making productive use of time at work

Maximize Your Home Office Productivity: Here’s How

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
Office:

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.

How Mindful Are You?

In this day and age of busy-ness and multiple distractions, mindfulness has come into common usage as an antidote to scattered minds. Time Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes and many other well-respected publications often extol the reasons for their readers to learn more about this hot new buzzword. “Many corporations and employees are also realizing that the benefits of mindfulness practices can be dramatic,” reports The Huffington Post. Well-known companies such as Google, LinkedIn, and General Mills, are starting to provide mindfulness training to their employees because they understand that mindfulness reduces stress and allows employees to acknowledge their emotions, to stay in the present, and to remain productive.

What exactly is mindfulness? Neuroscientists define it as paying close attention to what is happening around you so that you are open to new opportunities and new ideas. Dr. Daniel Siegel, a professor at UCLA, describes mindfulness as simply the opposite of mindlessness. “It’s our ability to pause before we react,” says Siegel. “It gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the most appropriate ones.”

Most of us focus on ourselves and often lose track of what is around us. It is easy to do, given the hours spent on email and the temptations of social media, but this inner focus does not lead to greater productivity. Unfortunately, it often leads to more stress. The examples below happen all the time:

Example #1: You walk into your office and immediately turn on your computer to download email. An hour later you are not even close to done and then you remember that the project due today has not yet been touched. Had you been mindful when you walked in the door, you would have planned your day carefully. The email check would have waited until the important project was sent off. Using mindfulness gives people more control over the day.

Example #2: You are in a meeting and strongly disagree with a colleague. Both of you leave in a huff. Here is where practicing mindfulness is invaluable. By acknowledging your feelings, you now become an observer. It takes the sting out of the strong reaction you have just experienced and provides a calming effect. You can “see” your feelings but not be “undone” by them. Without the emotional baggage, it is easier to communicate with your colleague and stay productive that day, instead of angry.
Example #3: You are back in the meeting but only in body because you are thinking about something else. Join the ranks of people (virtually all of us) who are not in the present. With this mindset, it is unlikely that you will benefit from the meeting nor will you contribute to it. On the other hand, good things happen when you pay attention and are engaged — you are more likely to provide valuable input because you are in the present and paying attention.

Here’s the good news: most of us have the ability to be mindful. Fortunately, this skill can be developed — the more you activate it, the more mindful you become. However, it requires work to become a habit. The benefits are worth it:
• It is easier to process information at a higher cognitive level because there is less stress getting in the way of clear thinking.
• It changes the way you react to everyday occurrences because you have time to pause before acting.
• It helps eliminate distractions by acknowledging them and moving on.
• It supports overall health and well-being due to less stress.
• It improves productivity.

Seven actions to improve your mindfulness:

1) Stay alert. Ask questions. Listen actively, gathering insights and perspectives from other people. Dr. Daniel Goleman in “Focus” says that “This active engagement leads to smarter questions, better learning and a more positive early warning radar for coming changes.”
2) Let go of judgments by resisting assumptions and not coming to premature conclusions.
3) Wait before acting. Give yourself time to observe and think.
4) Identify your emotions and label them. It is not always easy to describe to yourself what you are feeling but, when you do, you will have better control over them. The feelings will be easier to regulate and to put aside.
5) Inhibit the emotion. Once you are aware of your feelings, stop them from interfering. Push them away. Otherwise, it is difficult to return to your current activity. Do not allow them to take over.
6) Maintain your focus on one thing only. Consciously put other thoughts out of your mind.
7) Take mini-breaks throughout the day to give your brain time to rest. Switch to easier, less cognitive tasks, take a quick walk outside and enjoy a short lunch break.

By practicing mindfulness and paying attention on purpose, you can become more efficient, more focused and more productive. Why not give it a try? Let me know what happens when you do.

Should I Upgrade to Microsoft Windows 10?

