Maximize the Work Tools on Your Desk

Tips to Maximize the Work Tools on Your Desk

What do these items have in common?

  • task list
  • calendar
  • computer and other electronic devices
  • current projects (sitting in an organizing unit holding files)
  • telephone
  • a few office supplies
  • a few personal items
  • an inbox and outbox (maybe)

You may have guessed it — they are essential organizing tools that sit on the top of your desk within arm’s reach and help you efficiently plan and manage your work day.

These work tools will help you focus on the task at hand and help improve your productivity. Each one is used often and needs to be within reach. Everything else, such as paper clutter and miscellaneous items, are distractions and should be moved. 

Limit your desk space to the following items: 

Task List: A to-do list is a must. This is your #1 work tool. If you don’t do anything else, update and check it several times a day, at least. It doesn’t matter if it is paper or electronic. What does count is a dependable system that keeps all tasks in one place and handy. Tip: some people like to print it out if it is electronic. 

When you think of a task, enter it immediately so it doesn’t take up space in your head. And forget about grabbing a sticky note or the back of an envelope. Sticky notes don’t always adhere and the back of an envelope is known to disappear when you need to return a client call and can no longer find the number. Once the task is written down in the same place as all of the others, it is reassuring to know that the task will not be forgotten. And what a great feeling to ü a task once it’s completed.

Note: Some prefer to use a calendar as a combination task list and calendar. That way tasks are designated to a certain date and time and are less likely to fall through the cracks. Statistics show that there is a 75 percent greater chance of a task being completed if it is scheduled on the calendar rather than in your task list according to Sally McGhee in “Take Back Your Life!.”  As long as there is a system in place that you are comfortable with and can count on, it does not matter if you use a separate calendar and to-do list or combine them.

When we interviewed 75 productive and organized executives, we discovered that all of them use and depend on to-do lists. It was one of the systems that they had in common. While they set up the lists differently (that was to be expected), each one told us that it helps their productivity to use a to-do list.

Tip: Decide the two or three to-dos that must be done that day. Brian Tracy from “Eat That Frog” calls these your MITs, Most Important Tasks. While there are many more tasks that you would like to accomplish, concentrate first on the ones you identified and get them done. One of these tasks must be related to your goals. Then you can move on to other tasks. At the end of the day, it will feel good knowing that you focused your time and energy on the tasks that matter.

Calendar: As soon as you know about a meeting, add it to the calendar pronto! That goes for personal and business meetings. One calendar is all you need. Otherwise, it is too easy to miss an appointment because it wasn’t in the calendar you were looking at. In Microsoft Outlook, you have the ability to color-code appointments to differentiate personal from business. One quick glance at the calendar and you know your schedule for the day.

Active Projects:  What are your current projects? Reserve the organizing unit on your desk for these projects and for reference materials such as a company directory. Keep other projects in your working files drawer close by.

Telephone:  Keep a phone log or spiral notebook beside your phone to use as a record of voice mail messages.  Or, record the information into a to-do list on your computer that synchs with your cell phone for easy callbacks.

If the caller is someone you will need to call again, take a minute and add the information to your contact list. The next time the person calls, their ID will come up and you can decide whether to take the call.

Supplies: Keep a few items and move the rest to the supply closet or an extra drawer. Save your desktop space for more important items.

Personal Items: Of course, a few photographs or mementoes are a given. They will remind you why you are working and give you a good reason to go home at night. But, only a few.

What’s on the top of your desk? Are they going to help you stay productive and efficient throughout the day?

Make Sleep A Top Priority (Part 2)

We are not sleep specialists but we know that having a goal, finding a strategy, and implementing tactics to achieve that goal will make it far more likely that you will complete it.

How to go about getting more sleep? There are many tips but the ones listed below seem to be universal. According to Dr. Scott Leibowitz:

No. 1: Stick to a sleep schedule; consistency is essential

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night. There’s a caveat, though. If you don’t fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you’re tired. If you agonize over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.

No. 2: Pay attention to what you eat and drink

Don’t go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Your discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed, to prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom.

Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine — which take hours to wear off — can wreak havoc with quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.

No. 3: Create a bedtime ritual

Do the same things each night to tell your body it’s time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.

Be wary of using the TV or other electronic devices as part of your bedtime ritual. Some research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.

No. 4: Create the ideal environment 

True Story: Lisa travelled for business and noticed she slept much better when she was in a hotel rather than at home. She realized her environment at home was a distraction. She redecorated her bedroom to mimic a luxury hotel room – cool colors, no clutter, few mementos, and built-in furniture to hide electronics and papers. In other words: a room that’s ideal for sleeping

Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.

Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there’s enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set limits on how often they sleep with you — or insist on separate sleeping quarters.

No. 5: Limit daytime naps

Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep — especially if you’re struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. If you choose to nap during the day, limit yourself to about 10 to 30 minutes and make it during the midafternoon.

