Brought To You By Emily Parks
Productivity Consultant at Organize For Success, LLC...
Helping You Make Every Minute Matter!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Are You Prepared for an Emergency or Natural Disaster? 10 Tips for Your Business' Productive Preparedness

Each September, we are reminded of the need to review how prepared we are for emergencies and natural disasters as National Preparedness Month rolls around. The need to be prepared is increasing, evidenced by how the insured losses from the 330 natural catastrophes that occurred during 2017 reached an incredible $134 billion per a report published by Impact Forecasting. This included a very active Atlantic hurricane season, severe weather events from convective storms as well as many wildfires. It can feel overwhelming to prepare for such disasters, but here are steps each of us can and should be taking to be prepared, minimizing our negative repercussions:

  1. Plan for what makes most sense for your location. Whether you face hurricanes, tornadoes, snow blizzards, thunderstorms with lightening or another type of natural disaster, there are differing steps to take. Determine what types of disasters are possibilities for your area so you can customize your approach, planning for those specific risks.
  2. Gather necessary supplies. Visit for what to include in your company's disaster supplies and, then, cull those items together where they are easily accessible. Add a recurring appointment to the electronic calendar of whichever team member will be accountable for maintaining the kit so it's reviewed regularly.
  3. Create your communication plan. Establish from where employees, customers and vendors can obtain updates during an emergency situation, especially when and where team members need to return to work. Decide where folks will go and with whom to connect for check-in should your team have to evacuate. Be sure to communicate the plans.
  4. Address potential gaps in what tech will provide. Verify all computer programs, data and documents are being automatically updated as well as backed up from each computer to a remote location. Include a hosted exchange server, VoIP, updated apps and a cybersecurity strategy in your steps to prepare for data issues.
  5. Prepare for lack of electricity. Power outages are often a by-product of disasters, particularly if there are strong winds. Be sure you have cash, back-up batteries for all mobile devices, flashlights to see without office lights and an emergency radio supporting multiple power sources. Fill gas tanks for personal and company vehicles alike.
  6. Get ready for the risk of a fire. Locate all fire extinguishers, making sure there are enough to cover your entire facility, and ensure everyone learns how to operate them. Find out where your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are located; mark the calendar of whichever team member will be responsible for replacing batteries so they are alerted when that recurring commitment arises, and learn which sounds indicate what. When possible, prepare and maintain adequate firebreaks and green spaces around your property. Consider installing fire glass in windows and doors. Locate your sprinkler shut off valves so first responders can easily access them and prevent residual flooding; routinely test your sprinkler systems to keep them in good working order. Also, know the location of major HVAC, piping, gas and water lines to aid in preventing the domino effect of damage being done to your facility. Keep emergency exits clear and marked with plenty of signage to direct anyone through that area.
  7. Know what to do if evacuating is required. Decide where all team members will go in an evacuation and who should be contacted should you have to evacuate. For example, will you notify senior leadership who will relay the message to their teams or will there be a mass communication sent out via email, automated calls and text messages? Make a list of what essential equipment must be taken from your business' premises at that time, and designate who will be responsible for removing each item on that list. Cull together items that you need to grab when leaving, and store them in a quick-grab bag.
  8. Verify your insurance coverage. Make certain you have proper insurance and it is up-to-date. Ask your insurance agent, broker or underwriter if you are adequately covered for potential property damage as well as what business interruptions you could possibly face.
  9. Consider how to continue beyond an emergency. What functions need to continue no matter what sort of craziness is happening? Decide how you will facilitate payroll if you are displaced, lose power or have intermittent Internet connectivity.
  10. Have your plan documented. Keep your business' policies and procedures in writing to be accessed from anywhere at anytime. Include within this documentation how contact data for employees, customers and vendors will be kept up-to-date for facilitating the aforementioned communication plan. Upload your documentation to the cloud so folks can access the necessary information during an evacuation or relocation. Then, be sure to review your plans and supplies every 6 months; you'll want to incorporate updates as things change
Is your business prepared for what natural disasters might strike your area? If not, which of these steps can you take to boost how productive your preparedness might be?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Top Tips to Simplify Your Life

As we near the first week of August, plan how you'll celebrate "Simplify Your Life Week" with baby steps you can take to streamline, cut out the clutter, make life easier and better invest your limited resource of time. With a few tweaks to how you get things done, you can better focus on what matters most, making greater progress on your priority goals to achieve your desired results.

Per, simplify means "to make less complex or complicated; make plainer or easier." Invest some time in simplifying to limit stress, more quickly find what you need when you need it, have a clear grasp on what needs to be done at any moment and stop wasting precious moments of time. Make every minute matter!Ⓡ

Here are tactics to jumpstart your efforts at simplifying your life:

