Killer Apps, Tech, Companies and Working Practices of 2017

We’re fast approaching the end of the year and its been a great year full of amazing Products and amazing Product Management. Here’s my list of killer tech or apps that made a difference in my life, the companies that have blown me away and the working practices and books I’ve picked up over the year that have made a difference.

Killer apps and tech of the year:

Muzzle: https://muzzleapp.com/

Muzzle is an app for MacOS that I came across on Product Hunt earlier in the year.

It only has one function — silencing notifications from showing on your screen for the period that the app is open for. When you close it, your notifications start up again.

As a Product Manager, I am often projecting or sharing my screen in front of various levels of people and considering I can get up to 200 emails a day, multiple slack messages and whatsapp messages, I don’t want these coming up in the corner of my screen — partially because the content can be sensitive, but mostly because it can be majorly annoying and distratcting.

However the major benefit is that my CEO doesn’t get to see when my girlfriend sends me a message asking whats for dinner, or when my Product Team start making fun on each other on slack.

The Nintendo Switch: https://www.nintendo.com/switch/

I gamed a lot as a kid, spending countless hours in my bedroom playing on my Nintendo 64, then Gamecube. But after the gamecube I lost my love for gaming, everything got a bit same-y. I’ve bought XBOXs and Playstations but they’ve mostly sat and collected dust and went unused after short periods of time.

Earlier this year, I impulse bought a Nintendo switch because I had friends coming over for the weekend and I thought the new Mario Kart looked good.

What happened was my love of gaming was rekindled. Since then I have spent around 60 hours on Breath of the Wild, 40 on Mario Odyssey and many, many hours playing Mario Kart 8 with friends and family. I’ve also delved into the world of Indie games and come across quite a few gems!

Playing Mario Odyssey set me back to being 8, being sat cross legged 2 feet away from my TV filled with awe and wonder. I haven’t felt that for a very long time and Nintendo brought that all streaming back, I think I actually got teary eyed a few times.

Its also killer tech because I’ve taken the switch with me on weekends away, played it on planes, in cafes, from bed and on the sofa — no matter where i’m playing, I get the same experience. Its a Product thats so well designed that gaming slotted back into my life seamlessly and rekindled it.

The Fujifilm X-T20: https://www.fujifilm.eu/uk/products/digital-cameras/model/x-t20

I like taking photos but I wouldn’t call myself a photographer. For years i’ve owned a Canon 450D along with a range of lenses and I’ve took some great photographs but when the X-T20 launched in February I kept a very close eye on it.

The X-T20 is the X-2’s little brother. Its got everything the premium X2 has, except the weather proofing. With 4k video, a 24.0MP APS-C (23.6 x 15.6 mm ) sized CMOS X-TRANS III sensor and has more functions on it than I can shake a stick at.

I made the plunge in November and this little beauty has sat in my bag with me ever since, getting used on a daily basis.

What i’ve found over the last 5 weeks is that the X-T20 allows me to up my photography game and makes my little hobby all the more enjoyable and the end results so much better.

Its priced well enough that I didn’t break the bank (although there was still a sting!) and whilst it has a ton of features on it I feel like i’m going to use them all.

Its also compact and light enough for me to throw it in my bag and not worry about it.

My favourite feature — although its not unique to this camera is being able to directly connect my phone to it, either to set up shots and control the camera or to download images straight to my phone. This has ultimately meant I now have started posting on Instagram again.

As a Product this has been a massive win for me this year, I hope i’ll get many years of enjoyment out of it and I think it’ll be money well spent.

Killer Companies for the year

Monzo: https://monzo.com/

Anyone who follows me on twitter knows I have a slight love affair with Monzo.

If you haven’t heard of them, they’re a tech based upstart headquartered down in London who want to disrupt the banking industry and thats exactly what they’re doing.

Monzo is (now) a bank that gives you a debit card and access to a current account. As you spend, your transactions instantly show in the app, coming up via notification. You can get detailed views of where you spent that money along with what your current balance is and how much you’ve spent that day.

If you go abroad you can use the card without transaction fees too. I travel a fair amount and Monzo has made my travel experience exponentially easier. So much so that my recent trip to Iceland I never withdrew any money and used my Monzo card for the whole trip. I don’t even know what Iceland Kroner looks like and I spent 10 days there.

I’ve worked in finance and its full of outdated systems and huge legacy problems and often the internal politics within the companies stop that them moving forwards. Monzo is breaking all the rules in the UK and pushing for things to be better, not just from a tech point of view but from a way of working view too.

They manage their Product openly, so everyone gets a say in how the Product moves forwards (they often do open votes on their forums to decide what to do) and they have an open roadmap that anyone can view.

Monzo has changed the way I think about money, I can see what i’m spending and where i’m spending and I can easily get access to breakdowns of what i’m spending my money on.

It has however made me realise I probably spend far too much money on eating out — oops.

