The One Most Important Thing to Do to Get Your Most Important Work Done

Weekly Focus Session
Weekly Focus Session

 

If there was one thing you could do to get your most important work done will you do it?  It will take an hour or two every week and it will drive your productivity levels through the roof.  It’s what I call my Weekly Focus Session.  By looking at the work you have to do, comparing it to your goals and prioritizing what’s most important, you are setting yourself up for a most effective week.  In a nut shell here is the process:

1. Block out time each week.  Start with 2 hours.  As time goes on and you get into the rhythm it will probably take only an hour – sometimes less.  Put the two hours on your calendar.  If something comes up in that time slot simply move the Focus session to another open two hour slot.  I like scheduling my Focus session late Friday afternoon.  It helps me relax over the weekend, though some clients like to do it on Saturday morning, Monday morning, or mid-week.

2. Take EVERYTHING that is laying around and put it into ONE BIG PILE.

3. Review your goals – both long term and short term.  I like to keep them posted nearby so that it’s easy to reference.

4. Process the pile – picking up one item at a time  and decide:

  • Do I need to do it?  Does it help me reach my goals?  If no, let it go (recycle, shred or file for future reference).
  • If Yes, ask yourself: how important is it that it gets done?  Put the task associated with the paper on your to do list sectioned by level of priority (Critical, Hot, Sooner or Later.)   Put the paper in an appropriate file or pile so you can find it when you need it.
  • Pick up the next item and repeat.

5. When you are at the end of the ONE BIG PILE you are done.  And you will have a very clear picture of what you need to focus on for the upcoming week.

How to Improve Productivity in 2 Minutes

2 Minutes
2 Minutes

Productivity Guru David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule is simple – If you can do it in two minutes or less do it now.  It’s a great concept for helping you move through the backlog of paper, tasks to-do and sticky notes laying around.  Basically, his premise is that it’s going to take the same amount of time to put it on your to-do list or into your task management system then it will take to do it, so just stop and get it done.  I do like this tactic and employ it often as I do my weekly review (next week I’ll explain how I manage this process), however don’t take “two-minutes” literally:  Here are some variations to consider:

  • “Hold” time doesn’t count:  If there are calls you need to make that require you to wait on hold, but the conversation will only take a few minutes, make it now.  Put the phone on speaker and continue on with your processing.  This is actually a great use of time – processing paper is comprised of micro-decisions and stopping to take the call won’t require much re-ramp-up time.
  • 3 or 4 or maybe even 5 minutes is OK:  Remember, the concept is that it will take more time to anchor it to a future action than it will to do the task.  The number of minutes is much less significant than the concept.  Empower yourself to use your best judgment.
  • OMG: When you find something that it critical and you just have to do it now (and this does happen) it is ok to stop and do it ONLY WHEN YOU HAVE TIME TO FINISH THE WEEKLY REVIEW.  I believe that investing in this hour or two weekly is the one most important thing you can do to improve your productivity.  Taking the time to organize papers prevents you from finding OMG’s and is really the only thing short of a full time administrative assistant that can help you get your most important work done.
  • JUST Don’t Do It: I have yet to meet a client (or colleague for that matter) that can do everything.  EVERYTHING CAN’T BE IMPORTANT.  As you are evaluating next steps (do it now, put it on my list, etc.) consider “not doing it at all” as a very viable option.  If you are spending your time doing less important work at the expense of the most important work you are making a poor leadership decision.  Ask yourself – “What would happen if I just didn’t do it?”

The Need for Order Continuum

Ever wonder why some people notice clutter and others don’t?  Have you been curious about why some people are comfortable going down a list while others prefer to hop around?  The answer is related to who they are, not to what they chose.

In the Coaching world, we look at needs and values to help our clients create environments in which they can be most successful.  Needs can include things such as Adventure, Fame, Fellowship, Freedom, Happiness, Health, Love, Power and ORDER.  Just like some people NEED adventure, others NEED order.

Another powerful Coaching tool is self-observation.  Have you ever observed yourself in terms of NEED FOR ORDER?  Awareness around its importance can be a wonderful clue to creating the environment in which you are most at ease.  With the degree of stress that most people feel, whatever can be done to create a less stressful/more productive environment should be prioritized.  Where do you fall on the Need for Order Continuum?

Need for Order
THE NEED FOR ORDER CONTINUUM

The first step is awareness.  The second step is thinking about what you can do to change your environment.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.  Please leave a reply on my blog at http://www.ellenfaye.com/blog/.

 

Dealing with Perfectionism

A+

The goal of getting organized and improving productivity is not to be perfect.  It is to make life easier and more enjoyable and fulfilling.  Complex systems are rarely the answer.  The best solutions are often the simplest.  Over complicated systems most often cannot be maintained.  More often than not, well done is good enough.

There are times that being “perfect” is important; in a client proposal, or on a resume, or in a white paper for your boss.  But equally, there are times that you don’t have to be so perfect – I’m not talking about spelling errors, or typos – I’m talking about thoroughness and precision.
When you strive for perfection your time investment is maxed out.  Where can you step back and save a bit of time and energy?  Here are my favorites:

  • Email – ask yourself, do I have to include that piece of information.  The briefer and more to the point your email is the faster it takes to write it and the easier it will be for the person receiving it to send you a prompt response
  • Planning your day – write out the top 5 things (or 3, or 7) you wish to accomplish.  Prioritize them by writing numbers next to each task – 1 for the most important, etc.  Just do it – but don’t spend a lot of time on this task – it will change anyway because you’ll never be able to anticipate the nuances of each day.  It’s the act of  planning that keeps you focused, not the exact plan itself
  • Drop the Penny – round up, it always balances out and it saves such silliness.  Imagine how many payroll dollars would be saved if employees didn’t have to count pennies.  Their impact is insignificant (unless of course you have a million of them – but that’s not the point!)