Napping can go far in improving work performance, in addition to providing a number of other health benefits. To maximize nap times, limit your shuteye time to 30 minutes, and time your nap between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to match the low point of the body’s circadian cycle: You’ll have the best chance of falling asleep during the few hours after lunch, and it could increase your performance (and maybe even learning capacity) for the rest of the day.

Corporate Wellness Programs Need To Address Sleep And Stress.

Napping can go far in improving work performance, in addition to providing a number of other health benefits. To maximize nap times, limit your shuteye time to 30 minutes, and time your nap between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to match the low point of the body’s circadian cycle: You’ll have the best chance of falling asleep during the few hours after lunch, and it could increase your performance (and maybe even learning capacity) for the rest of the day.

Nearly 90 percent of companies offer wellness incentives for employees, according to a survey from Fidelity Investments. However, only 6 percent of offices had napping rooms for employees in 2011, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey of 600 companies. Companies like The Huffington Post and Nationwide Planning Associates believe in power naps and offer their employees nap rooms because they believe that it has a payoff – happier, more rejuvenated and productive employees. EnergyPods are like recliners and are located at companies such as Google and Procter & Gamble.

If you work nights, you’ll need to make an exception to the rules about daytime sleeping. In this case, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight — which adjusts your internal clock — doesn’t interrupt your daytime sleep.

No. 6: Include physical activity in your daily routine

Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is important, though. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might be too energized to fall asleep. If this seems to be an issue for you, exercise earlier in the day.

No. 7: Manage stress

When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep is likely to suffer. To help restore peace to your life, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share a good laugh with an old friend. Before bed, jot down what’s on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.

No. 8: Know when to contact your doctor

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night — but if you often have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve.

Have we convinced you to think about how you can make sleep a priority?

P.S. Be sure and check out these websites.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/sleep-and-productivity

Man sleeping on the couch

Man sleeping on the couch

http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/sleep-deprived-workers-cost-companies-632-billion-each-year

 

Not Getting Enough? (Part 1)

We’ve all heard it:  Americans are sleep deprived. Recently I listened to a sleep expert address sleep deprivation and decided I must learn more about the topic. I must confess: I am the poster child for sleep disorders. Not the medical kind – called sleep apnea. Just the kind that manifests itself with a cycle of falling asleep and waking up a few hours later one night, not being able to sleep the next night, and no defined “sleeping times”.  Admit it — you know what I’m talking about.

So, here is what I learned. Many Americans seem to thrive on the fact that we can “get by” with so little sleep. We talk about it too! In every elevator in every office building we overhear,  “OMG – I worked so late last night answering emails from my important client in Japan and with the time change, I only got 4 hours of sleep, but that is about the standard for me today”  while  holding a giant cup of coffee in hand. Often we wear this fact like a badge of importance or pride.

Why are we, productivity and efficiency consultants, writing about sleep? We certainly value time management and tout the benefits of effective calendaring, project and task management, etc. However, we also know that good health impacts overall success. When we interviewed successful, productive executives and professionals many stated making time for exercise and putting a priority on good health was an important factor in their success.

What are the causes for sleep deprivation? Lots of reasons: caffeine, watching the late night news, stress, and technology. We seem to have problems “turning off.” Many of our clients say the only time they have time to deal with the emails is after the rest of the family has gone to bed. We sleep with our cell phones next to our beds. Yesterday a friend told me she was up at 4 AM as she had received a text message – that was sent in error no less – and it woke her. When I asked why she didn’t turn off that alert at night, she said she might get an important text! That’s crazy. If there is an emergency in the middle of the night, and we hope there is not, chances are you will get a phone call — not a text. We don’t take sleep seriously; we don’t make it a priority. We don’t have a routine. We don’t have good sleeping habits.

OK. No routine. No habit. The cost of sleep deprivation is enormous. In 2013 the  country’s top sleep researchers and corporate leaders came together at the Corporate Sleep Health Summit, hosted by Harvard Medical School,  to discuss the latest research and the impact of sleep deprivation on the American work force and corporate bottom-line.

Most of us have heard that the cost of not enough sleep results in a number of health issues such as:

  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

The mental costs are just as insidious:

  • Impairs memory
  • Dumbs us down
  • Causes accidents
  • Impacts creativity and innovation
  • Lowers job satisfaction
  • Compromises decision making
  • Limits your ability to think on your feet

Lack of sleep affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls innovation, self-control and creativity. A 1999 study found that just 24 hours of sleep loss impairs innovative thinking and flexible decision making.

Two-thirds of Americans report that getting too little sleep was a major source of stress for them in the past month, according to a recent HuffPost survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults. And the effects of both stress and sleep deprivation could be seeping into their work lives.

