making productive use of time at work

Top Ten Email Tips

Follow these top ten email tips and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how productive you will become in handling email and how much time you’ll save. You’ll also discover that it is really possible to reduce (even empty) your inbox.

1. Do not do email first thing in the morning. Once you plan out your day, work on your most important task (MIT) for the first hour you are in the office while you are fresh and alert. Then, start email. (Note: it’s OK to glance through email first thing in the morning to make sure that you have not missed anything significant, such as an urgent email from your supervisor or a cancelled meeting.)

2. Schedule several blocks of uninterrupted email time – one mid-morning and a second in the afternoon. Use a timer to keep you focused and on track. Plan on spending 45 minutes – one hour reviewing email that needs to be handled right away. The rest can wait. When you are checking email, try and stay focused. That means not allowing internal and external distractions. Let phone calls go to voicemail and indicate that you are “busy” on your calendar. If you think of something that needs to be done, jot it down on a pad of paper and continue to read and answer email. Make the best use you can of the email time you’ve allotted yourself.

3. Move or drag email out of the inbox. Do not let it sit there.Commit to making a decision on   each email. Delaying decisions creates havoc in your inbox. Your inbox is not a filing cabinet.   View your email inbox as just that – an In Box — where email arrives that need processing. Imagine how cluttered and messy your kitchen counters might look like if you ignored incoming snail mail. You’d be lucky to find anything.

4. Decide if the email is action or reference. Start at the top of your inbox and look at each email in order. Do not skip around. If it is action, follow the 4Ds (#5). If it is reference and will be needed again, move it to personal documents, shared files or the personal folders in the inbox. Examples of reference folders are: inactive clients, proposals, past projects, and marketing materials.

5. Use the 4D’s of Decision Making. This valuable tool eliminates a lot of the guess work about how to handle individual emails and where to move them. It is a sure-fire way to reduce the email in your inbox.

  • Delete – approximately 50% can be deleted. Ask yourself: Must I keep this? Can I access this information somewhere else if I ever need it? Will this information be out of date by the time I need it? Am I ever going to read it?
  • Do It – if it takes less than two minutes.
  • Delegate It – 30% falls into the do it or delegate it category.
  • Defer It – The 20% that needs to be handled by you directly but takes more than two minutes. Move this email into one of the following locations: your task list (with a due date), your calendar (on the specific day you will work on it) or an appropriate folder to work on later.

6. Set up specific folders for action items, current projects and reference and move email to the appropriate folder. Examples of folders: To Do, To Call, Waiting For (or Pending), Read & Review, Upcoming Meetings/Events, Cases, Clients, Current Projects, Associations. My favorite personal folder is “Read Later”. The email in this folder can wait.

7. When sending an email:

  • Create a strong subject line that is clear and specific.
  • Put your main point in the first sentence; then explain.
  • Tell the reader exactly what you want.
  • Keep the length within a screen size by making your sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Use simple, concise language.
  • Leave lots of white space, making it easier to read and to follow.
  • Be sensitive to the subject – sometimes a phone call or face-to-face conversation is better.

8. Respond to the sender promptly even if you cannot give an answer right away. Let the sender know the email was received. Now the sender will not need to send a follow up note because you were proactive. That will be appreciated.

9. Use “Reply All” judiciously. Usually a reply to the sender is all that’s necessary. Not everyone needs to know you’re leaving for vacation and cannot attend the meeting.

10. Move important folders to the Cloud such as Dropbox and SugarSync. If anything happens to your hard drive, your information will be safe.

Often people with hundreds, or even thousands of emails, feel totally overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. We recommend that they set up a system that works using these tips as a guide and then manage the newest emails first. Ignore the older emails or move them into archives where you can deal with them later.

By using a few of these tips, your inbox will be manageable. Finding the email you need will be much easier. You’re the one in control now.

 

 

Maximize the Work Tools on Your Desk

Tips to Maximize the Work Tools on Your Desk

What do these items have in common?

  • task list
  • calendar
  • computer and other electronic devices
  • current projects (sitting in an organizing unit holding files)
  • telephone
  • a few office supplies
  • a few personal items
  • an inbox and outbox (maybe)

You may have guessed it — they are essential organizing tools that sit on the top of your desk within arm’s reach and help you efficiently plan and manage your work day.

