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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

11 Ways to Limit Distractions and Do Your Best Work

Stop Feeling Held Back By Distractions
Do you feel as if workday distractions are depleting your productivity? Are you getting less and less done as you're pulled in more and more different directions? If so, you are not alone. As outlined in this article, "on average, most of us experience one interruption every 8 minutes or approximately 6-7 per hour... The average interruption takes approximately 5 minutes, (and) research has shown that, for every interruption, it takes an average of 25 minutes to fully regain your cognitive focus." Wow! That could mean 210 minutes or 3.5 hours of time wasted each workday, driving you further from meeting your goals.

With the negative impact of interruptions throughout the workday, it is important to take steps to eliminate distractions. Here are 11 suggestions of easy ways to get you started:
  • Break projects into bite-sized actions. Then, you can feel empowered to complete each task in a single work session.
  • Utilize a timer. Some folks use a timer to just get started, setting it for 15 minutes and capitalizing on that momentum to keep going towards completion of the task at hand. Other folks like using a timer to stay on track, setting it for different intervals during however long the task being done should take and making certain to still be working on it at the end of each interval. With either option, it's a powerful productivity tool.
  • Wear noise-reducing headphones. Particularly when you focus on strategic thinking or creative production, wearing noise-reducing headphones can block out what's happening around you, even if not playing any sort of music at all.
  • Turn off the pings and dings of tech-related notifications. Set your smartphone to silent and remove the vibrate that goes with silent mode. Stop the pop-ups telling you when you get a new comment on social media. Deactivate previews of newly received email messages. Instead, schedule times for handling calls, social media and emails. Then, 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.
  • Be realistic about task management. While we all wish we were superheroes, we are humans that can only accomplish so much each day; unforeseen items are going to pop-up and need your attention. Therefore, schedule only 3-5 "must do" items each day, and make sure that each "what" which must be done is assigned a "when" for getting it done.
      • Schedule "office hours" during your day. In these blocks of time, you can focus exclusively on assigned projects while blocking out distractions... Tell others you will be available before and after these times; then, during this timeframe, send calls to voice mail, don't check emails and hold off on answering knocks at your door. It is as if you are away in a meeting, but you can attend more intently to the work that must be done.
      • Limit the impact of drivebys. If you have an extra chair in your office, make sure it has something resting in it to keep others from plopping down into it or position it somewhere more difficult to access. When someone comes into your office without an appointment, stand up and move towards your door, conveying to the visitor that it's 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. You want to help them, but it has to fit in your schedule such that it supports your workflows and productivity.
      • Make sure your scheduled tasks fulfill your goals. Burnout comes from actions being out of alignment with your priorities and can certainly derail your productivity, limiting focus and making you more susceptible to distractions. I find it helpful to regularly audit how my actions align with my priorities.
      • Work remotely when you most need to focus intently. While a library might help, research shows that a coffee shop can act as "white noise", enabling you to block out everything around you. New surroundings can boost your concentration.
      • Reward yourself for successes. While we live in a "do, do, do" society, it is difficult to stay motivated to keeping achieving when we fail to celebrate each achievement. No matter how small or large is the carrot you dangle in front of yourself, having something to look forward to upon competing the task at hand makes it easier to stay focused.
      • Practice mindfulness. For some, this means doing one thing at a time with complete focus. For others, this means being fully present in the moment, no matter whether in a meeting or working on the computer. Yet, for different folks, this means scheduling more intense tasks for when you have your peak energy, whether you are a morning person, a night owl or someone that uses caffeine for top focus in the mid-afternoon.
        How do you keep yourself organized, focused and productive amidst all of the distractions? With what distractions do you struggle the most? Do you use any of these tactics already?

        Monday, August 10, 2015

        10 Easy Ways to Boost Your Productivity and Stay Sane with Work-Life Integration

         I disagree with the concept of “work-life balance”. When thinking about “balance”, it often conjures up the image of a scale, which forces a perception of tradeoffs or costs necessary for success. I do not believe my “work” competes with my “life”, regularly seeing how they complement each other. Although balance would be static, life is certainly not and requires fluid solutions.

        Whether you call it “work-life integration”, “work-life harmony”, “work-life efficiency”, “work-life mash-up" or something else, it’s important to recognize how each element you choose to have in your life can add value to each of the other elements. Conflict and stress are certainly not inevitable; instead, harmony is possible.

        As explained by Lifehacker in its “How to Master Work-Life Integration and Find Harmony in Your Schedule” article, “instead of thinking ‘what work can I easily integrate into my home life’, focus on the bigger picture: Integrate all areas of your life the best way you can."