Sleep Deprivation And Stress Are A Vicious Cycle.

“In the sleep world, stress is to sleep as yin is to yang — opposite forces that are forever linked,” Chris Winter, M.D. told The Huffington Post in April. “Stress prevents sleep. Sleep deprivation increases stress and its consequences.”

So our work lives are causing us to become stressed (eight in 10 Americans are stressed about their jobs), and in turn, we are less able to get our work done because we’re not getting enough sleep. One study found that 24 hours of sleep deprivation can significantly raise stress hormone levels.

24/7 Jobs Are Taking A Big Toll On Sleep Health.

Changing work cultures and constant connection to smartphones and digital devices is wreaking havoc with many Americans’ sleep patterns. The cost of more flexible work schedules is that many of us find that we never really turn off, responding to emails past midnight and working through weekends and vacations. According to new sleep survey data presented at the Summit, 72 percent of American workers polled said that they sleep with their smartphones next to their beds in the on position, and 45 percent send emails and texts often or always right before they fall asleep at night.

Today I spoke with two employees at a large law firm who shared the following: They receive an email from a partner stating that work must be done by early morning. They are expected to delegate the work – even in the middle of the night – so the partner’s request will be met. Then come early morning, the partner in question never acknowledges the request; it is expected that their requests will be met 24/7 without any additional thank you.

“As a result of us being so connected, we’re not only having a negative effect on ourselves, but we’re having a profound effect on those with whom we work,” said Leslie Perlow, Harvard Business School professor and author of Sleeping With Your Smartphone, in a 2012 Harvard Business Review webinar.

Now that you know the “cost” of sleep deprivation, try to get to sleep and in our next blog we will give you practical advice – from the experts – as to how you can learn to become a better sleeper.  Good night!

Is It Time To Declutter Your Desk? (Part 2)

In the last blog (http://www.itstimetogetorganized.com/what-does-not-belong-on-your-desk/) we explored why cluttered desks make it hard to focus on the task at hand and what you can do about it. When you have to push things aside to find a clear spot, you know it is time to tackle the desktop clutter. Statistics show that co-workers admit to being judgmental and assume that the owner of a messy desk is lazy. While we would not necessarily jump to that conclusion, that is the general feeling of the people with whom you work.

When clean space on the top of your desk is hard to come by, it may be time to take a look at the offenders — the items on your desk that are usurping valuable space. Unless they’re paying rent (which of course they are not) they belong somewhere else. It is your desk, isn’t it?

Before jumping into this project and bulldozing everything in sight on your desk, take a step back and decide what to do with these items. The “keep” items need a permanent home. (Your desk is their temporary home.) Moving everything to the right place requires thought ahead of time and a plan of action. You may decide to tackle this project on off-hours — later in the day or on a weekend — to minimize the interruptions that invariably come up. It will require focus.

Now that you have a better understanding of where items might be relocated, it is time to begin. We have already discussed tips in the previous blog on handling: Loose Papers, Post-It Notes, and Reading Materials. Now we will move on to other things you may find on your desk:

Project Files

  • Keep the current project on the desk top — Other on-going projects can be relocated to a nearby desk drawer or placed on the desk in a step (or tiered) organizing unit. As long as they are not in the way and do not throw you off track, both options are fine.

Meeting Notes

  • Decide where they should go. Most people have no idea what to do with them so they end up under piles in various corners of the desk. If they are no longer needed or are now in electronic form the answer is obvious. Consider adding them to the folder belonging to the specific project.
  • Create a folder and label it “meeting notes”. Now you will know where to look when you next need the information.
  • Scan them  to an electronic folder with a descriptive name and throw out the paper notes.

Business Cards

  • Gather them together and decide which ones to keep.
  • Add a few phrases on the back of these cards reminding you where you met, what the other person was wearing, what you discussed, or if there was any follow up. These clues will help you remember the discussion.
  • Place the cards in one location such as a small box. That is a far better solution than leaving them scattered all around your desk and credenza where they can be lost. When we work with clients, we find them on top of the desk and every other flat surface in the office plus thrown in drawers. Many people return from a networking event or meeting and do not know what to do with them.
  • Enter the cards into contacts. Include the notes you made on the back of the card. Microsoft Outlook and other CRMs include note sections where you can provide information about the person and the meeting. Use a scanner when there are a large number of business cards. It is a lot faster.

Mail

  • Confine incoming mail to a box that sits on the corner of your desk. Without a home for mail, it will end up strangling your desk (and maybe you, too).

Items To Take Home

  • Designate a place somewhere else other than the top of your desk for your keys, wallet, smart phone, articles to read, documents, a briefcase and/or a purse. These types of items belong in a desk drawer or in a filing cabinet where they are out-of-sight and safe.

