at&t to raise prices

Ralph de la Vega, at&t's top guy in the wireless division, told a group at a UBS conference yesterday that the reason for all of the dropped calls in the big cities, is the heavy smart phone data usage.  He promised improvements in these areas, citing New York and San Francisco specifically.  At the same time, he promised a new pricing method to account for the heavy data usage by those of us that rely on our smartphones.  I thought that I already paid for a separate data package, but I guess he thought I should pay for it and then not really use it.  He did cite that a large chunk of the data usage was from only 3 percent of the users, and one would have to make the conclusion that those people are streaming a lot of video.  So, at this point, all we can hope for is that the new pricing module sets a very high cap on the data usage that all but this 3 percent can live with.

Review of RescueTime

RescueTime is a cloud based tool for measuring time spent using your browser, and has an optional feature to measure documents and offline time.  I didn't try the offline time, but did use the document feature.  It categorizes your time spent on each site into various categories like social media, news, search and reference.  Just having this, done "automagically", as they call it, can be a huge help in boosting your productivity.  I found the categorization to be more accurate than I expected, and required only a little work to adjust it.  The software requires that you install an application that runs in the background, but you set it and done.

So what do I do with it?

You've installed the app and collected some data, and now you have some pretty charts on a website.  What now?  The thing that I didn't really play with too much, as I could take it or leave it, was assigning a point value to each of the categories.  The website will chart all of your activity, and then you can assign a value as to whether you think it it a productive task or not, on a sliding scale.  Then at the end of the day, you get an overall score.  To me that's OK, but I'd rather try to target the amount of time that I need to spend in each category, then manage those buckets as a percentage of total time spent.  So, if I think that I need to spend an hour a day doing email, then it doesn't matter if it's a 1 or 2 in terms of productivity since I have to do it.  So, instead of a sum of your -1's and 1's telling you if your productive, you should see if you're one hour of email is turning into two hours, or if you're improving and trending toward half an hour.

I started using Rescuetime today.  It seems to be a pretty sophisticated tool for time tracking and requires virtually no work to set up.  This ties back to my post two weeks ago about how to boost productivity, which outlined several ways to track the places that time goes, so that you can later make a judgment about the best way to budget or manage time for improvements in productivity.  This tools seems on the surface to be a much easier way to accomplish the task.

I'll keep you posted with a full review at a later date, but please post a comment if you have any experience with the tool.

What do I do with these KPI's?

Once you start to develop a few KPI's the real questions start.  The urge will be to want to do something at every time the KPI is below the average.  It's estimated that 95% of variation in a system is caused by the system itself.  So, since the whole reason for having the KPI is to know when something is out of whack, you'll be doing nothing 95% of the time.  Want to know how to create a crisis?  Try to find out why your KPI is "below average" every single time is goes below the line.  The goal here is to know what is normal variation and what is out of whack variation.  You are the best one to know this, but try to know it before you react.  There are many statistical methods for coming up with the limits to normal variation, but for a quick a dirty start to managing your first KPI try to eyeball the line chart and estimate the usual high and low points for your system.  Now, every period that you look at your KPI, you have to ask is this inside the normal system?  If the answer is yes, then your response should be, ok, everything is normal and I should not do anything.  So many times, managers want an answer to the reason the KPI is above or below the average every week when their team reviews their performance, when the real answer is everything is normal and that is why the number is what it is.  It's up because its up and not because you are a star, or its down because its down and not because someone screwed up.

Google OS available NOW, but now quite

Google announced today that it's new OS will be a cloud computing web appliance, which is a little different that what was expected.  It won't really be an OS, but instead will be more like a portal for full blown cloud computing.  They are releasing the source code, as well, starting immediately, but the Google release of the end product won't be until next year.  This news is a little disappointing seeing that cloud computing is still so young.  It could still make improvements in productivity, by allowing traveling persons to have a quick and mobile OS, but probably will do little for more stationary persons.

See more info, from this article from, about Google.

WSJ follow up to Flyblown Crisis Article

The WSJ today nicely summarized the top time management systems, including GTD, Pomodoro and Covey.  The article was perfect timing to compliment the article on this blog today about multitasking.  Personally, I love GTD and think that Pomodoro is a great add on for keeping on task.  Both are great systems that promote single-tasking.

