Just Say NO!

Just Say NO!

Almost every productivity expert agrees that one critical way to improve your productivity and focus is to stop taking on every new task and learn how to say, “No.” For me this has been a huge struggle and continues to be a challenge.

I am a people-pleaser and I enjoy helping others. I like to be asked to do things and I thrive on getting things done. I was always happy to take the notes in all our meetings. I would plan the holiday parties and company volunteer events. I would always stop what I was working on whenever anyone asked if I had a minute. But, I also found that I became the “go-to person” whenever anything needed to get done.

I soon realized that I was so busy doing tasks for other people that my most important tasks weren’t getting done or were slowly falling to the bottom of my list. Then, I would end up staying at work longer or staying up late to take care of the things that I needed to get done.

Finding myself in this situation a few too many times made me realize that I would have to get comfortable with saying, “No” to some of the tasks that came my way. I thoughtfully considered how I could confidently decline some tasks.

Now, before just saying, “Yes,” here are the questions I ask myself to decide which tasks I should take on and which ones I should pass on.

IS IT JUST BUSY WORK?

When asked to help with a task, I assess how I will benefit from doing it. If I find that I won’t learn anything or gain some value from doing it, I feel better about turning it down. Knowing that the task will take up my time but won’t add anything certainly makes it a bit easier.

CAN SOMEONE ELSE DO IT?

If someone else can easily handle the requested task or may even benefit from the challenge of taking it on, it’s easier for me to decline and suggest delegating that task to that person. Often, if someone can learn or gain a new skill or experience from doing a task, they will probably be happy to do it.

DOES IT EVEN NEED TO BE DONE?

Many times, we just do things, to do them. I find that if you think critically about how important the task is, you may find that it really doesn’t even need to be done. Is this a must-have or a nice-to-have? What happens if the task doesn’t get done? Or, maybe there’s just one important piece that needs attention but the rest of it can be ignored. Try to only work on the things that matter most.

TRY THIS OUT:  Look over your to-do list. Are there tasks on your list that you really don’t need to be doing? How can you comfortably say, “No?” Try pushing back on the tasks that prevent you from focusing on completing your most important tasks.

Arrive on Time Every Time

Arrive on Time Every Time

This time of year, the kids are heading back to school and everyone’s anxiety seems to increase as the pressure to deal with the madness of the morning rush and arriving to school or work on time returns. How many of us start our mornings with, “Hurry up! We’re going to be late.” With the same morning routine and commute, why is it so hard to be on time?

With all the tools and technologies, we now have, from fancy alarm clocks to GPS apps telling us exactly how long it will take to get to our destination, we really don’t have any excuses to be late. Here are some of the techniques I use to help me be on time.

GRAB AND GO

Make sure you have everything you need to take with you ready to go before it’s time to leave. It’s critical to make sure there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place so you are not hunting for your car keys or looking for lost shoes when it’s time to leave. Find a set place for your keys and create a “mud room” space somewhere for shoes, coats, hats and backpacks. With the kids, I encourage them to gather all of their stuff the night before so they aren’t running around in the morning.

BUFFER TIME

Before you leave, check your map app to see how long it will take to get there and ensure you’re taking the best route. These apps will alert you to traffic issues and will route you around any unforeseen trouble spots. Take the time that is projected and add 20%. For example, if it says it’ll take 10 minutes, give yourself at least 12 minutes to get there. For a 20-minute drive, leave 25 minutes ahead of time.

For meetings, don’t leave your office when the meeting is supposed to begin. Make sure you leave your office with enough time to get to the conference room when the meeting is scheduled to start. If necessary, leave enough time to stop by the restroom or check-in with a co-worker on the way to the meeting.

HAVE A PLAN

If you are going somewhere you haven’t been before, do some research. First, check and review the directions. Find out where to park and how long it may take to walk to your destination from there. Keep the phone number on hand in case you get lost or need more detailed directions.

Don’t worry about being too early. Take the extra few minutes to check email or social media, make a quick phone call or, even better, review and update your to-do list. It’s a great to have some extra time to get something done.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you are late, think about whether any of these tactics would have helped get you there on time. Next time you’re headed out, give it a try and see if it helps. Better yet, keep at it and when it becomes a routine, you’ll quickly find you’re always there on time!

The Myth of Time Management

The Myth of Time Management

So many of us talk about time management. Countless articles have been written and tools have been created to help us manage our time. There are time management gurus, tutorials and classes. Half of our working day is spent juggling our calendars in a never-ending attempt to “manage our time.”

But, what if we cannot manage time? Consider that this may just be a completely useless exercise. If you think about it, no matter what we do, time will always continue to tick forward. We cannot rewind it and we cannot fast forward it. It just is and just continues according to the plan – each second, every minute, the next hour and then into the next day.

