Here are some ideas.
2-3 Weeks Before:
• Plan ahead for meetings and appointments that are scheduled during your vacation. Select a delegate, cancel or reschedule. • What decisions need to be made in your absence? Empower others with the knowledge to make those decisions. • Examine open projects. Make sure nothing is due when you are away.
• Block off your calendar the day you return for re-entry.
1 Week Prior to Departure:
• Meet with all direct reports and key business associates to:
a) Review current issues.
b) Address priorities.
c) Schedule meetings for the week you return.
The last Work Day Before Vacation:
• Leave a detailed extended absence greeting on your voice mail. Give the name and number of a person to contact while you are gone. Tell callers you will return calls by close of business the second day after your return.
• Write an out-of-office email. Specify that you will not have access to email and give names of people who can respond in your absence.
• Take a walk through your office area and let people know what time today you will be leaving for vacation.
• Leave your work home.
• Relax and enjoy.
Your First Day Back:
• Take a walk through your office area; get caught up on urgent issues.
• Check voice mail and email. Deal with priority situations first.
Save your favorite vacation photo as your new computer desktop background.
Have you ever wondered where your time at work goes? Did you intend to submit a report today but, between phone calls and email, don’t finish it? Does the day slip by with little to show for it? All of us want to make better use of our time, be more productive and accomplish what we resolved to do at the beginning of the day.
Several people have recently shared with me that they know exactly what they do during the day, thanks to an activity log. They learned how they were spending their time by using this simple, low-tech tool. It made them aware that they could be using their time more efficiently.
Another benefit from an activity log is that it tells you when during the day that you are performing each task. It should be in synch with the times that you do your best thinking. Are you most creative and clear-headed in the morning? If so, that is when you need to tackle important projects. Phone calls and email can wait until late morning or the afternoon.
Here is a suggestion on how to set up an activity log to track how you spend time at work:
Create a worksheet with a pad or notebook or print one out showing half-hour time slots. You can download a sample time log template from: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_03.htm.
1) Begin right away — input information into your activity log starting now. Include the type of activity and indicate how valuable you believe it is.
2) Write your activities in half-hour time slots.
3) Divide the time slots into categories. Examples of categories are: working on important tasks, answering email, making and responding to phone calls, meetings, socializing, lunch, etc.
4) Track your time for 2-3 days; then calculate how much time is devoted to each category and when during the day you completed the work.
By tracking your time in half-hour time slots over a two-day period, you will learn exactly where your time goes. Are you using it to complete your most important tasks or are you devoting precious time to low value activities? You may decide to refocus your efforts as a result of your findings and consciously change the types of tasks you focus on and in what order.
Use valuable time at work to reach your goals faster; take advantage of what you learned from your Activity Log and put it to good use.
For more information, read fellow blogger Jason Womack’s article on activity logs: http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/225029
A newsletter reader asked: “How do I switch gears between projects? When going from Project A to Project B, I find that I need to halt the brakes on Project A, skim through Project B’s file and figure out what the goals for the matter are, and then proceed, but in a way that makes me lose a lot of time. Any organization tips on how to seamlessly juggle multiple matters?”
What a great question! Most people find it very difficult, if not impossible, to go from one project to another seamlessly. It’s hard to avoid interruptions and delays especially when winding down from a project and gearing up for another one. How easy it is to lose “flow”, that state of mind in which you are focused on the project at hand and are not distracted by anything else! The transition is tough to make.
Here are a few suggestions to make the switch easier:
1) Before putting the project away, write a summary of what you did and what needs to be done next. Attach the summary to the documents. Be specific regarding next steps. Or enter the information electronically. Make sure it is readily available the next time you go to the project.
2) Move any physical evidence of the project, such as a stack of documents , somewhere else – preferably out of sight and thus, out of mind. That way it will no longer be an obstacle to moving forward on another project.
3) Take a mental or physical break (or both) to put space between the project completed and the upcoming one. This makes it easier to switch thought processes.
4) Do little tasks in between two major projects. Switch to the phone or email but keep track of the time so you can transition to the next project.
5) Start the second project by reviewing what needs to be done and listing the tasks involved. That will ease you into the project and give you a clear starting point.
Check out D. Keith Robinson on Lifehacker “How To Transition Projects Without Losing Your Flow” for more thoughts on approaching one project at a time. Like us, Robinson believes that multi-tasking and working on both projects at the same time wastes time. You may think that you’re getting twice as much done but, in reality neither project is receiving your best effort. Stick to one project at a time. Once it’s done, then move onto the next one.
Here are 5 ways to use your planner to help you become more efficient and effective. By following these suggestions, you will get more done and become closer to your goals.
1) Use your planner every day and check it often. Leave it on your desk in front of you. Some of our clients use paper planners and often apologize that they are not “tech saavy”. We assure them that it does not matter whether it is paper or an electronic, as long as you use it. (Tip: if you use an electronic version, you may want to print out the planner daily.)
2) Capture all projects and tasks. Write everything down on paper or electronically. It takes a lot of mental energy to juggle projects, tasks, and upcoming activities in your brain. You will be able to concentrate on upcoming projects without this extra mental weight. At some point, your memory will fail.
3) Review your week ahead of time – decide what is important based on your goals. Enter the tasks that must be done to support them. (Tip: make it visually easy to identify the most important tasks on your to-do list by highlighting them.)
