New Productivity Hack

I handle multiple projects, most of the time. To do this effectively, a system needs to be in place, otherwise, dates will be missed and deliverables will not ship. As such, I am always on the look out for new productivity hacks that optimize the systems I have in place. The core tool that I use is the OmniFocus suite. Very powerful, synchronizes across devices and integrates into all major programs very nicely. Putting lists together and working your way through them is probably 30% of the battle. Putting check marks in front of all those line items, is a lot harder.

I used the Pomodoro Technique for a while. I was frustrated by my inability to log activities effectively, integrate with my project management tools and a lack of an effective reporting feature. I have managed to find a really good tool, one I have enjoyed using thoroughly since then. It is called Vitamin-R and it does all the things I wanted, very effectively.

What I like about the theory around this technique of breaking your tasks up into slices and working through them without distraction, is the ability to get started. Tasks like starting a proposal, making a presentation deck or even something smaller like writing a blog post are difficult to get started on. Getting started on a large task in batches of 10 – 20 minute slices, increases your ability to reach a state of “flow” and breaks that vicious procrastination cycle.

I would recommend you start off with something like the Focus Booster App. If the technique suits you, move up to some of the paid products which give you more functionality and control. Good luck!

3 Key Startup Questions

The early stages of business, are the most challenging of times, times that need to be overcome. When we start out with an “idea”, we have a set of assumptions that need validating. One of the most critical errors made at this point is assuming that all your assumptions are correct and building a product without adequate validation. This is a primary reason for the failure of so many businesses. Inadequate validation of any form during the initial stages, results in a slew of products or services for which there is no demand.

Sean Murphy has an interesting take on business at an early stage. His framework comprises of 3 questions, through which one needs to begin the validation process:

1. Are you talking to the right people?

A common strategy is to validate your ideas within your 1st degree network. Your friends, family and co-workers. This usually results in feedback that is biased and creates false expectations of the actual business need. Instead we need to write down detailed lists of potential customers and do our best to get feedback from people in that demographic. A lot of the time these interactions will lead to major and defining discoveries about whether the need exists or not.

2. Do you have the right features?

Startups have very limited resources and need to decide on the feature sets that they plan to launch with. What we consider a “cool” or must-have feature, could be something that a customer would derive no value from. It is hence best to abandon traditional product development strategies where you take a year to bring something to market. Rather, you should be iterating much faster and getting feedback from your target customers at regular intervals. Their feedback will help you identify 20% of the features which will account for 80% of regular usage.

3. Do those features translate into benefits that will be useful to them?

Finding the right answer to this question unlocks the viability of your business. Features that are added, need to provide substantial utility to your users. An easy way to test would be to ask your users whether removing feature “x” would lead to disappointment? The established norm is that if more than 40% of your users state that they would be disappointed, you have yourself a keeper.

These are some questions that need to be explored in the customer validation stage. This helps you to move forward towards finding a product-market fit, which is the final goal of the process. Once you have built a product that solves a clear market need and has a well defined customer set, there are a whole new set of questions that then need to be asked.

Planning to Succeed

I have had a Sunday ritual for a number of years where I plan the week ahead with a clear set of goals that need to be achieved, as also how those steps will contribute towards the much bigger objective. I have been heavily influenced by the “Getting Things Done” philosophy of Dave Allen and use OmniFocus to keep myself on track. If you have not read the book I strongly recommend it to everyone, specially business owners. Being an entrepreneur requires us to juggle multiple responsibilities and deadlines. If this is not managed correctly we tend to either take too much onto ourselves, lose track of important deliverables and generally, get a lot less done.

Some things that have helped me tremendously are:

1. Getting my email inbox to 0 or as close as possible to it every Sunday. This helps to highlight important messages that need responding to in the following week, keeps the mailbox organized and most importantly, when you open your mailbox on Monday morning it is not overwhelming.

2. Setting weekly goals. It is important to break large goals into manageable tasks to ensure that we make progress against them on a weekly basis. Each project I am working on is broken up into mini projects, this makes it a lot easier to ensure that I am making progress towards particular goals.

3. Using a personal project management tool that syncs across devices. The ability to quickly add a new todo item, check off completed tasks or see what tasks are available to me, in a particular place or settings is critical. Many programs in the market place offer this, I have personally used Things & Omnifocus. Both programs do a great job in making sure you stay on track.

4. Review Cycles are essential to ensure that you stay on top of your responsibilities. Set review cycles for every project that you are working on. Some projects may have review days every week, others may be reviewed every month. This enables you to keep track of multiple projects in parallel with differing levels of priorities.

The key is to start off your project management as simply as possible. Don’t rush into buying software, notebooks and filing cabinets without first getting your feet wet. We all have different styles of working and it is important that whatever routine you set for yourself, shows results in the end. If you have any questions regarding setting up your own flows, please do get in touch, I will do my best to assist in any way I can.

The 5 Goals of a Project Manager


As a Project Manager, you need to manage people, money, suppliers, equipment—the list is never ending. The trick is to be focused. Set yourself 5 personal goals to achieve. If you can meet these simple goals for each project, then you will achieve total success. So read on, to learn…

These goals are generic to all industries and all types of projects. Regardless of your level of experience in project management, set these 5 goals for every project you manage.

Goal 1: To finish on time

This is the oldest but trickiest goal in the book. It’s the most difficult because the requirements often change during the project and the schedule was probably optimistic in the first place.

To succeed, you need to manage your scope very carefully. Implement a change control process so that any changes to the scope are properly managed.

Always keep your plan up to date, recording actual vs. planned progress. Identify any deviations from plan and fix them quickly.

Goal 2: To finish under budget

To make sure that your project costs don’t spiral, you need to set a project budget at the start to compare against. Include in this budget, all of the types of project costs that will accrue, whether they are to do with people, equipment, suppliers or materials. Then work out how much each task in your plan is going to cost to complete and track any deviations from this plan.

Make sure that if you over-spend on some tasks, that you under-spend on others. In this way, you can control your spend and deliver under budget.

Goal 3: To meet the requirements

The goal here is to meet the requirements that were set for the project at the start. Whether the requirements were to install a new IT system, build a bridge or implement new processes, your project needs to produce solutions which meet these requirements 100%.

The trick here is to make sure that you have a detailed enough set of requirements at the beginning. If they are ambiguous in any way, then what was initially seen as a small piece of work could become huge, taking up valuable time and resources to complete.

Goal 4: To keep customers happy

You could finish your project on time, under budget and have met 100% of the requirements—but still have unhappy customers. This is usually because their expectations have changed since the project started and have not been properly managed.

To ensure that your project sponsor, customer and other stakeholders are happy at the end of your project, you need to manage their expectations carefully. Make sure you always keep them properly informed of progress. “Keep it real” by giving them a crystal clear view of progress to date. Let them voice their concerns or ideas regularly. Tell them upfront when you can’t deliver on time, or when a change needs to be made. Openness and honesty are always the best tools for setting customer expectations.

Goal 5: To ensure a happy team

If you can do all of this with a happy team, then you’ll be more than willing to do it all again for the next project. And that’s how your staff will feel also. Staff satisfaction is critical to your project’s success.

So keep your team happy by rewarding and recognizing them for their successes. Assign them work that complements their strengths and conduct team building exercises to boost morale. With a happy motivated team, you can achieve anything!

And there you have it. The 5 goals you need to set yourself for every project.

Of course, you should always work smart to achieve these goals more easily.

jason-photo.jpgJason Westland has 15 years experience in the project management industry. From his experience he has created software to help speed up the management process. If you would like to find out more information about Jason’s online project management software visit