All posts in Friday Focus

The One Easy Daily Habit That Makes Life More Awesome

Last week, we shared a video on one man’s equation of happiness.

This week, we’ll look at one of the easiest things you can do to live a happier life in this piece by Laura Vanderkam:

 

In the late spring of 2012, I created a file on my laptop called “Best Summer Ever.” Each day, I’d write down at least one quirky, memorable, or fun thing that happened. Some research backs up the idea that writing down good things can improve your life; Fast Company recently included keeping a gratitude journal in its roundup of 10 Simple Science-Backed Ways to be Happier Today.

The idea behind my Best Summer Ever list is that I wanted specific evidence–evidence that would conjure up detailed memories–that I had an awesome life.

Sure enough, as I started gathering data every day on why I was having my best summer ever, 2012 did indeed shape up to be the best summer of my life (so far!). So I kept a similar list this summer. The highs have not been as high, but still, looking at a random day and remembering that I went for a bike ride, a trail run, and a swim (a “tri” day!) makes me pretty happy.

And this is the more important takeaway: If I’m having a kind of blah day, I am forced to sit there and think, What would I want to write down on my list? I need to think of something, and so I conjure up a way to create a happy memory. Even something as simple as concocting the world’s best milk shake from the lemon gelato a party guest left in our freezer and some fresh strawberries and blueberries can be enough to rescue a day.

Life happens whether we are mindful of it or not, and being mindful of the quirky, the fun, and the meaningful makes these things stand out more in the mosaic of one’s time. We see what we’re looking for and, as I’m reminded every day, writing things down can help us see.

 

We are more or less trained to focus on bad experiences, while taking the good for granted. So write down a few good things to remind yourself that life is pretty great!

For more like this and beyond, visit Fast Company.

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The Equation of Happiness

How would you define happiness?

This week, we break from our usual format and bring you a video!

 

Click here to see Mo Gawdat, an Executive at Google, describe his “equation of happiness” on Channel 4 News.

 

“Happiness is not about what the World gives you […], happiness is about what you think about what the World gives you” – Mo Gawdat

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

“Start with Why” by Simon Sinek: Useful Insights by Amal Sanderatne – Week 2

Last week, we looked at whether it was enough to have a great WHY and why it is so difficult to describe your companies WHY.

This week, we return to our blog, for a few more of our CEO, Amal Sanderatne’s handpicked insights into Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start with why’:

 

“WHY” people need “HOW” people to succeed

“WHY types have the power to change the course of industries or even the world, if only they knew HOW.

WHY-types are focused on the things most people can’t see, like the future. HOW-types are focused on things most people can see and tend to be better at building structures and processes and getting things done

HOW-types don’t need WHY-types to do well. But WHY-guys, for all their vision and imagination, often get the short end of the stick. Without someone inspired by their vision and the knowledge to make it a reality, most WHY-types end up as starving visionaries, people with all the answers but never accomplishing much themselves.”

Bill Gates, for example, may have been the visionary who imagined a world with a PC on every desk, but Paul Allen built the company. Steve Jobs is the rebel’s evangelist, but Steve Wozniak is the engineer who made the Apple work. Jobs had the vision, Woz had the goods.

“HOW” people can be successful Entrepreneurs but not change the course of industries.

“Although so many of them fancy themselves as visionaries, in reality most successful entrepreneurs are HOW-types. Ask an entrepreneur what they love about being an entrepreneur and most will tell you they love to build things. That they talk about building is a sure clue that they know HOW to get things done. A business is a structure—systems and processes that need to be assembled. It is the HOW-types who are more adept at building those processes and systems. But most companies, no matter how well built, do not become billion-dollar businesses or change the course of industries. To reach the billion-dollar status, to alter the course of an industry, requires a very special and rare partnership between one who knows WHY and those who know HOW.”

The exercise of trying to figuring out the “WHY”  and  “HOW” helped me understand and prioritize what I need to do for myself and frontier.

At the end, after reading through the book, what I realized is that it’s not about incorporating a WHY into a purpose statement as I was originally trying hard to do, but rather about communicating that WHY in a broader way through all our communication as well as making sure the HOW happens and is reflective of the WHY.

 

And there you have it! So, next time just remember to ‘Start with why’

For a recap of these insights, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

“Start with Why” by Simon Sinek: Useful Insights by Amal Sanderatne – Week 1

Last week, we looked at our CEO, Amal Sanderatne’s thoughts on Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start with why’ and how that related to finding Frontier’s WHY.

This week, we go into more depth with Amal’s handpicked insights from the book:

 

To fully grasp Sinek’s concept we need to identify the WHY, HOW and WHAT in a COMPANY. The following extract from the book helps us visualize these elements:

“Sitting at the top of the system, representing the WHY, is a leader; in the case of a company, that’s usually the CEO (or at least we hope it is). The next level down, the HOW level, typically includes the senior executives who are inspired by the leader’s vision and know HOW to bring it to life. Don’t forget that a WHY is just a belief, HOWs are the actions we take to realize that belief and WHATs are the results of those actions. In this rendering the HOW level represents a person or a small group responsible for building the infrastructure that can make a WHY tangible. Beneath that, at the WHAT level, is where the rubber meets the road. It is at this level that the majority of the employees sit and where all the tangible stuff actually happens.”

Why is it so Hard to describe “WHY”?