4) Use one planner for both personal and work. (Tip: color code the activities. It’s easy on a paper planner. On an electronic calendar categorize the activities, making personal appointments one color and business appointments a different color. My business appointments are in red.)
5) Make your action steps concrete. Include appointments and commitments to others. Start with a verb. For example, call Fred re: Short client agreement. Don’t you agree that this works far better than putting Fred on the planner?
What are you going to do with your planner to help you become more efficient?
Everyone uses email these days but many people do not realize the common errors they make on a regular basis. Bill Husted in yesterday’s The Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out three areas where we can all do a better job.
1) Responding to someone in the heat of the moment. There is no taking it back when you write an email when you are angry and hit the send button without waiting until you calm down. As Husted points out, “quick on the trigger” only makes a situation worse.
2) Reply to all — Be extra careful to reply only to the people who need to know. Even though an email has been sent to a number of other people, there is no reason to send your reply to everyone. Were you invited to a meeting? Reply only to the sender. The people in the group don’t care to know the details as to why someone can — or can not — attend a meeting.
3) Edit your emails — Spelling and grammatical mistakes are a poor reflection on the writer and send a negative message to the reader. The writer did not consider it important enough to re-read and edit the email. While expectations may not be as high as a written letter, it is still important to be as accurate as possible.
There is an exception, however, which is a reply from a phone. It is not always easy to use a small screen and letters so mistakes do happen.
Thanks, Mr. Husted, for your email etiquette suggestions. Do you have one that you would like to send us?
In this day and age, changes are happening rapidly, especially in business. Who heard of social media or smart phones five short years ago? Change is the norm now. Being open to it may bring unexpected opportunities.
Changing behaviors and replacing them with new ones will help maximize efficiency — although getting there definitely takes effort. That new smart phone you just bought does all sorts of things, if you took the time to figure it out. Your business cards are in stacks everywhere on your desk but who has the time to learn a new contact management program? Your colleagues collaborate and work in the cloud, even though you have not tried this before. Your subordinates tell you that you do not delegate well but it’s their problem, not yours, right?
These are but a few examples of areas where making a change will bring high returns.
How do I turn these business situations to my advantage?
Create a journal to track areas where change may be beneficial. Writing them down takes away some of the mental stress you may be feeling since you no longer need to remember them. Be as specific as possible. The journal will help you notice patterns and identify what is most important to tackle first.
Ask a trusted colleague for input on your behavior and ideas on how to modify it. This might be difficult to do but well worth it. Consider it your reality check. After all, this person is on your side.
Develop a plan to turn the change to your advantage. Carve out the time to research and learn a new software program that you know will bring long-lasting benefits. Come up with time-saving templates and document processes that will save you time. Figure out the reasons you are late for meetings and set a series of action steps to change this behavior.
Once you have committed to the change, hold on tight. Don’t give up.
1) Visualize the end result and keep that picture in front of you at all times.
2) Plan non-work time on your calendar to implement the changes, including adding deadlines.
3) Accept the fact that there will be setbacks and push through them until you achieve what you set out to do.
What change are you going to commit to? Write to us and let us know.
Manage your procedures better so that projects flow smoothly with less time wasted. Make your workflow process more efficient across job functions. We can also help you design or arrange your office for greater functionality.
A Wall Street Journal study reported that the average office worker spends 55 minutes a day looking for lost items they know they own. That’s two weeks a year. Wouldn’t you prefer to find what you need quickly and to use that time more productively? Even if your desk (or your employees’ desks) are covered with stacks of paper, we can develop a paper management system personalized for the way you and your employees think. Important documents will be easier to retrieve by everyone in the office. Reduce the clutter and be more effective at work.
Everyone procrastinates from time to time — Olympic athletes, billionaires, Charlie Brown and even Professional Organizers. We’ve all heard the horror stories of failure and destruction brought about by procrastination, but how can something that is so natural to the human condition be all bad?
Dr. Piers Steele defines procrastination as a tendency …
“to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay.”
Dr. Steele’s definition is a good one, and we agree that procrastination can put a person in a bad spot. However, if everyone procrastinates from time to time, how realistic is it for us to deny it? Are we just setting ourselves up for failure and guilt by promising ourself never to procrastinate?
In the spirit of “we all do it anyway”, let’s make the best of procrastination. Here are tips to make your procrastination as useful as possible.
Tactic #1 — Do something enjoyable
Taking a break to do something you like (Spider Solitaire anyone?) is a great way to switch gears from one complex task to another. To make this brain break successful:
Tactic #2 — Procrastinate productively
When you have a large, multi-step task to accomplish, it can be very difficult to get started. How many times have you stared at a blank screen and just sighed? Minimize the screen and spend 15-20 minutes doing some productive procrastination. Try these techniques:
Tactic #3 — Plan an Unprocrastination Day**
Step One: Go ahead and procrastinate, just keep a list of all the items you are actively and willfully procrastinating.
Step Two: Set aside an entire day to perform all the distasteful, dreaded, or just plain boring tasks on your list. Race against the clock to accomplish the tasks. Strive for completion, not perfection.
Step Three: Celebrate at day’s end with the reward of your choice.
Are you ready to procrastinate productively now? No? Maybe later then.
**Thanks to Real Simple Magazine (April, 2011) for this genius idea.