A 4-point plan for managing information better…

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There’s no hiding from the fact that each and everyone one of us is overloaded with information. The sheer amount of available information can be crippling, and can severely impact upon not only our productivity levels but our health levels too.

An obvious way to try and combat information overload is to simply restrict the amount of information you have to deal with. However, while you do of course need to identify the relevant and useful information from the pointless; I believe the problem is not so much to do with the amount of information we have to deal with, but the way in which we actually do deal with it.

Therefore, I strongly believe that improving how you manage information has the greatest affect on helping to combat information overload. You’ve only got to look at email for evidence of this…

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m far from being email’s biggest fan – and thanks to Slack and the way in which I and my team work, email doesn’t have the same strangle hold over me as it seems to have with those that I know working in the corporate world. Anyway, after haven spoken to some friends – the ones who had the biggest gripes with email – what quickly became apparent was how they had no real approach in place when it came to managing their emails. Amongst other things, they’d send and reply to emails sporadically, cc in pretty much everyone who they thought the information was relevant to, inefficiently file emails away, and send emails when another form of communication would have instead been better suited.

In fact, we’ve actually put together a blog post that identifies the behaviours you need to change in order to help deal with email overload, which you can find here.

The four points I’m now going to introduce, when followed, will help to make it easier for you to use information, and therefore you wont feel weighed down by it – leading ultimately to increased productivity and importantly, success.

1. Collections

This is all about putting similar items together in one place. Someone once said to me collections are great because:

They combine the power of lists with the power of themes

It’s a good way of looking at collections and paints a clear picture of what they should be.

For example, you could have a collection of:

  • Great articles that you’ve found on a specific topic of interest
  • Possible ideas for your next passion project
  • Design inspiration for your bathroom at home

You could therefore use old school tools, such as a notebook, to build a collection of possible ideas for your next passion project. Or you could use a Social Media network, such as Pinterest, as a way to store design inspiration for your bathroom at home (Pinterest boards are your collections). Or other digital platforms could be used, such as Skim.it (apologies for the shameful plug) as a way to house and share all of the great articles that you’ve found on a specific subject area.

A couple of pointers to follow for your collections…

  1. Add some form of order to a collection. By that I mean house the contents alphabetically or chronologically – it’s important for retrieval. This is where digital tools come into their own, as they will take care of the ‘ordering’ of your content for you, and they’ll also likely offer you the ability to search within a collection too.
  1. Don’t worry about things appearing in different collections. Digital storage is inexpensive. You just need to make sure you can find the information quickly when you need to.
  1. Ideally try to avoid hiding collections within collections. By keeping things flat, you wont run the risk of hiding information and forgetting about it. You know the saying out of sight, out of mind? It’s a saying for good reason…

 

2. Ensure you know the purpose of the information

Information is only of value when it helps you to achieve something. Therefore when dealing with a new piece of information it’s best to identify whether you will be using the information almost straightaway and regularly to do something (important), or you’re simply storing it for reference to do something at a later date (less important).

By following the above approach, it not only makes it easier and quicker to store information, as you know where you should be placing it; but the important information will be kept at the top and so front of mind and easier to retrieve.

I find it helpful to make sure important information (the stuff – at that moment in time – I’m regularly needing to access) stands out from the rest of my information. I also ensure really important information is kept brief, containing just key things, as this information will predominantly just act as a summary and a gateway to further information – top of mind, easy to find, quick to action.

 3. Tidying up your information

What I’ve seen happen many times, and it’s a behaviour I’m too often guilty of but getting better with, is starting with good intentions by setting up a pretty solid structure for managing information, only to then let it get, well, a little messy.

You need to tidy up after yourself, which you can do pretty easily when you focus on four key things:

  • Place what was once important information (the stuff you needed to regularly access) into collections of less important information for storage.
  • Don’t be a hoarder. Get rid of any old information you no longer need.
  • Evaluate the structure of your information. Does it need updating? Your situation, role, or type of projects may be better served by changes to the way your information is structured.
  • Importantly, give yourself time for tidying up. Much like a Sunday morning might be when you give the flat a little tidy up, set a side regular blocks of time for when you sort your information out.