  • The Brain makes it hard

“The Limbic brain comprises of the middle two sections and is responsible for all our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. This area of the brain is responsible for all human behaviour and all our decision making. It is where our emotional connection takes place, and it has no capacity for language. It is this disconnection between these areas of the brain that makes it so difficult to articulate our feelings.

  • Because it’s a “Founder’s Why “ and the company is just one way of expressing it

Shows Bill Gates as someone whose “WHY” in life is to remove obstacles to ensure that everyone can live and work to their greatest potential. Now he still believes that if we can help people, this time those with less privilege, remove some seemingly simple obstacles, then they too will have an opportunity to be more productive and lift themselves up to achieve their great potential.

A comment I have is, this is a look-back, historical way of bringing everything together. I don’t think Bill Gates ever thought about his WHY when he started Microsoft or would articulate his current WHY the same way as Sinek has implied his “WHY” is now.  But it’s not a criticism, because again, it is something inherent, not something that can be communicated easily.

Is it enough to have a great “WHY”?

No.

 

Next week, we’ll go over two more of Amal’s insights.

Visit our blog for more like this.

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“Start with Why” by Simon Sinek: My Reflections by Amal Sanderatne

WHY do you do what you do? It’s an important question that many struggle to find the answer for. In the words of Simon Sinek – “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

This week, we return to our blog, to share our CEO, Amal Sanderatne’s thoughts on Frontier’s WHY:

 

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” – Simon Sinek

Inspired by these words I’ve been trying to improve Frontier’s purpose statement in relation to it, to incorporate WHY Frontier exists, but found it quite difficult to pin down one clear reason.

Then, I read the book. Though it was badly written and very repetitive it was only after reading the book, with its specific examples that I understood the reason why articulating it was so hard and in fact that it is not important to “directly” put it into a grand “purpose statement”.

The real message for me is the importance of communicating your “WHY” in different ways as opposed just having it written in a document, giving it primacy in your communication and with that taking the actions (the HOW’s) needed to realize the “WHY”.

In a small segment of the book, he talks about where this fits in a public declaration “The vision is the public statement of the founder’s intent, WHY the company exists. It is literally the vision of a future that does not yet exist. The mission statement is a description of the route, the guiding principles—HOW the company intends to create that future.”

Thus for me, what I could try to say is I that I believe in the primary value of time as our most precious and finite resource. Therefore, I believe that anyone dealing with me or Frontier should be making the best use of their time. And we must strive to ensure that this belief is reflected in our HOWs (the way we do things) and that this is communicated properly to all stakeholders.

 

Next week, we’ll go over, in more detail, some of Amal’s thoughts on Simon’s book ‘Start with why’.

For more like this, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

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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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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Most Common Productivity Killers in the Workplace – Week 1

This week we return to our blog to explore the most common productivity killers in the workplace.

Data recently released by Pulp PR broke it down to four main things that today’s offices are unfortunately too full of. At Frontier Research we too have found ourselves grappling with these issues as we try to manage our resources in the most effective manner.

The following will hopefully set out some useful best practices and our experiences when it comes to key productivity killers at work.

 

  1. Meetings and conference calls.

The study found that an average person spends up to 5.6 hours in meetings per week and according to a 2012 www.salary.com survey 47 per cent of respondents said that meetings were the biggest waste of time at the office.

37 Signals, the web design company and a leader in workplace innovations with bestselling books on the subject, believes that there’s nothing more toxic to productivity than a meeting. Here are a few reasons they give:

Meetings break your work day into small, incoherent pieces that disrupt your natural workflow. They’re usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things (like a piece of code or some interface design), they usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute, they often contain at least one person who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense, they drift off-subject easier than a Chicago cab in heavy snow, they frequently have agendas so vague nobody is really sure what they are about, they require thorough preparation that people rarely do anyway.

For those times when you absolutely must have a meeting (this should be a rare event), 37 Signals recommends these simple rules: Set a 30-minute timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period. Invite as few people as possible. Never have a meeting without a clear agenda (excerpts from 37 Signals’ ‘Getting Real’).

At Frontier Research, we recently took steps to cut down on our meetings, we now only have two hours of dedicated meeting time per week called ‘cooking time’; two hours on one working day in which we try to meet and finish discussing all strategy and other matters that we need to talk about for the week. At other times we like to keep meetings to a necessary minimum. Individual teams decide how much meeting time they need, and also decide how much time individual members need to be at office for the week. Overall we’re finding the exercise quite productive so far. Having just two hours a week forces us to focus more strongly on the things we need to get done.

  1. Surfing the Internet.

64 per cent of employees visit non-work related websites everyday and 3 out of 4 employees use Facebook at work, spending an average of one hour per day on the social networking site. The study estimates that web surfing at work costs businesses a whopping US$200 billion every year.

At Frontier we usually find that a free-reign in terms of Internet usage yields good results since we operate on a task basis, and empower employees to make best use of their times. We educate them on tools to better manage their work and social media use (and abuse) such as browser plug-ins that will allow you to make your own decision about what sites to block and for how long.

The Internet is almost an extension of the brain to the ‘millennial’ i.e. the new generation. And companies using policies of censorship can sometimes be perceived as being disrespectful and unaware of the ‘new norm’ of how things are done. Perhaps a dialogue as opposed to an autocratic approach to collectively managing Internet use in the office may yield better results.

 

That’s it for this week! Tune in next time when we run through two more productivity killer in the workplace!

For more, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!