That said, it should be obvious that time itself cannot be managed. I would propose that instead we rethink what we’re trying to “manage” and reorient our focus to the things that we can and do control:  our priorities, energy and attention.

PRIORITIES

Each day we all have more to do than we can handle. We know what needs to get done and we constantly make choices about what’s most important and what needs to be prioritized. Setting clear and deliberate priorities is the single most critical factor driving our productivity and future success. We can and do control how we spend our time even if we cannot control time itself.

ENERGY

We can also decide how to spend our energy. Energy is finite and to optimize output, it’s imperative that we focus our efforts and our energy on the most important priorities. This is harder to do than it seems these days due to the countless distractions that get in our way. So often, we expend more of our energy on the things that are seemingly urgent but not all that important.

ATTENTION

Focus seems to be a lost art especially for me. With countless dings, pings, alerts and notifications, it’s virtually impossible to focus on any one thing for an extended period. I personally struggle with this constantly. Research has shown that multi-tasking is not possible and simply does not work. To be most productive it behooves us to focus our full and complete attention on one task at a time. I have found that the Pomodoro technique works best for me since it forces me to focus for a set amount of time and reward myself with a break.

TRY THIS OUT: Do you spend a lot of time trying to manage your time? Does it work for you? Do you spend any time managing your priorities, energy and attention? If not, pick one and try to focus on it for a day or two. Do you find that you’re more productive?

The Time Paradox

The Time Paradox

We’ve all heard it and said it ourselves many times: “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.” And, through my analysis over the past year, I have found that this is indeed the case. Not having enough time is not just a feeling, but an actual reality that we all face every day.

In my research on productivity, I consistently find that the most productive people don’t just work hard but they take care of themselves as well. So, I decided to experiment with my time each day to try to find the optimal use of every hour but, I haven’t been able to figure it out. Why not? Because there simply are not enough hours in the day.

It’s a basic and very simple math problem. Let’s start by looking at the two “big rocks” which basically account for two thirds of your day right off the bat.

  • 8 hours for a good night’s sleep
  • 8 hours at work

Next, let’s add in the necessary things that we just must do every day:

  • 5 hours to prepare and eat three meals
  • 1 hour to get ready
  • 1 hour to commute
  • 30 minutes for household activities

That leaves us with less than 4 hours to take care of everything else that we should be doing to be healthy and productive including the following:

  • 1 hour to exercise
  • 1 hour to spend with family
  • 1 hour to read
  • 30 minutes for mindfulness (meditation, yoga or journaling, etc.)

But now there’s no time left for the following fun activities which we would rather and often do spend our time doing including:

  • Watching TV
  • Checking Social Media
  • Entertaining
  • Shopping
  • Playing Games or Sports

So, to get it all done, we skimp on the amount of sleep we get, we avoid taking mental breaks and limit exercising to just a few times a week. To make time for the things we like to do, we neglect the things we should be doing simply because there are not enough hours in the day.

Here’s a visual breakdown of how we should ideally spend our time compared to how we end up spending our time:

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 2.04.44 PM

One of my favorite TV shows is “24” and each season they save the world in 24 hours because they don’t sleep, eat, rest, socialize or even go to the bathroom! How’s that for being productive?

TRY THIS OUT: For the next few days track how you spend each hour of your day. How does it compare to the ideal breakdown of time? What are you spending more time on than you should and what are you not doing that you need to find time to do? Are there ways to adjust your schedule to find that optimal balance?

Making Meetings Work Again

Making Meetings Work Again

I hate meetings. There, I said it. It’s out there. Mostly I hate meetings because the vast majority are a simple and utter waste of everyone’s time. In companies across the country and around the world, employees attend 62 meetings per month and at least half of those meetings are considered “time wasted.” Employees spend hours and hours in meeting rooms talking and discussing without a clear objective. Nobody knows why they are there, what they are supposed to do and what should happen after the meeting – except to have yet another meeting.

Meetings are currently one of the most unproductive elements of our day but they don’t have to be. With some simple tweaks and some discipline, meetings can be quite efficient and effective and actually even quite satisfying.  Here’s how you can make your meetings work again:

  • Schedule meetings in advance and think critically about the amount of time that’s needed. All meetings do not need to be an hour. Most can be handled in 15-30 minutes.
  • Be thoughtful about who is invited to attend and what their specific role is in the meeting. Try hard to limit the number of attendees and remember you only need to invite one person to represent each department or group.
  • Set a clear objective for the meeting. Identify and communicate the specific goal and expected outcome of the meeting.
  • Outline an agenda including topics with time allocations and send it to meeting participants in advance so they are prepared.
  • Start meetings on time and end 5-10 minutes early to allow people to regroup and get to their next meeting on time.
  • Identify a record keeper to take notes, document decisions and record action items which should be assigned to specific people with deadlines.
  • Ask participants to put away their phones and laptops for the duration of the meeting or if they have something more pressing to take care of they should feel free to leave the meeting and catch up through the meeting notes.
  • Ensure the discussion and all comments are on topic and relevant. If other topics arise, suggest scheduling a separate time to discuss that and encourage everyone to get back to the topic at hand by reminding them of the objective.
  • As soon as the meeting ends, add any action items you may have been assigned to your to-do list so you don’t forget about them.
  • Send meeting notes to meeting participants within 24 hours of the meeting including key decisions, action items and next steps.

