect of meetings that sets them apart from other forms of communication: action. […] After all, you’ve brought people together, in person or virtually, and now they’d like to do something. So if your only objective is to share information, choose another communication channel.

Second, develop an agenda to map out how you’ll accomplish your objectives. Once you’ve set objectives, the best meetings are carefully designed to achieve them. Structure your meeting to have a flow that makes sense, build in opportunities for participants to . . . well, participate, and to manage time so that you get everything done.

As you develop your agenda, think about time differently than the way you usually do. Here’s one key step: build your agenda to devote at least one-third of the time to participation. That means going beyond asking, “Are there any questions?” Instead, stimulate discussion by posing smart questions and allowing plenty of time to explore them.

 

This approach takes time, but at least you’ll never run a bad meeting ever again!

For more on this, including pointers on how to make objectives and develop an agenda, visit Inc.com.

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3 Ways to Make Time for the Little Tasks You Never Make Time For

We’d all like to spend our time at work on high-value activities. But every professional faces a relentless deluge of niggling tasks – be it the overflowing inbox or the articles you really ought to read.

This week, we look at how you can make time for the little things that you never make time for:

 

This low-value work is particularly vexing in light of the Pareto Principle, the adage — now gospel in Silicon Valley and many business circles — that 20% of your activities are responsible for 80% of the value you create. If you can jettison what’s least important, the thinking goes, you can double down on what’s driving your most important contributions.

Indeed, sometimes you can let go of these activities. But you have to recognize, and reconcile yourself to the fact, that there is a price. Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, advocates this approach. “Oftentimes,” he wrote, “in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.”

Perhaps. Though if you work for someone else, rather than being self-employed, the tolerance level for these missed opportunities is a lot lower. If you can’t afford to ignore email or other low-value tasks entirely, and your options for delegating to others are limited, here are three techniques you can use to minimize the pain and get things done.

One possibility is to batch your less important tasks and accomplish them in one fell swoop, creating a sense of momentum.

Another technique, for those who prefer an incremental approach, is the “small drip strategy.” This involves identifying small blocks of time in your schedule (typically 15–30 minutes per day) and matching them with low-value tasks that need to be accomplished. You can look for these scheduling holes serendipitously, or deliberately schedule in a half-hour of grunt work every day, perhaps at the end of the workday, when most professionals’ energy is waning and your ability to do creative thinking has tapered off.

Finally, you could procrastinate strategically. This differs from simply ignoring all incoming email, Tim Ferriss–style. What you do is weigh the value of the opportunity and set your own timeline for handling it. If the timeline happens to work for the other person, it’s a happy coincidence; if it doesn’t, you’ve already reconciled yourself to the possibility of missing out.

 

No matter how productive we become, we’re never going to permanently rid ourselves of low-value work. By following these strategies, we can at least handle it more efficiently and leave more white space in our days for the projects that are truly meaningful.

For more, visit the Harvard Business Review.

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The Global Economy in April

April was characterized by geopolitical tension triggered by tensions between the US and North Korea as well as in the Middle East. Following the chemical weapons attack which killed dozens of people in Syria, the US launched an airstrike on the country in early April. This put a strain on Russian-American relations as Russia denounced President Trump’s decision to use force in Syria. The following week the US dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb targeting an ISIS controlled area in Afghanistan.

Tensions between the US and North Korea escalated during the month with the latter launching ballistic missiles twice. Even though both missile launches failed, it was viewed as a “provocative action” by the country. This led the US to retaliate by taking steps to increase its military presence in the region including staging large military drills with South Korea and Japan. These military interactions in the region caused tensions to rise between China and South Korea as well with China objecting to the deployment of an anti-missile system in South Korea by the US.

Concerns over global trade arose after the Trump administration announced the draft of an executive order withdrawing the US from NAFTA (North Amercian Free Trade Agreement) and after President Trump threatened to renegotiate or terminate the free trade deal with South Korea. However, the administration backed down on its decision to withdraw from NAFTA and later announced that it would look to renegotiate the deal.

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May announced an early general election to be held in June this year – 3 years before it is due. Analysts point out that this is a step taken by the PM to ensure strong parliamentary support in the Brexit negotiation process.

The geopolitical tensions in the Middle East buoyed oil prices in the first half of the month. However, increasing US oil production and doubts over an extension of OPEC production cuts weighed on prices in the second half.

Most Common Productivity Killers in the Workplace – Week 2

Last week, we visited our blog to discuss two of the most notorious productivity killer in the workplace – meetings and surfing the internet.

This week, we look at two more:

 

  1. Email.

If you thought surfing the web was distracting and costly, it can’t really compare at all to the damage wreaked by emails; that friendly modern office constant. We spend on average 37 per cent or 13 whole hours of our work week checking emails. Unnecessary emails and email checking causes businesses losses of around $605 billion annually.