These work tools will help you focus on the task at hand and help improve your productivity. Each one is used often and needs to be within reach. Everything else, such as paper clutter and miscellaneous items, are distractions and should be moved. 

Limit your desk space to the following items: 

Task List: A to-do list is a must. This is your #1 work tool. If you don’t do anything else, update and check it several times a day, at least. It doesn’t matter if it is paper or electronic. What does count is a dependable system that keeps all tasks in one place and handy. Tip: some people like to print it out if it is electronic. 

When you think of a task, enter it immediately so it doesn’t take up space in your head. And forget about grabbing a sticky note or the back of an envelope. Sticky notes don’t always adhere and the back of an envelope is known to disappear when you need to return a client call and can no longer find the number. Once the task is written down in the same place as all of the others, it is reassuring to know that the task will not be forgotten. And what a great feeling to ü a task once it’s completed.

Note: Some prefer to use a calendar as a combination task list and calendar. That way tasks are designated to a certain date and time and are less likely to fall through the cracks. Statistics show that there is a 75 percent greater chance of a task being completed if it is scheduled on the calendar rather than in your task list according to Sally McGhee in “Take Back Your Life!.”  As long as there is a system in place that you are comfortable with and can count on, it does not matter if you use a separate calendar and to-do list or combine them.

When we interviewed 75 productive and organized executives, we discovered that all of them use and depend on to-do lists. It was one of the systems that they had in common. While they set up the lists differently (that was to be expected), each one told us that it helps their productivity to use a to-do list.

Tip: Decide the two or three to-dos that must be done that day. Brian Tracy from “Eat That Frog” calls these your MITs, Most Important Tasks. While there are many more tasks that you would like to accomplish, concentrate first on the ones you identified and get them done. One of these tasks must be related to your goals. Then you can move on to other tasks. At the end of the day, it will feel good knowing that you focused your time and energy on the tasks that matter.

Calendar: As soon as you know about a meeting, add it to the calendar pronto! That goes for personal and business meetings. One calendar is all you need. Otherwise, it is too easy to miss an appointment because it wasn’t in the calendar you were looking at. In Microsoft Outlook, you have the ability to color-code appointments to differentiate personal from business. One quick glance at the calendar and you know your schedule for the day.

Active Projects:  What are your current projects? Reserve the organizing unit on your desk for these projects and for reference materials such as a company directory. Keep other projects in your working files drawer close by.

Telephone:  Keep a phone log or spiral notebook beside your phone to use as a record of voice mail messages.  Or, record the information into a to-do list on your computer that synchs with your cell phone for easy callbacks.

If the caller is someone you will need to call again, take a minute and add the information to your contact list. The next time the person calls, their ID will come up and you can decide whether to take the call.

Supplies: Keep a few items and move the rest to the supply closet or an extra drawer. Save your desktop space for more important items.

Personal Items: Of course, a few photographs or mementoes are a given. They will remind you why you are working and give you a good reason to go home at night. But, only a few.

What’s on the top of your desk? Are they going to help you stay productive and efficient throughout the day?

Make Sleep A Top Priority (Part 2)

We are not sleep specialists but we know that having a goal, finding a strategy, and implementing tactics to achieve that goal will make it far more likely that you will complete it.

How to go about getting more sleep? There are many tips but the ones listed below seem to be universal. According to Dr. Scott Leibowitz:

No. 1: Stick to a sleep schedule; consistency is essential

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night. There’s a caveat, though. If you don’t fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you’re tired. If you agonize over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.

No. 2: Pay attention to what you eat and drink

Don’t go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Your discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed, to prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom.

Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine — which take hours to wear off — can wreak havoc with quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.

No. 3: Create a bedtime ritual

Do the same things each night to tell your body it’s time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.

Be wary of using the TV or other electronic devices as part of your bedtime ritual. Some research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.

No. 4: Create the ideal environment 

True Story: Lisa travelled for business and noticed she slept much better when she was in a hotel rather than at home. She realized her environment at home was a distraction. She redecorated her bedroom to mimic a luxury hotel room – cool colors, no clutter, few mementos, and built-in furniture to hide electronics and papers. In other words: a room that’s ideal for sleeping

Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.

Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there’s enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set limits on how often they sleep with you — or insist on separate sleeping quarters.

No. 5: Limit daytime naps

Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep — especially if you’re struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. If you choose to nap during the day, limit yourself to about 10 to 30 minutes and make it during the midafternoon.

Napping can go far in improving work performance, in addition to providing a number of other health benefits. To maximize nap times, limit your shuteye time to 30 minutes, and time your nap between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to match the low point of the body’s circadian cycle: You’ll have the best chance of falling asleep during the few hours after lunch, and it could increase your performance (and maybe even learning capacity) for the rest of the day.

Corporate Wellness Programs Need To Address Sleep And Stress.

Napping can go far in improving work performance, in addition to providing a number of other health benefits. To maximize nap times, limit your shuteye time to 30 minutes, and time your nap between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to match the low point of the body’s circadian cycle: You’ll have the best chance of falling asleep during the few hours after lunch, and it could increase your performance (and maybe even learning capacity) for the rest of the day.

Nearly 90 percent of companies offer wellness incentives for employees, according to a survey from Fidelity Investments. However, only 6 percent of offices had napping rooms for employees in 2011, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey of 600 companies. Companies like The Huffington Post and Nationwide Planning Associates believe in power naps and offer their employees nap rooms because they believe that it has a payoff – happier, more rejuvenated and productive employees. EnergyPods are like recliners and are located at companies such as Google and Procter & Gamble.

If you work nights, you’ll need to make an exception to the rules about daytime sleeping. In this case, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight — which adjusts your internal clock — doesn’t interrupt your daytime sleep.

No. 6: Include physical activity in your daily routine

Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is important, though. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might be too energized to fall asleep. If this seems to be an issue for you, exercise earlier in the day.

No. 7: Manage stress

When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep is likely to suffer. To help restore peace to your life, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share a good laugh with an old friend. Before bed, jot down what’s on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.

No. 8: Know when to contact your doctor

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night — but if you often have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve.

Have we convinced you to think about how you can make sleep a priority?

P.S. Be sure and check out these websites.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/sleep-and-productivity

Man sleeping on the couch

Man sleeping on the couch

http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/sleep-deprived-workers-cost-companies-632-billion-each-year

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 15-Minute Opening Ritual

images1-150x150[1]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:

  1. The most important things will get done that day.
  2. Fewer items will fall through the cracks. With the right systems, you’ll stay on track. Now you can focus on what matters rather than mentally juggling a list of to-dos. A morning ritual removes a lot of unnecessary stress and worry and replaces it with positive energy.
  3. You are proactive and have better control over the day; you are running the show.

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

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.

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

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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?

 

Use The 10-10-10 Rule To Make Decisions

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Decision-making is one of the hardest things we do both professionally and in our personal life. It’s happened to all of us. We make snap business decisions that we come to regret because we haven’t given ourselves enough time to weigh the odds and think it through. Or, we may vacillate and go back and forth not knowing which option to choose. A good night’s sleep can often work wonders or just discussing the situation with colleagues often clarifies the situation. But not always. Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath explore taking another perspective in the August __ , 2013, issue of Fast Company. In their article, The 10/10/10 Rule For Tough Decisions, they recall a strategy invented by Suzy Welch, a business writer. She called it the 10/10/10 Rule. Basically, her premise is that we think about a difficult decision from three perspectives:

  • How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now?
  • How about 10 months from now?
  • How about 10 years from now?

This type of decision making removes some of the short-term emotions and helps us focus on what may be important in the future. With less emphasis on the current situation, a decision may become more obvious. Thinking about a decision from a long-term view may change the way you view the current circumstances.  Ask yourself if the outcome will be important 10 minutes from now, 10 months from and 10 years from now. An example of when this rule may be helpful is if there is a disagreement with a colleague. Will confrontation serve a purpose 10 months from now? Or even 10 years from now if you are both at the same firm? If you want to read the entire article, go to the Fast Company link: http://www.fastcompany.com/3007613/10-10-10-rule-tough-decisions. Or check out How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

When are you going to try out the 10/10/10 Rule?