My favorite productivity tools: 2017

As a fan of productivity, I try to research and experiment with tools that I come across, in the hopes of learning more and upping my game. There are those which I instantly fell in love with; others exhausted me for various reasons. Without much further ado, here are my top 3.

  1. Todoist: I am still not sure how I managed to survive without this simple, minimalist, task manager that packs quite a number of features. I mean, I was so hooked onto it after three days of experimenting that I immediately upgraded to the premium version (USD 28.99 per annum)! It is available across a number of platforms (something that is very important to me), it has great features at the basic level and its premium version is very competitive among other similar apps.
    Todoist lets you create projects, in which you have your tasks and sub-tasks. These project s can be color-coded for visual reference. The tasks and sub-tasks can have due dates, and you can assign task priorities on four levels for each of them. The basic version offers up to 80 projects with a maximum of 5 collaborators in each project.
    The premium version, in addition to the above features, offers task labels and reminders, comments and file uploads, the ability to add tasks via email, iCal synchronization, notifications and project templates. The projects available are up to 200 with up to 25 users in each.
    These are just a few of the features available on Todoist. For me, though, my favorite feature is the short-cuts available on Todoist. Once you understand them, they make life so simple. For example you can type “#” to bring up your projects, “q” to input a task, “@” tags an individual in a project, or writing catch phrases like “tomorrow” or “every 2nd Monday” which Todoist will translate as due dates and file them accordingly. So to remind my colleague to send the budgeting report next week on Wednesday I could hit the letter Q on my keyboard to bring up the Quick Add Task, type something like “#Work (to add it to the Work project or ‘folder’) @Michael to send budget report Wednesday 9.30 am”, and Michael will see the assignment in his work folder and the reminder set.
    Once you have added your tasks, you can choose to view them in different ways, like Today, Tomorrow, or By Project. You can also customize how to view by searching in the quick find bar “overdue” or “next 10 days”.
    As you check-off your tasks, you gain Karma points (premium feature). Karma points basically show you how productive you are. These are awarded based on how many tasks you complete daily and weekly (target can be adjusted in the settings). The more Karma you gain, the higher you progress through the levels.
  2. RescueTime: This is by far one of the best tools for productivity (in my humble opinion). On the website, it is described as a tool that “helps you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be more productive”. RescueTime runs quietly in the background, tracking the time spent on various applications. It then gives daily and weekly dashboards on how your time was spent, ranging from very distracted to very productive. RescueTime can be customized; for example, I changed my email to distracting to minimize the amount of time I spend dealing with emails and I track my productivity between 8 am and 6 pm.
    Each week, I receive a summary of how my time was spent, with a productivity score and how many hours have been logged in total. I can also set daily goals to help improve my productivity and keep me on track. I also have downloaded the app onto my phone and use it to track my mobile usage.
    Premium features ( include the ability to turn off distracting websites for periods of time, receive daily highlights, create notifications and track offline activities. The premium version also offers more robust reports that are unlimited (the basic version offers three month reports). This, however, comes at a (pricey) tag of USD 72 per year or USD 9 per month.
  3. IFTTT: IFTTT simply means “If This, Then That” and is pronounced “Ift” (like lift, but without the l). Their slogan is “Do more with the services you love.” IFTTT has recipes, which are basic instructions that trigger an event if a certain action takes place. For example you can activate a recipe that sends certain emails to your OneNote. Or you could save your exercise data from your Fitbit to your OneNote. Or save photos that you are tagged on Facebook. There are so many recipes that you could activate and use, or your could make your own. I so far have never had the need to make any.

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2017 Integrity Report

integrity-2

Wow! What a year 2016 was! This was a year of growth in unexpected ways, extreme stretch, tears, and eventual peace. It was the Year of Conflict professionally and personally. When I look at what I set out to achieve in my 2016 Integrity Report, I am amazed at how little I ticked off from that list. That’s not to say that I did not learn or achieve; far from it. I am just humbled by the fact that lessons sometimes do not come from the places you’d expect.

