getting a project done

How to Make the Most of Holiday Time

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.

 

What Exactly are Goals and Why Do We Need Them?

Many of us do not have clear, thought-out goals. That always comes as a surprise to us. When we ask people at our speaking seminars if they have written goals, maybe half of the group raises their hand. If we ask if they have unwritten goals, a few timid hands go up. These people are usually shy about volunteering this information because they themselves are wondering if their goals are less valuable because they are not written.

Why don’t we all have goals, written or not written? Most people think of goals as large and aspirational and beyond their reach. Here’s an example of a lofty goal — the type that people often think of when they say they have goals: “I will grow my company to become an industry leader in three years.” This goal is long-term, hard to reach, and substantive. Many people find this type of goal beyond their frame of reference. It may be. These types of goals are often created by teams of executives who spend days, even weeks, formulating them. We are often put off by this type of elaborate goal setting process and may decide that goals aren’t for me.

Instead of eliminating all goals, we are suggesting another way to view them. We are all capable of establishing and reaching goals. Admittedly, goals on the top end such as becoming an industry leader, overlap with aspirations – they’re far-reaching business goals. But, at the bottom end of the goal spectrum, they often overlap with to-do’s (they may feel like to-do’s but are not). When you walk into the office wanting to achieve three goals for the day, there are often several steps – to-do’s — needed to accomplish each goal. Even if they do not feel “important” enough, big enough or worthwhile enough, many of the things we do during the day fall under the goals category. Smaller, short-term goals can be just as worthy and important as larger, more esteemed goals and can get you where you want to go. Did you accomplish three goals before leaving the office today? Then you were productive. That’s a reason to celebrate.

When we discuss goals, we include aspirational goals with the ordinary goals we choose every day to get our work done. Goals are intensely personal and there are no rules or restrictions. People have their own goals and their own ways of reaching them whether they are short-term or long-term. Both types have merit and count.

Why do we need goals? They give us purpose and focus and help us plan. We function better knowing that we have met important goals we personally set. Small or large … it does not matter.

Goals help prioritize tasks. We are often asked by overwhelmed clients which tasks should be done first. It can be very confusing looking at a long list and wondering in what order they should be handled. This is when having goals is really helpful. Referring back to your goals will help you determine what tasks on your to-do list should be done first.

Goals give us an end point which can be used for measuring progress. It allows us to break up a larger process into smaller, doable chunks that we know we are capable of handling. If our goal is to move from being a general accountant to an accountant specializing in forensics, there are a number of steps necessary to accomplish the goal, such as speaking to forensic accountants about their experiences (one step) and taking classes (another step). Once those two steps are complete, then we can move to the next action (as David Allen in Getting Things Done refers to it).

Goals require that we be specific vs. day dreaming or resorting to ‘someday maybe’. Just wanting a promotion at work or improving our skill sets will not happen without action. Goals turn a vision into a reality. By clarifying a goal, we understand exactly what it will take to reach it. We create criteria that will help move us farther along in our careers and achieve what we consider important. Many of us use S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable,   Realistic, and Timely) when we first establish a goal. However, it is important to monitor the goal at all times, not just at the beginning. (Watch for tips in a future blog on how to stay focused throughout the life of the goal,)

Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience. It takes effort, organization and focus to accomplish it. Relish the feeling that you did it. It will boost your self-confidence and prepare you for the next one. No matter what the challenge, even if it is harder, you know you are capable and up for it.

Not Getting Enough? (Part 1)

We’ve all heard it:  Americans are sleep deprived. Recently I listened to a sleep expert address sleep deprivation and decided I must learn more about the topic. I must confess: I am the poster child for sleep disorders. Not the medical kind – called sleep apnea. Just the kind that manifests itself with a cycle of falling asleep and waking up a few hours later one night, not being able to sleep the next night, and no defined “sleeping times”.  Admit it — you know what I’m talking about.

So, here is what I learned. Many Americans seem to thrive on the fact that we can “get by” with so little sleep. We talk about it too! In every elevator in every office building we overhear,  “OMG – I worked so late last night answering emails from my important client in Japan and with the time change, I only got 4 hours of sleep, but that is about the standard for me today”  while  holding a giant cup of coffee in hand. Often we wear this fact like a badge of importance or pride.

Why are we, productivity and efficiency consultants, writing about sleep? We certainly value time management and tout the benefits of effective calendaring, project and task management, etc. However, we also know that good health impacts overall success. When we interviewed successful, productive executives and professionals many stated making time for exercise and putting a priority on good health was an important factor in their success.