 Personal Items

  • Clients typically want to know what is acceptable. Of course, a photo or two is a nice addition to your desk and helps you remember why you come to work in the morning and why you leave in the evening.  We recommend displaying a few special pictures — that’s all.
  • Take away most, if not all, decorative items that sit on your desk. Donate or take home most knick knacks, especially if they have no meaning and you do not remember where they originally came from.
  • Rotate your personal items regularly to keep your desk looking fresh and interesting.

Cords and Electronic Devices

  • Designate an out-of-the-way spot so they do not need to be continually shifted about while you are working. Also, it will be easier to remember your cell phone or tablet when you leave the office if they are in the same location every time.

Printers and Scanners

  • Find a spot off your desk, if possible, for your scanner and printer. Or, at the very least, relocate them to a corner of your desk. These items are often big and bulky and take up valuable desk space. Just be sure they are handy to reach.

Supplies

  • Extra pens, pencils and notepads are annoying if it is necessary to move them from spot to spot every time more desk room is needed. Instead, stash them in a drawer, move them to a supply cabinet or give them away if you are unlikely to use them.Many organizations or schools can always use these types of supplies and are grateful. And, yes, they are a tax deduction.

Cleaning Supplies

  • While essential for keeping a desk clean, storing unattractive bottles and cans on top of your desk is not a pretty sight. Find someplace else.

Binders

  • As much as we find binders very handy, they take up a lot of room on a desk. Move them to a bookcase or arrange them on a shelf above your desk, if you have one.

Bonus Tip: Take a few minutes before you leave at the end of the day to clear off your desk and make it presentable. When you walk into the office the next day, you will be able to find what you need and can get down to work right away. There will be no down time and you will be off to a good start of the day. How nice!

 

 

 

 

 

What Does NOT Belong On Your Desk?

Often items strewn on your desk get in the way, literally and figuratively.  Many items do not belong on your most valuable piece of real estate. You probably have no idea how they got there in the first place. Papers, business cards, file folders, coffee cups and an assortment of pens scattered about can easily distract you from the task at hand. When it is hard to focus, it is hard to achieve your personal best. Clutter and extraneous items take you off course and reduces efficiency.

Another reason to clear the desktop clutter? Research shows that 57% of supervisors, co-workers, and clients pass judgment on how dirty or clean people keep their workspaces. They are often “appalled” by how messy the office is and consider them lazy. As good as your work product is a messy desk leaves a poor impression. (Note: survey by staffing firm Adecco) http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/03/27/the-dangers-of-a-messy-desk/

Below is a step-by-step plan for a functional desktop that will help you stay productive throughout the day.

Prepare for your desk clean-up ahead of time.  

1. Choose a date and enter it into your planner.

2. Decide where items should be relocated. One of the reasons we end up with so much on our desk is that they have no home. A lot of things currently on your desk may end up in the trash so begin thinking about homes for magazines, project folders, meeting notes, business cards, personal items and extra supplies, to name a few.

3. Secure a large trash bag.

Now the day has arrived for you to begin. 

Gather like items together. A quick sort will identify the contents on the top of your desk. It is a lot easier to make decisions once you have divided everything into broad groups. Below are the types of items that you may possibly encounter while de-cluttering this valuable space:

Loose Papers

  • Decide what to toss and what to keep by glancing quickly at each document. If you stop to read each one, it will slow you down and can easily get you off track.
  • Divide the “keep” papers into two piles: active and reference. Place active documents into a file folder with similar items and keep in easy reach either on the desktop in an organizing unit that has “steps or tiers” or a close by desk drawer right next to you. Because you may not go to reference materials as often, they can be kept farther away such as across the room.

Scanning

  • Store documents electronically instead of keeping paper. First, however, devise a plan for the location of electronic files. The last thing you want to happen is to lose an important document because it was misfiled. Also, do not forget to backup.
  • Toss or shred the paper documents once a copy resides on your computer and the original is no longer needed.

Post-It Notes

  • Stash these bits of information into electronic software such as on-line post-it notes, One-Note, EverNote, or even the computer desktop.
  • Or store the information in a binder in an easy-to-reach location.

Reading Materials

  • Relocate them. Magazines and newspapers on top of the desk rob you of valuable real estate. It is unlikely that you are going to read a magazine as soon as it arrives. Look around your office. How about moving them to the credenza or the top of a filing cabinet?
  • Decide how long to keep them. Once six months have passed, recycle them, even if you have not yet read them.
  • Unsubscribe to the magazines that you hardly glance at. Be honest with yourself and let go of unread magazines that take up valuable space.
  • Read a magazine at lunch or while waiting for an appointment. Before leaving on a plane trip, I stuff my briefcase with unread magazines. Out they go as soon as I read them; no magazines make the return trip.
  • Tear Out Articles – The fastest way to go through a magazine is to glance at the table of contents and decide if there are any compelling articles. Rip them out and toss the magazine.
  • Pass them along to doctors’ offices, the Y, hospitals and places where others can enjoy them.
  • Recycle whenever possible.

