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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Redefining Productivity for Greater Success - Work-Life Integration Is Realistic Way to Tackle What Matters Most

One of 6 tenants to productivity being "efficiently working at effectively achieving desired results" is how work-life integration is a realistic way to tackle what matters most. In January, I looked at what it means to "be productive" or "boost productivity"; today, I'll do the last of 6 deep dives into specifics for redefining productivity by providing ways to implement work-life integration.

People often refer to work-life balance; yet, I believe work-life integration is more realistic. In thinking about "balance", I see a scale or seesaw, forcing a perception of costs needed for success, but I do not believe my "work" competes with my "life", seeing how they regularly complement each other instead. Although balance would be static, life is certainly not and requires fluid solutions to address one's ever-changing priorities for work, home, community or society and the private realm of mind, body and spirit. I help my clients recognize how any element we choose to have in our lives adds value to each of the other elements and how harmony is possible. As the various elements of life are layers on top of each other, the emphasis needed for each element continually fluctuates, and each layer adds value to the others, making the total greater than any part.

Some people refer to it as "getting in the zone" while others call it "being on a roll". No matter what you call it, enabling all elements of life to better each other helps you benefit from greater effectiveness so you ultimately perform at your best. Research shows you can learn to get and stay on a roll by tweaking a few simple aspects of how you handle the various aspects of life.

Stew Friedman has been at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, since 1984 where he is the Practice Professor of Management and founded the Wharton Leadership Program. Known as the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, Friedman's research focuses a good deal on the interactions between all the elements encompassed in life: work, home, community or society as well as our own minds, bodies and spirits. Whether in my own life or working with my clients, I've seen great validity in 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". The mashup of many layers in life may fluctuate over time, but addressing the priorities of those various elements leads to more successful results, focusing on the three core principles of what the Wharton School refers to as 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."

Over the past few weeks, we've done deep dives on the importance of time being limited, being clear on priorities, proactively planning to best invest time, limit distractions and utilize all available resources; it is work-life integration that pulls together each tenant of productivity for your greatest success.

Looking at your own life, would you like to utilize this integration, harmony and efficiency to fuel more powerful outcomes? Here are a few simple steps to get you started:
  • Plan for all elements of life in the same daily, weekly and monthly game plans. You are one person, whether at home, at work, volunteering in the community or taking time to care for yourself. You can't be in more than one place at the same time, and multi-tasking prohibits achieving the best possible results. Still, there are only 1,4440 minutes in each day, and you must allocate your investment of time as powerfully as possible to address the ever-changing priorities from all elements of your life. With a clear awareness of your priorities, you can include actions that address goals for all of those most important 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 of your life, schedule your priorities, and bring your priorities together so multiple goals can be accomplished simultaneously.
  • Be creative with simple changes that address multiple priorities at once. With a clarity of which priorities are most important and urgent at any moment in time, you can plan actions to address more than one priority at once; as Friedman explains, aim for "4-way wins, (where there's) improved performance at work, at home, in the community and for yourself." Enhanced productivity and satisfaction come with small changes that are under your control while greater efficiency comes from addressing the priorities from multiple elements at once, which means achieving more of your various different goals concurrently. For example, walking your dog meets your goals to live a healthier life as well as take care of your pet; however, if you brainstorm a big pitch for work or listen to a recording of a book you're reading at the same time, you can accomplish even more via this work-life integration tactic. Likewise, attending a business conference is another excellent example for addressing multiple elements at the same time: you're learning new information, networking with other professionals and visiting new locations.
  • Do great work. When you are good at completing assigned tasks, whether at work, at home or in the community, you better position yourself to do something for yourself or another element of your life as a complement, having those from whom you need buy-in be more receptive to your "why" because you were present and focused during the time they needed you to be in achieving goals related to them. When you perform well as needed, those around you are more understanding about how addressing other priorities will empower you to do even better work and better help the team in the future. As explained by Jennifer Dulski, President & COO of, "If (others) know they can trust you to deliver high-quality results... they'll be less concerned with when and where you get that work done", but you must prove yourself. Turnover, absenteeism and disgruntled workers are costly; therefore, when your work-life integration leads to the business achieving its goals, more options become available to you.
  • Offer flexibility as a "temporary experiment". When you frame how your solution benefits the entire team, explain how it will be regularly evaluated and can be discarded if it just doesn't work out as hoped. Then, when you succeed, achieving enhanced productivity with greater outputs, everyone will support the continuation of the tactics in your solution.
  • Acknowledge how the resources around you can help. As we discussed last week, it is imperative to utilize all available resources, whether streamlining your workflow processes, creating an organized workspace, hiring consultants whose expertise enhances what you already know or do, outsourcing what needs to be done but not necessarily by you, implementing boundaries or taking advantage of existing tech tools. When you can pull in resources that help address priority goals for multiple elements of your life, it's all the more efficient, effective and, therefore, productive. 
  • 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 desired results. As I'm planning for all elements of life, I use my Weekly Strategy Session and Daily Wrap-Ups to create a game plan for what particular activities will fuel my desired outcomes and help me stay on track for successfully achieving the results I want or need. By focusing my actions on achieving my desired outcomes, I know whether I'm being successful.
  • Control what you can control. 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 challenges. How much or how little guilt you experience in any element really is in your control, just as you control with what actions you respond to what occurs around you.
  • Complete a regular audit of your time. Experiencing burnout is usually due to a misalignment between your goals, priorities or values and your actions. On a daily, weekly and monthly basis, make sure your actions are consistent with your values, supporting the fulfillment of your goals in whichever life elements are highest priorities currently. For example, are you attending meetings you don't really need to be in just so you can be seen there? If you have trouble staying on track alone, consider incorporating an accountability partner in your efforts, giving you someone to talk through situations where it is more challenging to align your actions with your priorities. Since our individual circumstances changes 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, and regular reviews of how well you are aligning your actions with your priorities will aid your efforts. 
As you look at the various elements of your life, including work, home, community or society as well as mind, body and spirit, are you integrating those different layers into a mashup that drives harmony, satisfaction, greater outputs and better productivity? Are you pulling the various tenants of productivity (limited time, clear priorities, proactive planning, eliminating distractions and utilizing all available resources) together for work-life integration that fuels your desired results? If not, what simple changes can you make for more success?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Redefining Productivity for Greater Success - It Is Imperative to Utilize All Available Resources