 

4. Identify the correct tools to use for information management

When it comes to information management, I believe tools can be found in three main camps:

  1. tools that help you to discover relevant information
  2. tools that help you to store and organise relevant information
  3. tools that help you to share – and collaborate on – relevant information

To the best of my knowledge there isn’t a single tool that effectively allows you to do all three of the above functions well – for all types of information – and I don’t think it is likely there will be one anytime soon. You therefore need to carefully select your tools, based on recommendations and then simply by trying them. Ideally, keep it simple with a small set of core tools.

For example, I use Feedly as a tool to discover new information, Skim.it – you knew that was coming 😉 – as a tool to store, organise and share my information, and Trello as a way to provide some order and to keep important information top of mind and easy to access – especially so when working collaboratively with the rest of my team.

 Conclusion

I hope my thinking on how to manage information has provided you with some food for thought as to how you could maybe improve the way you manage yours.

There isn’t really a one-size fits all approach to information management, you just need to find what works best for you. And when I say ‘what works best’ I mean when your information management approach makes it easy for you to use information, and so you get to see information for what it truly is – a massive help, not as a hindrance.

In the information age we now live in, those that best deal with information to help continually build and shape their knowledge, are those who will win in the future of work.

How do you manage your information? I’d love to know. That’s the other thing about information and knowledge – It’s real power and usefulness comes when it is shared…

Cheers

Lloyd

Why I think lifelong learning is more important than ever. And how you should go about doing it.

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I’m under 30 years of age, so in career terms many would still class me as being relatively young. But during my – so-called – short-lived time, I’ve already had three separate – but nearly all related – careers.

Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to have experienced this type of career path. And I do believe, what with the world of work changing in the way it is – predominantly through new technologies and new generations – the career path I have described above, will likely become the norm.

Instead of rising through the ranks, taking the pre-determined ‘secure’ career route. Careers, I think, will involve more radical progression; transitions, pivots (yep, that word), even complete career reinventions – these are what will be required to build a successful and importantly, interesting career in the future of work.

I recently read (and skimmed) an article that touched upon the importance of pivoting in your career. Within it, the author used an analogy that really resonated with me, and I’m sure will do so with you too.

Think of your career like a smart phone not a ladder: your education and your upbringing is your out-of-the-box model, and it’s up to you to download the apps that will help you feel fulfilled and build an energising body of work. Just as with your phone, it’s important to recharge, clear clutter, and upgrade your entire Operating System when you outgrow the original.

(Jenny Blake, Pivot 2016)

I think the above quote brilliantly depicts how we should now be viewing our careers. And along with my views that I opened this article with, I’ve hopefully sufficiently set the scene to lead into what I think is the most important ingredient needed for a successful career: (although the biggest clue is in the title…)

LEARNING. Well, more specifically ‘LIFELONG LEARNING’.


Why is lifelong learning so important?

It’s safe to say, the concept of lifelong learning isn’t a new one. We each – perhaps unwittingly – partake in it to some degree. For example, away from work and as a consumer, you are continually learning how to use new or changing pieces of technology, or maybe even learning how to make a new food dish to hopefully impress your other half with.

Your other half may become merely disappointed if your ‘dinner repertoire’ never truly expands beyond a few basic dishes. But if this approach to learning is also seen within your professional life, then you can expect to experience far more serious repercussions  – especially so now, for a number of key reasons:

  1. Technology

Technology is permeating near enough every aspect of work. Processes and ways of working are being revolutionised through digital technologies – apps, the use of wearable devices etc. Failure to master the use of these new technologies can severely impact upon your ability to perform your role at the level required. You therefore face the very real danger of getting ‘left behind’ during the digital transformation of your organisation.

Technological developments are not only helping to improve the way you carry out parts of your role, they also threaten to carry out your role in its ENTIRETY.

Groundbreaking advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence are helping to usher in the ‘automation era’. An era where, any role that can be automated – carried out by machines – will be. And the amount of roles this applies to will only ever increase in number due to the growing intelligence of machines.

Machines are learning. You need to outlearn them in order to survive.

One other thing technology has done is helped to improve the accessibility of learning. For example Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) have revolutionised learning, with there being no limit to the amount of people who can take part in specific learning courses. Improved access to learning is of course great. But on the flip side, it also means others – those you will be competing with for work/jobs – have the same opportunities to learn as you do.