The long-awaited Windows 10 just launched with lots of fanfare. Almost everyone with Windows will be eligible to upgrade without charge. The roll-out will occur in waves which turns out to be a big plus for all future Windows 10 users. Unless you want to be a tester, sit back and wait a bit.

Reviewers give Windows 10 high marks. They describe the new Operating System as combining the best of all worlds – the features that Windows 7 users care about (such as the Start Menu) plus new, modern features (such as Cortana, Microsoft’s version of Siri). Many of us are familiar with these features because they are currently in use on the tablets and smartphones we can’t live without. The problems Windows 8 users encountered are gone.

Why consider Windows 10?
• It’s a desktop-focused interface for PCs meaning that the screen menus, icons, keyboard shortcuts, mouse, touch, pen, command language and physical buttons are all there.
• The new System includes more tablet and smartphone features. In fact, the desktop is similar to a tablet or smartphone although it is possible to default to the familiar Windows screen.
• It’s easier to use than Windows 8 which focused heavily on touch.
• Cortana, Window’s version of Siri, is readily available and particularly useful in searching.
• There are “universal apps” allowing many new apps to run on the desktop. The apps show up in a single list when the Start Menu appears and includes apps that are updated such as the weather and news.
• Tablets and mobile devices have special interfaces with smooth transitions.
• New features like Task View and virtual desktops will help keep programs organized no matter how many are kept open.
• Upgrading to Windows 10 will be easy; an icon will pop up on your PC.
• The program starts faster, according to Microsoft.
• Can be used by touch and mouse or voice, pen or gesture.

If you are currently are using Windows 8.1, you may have more incentive to upgrade sooner rather than later. For one thing, instead of having to swipe the screen away with your finger, you can drag it away with the mouse. There are still live tiles but they can be easily removed and there are universal apps which can run in Windows on the desktop unlike Windows 8. And, the Start Menu is back.

If you are a Windows 7 user, you may be satisfied with the system you have and will want to take your time to ensure that as many bugs as possible have been fixed before you commit to Windows 10 . You have a year to take advantage of the offer, to get the thoughts of others who have already made the switch, and make sure that there are no issues related to your particular laptop model.

Below are a few tips to make the transition go smoothly:

Before upgrading:
• Back up your computer. That way you can always revert back to what it was before you updated to Windows 10 if anything goes wrong during the installation.
• Consider the possibility of installing Windows 10 on a spare computer, if one is available, as a first step.
• Watch for the pop-up telling you that Windows 10 is ready to be installed (although it can be installed any time). Delaying gives Microsoft time to make sure that the program is compatible with your machine.

After upgrading:
• Block out time on your calendar to take an on-line tutorial and become familiar with the new System. Read the reviews and try out the new features with an open mind.
• Get to know the System before you make a decision to go back to Windows 7 or 8. You can always uninstall the new version if you change your mind and decide that you prefer the previous version.

Everything You Want to Know About Meetings …

Do meetings play an important role in a company? According to Al Pittampalli, author and expert on meetings, “Meetings are the lifeblood of the organization. They’re the place where we make the most important decisions, express the most important matters of the day.” But he admits that meetings can be a huge waste of time and that it spreads out responsibility so that critical decisions tend to be put off.

Is the meeting necessary?  This is the very first question to ask. Employees’ schedules are jam packed and meetings are expensive for the company. So before planning a meeting, ask yourself:

  1. Can participants receive the information as effectively another way? Would email work?
  2. If you need to disseminate information, can you do it by email? By phone? Can people submit their ideas in writing?

If you are invited to a meeting, consider whether you are able to contribute to the meeting and have an active role. If not, excuse yourself from the meeting, if that is possible.

Would you believe that the people leading the meetings are often the biggest hindrance? Most meetings are not run well, although the people running them would be surprised to know that participants are not happy. Letting your boss know that he/she is doing a poor job handling the meeting probably would not go over well. So, forget that strategy unless you have a very open-minded boss.

