I'm a Solution Strategist and This is How I Work Part Three

Culture
Cloud
23 August 2017

Welcome back. As the title suggests, this is Part Three of a 3-part series. If you missed Part One or Part Two, please follow those links to catch-up on an overview of the role of a Solution Leader at Rightpoint and my personal sources for influential and inspirational content. In this final installment, we will cover Time Management, Tips, Tricks & Tools, and the Gear I rely on as a traveling consultant.

Time After Time 

The subtitle of this section should possibly be Do as I Say, Not as I Do. That is, I'll share with you how I try to organize myself and my time to prevent frequent drowning, but as you might imagine, the demands of working for a digital agency require a certain amount of flexibility. My responsibilities include supporting the scoping and approach for new engagements, and those opportunities can pop out of thin air and land on my plate with a moment's notice. With that reality, it is very tempting to operate in a purely reactive mode. We call this the "whirlwind." It is real, and it will destroy your day. To combat the whirlwind, you have to not become 100% reactive, and here are a few of the things I do to try and create some semblance of structure and balance.

Operate in thirds. I break my day into categories of time investment. Those parts are:

  • Planned Productive—Proactively sectioning your calendar with blocks of time to get actual work done.
  • Meeting & Reporting—Planned time to allow meetings to be scheduled or to participate in status meetings with existing engagements, campaigns or opportunity support.
  • Triage and Reactive—Responding to emails, addressing incoming requests, and time to deal with unexpected inbound needs.

I look out a week or two at a time and proactively block time in my days. This requires anyone who is looking to meet with me or to potentially force another priority into the whirlwind to first have a conversation. This allows me to negotiate my time against intended structure, and it forces me to be deliberate in thinking about my priorities. The ideal day (as I plan it a week or so out) is as follows:

  • 3 hours meetings
  • 2 hour planed working block
  • 2 hours triage and reactive
  • 1 hour exploring, reading, and thinking

I generally do this, no matter what my day looks like. Even if I'm on a day-trip to visit a client or prospect, I'll structure this time to allow things like triage and working blocks to happen while I'm on an airplane or otherwise not available to do meetings or other activities.

Tips, Tricks, & Tools

Any way you can automate a process in your work day will give you some time back. Every four to five months or so I have a planned block of time (an hour at most) to evaluate how I am working and to identify any large time leaks. If I find one, I seek to find a way to plug the leak with either a more efficient way of structuring my time or seeking a way to automate. As I mentioned in Part Two of this series, I use Feedly as my RSS reader of choice. Feedly integrates with IFTTT to do some light workflow, and I absolutely love it. I use their Boards feature (which is really just a category for curation) with IFTTT apps to automate how I share articles or insights I encounter with the appropriate Audience. Tag something to my Work Related board, and it automatically posts it to my LinkedIn shares and it tweets it on my behalf. Tag something to my Solution Team board, and it automatically posts it in the Knowledge Sharing conversation for our solution team's shared Microsoft Teams channel. This actually saves me a noticeable amount of time and as a result, I share and post more frequently.

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To the Cloud!

Here at Rightpoint, we generally use Microsoft stack tools for workplace productivity and collaboration. As a result, I have a personal OneDrive account and a work OneDrive. I am terrified of losing files, and I often joke that having isolated files on someone's laptop creates a "Prison of Excellence." Don't do that. Don't keep all the sparkle to yourself. I have abandoned using my local hard drive as my working folder—instead, I actually make my working space a folder that lives in OneDrive (I work mainly out of folders named for the current year.) So, my 2017 folder sits in OneDrive, and if anything happened to my laptop I would immediately have access to my files via the cloud.

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Another OneDrive related tip, I use the Office Lens (free for iOS & Android) to snap photos of Whiteboards after a collaboration session, and also receipts while I'm traveling. Office Lens has some nifty filters to auto-crop and clean the contrast for those types of snaps. In addition (and this is the time hack), after I've taken the picture I have the option to auto-save it right to my OneDrive Photos folder. This way, it is already available to my laptop when I need to review a meeting's note or when it is time for me to do expenses.

