Boulder Project Manager Meetup Wrap-up: Small Office. High Productivity.
Becky Tornes, Former Senior Project Manager
Let me do a quick inventory of my desk. I use a standing desk that has multiple surfaces -- so a lot of room to store things. I’ve got my cinema display, my macbook air, a wireless apple keyboard, wireless apple trackpad, four (four!) notebooks/notepads, a lollypop, my Tracktor, spare parts for my Tracktor, my old laptop, a client’s brand guidelines book, a “Spinning Executive Decision Maker” paper weight (how else will projects get managed?), and an empty candy jar. I do love my tracktor, but I can admit much of what else is on my desk does not increase productivity or allow me to do my job better. What I learned at the last Boulder Digital Project Manager (BDPM) Meetup though, is even what I think does allow me to do my job better (my full sized keyboard, trackpad, and cinema display) is in reality not necessary either.
Mike Redmer, Chief Operations Officer and Partner at fleetCreature, manages digital projects from an office that fits inside a bag half the size of a typical messenger bag. He’s able to work from anywhere, at any time, in the blink of an eye using just his iPad mini, an attachable Logitech mini keyboard, a Jawbone bluetooth headset, some very short charging cables, a screen cleaner, and the ipad/iphone apps he depends on. Working this efficiently seems freeing, and we (BDPM members) wanted to bring Mike in to understand how he’s able to be successful, as well as WHY he decided to work minimally in the first place. Mike was kind enough to come in and be interviewed for our most recent meetup.
The Q&A session was informal, and there were a lot of questions from the PM audience, as well as a lot of discussion. Below is a summary of what we talked about, and what we learned.
How Mike's Small Office Started
Mike’s ambition to simplify and shrink his office began from mere exhaustion of having to lug around large hardware and a dream to be able to walk around a beach while being productive and making things happen. His vision was to be a conductor, setting the rhythm for his team and helping them keep tempo and hit their notes -- all while feeling warm sand at his feet and the sun on his face.
As a student of technology, he was sure to investigate and use any new technology that came out that could help him shrink his office. Technology continued to catch up to his dreams, allowing him to be where he is today.
So how can do everything a digital PM needs to do with such limited hardware? It’s all about the apps. Here’s a list and short description (at least for the ones he went into detail about) of what he uses on a daily basis.
This is his go to app and where he launches his day from. Almost everything he touches is integrated within Evernote in one way or another.
The ability to swipe an email and dictate whether it’s something you should take care of then, in an hour, or on a totally different day is essential. It allows him to keep his inbox clean and manageable.
The ability to have private rooms, along with public, is important. fleetCreature works with a lot of contractors and vendors that they want to have contact with, but don’t want to risk giving away private conversations, etc.
Slack also has a ton of integration points, including with Basecamp, that helps make Slack a central point for the team to go to for information.
He uses this in a fairly typical way. For more information on Basecamp, check out this blog from a previous BDPM meetup!
This is his task list app, and has the flexibility to allow him to create many different lists. Mike divides his tasks up based on the mental state he needs to be in for them. This allows him to always have something he can work on, regardless if it’s right when he gets started for the day, 15 minutes between a meeting, or at the very end of the day. His tasks lists are:
Full Focus: Tasks that need a good chunk of time and to be alert and able to fully focus.
Routines: Things he does on a regular basis that should be simple, but also scheduled for the same time every day/week/month etc.
Brain Dead: Tasks he can do any time, even at the end of the day when he’s got little brain power left.
Short Dash: Tasks that might require some brain power, but should be quick and simple to knock out.
Calls: Phone calls he needs to make, which is something he can do while walking to and from his workspace for the day, or any other in-between time when he doesn’t have his equipment set up.
- Thinking: Tasks that need some thinking, another good set of tasks to do while walking or not in front of his hardware.
It’s important to stay up to date on the latest happenings!
Hangouts are easy to create, easy to join, and now easy to call into (with Uberconference integration).
Mike works with a lot of designers and iDraw allows him to open PSD files, comment on, edit, and even create his own design files. He was actually able to design an app that went to the app store using only iDraw.
The Pomodoro Technique is based on the belief that someone is more productive and creative with breaks throughout the day (25 minute cycling). The idea is you do 25 minutes of work, and take a 5 minute break. You do that 4 times and then take a 20 minute break. To facilitate this approach, he uses a Pomodoro Timer app to remind him when to take breaks.
This is key for opening and transfering files on the iPad, given the lack of a hard drive to store files on the iPad itself.
Document sharing/collaborating. One interesting note is Mike will use Dropbox to share Google Drive links at times to keep everything documented in one place.
His calendar app. He loves the UI and fact that it looks good. It’s simple to use and integrates with all of his calendars.
Though video conferencing has never been easier, sometimes clients just need to be able to call - no fuss. Uberconference allows Mike to set up one conference line that can be used for every meeting, with no “access code”. It makes conference calls incredible easy.
He uses this a lot to set up connections between the apps he uses and Evernote. One example he gave is he has IFTTT set up to pull in today’s weather, calendar entries, tweets he makes, etc. into one journal entry in Evernote. This gives him a snapshot of where he was, what he did. etc. every day.
Getting Results The Agile Way
In addition to discussing his office and apps, we spent some time discussing the methodology he uses to ensure he’s productive each and every day. Mike uses the Agile Results approach to productivity. JD Meier wrote “Getting Results the Agile Way” which details this approach.
We spent our time discussing a key part of Getting Results: the rule of three. Every year you should detail three outcomes you want to see that year. You should write them in the past tense (“I got up on a skateboard and turned a trick on the halfpipe”) to help facilitate visualization. You then write three outcomes for every month, and three outcomes for every week, and three outcomes for every day. The idea is that by always having three outcomes you are focused on, that help get you to the larger outcomes you’ve detailed, you are more likely to hit your goals. He has set up Evernote to facilitate this, as he writes his outcomes there every day, week, month and year.
Looking at Mike’s office, and reviewing the apps he uses on a daily basis, was a little overwhelming. On the one hand, it seems so constricting to have such a small screen to work from. On the other hand, Mike appears to be more efficient and productive on any given day than I am. It definitely felt like he has it right. One comment Mike said that helped connect these two feelings was this: the very fact that an iPad makes it more difficult to switch between apps makes him more efficient. The iPad facilitates mono-tasking, rather than multi-tasking, which lets him get things done.
All in all, it was a truly fantastic meetup. Thanks again to Mike for being willing to be peppered with questions for a couple of hours! I know I’m not the only one that walked away with a lot of lessons and thoughts to ponder.
If you are in the Boulder area and would like to attend our next meetup, join the group and RSVP! We hope to see you there!