How much time do employees spend in meetings? If meetings took a small amount of time, then perhaps, just maybe, the time inefficiencies could be overlooked. But that is hardly the case – meetings are a huge chunk of many days. Senior executives spend over half of their time in meetings (an average 28 hours per week!). Middle managers also do not fare well, devoting over 40% of a 50-hour work week sitting in meetings for 21 hours weekly. A British study of 1,000 employees concluded that employees considered more than half of that time wasted and that meetings are their biggest time waster.

What is the ideal number of people attending a meeting? Six or less according to the Wharton School of Business. More than that and productivity per person declines. Often cliques and sub-teams with their own agendas form and some people find it easy to coast. For a small project, two or three people can often accomplish the job.

What days are good to hold meetings? Not Monday (too soon after the weekend and people are still recuperating) and definitely not Friday (too close to the upcoming weekend). That leaves Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – all good days. Another plus is that there is time for follow up from the meeting.

What times are best to hold a meeting? Energy levels are at their best between 10 and noon. Not recommended: first thing in the morning when people are just arriving at the office. They may need to plan out the day, finish a project from yesterday or complete a task right away. In the late afternoon people are tired and ready to go home.

What types of meetings are best? Collaboration is highest when people are face-to-face either in the same room talking and looking at one another or standing up. On your feet meetings work particularly well because attendees are focused on the issues and eager for the meeting to be over so they can sit back down. Phone and teleconference meetings may be necessary particularly when distance is an issue. Email meetings are not advised.

As meeting expert Al Pittampalli points out, meetings can serve an important purpose. The next time you call a meeting to work on a project remember to …

… Plan the meeting without your boss (if possible)

… Invite 6 or fewer people

… Reserve a conference room for a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday

… Call the meeting for 10 or 11am

… And keep the meeting under an hour

Tips for an Effective Meeting

 

Is it acceptable to start a meeting on time even if people are late? The answer is usually yes. If attendees know a meeting will not start on time, they may be purposely late.  They may take advantage of the “extra time” they now have to make a last-minute phone call or write a quick email. By waiting for the latecomers you are tacitly giving them permission to arrive whenever they choose. Even beginning 10 minutes late is wasted time for the on-time attendees and the company.

Let’s not allow the late-to-the-meeting attendees to get the upper hand. Have you ever thought about giving an incentive for people to arrive on time? There may be hope after all for the people who are ready to start at the appointed hour. Snacks and/or drinks definitely help!

There are other ways to encourage people not to be tardy. Try emailing everyone attending the meeting a few days ahead requesting that they please arrive on time. Or, remind them a few times as the day gets closer (just like an Evite). Perhaps stop by the offices of people you know are often late and remind them that it is rude to make others wait for them.

Or move the meeting to a different location.  An attorney told me that he did just that with a staff member who consistently showed up late. At the beginning of the meeting, the attorney invited everyone to a nearby coffee shop. Over drinks, they held the meeting. Imagine the surprise on the late person’s face when he saw everyone hard at work and also enjoying their favorite beverages. He got the hint. The attorney acknowledged the late-to-the-meeting person and suggested that he ask another meeting attendee to fill  in later on what he missed. Now, that’s a creative way to motivate people to arrive on time!

Here are tips to handle the meeting smoothly:

Include everyone in the discussion. Use a stopwatch and allow everyone two minutes to express an opinion on the proposal being discussed. Follow up with one minute for questions and answers. Try a round robin so everyone contributes. Often, people who hesitate to speak in front of the group end up making excellent contributions. Or, ask quiet people ahead of time for a specific contribution.

Take accurate, detailed minutes. Sometimes decisions are made at meetings and no one remembers why a few short months later. Good notes are often a life-saver because they remind everyone what was decided and why. It also makes it easy for new hires and those just promoted to catch up on a specific topic quickly.

