use time well

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.

Handy Microsoft Outlook Tips

Drag and Drop

Of all of the amazing features in Outlook, Drag and Drop is among the very best. It is a very simple way to reduce email volume and a huge time saver for organizing information in your inbox. No longer do you need to scroll through a long email list to find the one that needs to have an answer right away. Some people drag and drop their email into folders but this feature can be used far more widely than that. In the training seminars I give I teach people how to move email from the inbox into the calendar, tasks, contacts and notes.

Here’s how:

  1. Open Outlook and go to your inbox.
  1. Find an email that you want to move to a Folder, Task, Appointment, Contact or Note.
  2. Put your mouse pointer directly on the email you want to move and press left button. Keep holding it while moving the email to the bottom of the Navigation Pane on the left side of the screen.
  3. When you get to the place you want to move the email, release the mouse button.
  4. (Note: you can use the right side of the mouse as well. It will give you a choice to copy or move.)

If you drag and drop the email onto the Calendar icon, the email subject will automatically be the subject of the appointment although you can easily change it. Note that the email will be in the body of the appointment for easy reference. Add a date, start and end time for the appointment and location (if desired) and save.

If you drag and drop the email onto the Contacts icon, just click save and you will have created a new contact.

If you drag and drop the email onto the Tasks icon, the subject will be the same as the email (although it can be changed). Fill in the start and due date. (You can also fill in the status and priority if desired). A reminder can also be added. The original email will be in the section below.

It’s that easy! Give it a try today.

Quick Steps (for 2010)

Introduced in 2010, this feature allows you to quickly manage any email by using shortcuts. You can do in one click what ordinarily might take several clicks. Each Quick Step can be customized and used on a daily basis. For example: you can move an email to a specific folder and mark it as read. Or you can forward an email. My favorite Quick Step is to reply and delete. With one click both steps are accomplished.

Below are handy Quick Steps actions that you may want to explore:

  • Filing: Move to folder, copy to folder, delete message, permanently delete message
  • Change Status: Set as read, set as unread, set importance
  • Categories, Tasks and Flags: Categorize messages, clear categories, flag message, clear flags on messages, mark complete, create a task with attachment, create a task with text of message
  • Respond: New message, Forward, Reply, Reply All, Reply with meeting, forward message with attachment
  • Appointment: New meeting, create an task with attachment, create an appointment with text of message

Here’s How To Create a Quick Step:

  1. In Mail, on the Home tab, in the Quick Steps group, in the Quick Steps gallery, click the Create New Quick Step.
  2. Click an action type from the list or click Custom.
  3. In the Name box, type a name for the new Quick Step.
  4. Click the icon button next to the Name box, click an icon, and then click OK.
  5. Under Actions, choose an action that you want the Quick Step to do. Click Add Action for any additional actions.

Now go and create new Quick Steps!

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.

Work-Life Balance: Does It Exist?

Is it really possible to achieve a balance between work and life? Are we capable of fitting it all in? The term Work-Life Balance became popular in the 1980’s when corporations did not offer much in the way of flexible options. Picture a seesaw with work loading down one side and everything else, a.k.a. life, on the other side.

Many people have come to the conclusion that work-life balance is a myth, especially living in our all-consuming tech world. Email, smart phones and tablets blur the lines between work and all else. The office and our clients can reach us anytime, anywhere. We find ourselves “on” 24/7. There is always a lot to do and too few hours in the day to get our to-dos done.

Cali Yost, author and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group, has given work-life balance a new name, work-life fit. Balance implies that work and life are at opposite ends which we know is not true. Work-life fit is a proactive approach, giving people more flexibility than they realize. Work can be a variety of win-wins for workers and employers.

In her book Work + Life Yost points out that the key is to find the fit that’s right for you which will allow you to be in control. You get to spend time with the people who are most meaningful in your life and to decide how much time and energy you put into activities.

