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?
choose? In today’s world, the possibilities are endless. Interestingly, that’s not always a plus and can often interfere
with decision-making. What to do?
Often, the best way to get things done is by process of elimination so that you are left with limited, desirable
choices. Here are two real-life examples we all face at one time or another …
… you decide to join an association to network, be part of the community and potentially meet prospective clients.
Which group should it be? Perhaps it would make sense to become part of the local Chamber of Commerce. Many of
your colleagues attend their meetings and have found it helpful to be part of the Chamber. Or, maybe
consider a business association a good friend is urging you to join. There are several excellent choices and it is hard to
decide which one would be best.
We recommend using the process of elimination to decide which association to choose. Once you have
narrowed it down to one or two associations, the decision will be easier. Plus, that overwhelmed feeling will go away.
Here is another example of too many choices. You have decided to scan all documents as soon as they arrive in the
office but have no idea which product best meet your needs and gets the job done most efficiently. The market is flooded
with scanner manufacturers with each one vying for your attention. To eliminate a number of scanners, we suggest that
beginning by listing your criteria — how you want the scanner to function and what you want to accomplish. Then you
are ready to review the scanners sold and to compare each one with the criteria you established. This process will
narrow the selection process and move it along by reducing the number of scanners in the running. Isn’t that an easy
way to limit the options? We hope you will give it a try.
Want to read more about how this concept works? Check out the 6/21/13 article: Choose What To
Leave Out at www.delanceyplace.com.
Often clients ask us how many goals do they need? The answer is as many as you can think of. And write them down.
Prioritize them. Decide which ones to tackle first. After all, not all of them can be worked on at the same time and some
may be more important or more timely than others.
Use the S.M.A.R.T. system to evaluate each goal and to decide if the goal is achievable.
S.M. A.R.T. is an acronym for:
S: Specific — be as concise as possible. “W” questions as a guide: Who is involved? What do I want to achieve? Where is the location? When does it happen? Which requirements and constraints do I need to follow? Why is this goal important?
M: Measurable — How much? How many? How will I know when I have reached my goal?
A: Achievable — Make it attainable. What are some of the ways I can reach my goal?
R. Realistic — How hard are you willing to work?
T. Timely — It needs to be time-bound for a goal to be achieved.
Often people set themselves up for failure by setting goals without the specifications in the S.M.A.R.T. system.
Now that you know the steps, consult your planner and choose a date and time to work on your goals.
It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. — Eleanor Roosevelt
We all know that feeling — the times when nothing can stop you from reaching your maximum efficiency. Ideas come to you quickly and projects get done. By organizing your desk, you will know where everything is. It will save you time and energy. In the March 27, 2012 article from Forbes Magazine, author Jenna Goudreau talks about “The Dangers Of A Messy Desk.”
Keep only the essentials on the top of your desk within arm’s reach to help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day. Other items scattered on your work space can get in the way, literally and figuratively. Papers, business cards, coffee cups and dozens of pens scattered about can easily distract you from the task at hand. And when it is hard to focus, it’s much more difficult to achieve your personal best.
In any discussion of desk surfaces, clients typically inquire about their personal items such as framed photos and other decorative objects. Our recommendation: limit personal items to two or three things that remind you why you come to work in the morning and why you leave in the evening. Rotate these items regularly to keep things fresh and interesting.
Schedule time in your planner to organize your desk. You’ll be glad that you did.
Here are some ideas.
2-3 Weeks Before:
• Plan ahead for meetings and appointments that are scheduled during your vacation. Select a delegate, cancel or reschedule. • What decisions need to be made in your absence? Empower others with the knowledge to make those decisions. • Examine open projects. Make sure nothing is due when you are away.
• Block off your calendar the day you return for re-entry.
1 Week Prior to Departure:
• Meet with all direct reports and key business associates to:
a) Review current issues.
b) Address priorities.
c) Schedule meetings for the week you return.
The last Work Day Before Vacation:
• Leave a detailed extended absence greeting on your voice mail. Give the name and number of a person to contact while you are gone. Tell callers you will return calls by close of business the second day after your return.
• Write an out-of-office email. Specify that you will not have access to email and give names of people who can respond in your absence.
• Take a walk through your office area and let people know what time today you will be leaving for vacation.
• Leave your work home.
• Relax and enjoy.
Your First Day Back:
• Take a walk through your office area; get caught up on urgent issues.
• Check voice mail and email. Deal with priority situations first.
Save your favorite vacation photo as your new computer desktop background.
Have you ever wondered where your time at work goes? Did you intend to submit a report today but, between phone calls and email, don’t finish it? Does the day slip by with little to show for it? All of us want to make better use of our time, be more productive and accomplish what we resolved to do at the beginning of the day.
Several people have recently shared with me that they know exactly what they do during the day, thanks to an activity log. They learned how they were spending their time by using this simple, low-tech tool. It made them aware that they could be using their time more efficiently.
Another benefit from an activity log is that it tells you when during the day that you are performing each task. It should be in synch with the times that you do your best thinking. Are you most creative and clear-headed in the morning? If so, that is when you need to tackle important projects. Phone calls and email can wait until late morning or the afternoon.
Here is a suggestion on how to set up an activity log to track how you spend time at work:
Create a worksheet with a pad or notebook or print one out showing half-hour time slots. You can download a sample time log template from: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_03.htm.