TRY THIS OUT: Before you schedule your next meeting, stop and review this list. Pick three of these things to implement and see how it works and what reaction you get. Keep what works and throw out what doesn’t. Then pick three more to test for your next meeting. You can be a leader in your organization by leading effective meetings.

Double or Nothing

Double or Nothing

I was trying to schedule a meeting with a very busy working mother who was very concerned about and reluctant to commit to a meeting time. After digging in further, I found out that her career often required last minute requests with quick turnarounds and as a result, she didn’t feel like she had control of her schedule. She shared that often she would avoid scheduling meetings or appointments for fear of letting someone down if she couldn’t make it or had to cancel at the last meeting. This extended into her social life as well.

More often than not for most of us, life happens and things get in the way of our plans and impact our scheduled plans. While it’s critical to plan and schedule your time to maximize productivity, the reality is that things change and schedules have to be adjusted. In fact, sometimes we need to plan for that.

One handy trick that I’ve used for years and has saved me many times is to “double book.” It’s so simple. If something needs to get done, schedule it into your day. And, if it’s really important, schedule it again at another time. Yes, just go ahead and book two times to ensure that if something comes up and disrupts the first window, you already have a backup plan in place.

This works for exercising as well. If you really want to make sure that you get out to the gym or for a run, schedule time to do it. And then find a second time to make sure if you miss the first window, you still have time to get it done.

It’s a bit more challenging but you can do this for meetings as well. First, set expectations with the meeting participant that your schedule often gets disrupted with urgent, last-minute requests but meeting with him/her is really important to you so you would like to book two meeting times in case the first one falls through. Nobody has ever turned this down or questioned it. In fact, most are pretty open to it and think it’s a pretty smart idea.

And there’s also an added bonus benefit. When you do get your task done or meeting in during the first scheduled spot, then your second one opens up some valuable time on your calendar to do something else or have some fun. It’s always nice to delete an appointment and see some unexpected time open up in my day.

TRY THIS OUT: Pick something that you really need to get done this week. Schedule time for it and then schedule another time later in the week to make sure it gets done. You win either by having a backup plan or by opening up extra time on your calendar.

Get More From Your Calendar

Get More From Your Calendar

Last month, my daughter I went on a college tour in New England. In six days, we visited five different schools in seven states. We stayed in four different hotels and attended schedule college information sessions, campus tours and met with coaches. And, I used my calendar to keep track of it all.

Most of us consistently use Outlook, Google or iCal to schedule and keep track of our business meetings. These tools are great for checking schedules, finding meeting rooms and getting group meetings on calendars. But, they can also be very effective in helping you manage your own time and if used properly can actually help you be more efficient and productive.

Here are some ways you can get more value out of your calendaring tool:

INCLUDE THE WHERE

Most calendaring tools have a field for “Where.” Most often this is the conference room. However, for off-site meetings or conference calls, use this field to include the full address of the meeting location for quick access to driving directions or conference call dial-in information so you don’t have to hunt for it.

ENTER CONTACT INFORMATION

Take an extra minute to add in phone numbers and email addresses of meeting attendees in the notes section in case you are running late and need to inform someone. This is especially helpful when you’re stuck in traffic and are unable to dig to find contact information. This also comes in handy if you are waiting for someone and want to find out where they are.

ACCOUNT FOR TRAVEL TIME

If the meeting is off-site at another location, block time before and after the meeting for travel. This will ensure that you or someone else doesn’t book something else at the same time you need to get to the meeting. Allow for more time than you think you need. If you get there early, you can use the extra time to reply to a text, quickly check emails, or browse your social networks.

ATTACH AN AGENDA

Most tools allow you to include attachments. Use this feature to attach the agenda so you’ll know what will be discussed. You can also attach any related notes or a list of questions so you can easily access them during the meeting and make the most of the meeting time.

TRY THIS OUT: Take a look at your calendar for the week ahead. What additional information can be added to your meeting appointments now to make your life easier later? Have you accounted for travel times? Check to see what might be missing from your calendar that you can go ahead and schedule in to make sure it gets done.