  • Learn to say "no". What actions are being asked of you that don't actually need to be done? Are there tasks on your to-do list that could be delegated to someone else that can do them equally well if not even better so you open time for what only you can do? Alternatively, should you consider "not now" for something that can be delayed until a later deadline?
  • Stay true to your priorities. When you know what matters most, you can more intentionally align your actions with those areas of importance, avoiding burnout. As priorities shift, you can be flexible and shuffle how to invest your time so you keep your actions focused on your goals.
  • Utilize work-life integration for greater overall success. By studying research by Wharton's Work / Life Integration Project along with my experience with clients' best practices, I know first-hand how you can create harmony with goals for home, work, society and yourself complementing one another rather than competing with each other. Focus on actions that can accomplish multiple goals at once, plan how you can invest your time with each of your most important priorities at the forefront of your emphasis and maintain pliability to easily address your priorities as they evolve over time.
  • Respect the value of your space. Whether it's in your physical space, electronic files or calendar, keep only what is accurate, applicable, useful, bringing you joy and not just as easily found with a quick Google search. If something filling your physical space, electronic files or calendar no longer meets those requirements, remove that clutter.
  • Plan to have the tools you need nearby when needed. Do you utilize a smartphone, tablet or laptop? If so, you are well aware of all the accessories needed, especially when you are working on-the-go, like charging cords, earbuds and the like. Rather than depending on whether you remember to bring "all the stuff" with you whenever you work outside an office, keep multiple sets of accessories (one for the office, one in your vehicle, one for your bag), bundling your tech tools together with the GRID-IT or a canvas pouch that's easily portable.
  • Address email. Unsubscribe from eNewsletters you are no longer reading, consider bundling subscriptions that you do read via and shift from checking to processing newly received messages, moving to-do items to your task management system, adding requests for your time to your calendar, shifting retention items from your inbox to personal folders and using delete as your friend to remove trash or junk.
  • Save time with forms, templates and checklists. If you regularly send the same reply, create a template that can be easily plugged in and tweaked as necessary, saving time by not starting from scratch each time. Create a packing checklist so you don't forget anything needed for travel. Design a form for your grocery shopping list so you remember to restock the essentials each time and save valuable minutes by listing the items in order of the aisles at your store.
  • Automate daily processes. "Set it and forget it" may be the greatest time-saver. Investigate options such as IFTTT, Podbox and Zapier to find the best solution for your needs. In addition, add an automated cloud back-up solution, such as Backblaze, Carbonite or CrashPlan, and consider which social media management solution will allow you to automate putting the right message in front of the right audience at the right time.
  • Cut back on distractions with fewer pings and dings. When distracted, it can take us an average of 23 minutes to fully re-engage in the task at hand. Each time we receive a notification for a new email, social media update, text message or voice mail received, those are distractions that rob us of valuable time. Turn off the notifications and schedule set times to check each platform. For folks that do require an immediate response (like key account clients or your direct supervisor), make them VIPs so you can utilize Do Not Disturb on iOS and Priority Mode on Android.

Where do you see excess in your life or time being wasted? How can you take action in tiny steps that will assist in simplifying your life so you get to your goals more easily?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Does America Have an Unhealthy Focus on Labels?

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash
Recently, I was an attendee at a non-profit gala; when I was unable to hear the speaker due to attendees talking and poor audio technology, I tapped my knife against my glass to get folks refocused on the speaker, hoping to not miss anything important being said. Unfortunately, by trying to wrangle in the crowd such that I could benefit from a little less background noise, I got labeled as a control freak, which surprised me. The person who said it was simply joking, but the experience did get me thinking.

According to a quick google search, control freak is defined as "a person who feels an obsessive need to exercise control over themselves and others and to take command of any situation." Likewise, the Learning Mind explains "10 Signs You Are Dealing with a Control Freak" as (1) They always correct people when they are wrong, (2) They always criticize and judge other people, (3) They are leaders, not team players, (4) They take full credit for their successes, (5) They will never admit when they're wrong, (6) They know what's best and try to change others to fulfill own agenda, (7) They spend a lot of their time trying to prevent bad things from occurring, (8) They never delegate tasks to others, (9) They always have to have the last word, and (10) They have no time for anyone who makes a mistake. I will happily admit that I do spend a good deal of time trying to prevent bad things from occurring, hence why I own a productivity consultancy, and I dislike wasting time with folks who consistently make the same time-wasting mistakes over and over again; however, there is a big difference between committing each day to making the world a better place and being a control freak.

Lately, in the media, there has appeared to be a movement toward "You do you", including an awesome book entitled You Do You that was published in November 2017 by Sarah Knight. Yet, as a business owner and community leader, I find it's important to be cognizant of others' perceptions of you because they directly lead to how those making assumptions about you will respond to your needs, initiatives or offerings. The tricky part is that no one can get inside another person's head, and human nature is to fill in the blanks of what's not been shared verbally or visually; usually, how we fill in others' blanks is not how those folks would fill in the blanks for themselves, but we can base our fill-in-the-blank answers on only our personal experiences, perspectives and thoughts. Similar to deeming someone to be a control freak would be the label of perfectionist or saying that someone lacks time management skills. They are assumptions, and we've all heard the saying about what assuming makes us.

Since humans can't get inside each others' heads, how do we know that our definition of perfect does or doesn't match someone else's definition of perfect, how can we determine if someone's longer hours working on a project are because they are trying to get it "just right" and aiming for perfection or simply trying to figure out how to get it done at all, how can we decide that someone is late because they have poor time management skills versus simply having had a more pressing priority pop up to deviate a timely arrival and who are any of us to determine another person's delegation skills if we don't know for certain who is actually getting everything done that we are attributing to that person?

Teams are made stronger, more productive and far better at achieving greater results by bringing together diverse individuals with varying experiences, perspectives and thoughts; however, the power behind including diversity within any group is limited by the communication skills of all team members. Are we subconsciously sabotaging our teams? How do we speak up so others don't make inaccurate assumptions about us? Or how do we ask questions to get others' true answers instead of filling in the blanks incorrectly?

When presenting a team-building workshop to a client earlier this month, we focused a good deal on embracing varying perceptions as we cling to the wisdom from Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" song lyrics that we can change only ourselves, not others. In other words, we have to be "starting with the man in the mirror", and I find the Serenity Prayer helpful in knowing how to react to any given scenario... "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Are the assessments we make of others helpful as we attempt to focus on what we can change about ourselves? Moreover, as humans, how can we reign ourselves back and stop making such assumptions of others? How does the human impulse to apply labels impact our success in teams?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

10 Tips to Safely and Successfully Spring Forward

As explained by WebMD, "Losing an hour of sleep to gain an extra hour of sunlight... interrupts your circadian rhythm or your sleep-wake cycle", and the act of springing forward can be stressful for our bodies, affecting our well-being in both positive and negative ways. Losing an hour of sleep in March is especially hard on those not following Arianna Huffington's advice and already getting less sleep than needed. As routines are tools to boost productivity, they can also assist in transitional times like this. During these days counting down to the start of Daylight Saving Time, there are steps to be taken for optimizing the good and minimizing the bad of the upcoming time change. Here are some actions to take this week:

