Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

How Much Time Should Planning Take?

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. — Seneca

Once in a while a client avoids planning on the ground that it takes too much time. They’d much rather dive right in and spend that time getting some of their work done, instead of reviewing goals, choosing priorities, and making lists.

"Out of Business" (c) All rights reserved by Lynn Park.

"Out of Business" (c) All rights reserved by Lynn Park.

How much time should planning take? Less time than anything else you do in your work. Like tooth-brushing, planning takes very little time and pays big dividends for the small increments of time and effort invested.

Good planning requires just two percent of your time, divided between two types of plans.

First, one percent of each day will be used to plan the following day. Before finishing work for the day, evaluate the following day. Choose three tasks that contribute to your larger goals, and work on those tasks first thing the next day. That one percent of time (about five minutes of an eight-hour day) spent planning tomorrow’s work will pay off beautifully in real progress on the things that matter most.

Then, devote another one percent to longer-range planning. Arrange a half-day planning retreat every quarter, so that you can weigh your progress and adjust your focus. This will prevent unproductive drifting.

Finally, use another half day (for a total of two and a half days out of a 240-day work year) to make your annual plan.

Remember that frantic activity does not equal productivity; in fact, productivity thrives on calm and considered action. Invest just two percent of your time – just five minutes a day and two and a half days each year – and watch the productivity returns pour in.

The Won’t-Do List

 

No means no! (Photo taken on Vancouver's Canada Line by Margaret Lukens)

 

Productivity is as much about what we choose not to do as it is about what we do. (Remember the Evil Overlord List? 100 tongue-in-cheek won’t-do entries that begins, “Being an Evil Overlord seems to be a good career choice.”)

With this in mind, I’d like to supplement my list of committed tasks with a “won’t-do” list.

Below I’ve started with five things I’d like to eliminate from my life. I’ll be adding to my list whenever I think of something that is hindering my efforts to get where I want to go.

My Won’t-Do List

1. I won’t attend meetings with no agenda. And I encourage everyone else not to do it, either. Waste of everyone’s time. And in case it’s not clear, “so that everyone can catch up on what’s happening” is not an agenda. It’s a time sink.

2. I won’t balance my personal checkbook. For over 25 years I balanced my checkbook to the penny every month. In that time, the bank made two errors, one for a dollar and one for a dime, both in their favor. (Both came from misreading the numbers written on a check.) For the hours it takes to balance the checkbook every year, I can live with that error rate. I’m done.

3. I won’t get behind in my business bookkeeping. Given the won’t-do above, this one might seem surprising, but last year when my bookkeeper quit, I allowed my books to get months behind, which caused two problems. First, I had to catch up in order to do my taxes. But more important, I can’t manage my business if I’m not looking at the numbers in a timely way. I won’t “fly blind” again.

4. I won’t arrive on time. I’m already punctual; I believe that keeping people waiting often makes them feel disrespected, and I don’t want to do that. Now I want treat myself more generously. I won’t habitually cut my schedule so close that I feel anxious about arriving on time. Instead I will plan to arrive early. When I do, my reward will be time for a few games of ZenBound or Angry Birds.

5. I won’t agree to serve on committees or boards because I’m flattered to be asked. I love to feel needed and wanted, I do, which makes me something of a sucker for nominating committees and clever task force leaders. Plus, the work they offer me is really interesting stuff that I’d really like to do. But I won’t agree to serve just because I am flattered to be asked. If I don’t have room for it in my schedule as well as a genuine desire to participate, I won’t say yes.

Opinions change. Two years ago I would have said that I feel no need to jump out of a perfectly good airplane; now, thanks to the glowing reports of one adrenalin-amped nephew (who is not a daredevil but a well-balanced business owner, husband, and father of three) I have committed to a sky dive. And there was a time that I believed that, except for an omelet and salad, any meal that took  less than an hour to prepare couldn’t be very good; now I’m all about the 30-minute recipe.

On the other hand, when I look at my won’t-do’s, they look like they’re with me for the long haul. They represent real learning about what supports productivity and what diminishes it.  Last year’s “no way” may be next year’s “why not?” but my won’t-do list is here to stay.

What’s on your won’t-do list? Leave a comment here.

Worth Repeating – October posts from New Leaf News

 

Still fresh, still good for you! (Farmer's Market, Granville Island, British Columbia. Photo by Margaret Lukens)

I’ve dipped into the New Leaf News archives to share a few posts that still seem as fresh and relevant today as they did in Octobers past. In case you missed them the first time around, here they come again!

I’m still using mind-mapping as a technique to organize and view more information than is possible with a list or outline. And since I wrote about it last year, I have begun making some mind-maps using a piece of free software that couldn’t be easier: MindMeister. I recently used it to develop the curriculum for my new teleclass/workshop PortaVault Prep. It enabled me to fit essential notes for three hours of class time on a single page.