Others are learning. You need to outlearn them in order to survive.

 

  1. Knowledge is the primary source of value in today’s world

Innovation has become the only sustainable competitive advantage for today’s organisations and so a key driver for business success. Innovation is achieved through the application of knowledge, meaning innovation and knowledge are intertwined – that’s why I’m a big fan of the following quote:
The only long-term sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster than your competitors.

(Arie de Geus, Former head of Strategic Planning for Royal Dutch/Shell Oil)

The above quote holds even more significance due to the rapidly shrinking life of knowledge, known as the ‘half-life of knowledge’. The half-life of knowledge is basically the time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete.

Where once the life of knowledge was viewed in decades, it is now measured in months and years. Another clear reason why lifelong learning is required…

We are on the cusp of the most dramatic change to the world of work that there has ever been. The best way to cope with the expected change is to plan and prepare for it. That is why lifelong learning is so important. Now I’m going to touch upon how best to do it.


My top 11 lifelong learning tips (the one’s I use)

 

  1. Learn with purposeMuch like any business should have a clear business roadmap in place, so too should you as an individual. By identifying what it is you want to achieve, it will become clear as to what you need to learn in order to do so.

    2. Don’t rush into learning. 

    Identifying want you want to achieve and then the best way of doing so, isn’t something that you can quickly and easily do. Take the time to be sure that the learning you are about to invest in is best suited to satisfying your roadmap’s objectives.

    3. Learn as you do

    The best way of learning is to ‘learn as you do’ by being an active part in the learning process. It’s why you should give yourself a real world problem to solve – a problem that is tied to a learning goal. It’s why passive learning, the type where someone merely tries to impart his or her knowledge onto you in a lecture-like one-way type of approach, isn’t the best way of learning.

    The more involved you are in the learning process the better. Even when undertaking online learning courses, you should be solving problems to learn, not just consuming content. It goes back to that age-old quote from Benjamin Franklin:

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn

  1. Get yourself a side project. Linked to ‘learning as you do’, undertaking a side project will allow you to continually solve real world problems that are linked to your specific learning goals. It’s why a side project is also a great vehicle to use to propel you along your career path – one that can even transform into your career.

    5. Try to apply your new knowledge immediately and regularly 

    Knowledge gained from learning can be easily lost when it is not immediately and continually applied. Regularly applying knowledge also provides you with the opportunity to further enhance your learning, by understanding and analysing the outcomes and feedback. It’s why you should also not fear failure or criticism – they are crucial components of effective learning.

    6. Do more collaborative learning.

    Giving a good enough answer as to why I think you should do more collaborative learning is beyond the scope of this article, but something I will cover in the future.

    Briefly put, I find collaborative learning particularly beneficial because the opinions and ideas of others often force me to rethink my viewpoint, which invariably leads to better ideas/answers and in doing so, improving my learning experience.

    I’m also able to learn from others when I’m not even a part of the collaborative process. The outcomes from collaboration can be shared through social technologies, from which conversations and collaboration can continue, meaning learning is on going.

    7. Make time.

    Hopefully you should know that ‘I don’t have time to learn’ is utter rubbish. It’s the grown up way of saying ‘I can’t be bothered’. Those who do find themselves using a lack of time as an excuse, likely do so because they’re organisational and time management skills require improvement.

    Adding time to your day by dragging yourself out of bed that little bit earlier, is also another great way to make time for learning, as it has less of an impact on your other professional and personal commitments.

    Another great way to maximise your time, is to identify pockets of time that you could make better use of. The commute is one of these. I turn to podcasts when on my commute. You should give it a go, if you’re not already doing so.

    8. You don’t ask, you don’t get

    Whether it is approaching a possible mentor, reaching out to someone to collaborate with on a side-project, or if you’re in a company and they don’t have a structured learning program in place, asking for one – you don’t ask you don’t get. Learning is no exception from the rule.

    9. Ensure that you’re pushing yourself. 

    You must be challenging yourself in order to improve. But know your level. Too hard and you’ll risk not learning anything, instead just feeling frustrated and unmotivated. Too easy and you’ll not realise your full learning potential.