Be on the lookout for the next blog. We will continue the discussion on what does NOT belong on your desk. We will cover:

Project Files … Meeting Notes … Business Cards … Mail … Items To Take Home … Personal Items … Miscellaneous Items … Electronic Devices … Supplies … Cleaning Supplies … Books and Binders.

Isn’t it amazing what your desk can hold?

Tips for Eliminating Procrastination

Does indecision keep you from getting your projects started … or finished? Did you know that besides derailing you from achieving your goals and advancing in your work, procrastinating reflects on your professional image as well?

Everyone procrastinates on occasion but some people do it regularly. Even when they are aware they are procrastinating, they still put off important projects. If procrastination keeps you from completing projects, it is chronic and should not be ignored. Otherwise, it could easily affect your career, your home life and your self-esteem.

If you are committed to overcoming your procrastination habit once and for all, we assure you that it can be done. Why not give the tips below a try? They will help you stop the games you play with yourself to avoid a project you do not want to do.

BEFORE STARTING THE PROJECT:

Evaluate the importance of the project. Is it still a priority?  If not, take it off your to-do list or consider moving it to your Someday/Maybe list.

Figure out the reasons you are procrastinating. Knowing “why” will help you come up with the tools to fight it. For example, if you do not understand a particular area of the project and how to go about completing it, consult colleagues who are experts in this area or research the area in question on your own.

Find uninterrupted time. Enter a date in your calendar to work on a specific step of the project. Be sure and keep the appointment. Your dates are just as important as meetings with others. Your time is valuable.

Decide on the location where you will do the project. Sometimes working in a coffee shop with headphones on is better than the office where there are many external interruptions and distractions.

Prepare ahead of time. Decide what is needed that will make the task as easy as possible. A larger work surface? Clear space on your desk. Last year’s documents? Find those important papers ahead of time and have them ready. These are the types of obstacles that could  prevent you from moving ahead.

Create a positive mindset. It makes all the difference in the world how you approach the project. If you think of it as impossible and too hard to do, then it will be. On the other hand, if you tell yourself that you can do this and are ready for the challenge, it will not be as difficult. Think of the feeling of accomplishment when the project is completed.   

BEGIN THE PROJECT: 

Divide the project into individual tasks or steps. Make each step doable. A project may have five steps or fifteen. Write each step down on paper or electronically.  

Estimate the time it will take to complete each step of the project. Then double it. That may seem to be far too much time but most steps take longer than estimated. If you finish the step sooner than expected, continue. Or, leave the next step for another time.(Don’t forget to enter the next step on your planner so you will know exactly when you will be getting to it.)

Make the first step easy. Ease into the project slowly. You may want to make this step short and simple although, once you have completed it, you will have gained momentum and the commitment to continue.

Set the mood.  What external stimuli will entice you to get started?  For example, lighting, music, and snacks can make the task more enjoyable.

Ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you get started.  Even if the person is just there while you work, sometimes that is all it takes.

Seek help from colleagues or friends if you run into obstacles. If you do not know how to tackle a specific step, consult with someone who does. All you need to do is ask. People are happy to help.

Eliminate interruptions and distractions so you can focus on the project. Turn off the sound and pop-ups signaling new email. Let your phone go to voicemail. Close your door or put up a sign saying you are working on an important project. Keep a pencil and pad where you are working to jot down thoughts not related to the project. That way you will not forget them and can go back to them later when you are finished working.

Be mindful of the progress you are making. Track your accomplishments and be aware of the progress you are making. Think in the present.

WHAT IF THE PROJECT IS DUE IMMEDIATELY? 

If you have delayed the project until the 11th hour, you may have to condense the suggested steps above and move right into action. Here’s one approach:

Move directly to the “Begin the Project” section.  Imagine you are leaving town tomorrow. We have all experienced that hyper-active mode before leaving for a business trip or vacation. You had no idea you could accomplish so much that quickly. And why is that? Because you concentrated on the tasks that needed to get done. That probably meant limiting conversations with colleagues and not allowing distractions and interruptions to throw you off target.

CELEBRATE WHEN THE PROJECT IS COMPLETED 

Once a project is off your to-do list, it is not always easy to move immediately into another high-level task. Switch from your high-functioning thinking to low-level tasks such as returning phone calls or doing email. Consider taking a walk and giving your brain a well-needed rest.

Enjoy the feeling of relief and satisfaction knowing that the weight hanging over you is gone and that you did it! Feel good about your accomplishment. Remind yourself that you overcame procrastination and that you can do it again. Maybe, just maybe, the next project won’t be nearly as hard as you anticipate and will go faster than you expected. The secret: just start. 