Below are 12 work-life fit tips that will help you focus on the activities that are most meaningful to you:

    1. Set crystal clear goals. Identify the goals that are important to you such as, work, professional, family, friends, keeping fit, your faith, and even fun. Too often, we are on autopilot and do not think about the ways we spend our time. If you want to make partner in a law firm, be prepared to devote the time and energy it will require. Clarifying your goals will serve as a roadmap going forward.
    2. Ask yourself for every activity you are involved in: Does this activity add value? Does it meet my goals? Evaluate each and every project. Are you spending too much time and energy on an area that will be of little consequence to you in the long run? Eliminating a task can free you up to work on priority projects. For example: Do you still need to be attending association meetings from an earlier career? You might be able to meet your friends somewhere else and not be bound to a particular meeting time.
    3. Eliminate as many errands as possible and combine the rest. Take a critical look at your errands which can take a chunk out of the day. Consider outsourcing whenever possible and batch the rest together. Do errands together that are in the same part of town.
    4. Exercise. Study after study shows that working out benefits the mind and the body. You’ll need to carve out the time because it won’t happen, especially if your schedule is jam-packed, without being proactive. Make the time because it certainly won’t come to you.
    5. Get enough sleep. Sleep-deprived individuals do not think clearly. Lack of sleep causes problems regarding focusing, stress, and sometimes serious medical issues. The Better Sleep Council survey in 2013 found that almost half of all Americans do not get enough sleep. (http://bettersleep.org/better-sleep/the-science-of-sleep/sleep-statistics-research/better-sleep-survey)
    6. Start slowly and keep a journal. If you decide that you want to make a change in your work-life fit, do it gradually and mindfully. There is no need to rush into this. Even small changes can have a big impact. Keep track of these changes with a journal.
    7. Find a balance between work and enjoyment. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. There’s some truth to that. Plan on doing fun things such as spending time with family and friends, learning a hobby, or taking a class to advance your professional career. All of these activities will expand your mind and, believe it or not, make you better at your job.
    8. Set boundaries. Are you going to answer that text or email on a Saturday afternoon? Let your clients and colleagues know what is acceptable. They will appreciate your candidness.
    9. Say no, especially if it interferes with your goals. If a supervisor asks you to handle a specific project, ask him/her what project(s) you should work on first. If you report to several supervisors, let them make the decision.That way you can stay out of it.
    10. Re-evaluate your goals periodically. As life changes, so do our goals. Set a certain time quarterly to sit down and review your goals. Mark it in your calendar. Something may have changed that could affect your current list of goals. For example, a promotion, or a new baby, might cause you to rethink the future.
    11. Select an accountability partner. Bounce ideas off of someone you trust who can help you stay on track and meet your goals. Ask someone who is committed to your well-being such as a co-worker, a friend or a coach.
    12. Reduce the amount of television you watch and the time on the Internet. Both are black holes. Not many of your activities will get done if you are searching the web or watching hours of television.

 

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.

Managing Your Time Effectively: A Perspective from Franklin Covey

Book Cover

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?

 

Email = Interruptions

email ampersandWho could have predicted the incredible effect of email on our daily work and personal lives 20+ years ago when it  was introduced? Dictating to secretaries in the ’60’s and ’70’s (Madmen anyone?) and using dictaphones to compose a document someone else then types have virtually disappeared except in medical offices. Probably anyone in their 20’s and 30’s reading this may not have heard of a dictaphone.

Email is the accepted way of life these days and has dramatically changed the way we work. It has invaded our personal and work lives and is with us 24/7. Many of our clients are unhappy with the number of emails that pile up in their inbox daily and a few describe it as the bane of their existence. There are less face-to-face conversations which is too bad because they often spark ideas and promote communication with fellow-workers and clients. Colleagues and clients expect answers from their email immediately. There isn’t any time left over to think.

Author Phyllis Korkki who wrote the June 16,2013, New York Times article Messages Galore, But No Time To think blames our lack of thinking time on email interruptions. She suggests that companies set expectations around email for their employees. People can be more productive if they know if it is acceptable to turn off email to work on a project,  the acceptable period of time before replying to an email, and where email should be saved.

All of these questions are perfectly acceptable to ask a manager. Do you know what your company policy is?

S.M.A.R.T. Goals: Have You Tried Them?

imagesCAS89A8ILast week we discussed the importance of goals but did not talk about how to accomplish them.

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

Tips To Experience A Work-Free Vacation

IimagesCAZU74SE Is it really possible  to leave the tech stuff home and focus on your loved ones?

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.

On 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.