    10. Try to keep things fun and enjoyable

    You need to make learning a habit. Habits are easily formed and harder to break when they are fun and enjoyable. Learning can be made to be fun by mixing it up, keeping it fresh and doing it with others.

    It’s also important to remember that you should be learning things in accordance with your personal roadmap. Your roadmap should be focussed on the achievement of a career that you are passionate about. That for me is a key ingredient and driving factor as to why I have a ferocious appetite for learning what it is I do – passion.

To Conclude…

Learning is one of the most important investments you can make. But as with any investment, success should be evaluated based on the return made.

However, when it comes to lifelong learning you should not view the return in a financial sense. Instead, you should evaluate the success of your learning based on whether it has allowed you to satisfy an objective on your roadmap – enabling you to move further along on your journey in reaching your ultimate goal.

By helping you to achieve your ultimate goal/objective, the return experienced from lifelong learning is one that you can’t put a price on.

I’ll end with another quote that I’m a big fan of. It comes from W. Edwards Deming, who said:

“Learning is not compulsory…

… Neither is survival”

Now, go and get your learning on!

Cheers

Lloyd

The importance of Intrapreneurship…

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Let’s get something clear right from the onset – Intrapreneurship is nothing new. It’s been around for a fair few years, but for the most part it’s been lurking around behind the scenes, going relatively unnoticed by those in the positions of power.

Even if leaders were aware of the goings-on of intrapreneurs, they would simply have labelled it as innovation – not Intrapreneurship. The two terms have become almost indistinguishable from one another, by many. And while the two do go hand in hand with one another, it’s important to understand the difference between the two, albeit if it is only slight.

In the simplest sense, Intrapreneurship provides the platform on which innovation can be built and developed – achieved through the idea of employees acting like entrepreneurs INSIDE of a large organisation.

More specifically, intrapreneurs:

    • Are not solely focussed on doing better at their existing jobs, or interested in moving up the corporate ladder, but instead want to create something new – often to solve a problem – that doesn’t currently exist.
    • Love to be independent, and question the ‘normal’ way of doing things
  • Tend not to be in positions of management

While entrepreneurs create and start businesses, intrapreneurs build, grow and sustain businesses.

Why organisations need to focus on Intrapreneurship

I see there being two main reasons as to why businesses need to give attention to Intrapreneurship:

1. Innovation

Innovation is now the most important factor for business growth and success. Innovation helps to improve productivity and accelerate change, to ensure a business remains competitive in the ever-changing world. As I mentioned above, intrapreneurs are those within an organisation who will drive and shape innovation.

2. Talent

I used to work in a big corporate organisation. However, after a number of years working there, I became increasingly frustrated with the corporate way of doing things. I felt my entrepreneurial spirit was being stifled, and slowly being zapped from me. So, I left and started my own business.

I’ve noticed more and more top talent sharing my view. In fact, we’re witnessing a generational shift in attitudes towards work. Today’s workforce wants to have a greater impact and a stronger sense of purpose in what they do. Well, at least they’re the answers I always hear from applicants when I ask them why they want to come and work for my startup (Skim.it).

What the above point alludes to is how innovative, entrepreneurial employees are not engaged when at work in corporate environments, and so are seeking change.

Employee engagement has been one of the hottest buzzwords in more recent times, and rightly so. As it is now widely acknowledged that an engaged workforce has a direct link with an organisations bottom line. Organisations therefore need to be clear on the factors that drive employee engagement. Impact, autonomy and meaning/purpose being such factors – factors that can be satisfied through Intrapreneurship programs.

Large organisations, by not taking into account intrapreneurs, consequently face the real and very dangerous risk of losing their top talent. Not only will current employees leave, but also an organisation will fail to attract the top talent in order to replace them.

By focussing on Intrapreneurship, organisations can not only retain their innovative, entrepreneurial, visionary, and ambitious talent, but attract it too.

How organisations can build an intrapreneurial culture

Clearly it’s very much about trying to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset amongst employees. But it is important to remember that while employees should be looking to innovate to grow the business, they should also continue to stay aligned with the businesses core offerings.