  • Prepare your sleep-wake cycles. Gradually shift yourself into the hour earlier sleep upcoming by adjusting your bedtime before the time change gets here. Go to bed 15 minutes early on Wednesday, 30 minutes early Thursday, 45 minutes early on Friday, and, then, an hour early Saturday. That means you'll get your normal amount of sleep once Sunday's alarm goes off.
  • Caffeinate strategically. As you'll be headed to bed earlier in the upcoming nights, it's increasingly important to fall asleep easier, working towards those goals for your bedtime. Reduce your caffeine intake earlier than usual each day leading up to the start of Daylight Saving Time so it's out of your system earlier and has less effect on when you get to sleep.
  • Fine-tune your bedtime routine. Start preparing for bed by eating dinner earlier. Then, drink a relaxing, sleep-inducing tea to make falling asleep come more quickly, like chamomile, lavender or some combination of similar herbs. Lower lighting and activity levels for an hour before bedtime.
  • Be active during the day. Especially on Saturday, be sure to get some vigorous exercise. If it's sunny, get moving outside and soak in that vitamin D, which advances the body clock.
  • Nap selectively. Normally, power naps can be a good way to catch-up on missed sleep; however, on Saturday or Sunday, an afternoon nap might make it too difficult to go to sleep earlier that night. Avoid taking a nap anytime this weekend.
  • Stick with Sunday's normal wake-up time. While the aforementioned earlier bedtime approach is helpful for those with the chronotype of "night owl", many "morning person" types benefit from waking up in the same increments of increasing earliness; however, when it comes to Sunday morning, everyone needs to get up at what is considered a normal wake-up time. Sleeping in on the morning that the time change takes effect will make adjusting all the more difficult.
  • Power up on morning sunlight. Letting the sun shine over your face first-thing each morning resets your body's natural clock. With Daylight Saving Time, you'll be waking up when it's a little darker outside so consider swapping your alarm clock for a light box to wake up more easily. Take a morning walk outdoors to get moving in the sunshine, even if it's for only 15 minutes. If there's not enough time for a walk, soak in the sun's rays from your porch, patio or sunniest window, allowing the warmth to better jumpstart your day.
  • Add essential oils to your springtime morning routine. A little peppermint in your morning tea will help kickstart your energy level, especially the first week of Daylight Saving Time. 
  • Implement the same changes for kids, too. Children having a hard time falling or staying asleep after the start of Daylight Saving Time are listening to cues from their bodies, making it equally if not more important to help them through this same process of proactively adjusting to the time change.
  • Drive more attentively. The morning is already the most dangerous time on the road; when you add in the fact that it will be darker during your morning commute along with potentially greater exhaustion, it's important to be even more careful and alert as you drive to work, especially during the first few weeks following the start of Daylight Saving Time.

Take action with these tactics to cut down on the stress and sleep deprivation associated with Daylight Saving Time; you'll be grateful for the results. Do you do anything special to make the time change less impactful or stressful? Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Visualize Your Ideal Life to Make It Happen

The fundamentals of productivity build upon one another... You clarify what matters most, utilize those priorities to create a game plan for proactively addressing the week, utilize a daily wrap-up to stay on track and, yet, sometimes, still miss out on attaining your loftiest of goals. The missing link might have more to do with visualization of your goals than the tactics you use to get through each day.

Have you ever heard the saying that "Seeing is believing"? As the Huffington Post explains, "Before we can believe in a goal, we first must have an idea of what it looks like... This is where visualization comes in, which is simply a technique for creating a mental image of a future event." It is through visualizing our experience of desired results that we can see, feel, smell, taste and hear all that success offers, fueling even greater emotional drive to meet goals.

One of the most successful methods is outcome visualization, where you create a detailed mental image of the desired outcome using all of your senses, putting yourself in the situation of achieving your goal to envision every little detail. This could be drawings, words, diagrams or a vision board, but the key is dig into the details as you create a visual representation of that outcome.

Another of the most successful methods is process visualization, where you envision each of the actions necessary to achieve the outcome you want, focusing on exactly how to complete each steps needed to achieve your goal rather than the end result.

At the end of this year, how will you have spent your days? What will be your gross revenue? How many of what types of clients will have hired you? What new things will you have tried or what helpful habits will you have developed? What did you stop doing?

Write out your answers; then, determine exactly what needs to occur to make your vision a reality. What resources do you need to procure? What partnerships do you need to initiate? What marketing efforts do you need to schedule? What sort of training do you need to acquire? With whom do you need to interact more?

Need help? Try Jack Canfield's step-by-step to get started.

What is your vision for your ideal life? What needs to occur to make that vision a reality? Share your experience with these visualization techniques and share your successes.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Delegate and Automate to Get More Done

Tasks are thrown at us each day via calls, emails, meeting conversations, texts and people stopping by our office. With our limited time, it often feels as if there are never enough minutes to get it all done; yet, our inability do it all on our own does not eliminate the never-ending to-do list. Until cloning becomes a realistic option or we can get our Inspector Gadget tools, we need alternative solutions.

When evaluating tasks requesting your attention, think this way:
  1. Does this task need to be completed at all? If not, can it be deleted, totally removing it from my to-do list?
  2. If the task must be done, does it need to be done immediately? If not, to when can it be deferred?
  3. Does this task require my unique skill set? If not, can someone else learn from doing it or does someone else have a skill set that will get it done better, more thoroughly or more quickly? To whom can it be delegated?
In any instance where a task can be completed by someone or something else, you open up time in your schedule to allocate towards getting something done that only you can accomplish.

Resources for delegation are not limited to existing member of your team, whether those at your company, members of your household or volunteers on a committee you chair. There are endless options for delegating the different types of tasks on your to-do list: Errand Girl, Fancy Hands, Fiverr, GigSalad, Guru, Metro's Other Woman, Moonlighting, Outsourcely, Red Butler, Sweeps, Task Rabbit, Thumbtack, Upwork, 99Designs. Likewise, consider delegating the task of grocery shopping to options such as Instacart, Shipt or Amazon Prime Now. Or think about how personal assistants can help, like Amazon Alexa, Cortana, EasilyDo, Google Home or Siri.