Do you believe that multitasking is a useful productivity practice? My work with clients indicates you’re not alone. Still, research on how our brains execute tasks is yielding stronger evidence that we need to stop interrupting ourselves. Read this advice from an 18th century father to his son, and take it to heart.

Want your productivity instructions boiled down like a concentrated sauce? Here is last year’s light-hearted look at the main ingredients of getting more done.

Wishing you a happy October!

Why Tasks Hang On – Three Productivity Traps to Avoid

Gum tree seed pods stick; your tasks don't have to. (photo by M. Lukens)

Take a look at your to-do list. Are there things that have been lurking there for weeks, maybe months? How do you feel when you think of those tenacious tasks? Tired? Discouraged?

You can get rid of those “Velcro jobs” faster if you know how they got to be clinging to your days in the first place.

There are three common reasons that tasks hang on.

1. As my father said, “You can always think of more things to do in a day than you can get done.” Expecting yourself to accomplish everything that enters your mind just isn’t realistic.

To avoid this trap, observe how long various tasks actually take. Try scheduling tasks in your calendar to give yourself a more realistic benchmark. If I have 10 hours of work to do, but only six hours available, something is going to go undone, at least for today. Recognize that on days when your calendar is full of appointments, you probably won’t be able to accomplish a lot of other work. Be realistic in your expectations.

And if a task is non-essential, give it an expiration date. This prevents jobs from dragging on indefinitely.

As the philosopher William James observed, “there is nothing more fatiguing than the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

I find that because I dream up new ideas nearly every day, I often have assigned more jobs to myself than I could ever possibly finish. If I haven’t written that non-essential proposal or made that call within the deadline, I’ve learned to delete it. If it’s really important to me, it will come back again. For now, I’ll actually be more productive if I just let it go.

2. In his book The Procrastinator’s Digest, a Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, Timothy Pychyl, PhD defines procrastination as “a needless voluntary delay.” Procrastination is a terrible productivity trap that keeps tasks hanging on, usually the least pleasant ones.

One strategy Dr. Pychyl recommends for moving past procrastination is to understand the costs of our procrastination and the benefits of acting without delay. Each day, do the least palatable job first. Then, the rest of the day looks brighter, and you are unburdened by the costs of procrastination on those unpleasant jobs.

3. If your goals and objectives aren’t clear, there’s no good way to know which tasks are most important. When everything looks like it has equal weight, important things are bound to drag on.

As I teach in my Plan to Thrive workshop, the solution is to make a clear and compelling plan that really suits you and your business.  This will help you sort out the really essential jobs from the “nice-to-have” ones.

Did you know that people routinely over-estimate what they can accomplish in one year, and also wildly under-estimate what they can do in three to five years? Think about it: if you’re like most people, what you’re doing today is something you could hardly have dreamed of just a few years ago. A clear and compelling plan can help you to be both realistic and ambitious about the tasks you really want to accomplish.

What do you want to brush off your task list? Declare it by leaving a comment here.

Update: In-box zero

Back in June I pledged to achieve in-box zero by the first day of autumn, so I owe you, dear readers, an update.

How did I do? In a word: busted.

I managed to keep up with most everything that came in during the past three months, but the backlog is a mere 10 percent smaller than it was. My 500+ message in-box has been whittled to just under 450.

Two points need to be made as I consider my failure to live up to my plan. First (and I think it was Merlin Mann who first said this), before you get good, you have to stop sucking. I did succeed in not sucking. I kept up with incoming mail. That alone is a habit worth latching onto and nurturing for all its worth.

Second, to be fair I had some dire family issues that intervened. Entrepreneurs need to be good bosses to themselves, remembering that we must sometimes cut ourselves some slack. I had some understandable reasons for missing my goal.

So, what have I learned so far?

  • In-box zero is an illusive goal. It’s really hard to get there and stay there.
  • Even in tough times, I did better than stay even. I made progress. Good for me.
  • I really want to reach this goal. I will keep working at it.

The modern work world throws more stuff at us than we can comfortably handle. Those of us who experiment with new ideas in organization and distill others’ productivity prescriptions down for your easy digestion, we’ll continue to seek new ways for all of us to keep up with what really matters and let go of what isn’t important.

Have you tried to achieve an empty email in-box? Tell me about it. And if you’ve found a brilliant way to make it happen, definitely tell me about it. There are thousands of us who are dying to know!

Worth Repeating – September posts from New Leaf News

(photo by Margaret Lukens)

I’ve sorted through the New Leaf archives to choose a few posts from Septembers past. Here’s a sample of what was on our mind during recent years.

When no work is getting done, you can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm, and yet you can’t relax either, it’s time to get serious about avoiding burnout. Here are some important clues to look for and some useful steps to take.

The modern world seems determined to shatter our focus ; don’t allow it! Minimize interruptions and feel the joy of focused work.

Need a quote for your September screen-saver? Try this Chinese proverb to remind you of your commitment to focus.

Wishing all New Leaf News readers & writers a lovely September!