Lessons learnt from 2016

  1. Always have a road map for everything. I have made the Integrity Report a ritual that I do at the very beginning of the year to allow me to plan my coming year, and to evaluate the wins, losses and lessons of the previous year. I am also keeping a journal that I regularly update and track each goal. In addition to the Integrity Reports, I have diarized quarterly check-points in my calendar. These check points are half-day meetings with myself in which I take stock of what, according to my Integrity Report, I have accomplished, and what I need to do in the coming quarter.
  2. Always be flexible. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the things that happened in 2016 changed my course. I learnt that flexibility is key to managing your goals. By flexibility I do not mean that you change your goals every time you encounter resistance or obstacles. Rather, it is the realization that while your goals may be cast in stone, the strategy to achieve them is not. If a strategy is not working, move on to the next one.

    The way to achieve our goals is to hold them tightly and our strategies loosely.
    Megan Hyatt Miller

  3. Sleep is your best friend, just like Google. I have consciously been trying to average 7 hours of sleep daily. I cannot begin to explain to you the energy that I have and how I no longer experience the slump in the afternoon like I used to. I also have reduced my coffee intake to only one a day (just because I love the taste of coffee) and increased my intake of vegetable juices. This has significantly boosted my energy levels.
  4. Your greatest adversary can end up being your biggest champion. I am happy that the person who I felt tormented me the most in 2016 causing me sleepless nights and grief-filled days is now no longer on my case. I am not sure what changed, but I am glad it happened. I am not sure I can say we are best friends forever, but our relationship has definitely changed and the tension no longer exists.
  5. Having a close group of friends praying for you and standing in the gap for you when you are down is possibly one of the best things EVER! When I was struggling to wake up and go to work, or when I felt that I wanted to quit, these people encouraged me and prayed for me. And I made it. I survived it, and came out stronger. I also learnt a lot about myself and discovered levels of resilience I didn’t know I had in me.

2017

To be honest, this year’s Integrity Report does not differ that much from last year’s. Reason being, as I had inferred to earlier, I feel that I achieved a lot that was outside of what I had set to achieve. I would like to give this another go, and see where I am at the end of this year.

  1. What are the core values that drive my life and work?
    • Growth (devotion, trust, learning, habits, sacrifice, vision, love)
      • Am I building my relationship with God daily and trusting Him?
      • Am I living and working towards my personal vision?
      • Am I building habits that lead to continual improvement?
      • Am I sacrificing/doing what it takes for my dreams and values within the confines of all my values?
    • Servant Leadership (excellence, contribution, dependability, generosity, gratitude)
      • Am I contributing to the world or just consuming it?
      • Am I giving of my time and finances to others?
      • Am I celebrating what is right in the world?
  2. How will I living and working with integrity?
    • Devotion/Quiet time: I am faithfully going to read the Bible daily and spend some time praying and delving further into the Word.
    • Mindful eating and exercising: I am watching my portions and minimizing the junk food I eat. I am reducing the number of times I eat out. I am minimizing the amount of carbs I am consuming. I am swimming for 30 minutes thrice a week.
    • Coaching: I am spending time sharing productivity tips and other nuggets I have picked up with a group of individuals.
    • Keeping promises: I am keeping promises to myself and to others and do not commit to things that I will not see through.
  3. How can I set a higher standard?
    • Execute on my 2017 plan with more intention. This will form the blueprint of my year, rather than have ambiguous plans.
    • Continue to journal regularly to keep a track report of my progress so far. This will also help me know if my strategies are working, where I need to tweak and what I need to drop all-together.

 

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Of grey areas and straddling of fences…

Being different has always been the curse of the bold. Galileo Galilei was ordered to stand trial on suspicion of heresy in 1633 when he defended heliocentrism, a theory that places the sun at the center of the universe. The Church forced him to recant on penalty of death rather than change antiquated notions.

In the world over, many communities believed and practiced FGM, given the importance given to virginity and an intact hymen. Waris Dirie was nearly crucified (metaphorically speaking) by her people (and others of the same beliefs) for running away, and eventually becoming UN’s Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. She still lives under the shadow of threats from fanatics who consider FGM a holy rite of passage.

There are many examples of bold people suffering because of speaking out littering the paths of history. Conformity has been glorified from time immemorial. Even in traditional Kenya there are proverbs and sayings that promote conventionalism as a way of being. Contemporary Kenya has perfected the art of toeing the line to the point where having an opinion or stating a clear stand seems irrational. After all, if everyone is doing it or saying it it must be right, right?

Grey area (n): an area, situation, etc., lacking clearly defined characteristics.