At the beginning of the meeting (or beforehand), appoint a person to take notes that will include the names of the people responsible, the specific action and due dates. I even highlight the person’s name so that he/she can easily transfer the action items to their task list. If the meeting is important – and long – consider recording it with audio or video to ensure that no important information is lost.

Another possibility now available is to use tools such as SubEthaEdit or EtherPad. These apps allow multiple people to edit and collaborate on the meeting notes simultaneously. Everyone will stay engaged in the meeting and no one needs to spend time writing up the meeting notes because they are completed by the time the meeting is over. This is a good idea as long as people do not lose focus on the discussion and become too distracted by the note-taking.

Stay on track. Stick to the agenda and follow the estimated time allocation for each item; that will make it easy to identify issues that are dragging on longer than necessary. Keep the meeting moving and use the agenda as a roadmap – it is particularly handy if the discussion veers off-course. If that happens, try and stop the tangent right away. Otherwise, before you know it, the meeting has been derailed and is moving in an unplanned direction. Assign a committee to iron out details, if necessary.

Use meetings to discuss, maybe even argue as long as it is done fairly. It is ideas that are being discussed. The point is not to personally attack other people in the meeting.

End on time (high marks for this). Conclude a 60 minute meeting in 50 minutes and watch everyone’s face light up. That will give people an extra 10 minutes to get somewhere else or prepare for something coming up. And, they will be more likely to attend other meetings if they know their time is valued. If the meeting goes over the allotted time, the take-away message is that their time is not important. Meetings often run longer than they need to says Steven Rogelberg who teaches industrial/organizational psychology at UNC. He attributes it to Parkinsons Law that tasks last as long as the time allotted. So, if the meeting is planned for an hour, then it will take an hour.

After the meeting: Distribute the minutes asap. The person responsible for the minutes should file them  in a location (preferably electronic) where they are readily accessible. Keep track of the tasks in your planner or task list and follow up with the individuals who were assigned the tasks to make sure they are completed.

Running an effective meeting takes planning and organization but is definitely worth it. The meeting will go more smoothly and the outcome is likely to be better. Give these tips a try!

 

 

 

 

 

How to Achieve Your New Year’s Goals

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?

  1. Long-term goals are particularly difficult to imagine. It is hard to know what to do to achieve them.
  2. Long-term goals may be off-putting, aspirational and beyond our reach. Here’s an example of a pretty lofty goal: I will grow my company to become an industry leader in two years. That’s very impressive but feels like it may be difficult to make happen. (To make you feel better, often these types of goals are created by executives who have spent days, maybe weeks, formulating them.)
  3. Often goals are vague. “Do your best” has a sincere ring to it but it is not specific enough. Unfortunately, few people bother with heavy-duty planning and coordination because they lack “glamour”.
  4. The timing may be wrong. At another time, the goal may have been accomplished. Just not now.
  5. The bar may not be set for the right “zone”. If it is too low, our efforts might stop too early. Too high and we may give up altogether.
  6. Our motivation fluctuates from day to day and is not at all dependable.
  7. The brain resists change and often sabotages our efforts.
  8. We may lack motivation – the Why. Without a burning desire to achieve the goal, it is easy to fall victim to distractions and competing priorities.

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.

  • Goals give us purpose. We function better knowing that we need to meet important goals that we have personally set. There are many different types of goals – professional, personal, family and health, to name a few.
  • Goals keep us motivated and moving toward the end result, especially when we practice focus to stay on track says Daniel Goleman, author of “Focus”. By zoning in on what is important, we are able to stay on task long enough to achieve the goal.
  • Goals turn a vision into a reality. Forget day dreaming. And “someday maybe” doesn’t count either. Goals need specific criteria.
  • Goals give us an end point which can be used for measuring progress.

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?

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.

 

You’re Late!

Everyone is late from time to time (even you and me), often for a reason that can not be helped. But that’s not who we are going to discuss today. We are going to talk about people who are chronically late — people who do not leave enough time to get someplace on time. Often they often arrive late for lunch, an appointment or an important event like a job interview or a wedding.

