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.
Now that we’re approaching the end of the year, it is the perfect time to talk about goals which are top-of-mind for many of us. A new year and new goals go together. If you are a member of the 12% Club (people who actually stick to their resolutions), there is no need to read further. Congratulations on achieving your 2014 goals.
But for those of us who do not have goals or who did not reach them this past year, this post is for you. Why do so many of us not accomplish goals? There are a lot of reasons. Can you relate to a few of these?
Now that we know why a goal may not succeed, are you wondering if it’s worth bothering to create and pursue them in the upcoming year? The answer is yes and here are some of the reasons why.
Imagine a spectrum. On one end are long-term goals and at the other end are shorter-term goals. Both have merit. Becoming an industry leader in two years is a long-term goal while achieving 10% more in sales in three months is at the opposite end. Small and shorter goals are just as worthy as longer term goals and may be easier to make.
The secret for achieving any goal – long or short – is to list each task. (another word for a to-do.) Some goals consist of two tasks whiles others may have twenty or more. Even daunting goals with many tasks will feel more achievable. Once all of the tasks are listed (either on paper or electronically), we can prioritize them. As each task is completed, check it off. (A great feeling!) You can chip away at a goal this way, one task at a time. Or, think of it as one bite of the elephant at a time. If, at any point you are unsure what to do next, refer back to the goal and the list of tasks to help you prioritize. The decision will be a lot easier.
By tackling a goal one step at a time, you will be able to manage your time so you can reach any type of goal. When you plan your day, decide the three most important tasks that must be done. At least one of these tasks should be related to your goal. Eventually, these small, doable tasks will help you reach the goal you’ve set out to accomplish.
When we work on these tasks neuroscientists call this “goal pursuit” — the process of creating and going after the goal. It is the journey – accomplishing the small tasks — that counts. Without a commitment to the journey, the goal can be lost. How easy it is to become derailed along the way!
Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience and well worth the hard work. Have you decided which goals you are going to pursue in 2015?
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.
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.
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:
The 15-Minute Closing Ritual is a technique that It’s Time To Get Organized created to ensure that each day runs smoothly. Recently, tips and techniques on what to during this closing ritual were posted in the Abacus blog to help maximize the time management techniques of thousands of attorneys. Not only does it keep attorneys working efficiently but it will benefit others as well.
Most of us lack energy or inclination at the end of the day to get organized for the next day. Yet, those 15 minutes yield a huge payoff. Check out the blog to read about how you can add this highly successful routine to your day.
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.
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.
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?
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?