Monday Productive #35 with Ani Koleva
Published on: November 28, 2021

Monday Productive is a weekly interview format, featuring peak-performers from my network, who share 5 quick ideas on how to boost your productivity and stay at the top of your game.

Today’s guest is Ani Koleva. Ani is a communication and employer brand manager at Leanplum, and an active ecosystem and community builder.

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1. Ani, imagine you’ve had a very productive day. What made it so for you? 

Having a productive day is all about perception. For example, days throughout which I felt the most unproductive, often turned out to be some of the most productive ones! Yeah, it can be a bit counterintuitive, but we often deceive ourselves that following a strict schedule and checking out as many To Dos as possible would make us more productive and successful. The truth is that sometimes productivity means taking time for self-reflection, investing efforts in unblocking your team or yourself, or just finishing the next assignment of that never-ending project that you are stuck with. It’s applying the 80/20 percent principle where 20 percent of your actual tasks account for 80 percent of your productivity. 

Defining days as productive based on completed deadlines can be extremely stressful and overwhelming. Also quite unproductive. Taking the time to “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey writes, on the other hand, is critical when it comes to speeding ahead both personally and professionally.

Don’t get me wrong! I admit my addiction to meeting deadlines. Who doesn’t like the small dopamine boosts from checking out all boxes in your To Do list? In my case, the To Do list is hand written on paper which makes the satisfaction from crossing out each completed task even higher. Yet, I use a tested technique to help me focus: 

Instead of just listing the tasks I have to do, I split them into four categories according to the Eisenhower’s Decision Principle: 1. Urgent/Important, 2. Not Urgent/Important, 3. Urgent/Not Important, and 4. Not Urgent/Not Important. Urgent usually means that a certain task requires immediate attention and should be completed within a certain deadline. Important, on the other hand, are tasks that contribute to our long-term goals and allow us to operate in responsive mode, meaning keeping a calm, rational, and open to new opportunities approach to solving problems. 

Having said that, a very productive day for me means answering positively to the following questions:

🔵 Did I learn something today that I didn’t know before? (It can be anything – from trivia questions up to specific work related skills)

🔵 Did I make any progress on the tasks in Quadrant 2 “Not Urgent/Important”? (Including things like planning, recreation, maintaining or building meaningful relationships)

🔵 Did I stay true to the values and habits that support my wellbeing? Or did I allow the pace of the day to break them?

Doing this reflection on a daily basis is a very powerful tool, but I won’t recommend it if you are not ready to be empathetic with yourself. Not fulfilling one or all of the questions in a consecutive period of time might turn out to be quite stressful or even painful.

2. What are your strategies to stay focused and get things done now that we have to work home?

Working from home has always been an option at Leanplum so I wouldn’t say that there was a huge difference in terms of accommodating habits, schedules, and processes. 

Something that works quite well for me since the covid-19 quarantine started, however, is the creation of a detailed daily plan. Usually done in the evening, just before I go to sleep, this “daily plan” includes scheduling your activities and booking time slots for each of them in the calendar. Pretty much like using the Pomodoro Technique throughout the whole day. 

It may look a bit extreme, but results show that this approach is much more productive than the ordinary list of tasks. The former helps you build more self discipline and keeps you aware of the time spent. Another benefit, in these challenging times, is that it helps you stay sane and ensure that you have your personal/free time secured. Workaholics may relate with me when I say that one of the big challenges of working from home is keeping track of time and finding the balance between the projects you are passionate about and your personal recreation time.

3. Do you have a morning or evening routine? 

In the past four weeks, while the quarantine is still going, my days usually start around 7:30 AM. Reading a book and doing 30 minutes of yoga and meditation is a great start of the day. At 9:30 I have a call with my team – an opportunity to drink coffee with friends and stay connected in this work from home environment. Then I continue my other activities for the day. The pre-quarantine me, however, is not that strict to morning or evening routines. I prefer concentrating on the things that matter being done rather than following a set schedule just for the sake of habit.

4. Despite working for Leanplum, you are also an active community builder. Why do you do that? How has that helped you to grow as a professional? 

I was lucky enough to become part of a community based organisation when I was 15 years old. Soon after that I started volunteering for different initiatives and causes. I haven’t stopped ever since (although it’s not a full time activity now as it used to be). 

Volunteering taught me a tremendous amount of the skills I have today and met me with some of the most inspiring people I’ve had the chance to know and work with. It’s a mindset and a sense of belonging! It’s also why I feel so happy about being able to support community building today via Leanplum and my personal capabilities. 

5. In the last 24 months – what habit or belief have you acquired, that helps you to be a more effective professional today?

1️⃣ To Be list vs To Do list

Having a To Do list is great! Yet, To Dos often limit our ability to think long term and keep the right direction or speed. Thus in 2020 I decided to test a new approach that upgrades the standard To Do with To Be list. A list of prioritized goals and areas of improvement consisting of two basic components: 

👉 A positive statement written in first person singular that you would love to say as a fact within the scope of (for example) 5 years. “Thoughts are things” as Napoleon Hill writes and it’s important to visualize in order to achieve them. 

👉 Concrete action items that you are willing to undertake in order to achieve these goals.

2️⃣ Data is king

Due to numerous cognitive biases that each human has, data seems to be the only trustworthy solution for becoming more aware of behavioral tendencies and eradicating bad habits. Based on the established To Be list and the concrete action items set for each goal, a relatively new habit that I started developing is tracking daily KPIs. This way, I can review and analyse the results per month or year, getting a better understanding of what can be optimised or changed. 

3️⃣ Show Gratitude

Another thing I find valuable, although I am still working on making it a habit, is keeping a Thank you journal. Spending 15 minutes at the end of each day to list at least three things that I am grateful for is quite a powerful and liberating tool. It’s especially important if you are an achievement freak (saying it in the best positive meaning)! Things to be grateful for can be anything – from the smell of the coffee in the morning, the beautiful cherry blossom tree in front of the office, the moments you enjoy with your colleagues, the walk back home, the opportunity to help someone today, or the message by an old friend. 

[BONUS] Name one to three books that helped you to become a better leader? 📘

Let me share a bit more than three 🙂

Not directly related to leadership, but one of the best:

If you have any questions to Ani, please leave your comment below!

Follow Ani on LinkedIn.

Thank you for reading. 

And Happy Monday! 

Stoyan 

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Stoyan Yankov is a productivity coach and a professional speaker, who’s helped teams to grow and increase their performance in over 20 countries; through his trainings, workshops and coaching programs.

Stoyan co-developed the #perform methodology together with Cristobal Alonso (CEO, Startup Wise Guys), applied in hundreds of startup team across Europe. Together they are finishing the book: PERFORM – The Unsexy Truth about (Startup) Success, including cases and examples from the best startup founders in #NewEurope.

Published by: Stoyan Yankov

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