One of 6 tenants to productivity being "efficiently working at effectively achieving desired results" is how it is imperative to utilize all available resources. In January, I looked at what it means to "be productive"; today, I'll do the fifth of 6 deep dives into specifics for redefining productivity, offering ways you can utilize all available resources for greater success.

When I refer to the resources or tools for your greater success, I never limit that discussion to technology. As you are filling your productivity toolbox, consider streamlining your workflow processes, creating an organized workspace in which you know where things are stored, hire consultants whose expertise enhances what you already know or do, outsource what needs to be done but not necessarily by you to employees or service professionals (including house cleaners and personal chefs), implement boundaries appropriate for your circumstances and

Still, in today's world, technology often plays a big role in how we get things done. Take time to evaluate whether paper or electronic tools might better meet your specific needs, taking into consideration your personality, your existing workflows, where you feel like you are losing time and the expectations of those with whom you work (your supervisor, your team members, your clients, your vendors, etc). Writing out meeting notes, tasks and time commitments on paper can aid in remembering those details; however, electronic alternatives have the benefit of automatic carryover, adding reminders and scheduling recurrences as needed, which can be beneficial for certain individuals. I also find the Time and Space Style Inventory enlightening when determining what sort of resources would be the best fit for any particular individual.

Although Three Dog Night claims "One is the loneliest number", I contend that one is the most powerful number for being productive. As you outline resources to implement, whether paper or electronic, keep in mind the power of one: one calendar for personal and professional commitments, one running data dump of all tasks that funnels into one daily to-do list, one address book for all contacts' information, one set of naming conventions for all files (paper, electronic, email), one place for all the information you must remember as well as reference and one strategy session to plan your week that is maintained with one daily wrap-up at the end of each day. Having one of each better ensures your content is kept up-to-date, you know what needs to be done when, nothing falls through the cracks and you don't get double-booked.

