Time Management

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.

 

 

 

 

Email = Interruptions

email ampersandWho could have predicted the incredible effect of email on our daily work and personal lives 20+ years ago when it  was introduced? Dictating to secretaries in the ’60’s and ’70’s (Madmen anyone?) and using dictaphones to compose a document someone else then types have virtually disappeared except in medical offices. Probably anyone in their 20’s and 30’s reading this may not have heard of a dictaphone.

Email is the accepted way of life these days and has dramatically changed the way we work. It has invaded our personal and work lives and is with us 24/7. Many of our clients are unhappy with the number of emails that pile up in their inbox daily and a few describe it as the bane of their existence. There are less face-to-face conversations which is too bad because they often spark ideas and promote communication with fellow-workers and clients. Colleagues and clients expect answers from their email immediately. There isn’t any time left over to think.

Author Phyllis Korkki who wrote the June 16,2013, New York Times article Messages Galore, But No Time To think blames our lack of thinking time on email interruptions. She suggests that companies set expectations around email for their employees. People can be more productive if they know if it is acceptable to turn off email to work on a project,  the acceptable period of time before replying to an email, and where email should be saved.

All of these questions are perfectly acceptable to ask a manager. Do you know what your company policy is?

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?

 

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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?

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.

 

5 Ways To Use A Planner Effectively

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Commit To Change

 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. 

Read more on making lasting changes.

Get Your Taxes Ready NOW For Next Year

While you are working on this year’s taxes, keep in mind what you can do now to make next year’s preparation easier. Even though it may be months and months away, there are actions you can take now to organize your taxes and make the process smoother throughout the year and at tax time.

• What worked well and what could be “tweaked”? If it took time to gather credit card statements, designate a “home” to keep them in one place during the coming year. Separate by card number.

• Set up specific file folders – paper or electronic – and drop or scan documents for next year’s taxes into them throughout the year.
Suggestion: Devote an easily accessible filing box or accordion folder exclusively to next year’s taxes.

• Highlight tax donations in your checkbook and on credit card statements as you check them monthly. (Suggestion: Use different color highlighters to differentiate categories such as for home maintenance and tax deductions.)

• Scan tax receipts using a mobile scanner (such as Neat Receipts or SnapScan. Makes it easy to export data into programs such as Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax.

Even though tax season may be months and months away, take these time-saving actions now.

 

Start Tax Preparation Now

 

Try these tips to organize your tax documents and files:

  • Block out appointments with yourself on your calendar to complete the work. Be reasonable about how much you can accomplish at one time.
  • Estimate the time you will need and then double it.

Research filing and extension deadlines … know the IRS dates.

Keep a copy of last year’s return on-hand.

Gather all reported tax forms (W2’s, 1099 dividends, 1099 interest, etc.). Then organize data by type.

Sort data into specific categories: e.g. donations (money and in-kind).

If you prepare your taxes electronically:

You can import last year’s taxes onto this year’s form by using the same software as the previous year.

If you prepare your taxes manually:

Below are sources that may carry the forms you need:
www.irs.gov (Sends them at no charge)
• Some local libraries and post offices
• Office supply stores (for larger quantities)

Use a tax organizer. (Search “tax organizer” on web for free ones to download.)

If your taxes are prepared by a tax professional:

Make an appointment now.

It will be a huge relief to get this job done. Personally, I can’t wait to finish mine.