Is your home office set up for you to maximize your efficiency? These days most of us have home offices. Sometimes it is where we work evenings and weekends or it is in addition to our main office. Other times we are in a home office full time. If so, are you making your day as productive as possible?
With 14+ million home-based small businesses in the United States, according to the SBA, maximizing productivity is critical. Most people do not maximize their home office for performance and give little consideration to areas that can make big differences. In a company environment, experts optimize layout, design and lighting among other things. But for those of us who have carved out an area in the home even small changes matter. Most people are not aware
of the changes that can made easily to improve their productivity.
Below are six areas that will help you improve your productivity in your home
1) Improve the lighting. This is, perhaps, the most important consideration. The best light is natural light from outside. If you are fortunate to have access to this light, place your desk in a spot that it takes advantage of this light source. However, not everyone is fortunate to have light streaming into the office and not every home office has overhead light. A task light directed over your work space works wonders especially on dark days. I had a CPA client whose home office was in her basement. Every time she worked there she felt dreary. Once we added a task lamp and a floor torchiere that spreads light across the room, the space opened up and she no longer struggled to read the numbers on her computer screen. All of a sudden she felt very differently about her “lower level” home office.
2) Set up a good workflow. A project often involves several steps that can be worked on simultaneously or in sequence. Think of the time wasted if you have to stand up and move across the room every time you need an important file that is part of a project. Think, too, about access to the technology equipment needed for the project such as a scanner, copy machine and computer. Good workflow depends on having the right tools and equipment at your fingertips.
While you’re at it, check periodically that your technology is up-to-date so you’re not wasting precious office time fixing it. It is frustrating – and a bit scary — when a computer crashes and there is a possibility of losing data. Or, what if you need to scan information for an important case and your scanner is acting up? Do you have an IT person you can count on?
3) Pare down desk items. Keep the items on your desk basic and within easy reach: phone, computer, possibly an extra monitor, a picture or two of the family, essential supplies and the project you’re working on. Everything else is a distraction. We waste 55 minutes a day, according to The Wall Street Journal, looking for documents we know we own. That is a lot of time that could have been used productively.
4) Muffle noise from other rooms. Take a hint from psychiatrists and invest in a machine that makes white noise. Not only will it improve your concentration, but will mask the sound of a dog barking when you are on an important call.
5) Evaluate your office chair. Is it comfortable? A poorly-fitting chair can cause back pain which is a serious issue and one reason that people miss work. According to The American Academy Of Family Physicians, half of the working population suffers from back pain every year and 90% of adults experience it some time in their lives. A desk chair should be ergonomically correct so that the computer screen is in the right position along with the arm height and wrists.
6) Pay attention to aesthetics. They matter. Recently I was in an office where there were attractive pictures on the wall and calming paint colors. I commented on the good-looking office. The office owner told me how proud she is of her office and how it positively affects her mood. If your walls are all-white, perhaps it is time for a change. An interesting shade of paint and a few decorative art pieces make a big difference and do not have to be expensive.
Did you identify one or perhaps two areas that you could change in your own home office? If so, it’s time to upgrade your office so it will be a place where you enjoy working. If you like your environment, I guarantee that your productivity will improve.
Please reply to this blog and let me know what you plan to do to maximize your productivity in your home office.
Decision-making is one of the hardest things we do both professionally and in our personal life. It’s happened to all of us. We make snap business decisions that we come to regret because we haven’t given ourselves enough time to weigh the odds and think it through. Or, we may vacillate and go back and forth not knowing which option to choose. A good night’s sleep can often work wonders or just discussing the situation with colleagues often clarifies the situation. But not always. Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath explore taking another perspective in the August __ , 2013, issue of Fast Company. In their article, The 10/10/10 Rule For Tough Decisions, they recall a strategy invented by Suzy Welch, a business writer. She called it the 10/10/10 Rule. Basically, her premise is that we think about a difficult decision from three perspectives:
This type of decision making removes some of the short-term emotions and helps us focus on what may be important in the future. With less emphasis on the current situation, a decision may become more obvious. Thinking about a decision from a long-term view may change the way you view the current circumstances. Ask yourself if the outcome will be important 10 minutes from now, 10 months from and 10 years from now. An example of when this rule may be helpful is if there is a disagreement with a colleague. Will confrontation serve a purpose 10 months from now? Or even 10 years from now if you are both at the same firm? If you want to read the entire article, go to the Fast Company link: http://www.fastcompany.com/3007613/10-10-10-rule-tough-decisions. Or check out How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
When are you going to try out the 10/10/10 Rule?
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?
Who 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?
choose? In today’s world, the possibilities are endless. Interestingly, that’s not always a plus and can often interfere
with decision-making. What to do?
Often, the best way to get things done is by process of elimination so that you are left with limited, desirable
choices. Here are two real-life examples we all face at one time or another …
… you decide to join an association to network, be part of the community and potentially meet prospective clients.
Which group should it be? Perhaps it would make sense to become part of the local Chamber of Commerce. Many of
your colleagues attend their meetings and have found it helpful to be part of the Chamber. Or, maybe
consider a business association a good friend is urging you to join. There are several excellent choices and it is hard to
decide which one would be best.
We recommend using the process of elimination to decide which association to choose. Once you have
narrowed it down to one or two associations, the decision will be easier. Plus, that overwhelmed feeling will go away.
Here is another example of too many choices. You have decided to scan all documents as soon as they arrive in the
office but have no idea which product best meet your needs and gets the job done most efficiently. The market is flooded
with scanner manufacturers with each one vying for your attention. To eliminate a number of scanners, we suggest that
beginning by listing your criteria — how you want the scanner to function and what you want to accomplish. Then you
are ready to review the scanners sold and to compare each one with the criteria you established. This process will
narrow the selection process and move it along by reducing the number of scanners in the running. Isn’t that an easy
way to limit the options? We hope you will give it a try.
Want to read more about how this concept works? Check out the 6/21/13 article: Choose What To
Leave Out at www.delanceyplace.com.
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
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:
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.
When will you write your goals and where do you plan on posting them?
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.
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.