Consider what tools you are using to meet each of these needs and fill in what holes exist as you're working to get things done:
  • How do you block out web and app distractions? When hopping online for research, writing or social media, it's easy to get distracted and lose time. Limit your access for greater focus and more efficient results by using tools like Flipd, GrooveOtter, KeepMeOut, RescueTime, SelfControl and StayFocused.
  • How do you make it easier to set meetings? If you are trying to pull together a group of people, every individual will have different requests for when and where to meet. Instead of opening dialogue with everyone to schedule a meeting, enter options that work for you and let those you want to attend vote on which option works for the majority. Choose from tools like Doodle or Vyte for what best meets your meeting setting needs.
  • Are you able to seamlessly update contacts? People change jobs, email providers, mailing addresses and more; as we're inundated with information, make keeping up more feasible by automating updating your records via an assistant like EasilyDo, EverContact, FullContact or Sync.ME.
  • What do you use for cloud-based back-ups? Computers crash. Fires can destroy all your devices. Emergencies happen. It's not a matter of "if" but "when" your technology will die, but you can be prepared with automated remote storage. Simply "set it and forget it" with a tool like Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, IDrive or Mozy.
  • How do you control an overflowing inbox? Email can be less time-consuming when you send fewer messages out, unsubscribe from those you are no longer reading and choose to process (rather than check) newly received emails; however, don't stop there. Implement tools to take better control of your email like Airmail, Boomerang, Contactually, Mailstrom, SaneBox, Sortd, Spark and
  • What do you use to store your passwords? As our list of passwords grows, it can become increasingly difficult to remember them all, particularly as components to include vary and with how often they must be updated. Auto-select, retain and autofill logins with a password manager like Dashlane, LastPass, RoboForm, SplashID and 1Password.
  • How can you automate more functionality? Automation is a form of delegation where you delegate to technology and can massively expand how much you can get done concurrently. No one can do everything alone, especially all at once; however, automation tools let things get done while you put your efforts into other, hands-on tasks. Set what rules apply to your needs in automation tools like IFTTT, Podbox, Zapier and social media managers such as Buffer, Edgar, FalconHootsuite, SocialOomph and Sprout Social.
Fill your productivity toolbox with the best tools for achieving specific goals and, then, be sure to utilize all resources available for your success. Are you more of a paper or electronic person? What tools do you currently utilize? What tools can you add to your productivity toolbox?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Redefining Productivity for Greater Success - Distractions are Detrimental to Your Desired Results

One of 6 tenants to productivity being "efficiently working at effectively achieving desired results" is how distractions are extremely detrimental to your desired results. In January, I looked at what it means to "be productive" or "boost productivity"; today, I'll do the fourth of 6 deep dives into specifics for redefining productivity to achieve greater success, limiting distractions.

Research shows the average US office worker is interrupted 11 times each hour of the workday, and, then, it takes 3 to 8 minutes to refocus, although it can take up to 25 minutes to really refocus when working in deep thought. My rough math tells me that doesn't leave much time for getting things done, let alone accomplishing your big, hairy, audacious goals. Since time is a very limited resource, it's vital to note how distractions are robbing you of valuable minutes, hours and days; reducing distractions is a valuable skill to learn for boosting your productivity.

Here are 10 easy ways to get started limiting distractions:
  • Wear noise-reducing headphones. - Particularly when you focus on strategic thinking or creative production, wearing headphones can block out what's happening around you, even if they aren't playing any sort of music at all. When you work in a shared workspace, wearing headphones has the added bonus of communicating to your co-workers that you are deep in thought and to please not interrupt your efforts.
  • Turn off the pings, ding and pop-ups of tech-related notifications. - Set your smartphone to silent and remove the vibrate that goes with the silent mode. Stop any pop-up notifications telling you when you get a new comment on social media. Deactivate previews of newly received email messages. Instead, schedule time for handling calls, social media and processing email. Then, for anyone requiring immediate responses, 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.
  • Make sure your scheduled tasks fulfill your goals. - Burnout comes from actions being out of alignment with your priorities, and burnout definitely derails productivity, limiting focus and making you more susceptible to additional distractions. I find it helpful to regularly audit how my actions align with my priorities, thereby supporting my goals.
  • Break projects into bite-sized actions. - One of the greatest distractions is procrastination, and we often procrastinate when we don't know where to start. Attempting to complete a project, not a task, is futile; it is imperative to have a list of smaller, more manageable actions that can be checked off one-by-one. When you break projects down into actionable tasks, you feel empowered to complete each task in a single work session or, at least, get started on doing each in sequence.
  • Be realistic about task management. - Another frequent distraction is the feeling of overwhelm that comes with too long a list of tasks for any one day. While we all wish we were superheroes, we are humans that can accomplish only so much each day; plus, as unforeseen items are going to pop-up and need attention, making sure our daily to-do list leaves some breathing room is important. Schedule no more than 3-5 "must-do" items each day, and make sure that each "what" which must get done is assigned a "when" for its completion.
  • Utilize a timer. - Some individuals or teams use a timer to simply get started, setting it for 15 minutes 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 its completion and making certain to still be working on the task at hand when the timer goes off at the end of each interval. In either scenario, timers boost productivity.
  • Schedule "office hours" during your day. - In these blocks of time, you can focus exclusively on assigned projects while blocking out the distractions of calls, emails and people stopping by your office. Tell others you will be available before and after these times; then, during each office hours' timeframe, send calls to voice mail, don't check emails and hold off on answering knocks to your door. It is as if you are away in a meeting, but your meeting is with yourself to attend more intently to the work that can be done by only you.
  • 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 sitting down to chat or position it somewhere more difficult to access so it's less inviting for visitors to settle in for a while. 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 so you can give that individual your undivided attention without negatively impacting efforts to complete your own work.
  • Practice mindfulness. - For some, this means doing one thing at a time with complete focus, understanding that multi-tasking simply diminishes effectiveness. For others, this means being fully present in the moment, no matter whether in a meeting or working on the computer, to push forward with the greatest impact. Yet, for different folks, this means scheduling more intense tasks when you have your peak energy, whether that's first-thing in the morning, at night or when caffeine boosts your focus in the mid-afternoon. Pick what works best for you.
  • Work remotely when you most need to focus intently. - 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.
What distracts you most often? How have you had success staying productive amidst all of life's distractions? Have you had success with any of the tactics listed above?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Redefining Productivity for Greater Success - Proactively Planning Your Efforts Will Boost Achievement of Goals