From the WSJ:

• Getting Things Done: The reigning gorilla of time management, "GTD," as its followers call it, was created in the 1980s by David Allen, an Ojai, Calif., consultant whose coaching, training materials and seminars can be found at Mr. Allen has since sold more than one million books about GTD and attracted 1.2 million followers on Twitter. GTD's aim is to corral all the projects and tasks floating around in your head into an organizing system you update weekly. No matter what chaos erupts, the system in theory enables you to quickly identify the next step to take on every front to keep all your projects moving forward, while keeping your mind clear to relax, think and be creative.

The Pomodoro Technique: This quirky method had me working in intense spurts guided by a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato—or pomodoro, in the inventor's native Italian. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, director of XPLabs, a software design firm based near Rome, this technique is spreading via Twitter and other social networks. It can be learned in a few hours from a free guide at; making it a habit takes up to 20 days. 

Stop multitasking!!!

For years now, the idea of multitasking has been seen as a productivity enhancing activity.  But, anyone who has tried to talk to someone on the phone who is also doing their email knows that they are not either productive or effective at either task.  We should think of multitasking as doing multiple tasks badly.  You don't save any time usually, and most often it will add time to your overall day.  AND, you'll have to redo many of the tasks because there will be so many errors, because your attention cannot be on two tasks at once.  I have been in call centers before when people were trying to answer technical support calls and read a book at the same time.  How well do you think that support rep understood the customer that was on the phone?

We should be clear that there are delays in some processes, and during those delays filling that time with something productive is a good thing.  THIS IS NOT MULTITASKING.  This is time management, which is good and will enhance productivity.  Start enhancing your effectiveness today, by not jumping to a new task anytime that your computer system has a 10 second delay (10 seconds isn't enough time to switch to a new task!), making to-do lists and staying on each single task until it is complete and please, for the sake of all of us, don't talk on the phone and do email at the same time.

This idea also transfers to talking on the phone and driving at the same time!!!!

Upgrade to Windows 7

I upgraded my OS to Windows 7 today. from Vista.  It took a lot longer than I anticipated, but it was seamless.  It took nearly 4 hours, but after the delay I didn't have to do any updating of software and only had one peripheral that needed to have updated drivers, which was my Brother label printer.  I think that windows finally got one right.  I'm still playing around with it, but the nag screens are way down, and things seem to be much easier to get to.  I love the dock that they copied from the mac.

What is a KPI?

The real question is, why are they important?  A KPI (Key Performance Indicator), is really anything that you use in your company to tell you how you are doing.  Large companies can have as many as 50 in one department, and many of which can be an average of other metrics.  Many of the small companies that I have worked with only have two, revenue and profit.  Both ends of this spectrum are dangerous.  The first scenario can easily result in "death by numbers", and the second leaves you with no where to go when the main KPI's need further investigation.  I've been in both of these situations and you only end up feeling left in the dark.  The idea here is to find something that can help to be a guiding light for you to keep an eye on the direction that your business is heading.  Obviously, for the small business owner, revenue and profit are VERY important, but what we really want to do is to find some key benchmarks that are the drivers of these two metrics.  I can't tell you what your KPI's should be, but I can give you some direction about where to look.

The first place to start looking is the profit and loss statement.  If there is one category that's making a big dent on either side of the P&L, then that's where to start.  If you are in a business where salary is a large part of your expense budget, then productivity has to be one of your main KPI's.  How to measure productivity can take a library to discuss, so I won't discuss that here, but see my post earlier this week for a quick start.  One quick note; It's easy to get focused on one thing that is really important and not notice other things that start to affect the bottom line, so don't go overboard on any one KPI, or any one group that might only affect one side of the P&L.  On the revenue side, you could have an infinite number of KPI's depending on the type of business that our are in, but one that is likely to affect many companies would be related to leads and lead conversion.  Again, the idea here is to find what drives your business, then measure it and investigate ways to improve it.

If you've already identified the top KPI's in your business, then please share.

So much for Leapfish!

It looked like Leapfish might have gained a small advantage on Google, with it's "live search" as I wrote about several days ago.  But, the announcement from Google basically makes it moot.

