Measure your day. It might surprise you.

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/hippie/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/hippie/

Which daily tasks are important?

We all have a routine. Whether it is checking email, talking to office mates over morning coffee, or going to the gym, we organize our lives into a series of rituals to make sense of things. And which of these things are not very important?

I talk to customers frequently and would love more feedback in whether they find our conversations useful. Yet many of the most satisfied customers never tell us.

Try Something New.

The easiest way to find out whether something is important is to stop doing it and see if you (or anyone else) notices. If you get into the habit of asking yourself to evaluate your everyday routine and picking one thing every week to change or stop, you’ll have 52 chances every year to effect change.

In the case of customer contacts, it’s hard to know whether building a habit with any single customer is effective because they don’t contact you that often. Looking at the results across a cohort of customers will give you a better view into whether a habit – like calling the customer after every first interaction – drives results against bottom line metrics like The overall customer satisfaction rate.

Change isn’t only stopping things, of course. You can also start doing things. This one’s often a bit trickier to measure, because you don’t know whether you are starting a recurring habit or just doing a one-time task. So take a quick swag: how will you know when the task is done, and what’s the output you are hoping to achieve? If it works, do it again. Eventually, it will become a habit.

Finding other people who care about customers and talking to them is an important habit for me. Please reach out and say hello!

You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.

Take a moment to say hello today

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photo by Richard Rinaldi

We all live in our cocoons – our preferred foods, music, routes we take to work, and perhaps even the ideas we take for granted.

What would happen today if you said hello to someone you didn’t know yet, or someone you haven’t talked to in far too long? It might be great – you learn that the person missed you and it feels like yesterday since you last talked. It might feel weird – maybe you don’t have much in common anymore. Or it might feel human – like someone is taking the time to get in touch and is reaching out.

Photographer Richard Rinaldi is taking this human contact to a new level by asking strangers to pose as if they knew and liked each other – there’s a video here – and the result gives the subjects gratitude and a human connection.

What does Rinaldi’s work suggest? Reach out to strangers and people you don’t know very well. The results might surprise you – you might end up feeling more alive.

Routines can get routine

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It’s easy to get in a routine. Right now I’m in my normal commute: get up, head to the park and ride, and take a bus to Seattle. But routines can get routine.

A friend sent me an email today asking why I was having trouble maintaining a commitment to a project – it’s a 100 blog post challenge – and I realized that the reason was that the idea was not yet a daily task. But the sum of doing interesting and meaningful work is not just daily tasks – it’s creating actual value that you share with others.

So my routine has gotten too routine – in fact writing is the perfect way to introduce more thinking into my mornings and not just more task completion. Doing is necessary but not sufficient to create real value.

Routines are necessary too. Without them you wouldn’t reliably get from one place to another in a timely manner. And they are also a trap – complete the routine for too long without questioning it and it becomes a self-reinforcing loop that doesn’t take in enough information to expand and grow and change. Thanks, Mr. Spinks, for the reminder.

Make your commute into “go time”

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/bottleleaf/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/bottleleaf/

This essay is a contribution to the Startup Edition essay project. See other essays here.

At 7:30 every morning, where are you? Are you in traffic, or just getting into your car? The bus, the train, or the carpool can be your “go time”, combining getting to work with one of the most productive times of your day. You could spend the 30 minutes of the average commute reading a book, catching up on the latest Facebook posts, or get yourself ready to have a really productive day.

In my experience, having a routine for your morning removes choices, makes it easier to focus, and gives you a system that you can repeat and iterate upon to get continuous improvement in your routine to get better. All of our routines are different – here’s what I do to make the commute more effective. First, I review any urgent and important items that arrived via email overnight. Second, I review the list of items I thought were most important on the previous day. And third, I review the email digests and social pings that contain interesting news and articles of the day.

Reviewing urgent and important items is a given – and probably “table stakes” for most people – meaning just the ability to respond to the decisions that your team members are asking you to complete. What makes this activity great for the commute is that by responding to these items and making quick decisions, you train yourself to spend less time deliberating on “the perfect thing to do” and more time expressing “the best decision I can make right now with the information I have at the time.” If you can get more efficient with these decisions, you can make similar “bursts” of activity throughout your day. Time elapsed: 10 minutes.

Yesterday’s “most important items” are probably still important today, which is why you should make sure you got them done. Spending a few minutes to review the incomplete items from yesterday and mentally checking off what you will do to march those same things forward today is an excellent way to spend the next portion of your commute. If there are new items in the top of that list, you should put them there as well – having a stack-ranked list tells you where you should spend your time. Time elapsed: 20 minutes.

Finally, take a quick spin though the email digests you’ve probably received. If you don’t see a great link at least once a week, you might need to unsubscribe from that email list. Using a service like Sanebox will also help you to save time by sorting your email into convenient folders for bulk mail, top responders, and items you just want to deal with later. And you can also use a mail client like Mailbox to snooze anything you can’t review yet for your evening commute.

This routine won’t work for everyone (for example, those who are driving themselves to work), so here are the key takeaways to making your commute time your personal “Go Time”: 

  1. Pick something that you’re going to do every day – and make sure it help you perform at your best later in the day. Whether it’s listening to a podcast, looking out of the window, or responding to the most important requests from your team, you can get better at it.
  2. Follow that routine even when you don’t feel like it – there will be some days when you just want to play that new shiny game, or whatever the equivalent of the new shiny is in your life – and following your routine will help you to stay focused more often.
  3. Keep going. It’s not easy, and it pays dividends for the rest of your day if you can set a routine and stick to it. Your focus will help you respond when there are unexpected things later in your day.

This essay is a contribution to the Startup Edition essay project. See other essays here.

 

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