Tag Archives: Productivity

How to make time for the work that matters.

how to make time

Sonja Langford via Unsplash

Stop for a minute and think of all the people you work with.  Who would you say is the busiest?

I bet one person pops into your head immediately.  Because every office has that one “busy” person – the person who always has too much to do and makes a big, passive-aggressive production about it.  The person who responds to tasks with a resigned sigh but, because they have a lot of institutional knowledge, are respected and even seen as an expert at their job.  Which isn’t surprising, since they’ve been doing that same job for years.

So why hasn’t the Busy Bee been promoted?  Because being busy is career quicksand.  You can work yourself silly, but if it’s not right kind of work, you’ll never get anywhere.

In order to move up, you have to do the kind of work that makes you management material – understanding your industry, effectively prioritizing, creative problem solving, learning to lead a team, and so on.  You have to do more than just your core tasks.  You have to take on the projects that will help you grow as a professional

But how?  You already have a full day of assigned duties and you can’t simply stop doing them, right?  Of course not.  I’m not suggesting you neglect your work.  You have to do your job and do it well.  But leaders identify ways to get what they need.  If you need more time, you’re going to have to create it.

Waste is a concept I became familiar with during my time in manufacturing.  Every process we do is full of waste – actions that take time and energy but don’t create real value.  Maybe it’s moving material from place to place.  Or sitting idle while you wait for your next task.  Or finding a defect and having to scrap your work.  Eliminating waste is key to reducing costs, improving quality and decreasing production time.

You probably don’t work in manufacturing but I believe the concept of waste is valuable in any field.  If you look closely at your day, you’ll likely see that you expend time and energy on things that aren’t really necessary.  If you can reduce or eliminate that waste, you can get more work done in a shorter amount of time and, in essence, create more time.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

Are your tools in the wrong place?  The things you use to do your job should be readily accessible, when and where you need them.  If you find yourself reaching, stretching and searching for things you need, you’re wasting time and energy.

Are you in the wrong place?  If your tasks are repeatedly taking you outside your work area, consider whether your workspace should be closer to the people you support.  Think in terms of process flow rather than department or function.

Are you doing more than is necessary?  By this I mean adding extra administrative steps for no reason – like printing reference copies of things that are readily accessible online.  Save your energy for going above and beyond in ways that actually matter.

Are you reworking things that weren’t done right the first time?  Sometimes things come to us broken and we just fix it as part of our process.  Taking extra time now to address the problem at its source will save you time over the long term.

Are you inconsistent in your processes?  Find the best way to do a repetitive task and stick with it.  The speed and accuracy you gain will free up time to do more glamorous work elsewhere.

Each of these individual examples may seem trivial, but considered together, they add up to a significant amount of wasted time – time that you can be using to do the right kind of work for your career.

 

Six things to do when you don’t know what to do.

Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:  You’re not happy in your current job but aren’t sure what else you’re qualified to do.  You’re not making enough money but you can’t afford to quit.  You want to do something meaningful but you haven’t found your “passion”.

Go back to school?  Start your own business??  Join the circus??? 

If you’ve become paralyzed by indecision, the best strategy may be to stop, take a breath, and come at the problem from a different direction.  Here are some ideas to get you moving:

Dive deep into a new subject.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  Pick something that interests you (work-related or not) and start learning everything you can about it.  Explore it from different perspectives and thru different mediums.  Follow footnotes and interesting asides.  See where it takes you.

Get an activity tracker and start walking.  Feeling aimless drains your energy and you may find yourself in a sedentary rut.  An activity tracker (I like the FitBit) will help you focus on getting up and out.  And walking will clear your mental fog and get you thinking big thoughts.

Declutter.  Our physical space and our mental space are deeply entwined.  Clearing our  material baggage has a magic way of clearing our psyche as well.  Purge ruthlessly and then examine what’s left.  It may hold clues to what really matters in your life.  (Marie Kondo’s book on the magic of tidying up explores this in depth.)

Keep a time log.  “I don’t have time.” is probably the biggest excuse we use for not moving forward.  But you probably have more than you think.  Track everything you do for a week and see where your time is really going.  Then evaluate what you can change to make time for something new.

Start a blog.  Pick something that interests you and start writing about it.  It doesn’t have to be ground breaking stuff, but commit to writing something on the regular.  Explore other blogs and start connecting with people online.  Be open to the process and again, see where it takes you.

Volunteer to work with someone from another country.  Volunteering is good experience in general, but working directly with someone from another culture – tutoring a non-native speaker, for example – is an excellent way to put your own life in perspective.

 

How about you?  Have you ever felt aimless?  How did you deal with it?

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)

Fighting negative self-talk…with water?

monochrome by Steve Johnson

Do you have a phrase that seems to pop into your mind unbidden, like a sort of mental tic?

I do:

“I’m tired.”