What are the causes for sleep deprivation? Lots of reasons: caffeine, watching the late night news, stress, and technology. We seem to have problems “turning off.” Many of our clients say the only time they have time to deal with the emails is after the rest of the family has gone to bed. We sleep with our cell phones next to our beds. Yesterday a friend told me she was up at 4 AM as she had received a text message – that was sent in error no less – and it woke her. When I asked why she didn’t turn off that alert at night, she said she might get an important text! That’s crazy. If there is an emergency in the middle of the night, and we hope there is not, chances are you will get a phone call — not a text. We don’t take sleep seriously; we don’t make it a priority. We don’t have a routine. We don’t have good sleeping habits.

OK. No routine. No habit. The cost of sleep deprivation is enormous. In 2013 the  country’s top sleep researchers and corporate leaders came together at the Corporate Sleep Health Summit, hosted by Harvard Medical School,  to discuss the latest research and the impact of sleep deprivation on the American work force and corporate bottom-line.

Most of us have heard that the cost of not enough sleep results in a number of health issues such as:

  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

The mental costs are just as insidious:

  • Impairs memory
  • Dumbs us down
  • Causes accidents
  • Impacts creativity and innovation
  • Lowers job satisfaction
  • Compromises decision making
  • Limits your ability to think on your feet

Lack of sleep affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls innovation, self-control and creativity. A 1999 study found that just 24 hours of sleep loss impairs innovative thinking and flexible decision making.

Two-thirds of Americans report that getting too little sleep was a major source of stress for them in the past month, according to a recent HuffPost survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults. And the effects of both stress and sleep deprivation could be seeping into their work lives.

Sleep Deprivation And Stress Are A Vicious Cycle.

“In the sleep world, stress is to sleep as yin is to yang — opposite forces that are forever linked,” Chris Winter, M.D. told The Huffington Post in April. “Stress prevents sleep. Sleep deprivation increases stress and its consequences.”

So our work lives are causing us to become stressed (eight in 10 Americans are stressed about their jobs), and in turn, we are less able to get our work done because we’re not getting enough sleep. One study found that 24 hours of sleep deprivation can significantly raise stress hormone levels.

24/7 Jobs Are Taking A Big Toll On Sleep Health.

Changing work cultures and constant connection to smartphones and digital devices is wreaking havoc with many Americans’ sleep patterns. The cost of more flexible work schedules is that many of us find that we never really turn off, responding to emails past midnight and working through weekends and vacations. According to new sleep survey data presented at the Summit, 72 percent of American workers polled said that they sleep with their smartphones next to their beds in the on position, and 45 percent send emails and texts often or always right before they fall asleep at night.

Today I spoke with two employees at a large law firm who shared the following: They receive an email from a partner stating that work must be done by early morning. They are expected to delegate the work – even in the middle of the night – so the partner’s request will be met. Then come early morning, the partner in question never acknowledges the request; it is expected that their requests will be met 24/7 without any additional thank you.

“As a result of us being so connected, we’re not only having a negative effect on ourselves, but we’re having a profound effect on those with whom we work,” said Leslie Perlow, Harvard Business School professor and author of Sleeping With Your Smartphone, in a 2012 Harvard Business Review webinar.

Now that you know the “cost” of sleep deprivation, try to get to sleep and in our next blog we will give you practical advice – from the experts – as to how you can learn to become a better sleeper.  Good night!

Tips for Eliminating Procrastination

Does indecision keep you from getting your projects started … or finished? Did you know that besides derailing you from achieving your goals and advancing in your work, procrastinating reflects on your professional image as well?

Everyone procrastinates on occasion but some people do it regularly. Even when they are aware they are procrastinating, they still put off important projects. If procrastination keeps you from completing projects, it is chronic and should not be ignored. Otherwise, it could easily affect your career, your home life and your self-esteem.

If you are committed to overcoming your procrastination habit once and for all, we assure you that it can be done. Why not give the tips below a try? They will help you stop the games you play with yourself to avoid a project you do not want to do.

BEFORE STARTING THE PROJECT:

Evaluate the importance of the project. Is it still a priority?  If not, take it off your to-do list or consider moving it to your Someday/Maybe list.

Figure out the reasons you are procrastinating. Knowing “why” will help you come up with the tools to fight it. For example, if you do not understand a particular area of the project and how to go about completing it, consult colleagues who are experts in this area or research the area in question on your own.

Find uninterrupted time. Enter a date in your calendar to work on a specific step of the project. Be sure and keep the appointment. Your dates are just as important as meetings with others. Your time is valuable.