Seperating Church & Site

On my work laptop, I'm using Windows 10 and I have MS Edge set as the default browser.  (Links I click on in email for example, open here.) Edge integrates best with many of the O365 apps we use in-house. My start screen is full of bookmarks to our Rightpoint collaboration tools, Salesforce, OpenAir (time and billing) etc. I use Chrome for more personal browsing or research. In Chrome, there are a few extensions I can't live without.

  • Speed Dial - Allows me to use pinned-links on a new blank start page. I use it to basically have handy my most-referenced site links. 

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  • BuildWith - Allows me to quickly understand the technology a client might be using for their owned digital properties

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  • SimilarWeb - Shows me some very high-level performance metrics for a client's owned digital properties 

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Gear Patrol

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Final topic in this series—the gear that gets the job done. I'm a little particular when it comes to the items I keep on my person and in my work bag. My primary concern is that I need to carry with me everything I need to get my job done. Think about that—I don't come to Rightpoint's office here in Chicago every day. I might be at a client on Monday, the office Tuesday, flying to/from Boston on Wednesday, working from home Thursday, and at another client on Friday. That means that every single day, I physically must carry with me ALL of the things I need to perform my job. My personal goal atop this, is to have all of that gear fit into the smallest bag I can possibly carry. That means curation and purpose-driven selection. 

I've been carrying my Padstow for a few years now, and it is still holding up well for a tin-cloth canvas bag. They are a London-based brand, so you don't see too many of them yet stateside. Laptop slip, mid-level internal storage is just the right balance for my needs. Its dimensions are H 11" x W 14" x D 2.5" and will technically fit my Lenovo Carbon X1. 

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  • Lenovo X1 Carbon - Core i7, 16GB RAM, SSD, Solid 6-hour battery. This by far the best laptop I've ever used.
  • Logitech MX Anywhere 2 Optical Mouse - Comfy, compact, works on glass, rechargeable battery.
  • Maxpedition E.D.C. Pocket Organizer - This is my consulting survival kit.
  • Bragi "The Headphone" - Wireless ear buds. Great audio and call quality.
  • Backup Battery - A gift from my friends at Grant Thornton for helping them kick-off their internal marketing team content series earlier this year. 100% the best corporate gift I've ever received.
  • Zebra F-701 - Stainless Steel. Good weight. Grippy knurling. Standard Refills. What's not to love?
  • Technician's 1x4 Pocket Screw Driver - Two different sized flathead and two sized Phillips screwdriver heads. Amazing how handy this thing is.
  • Popov Leather Field Notes Case - Beautiful leather, lots of color and configuration options, and an incredibly accessible price point.
  • Popov Leather Business Card Case - Because, matchy-matchy. Also… if you're going to have an object that is a uni-tasker… have it be beautiful.
  • Random 2gb thumb drives - These are for freeing beautiful things from your colleague's Prison of Excellence. Never be without one.
  • Ares Single LED Flashlight - Tiny, clips to your bag, watch strap, etc. Handy for when you drop something on the floor in an airplane. (Which has totally never happened to me.)
  • Zolt Ultra Compact Laptop Charger - Yes… this is my laptop charger. No, I do not carry the one that came with my Carbon X1 around with me, because it is ginormous.
  • Random Cables and Adapters - I always carry shorter iPhone and Micro USB cables for battery charging on the go. I believe the others are display to DVI adapters and ethernet to USB.

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And there you have it, folks. How to turn a small shoulder bag into a clown car of useful curation.

I hope you've enjoyed this little journey through the life and mind of a Solution Strategist. If just one tip or recommendation helps you think differently about your time or perhaps adds just a bit of efficiency in your day, I'd love to hear about it. I look forward to some of my colleagues taking up the charge and similarly sharing how they approach their work and what processes and lifehacks they've picked up along the way. 

Cheers.


Brandon Rozelle is the Vice President of Solution Strategy at Rightpoint. Follow Brandon on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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