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.
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.
Are you planning on taking time off from the office this summer? We’ve all experienced the mad-rush just before leaving town and the stress associated with it. Read on for ideas that will make the start of your vacation much more relaxing.
1) Take 30 minutes three weeks ahead of time to identify the projects that need to be done — or at least addressed — before you leave.
2) Create a list of to-do’s that need to be accomplished for each project. Include specific actions and due dates. Write each to-do on your daily to-do list whether it is paper or electronic. The more detailed you can be, the better. Once a task is written down, it is far more likely that it will get done.
3) Review meetings and appointments that are scheduled during your vacation. Delegate, cancel or reschedule.
4) Inform co-workers and colleagues regarding possible issues that might arise in your absence.
5) Schedule meetings for the week you return but not the first day back in the office.
6) Put an out-of-office notice on your email and phone.
7) Enjoy your vacation and forget about work while you are gone from the office. You will return refreshed with renewed vigor and energy.
Click here for more tips on how to experience a work-free vacation.
If you are like the rest of us, there are projects that don’t fit into our current priorities. You want to do them but can not get to them right away. One of our clients recently told us that she would like to write a newsletter but other goals are more pressing at the moment. Still, she does not want to forget about the idea.
If not all of the projects you want to accomplish in 2012 fit into your goals, here’s good news. They do not need to be abandoned. Instead, create a someday/maybe list where you can review and reassess their viability often.
Below are some suggestions for how and where to save your someday/maybe projects for a later time:
1) Write them down. List them on paper or electronic folder.
2) Label the folder “someday/maybe” or any name, for that matter, that speaks to you.
3) Check the folder every week to two weeks to make sure you still want to do the projects.
Consider storing the list in One Note, Evernote, Outlook’s notes section or in a file folder in your inbox. If it’s a paper folder, place the file folder in a location where you will see it often.
Once the information is stored electronically or in a paper file:
For more on this subject, check out David Allen’s website http://gtd.marvelz.com/blog/2007/08/14/somedaymaybe-unlikelynever-3-tips-to-fix-and-avoid-this/
Do you have a someday/maybe list and, if so, what’s on it?