Now, I have a toddler, so I actually am tired quite a lot of the time.  But not nearly as often as this phrase runs through my head.

It’s like an internal sigh, when I’ve gotten plenty of rest but my energy is low or my task list seems extra long.  Sometimes, I hear myself say it and I don’t even know why.

It’s a negative habit that impacts my perspective and I need to break it.

So here’s what I’m trying:

When I hear myself think “I’m tired“, I quickly go and chug a glass of water.

The action takes me out of my head and refocuses me elsewhere, so I don’t start to dwell on the negative thought.  And, since tiredness can be a symptom of mild dehydration, drinking water helps improve how my body feels overall.

Mind and body taken care of?  Seems like a win-win.

Let me know what you think.

 

(Photo by Steve Johnson via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

When did overwhelm become a noun?

Mosaic Salsa by brillianthues (cropped)

As in “How to Fight Overwhelm” or “Overcoming the Overwhelm.”

This use of overwhelm as a noun is a pet peeve of mine.  Now, I don’t exactly consider myself the Grammar Police.  I can overlook the occasional your/you’re or there/their mistake.  I can appreciate the creative use of language.  (Think different.)  And I understand that language evolves.  (Because internet.)  So why does this overwhelm thing get under my skin?

Feeling overwhelmed.  Finding a task overwhelming.  These are transitive states.

But when we take overwhelm as a noun, it becomes something outside ourselves.  An entity.  A separate thing that we can’t control.  It implies that taking on more than we can handle is an unavoidable fact of modern life.  Like gridlock.  Or the Kardashians.

But is it?  We certainly have an increasingly large number of demands on our time, energy and attention.  But to overwhelm is an action.  We need to remain clearheaded about who is putting stressful demands on our resources.  Because ultimately, it is a person, and likely, it’s ourselves.

I find this much easier to deal with than some amorphous entity we’ve dubbed Overwhelm.

What do you think?

 

(Photo by brillianthues via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Has your routine become a rut?

Carousel by Dominic Alves

Today I went out to lunch.

With my 2 year old.

For no reason.

It wasn’t a special occasion.  I wasn’t meeting a friend to “catch up”.  I just decided to stop at a restaurant before finishing our errands.  This may not sound that outlandish to some, but for me, it was something of a first.  See, I’m a person of routines.  I like my schedules.  I like having a plan.  And with a kid, this has served me well.  He and I know what to expect of each other.

And it works from a professional perspective, too.  I believe consistent work habits are crucial to accomplishing large tasks.  And a set routine frees one’s mind for important decisions and complex problem solving.

But being efficient only matters if you’re accomplishing something worthwhile.  Something meaningful.  Routines and habits are only half the battle.  You also need inspiration.

You need to mix it up.

Try something new.

Do things that remind you that life isn’t just a series of tasks to be checked off a list.

 

(Photo by Dominic Alves via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Deliberate Practice for Managers.

deliberate practice for managers
Today I am revisiting my very first post here on The Management Maven: Deliberate Practice for Managers.  I circle back to this topic often because I feel it is so important: 

Management, like any skill, needs to be practiced in order to achieve mastery

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Ever wonder what separates Tiger Woods from the average golfer?  Or Jimi Hendrix from the guy in your neighbor’s garage band?  Behold, the power of deliberate practice.  The basic idea is that star performers in music, sports or other fields are not born great; they rarely have some innate mental or physical advantage that average performers do not.  Their achievements are actually the result of hours upon hours of very targeted effort.  Skills are broken down into discrete blocks and those blocks are practiced regularly and with increasing intensity.  The performer seeks feedback and results are diligently recorded, tracked and analyzed for improvement.

How do we use this idea to improve our performance as managers?

Identify a single competency and focus on improving in that area until we achieve mastery.  Unlike perfecting a golf swing or a guitar riff, management may seem too complex to lend itself to task repetition.  But there are core skills, such as presenting information or facilitating a meeting, that can be honed until they become second nature.

Be careful observers of ourselves and others.  As we encounter management challenges, we can reflect on them in an analytical way.  “How did that interaction go?  What did I do well?  What could I have handled differently?”  We can record these observations and use them to gauge our progress over time.

Similarly, is there a peer or superior who is strong in a key management area?  Watch and record what makes them successful.  Reflect on it, analyze it, and try to bring those skills to your own work.  Perhaps that person can be enlisted as a personal mentor or coach.

Utilize “what-if” scenarios to analyze how we would handle challenging management situations.  Business schools often use case studies to help students solve real-world problems.  Using this approach in our management practice allows us to hone best-practices and refine our management philosophy.

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How about you?  How would you apply deliberate practice to management?

 

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Notes To Self: Tracking Your Deliberate Practice

 

How to fight job burn-out.

up in smoke

I have two friends who are struggling in their professional lives.  One loves his job.  One hates her job.  But both are feeling much the same: overwhelmed and burned-out.  They can’t seem to get on top of everything they need to do and they’re starting to feel that work is controlling their lives.  Perhaps you’re familiar with this feeling?