Automation is a form of delegation where you delegate to technology and can massively expand how much you get done concurrently. Set what rules apply to your needs in automation tools like IFTTT, Podbox, Zapier and social media managers like Buffer, Edgar, Falcon Social, Hootsuite, SocialOomph and Sprout Social. These "set it and forget it" solutions fulfill your desire to do two things at once while not hiring a human-being to help.

What are some tasks on your to-do list that could benefit from deleting, deferring or delegating? Which of the aforementioned tools might be a positive addition to your productivity toolbox?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Practice the Power of One

Although Three Dog Night might've wanted to convince folks that one is the loneliest number, I believe wholeheartedly that one is the most powerful number for productivity. There can be power in the masses, meaning a team collaborating in harmony makes greater progress than an individual; however, when it comes to certain organizing tools, it's more impactful to practice the power of one. When you have one place to look for information, one place to update content and one place from which data feeds, it is easier to quickly find what you need when you need it, keep content updated as it changes and verify information is processing correctly. Here are a few examples:

  • Address Book - For contacts' names, phone numbers, emails and snail mail addresses as well as any notes gathered via interactions with that person, keeping everything centralized within one system better enables it will stay up-to-date and be quickly accessible whenever or wherever needed, rather than having the business card left elsewhere or the phone number locked in another tool. It is best to have your solution sync across devices, meaning you don't have to manually enter details' changes on computers as well as mobile devices.
  • Calendar - Whether it's paper or electronic, a single place to track all time commitments (personal and professional) makes it less likely that appointments will be forgotten or you'll double-book yourself. If you choose an electronic option, you can still benefit from the power of one principle with various calendars for different elements of life, like one shared with your spouse, one shared with folks at work and one for volunteer commitments, as long as you have a viewing option to see everything at once, letting conflicts be visible easily.
  • Cloud-Based, Automated Back-up - Computers crash. Fires can destroy all your devices. Emergencies happen. It is with an automated, remote storage of all data from your hard drive that you can truly be prepared for anything. There is a difference between an online file repository and a cloud-based, automated back-up, which means both are necessary, and it's important to be strategic in managing electronic files. Unlike a hard-drive that you attach to your computer for backing up data, a cloud solution isn't at risk of natural disasters in your physical proximity, doesn't require you remembering to hook it up for activating the back-up and has multiple points at which your data storage is duplicated as well as protected.
  • "Data Dump" of Information - Human-beings are inundated daily with information, like meeting notes, ideas, reference articles, checklists, process steps, voice mails, blog posts, emails, texts and inspirations. Since our brains are meant for thinking, not remembering, it's important to document everything. Keeping it all in one place limits the places you must check when trying to find whatever's needed. 
  • File-Naming Structure - Whether paper files, electronic documents or saved emails, having each folder and individual file follow the same naming conventions will allow you to know what goes where and more easily retrieve each item later. If you have to ask "where should I file this?" when assigning a home to newly received or created content, how will you ever be able to find it later? Make sure you have enough folders for all the content to be retained while not having so many folders that any one item could go into more than one; then, keep your file-naming structure simply while avoiding "miscellaneous" so it's easy to replicate across the various retention platforms.
  • Password Manager - There's no doubt that our list of websites and software solutions requiring logins is continually growing, and we must protect ourselves with better password management. Listing all usernames and passwords in one place saves time as we're frantically trying to get logged in, and an electronic solution is more secure, allows easier access while on-the-go, creates more secure passwords, can alert you automatically when any site has been hacked and works cross-platform so you always have the right login information, no matter which device is being utilized to access your account.
  • Strategy for Attacking Priorities - Proactively create the direction in which you will proceed each week rather than living in reactionary mode by completing a weekly strategy session to develop a game plan for tasks, communications, time commitments and development opportunities in advance. Use your weekly strategy to ward off time stealers and others priorities since knowing where you're headed helps in getting there. Then, implement a daily wrap-up to stay on track throughout the week, avoiding deviations from curveballs that life will throw your way while addressing what matters most.
  • To-Do List - When jotting tasks down in different notebooks, on meeting agendas, using sticky notes atop your desk or on the napkin you grab in the drive-through line, it's more difficult to know what needs to be done when. Alternatively, keeping all the action items needing your attention in one place makes it more likely they'll get completed, aides in prioritizing and allows for divvying out must-do items across each day of the week. If you opt for an electronic task manager app, it adds reminders, easier carryover, recurrences and useful integrations.

Where do you see the power of one boosting your productivity currently? How can you streamline your toolbox to have one tool for each listed function? 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Learn How and When to Say No

In clarifying our priorities, it is paramount to acknowledge how limited our most valuable resource truly is. Each day offers only 1,440 minutes, and each of those minutes can be invested no more than once. If you spend time doing something, you can't get those minutes back for doing anything else; your return on time invested needs to fuel your passions or move you closer to attaining your loftiest goals.

Saying "yes" to doing one thing is inherently saying "no" to doing something else, which means the opposite is true, too... Saying "no" to activities that don't really excite us is imperative for making time to do what matters most. Yet, for the many of us who enthusiastically pursue many different passions, learning how and when to say no might be the most difficult lesson possible.