        Since 1984, Stew Friedman has been at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the Practice Professor of Management and founded the Wharton Leadership Program in 1991. Friedman has done a good deal of research related to the interactions between all the elements encompassed in life: work, home, community or society and the private realm of mind, body and spirit. I agree wholeheartedly with Friedman’s finding that “you don’t have to sacrifice, tradeoff or balance to have a sane, productive and meaningful work life and home life”. Amen!

        There are a number of well-known examples for how “work-life integration” leads to greater success:
        • Andre Agassi, tennis legend
        • Craig Cincotta, VP of Brand Communications at
        • Barbara Corcoran, “Shark” investor
        • Jennifer Dulski, President & COO of
        • Julie Foudy, soccer champion
        • Eric Greitens, Mission Continues founder 
        • Robert Herjavec, “Shark” investor & CEO of Canada’s largest IT security provider
        • Fay Johnson, Founder & CEO of deliberateLife
        • Indra Nooyi, Chairperson & CEO of PepsiCo
        • First Lady Michelle Obama
        • Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
        • Max Schireson, former CEO of MongoDB
        • rock icon Bruce Springsteen
        • businesswoman & television personality Martha Stewart
        • Tom Tierney, Bridgespan co-founder, and many, many more.
        As Dulski explains in a post on LinkedIn, “I’m still a parent when I walk into work, and I still lead a company when I come home. If my daughter’s school calls with a question in the middle of a meeting, I’m going to take the call, and, if a viral petition breaks out in the middle of dinner, I’ll probably take that call, too… I have accepted that work and life are layers on top of each other, with rotating levels of emphasis, and I have benefited from celebrating that overlap, rather than trying to force it apart."

        According to that same post by Dulski, in tech-speak, a “mashup” is a webpage or app created by combing data and / or functionality from multiple sources while, in music, a “mashup” is a piece of music combining two or more tracks into one. As Dulski explains, “one of the key concepts of a mashup is the resulting product provides value in a way that neither originally did on its own; each layer adds value to the other”, revealing why she calls handling all of life’s elements a “work-life mashup”.

        Looking at your own life, are you wondering how to make this integration, harmony and efficiency possible? Here are a few action items to consider today:

        1. Do great work. When you are good at your job, you can position doing something for yourself, your friends or your family during “normal” work hours as a complement, communicating clearly your “why” and showing how it empowers you to do even better work and better help the team.

        Per Dulski’s post, “If colleagues and managers know they can trust you to deliver high-quality results - beyond what was asked - … they’ll be less concerned with when and where you get that work done."

        2. Recognize which small changes are a good beginning. As Friedman explains, aim for “4-way wins, (where there’s) improved performance at work, at home, in the community and for yourself.” Greater productivity and satisfaction come with small changes that are under our control, and, yes, you have more control than you think.

        Turnover, absenteeism and disgruntled workers are costly; therefore, when your harmony leads to the business achieving its goals, there are options. What are activities you can do to release stress in the midst of your workday? Would working from early morning to mid-afternoon and picking back up once the kids are in bed help you produce better work by letting you attend to your children’s needs for attention?

        3. Offer your flexibility as a “temporary experiment”. When you frame how your solution benefits your team, explain how it will be evaluated and can be discarded if it just doesn’t work out as expected. Then, when you achieve enhanced productivity with greater outputs, everyone will support your tactics.

        4. Be creative in ways to achieve multiple goals with individual actions. The Lifehacker article stated, “With a clear set of general priorities, you can plan tasks to fulfill more than one priority at once”. For example, walking your dog meets your goals to live a healthier life as well as take care of your pet simultaneously; however, if you brainstorm a big pitch for work at the same time, you can accomplish even more via this “work-life integration” tactic. Attending business conferences is another excellent example for addressing multiple elements at the same time: you're learning new information, networking with other professionals and visiting great locations.

        5. Focus on outcomes over activities. Rather than doing things you think you are “supposed” to do, have specific goals mapped out for your week and incorporate actions that will drive those results. I use my Weekly Strategy Session and Daily Wrap-Ups to create a game plan and stay on track, fueling results with actual value. By focusing my actions on achieving my desired outcomes, I know whether I’m being successful.

        6. Plan for all elements of your life in the same daily, weekly and monthly game plans. With a clear awareness of your priorities, you can include actions that address goals for all of those priorities, rather than segmenting your life, and you'll be able to focus on activities that will address your needs in multiple elements at the same time. Instead of compartmentalizing activities by individual elements in your life, schedule your priorities, and figure out how to bring your priorities together so multiple goals can be accomplished simultaneously.