When it comes to building an intrapreneurial culture, the following are some of the things that organisations can do:

1. Create some form of structure

Many companies now give employees dedicated time – and resources – to work on projects outside of their day to day responsibilities. This shows the importance and value that an organisation places on employee innovation. Projects should be followed up by the organisation, with organisations also placing great emphasis on the need for employees to share their endeavours with their peers – to allow collaboration to help improve the work.

2. Ideas factory

An organisation needs to create a culture that promotes and encourages the sharing of ideas. Ideas need to be championed, with everyone in an organisation responsible for not only the generation of ideas, but also the development and build of them.

3. Reward and recognise even the smallest progress

Something I’ve learn’t to do during my time in the start-up world is to celebrate the ‘small wins’. By doing this you can keep momentum going, as the team can stay consistently motivated. Too often teams try to achieve ‘BIG perfect wins’, only celebrating when they get them. These types of ‘wins’ are very rare, and trying to attain them can cause frustration and disappointment. The smaller wins are the building blocks of success, and I’m a big believer of:

Done is better than perfect

4. Sense of belonging and ownership

Earlier on I touched upon the generational shift in attitudes towards work. One such attitude is that of employees no longer wanting to merely ‘work’ somewhere, but instead to feel like they ‘belong’ somewhere. Organisations therefore need to help individuals identify their passions and the purpose that they want to pursue. It of course must align with business goals, and the organisations own bigger purpose. But when employees can work with a true sense of meaningful purpose, within a culture that they feel they belong to, they will be immersed in their role and perform at a much higher level.

No one said it’s going to be easy…

After all, intrapreneurship is all about changing the set ways large organisations do things. No one is particularly comfortable with change, especially large organisations who have been doing the same thing for many years and who may fear any change could lead to failure.

It should be noted that not all employees are cut out for Intrapreneurship, either. You have to be somewhat aggressive in order to get passed all of the inevitable corporate obstacles that you will face. You may also have to work longer hours, often with little credit or recognition for the extra effort you show.

Conclusion

Large organisations need to embed Intrapreneurship into their corporate culture, so that the new generation of employees realise that they might be better off driving change and innovation from a corporate job, as they have everything in place (funding, structure) to do so.

I won’t lie, I fear for the organisations that don’t make Intrapreneurship a priority in 2016…

Cheers

Lloyd

Will we all be our own boss in the future?

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The days of bagging a gold watch as a result of working for the same company for 25 years look well and truly over. It’s not that companies are cutting down on the dishing out of watches, it’s more that people are now moving away from traditional ways of working, and so perceived job security and the benefits that come from working for the same company for many years are now not what people are looking for in a job.

It is therefore no exaggeration to say that we are on the verge of the industrial revolution of our time. And while digital technologies and artificial intelligence will completely revolutionise certain industries – an area that we’ll be dedicating many more blog posts to – It is the rise of freelancing and our changing preferences towards work that is also contributing to the forthcoming transformation.

The UK freelancers’ association IPSE said that at the end of 2014 there were 1.88m independent professionals working in the UK, a 35 per cent jump from 2008.

(Financial Times)

Why exactly are we seeing this growth?

Driven by a changing workforce

Millennials have different views on their career, the life-style they want, and the importance of purpose in their working life. Freelancing is therefore what the millennial generation are turning to, to satisfy both their career needs, and their desire to improve their work life balance.

Research from Pew shows the millennial generation as now being the largest segment of the workforce. And so unsurprisingly, it is this new generation who – by taking over the workforce – are playing a big part in driving the growth in freelancing.

87% of graduates see freelancing as a highly attractive career option

(Elance research).

Driven by a changing organisation

It’s not just the workers who benefit from a freelance approach; there are significant benefits for organisations too.

1. Organisations can be more agile and flexible – They can boost or cut their staffing levels in accordance with changing demand. Simply, talent is moving from a fixed cost to a variable cost.

2. There is a greater pool of talent, and availability of in-demand skills – meaning specialist skills can be accessed and brought in for short-term projects easily and cost effectively.

There are two other key ingredients that without, the freelance way of working would have really struggled to take off…

Digital platforms

This is broken down into two sub sets.

