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Archive for February, 2010

How to Beat Procrastination One Step at a Time!


tax day

“Every year, hundreds of New Yorkers congregate on Tax Day at the 24-hour post office at 34th and 8th Avenue, polishing off their 1040s, filling out their registered mail slips, and sealing their envelopes. The lines snake up and down the cavernous interior of the building and most of the people are more tired than anxious. (With the exception of the few still filling out their forms.)”

Photo and description by Amit Gupta.

Last weekend I had the unenviable (yet unfortunately inevitable) task of getting our 2009 taxes prepared.  I stopped actually doing our taxes about 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean I’m completely off the hook here.  There’s still just as much preparation involved to make sure everything is tracked and reported, and that my accountant has all the information he needs in order to file.

There are far worse things in the world, I know.  But I definitely don’t look forward to this time of year.  In fact, it’s probably the most postponed thing on my to-do list.

Let’s see… I could play with my daughter or sit in my home office surrounded by arcane forms.  We could go for a walk down by the waterfront as a family or I could scan and shred documents instead.  My wife and I could watch an episode of Friday Night Lights or read in bed… or I could sit at a computer adding up real estate taxes and 1099/W-2 forms.  You get the picture.

I decided to take a different approach this year.  Instead of dreading and postponing the project from week to week, I’d learn from it.  I knew I didn’t want to do this, but I knew I had to.  So I decided to use it as a sort of test for overcoming procrastination – how would I get myself to move forward despite knowing it wouldn’t be any fun?  At the very least, I could write up my experience on Refocuser and see if the process helps others.

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Written by Mike Torres

February 21st, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Protect Your Time: 8 Ways to Stay Focused on Important Stuff

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Click for photoHappy Monday! If you value your time – and who doesn’t – you need to be be protecting it at all costs.  It’s far too easy to spend hours each day doing things that don’t end up resulting in personal or professional gain.  You pick your head up at the end of the workday just to realize that out of all the things you got done, none of them were particularly meaningful.

This happens to everyone… at least once!

The key to good time management is to protect your time from the unimportant in order to focus on the important.  It’s really that simple.  But in practice, it can be difficult.  Because it sometimes means being a jerk.  Or at least coming across like one to people who enjoy time-wasting activities because it’s the only way they know how to work.

We have a word at Microsoft we use when our time is wasted: randomize.  I was randomized by him.  Please don’t randomize me.  This meeting is going to be randomizing, we can do this over email.  What a randomization! I’m not exactly sure where it came from – likely from the comparison of wasting time to a random number generator – but the basic idea is that if something is randomizing, it’s to be avoided at all costs.  I suppose it’s nicer than saying “you’re wasting my precious time”, especially for people who don’t know what the word means in context.

Don’t be randomized!

The single biggest time-waster in the corporate world is the all-too-prevalent meeting.  Most meetings are 50 minutes of people hearing themselves speak and 10 minutes of useful dialog or conversation.  You may not be able to avoid them completely, but you can sure as hell try.  More important stuff happens outside of meetings than in them.

As you may have read in My Day: The Way I Work, Rest, and Play, my workday can easily be filled from 9-6 if I’m not careful.  This certainly isn’t unique to my situation; it applies to lots of people.  Many people end up using evenings and weekends to “catch up” instead of for much-needed downtime.  Not fun.

Worse, they’ve convinced themselves that their job is to go to meetings.  I don’t know anyone whose job is just to attend meetings – or just read email for that matter – no matter what role they’re in… and for those who think it’s their job, my guess is that they’re filled with guilt because their contributions are severely limited.  They’re not actually doing anything.  Also not fun.

No matter what you do, you want to maximize your contribution.  You want to spend more time creating and producing than consuming.  You want great output.  You want to be someone who pushes the boulder another foot up the hill each and every day.  You don’t want to run in-place like the people around you!  Unless you’re a full-time hole puncher with 30 years of experience, you have something unique and significant to contribute.  Useless meetings take away from that.  If they’re not wasting your time directly, they’re still breaking up valuable opportunities to find flow in your work.  Meetings aren’t where you’ll make your mark.

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Written by Mike Torres

February 15th, 2010 at 6:57 pm

My Day: The Way I Work, Rest, and Play

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Click for photoThe other day I read a great article in Inc. about the workday of Paul English, the founder of Kayak.  I love to read pieces like this that give me insight into the “best practices” of others, because I always learn a thing or two about managing my own life.  My favorite part of the article was when Paul said “we work really hard for 40 to 45 hours a week.”  Very few entrepreneurs can say (or do… or even admit to) that.

I thought it would be fun to write about “how I work” as well, and expand on it a little to include play.  It’s a question I get asked a lot as a manager at Microsoft, and it certainly fits within my goal to make Refocuser more personal this year.  Instead of just writing generic “how to” articles and checklists of stuff, every once in a while I’ll dig into something a little closer to home.  This started in November with My Happiness Interview and continues here with this post.

I aspire to wake up at the same time each day, around 6:30am.  The exact time is dependent on whether or not my daughter has a cold (like she does now) which makes it a little earlier – or later if she had me up during the night.  I recently bought a wake-up lamp for Seattle winters which has made waking up much easier for me.  I’ve always been a night person.  But gradual increases in light coupled with soft chirping bird sounds is a much more pleasant way to rise than jumping out of bed from the sounds of a beeping alarm clock.

After showering, getting dressed, and quickly making the bed, I meditate in a quiet, dark room for 15 minutes.  If I did this as soon as I woke up, I’d probably just fall right back asleep.  This is time I need to start the day; getting myself into the right frame of mind.  Once the 15 minutes are up, I prepare my daughter’s breakfast along with my own, which is usually a bowl of Kashi GOLEAN cereal with fresh blueberries and 32oz of water.  I use breakfast time to quickly catch-up on email, Twitter, and RSS feeds.  I try to power through my work inbox from the night before to bounce at zero before the day officially begins.  Once we’re finished with breakfast, I spend some time playing with my daughter before she leaves for school.  I always let her choose the activity.

My drive to work takes about a half hour, not including a stop at the local coffee shop for a short cappuccino.  I know everyone who works there at this point, and it’s fun to see them everyday.  They know more about me than a lot of the people I work with everyday.  I use my car as a rolling classroom for both ends of my commute.  Depending on my mood, I listen to either audiobooks or podcasts, and on rare occasion, some music if I want to relax my mind.  Spoken word audio has really helped me to enjoy things I used to try to avoid… like shopping.

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Written by Mike Torres

February 2nd, 2010 at 8:03 am