        7. Acknowledge how technology can help. In today’s technology-infused world, people seek a more blended, harmonious existence, but it’s important to honor your boundaries, using technology to stay connected when it boosts your desired results while disconnecting when that better meets your goals. Likewise, there are many ways technology can eliminate steps in a process to open time for other actions; can technology make you more efficient so you can better address all the elements in your life? How can technology empower you to get work done without needing to be at work so your hours can be more flexible? If a business owner, can you be more connected to the data you need?

        8. Complete a regular audit of your harmony. Experiencing burnout is usually due to a misalignment between your goals or values and your daily actions. On a daily, weekly and monthly basis, make sure your actions are consistent with your values, including an accountability partner in your efforts if needed. For example, are you attending meetings you don’t really need to be in just so you can be seen there? Verify meetings you attend have a structured agenda, a need for input from all attending and set goals. Since our individual circumstances change at different stages in our lives, the percent of each day that needs to be devoted to each element of life will vary, meaning we must keep our focus fluid.

        Corcoran has a strategy: When feeling exhausted, she makes two lists. One for “what I love” and one for “what I hate” about all that’s going on in her life. When she reflects on what she loves, she can dump the things she’s listed as what she hates.

        9. Control what you can control. Above all, only you are the boss of you and can control the fate of your week. Life will throw you curve balls, but you choose how to react and with what attitude you face those challenges. How much or how little guilt you experience in any element really is in your control, just as you control your responses.

        10. Encourage the right culture for “work-life integration” in your workplace. The growth of virtual workforces, where more people work remotely or with varying schedules, appears to be a result of the growing awareness related to how “work-life integration” boosts productivity. As Johnson explains, many people want "to live well while making a positive impact” and those businesses that respond appropriately will succeed greatest. Further, as Millennials (those born between 1982 and 1993) will make up roughly 75% of the global workforce by 2025, their desire to blur the lines between work and personal for a “healthy work-life blend” will continue to drive what businesses must provide, forcing more and more companies to focus on flexibility, outcomes and collaborative efforts. As entrepreneurs, we must celebrate how each of our employees and vendor partners brings value to our team in different ways. 

        At the Wharton School, students focus on the three core principles of the Total Leadership Approach: be real, be whole and be innovative. As Friedman explains, “To be real is to act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important to you. To be whole is to act with integrity by recognizing how the different parts of your life affect one another. All this examination allows you to be innovative."

        As you look at the relationship between all elements of your life, including work, home, community, mind, body and spirit, are you integrating layers into a mashup that drives harmony, satisfaction, enhanced productivity and greater outputs? If not, what small changes can you make now to be more real, be more whole and be more innovative for greater success in the future?

        Monday, August 3, 2015

        Proactively Stay on Track with a Daily Wrap-Up

        Successful professionals start each week with a plan, prepared to address what's important and having scheduled all priorities. Yet, then, things can get thrown off track. A client has an urgent, unexpected issue arise, desperately needing your time to get the situation fixed. Or a team member calls in sick, leaving you to help with some of his responsibilities. Maybe some of your employees need your direction on meeting a deadline, having had questions arise while working on the project. Whatever has popped up to detract from your game plan, it is vital to reboot as best you can and get back on track.

        I encourage you to end each workday with a Daily Wrap-Up, which can be imperative in getting your week back on track and helping to maintain what you created in your Weekly Strategy Session. Work through each item below to keep each day productive and help you organize for success:
          • Communications - Get end-of-day updates from appropriate team members, touching bases to drive awareness and get everyone on the same page. Verify you're up-to-date processing received emails and following up on voice mail.
            • Tasks - Review your to-do list from that day and look over the next day's to-do list. If something wasn't completed today, determine at what point in the next few days can time be allocated for completing it. 3-5 items on any given date's to-do list is realist and allows you to hit the ground running when you return to work the next day.
            • Time - Evaluate your schedule for the next day and verify that you are prepared for everything scheduled.
            • Space - Whether you're in 4 walls, an open office space, a vehicle or working from a bag, tidy up your workspace... File new items and put that day's work back into each item's home. Finally, make sure what items you will need for the next day's activities are ready and easily accessible.
            • Successes - We live in a do, do, do society, meaning we don't necessarily take time to celebrate when we achieve the goals for which we strive. When we take time to celebrate our successes, we are better motivated to keep working towards even greater accomplishments. Therefore, make sure you take time to celebrate daily successes, no matter how large or small.
            • Gratitude - While there is a vast amount of research regarding how gratitude improves productivity, you can click here for 20 such ways as shared by Lifehack. With that in mind, you can use the power of gratitude to drive your daily productivity. End each day's Daily Wrap-Up with gratitude, and make note of that for which you are grateful each day. 
            Share your story... Do you take time at the end of each day to properly wrap-up that day and plan for the next day? Alternatively, what issues have you encountered when you haven't been able to regroup and end each day by getting back on track.