Efficiency

Top Ten Email Tips

Follow these top ten email tips and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how productive you will become in handling email and how much time you’ll save. You’ll also discover that it is really possible to reduce (even empty) your inbox.

1. Do not do email first thing in the morning. Once you plan out your day, work on your most important task (MIT) for the first hour you are in the office while you are fresh and alert. Then, start email. (Note: it’s OK to glance through email first thing in the morning to make sure that you have not missed anything significant, such as an urgent email from your supervisor or a cancelled meeting.)

2. Schedule several blocks of uninterrupted email time – one mid-morning and a second in the afternoon. Use a timer to keep you focused and on track. Plan on spending 45 minutes – one hour reviewing email that needs to be handled right away. The rest can wait. When you are checking email, try and stay focused. That means not allowing internal and external distractions. Let phone calls go to voicemail and indicate that you are “busy” on your calendar. If you think of something that needs to be done, jot it down on a pad of paper and continue to read and answer email. Make the best use you can of the email time you’ve allotted yourself.

3. Move or drag email out of the inbox. Do not let it sit there.Commit to making a decision on   each email. Delaying decisions creates havoc in your inbox. Your inbox is not a filing cabinet.   View your email inbox as just that – an In Box — where email arrives that need processing. Imagine how cluttered and messy your kitchen counters might look like if you ignored incoming snail mail. You’d be lucky to find anything.

4. Decide if the email is action or reference. Start at the top of your inbox and look at each email in order. Do not skip around. If it is action, follow the 4Ds (#5). If it is reference and will be needed again, move it to personal documents, shared files or the personal folders in the inbox. Examples of reference folders are: inactive clients, proposals, past projects, and marketing materials.

5. Use the 4D’s of Decision Making. This valuable tool eliminates a lot of the guess work about how to handle individual emails and where to move them. It is a sure-fire way to reduce the email in your inbox.

  • Delete – approximately 50% can be deleted. Ask yourself: Must I keep this? Can I access this information somewhere else if I ever need it? Will this information be out of date by the time I need it? Am I ever going to read it?
  • Do It – if it takes less than two minutes.
  • Delegate It – 30% falls into the do it or delegate it category.
  • Defer It – The 20% that needs to be handled by you directly but takes more than two minutes. Move this email into one of the following locations: your task list (with a due date), your calendar (on the specific day you will work on it) or an appropriate folder to work on later.

6. Set up specific folders for action items, current projects and reference and move email to the appropriate folder. Examples of folders: To Do, To Call, Waiting For (or Pending), Read & Review, Upcoming Meetings/Events, Cases, Clients, Current Projects, Associations. My favorite personal folder is “Read Later”. The email in this folder can wait.

7. When sending an email:

  • Create a strong subject line that is clear and specific.
  • Put your main point in the first sentence; then explain.
  • Tell the reader exactly what you want.
  • Keep the length within a screen size by making your sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Use simple, concise language.
  • Leave lots of white space, making it easier to read and to follow.
  • Be sensitive to the subject – sometimes a phone call or face-to-face conversation is better.

8. Respond to the sender promptly even if you cannot give an answer right away. Let the sender know the email was received. Now the sender will not need to send a follow up note because you were proactive. That will be appreciated.

9. Use “Reply All” judiciously. Usually a reply to the sender is all that’s necessary. Not everyone needs to know you’re leaving for vacation and cannot attend the meeting.

10. Move important folders to the Cloud such as Dropbox and SugarSync. If anything happens to your hard drive, your information will be safe.

Often people with hundreds, or even thousands of emails, feel totally overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. We recommend that they set up a system that works using these tips as a guide and then manage the newest emails first. Ignore the older emails or move them into archives where you can deal with them later.

By using a few of these tips, your inbox will be manageable. Finding the email you need will be much easier. You’re the one in control now.

 

 

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.

Improve Time-Wasting Habits Now

To DO

How do you spend your time? We all have the same number of hours in the day and yet some of us achieve quite a lot while others less so. Author Harvey Mackay suggests that improving our time-wasting habits is the answer. As productivity specialists, we agree with the article he wrote in the Atlanta Business Chronicle August 30-September 5, 2013. It contained seven smart suggestions:

1) Begin With A Plan Every Day so that you can focus on the right tasks; otherwise you will lose sight of what is important. Remember to make a to-do list for the following day so you can be productive as soon as you enter your work space.

2) Prioritize based on what is most important. Complete important items first.

3) Be Realistic and don’t take on too much at one time. There are times when saying no is necessary so you can complete your work on time. Otherwise, you’ll be adding stress when it can be avoided.

4) Keep Your Workspace Neat. Spend 5-10 minutes daily to put away files and get rid of the clutter. It will make a big difference and will prevent you from searching through documents to find the one you need. Statistics show that workers spend 50 minutes a day searching for documents they know they own.

5) Focus. Interruptions and distractions pull you away from what is important. While 20% of the interruptions are good, try and avoid others such as answering the phone and checking email often.

6) Get Enough Sleep. Everyone functions better when they feel rested. It puts you in control, reduces your stress level and helps you tackle problems better. According to the experts, most people need between 7 and 8 hours.

7) Take A Break. While it is tempting to continue persevering on a project until it is done, short diversions are recommended. Stopping and doing something else for a short time will take your mind off of it. When you return to the project, you will feel renewed. That is why activities such as exercise and taking time to eat lunch are a good idea and help refresh you.