If someone is consistently late, it can be a problem for friends and family who feel like victims. It can even damage the relationship. We all know how it feels to be sitting and waiting for a friend who is always late. “Sorry”, she mumbles when she arrives, “but I had to write an important email before I left and, oh, the traffic was really bad.” Maybe she thinks these excuses are acceptable but they get old quickly. It is tempting to give my friend an earlier time so she’ll actually arrive on time.

A far more serious problem is the effect being late has on relationships at work. Unfortunately, chronic latecomers have a poor reputation. Colleagues resent it when their peers show up for meetings after they have started. They do not feel as if they can trust their colleague. Far worse, it can eventually limit career advancement. It’s that serious.

According to Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again, most people don’t like being late but this behavior was often acquired a long time ago. Even when they try to be on time, it is extremely difficult to break lifelong habits.

What are some of the reasons that people are chronically late?

  • Their time is more important than yours, so they think, and they are indifferent to whether it bothers you. They may consider themselves more important and consider their contribution at work more substantial than yours.
  • They squeeze in as much as possible in as little time as possible. Or, they are distracted by last-minute to-dos such as answering the phone instead of letting it go to voicemail. Everything is a distraction. They forget that these things can wait until later.
  • They enjoy being late and making others wait. This person may be insecure – arriving well after the appointed hour may make them feel important.
  • Some latecomers like creating a grand entrance especially if it’s a large group that is sympathetic to their plight and does not know their history of chronic lateness. Of course they apologize but they also get center stage.
  • They do not have a good perception of time and tend to underestimate it. Often people who are chronically late fail to build in enough slack time for unforeseen situations.
  • Certain traits also tend to make people chronically late such as anxiety, low self-control and a tendency toward thrill-seeking. It’s an adrenaline rush to beat the clock.
  • They thrive on the mini-crisis they create when they are running late and deliberately   put themselves under the gun to get themselves moving.

Interestingly, some people are not comfortable with the idea of being early. They do not know what to do with the “extra time” and are frustrated at not making “every minute count.” The thought of downtime with nothing to do is uncomfortable. The last thing they want to do is wait.

What is their idea of being on-time? In a perfect world, some latecomers aim to arrive exactly at the start time. People who tend not to be late view it quite differently. On-time for them is arriving 15 minutes early which eliminates the stress and gives them a chance to grab a cup of coffee, relax and even scout things.

Try these tips for being on time:

  1. Make being prompt a priority. Recognize the negative, stressed out feelings you have when you are late.
  2. Build in travel time on the calendar. People who are chronically late tend to underestimate how long it will take to get to a place and be situated.
  3. Imagine how it will feel to be on time, even early, without the familiar feelings of being stressed. People will respect that you are on time.
  4. Get ready early. Gather up the documents you need ahead of time. That way, if an interruption occurs, you can handle it and still be ready to leave on time. Some of our clients begin preparing for the meeting when they are supposed to leave.
  5. Take reading material or something with you so you do not feel as if you are wasting time while you are waiting. Plan it ahead of time so you know that your time will be used efficiently. It will feel so good that you will want to do it again.
  6. If you are late most of the time, plan to be on time two times out of five. As you get better, add another time so that you are eventually on time five times out of five. Keep track of your progress with a journal (or Evernote).
  7. Plan the night before what you will need for appointments the next day and when you need to leave. Make sure to check for early morning meetings. It is no fun when the meeting stops and everyone looks at you when you walk into a meeting late.
  8. Watch the clock. Late people do not tend to be aware of the time.
  9. Set the timer, even two. One for when to start getting ready and the other for when to walk out the door.
  10. Think about the actions you will need to take to be ready to leave on time.
  11. Estimate the time you need to get somewhere and double it.
  12. Stop doing other things well before you leave. Remind yourself they can be done later.
  13. Fine yourself if you are late or give yourself a negative consequence says Dr. Phil. http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/215.
  14. Estimate how long something will take and then compare it with the actual time it took.