From the Google blog:

"Given this new type of information and its value to search, we are very excited to announce that we have reached an agreement with Twitter to include their updates in our search results. We believe that our search results and user experience will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this up-to-the-minute data, and we look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months. That way, the next time you search for something that can be aided by a real-time observation, say, snow conditions at your favorite ski resort, you'll find tweets from other users who are there and sharing the latest and greatest information."

Google Chrome OS to Launch Within a Week

As a big google fan, I hope that this is true.

Google Chrome OS to Launch Within a Week
5PM is working beautifully, two weeks into our implementation, for tracking our tasks.  We're more focused and more productive for the time period.  The only downfall so far is the inability to quickly add multiple tasks.  I'm finding that laying out a new project is a little time consuming because a new form has to be populated for each task, and I'd like to be able to quickly create multiple tasks at one time.

Keep your team on task

There's a very easy way to keep your team on task. CREATE TASKS. So many small business and even large businesses give their teams very vague assignments with no tracking or follow up to see what, when or how things are being done. The only time that things are followed up, in most of the organizations that I've been in, is when there is a screw-up. That is exactly the wrong time to visit this topic. If you wait until there is a Flyblown Crisis to visit your business processes and try to examine productivity, then you will be very disappointed. The time to do it is now.

A system, of any kind, is needed to create transparency into the tasks that are being done in the organization if there is ever going to be any sort of high level efficiency. It can be as simple as a spreadsheet that lists the group to-dos to as complex as an Oracle database with a professionally developed front end. But, there has to be a way for you to document what needs to be done and how tasks should be prioritized.

Boost productivity 25% today.

The single easiest way to boost your companies productivity is to find out where the time is going, and do something to manage it. The rule of thumb for labor is that all time is filled by something, so anyone who wants to get better productivity from their employee's time has to first find out where the time is going. If you want to boost the productivity of your time or your companies investment in salaries and human talent do these steps today:
  1. Find a way to document the tasks that are being done
  2. Time those tasks
  3. Look for waste
  4. Eliminate the waste
The quick and dirty solution to finding where the time is going, is journaling. Self reporting is, by far, the easiest and least intrusive method for coming up with a quick snapshot and usually will work for small businesses. A simple spreadsheet can quickly tell you where your spending most of your time and can, in most cases, bear a lot of low hanging fruit. If you and your employees do most of your work on your computer, then a very effective way to come up with a list of activities and probably give some estimate of time spent, is to use the number of files or documents modified and times for modification.

Measuring productivity can be as simple as capturing the number of tasks per day. The person that doesn't like measurements or to be held accountable will always find excuses for why any measurement is invalid, but if this is your first step toward having a more efficient business then ignore the skeptics and start simple.

One word of advise, is to try and make your definition of a task as simple as possible and try not to let it grow. If everyone has a common definition, then judging and getting feedback about productivity will be more effective. For most of my work, which usually involves project type of work, a task is less than 30 minutes, but more than 10 minutes. A line worker will have tasks that are considerably less in scope and therefore will have shorter task times. Generally speaking, they will have task times of 2 0r 3 minutes.

What kind of tasks do you have in your company?

5PM is the choice.

Well, I've officially tried all of the expensive and crappy PM software in the world. The vast majority of it sucks. All that I can say is that this is a good example of throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks. For me, there were a couple of decent choices like Basecamp and it's look-alikes. Then there's 5PM. Which has everything that I need except milestones, and for me this one is a second tier requirement because most of my projects aren't the kind that have tons of people all working on it at the same time and they don't last for a year. I mainly want a timeline, tasks with meta data and sub tasks, and email integrations, and 5PM has all of the above. It's a little bit expensive, but still 25% cheaper than Basecamp at $18/month.

What kind of comments do you have about PM software?

Will Leapfish be the new internet gateway?

Like most of you, I've been using Google for my internet gateway. This weekend I discovered, and I'm not sold that it's going to be the new Google, but it's a definite step in the right direction. The big thing that is adding to the scene is aggregation of many different data types. In Google, you have to search for blogs from the blog search, and images from the image search. Leapfish rolls it all of this along with Twitter and Facebook posts into one portal. You still have the regular web search if you click on "web", and from there you can also get to Google, Yahoo or Bing results. Aggregating the three sets of results is enough for me to try it out, but the real time search has big potential to reign in all of the Web 2.0 information.