Many of us are aware of these steps but putting them in practice is not always easy. Choose one of them that you currently do not do and give it a try for a week or two. Our guess is that you will like the results.

 

 

 

 

Computer Screens: The Bigger The Better?

Computer Screen

With less paper in the office, many of us find that we do a lot of reading and work on our computers. Do larger screens or several monitors make it any easier? The consensus seems to be “yes”.  Once you try two monitors, there’s no going back, according to Dave Kinsey, president of Total Networks.  Several studies show that, with two monitors, tasks are completed more quickly with fewer errors compared to using one monitor. How nice to have several screens open at one time without having to switch back and forth!

If two monitors are great, why not five or six? Kinsey cites a paperless law office that does just this. The six monitors are open to calendars, email, the company’s practice management program, documents, a screen for another application and the two end screens in landscape which are perfect for spreadsheets. The monitors cover a lot of screen real estate. When you can read  two documents side by side, the need to print out or keep paper is almost completely eliminated.

While I was mulling over the idea of how many monitors would fit on my desk, I came upon an article posted in The Lawyerist suggesting one BIG screen. Todd Hendrickson posits in his article “In a Paperless Office, A Bigger Monitor is Better” that a jumbo monitor (27” or larger) is better than multi-monitors if you spend most of your time reading and writing. The key advantage? You can see several full-page desktop views with minimal scrolling.  All it takes is a few keyboard shortcuts. In essence, it can do the same thing as multi-monitors and still leave room on your desk. For more details, check out http://lawyerist.com/in-a-paperless-office-a-bigger-monitor-is-better/.

How many monitors do you use?

S.M.A.R.T. Goals: Have You Tried Them?

imagesCAS89A8ILast week we discussed the importance of goals but did not talk about how to accomplish them.

Often clients ask us how many goals do they need? The answer is as many as you can think of. And write them down.

Prioritize them. Decide which ones to tackle first. After all, not all of them can be worked on at the same time and some

may be more important or more timely than others.

Use the S.M.A.R.T. system to evaluate each goal and to decide if the goal is achievable.

S.M. A.R.T. is an acronym for:

S:   Specific — be as concise as possible. “W” questions as a guide: Who is involved? What do I want to achieve? Where is the location? When does it happen? Which requirements and constraints do I need to follow? Why is this goal important?

M:   Measurable — How much? How many? How will I know when I have reached my goal?

A:    Achievable — Make it attainable. What are some of the ways I can reach my goal?

R.    Realistic — How hard are you willing to work?

T.     Timely — It needs to be time-bound for a goal to be achieved.

Often people set themselves up for failure by setting goals without the specifications in the S.M.A.R.T. system.

Now that you know the steps, consult your planner and choose a date and time to work on your goals.

It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. — Eleanor Roosevelt

Why Bother With Goals?

 

imagesCAVNUW5Y

This past week our firm spoke at a program sponsored by the Buckhead Coalition to train Buckhead’s future

leaders. It was an exciting week for this select group of young professionals as they

learned about volunteerism, ethics, leadership and civic engagement over the five days.

Our topic:  why and how to create meaningful and actionable goals. While not everyone has goals, we

suggested to these young professionals that they are worth the bother because they help ensure that you’ll get

where you want to go. Without a roadmap, you can end up anywhere. ( We all know how that feels.) Most

people agree that with goals you are able to achieve so much more.

If you are still wondering why you need goals, here are seven more good reasons:

  • Helps us focus on what is important
  • Keeps us motivated
  • Keeps us on task
  • Provides a time frame for starting and ending projects
  • Forces us to be specific. Forget about day dreams and someday maybe. They won’t take you
  • Helps prioritize tasks in any given day
  • Starts with the end in mind

Most business executives, professionals and community leaders have written goals that they look at and

review on a regular basis. They consider it their ticket to productivity. Many of them have innovative

techniques to keep track of their goals.

  • Posting their goals in their office or in the conference room, if it is department goals
  • Writing them by hand vs. computer
  • Listing them on their screen saver
  • Storing them in their wallet so they show up every time they pull out a bill

When will you write your goals and where do you plan on posting them?

What’s On The Top Of Your Desk?

images[10]We all know that feeling — the times when nothing can stop you from reaching your maximum efficiency. Ideas come to you quickly and projects get done. By organizing your desk, you will know where everything is. It will save you time and energy. In the March 27, 2012 article from Forbes Magazine, author Jenna Goudreau talks about “The Dangers Of A Messy Desk.”

Keep only the essentials on the top of your desk within arm’s reach to help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day. Other items scattered on your work space can get in the way, literally and figuratively. Papers, business cards, coffee cups and dozens of pens scattered about can easily distract you from the task at hand. And when it is hard to focus, it’s much more difficult to achieve your personal best.

In any discussion of desk surfaces, clients typically inquire about their personal items such as framed photos and other decorative objects. Our recommendation: limit personal items to two or three things that remind you why you come to work in the morning and why you leave in the evening. Rotate these items regularly to keep things fresh and interesting.

Schedule time in your planner to organize your desk. You’ll be glad that you did.

 

Tips To Experience A Work-Free Vacation

IimagesCAZU74SE Is it really possible  to leave the tech stuff home and focus on your loved ones?

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.

On 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.

Track Your Time With An Activity Log

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

 

 

 

 

How To Transition From One Project to Another

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.