1) Begin right away — input information into your activity log starting now. Include the type of activity and indicate how valuable you believe it is.
2) Write your activities in half-hour time slots.
3) Divide the time slots into categories. Examples of categories are: working on important tasks, answering email, making and responding to phone calls, meetings, socializing, lunch, etc.
4) Track your time for 2-3 days; then calculate how much time is devoted to each category and when during the day you completed the work.
By tracking your time in half-hour time slots over a two-day period, you will learn exactly where your time goes. Are you using it to complete your most important tasks or are you devoting precious time to low value activities? You may decide to refocus your efforts as a result of your findings and consciously change the types of tasks you focus on and in what order.
Use valuable time at work to reach your goals faster; take advantage of what you learned from your Activity Log and put it to good use.
For more information, read fellow blogger Jason Womack’s article on activity logs: http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/225029
A newsletter reader asked: “How do I switch gears between projects? When going from Project A to Project B, I find that I need to halt the brakes on Project A, skim through Project B’s file and figure out what the goals for the matter are, and then proceed, but in a way that makes me lose a lot of time. Any organization tips on how to seamlessly juggle multiple matters?”
What a great question! Most people find it very difficult, if not impossible, to go from one project to another seamlessly. It’s hard to avoid interruptions and delays especially when winding down from a project and gearing up for another one. How easy it is to lose “flow”, that state of mind in which you are focused on the project at hand and are not distracted by anything else! The transition is tough to make.
Here are a few suggestions to make the switch easier:
1) Before putting the project away, write a summary of what you did and what needs to be done next. Attach the summary to the documents. Be specific regarding next steps. Or enter the information electronically. Make sure it is readily available the next time you go to the project.
2) Move any physical evidence of the project, such as a stack of documents , somewhere else – preferably out of sight and thus, out of mind. That way it will no longer be an obstacle to moving forward on another project.
3) Take a mental or physical break (or both) to put space between the project completed and the upcoming one. This makes it easier to switch thought processes.
4) Do little tasks in between two major projects. Switch to the phone or email but keep track of the time so you can transition to the next project.
5) Start the second project by reviewing what needs to be done and listing the tasks involved. That will ease you into the project and give you a clear starting point.
Check out D. Keith Robinson on Lifehacker “How To Transition Projects Without Losing Your Flow” for more thoughts on approaching one project at a time. Like us, Robinson believes that multi-tasking and working on both projects at the same time wastes time. You may think that you’re getting twice as much done but, in reality neither project is receiving your best effort. Stick to one project at a time. Once it’s done, then move onto the next one.
Here are 5 ways to use your planner to help you become more efficient and effective. By following these suggestions, you will get more done and become closer to your goals.
1) Use your planner every day and check it often. Leave it on your desk in front of you. Some of our clients use paper planners and often apologize that they are not “tech saavy”. We assure them that it does not matter whether it is paper or an electronic, as long as you use it. (Tip: if you use an electronic version, you may want to print out the planner daily.)
2) Capture all projects and tasks. Write everything down on paper or electronically. It takes a lot of mental energy to juggle projects, tasks, and upcoming activities in your brain. You will be able to concentrate on upcoming projects without this extra mental weight. At some point, your memory will fail.
3) Review your week ahead of time – decide what is important based on your goals. Enter the tasks that must be done to support them. (Tip: make it visually easy to identify the most important tasks on your to-do list by highlighting them.)
4) Use one planner for both personal and work. (Tip: color code the activities. It’s easy on a paper planner. On an electronic calendar categorize the activities, making personal appointments one color and business appointments a different color. My business appointments are in red.)
5) Make your action steps concrete. Include appointments and commitments to others. Start with a verb. For example, call Fred re: Short client agreement. Don’t you agree that this works far better than putting Fred on the planner?
What are you going to do with your planner to help you become more efficient?
In this day and age, changes are happening rapidly, especially in business. Who heard of social media or smart phones five short years ago? Change is the norm now. Being open to it may bring unexpected opportunities.
Changing behaviors and replacing them with new ones will help maximize efficiency — although getting there definitely takes effort. That new smart phone you just bought does all sorts of things, if you took the time to figure it out. Your business cards are in stacks everywhere on your desk but who has the time to learn a new contact management program? Your colleagues collaborate and work in the cloud, even though you have not tried this before. Your subordinates tell you that you do not delegate well but it’s their problem, not yours, right?
These are but a few examples of areas where making a change will bring high returns.
How do I turn these business situations to my advantage?
Create a journal to track areas where change may be beneficial. Writing them down takes away some of the mental stress you may be feeling since you no longer need to remember them. Be as specific as possible. The journal will help you notice patterns and identify what is most important to tackle first.
Ask a trusted colleague for input on your behavior and ideas on how to modify it. This might be difficult to do but well worth it. Consider it your reality check. After all, this person is on your side.
Develop a plan to turn the change to your advantage. Carve out the time to research and learn a new software program that you know will bring long-lasting benefits. Come up with time-saving templates and document processes that will save you time. Figure out the reasons you are late for meetings and set a series of action steps to change this behavior.
Once you have committed to the change, hold on tight. Don’t give up.
1) Visualize the end result and keep that picture in front of you at all times.
2) Plan non-work time on your calendar to implement the changes, including adding deadlines.
3) Accept the fact that there will be setbacks and push through them until you achieve what you set out to do.
What change are you going to commit to? Write to us and let us know.