When figuring out how to make saying no work best for your specific needs in boosting productivity, keep the following in mind:
  • Think of all that's possible. Consider what you would do if you could rather than what you feel like you should do. As Americans, we tend to should all over ourselves, whether from peer pressure or from within, and, as adults, our shoulds can become barriers. It is our most basic need, craving, ideal, calling or passion that we must make time for doing, which is very different from caving into what we should do. Instead of saying "should", try "could" and, then, choose the possible path that reflects your own priorities and the fire within you.
  • Listen to your gut. Often, our bodies know what we really want to do. We might suppress the pull in that direction because it would involve challenges or conflict with others; yet, we're better off if we don't ignore the wisdom of our bodies. When we try to silence the messages from our guts, it can frequently lead to stress-induced health problems, like diminished immunities that make us more susceptible to viral infections. If you feel stress at the thought of saying yes, go with no; alternatively, if you are excited about both yes and no, go with the option that elicits stronger feelings of excitement.
  • Take what time you need to decide. If you don't feel passionately either way when immediately asked, take time to think. Maybe it's a few minutes; maybe it's a few days. Your needs will vary over time so sit with the available options to see what works best for you at that point in life. Reflect on your options, research the pros and cons of each, seek advice and let your gut marinate on how each option best resonates with you. When you are committing your time to doing something, you want to make sure you like the commitment and have the time available to do it as well as you'd like it done.
  • Saying no doesn't require being mean. As the majority of communication comes from non-verbals, try to pair declining an invitation with a smile or, at least, a warm, welcoming expression on your face. Then, choose your words wisely. Start with a positive statement, like "I would love to..."; include a transition word, like "but" or "however". If possible, end with a bit of rationale as to why not taking advantage of the opportunity being presented is actually better for you, your goals and your current bandwidth. If what you are declining is a request for help, substitute that with an explanation of how another alternative would be more helpful for that person or organization. For example, when relatives invite themselves to your home over the holidays, you can respond by saying, "It would be great to see you, but it is hard on my body to have guests stay over; plus, there is a nearby hotel with excellent service who can make your stay extra special. It will make having dinners together even more meaningful and enjoyable." Saying no with grace and authority is a win-win for everyone!
What is your criteria for saying no versus yes? What tactics have you found most helpful in telling someone no?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Communicate to Collaborate for Greater Results

A quick Google search reveals that collaboration is defined as "the action of working with someone to produce or create something"; I contend collaboration is partnering with others to create something greater than can be produced alone. It is the very principle on which the team acronym of "Together, everyone achieves more" was created.

If we define team as "a number of persons associated in some joint action", we illuminate the importance of each team being results-oriented, focusing on achieving the desired outcome from that joint action and bringing complementary skills together in working towards a common vision. The trust, accountability and interdependence of a team depends heavily upon how well the individual members can communicate, meaning each must "impart or interchange knowledge, thoughts, feelings, opinions, information and ideas by speech, writing, gestures or signs" in order for all team members' differing contributions to combine for producing greater results related to achieving their unified mission.

Whether your team is everyone in the same department at work, a volunteer committee for a non-profit organization or the members of your family, there is always a need for optimal communication, and we must put effort into continually improving this skill.

Here are best practices for your team to improve communication:

  • Use the right tools at the right times. Research found that only 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through vocal intonation and 55% through non-verbal elements, such as facial expressions, gestures and posture. Therefore, carefully consider the pros and cons of each communication channel before choosing which is the best for sharing what message needs to be conveyed: text, chat, email, phone call, video conference or in-person meeting.
  • Speak in the language your audience will best hear. I don't mean choosing between English, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Italian or Portuguese. Instead, I mean choosing words that appeal to the way your audience prefers to take in information, process it and make decisions based on acquired information. Some people prefer to take in information by using their five senses while others go beyond what is real or concrete and focus on meaning, associations and relationships to take in information that they trust. Some people seek to experience the world, not organize it, while others look at the world with an eye for what decisions need to be made, utilizing a planned approach to meet the deadlines set for decisions to be made in a scheduled way. Some people make decisions based on impersonal, objective logic while others use their personal values to understand the situation, focusing on relationships and harmony. Some people make decisions based off reasoning while others focus decision-making on emotions, responding to their gut more than their brains. When you customize your message for the person to whom you'll be saying it, you better ensure the message is received.
  • Avoid overload. The age of the Internet gives us instant access to knowledge and correspondence, making us constantly susceptible to an information avalanche. It's easy for any individual message to get lost amidst the clutter, no matter how important it is. Effective communication shares the right information with the right audience at the right time. Since less is more, keep your message simple, brief and to the point, sharing updates only when appropriate. 
  • Help everyone stay away from making assumptions. Whenever there is missing information or we haven't been updated on the status of something, as human-beings, we automatically fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, we often fill those blanks with inaccurate or incomplete information. Focus on eliminating blanks in what you communicate to others, filling them in with what you want others to put in those blanks instead of what they'd assume from their own perceptions.

Are there certain folks with whom you struggle to communicate well? Which tactics from this list could you incorporate in communications with those people for greater effectiveness and to better achieve your desired results?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Protect Yourself with Better Password Management

There's no way around our ever increasing need for more securely storing our online data. It seems that we hear about another data breach just about every day while our list of websites requiring logins continues to grow. Productivity requires more wary processes.

Here are four practical privacy practices to implement now:
  • Be password smart. Don't use the same password for everything. Create strong passwords, including uppercase and lowercase letters, spacing, punctuation and symbols whenever possible. Some sources encourage using a sentence as an effective password, but I still encourage incorporating those various elements of uppercase and lowercase letters along with symbols within whatever sentence you utilize. Then, change each password regularly, whether monthly or quarterly.
  • Be consistent in where you keep your passwords. You can handwrite them in a book, have them printed out from a spreadsheet, save them in your smartphone's notes or enter them in an online password management app; however, please do not rely on your memory nor leave them written on sticky notes attached to your computer screen. My clients have had great success using Dashlane, Roboform, SplashID, Sticky Password and 1Password, but utilize the option with which you feel most comfortable. If you take the route of using a password management application, feel free to use your email to pull any existing passwords associated with that email and, then, move at whatever pace you prefer uploading others.
  • Use two-factor authentication. Since many social media platforms and other tools link your accounts there to your email account, activate two-step verification within whichever email you utilize. When attempting to log into whatever account has two-step verification activated, you'll be texted a code that must be entered to proceed; this gives an extra layer of security to protect your account information and alerts you when someone else tries to login as you.
  • Protect your information. Don't over-share on social media, particularly when it comes to announcing when you are traveling, and limit what personal details are posted that can be tracked back to answers you'd give for security questions. Be careful with whom you share passwords, your social security number, your birthdate, credit card numbers and any identifying data. Never send anyone your social security number or credit card information via email.
Do you have preferred options for password management? What steps do you take to protect your privacy and security, particularly for online information? Are there any on this list that you will add to your privacy practices?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Make Meetings More Meaningful