Decide on the location where you will do the project. Sometimes working in a coffee shop with headphones on is better than the office where there are many external interruptions and distractions.

Prepare ahead of time. Decide what is needed that will make the task as easy as possible. A larger work surface? Clear space on your desk. Last year’s documents? Find those important papers ahead of time and have them ready. These are the types of obstacles that could  prevent you from moving ahead.

Create a positive mindset. It makes all the difference in the world how you approach the project. If you think of it as impossible and too hard to do, then it will be. On the other hand, if you tell yourself that you can do this and are ready for the challenge, it will not be as difficult. Think of the feeling of accomplishment when the project is completed.   

BEGIN THE PROJECT: 

Divide the project into individual tasks or steps. Make each step doable. A project may have five steps or fifteen. Write each step down on paper or electronically.  

Estimate the time it will take to complete each step of the project. Then double it. That may seem to be far too much time but most steps take longer than estimated. If you finish the step sooner than expected, continue. Or, leave the next step for another time.(Don’t forget to enter the next step on your planner so you will know exactly when you will be getting to it.)

Make the first step easy. Ease into the project slowly. You may want to make this step short and simple although, once you have completed it, you will have gained momentum and the commitment to continue.

Set the mood.  What external stimuli will entice you to get started?  For example, lighting, music, and snacks can make the task more enjoyable.

Ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you get started.  Even if the person is just there while you work, sometimes that is all it takes.

Seek help from colleagues or friends if you run into obstacles. If you do not know how to tackle a specific step, consult with someone who does. All you need to do is ask. People are happy to help.

Eliminate interruptions and distractions so you can focus on the project. Turn off the sound and pop-ups signaling new email. Let your phone go to voicemail. Close your door or put up a sign saying you are working on an important project. Keep a pencil and pad where you are working to jot down thoughts not related to the project. That way you will not forget them and can go back to them later when you are finished working.

Be mindful of the progress you are making. Track your accomplishments and be aware of the progress you are making. Think in the present.

WHAT IF THE PROJECT IS DUE IMMEDIATELY? 

If you have delayed the project until the 11th hour, you may have to condense the suggested steps above and move right into action. Here’s one approach:

Move directly to the “Begin the Project” section.  Imagine you are leaving town tomorrow. We have all experienced that hyper-active mode before leaving for a business trip or vacation. You had no idea you could accomplish so much that quickly. And why is that? Because you concentrated on the tasks that needed to get done. That probably meant limiting conversations with colleagues and not allowing distractions and interruptions to throw you off target.

CELEBRATE WHEN THE PROJECT IS COMPLETED 

Once a project is off your to-do list, it is not always easy to move immediately into another high-level task. Switch from your high-functioning thinking to low-level tasks such as returning phone calls or doing email. Consider taking a walk and giving your brain a well-needed rest.

Enjoy the feeling of relief and satisfaction knowing that the weight hanging over you is gone and that you did it! Feel good about your accomplishment. Remind yourself that you overcame procrastination and that you can do it again. Maybe, just maybe, the next project won’t be nearly as hard as you anticipate and will go faster than you expected. The secret: just start. 

We hope these tips inspire you to begin a project you have avoided yet must be done. Once you actually begin, you’ll be amazed at your energy and motivation.  The effort will be well worth it, and we are here to help.

Everyone Needs A NOT-To-Do List … Even You!

not to do image

Most of us leave the office with a sense of accomplishment if we manage to complete our daily to-do list that day. Productive and successful people live and breathe to-do lists. It’s their business bible. With limited time and energy, a manageable and realistic list like this is a must.

Why, then, is a NOT-To-Do-List also a good idea? Think about it. All day, every day, we are bombarded with to-dos that are not on our daily list. While we are committed to the tasks on our to-do list, other tasks, which often appear out of nowhere, also demand time and attention. To make it worse, they take our focus off important tasks – the ones that bring us closer to our goals.

Staying away – far away — from those interloper tasks is just as important as completing your to-dos. We recently interviewed 70 successful and productive business people.  Many of them told us that they prevent “other” tasks and assignments from derailing them despite the pressure to succumb. They maintain their focus and concentrate on the tasks that matter.

In many ways a NOT-to-do list is ranks just as high as a to-do list. Knowing what you should not be doing frees you up for the tasks that need your focus and concentration. As fellow time management specialist Harold Taylor says, “If something is not critical to do then it is critical that we do not do it.”

Below are suggested NOT-To-Dos. By not doing them, you will be able to focus your efforts on the tasks that will get you closer to your long term and short term goals.

