Productive tomatoes

I’m always thinking about the best way to stay focused, and recently I’ve discovered that despite absolutely despising tomatoes in real life, I really love them in the digital realm.

Apparently some guy in the 80s discovered that if you really want to stay focused you shouldn’t work for longer than 25 minutes at a stretch. Simple, but hard to implement, since nobody is going to keep their eye on the clock, and when 25 minutes passes, you tend to think “Oh well, I’m still working well, let’s continue”. But the secret is in sustaining that, and your productivity drops off after about 25 minutes, despite what your brain is telling you.

After one work session, you have to take a 5 minute break. Get up, walk around, do something that is totally unrelated to what you were previously working on (read the paper, make a cup of tea, listen to the radio, practice your sousaphone).

I urge you to give it a try. Here are a couple of ways to easily set a timer.

Today is 95% of yesterday

Habits, we’re all creatures of habit. We like doing the same thing, time and again. We buy the same brand of biscuits in the supermarket, we trust the same car manufacturers, we stick with the same telco year after year. We build trust, rapport, with a product as we consume it repeatedly.

We also love change. We will try a new brand of biscuits if there’s nice packaging, test drive a new car, change our telco if there’s a better offer. If there’s something new we’ll be sold the experience, being told there’s more chocolate, better handling, we’ll save more per month.

But it to be change within a certain set of boundaries. We’re not going to buy giant biscuits with flakes of fish in if we like gingernuts. We will, however, experiment with something new now and again, perhaps one in 20 times we’ll try something outrageous, or if we’re the adventurous sort, it’ll be closer to 1 in 10.

the 95%

This is where startups operate, the 5% margin of change that we will open up to new possibilities. It can’t be too far from what we’re used to – we need all the signals that it’s “the same as, but better than” its adversary in the market. We need to be convinced that what we’re buying fulfils our needs for what we were looking for, but does it better/more cheaply/more efficiently than what we were buying before.

Now there are certain consumers that take a risk 5% of the original 5% of the time (10% of 10% for the adventurous), where they’re willing to try something they don’t understand, and lead consumer behaviour. These are sometimes referred to as ‘early adopters’, but they have needs like the rest of us, and they’ll buy the same brands 90-95% of the time.

The startups that try to catch that need have to work under extreme uncertainty, these are ‘true’ startups that take incredible risk, and with them they need an investor or backer that understands that risk and the ‘blue ocean’ market they’re trying to reach.

We need to understand the people in these percentages of our customer segment if we’re going to understand who’s going to use our product, and why they won’t choose you 95% of the time. If we understand how fickle our customers are, and when to catch that 5%, we are true salesmen.

How do you keep organised?

It’s a struggle to keep on top of stuff these days, but I use these tools to keep everything tip-top:

Wunderlist for personal stuff, by sharing lists with loved ones and keeping track of shopping, christmas presents, books I want to read and more.

Nozbe, my new favourite to-do manager is perfect for managing work projects. The benefit here is the ability to look at your tasks from different viewpoints. It enables you to organise by projects, categories, date, team or a combination of the above. It’s completely GTD compatible, and the week-at-a-glance feature is unbeatable. Also one tiny thing that I love is that if you add time needed to each task it’ll add up the amount of time needed for tasks per day, so you can easily see if it’s achievable or not.

Trello is perhaps the best collaborative task management tool out there. The card view is unique and it has a multitude of features that aren’t available anywhere else. The visual nature is akin to post-its on a fridge, and its ease of use lends it to anything from software development to personal projects. However, we have had productivity problems with it, and have switched our bug tracking to a dedicated system instead, and are using Trello for feature dev and biz dev instead.

Google Inbox actually offers some incredibly simple but useful features, like hiding a task until a given date, and hiding until you reach a particular location (great for ‘remind me when I get to work’ situations).

Other notable alternatives which I haven’t mentioned are Todoist, which is almost identical to Wunderlist; and Basecamp (which I haven’t examined yet…). This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, and I’ll get on to other useful collaborative software next time!