Alcohol, Sleep, and Exercise – are your habits holding you back?

Wine caves at Schramsberg in California's Napa Valley - NOT chardonnay (photo by Margaret Lukens)

I sometimes joke that here in northern California, it’s illegal to smoke cigarettes just about anywhere, and it’s also illegal NOT to drink Chardonnay.

If you’re not getting as much done in a day as you would like, consider whether your habits are making it harder to manage your time and energy.

Imagine this scenario: I wake up slightly under-slept and have a cup of coffee to help open my eyes. In fact, I need two cups or more to get going. I’m terribly busy, so, much as I’d like to, I don’t make time to exercise. Sometime after lunch, my lack of sleep catches up with me and I begin to yawn. I can’t take a nap — it’s the middle of a work day! — so instead I get something sweet to eat. It gives me that little lift that sleep would have supplied. It also contributes to unwanted weight. By the end of the day, I’m really tired. Exercise feels out of the question. In fact, I just want to relax, so I have my glass of Chardonnay, then another, and maybe another. After dinner I fall into bed on a full stomach and having enjoyed a little too much to drink, both of which interfere with restful sleep. The next morning I wake feeling, you guessed it: under-slept and far from my best.

I’ve written before about times when habit change is better approached by baby steps, but this is one instance where you may get better results by making several changes all at once. If I drink eight glasses of water every day for a week and plan to add another positive change next week, by the end of week one I have no good results to show for my efforts, no positive reinforcement to keep me enthused. But if I decide that for one week I will drink my eight glasses of water daily, skip coffee, walk 30 minutes, eat dinner by 7 pm,  drink no alcohol after dinner, and sleep eight hours, I will feel better after day one. That positive feedback gives me the nudge to keep going for day two and beyond.

Are personal habits holding you back? What do you need to change to make a real difference in your focus and productivity? Leave a comment here.

Want Greater Productivity? Walk This Way.

I’ve written before about ways to exercise when it seems hard to include exercise in your schedule. There’s another tool that I recently suggested to a client who wants to do a lot of exercise with no down-time. It’s a Steelcase desk called the Walkstation.

The Walkstation’s basic structure is a treadmill that operates at low speeds — 1 to 2 miles per hour — with a standing desk attached. The treadmill has a longer deck than normal to allow plenty of room for the desk in front, and a motor that is able to withstand the constant use at low speeds that would burn out the average exercise treadmill.

The science on these walking desks is consistent and solid (original research on the Walkstation was done at Mayo Clinic). The test subjects who got the Walkstations didn’t want to give them back when the tests were over.

Our brains work better after exercise, but even better still while exercising. Our bodies are made to walk all day. (Note: for a compelling and entertaining recap of the research on how exercise boosts brain power, see John Medina’s book Brain Rules.) Walking two hours per day, burning 100 calories per hour, weight loss is pretty much guaranteed. It’s not hard to talk while walking at low speeds; my client reports that learning to type while moving comes quickly, too.

If the $4,200 price tag slows you down, there are a few websites with instructions on how to make a treadmill desk yourself using a standard treadmill, though it’s not entirely easy. It requires a good-quality machine whose motor can withstand the slow-speed use. Also, the treadmill must have level arms to hold the laptop – again, not easy to find. Getting the height right to avoid arm, neck, and back strain can be tricky. The desk must be stable enough so that your computer never meets the treadmill in a fall. Also, the treadmill requires a longer than normal deck to accommodate the laptop, so you don’t fall off the back.

My client is loving the results. What do you think? Would you like to use a treadmill desk? Leave a comment here.

Productivity snack: text GOOGL for free 411

Let’s suppose that as you dash out of your office to do a round of meetings and errands, you neglect to pick up the paper with the address of one of your appointments. Trip wasted? Not necessarily.

Now you can just text GOOGL (46645) with the name of the business followed by CITY,STATE and immediately receive a reply text with the address and phone number of the business. Google’s text-able 411 system is free and NASCAR fast.

Another Google shortcut: to get help locating businesses in an unfamiliar city, text a type of business or company name followed by either the zip code or CITY,STATE — something like STARBUCKS 94010 or OFFICE SUPPLY SAN FRANCISCO,CA and easily find local help wherever you are.

Worth repeating – August posts from New Leaf News

I’m sharing a few posts from the New Leaf archives. Here’s what was on our mind in August during the past couple of years.

Productivity depends on being able to work in comfort. Eliminate at least one pain in the neck with a wireless headset.

Successfully planning for the future requires acknowledging past wins. Are you overlooking this step in your business plan?

The longer I use Evernote, the more I like this free tool for storing, sorting, and retrieving information. Is your desk littered with a bunch of little notes that you don’t know how to keep? Evernote might be the answer to keeping the information but ditching the paper.

Avant-garde artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol understood the art of business and the business of art. Here he speaks about both endeavors.

Happy August to all the New Leaf News readers & writers!

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