When The Muse asked how much time we spend in meetings, the results were scary... "If you're a middle manager, it's likely about 35% of your time, and, if you're in upper management, it can be a whopping 50%." Considering most of us have no way to avoid meetings, it is important to make good use of all that time being invested in meeting with others. Here are steps we can take for a positive impact:

  • Have a clear purpose. If your meetings are focusing on simply updating attendees, they are not respecting everyone's limited resource of time. There are plenty of alternative means for conveying updates that are less intrusive to attendees, such as email or project management tools. Instead, meetings are most useful when focused on one of two purposes... either discussion or decision-making. If your meeting's purpose is not one of these, could the goal be achieved in a more efficient way by using another method or implementing new technology?
  • Schedule strategically. Be cognizant of vacation plans so meetings are not scheduled when many who need to attend will be gone. Likewise, avoid scheduling a meeting in the days leading up to a big deadline, especially if the meeting is unrelated to the project coming due, or during times when there will be too many distractions for attendees to be focused on achieving the desired results. Finally, as attendees can better plan the remainder of their day if each meeting includes an end time in addition to a start time, be sure to set and communicate a specific ending time for each meeting.
  • Invite only the right people. Include those whose contributions are necessary for fulfilling the meeting's purpose: those with the authority to make decisions, those with enough pull in the organization to advocate for what's decided, those with the expertise needed to make informed decisions and those necessary for successfully executing decisions made. Still, the Rule of 7 explains how "everyone in a meeting over 7 attendees reduces your ability to make decisions by 10%", hence why it's important to not include more than those whose contributions are necessary for accomplishing the meeting's goals as too many attendees lowers productivity.
  • Shorten how long you'll meet. Rarely do meetings require an entire hour, but we tend to schedule them for that length anyway. Try to end meetings at least 10 minutes before the next hour, like 12:50, 1:50, etc, or schedule your meetings in 15-minute increments, like meeting at noon to 12:45 or 12:15 to 12:45. Then, push yourself to accomplish everything on the agenda within that shorter duration by using a timer or having someone serve as timekeeper. Attendees will appreciate those spare moments before the next hour to return calls, run to the restroom, grab a snack or gather their thoughts.
  • Utilize an agenda. Make sure the agenda is realistic, listing what you actually believe can be accomplished within the scheduled time. Start with the most important items, and indicate how much time you intend to allocate for each item listed. Seek input from attendees to ensure everything needed is included while removing lower priorities or unrelated topics.
  • Prepare beforehand. Distribute supplemental items with enough time for attendees to review. If there is legwork that can be done in advance, completing it beforehand will help the meeting run more smoothly. As explained by Dana Manciagli in The Triad Business Journal, "proper planning prevents poor performance". Taking time to get your ducks in a row before empowers better discussion and / or decision-making.
  • Clearly communicate expectations. How does the meeting's leader want those attending to behave? Examples include coming prepared, contributing to discussions, giving feedback, sharing insights as applicable, making sure to ask questions and limiting technological distractions. Those expectations should be shared in writing prior to the meeting or verbally at the start. Additionally, attendees need to know guidelines for participating within the agenda, like when to ask questions, how to join in brainstorming and at what point it is appropriate to share feedback during any discussions. Meeting leadership should think proactively about what situations might arise related to each interaction and be specific with standards set.
  • Make notes. If you have the agenda beforehand, you can use that skeleton as a framework for filling in your notes from the meeting. Highlight what is important, whether via a different color of ink, a real highlighter or simply a block to separate the content that matters most from everything else. Designate each task that must be done as it arises in conversation; then, end your meeting notes with a recap of the highlights, action items and timing of next meeting. This reinforces your commitment to the topic, helps with paying attention throughout and enables more easily referring back to any items covered earlier.
  • Push discussion of issues arising throughout the agenda. Rather than deviating down a rabbit hole and stealing time from addressing all aspects of the meeting's designated purpose, denote on a separate list any issues not on the agenda as they arise; then, if there is extra time at the end, address each item. Alternatively, consider scheduling time on a later date for discussing or resolving those newly discovered topics.
  • Ensure accountability for what's decided. Each action item arising from the meeting's discussions and decisions will require a deadline for its completion, particularly as every what that has a when is more likely to get done. Ensuring each task gets completed is more likely when there is someone being held accountable for its completion and a way to track progress being made. Assign someone to the completion of each task resulting from the meeting and decide how you'll confirm follow-through by the person being held accountable.

With what aspects of meeting others do you struggle most? What issues have you faced in keeping your meetings on track? How do you ensure your meetings are productive? 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Limit Distractions

As you dive into your daily must-do list, do you frequently find your thoughts drifting? Do you get pulled in different directions all day, especially when time-crunched near deadline? Are there constantly different people, places and things needing your attention? If so, distractions might be depleting your efforts, and it's time to evaluate new solutions for limiting distractions' negative impact on your output.

A set of studies at the University of California found that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes at work. Research shows it can take 10 - 18 minutes to regain focus after a distraction, although some studies indicate it takes an average of 23 minutes for workers to return to a task after an interruption. I am not a mathematician, but my rough math tells me that doesn't leave much time for actually getting things done. Distractions rob us of productivity.