We hope these tips inspire you to begin a project you have avoided yet must be done. Once you actually begin, you’ll be amazed at your energy and motivation.  The effort will be well worth it, and we are here to help.

Everyone Needs A NOT-To-Do List … Even You!

not to do image

Most of us leave the office with a sense of accomplishment if we manage to complete our daily to-do list that day. Productive and successful people live and breathe to-do lists. It’s their business bible. With limited time and energy, a manageable and realistic list like this is a must.

Why, then, is a NOT-To-Do-List also a good idea? Think about it. All day, every day, we are bombarded with to-dos that are not on our daily list. While we are committed to the tasks on our to-do list, other tasks, which often appear out of nowhere, also demand time and attention. To make it worse, they take our focus off important tasks – the ones that bring us closer to our goals.

Staying away – far away — from those interloper tasks is just as important as completing your to-dos. We recently interviewed 70 successful and productive business people.  Many of them told us that they prevent “other” tasks and assignments from derailing them despite the pressure to succumb. They maintain their focus and concentrate on the tasks that matter.

In many ways a NOT-to-do list is ranks just as high as a to-do list. Knowing what you should not be doing frees you up for the tasks that need your focus and concentration. As fellow time management specialist Harold Taylor says, “If something is not critical to do then it is critical that we do not do it.”

Below are suggested NOT-To-Dos. By not doing them, you will be able to focus your efforts on the tasks that will get you closer to your long term and short term goals.

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers. It is an interruption and you will lose focus on what you are doing. That’s why they made voice mail. If it is important, return the call on your schedule.  A program called PhoneTag will convert your voicemails into text and email them to you along with the original audio of the message.

2. Do not check email in the morning. Tackle an important task instead. Email is a low-level function that requires less brain power than other high level tasks such as prioritizing, planning and writing.

3. Do not check email all day long. Check email only at specific times.  Email is like candy. Your brain craves the novelty of finding out who just sent you the last email and what it says. Don’t play that game. Schedule a block of time (45 minutes or so) two or three times a day and enter these times in your calendar with a start and finish time. Consider looking at email mid-morning, after lunch (probably too sleepy to do much of anything else) and again around 4pm, giving you one last opportunity to reply before heading out the door. Oh, yes. Don’t forget to disable the sound and pop up alerts.

3. Do not add to your priorities without considering the implications. Were you just handed a new project? If so, how important is it and when is it due? Communicate with your boss the impact a new project has on your existing ones. Tip: write all active projects down into a notebook (paper or electronic). At a glance, you’ll see all of your projects and due dates.

4. Do not take calls while you are in a meeting unless you are the president of the United States or an ER doctor. If you must answer, be sure and inform attendees before the start of the meeting that you are expecting an important call. Otherwise your colleagues may not have nice things to say about your manners.

5. Do not allow others to clutter your inbox.  Avoid sending emails with receipts attached to them. Ask to be removed from your company’s non-essential distribution lists. And, while you are at it, unsubscribe to on-line magazines and newsletters that do not have a high payoff. One last email tip: avoid sending email with receipt requests. Some people use an auto responder thanking a person for their email and letting them know when they will return the call. Leave a phone number in case it is an emergency. Just remember to call them back when you say you will.

6. Do not connect with your smart phone 24/7. Turn it off when you are not working. Everyone needs time to recharge without being tethered to technology. Get a dog if you need companionship.

7. Do not allow social media sites to consume your time. Access updates during non-working hours unless social media sites are part of your business strategy. Use a timer to stay focused while surfing social media sites. Or, before you know it, an hour has passed and you have nothing to show for it.

8. Do not send vague emails. Write relevant, descriptive subject lines. Put “Action Needed” or “Action Requested” in the body of the email to highlight your request. The fewer words the better. Read over the email before hitting send to make sure that the email is clear and expresses your thoughts.

9. Do not say “yes” unless yes is really the answer you want to give. It is appropriate to check your calendar or to say that you must check with others first. If this project will make it harder to reach your goals, do not hesitate to say no.

10. Do not attend a meeting without an agenda. Preferably, the agenda will be sent out ahead of time along with committee reports. Focus your time at a meeting on issues and discussions. Before entering the meeting, be sure and know when it will end.

11. Do not spend too much time chit-chatting with people in the office or on the phone. Of course be friendly, but move the conversation along at the same time. Often, informing the person that you are in the midst of a project is sufficient.

12. Do not worry about something that has already happened. Did you make a mistake in a meeting or say something that you now realize was incorrect? It happens to everyone. Make your apologies and move on. Save your thinking for positive thoughts and ideas and do not dwell on something that you cannot change.

13. Do not do something if you can delegate it. Given the demands on our time these days, do not hesitate to ask an administrative assistant, a subordinate or a colleague to handle tasks they are capable of doing. H/she may have more expertise in the area than you have. Even though explaining the task may be time-consuming, it will be worth it in the end.

