Category Archives: Others

6 Ways to Increase Your Industry Knowledge

Ever since the Tower of Babel, complicated projects have failed due to poor communication. If you have a basic understanding of an industry, you can communicate much more effectively with business people, and reduce the risk of failure.

You can even create an attractive niche brand by combining your technical expertise with a deep understanding of how your industry works.

That’s nice, you might think, but how do you get this industry knowledge?

Here are six tips to get you started:

  1. Create a mental model: Make a boxes and arrows diagram of your current mental model of the domain. The remaining tips are all about growing and refining your model.
  2. Google it: A simple Google search, like “domain knowledge banking”, will give you a lot of good reads to get started with.
  3. Find a mentor: Find someone who really understands the domain and listen curiously to what they say about their work. People usually enjoy talking about what they are good at.
  4. Follow the experts: Find out who are the thought leaders of the industry, and follow their Twitter accounts and blogs.
  5. Read the trade journal: Find out what the major publication is in the industry and read it.
  6. Watch an employee at work: See somebody perform one of the key jobs in that industry. For example, spending a few hours with a call center employee will give you a whole new understanding of their fast-paced job.

The good news is that the fundamentals of most industries remain pretty stable over time, so once you have a basic understanding it won’t require a lot of maintenance.

And since most software engineers don’t bother to learn much about the industries they work in, you can easily get ahead with only a small investment of your time.

How to Boost Your Productivity

A simple yet effective way to increase your productivity is to divide your work into 90-minute blocks and take relaxing breaks between them.

In each 90-minute block you focus intensely on a given task, so no social media, chatting, emailing, news reading, etc. You just work, work, work, and then work some more on the task at hand.

Some people has experienced that they can get as much done in a focused 90-minute block as they normally get done in a whole day!

Research shows that 90 minutes is the upper limit for how long we can stay focused. After that our minds start wandering and become less productive.

This is why you need a break after you have worked intensely for 90 minutes. It needs to be a real break away from the computer, so your brain can recover and become ready to performance at its maximum level again.

So how does such a 90-minute schedule looks in practice?

For a blogger it can look like this:

  • 08:00-09:30 Block 1: Bulldoze through first draft.
  • 09:30-10:00 Break: Go for a run.
  • 10:00-11:30 Block 2: Rewrite and make ready for publication.
  • 11:30-12:00 Break: Enjoy lunch.
  • 12:00-13:30 Block 3: Publish and promote.

While 3×90 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, you must remember that this is highly effective work without any procrastination. Bestselling author Tony Schwartz wrote in Harvard Business Review that he used to write for 12 hours each day and finish a book in about a year. He then switches to write in three 90-minute blocks per day and was able to finish a book in less than 6 months!

But if you really want to push it, personal development expert Steve Pavlina puts down the challenge of doing 5×90-minute blocks per day to get a whole week’s work done in a single day!

For me it works best if I have a goal for each 90-minute block. It’s not needed with a specific and measurable goal, but just a rough idea of what I would like to achieve within the 90 minutes.

I also discovered that I need a physical kitchen clock with a countdown feature to make this work for me. At first I used the timer on my iPad, but after some time the screen goes dark, and I must be able to see the clock counting down all the time for maximum motivation.

My secret weapon, a kitchen timer!

Another essential element for success is to take breaks seriously(!) So don’t sit down and “do” Facebook for half an hour. Take a real break and give your mind a chance to relax and renew itself.

Here’s a quick list of ideas for break activities:

  • Take a run, stretch or some other exercise.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Meditate, pray or visualize.
  • Enjoy a healthy snack.
  • Take a nap.
  • Talk with a friend.

If you work in a management position (or another job with many interruptions) it can be difficult to organize your work into uninterrupted 90-minute blocks. But you should still carve out one 90-minute block per day to get the important, but not (yet!) urgent, stuff done. Everybody can do that!