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers. It is an interruption and you will lose focus on what you are doing. That’s why they made voice mail. If it is important, return the call on your schedule.  A program called PhoneTag will convert your voicemails into text and email them to you along with the original audio of the message.

2. Do not check email in the morning. Tackle an important task instead. Email is a low-level function that requires less brain power than other high level tasks such as prioritizing, planning and writing.

3. Do not check email all day long. Check email only at specific times.  Email is like candy. Your brain craves the novelty of finding out who just sent you the last email and what it says. Don’t play that game. Schedule a block of time (45 minutes or so) two or three times a day and enter these times in your calendar with a start and finish time. Consider looking at email mid-morning, after lunch (probably too sleepy to do much of anything else) and again around 4pm, giving you one last opportunity to reply before heading out the door. Oh, yes. Don’t forget to disable the sound and pop up alerts.

3. Do not add to your priorities without considering the implications. Were you just handed a new project? If so, how important is it and when is it due? Communicate with your boss the impact a new project has on your existing ones. Tip: write all active projects down into a notebook (paper or electronic). At a glance, you’ll see all of your projects and due dates.

4. Do not take calls while you are in a meeting unless you are the president of the United States or an ER doctor. If you must answer, be sure and inform attendees before the start of the meeting that you are expecting an important call. Otherwise your colleagues may not have nice things to say about your manners.

5. Do not allow others to clutter your inbox.  Avoid sending emails with receipts attached to them. Ask to be removed from your company’s non-essential distribution lists. And, while you are at it, unsubscribe to on-line magazines and newsletters that do not have a high payoff. One last email tip: avoid sending email with receipt requests. Some people use an auto responder thanking a person for their email and letting them know when they will return the call. Leave a phone number in case it is an emergency. Just remember to call them back when you say you will.

6. Do not connect with your smart phone 24/7. Turn it off when you are not working. Everyone needs time to recharge without being tethered to technology. Get a dog if you need companionship.

7. Do not allow social media sites to consume your time. Access updates during non-working hours unless social media sites are part of your business strategy. Use a timer to stay focused while surfing social media sites. Or, before you know it, an hour has passed and you have nothing to show for it.

8. Do not send vague emails. Write relevant, descriptive subject lines. Put “Action Needed” or “Action Requested” in the body of the email to highlight your request. The fewer words the better. Read over the email before hitting send to make sure that the email is clear and expresses your thoughts.

9. Do not say “yes” unless yes is really the answer you want to give. It is appropriate to check your calendar or to say that you must check with others first. If this project will make it harder to reach your goals, do not hesitate to say no.

10. Do not attend a meeting without an agenda. Preferably, the agenda will be sent out ahead of time along with committee reports. Focus your time at a meeting on issues and discussions. Before entering the meeting, be sure and know when it will end.

11. Do not spend too much time chit-chatting with people in the office or on the phone. Of course be friendly, but move the conversation along at the same time. Often, informing the person that you are in the midst of a project is sufficient.

12. Do not worry about something that has already happened. Did you make a mistake in a meeting or say something that you now realize was incorrect? It happens to everyone. Make your apologies and move on. Save your thinking for positive thoughts and ideas and do not dwell on something that you cannot change.

13. Do not do something if you can delegate it. Given the demands on our time these days, do not hesitate to ask an administrative assistant, a subordinate or a colleague to handle tasks they are capable of doing. H/she may have more expertise in the area than you have. Even though explaining the task may be time-consuming, it will be worth it in the end.

14. Do not do less beneficial tasks at the expense of important ones. Often we become caught up on a less important task. The task was important when you started it, but part way through you now realize it is no longer a priority. Even if you have put extensive effort into it and are emotionally tied to the outcome, drop it right away. It may be hard but your time needs to be allocated against the projects that count.

15. Do not worry about things you can not affect. If your revenue was down last month, think about ways to make it up. Worrying about the problem won’t fix it.

Now you have 15 NOT-To-Do items and you are sure to come up with others on your own. Be mindful and oh so conscious of the tasks you should not do because they will rob you of the time you need for crucial tasks. What will you put on your NOT-To-Do List? Write to us and let us know.

For more information creating your very own NOT-To-Do List, check out the 3/14/13 Forbes article by Pat Brans and Michael Hyatt’s point-of-view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outsourcing Tasks — Do It Myself Or Give It Away?

Have you ever wondered why, in spite of all the “time-saving” devices we have today — apps, technology tools, and “instant” everything — we are inundated with too much to do coupled with too little time to do it in?

A solution? Outsource jobs, tasks, or responsibilities that need to be done, but not necessarily by you.  Hire extra hands to help with the lifting, freeing you up to attend to other things.