Grey areas have become a cesspool of everything “sensitive, delicate or socially offensive”. This is the place where we throw in anything that makes us feel anything from mildly uncomfortable to deeply offended. Abortion, gay rights, the ever-widening poverty gap between the rich and the poor, our failing education system; you name it and you cringe, it’s in there.

One could say that by not taking a stand, one is taking a stand. After all, I choose not to align myself with either camp because both have valid points (or none at all). But the danger here is that there will always be only one voice being heard: the voice of the majority which is not always right. And when the majority quieten down, there will be the deafening sound of silence from you and I who choose not to speak up or do something.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

I change, I grow, I change

So after indulging myself reading this fantastic blog, A Day in a Dog’s Life, I started really thinking about life. Michael’s post, “How to Pray for Dummies” got me contemplating about life, love, God and everything else in between.

Someone significant to me got me thinking about where I am today in every aspect. A lot has changed in my life. Change – I now look at it as a building block as opposed to positive or negative. For once, change to me is just that – change. It has affected profoundly who I am and what I am becoming, but I no longer beat myself up and try to measure myself against the impossible standards that exist in my mind.

I am still changing. I am still growing. I try to understand more. I try to feel more. And everyday is a gift that I appreciate. Living for the moment allows me to savor and taste every morsel of pleasure life has to offer. Enjoy every moment of bliss without regret. It was once said, never regret that which makes you smile. Wise words to live by.

And before I go to bed I ask myself, “What made you smile today? What made you laugh out loud, genuine delight shining on your face?” And I scribble something in my diary for me to later reminisce upon.

2016 Integrity Report

keep-calm-and-have-integrity-3

I learnt of the concept of doing an annual integrity report from James Clear and thought it a brilliant accountability report that I would want to embody. His rationale for doing the integrity report is to document the steps he is taking to set a higher standard in his work, lead with honesty, and build a business that serves first.

For me, I feel that taking stock of where I am in life in light of my values forces me to see if I am truly living them out, and what I need to adjust. I hope to do this every year at the beginning, along with my Annual Report, as part of my annual time out and planning. The purpose of this report is to hold myself accountable to the lapses in judgment and making exceptions, as well as force myself to raise my personal bar.

Without much further ado, I present to you my 2016 Integrity Report:

What are the core values that drive my life and work?

  • God (devotion, gratitude, integrity, trust)
      • Am I spending time with God daily?
      • Am I letting go and letting God, i.e. putting my trust in Him?
      • Am I celebrating what is right in the world?
      • Am I choosing to live my every single moment  of my life with integrity even if sometimes choosing integrity is hard?
  • Growth (learning, habits, sacrifice, vision, love)
    • Am I living and working towards my personal vision?
    • Am I learning in coaching and coding?
    • Am I building habits that lead to continual improvement?
    • Am I sacrificing/doing what it takes for my dreams and values within the confines of all my values?
    • Am I loving myself as I am and working towards self-acceptance and self-improvement?
  • Servant Leadership (excellence, contribution, dependability, generosity)
    • Am I doing it once, doing it right and doing it fast and empowering others to do the same?
    • Am I contributing to the world or just consuming it?
    • Am I someone others can count on?
    • Am I giving of my time and finances to others?
  • Humanity (respect, courtesy)
    • Am I respectful of all beings?
    • Am I courteous? Am I understanding that it is the little things I do that goes a long way in making a difference?

 

How will I live and work with integrity?

  • Devotion/Quiet time: I am faithfully going to read the Bible daily and spend some time praying and delving further into the Word.
  • Mindful eating and exercising: I am watching my portions and minimizing the junk food I eat. I am reducing the number of times I eat out. I am minimizing the amount of carbs I am consuming. I am exercising for 30 minutes thrice a week.
  • Sleeping: I am sleeping 7 hours daily faithfully
  • Coaching: I am spending time sharing productivity tips and other nuggets I have picked up with a group of individuals.
  • Coding: I am re-teaching myself VB this year.
  • Keeping promises: I am keeping promises to myself and to others and do not commit to things that I will not see through.
  • Not gossiping: I am refraining from repeating gossip and bad-mouthing others.

 

How can I set a higher standard and live with more integrity in the future?