Here are strategies to limit the negative impact of distractions:

  • Turn off tech-related notifications. Every one of those pings and dings jerks your thought-process around like a ping-pong ball. Stop the pop-ups that are designed to tell you when you get a new comment on social media. Deactivate previews of newly received email messages. When you need to focus, set your smartphone to silent and remove the vibrate that goes with silent mode. Schedule time for handling calls, social media and emails when it works best for you, and, for folks that do require an immediate response (like key account clients or your direct supervisor), make them VIPs so you can utilize Do Not Disturb on iOS and Priority Mode on Android.
  • Wear noise-reducing headphones. Particularly when you need to focus on strategic thinking or creative production, it's imperative to block out all the excess noises around you. The tool of noise-reducing headphones can block out what's happening around you, even if you have no music playing and simply utilize the visual of you wearing headphones to discourage others from disturbing or interrupting you.
  • Delete the clutter. Excess in your workspace, too many emails coming into your inbox, stacks of paper and the loads of documents saved on your computer's hard drive can all act as distractions, pulling you away from what matters most. Having less means fewer things to detract from your desired results.
  • Schedule tasks that fulfill your goals. Burnout comes from actions being out of alignment with priorities, and being distracted can be a symptom of burnout. Regularly perform a time audit for optimum output, making certain your actions properly align with what matters most to your specific priorities.
  • Focus on working intently for shorter durations. When you break projects into smaller, bite-sized actions, you can work to complete each of those individual tasks step-by-step. You'll feel empowered to achieve each task's goal in a single work session, thereby having more rewards for staying on track to succeed with wins for finishing each of these mini-milestones. 
  • Utilize a timer. Some individuals or teams use a timer to simply get started, setting it for 15 minutes or so and capitalizing on the momentum created by that rush to keep pushing toward completion of the task at hand. Others like using a timer to stay on track, setting it for different intervals throughout the time required for a task's completion and making certain to still be working on the task at hand when the timer goes off at the end of each interval.
  • Jot down unrelated thoughts as they pop up. Our brains are meant for thinking, not remembering; therefore, each time we attempt to use brain cells for remembering, it steals our ability to think better. Document those ideas, to-do items or brilliant thoughts so you don't lose them and they don't detract from your efforts to keep getting work done.
  • Limit the impact of folks who drop by. If you have an extra chair in your office, make sure it has something resting in it to keep others from sitting down to chat or position it somewhere more difficult to access so it's less inviting for visitors to setting in and stay awhile. When someone comes into your office without an appointment, stand up and move towards your door, conveying to the visitor that it is not a convenient time. Keep an outbox near your office door so you can take those items down the hall as someone is coming to your office, always encouraging those that make unplanned visits to schedule an appointment for later. You want to help them, but it has to fit into your schedule for you to give that individual your undivided attention without negatively impacting efforts to do your work.
  • Work remotely when needed. While a library might help, research suggests the sounds of a coffee shop act as "white noise", helping you block out everything around for the greatest uninhibited productivity. New surroundings can boost concentration. For an added increase in your productivity, leave your laptop's charging cord at work or home, and work more efficiently so you can accomplish everything requiring your computer before its battery loses all of its juice.
  • Implement delegation and automation. If someone else can complete a task more efficiently or as effectively as you, cut back on the distractions from trying to do it all on your own by delegating those tasks. Likewise, stop worrying about getting done what you can program technology to do automatically, removing the distractions of trying to remember all those additional tasks by automating what you can.
  • Resolve what's weighing on your mind. Problems, conflicts, issues and decisions to be made all take up space in our minds, adding a psychological burden and popping back up in our thoughts at the most inopportune moments. Once those are resolved, they stop coming back into our thought-processes, allowing us to better focus on what needs our attention more.

What distracts you most often? What tactics have you found most successful for keeping yourself organized, focused and productive amidst all of your distractions?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Stop Procrastinating

Procrastination is often due to being overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. Sometimes, it stems from being unclear as to what is expected for completing a requested task or simply not knowing how to start the task at hand; other times, it is because we are unable to decide which to-do is the highest priority and, therefore, don't attempt any of the tasks needing our attention. Whether productivity is being held up by a lack of knowledge, clarity, skills or something else, ultimately, action is necessary to continue desired progress.

At times, procrastination helps us gain clarity by providing time for ruminating or marinating our options; yet, if procrastination continues for too long, it prevents getting things done, achieving desired results and attaining set goals, none of which are good.

Stop procrastinating! Use these options to get the ball rolling:
  • Break projects into smaller, bite-sized actions. No entire project can be completed at one time; instead, when them down into tasks that can be completed step-by-step, checking each item off, one by one, from a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual to-do list. When creating this list, start each item with a verb, and make sure it is broken down into the smallest increment of what is to be done so it's more feasible.
  • Gain clarity on anything that is confusing or unclear. Vague priorities, unclear directions, lack of knowing how to do something and being unfamiliar with the order in which to move through the steps necessary for getting tasks done are all problematic. Ask questions to better understand the objective, your team's priorities and how to accomplish each step necessary; if you don't know how to do something, ask someone who does know it for assistance. Never be afraid to ask those questions, realizing that the result to not asking is far worse than any answer you could receive.
  • Set deadlines for each specific task. I have yet to find a calendar that includes "someday"; therefore, when we say "I'll get to that someday" or "I'll work on that when I get some free time", we are usually setting ourselves up for failure. Instead, assign deadlines for each of the smaller, bite-sized actions within the projects to be completed, making it possible to block off time on your calendar for when each task will be completed. Every "what" assigned a "when" is more likely to get accomplished, leading to more wins.
  • Maintain accountability for designated deadlines. Some people respond better to a reward being held in front of them for completing a necessary task; other folks respond better to avoiding punishment or embarrassment from not completing assigned tasks. Once you know what motivates you, use that self-awareness to drive your desired behavior and encourage your greater focus on achieving desired results. Make it fun, utilizing gamification when possible, and make what best motivates you a tool for accomplishing what must be done.
  • Quiet any perfectionist tendencies. One of my favorite mantras reminds me that, "Done can be better than perfect so focus on good enough." Perfectionism is frequently the cause of procrastination; subsequently, focusing on the desired results can empower us to get past waiting for "the right time"and get us to stop continuing our work on projects for perpetuity in the effort of achieving perfection. Stop comparing yourself with others; achieving your desired results usually has little to do with how the finished product compares with what others do or have done. Instead, focus on getting things done to the best of your ability, not necessarily in a perfect way.
  • Utilize a timer. Working in a focused manner for a short stretch can boost both efficiency and total output... Anyone can do an undesirable action for a short spurt, and it's amazing how much more can get done in that shorter amount of time than if you think you have longer to finish. If you think you have all afternoon to do something, it will likely take that full amount of time; however, if you set a timer for a shorter timeframe, you'd be amazed how much you can get done in that block of time. Likewise, if you are a competitive person, try getting more done within a set amount of time than you expect you can or have done in previous instances. Most importantly, when the timer goes off, you may find that you are engrossed in the task and will keep at it, getting even more accomplished.
  • Minimize interruptions. It can take 23 minutes to recover from a distraction, which means productivity suffers each time we get distracted. Deactivate social media notifications, and schedule specific times to check those sites for what's happening. Send phone calls to voice mail while working diligently on a task that's coming due, catching up on calls at set times during your day. Turn off previews of new emails, scheduling when you will look at your inbox instead of letting your inbox bleed into all that you're doing. Remove visual clutter from your workspace, wear headphones to signal when you are not to be disturbed, and fill the chairs in your office to prevent those stopping by from making themselves at home.
  • Implement music's motivating abilities. Some people are energized by fast-paced music while others get more focused through smoother tunes, both leading to greater productivity. Pick enough tunes in the tone you prefer to fill a set block of time, group them together as your productivity playlist and, then, use that playlist to motivate desired output.
  • Put color to work within your space. A study published by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that red increases attentiveness; a separate study by the University of British Columbia shares how blue boosts creativity. Whether via color in your desk accessories, on your walls, in what you wear or through what you eat, bring into your workspace what color fuels the actions you hope to be taking.
  • Spend more time with folks who get things done. For years, I've heard that you become like the people with whom you spend time. If you prioritize spending time with people in your life who are considered hard workers or go-getters, their energy will rub off on you and motivate similar productivity in yourself. As activity breeds activity, time with productive peers can insight greater productivity within ourselves when we spend time with those getting more accomplished.
There are many times during which we need to follow Nike's advice and just do it, especially if the task takes less time to complete than how long it would require to re-focus and re-start the related thought process when we return to it later. These tactics can help.