Sometimes outsourcing makes sense while other times it doesn’t. You might be surprised to find that you can outsource more than you realize.

Professional outsourcing options can include: Accounting, IT, PR and advertising, recruiting, web design or even a productivity specialist (ahem, ahem). How many of these areas do you currently outsource professionally?

What about personal outsourcing options? Baby sitter, dry cleaners pickup and delivery, house cleaning, meal preparation, personal trainer, yard work or seasonal plantings? These outsourcers can be a huge help with work/life balance!

Our guess is that you outsource at least one, if not a lot more of the areas mentioned. We’re sure you would agree that we often count on the skills from others to get our job done.

When should you outsource? Here are some considerations:

1) Missing Expertise – You could possibly learn the skill (and maybe you will at some point) but, at the moment, it is not one of your strong suits. For instance, we depend on a website guru.

2) Time – You may be better off focusing on areas that bring in revenue and leave value-added tasks to people who do it for their day job. For example, many people count on a virtual assistant to handle administrative work remotely.

3) Resources – You may be missing the hardware, software or equipment needed to perform the task. Have you seen the size of facilities for off-site physical document storage?

4) Financial Impact – Weigh the outsourcing cost against your hourly rate. If you don’t know your hourly rate, take your salary and divide by 1080 (52 weeks x 40 hours/week) to find out your hourly rate. This is a good thing to know anyway.

5) Prefer Doing It Yourself – Use your time wisely. As long as the task does not take a lot of time and you enjoy it, then it may be a task to handle on your own.

6) Internal Resources – Take advantage of in-house staff, if available. As an example, if you have in-house counsel, outside attorneys are less likely to be needed.

What else can you outsource? What would be the impact of more outsourcing on your ability to achieve goals, manage time, and potentially reduce your work hours? What’s holding you back?

If you have trouble finding good outsourcing options, ask your social media networks for recommendations. If you are a member of professional associations, you’d be surprised what outsourcing resources those can provide. If you or someone you know is a member of Business Networking International (BNI), then you have a huge source of vetted professionals to whom you can outsource.

To do it yourself or to get help is not always an obvious decision. At some point soon, we all face this. Please let us know what you outsource and how it has benefited you.

Managing Your Time Effectively: A Perspective from Franklin Covey

Book Cover

One of the books we refer to often when we speak to businesses is  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We particularly like the Time Management Matrix in the third chapter, Put First Things First, because it is all about the importance of results. Stephen Covey divides all matters into four quadrants. It looks like this:

I. Important  and Urgent: These are the crises and  pressing problems that we encounter every day. Many people “live” in this box because urgent matters always take precedence. They need to be done NOW. While we are all in this box some of the time, we do not want to spend all of our time here.  It can cause stress and burnout. The next time you are asked to do something that is urgent but does not support your goals, think twice before saying yes. Some of your projects need to bring you closer to your goals. That’s the II quadrant.

II. Important and Not Urgent:  This is the most important box to be in because it is planning, recognizing, building relationships — all of the things that will help you accomplish your goals. The trick is that it requires being proactive. You need to take the initiative. If you do, however, the rewards are great: this is where you get results, have a good perspective, control your day and encounter few crises.

III. Not Important and Urgent: The less time in this quadrant, the better. Here is where we find interruptions, phone calls, email, snail mail, meetings, and pressing matters that have little weight. It is crisis management at its best and the day is spent reacting to things that are probably important to someone else.

IV. Not Important and Not Urgent:  It is best to stay out of this quadrant altogether because mostly trivial activities happen here. This is where busy work belongs along with time wasters, a few phone calls and emails and pleasant activities that do not move you along toward your goals. It is not where effective people choose to be.

Want to learn more? Forbes Magazine  talks about the Four Quadrants in its January 30, 2013, issue . The article is called “How Does One Manage Time More Effectively?” Or, it is always worth investing in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Which quadrant(s) do you spend your day in?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

How Would You Rate Your Company’s Performance This Year?

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:

  • Review last year’s goals; Then write down goals for this coming year.
  • List the programs you implemented this year that performed well and then add the programs that were less so;  decide which ones to keep, which ones to improve upon and which ones to chalk up as a learning experience.
  • Set up periodic reminders to evaluate programs on a quarterly basis (or even sooner). That way there will be no surprises at the end of the year. It may allow you to change direction mid-stream to refocus the program.
  • Evaluate your productivity systems and decide what you can do to improve them. They may impact your strategies and goals and perhaps will help the programs run more smoothly.

What would you like your company’s performance to be next year at this time?