14. Do not do less beneficial tasks at the expense of important ones. Often we become caught up on a less important task. The task was important when you started it, but part way through you now realize it is no longer a priority. Even if you have put extensive effort into it and are emotionally tied to the outcome, drop it right away. It may be hard but your time needs to be allocated against the projects that count.

15. Do not worry about things you can not affect. If your revenue was down last month, think about ways to make it up. Worrying about the problem won’t fix it.

Now you have 15 NOT-To-Do items and you are sure to come up with others on your own. Be mindful and oh so conscious of the tasks you should not do because they will rob you of the time you need for crucial tasks. What will you put on your NOT-To-Do List? Write to us and let us know.

For more information creating your very own NOT-To-Do List, check out the 3/14/13 Forbes article by Pat Brans and Michael Hyatt’s point-of-view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 15-Minute Opening Ritual

images1-150x150[1]How do you start your work day? Do you dive right in to email or grab the first thing you see on your desk when you walk in the office? In this blog, we will discuss how you can maximize your productivity all day long just by following a routine in the first 15-30 minutes of the work day.

One of the hallmarks of a successful person is that h/she creates many positive habits and follows them, day in and day out. One of them is a morning ritual that keeps them efficient and effective throughout the day. Highly productive and successful people resist diving in to their to-dos until they have mapped out the day. Planning the way the day so it will be as productive as possible is always first.

Q: Why is the 15-Minute Opening Ritual that big a deal?

A: There are multiple reasons; let’s start with these:

  1. The most important things will get done that day.
  2. Fewer items will fall through the cracks. With the right systems, you’ll stay on track. Now you can focus on what matters rather than mentally juggling a list of to-dos. A morning ritual removes a lot of unnecessary stress and worry and replaces it with positive energy.
  3. You are proactive and have better control over the day; you are running the show.

Q: Most of us do our best thinking in the morning when our cognitive resources are at high alert. What’s going on?

A: Our cognitive resources are stored in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. This is where we use our working memory to perform high-level functions such as planning, prioritizing, making decisions, and delegating. This part of the brain allows you to envision the day and maximize your productivity which is why a morning ritual is so valuable. High level thinking requires a tremendous amount of working memory and needs your undivided attention. The last thing we want to do is squander this valuable resource on low-level tasks such as email and phone calls. They need to wait until later when the prefrontal cortex is tired and then we can switch to less taxing activities.

Q: Can you describe my day using the 15-Minute Opening Ritual?

A:  Your day will be well-planned and will flow more smoothly than if you approach it haphazardly and reactively. The key is to focus ahead of time – usually in the morning or the night before – to decide what needs to be accomplished and what the day will look like. Remember — not everything needs to be done immediately. Some tasks can be moved to other days while others you know must be attended to right away.

Here is an example of a 15-Minute Opening Ritual:

Arrive early for work or at least be on time. This one act alone sets a positive tone for the day, helps you stay calm, and eliminates the rushed and stressed feelings that otherwise might stay with you throughout the day. With fewer people in the office and the phone silent, this is an ideal time to envision, assess, and prepare for the day.

Crave caffeine? We would be remiss if we ignored the well-trod trip for a cup of coffee or a Diet Coke (after all, this is the South). On your way there and back, greet everyone who crosses your path and make connections although this is not a license to linger. No thinking required. At least not yet.

Is your desk clear of papers? If not, remove the clutter. Messy work spaces can be distracting and studies show that colleagues are judgmental even if you are the best performer in the office.

Review your calendar for important meetings, appointments. Add uncompleted tasks from yesterday to your schedule along with new ones and decide which ones to attend to today. But do not start on them yet.

Leave enough white space for unexpected happenings and emergencies that are sure to occur.

Know your schedule and look at it often throughout the day. (Tip: With two monitors you can display your calendar throughout the day.)

Review your to dos and determine the three most important tasks that must be done today. (We understand that your list is a mile long and you are probably protesting just reading this. However, when you leave the office at the end of the day, you will feel good about your accomplishments. (Tip: Hear what Stephen Covey says about important vs. urgent.)

Break projects down into chunks so they are not overwhelming. Once you have listed the steps, prioritize them and decide what you can accomplish today. The second step may have to wait until another day.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. It is not enough to just identify the three important tasks. Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog suggests scheduling the least appealing task first.

Decide when during the day you will do the 3 tasks and enter them into the calendar at the times you are going to handle them. If you double the time you estimate the task will take, you will probably be right.

Turn off external interruptions such as the ding on your email and the ringer on your phone (or at least send messages to voicemail). Colleagues walking by will notice your closed door and get the message that you are not to be disturbed because you are in the midst of your 15-Minute Opening Ritual.

What about internal interruptions? That’s the voice inside you that is thinking about where you will eat lunch instead of concentrating on what you are doing now.