Which tactics do you prefer for limiting procrastination? Are there any on this list you'll try when stuck next?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Capitalize on Your Energy for Enhanced Productivity

When thinking about a normal day at work, are there times you feel more "in the zone", the output seems to flow more easily, you're in a groove and you're energized? Can you envision what those instances have in common? For many, the theme that runs consistently amongst instances when working tends to work better happens to be our personal energy level.

As I've learned by using the Time and Space Style Inventory assessment with my clients, each of us is invigorated by different things in different ways, and our energy level has a dramatic impact on our ability to be productive from moment to moment.

It is important to attack challenging work when your energy is at its peak. This becomes more complicated as the timing of one's peak energy level varies from person to person; therefore, the first step in pairing the work that is most demanding of your abilities with the timing during which your abilities flow most freely happens to be self-assessment.

Know when your energy is most likely to peak so you can schedule uninterrupted time then for addressing your hardest work.

If your energy peaks first-thing in the morning, you may choose to enlist your energy level as a productivity tool by "swallowing the frog", tackling your most difficult tasks first. This approach is why folks talk about wanting to "hit the ground running" each day.

If your energy peaks later in the workday, you may choose to enlist your energy level as a productivity tool by adopting the mantra of "activity breeds activity", starting with easier tasks and building momentum to do more difficult work later in the workday.

Unfortunately, it's not always feasible to pair those more challenging tasks with times when your energy peaks. Since meetings are designed for discussions and shared decision-making, they can be a drain on energy and force you to be filled with energy during times that are not your normal peak energy time. If you find your energy waning right before an important meeting, invest in actions to fuel your energy reserves and replenish your energy on demand. It might not be quite as effective as your natural time for peak energy, but there are always options to quickly boost energy as needed. Use whichever works best for you.

Does your energy peak in the morning, afternoon or when the sun goes down? How do you adjust when you attack certain work functionality to best use your energy peaks?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Invest in Self Care to Fuel Your Energy Reserves

In a society that is constantly focused on doing more, it is increasingly easy for our energy to become depleted and we get burnt out. It is imperative to act deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health via self-care practices which replenish our energy reserves. Only when we build up what we have within can we fuel our desired results.

As part of the Simple Change team, I am well aware of how diminishing or replenished energy impacts my productivity; however, like you, I often feel the pain of how challenging it can be to improve my energy level. There's a big difference between knowing you need to take care of yourself to have the energy needed for getting things done versus taking action to boost those energy reserves, right? Although each of us has unique requirements for ways to best boost energy, here are some ideas you can easily implement immediately for better boosting productivity through greater energy reserves:
  • Listen to music. Maybe you prefer something upbeat. Maybe you prefer something calming. Maybe it's more about the beat of the bass. Get singing or humming or dancing to it.
  • Create a vision board. Add something with vivid color or energetic imagery, conveying excitement and movement.
  • Connect with those who matter to you. Sometimes, it can be in person, but, if not, consider a video chat, phone call, text message or sharing something on social media.
  • Get moving. Take a brisk walk, especially if you can get out in nature. Physical activity oxygenates blood cells while breathing outdoor air while absorbing vitamin D is invigorating.
  • Count your blessings. Gratitude is so powerful; taking time to document appreciation for what we have, who we are with and what lessons we've learned along the way fuels desire for more while energizing our belief that we can get things done.
  • Laugh out loud. Find something you've done recently that was funny or watch online videos that you find humorous. Choose something that gets you giggling from down in your gut.
  • Eat well. Healthy foods fuel our energy, especially with increased amounts of magnesium and antioxidants. 
  • Stay hydrated. Keep a reusable water bottle with you at all times and drink from it frequently, especially when you start to feel your mind drifting or need to re-energize.
  • Focus on something you have to look forward to in the near future. Whether you are planning for an upcoming vacation or bought tickets to a special event, that feeling of anticipation and excitement will be a great energy boost.
What kinds of things have you found help energize you? Are you feeling a little low on your energy reserves? If so, which of these can you give a try right now?