One of 6 tenants to productivity being "efficiently working at effectively achieving desired results" is how proactively planning your efforts will boost success for your goals. In January, I looked at what it means to "be productive" or "boost productivity"; today, I'll do the third of 6 deep dives into specifics for redefining productivity to achieve greater success via tactics for planning.

As discussed before, when a team goes into a game, its coaches have scouted the opponent, determined which of the team's strengths match up best to the opponent's weaknesses and created a game plan. Each team adjusts its plan based off how the game progresses, but the chance of winning at all depends greatly on starting with a plan. The same applies to living your life: plan your weeks and days while making adjustments as time progresses so you attack your priorities instead of getting sidetracked by others.

Whether on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, allot time at the end of each week to review the week ending as well as plan for the week ahead. Take control of your productivity by creating your own weekly game plan. I consider this process my weekly strategy session, where I plan for how to address the following:

  • Tasks - Every project needs to be broken down into smaller, more manageable action steps; each of those actions should be assigned a deadline so there is an associated timeline. Evaluate which actions scheduled for the week ending were left undone and should be carried forward; then, determine when each of those incomplete tasks will get done. Decide what new tasks should be added to your to-do list; assign deadlines for each.
  • Team Communications - Get in-depth updates from each member of your team (at work, at home or involved with the community projects you're currently addressing), including what is working, what is not working and what needs attention.
  • Client Communications - Catch-up on processing outstanding emails, calls and snail mail. Reach out to schedule time with those who have been needing your attention. Touch bases with clients from whom you've not heard lately, whether with gratitude, to wish a happy birthday or simply seeing how things are going. Some should include a call to action but not all.
  • Time Commitments - Review the upcoming week's commitments to ensure you've scheduled time for completing whatever preparations have yet to get done. Be certain your calendar includes buffers for travel to appointments as well as time to deal with the unforeseen that might arise.
  • Personal and Professional Development - Determine opportunities for growth, including any training, networking or events that will move you towards your goals. Evaluate anything you've received via email or snail mail that has an imminent registration deadline, and decide whether to attend.

Be strategic and map out a specific plan for addressing all that supports your priority goals, understanding that "every what assigned a when is more likely to get accomplished." I have yet to find a "Someday" on any calendar; there is always Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday but no Someday, which means assigning time for completing actions moves the results of their completion from dreams to goals.

As we all know "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry", it is imperative to allocate time daily to reassess and make sure the next 24 hours continue along the right path. We live in the real world, and things happen to derail even the most well thought-out plans. As hiccups arise, adjustments will need to be made, but your days will be guided by your weekly strategy, which will be empowered and reinforced with these daily wrap-ups. Address these items at the end of each day:

  • Communications - Get updates from team members and "hot prospects", new and returning; touch bases with those that need awareness of what's happening and what you're doing.
  • Tasks - Review the to-do list from the day ending, determining which incomplete tasks can be completed when. Prepare the next day's must-do list, documenting what 3-5 action items will be realistic for the next 24 hours so you can hit the ground running to complete them starting first-thing in the morning.
  • Time - Evaluate your schedule for the next day, verifying that you're prepared for it all. If you're not yet ready, when will you make time for completing those preparations.
  • Workspace - Tidy up... File new items, return that day's work into each item's home and set out the materials for whatever you'll address first upon returning to your office.
  • Successes - Celebrate all you've accomplished in the day that's ending. If you got out of bed, you accomplished something! Acknowledging these wins motivates doing more.
  • Gratitude - Make note of that for which you are grateful at the end of each day, whether one item or a list of things, and consider all areas of your life (home, work, community, self).
  • Final Preparations - Plan from where your meals will come, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Will you pack your lunch or go out to eat? Do you need to put something in the slow-cooker that evening or in the morning? Then, check the forecast and pick out each detail of what will be necessary for the next day's outfit, including jewelry and undergarments.

With proper planning, what matters most to you finds time in your schedule, and you stay on track amidst all the curveballs that life throws your way. What steps do YOU take to plan ahead?