Save low-level activities such as phone calls and email for later. Chunk them together and add them to the calendar. If you do fall into the black hole of email, an hour will slip by and your good intentions to be productive and focused will be derailed.

Listen to voice mail for messages and enter them in your computer or write them down on the pad located next to the phone. Plan when you will return calls but don’t do them now.

Make sure your to do list is realistic and up-to-date. Successful and productive people we interviewed all had working to-do lists that they reviewed throughout the day.

If you need to get in touch with someone and receive an answer that day, phone or email as soon as you have completed the 15-Minute Opening Ritual. It’s the best chance of reaching someone.

For more information, check out these websites:

 

Be Proactive And More Productive: Starting Now!

Many of us want to do things differently in 2014. If you own a business or work in a company it may be time to make changes. Where to start? Before implementing changes, you may consider what you want to be different and think it through to figure out the best way to go about it. Viewing the situation from a positive, proactive view makes a world of difference in attitude and will help you achieve the changes you desire.

One of our all-time favorite books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People devotes an entire chapter to this subject. The very first habit in the book is called “Be Proactive.” Stephen Covey, the author, talks about a person’s ability to get things done and not accepting excuses such as: “it is always done that way.” Or, “I don’t have the expertise or the ability.” The list of excuses goes on and on and can be self-fulfilling. (Language makes a big difference.) Covey believes, as do we, that a person has the ability to make conscious choices and the imagination and resources to determine how to handle matters … instead of them handling you. We can choose to be a victim or take the matter into our own hands and decide that things will be different in the future.

In the area of productivity, the situations listed below may frustrate you. However, take a look at the suggestions on how to exercise your proactive muscles.

Are you constantly interrupted at work and cannot get enough completed during the day? You take work home most nights (reactive) because it is the only time the phone isn’t ringing and people are not stopping by your office to ask a quick question.

Now let’s go the proactive route.

The phone rings while you are working on an important project? Purposely let it go to voicemail. Or, a colleague pokes her head into your office and asks “Have a minute?”. What a perfect time to get out of your chair and start walking down the hall! Stand-up meetings are notoriously short. You have just avoided an unplanned, possibly time-wasting meeting in your office.

After deliberating and deliberating, you finally decided a few weeks ago to splurge and purchase the newest smart phone model with all of the bells and whistles. Unfortunately, you do not consider yourself tech-saavy and haven’t even taken the item out of the box. It will have to wait until you have more time and can figure out how to use it.

How about this for a possible solution? Invite a friend with the same phone out for lunch– your treat.

You know you need to delegate more so you can maximize your efficiency and finish projects faster but you are not exactly sure what the process entails. It seems easier to do the project yourself.

Possible solution: Sign up for a leadership class, read a book on the subject or consult a colleague who has mastered this skill. Once you become comfortable with delegating, you can concentrate on the projects that will bring you closer to your goals. You’ll be glad that you took action instead of avoiding the situation and continuing to do the same old thing. As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results.

Unfortunately, not every area is within our control but, as Stephen Covey points out, we have more control than we realize. It depends on how we view it. If you are proactive (or are going to make an effort to become more proactive), it will require a conscious choice on your part.

The only way these changes will come about is if you take charge and act on them. Your colleagues may prefer to be reactive and decide to wait until something happens but, if your productivity is going to increase, now is the time to take action.

As you decide to become more proactive, mistakes may happen. That is perfectly acceptable. Try not to dwell on them. Accept the mistake, learn from it, and move on. Be the person in your firm or in your circle of friends who has a positive attitude, is willing to try new ideas and not let mishaps get in the way. You may be amazed at the great leaps in effectiveness you achieve vs. those who are not willing to make the effort.

How about starting small and setting realistic goals that may take a month or two? Once you have tasted success, you will begin to see that your proactive moves are doable. Covey makes the following suggestions to get you on the proactive track:

Listen to your own language and the people around you to pick up on negative and positive thoughts.

Anticipate an experience that will be likely to happen soon and envision yourself responding positively.

Decide if a problem is actionable or if you do not have control over it. If you can solve it, figure out how.

Take the 30 day proactivity test and zero in on the things that will make a positive difference.

Write to us and share what steps you are taking in 2014 to become more proactive. We are eager to hear and available to help.

 

 

The 15-Minute Closing Ritual

The 15-Minute Closing Ritual is a technique that It’s Time To Get Organized created to ensure that each day runs smoothly. Recently, tips and techniques on what to during this closing ritual were posted in the Abacus blog to help maximize the time management techniques of thousands of attorneys. Not only does it keep attorneys working efficiently but it will benefit others as well.

Most of us lack energy or inclination at the end of the day to get organized for the next day. Yet, those 15 minutes yield a huge payoff.  Check out the blog to read about how you can add this highly successful routine to your day.