Three things that help me during the work week

I've written about a lot of productivity-esque topics on this blog. I've tried out several different to-do list apps, note taking approaches and have made several changes to my routine. Though I am still always trying to look at ways to make my day-to-day more effective (working smarter versus working harder), I've nailed down three different things that (currently) help my focus during the work week. 

Getting enough quality sleep

It wasn't until I started wearing a Fitbit to bed that I realized that I wasn't getting great sleep. Sure, I may have been lying down for 7-8 hours, but I was still waking up really tired. My Fitbit data confirmed what my wife had been telling me since day one of our marriage: I tossed and turned A LOT. Something had to change.

Realistically, I couldn't go to bed even earlier than I already had been. So, I tweaked my routine. I started implementing a "screen free" time at least thirty minutes before I went to bed. Instead of reading the news on my phone (or scanning Instagram/Twitter), I would go upstairs and read a book. In addition to that, I would brew a cup of sleepy time tea. I had friends that own an awesome up-and-coming tea company, K-Teas, that recommended a perfect chamomile tea just for that winding down purpose.

After doing a few nights of reading (a printed book) and drinking tea, I noticed great gains in my sleep quality. My Fitbit data showed better quality deep sleep and I felt better and more alert during the day. It's amazing how quality sleep helps you get more done than any productivity app in the app store. Plus, carving out the extra time to read new books is always good for the brain.

Taking paper notes

I have always had this conflict between taking meeting notes digitally with Evernote or just taking a paper notebook. I love the simplicity and hand-to-brain memorization taking notes with paper provided. However, I liked the simple, cloud-based search-ability of digital notes in Evernote. This conflict was temporarily resolved when my wife got me an Evernote Moleskin notebook for Christmas a couple of years back. However, paying $30 every time I ran out of pages lost its appeal. 

A few weeks ago, I discovered Evernote's Scannable app. Now, I have the best of both worlds. I take a paper notebook to all meetings and avoid taking my laptop if at all possible. I have less distractions (turns out paper doesn't have as many push notifications) and I benefit from that hand-to-brain memory gain that comes from handwriting. After I handwrite my notes, I snap a photo with Scannable and index all of my handwritten content digitally with Evernote. It's amazing. 

Eating the big frogs first

Every week at DeMoss we do brief lunch and learns (called "Trade") to catch up on new trends, client case studies or other things we are learning. A few weeks ago, a teammate gave us some learnings about productivity. 

No, I didn't learn about a new app to get stuff done. 

I did learn about a mindset. I had heard this quote from Mark Twain but our teammate presented it in a way that finally clicked in my brain. 


I made a bad habit of doing the quick, less exerting tasks in the morning. However, while I had that adrenaline rush of being able to cross things off my list quickly, I would either go down another rabbit trail doing something or find other ways to put off the big important tasks that I may have been less-than-thrilled about. "Eating the biggest frog first" has helped me get a lot more done in the day - and stay focused for longer periods of time. 

Plus, it helps that our whole office got small plastic frogs to keep on our desk as a reminder. 

Mindsets trump tools

I love technology and if there's a more efficient way to get stuff done and organize my life, I'm going to try it out. However, productivity isn't reliant on a system. It's a mindset. Jeff Hilimire wrote a great short piece explaining how no app is a replacement for self-discipline. I agree with that. 

How about you? Any tips to tackling the day?

Is Microsoft succeeding at trying to be cool?

I have read headlines and seen videos in the last week that I never would have expected. First off, on the heels of their Microsoft 10 press event, I find this video from Microsoft where they take a stab at reinventing the whiteboard. It had enough of a cool factor that it ended up on PSFK, my go-to source for trendy things before they're trendy in tech.

Then, as I dig more into Microsoft that day, I learned about HoloLens. If I had paid enough attention to the Internet that day, I would've have learned about it earlier from the press coverage.

But then again, I didn't have anything in my recent memory that gave me reason to believe paying attention to Microsoft announcements was worth my time (or the real estate space on my second computer monitor).

But HoloLens was announced. It's cool - not totally practical yet - but really cool. The Verge did a good write up here describing seven potential use cases for HoloLens in the future.

Then the kicker came today. On Twitter, I read this headline (also from The Verge):

The best Gmail app for the iPhone is now made by Microsoft

I also saw a similar headline from Business Insider that affirmed this bold statement.

After reading both articles, I downloaded the new Outlook app from Microsoft. While I have only used it for ten minutes at the time of writing this article, I have to admit - it's a great email client for iPhone. These claims are bold but not far fetched.

So...Is Microsoft Cool?

I won't say yes or no at this point. But it seems like they're trying to head that direction. And it's a good strategy.

In the past, they've tried to literally buy their way into marketshare. The NFL analysts every Sunday have Surface Pro tablets. There are a ton of ads. Microsoft sponsors updates and features on several other programs. Their logo is everywhere. But advertising and product placement can't buy loyalty. Only a cool factor can.

It looks like they are now trying to actually provide products that have their own market advantage. Like they're not trying to buy their way into people's hearts. Or mimic Apple (as much).

I'll probably spend more time actually paying attention to what Microsoft has to say in the near future. These past couple of weeks could be all hype that doesn't turn into anything substantial.

Or it could.

What do you think? Is Microsoft starting to creep into "cool" territory?