 

Organize Your Electronic Files

How quickly can you find an electronic file? Are your files scattered throughout the computer in any number of places such as the hard drive, documents, the cloud or portable storage? Electronic folders that are not filed in their right locations can be just as messy and cluttered as paper folders.

So much of what we do today is electronic that we need a plan to organize electronic files similar to the way we organize paper files. While many offices still rely on paper to some extent, we are gradually moving away from paper to storing documents electronically which is a compelling reason to set up a system to organize electronic file folders.

There are numerous benefits of an organized electronic filing system. Here are some of the reasons to act now and get your computer files in order:

  • Saves you time when you can find what you need quickly and easily, even years later.
  • Easy to maintain.
  • Helps you be more productive, and look more professional, especially when your boss needs a file now.
  • Keeps documents current because the system identifies which documents can be disposed of and when.
  • Saves physical storage space and money by reducing the number of filing cabinets and office floor space needed.
  • Uses your time more efficiently by reducing the time you, or an assistant, spends retrieving and re-filing physical records.

If you share files with others, here are some advantages to having organized file folders:

  • Team members can access shared folders and find what they need quickly, without interrupting anyone.
  • Document ownership is easy to determine.
  • Fewer copies of documents need to be printed as long as you, and the other team members, can access the document easily on line.
  • Less printing = less paper clutter.
  • It is easy to edit a document and share it with others.
  • New employees can be brought up to speed quickly.

Tips to organize your electronic filing system:

  1. Make sure that the electronic filing system meets the needs of the office, that all documents have a place in the system and that everyone understands and buys into the system.
  2. Create a flow chart (electronic or paper) showing the type of information that will be available and the departments or people needing access to specific files.
  3. Set up a system everyone will be comfortable with and will use.
  4. Mirror your paper folders using the same headings and topics as your paper system. The more similar the two systems, the better.
  5. Be consistent about naming conventions. Set up files, folders and subfolders that everyone will find meaningful and easy to understand.
  6. Limit the number of clicks to three: file, folder and subfolder. There is no need to go any deeper. Note: whatever filing name system you choose, it needs to match your needs and/or the group’s needs.
  7. Use a hierarchal system to organize files instead of a horizontal one. Group all projects and files relating to a particular project, person or thing together instead of using separate folders. For example, a hierarchy for a client file folder might look like this:
    • File: Clients
    • Folder: Individual Client Names
    • Subfolders: Descriptive topic names such as communication, contact information, taxes by year, etc.
  8. Follow file naming conventions including client account numbers and revision date. Use underscores, not spaces. For example, an individual client name may look like this: tomjones_3579_11-30-14. Keep file names under 27 characters, all lower case.
  9. Use the same format for dates. The key is to be consistent.
  10. Add as much information into the file name as possible so it will not be necessary to open it. Be descriptive. An example of a subfolder under communication might be: casesummary1114 (for November, 2014). Don’t just put in “letter.”
  11. If others also work on the document, add your initials at the end.
  12. Avoid abbreviations and codes that are not immediately obvious to everyone.
  13. Set up an index for quick reference, particularly if you use shortened versions of words such as DFT for draft or CTR for contract. Make sure that information is readily available to everyone with access to the file folders. If an abbreviation is not necessary, do not use it.
  14. Delete previous revisions once document is final.
  15. Create a records retention schedule based on function and date to ensure that outdated electronic documents are disposed of when they are no longer needed.
  16. Be ruthless about the documents you save. The more data on the computer the more difficult it is to find necessary documents.
  17. Move frequently-used files to the top of the file folder list by adding an “a” or ! (any symbol works) at the beginning of the file name.
  18. File as you go. Do not wait until you have a long list.
  19. Clean out your file folders at specific times (after a certain number, every Friday, etc.)
  20. Back up files regularly.

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.