1. The technology platforms that connect employers to freelancers: There are now many digital marketplaces, from which employees can source freelance talent – Upwork and Freelancer are two such examples. In addition, social media has become another important tool for allowing freelancers and employers to find out about each other and easily connect.

2. The technology platforms that makes freelance work easier to undertake:
Rich collaborative tools such as Slack, and productivity apps such as Trello are making it far easier for freelancers to work remotely and collaboratively with organisations.

More and better places to work remotely from

In most central London coffee shops and cafes, you can find yourself in the minority if you don’t have a laptop to go with your beverage of choice. Coffee shops and cafes have become the office for many a freelancer, offering the perfect environment conducive for effective working – all for the small cost of a coffee or two.

Co-working spaces. These are popping up all over the place now, another sure sign of the rising freelancer economy. A step up from the trusted coffee shop, yet not quite a return to the corporate office. Co-working spaces fill that happy half way ground. What sets apart co-working spaces from coffee shops, is their ability to offer the freelancer support and resources. The best co-working spaces actually make each freelancer feel like they are working for a startup. So not only do they offer a collaborative culture, but they also offer additional perks such as human resources, help with accounting, and training talks/presentations to name but a few.

Co-working spaces are great because they help to reduce the feelings of isolation that can be felt by independent freelancers; by offering much needed support and resources.

Conclusion

Freelancing is undoubtedly only going to grow in size and importance in the future. Therefore organisations must accommodate freelancers in order to compete. Organisations not only need to make themselves more attractive to freelance talent, but they need to ensure that they have the right tools and processes in place to efficiently manage the new freelance ways of working.

A long-standing bargain made between employees and employers is how:

Employees gave loyalty and the organisation gave security.

(Daniel Pink)

It’s an arrangement that perhaps looks set to be absent from the future of work, as freelancing looks set to dramatically reshape the nature of organisations and the structure of careers.

Yet, it’s worth pointing out, freelancing is not always a bed of roses. Yes you’re ‘your own boss’, and so you can choose the projects you want to take on, and take time off when you would like to. But being a freelancer also means you’re responsible for seeking and acquiring new business, taking responsibility for continual learning, and dealing with everything else that goes with running a business.

Will the future of work result in everyone being their own boss? Well, for now traditional ways of working still reign, but it’s looking more and more likely that a huge ‘way of working’ revolution will soon be upon us…

Information overload… Infobesity… Infoxication – whatever you want to call it, there is no doubt that the Internet is now chock full with information

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Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some stats. Every 60 seconds…

That’s a lot of stuff happening!

Now, just take a second and think about the amount of information that you consume in a day: news stories, e-mails, blog posts, Facebook statuses, Tweets, Tumblr posts, and much more besides.

Now think about how much of this information you wish you hadn’t seen or read. I mean, did you really want to read about how miserable that friend of a friend of a friend was feeling today! Or did you really want to spend 5 minutes scanning through that 20 page article to find the bit you were interested in reading on page 19! And I know you didn’t want to see your friend Annie’s 1000th photo of her pet poodle Bitsy doing something ‘adorable!’

So let’s face it: we all waste a lot of time on the web reading and watching stuff we wish we hadn’t. And if you don’t believe me have look at a report commissioned by The Harvard Business Review in which it says only 36% of tweets from a user’s feed are worth reading.

But I’m not writing this article to bash the Internet. Here at Skim.it we all love the Internet and think that it has done amazing things to help improve the world.

All I’m saying is that the Internet can negatively impact on a person’s productivity.

However, there are ways to solve the problem of information overload. On the blog infogineering tips to reduce information overload include:

  1. Spending less time on gaining information that is nice to know and more time on things that we need to know now.
  2. Focusing on quality of information, rather than quantity.

This is where Skim.it comes in.

With the click of a button, Skim.it allows you to save and share information in the most efficient way possible.

So how do we do this?

Skim.it has developed a unique Natural Language Processing Algorithm which will summarize your saved articles into short snippets of 100 words. This will make them easy for you to find later, and easy for your friends or colleagues who you share canvasses with to decide whether to spend their time reading whatever it is you’ve skimmed.

Basically, in an online world of information overload it makes life easier and more efficient!

But don’t take my word for it – check us out at Skim.it and let us show you how we summarise the web for easy sharing.