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



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 Unroll.me.
  • 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?