  • Stick to my schedule: In line with the point above about keeping promises, I need to get over the “I’m-so-busy” routine and making excuses for not achieving what I set out to do. I eliminate all distractions and complete three items I set out to do daily.
  • Empowering others to find their Voice and tell their own story: I am a person who learnt to have a Voice pretty early in my life, and now realize that this does not come easily to others. I am committing to help people in their voice-finding journey, by being a sounding board and giving feedback continuously. I am also working on a mentorship program towards the same.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!

My personal values dictate my choices

Where I work, we are really big on being authentic. This is actually one of the organizational values. Authentic is defined, according to me, as being real or genuine. Being real, or authentic, means living up to your true self. Knowing my true self is a journey in which I am peeling back the different layers of me, and understanding that my journey is not a single-angled one; it is a spectrum. One of the elements of this spectrum is my values.

If you don’t set a baseline standard for what you’ll accept in life, you’ll find it’s easy to slip into behaviors and attitudes or a quality of life that’s far below what you deserve.

Tony Robbins

Personal values are important because they provide us with a road map for the kind of life we aspire to lead.  The more our choices line up with our values, the better we generally feel about ourselves. They are what you stand for in life – what you believe in and are willing to support and stand up for.

Without much ado, here are my values and their value statements:

Devotion: I spend time with God

church

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you,

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Because I realize God loves me despite my shortcomings, I choose to actively seek Him above all and involve Him in all I do. I am learning to communicate with Him throughout my day, just like I would do with someone who’s my close friend or family member.

Integrity/Honesty: I choose to live my every single moment of my life with integrity even if sometimes choosing integrity is the difficult part

Moral-Compass

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.
Mark Twain

For me, this means being unyielding ethically. Walking the talk. Taking responsibility for my actions. There will always be forked-road moments in my life; I will simply choose the honest one, even if this comes at a cost.

Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

C. S. Lewis

Excellence: Do it once, do it fast, do it right and empower others to do the same

excellence

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Aristotle

The above is probably one of my favorite quotes. In every little thing I do, I will strive for excellence – searching for ways to improve and continuously be outstanding. It means cultivating the highest level of discipline in every facet of my life. This is not to say I am perfect – far from it – but I am achieving this through marginal gains (see this great article on the power of marginal gains and declines).

Gratitude: I count my blessings and name them one by one.

Gratitude

This hymn written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. in 1897 pretty much sums it up.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—*money cannot buy [*wealth can never buy]
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Sacrifice: I choose to do whatever it takes to achieve my dreams within the confines of my values

law_sacrifice

Merriam-Webster has one of its definitions of sacrifice as “the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone”.

Sacrifice can take many forms in my life. It could be giving up that oh-so-yummy cupcake for the sake of my weight. Or it could be forfeiting that impulse buy and instead save. It could also mean giving up something I really wanted to do/buy/eat for someone else.

At the end of the day, I need to figure out what I am willing to do to attain something AND what am I willing to give up to achieve my vision?

Courtesy: It’s the little things I do that go a long way in making a difference

courtesy

Courtesy: polite behavior that shows respect for other people.

Merriam-Webster definition

In my own little way, I strive to be considerate in my actions towards other people, and undertake to do small acts of generosity. As Henry Clay said, “Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.”

Growth mindset: I grow as a result of my efforts

mindset

In her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Professor Carol Dweck distinguishes two extremes of the mindsets people tend to have about their basic qualities:

  • In a fixed mindset, “your qualities are carved in stone.” Whatever skills, talents, and capabilities you have are predetermined and finite. Whatever you lack, you will continue to lack. This fixed mindset applies not just to your own qualities, but to the qualities of others.
  • In a growth mindset, “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” Qualities like intelligence are a starting point, but success comes as a result of effort, learning, and persistence.

Benjamin Barber, an eminent sociologist, once said, “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and non-learners.” I choose to learn something everyday, and to embrace my mistakes as learning points.

Servant Leadership: I inspire and empower others to excel in their spaces through service to them

mountain-climber-silhouette-lgr

But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 20:25-28

A servant leader realizes, “My success comes from your success,” according to the essay The Servant as Leader” by Robert K. Greenleaf.

I strive to listen, have empathy, be aware, share, motivate, and see the bigger picture. I am learning to trust myself and others more and more. I pray that everyday I may learn how to have humility in all that I do.

My values

I have began taking stock annually of how I am living my values through the Integrity Report. I got this very useful tool from James Clear, who does his annually.

What are some of the values that you cherish? Leave a comment below.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!

Mercy