Checking email constantly can be somewhat of an obsessive compulsive tic, even bordering on a disorder for some. Just like web surfing and the lure of social media, email can function as a ‘productive’ distraction as we try to get through a piece of work that requires more focus. Getting around the problem can be tricky.

The first step would be to use a few relatively few days to go through them all, keep what you need and delete the rest. Clear out your trash and work towards that mythical goal of Inbox Zero (It’s not impossible to achieve!). After you get to Inbox Zero you can then start actively managing your email efficiently.

First, avoid checking your inbox all the time. Conventional wisdom advices you to avoid checking email early in the morning as well, as it messes up your focus for the day. When you do check your inbox periodically, make sure you address each of the emails as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Write short, to-the-point responses. And don’t put off responding for later if it’s possible to respond now.

Frontier recently switched to a new work management system called Asana. It has seriously cut down on the amount of email we send internally as all work related communication is carried out on Asana’s clean, efficient platform. Our email is now restricted to additional information and peripheral areas: Clearing up valuable room that ensures cleaner client communications.

  1. Travelling and Commuting.

The most obvious of the four. Yet how many companies have taken active steps to counter the copious amounts of time employees waste getting to and from work? The study estimates that the average commuter spends 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. In Sri Lanka and especially Colombo with the rush hour road blocks intensifying, that number is probably much more.

Telecommuting, i.e. offering employees the opportunity to also work from home is an option many firms consider. At Frontier we have taken things to the next level. Completely abolishing fixed working hours altogether, we only require our team to step into office for meetings, or if they genuinely want to come in and use the premises as a place to work.

How do we get any work done with such a flexible schedule? Being a productive and efficient organisation under any form of cultural context requires constant attention and planning. We have systems like Asana in place to manage workflow and reward our employees strictly on an output basis and not on work hours put in or ‘face time’. So far the system has functioned beautifully and a flexible culture is in fact something that stands at the core of Frontier’s purpose of existence.

 

And there you have it – the most notorious productivity killers at work!

Visit our blog for a recap of all four and check out this handy infographic for a time efficient summary!

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The Story of Time Twister

We are on a mission to solve your “No time” problem and here’s how Time Twister became one of the solutions!

Before Time Twister..

Our team members would spend an inordinate amount of time searching for up-to-date news on the latest Economic, Financial and Political developments, which is a key aspect of any research based firm. Every team member at Frontier used to go through several news sources individually for very similar information, which, in retrospect, was not the best use of our time as a team.

The early days..

We set up a system for some team members to browse through a few critical news sources which were then categorized and prioritized. The news was compiled into a newsletter which was then shared via email with the rest of the team. Interestingly, it was initially called “Amal’s Daily News Update”.

Some fine tuning required..

The email newsletter was a hit, and we started introducing it to our close friends and clients. We received great feedback, which helped develop the product to what you see today. Some of the critical changes that were done include:

Expanding our sources – We found out that many of our clients are starved for information and like to see different perspectives on news stories. Hence our Time Twister newsletter provides an exhaustive coverage of the Economic and Financial market related news which includes almost all the English language Sri Lankan news sources. Recently we started monitoring a few key Sinhala and Tamil newspapers and translating them to be included in the following day’s edition of Time Twister.

Early Delivery time – All our time twister news products are ready and waiting in your inbox by 8 a.m. which is one of its most appealing factors for its readers. We even have an “Early Daily Time Twister” which is sent out before 6 a.m. for those clients who prefer to get a head start on the news

Customization – We learnt that different readers have different information needs. Some like it in one long email, others prefer it broken up in different ways, others would like it only when travelling. We cater to all of these, allowing users to select which flavor of Time Twister they like best.

Time Twister Now..

While our news products may have changed and become more diverse since the days of “Amal’s Daily News Update”, our mission to filter out the noise and give you the most important news in a timely and convenient manner is unchanged.

We call it Time Twister because of its core purpose of saving time. But the name is also reflective of how we “twist” work hours, well away from the norm, to bring you Time Twister as early as possible each day.

‘Science’ (you can call it pseudo-science if you like), has it that human beings function best at different times and, for some, these times are not the usual working hours.

There are what you call Larks, who are morning people, and Owls, who work best at night and are next to useless in the morning.

Time Twister is a product where Larks and Owls make best use of their work-time differences to add value to clients.

Time Twister in numbers..

8 Time Twister team members ensure that you get the news you require, delivered to you 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

1 of them stays up late to capture comments on equity forum discussions, 2 others are up as early as 4.00 a.m. to get the basic version of Time Twister ready, and 2 others are ready at the considerably less peculiar time of 6.00 a.m. for a final source check and update. To ensure that we can overcome any hiccups, we even have 1 person acting as the ‘back-up’! We also have 2 additional team members taking up duty during the weekend to give the rest of the team a well-deserved break.

Looking to the future….

The good news is that we’ll keep improving, taking feedback from team members, clients and friends. Feel free to send us an email or give us a call if you have any suggestions.