The next six weeks will be filled with parties, concerts and events. Some of them are obligatory — you may not want to attend your office party but must show up with a smile on your face. But you may be looking forward to your child’s concert at school and annual soirees with friends. Many people consider this period of time at work to be unproductive. Between late-night parties, holiday lunches and gift-swapping in the office, most are not focusing as intently on the business. In fact, many business people consider this period of time to be pretty unproductive.
Unless you do not plan on showing up between Thanksgiving and New Years, there is still work that needs attending to although, admittedly, your work load may be lighter. Your firm’s 2015 business plans have been completed and are ready for action starting in January. With fewer of your colleagues in the office, there are fewer meetings, fewer reports due and fewer tasks that require your immediate attention. Clients may be on vacation or spending less time in the office so they may be less demanding.
You have a choice. You can “float” through this period and pay minimal attention to work or decide that you’ll use this down time productively. There are a host of opportunities available. It is just a matter of deciding if you want to take this course of action. Why not? Think of the projects that you have put off because you have not had the time. This is your chance to get to them. Some of these projects can help you reach your goals. By starting them now, you will likely have fewer interruptions and a greater chance to complete them than during the year when more urgent tasks and to-dos come up and derail you.
What are examples of projects that you may want to tackle now? How about researching an area that may prove profitable for your company? How about exploring new ideas? You have a list but you never have time to explore them. Or perhaps you want to learn a skill that will improve your performance at work such as the task feature in Microsoft Outlook or how to use Evernote. It is frustrating not to know these features but, without the time to explore the tasks function or how to navigate Evernote, you have had to make do. Here is the opportunity you have been waiting for all year. Taking a class at a school or an on-line video tutorial from a company such as Lynda.com requires time, energy and focus … and now you have it!
I would be remiss if I did not mention that this is a perfect time to get organized. If your office is piled high with paper, why not go through the stacks and decide if you can live without some of them. Most likely the answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Our clients often print out duplicates of documents because they can not find it on their desk (even though they know it’s there somewhere). Their first response is to reprint it. Ask yourself if you need it or would be able to get it again. Probably not although there are still a few documents that we need to hold onto. Often there are legal papers such as contracts. If another person in the company issued the document, then it’s likely that person will have the original copy. If you need to keep a document, decide where its home should be — on your desk (if you are actively working on it), in a filing cabinet, on your computer as an electronic file?
Once the paper clutter is reined in, it’s time to focus on the electronic clutter which may be more serious than the paper clutter. If files are scattered about without any rhyme or reason, take time now to figure out where each document belongs. Once the new year begins, this project will unlikely take precedence over urgent ones.
While you are organizing your office, there may be other things that you can do to improve its functionality. What tools might make it easier to stay organized — a whiteboard for mapping, wall files that can keep your folders handy, a second monitor? You might take a look around the office for ideas or browse the The Container Store or an office supply store. You could even ask your colleagues what organizing tools they like the best.
Have I convinced you yet to take advantage of this holiday time to do something different and still stay productive? Without having to spend all of your time on urgent, important projects, you can focus on other areas in your work and professional life that are also meaningful.
Tips to Maximize the Work Tools on Your Desk
What do these items have in common?
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?
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:
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:
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?
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.
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?
Did you know that January 9 is Clean Up Your WorkSpace Day? It’s that important and crucial for your success that a special day has been designated. And it is at the beginning of the new year. As productivity specialists, we highly endorse sprucing up your workspace. It will help you be more organized and efficient in 2013.
Try this tip: Limit the items on the top of your desk to phone, computer, current projects, office supplies and planner.
These items are all essential organizing tools that sit on the top of your desk within arm’s reach and help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day.
These five work tools will help you concentrate on the task at hand and help improve your productivity.
Your Planner: This is your #1 work tool. If you don’t do anything else, update and check your planner at least once or twice a day, if not more. It doesn’t matter if it is paper or electronic. What does count is a dependable system that keeps all meetings, contacts and tasks in one place and handy.
Your Computer: Are you able to find the electronic document you need immediately? From personal experience, we can vouch that a task takes a lot longer when you spend the first half hour (or hour) searching for a file folder.
Organizing your computer file folders now — in the beginning of 2013 — is well worth it.
Your Active Projects: What are you working on today? Reserve your desk surface for projects and tasks that represent today’s priority items. Projects and tasks that will be priorities at a later date can be kept in your working files drawer or a step-up file folder.
Your Phone: 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 whom you will need to call again, record their information in your contact list. So long back-of-envelope!
Supplies: If you have to shove aside stationery, envelopes and boxes of business cards to reclaim your work surface, it may be time to rethink what you need at hand. Keep a few items and move the rest to the supply closet.
Take a look at your own desktop tools. Are they going to help you stay the course?
By following these tips, 2013 will be off to a great start!
Let us know what new system you will try in 2013.
Here we are at the end of 2012. How did business go these past 12 months? Would you rate your business a 10 because sales revenue and profits are at an all-time record? Or a 2 because you did not achieve what you set out to do and sales are down. Often the answer is somewhere in between these two extremes. Some things went well and others may not have been as successful.
Regardless of the number, this is a perfect time to reflect on what went well and what needs to be improved:
What would you like your company’s performance to be next year at this time?