Coinbase: https://www.coinbase.com/

I’m late to the party on Crypto-currency, but i’ve still made quite a few £’s on it this year.

Coinbase reaches my killer companies for this year because of how accessibly they’ve made getting involved with Crypto currency in 2017.

Most of my Product team use it because Coinbase built an app thats very accessible to use — so much so that people who have no idea what Bitcoin, Litecoin and Etherium are, are suddenly buying it to try and jump on the massive spikes the currencies are seeing.

I can’t think of another Product that is making a largely inaccessible piece of tech accessible for the masses. You know Coinbase are starting to get serious when they start stealing VP level staff from Facebook.

Most recently they’ve also been the most downloaded app in the app store — definelty one to watch for 2018.

Killer working methods for the year

The 1 week workplan and daily to-do list

Being a Product Manager I have to spin a lot of different plates, which means I have to keep track to a lot of moving parts, whether this be my delivery teams, my UX discovery process, or thinking about the future and working with my stakeholders, all whilst solving problems on a daily basis.

It also doesn’t help that I have dyspraxia, causing me to have a horrendous short term memory. This can cause me to forget things — which means ether something doesn’t get done, or I can be half way through a task and realise I’ve already done it a few hours, or few days ago.

At the start of the year I had started to pull some pretty long hours because I wanted to get more done but my work just started to suffer because of it. I’m a hell of a grump if I start working 10 hour days and at times I was pulling even more than that. Things were starting to break and people kept saying to me (although its a tad cliche):

“Work smarter, not harder”

I’ve come across this multiple times but never really known how to do it, but my working hours were draining my energy and my work along with my life were suffering because of it.

This meant I had to go away and research new productivity techniques to try and squeeze the most out of my time and find a way of working that meant I wasn’t mentally exhausted at the end of the day. After a fair bit of searching I found this technique and I now get considerably more done each week than I ever have done before, it also makes sure that the important stuff gets done, instead of being forgotten about.

How it works:

First thing on a Monday, before i’ve read my emails or looked at my calendar, I make a to-do list of what need to be achieved this week. These are high level goals, such as ‘finalise roadmap for week end meeting’ or ‘meet with stakeholder X to discuss Y’. I’ll probably put anywhere between 5–10 items on this list.

Each day (including that Monday) I then write a daily to-do list of what I need to do when I get into the office that aligns with my weekly list. This daily list cannot be more than 5 items long. I often spend 3–4 hours a day in meetings and this forces me to constantly context switch, so getting a lot done can be hard without pulling the extra hours.

If I get to the end of the working day and I haven’t completed an item or items, I then question whether it was important enough for them to be completed. If it was, I include it on my following day. If an item slips between multiple days I often then drop if completely.

This sounds a bit extreme — but when brainspace and time are both at a premium I need to make sure i’m getting the most value out of the available time I have.

This has been so succesful for me in my working life that in the new year i’m planning on doing it for my personal life. I often have self goals I want to achieve but don’t get around to, so i’ll be doing one of these each week and day too.

Having a space at home to work and think

My home office space

I hate taking work home with me because it blurs the line between personal and work. It makes it so much harder to leave the stressful days behind you. I refuse to have my work email installed on my phone for that reason.

But… this year I started to work from home at least once every two weeks and I also started to focus on personal projects. This meant I had to find a way to separate ‘work’ when I was at home. I also considered whether doing this meant I could have a dedicated space on getting more stuff done in my personal life I wanted to achieve.

I focused on creating space I could separate from the rest of my home where I could go to either work — shutting the door and being in ‘work mode’, but also somewhere where I could focus on thinking and getting personal projects done.

I’m lucky enough that I had a spare box room in my house that I turned it into a home office and had the room completely renovated around that idea. But for a long time I just had small desk set up in a corner of a room that was my dedicated workspace.

I now use my home office on a regular basis — this is my space I go to to get stuff done.

Killer Book of the year:

Managing for Happiness by Jurgen Apello: http://jurgenappelo.com/managing-for-happiness/

I came across Jurgen Appelo at a meetup in Manchester where over video he talked though a few exerts from his book and why happiness is such an important thing for teams.

In the past i’ve never considered that happiness can help teams deliver more and yield better results. Motivating teams has always been something i’ve looked at improving so what Jurgen was saying was like a lightbulb going off above my head.

After the meetup, I quickly purchased his book and its sat on my desk ever since.

What Jurgen has achieved in this book is an easy to read and accessible tool of resources that can be dived into. I haven’t read the whole thing from cover to cover and thats exactly how this book is written.

I can jump into a section, take out some learnings from it and then go and apply it to my team. If you haven’t got a copy go and buy one now.

And thats it for 2017 — Its been a very interesting year and we’ve seen some great stuff happen over this year. I’m very excited about the year to come!

Have I missed a piece of killer tech, an app, a book or a working technique that you love? Drop me a comment below or tweet me!