Here’s the advice I pulled together for both of my friends:

Keep work in its place.  Are you on your laptop right up until the time you go to bed?  Do you use your iPhone to check email before you get out of bed in the morning?  Stop that. Now.  I know, you need to do some work at home.  Most people do.  But give yourself some time to wind-down and turn off your work brain before climbing into bed.  It will help you sleep better and be more relaxed.  And yes, I know that occasionally you catch an issue before it escalates by checking email first thing in the morning.  But I’m willing to bet that most days everything can, and will, wait until you get to the office.  Buy an alarm clock so you can leave your phone outside your bedroom.  And buy a watch so you won’t be tempted to check-in every time you check the time.

Make lists.  Having a targeted task list is key to feeling in control of your work load.  Most productivity advice recommends keeping your list short- say 5 or 6 of the most important things you need to accomplish.  Adam Wik from Road to Epic lays out a brilliant strategy for beating apprehension and indecision (the twin demons of procrastination).  Read his post, then start taking time at the end of the day to prep your to-do list for the following day.  Then spend another 5 minutes listing the things you are grateful for.  Okay, I just heard you groan.  I know, I know.  But trust me, whether you love or hate your job, noting the many good things in your life will make work problems seem smaller and more manageable.  And, although it doesn’t always seem like it, time passes swiftly, my friends.  Keeping a gratitude journal will help you mark that passing and remember who you were at this point in time.

Practice mindfulness.  Being overwhelmed at work can make you feel out of control in all the other areas of your life as well.  Take time to center yourself and reclaim your sense of calm.  If a daily guided meditation isn’t your thing, maybe it’s a walk through the woods or listening to Coltrane in the dark.  But as Britt Reints beautifully points out, “the world spins no matter what we do”.  All we can truly control is how we respond to it.  And everything works better when we respond from a place of calm.

How about you?  What advice would you give to a friend struggling with job burn-out?

(Photo by Robert Bieber via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

Be a better manager in 40 minutes a day.

Today

Last week, Sarah Von Bargen’s Every. Damn. Day list got me thinking about my daily benchmarks for productivity.  As a work-from-home mom, my personal list includes things like showering (a surprising luxury) and feeding the kid (yes, he wants to eat EVERY day).  But since you’re here to read about management and not my sporadic personal hygiene, here are four daily tasks to keep you on track, even on days when the rest of your to-do list has gone up in flames.

1.  Tidy up.  I think of organizing my desk as the business equivalent of making my bed every day.  It signals that I’m awake, upright and ready to tackle the day.  Whether you’re a neat freak or someone who thrives in organized chaos, spend 10 minutes every day on administrative tasks – filing, opening mail, approving receipts – to keep them from becoming messy and demoralizing eyesores on your desk.  Doing a little each day keeps recurring tasks from becoming huge projects that you need to fit into your schedule.

2.  Walk around.  Whether you call it “management by walking around” or just stretching your legs, you need to get out from behind your desk and see what the rest of your team and organization is doing.  You can learn a lot from seeing your team function in real-time, so take 10 minutes each day to engage with your team without a set agenda.

3.  Think long-term.  It’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of daily tasks and forget to allow time for working on your long-term goals.  Networking, professional development, deliberate practice – you don’t need to schedule large blocks of time for these things.  Once you’ve mapped out tasks required to reach your long-term goal, you can work your plan in 10 minute increments. You’ll be surprised by how much you will accomplish over the course of a month.

4.  Do nothing.  Spend 10 minutes each day reading, writing or thinking about something non-work related.  And, no, I don’t mean browsing E! Online or Facebook, although sometimes those little brain-breaks are healthy.  Instead, pick a topic you want to learn more about – creativity, happiness, design – and allow yourself a daily 10 minutes to explore it.  Getting your brain out of its normal routine will give you fresh perspective and inspiration when you return to work.

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

~ Anthony Trollope

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

Keep calm and make a list.

to do list

In less than a week, I will be braving a cross-country, red-eye flight with a two year old.

Holyfreakingcow.

This is our first plane trip as a family and our longest extended stay away from home.  To say I’m anxious would be an understatement.  My mind has been racing with what seems like a million things to plan:  Figuring out what to bring on the flight.  Getting the house and dog ready for the sitter.  Anticipating what gear we’ll need once we’re in New York.  My blood pressure rises with every new thought.  But today I finally sat down and made a list.  And, amazingly, I feel much better.

Why do I always forget how calming a list can be?  Until it’s on paper, it’s an infinite string of things.  But once it’s in a list, it’s a plan.  And plans I can handle.

Here are some of my favorite thoughts on to-do lists:

 

freak out

Even my hair was freaking out about this trip.

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