If you’re a perfectionist, try an experiment.  Pick one thing today and try to be a little less perfect.

Get a Handle on Mail and Beat Mail Obligation

Magazines That Matter
Magazines That Matter

As I was sorting through 5 days of mail yesterday (I was out of town) I exclaimed “I’m never subscribing to another magazine again.”  For years when I’ve spoken to groups we’ve discussed why we feel so obligated to read things we didn’t ask for.  And last night I realized I’ve been doing the same thing.  My Harvard Business Review and Cooking Light barely get open, yet I read the local magazines that are sent, and I read the grocery store flyers, and I look at the catalogs that come.  YES – My casual reading time is being spent on the things that don’t matter, and the things that do matter aren’t getting any attention.

I need a new system!  Here it is:

  • Instead of putting my favorite reading aside (nightstand, reading nook) where I never really read, I’ll move it to the places that I’m likely to pick up a magazine (kitchen table, family room, etc.)
  • Instead of keeping the reading that doesn’t matter I’ll toss that in recycling right away
  • Instead of spending 15 minutes reading the mail I didn’t ask for, I’ll spend that same 15 minutes reading what I’ve chosen is important

The truth is I do most of my reading on my computer.  My Facebook and LinkedIn feed seems to bring me relevant and interesting articles daily.  That seems manageable and digestible.  I really don’t want to give up all my magazines, but if I want to be sure the ones I value can be looked at, then I best be ruthless with the ones I don’t.

 

Easy Time Management Strategies that Work

On screen Timers
On screen Timers

Time management is such a funny phrase.  We all banter it about like we understand it, but really what does it mean?  My definition of Time Management is getting done what you have to do so there is time to do what you want to do. There is such a wealth of information and tools to help manage your time – but as with everything I espouse IF IT’S NOT EASY, IT’S TOO HARD.

What works?  Here are some simple strategies you can implement starting now:

  • Set meetings with start and end times:  When setting appointments, meetings and networking don’t just set a start time SET AN END TIME.  If I’ve budgeted an hour for a coffee meeting and the person I’m meeting budgets two than one of us is going to be disappointed.  When setting meetings make it clear: “I’ve got us down from 1pm to 2pm”
  • Stay in control of interruptions: You don’t have to answer the phone when it rings – but if it is someone you want to talk to there are techniques that you can use that will keep you from getting off course.  State up front how much time you have (or want to invest): “I’ve got 20 minutes” 
  • Give your work a time budget.  Just like you know how much money you’ll spend for an item ($18 entrée ok…$38 entrée too much) think about how much time is reasonable to spend on a specific task (1 hour ok…3 hours too much).  If I have deemed a project to be worth one hours’ worth of time not only will I set a timer for an hour to cue me to stop, but I’ll set another for 45 minutes, so I know when I have 15 minutes left.  Always ask yourself “how much time is this task worth?”

When determining your time commitment keep in mind Pareto’s Principal (the 80/20 guy I talk about all the time.) You will accomplish 80% of your work in 20% of the time.  That means if you meet someone for coffee/lunch/networking you’ll have held the most important parts of the conversation in the first hour, anything additional contributes minimally.

Organized Enough? Time – Energy – Peace of Mind

Organized Enough?
Organized Enough?

The only reason to get organized is to get something you want but don’t have.  I’m sure you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but have you ever thought about this from an organizational perspective.  Getting organized and being more productive is a direct way to satisfy a basic human need.

But how do you motivate yourself to GET ORGANIZED?

Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want:

  • Don’t say: I can never find anything
  • Do say: I want to be able to find what I need it when I need it

Understand the benefits of getting organized:

  • Your most important work gets done
  • You waste less time looking for things you know you have but can’t find
  • You spend less money buying things you know you already have
  • You have peace of mind and are able to enjoy life more

Define “organized” on your own terms:

  • Organized doesn’t mean pristine or perfect
  • Organized means you can find what you need when you need it
  • Let go of perfection and go for “organized enough”

My motivation to be organized is Peace of Mind What’s yours?

The Holding Zone

The Holding  Zone
The Holding Zone

On the quest to minimize paper I will share with you a tip that helps me a lot.  I have a designated holding zone.  This is where I put things that I don’t need now, but am not quite ready to do something with or get rid of.

Remembering the proven statistic that 80-85% of all papers put into files are never referenced again it helps to explain the purpose of the Holding Zone.  Think of it as a step on the path to the recycle bin, but with the opportunity to retrieve it if need be.  When I do my weekly office organizing session I work to make all the paper go away.  But there are always a few things that I am not quite ready to toss and don’t want to put into my reference files or my action system.  My solution is to pop them right into my holding zone.

It is important to go through the holding zone ever 2 or 3 months to see what can be moved out (filed, recycled or act on) so this area remains functional, otherwise you’ll just end up with an out-of-control mess.  (To get into the habit, I recommend you calendar “process holding zone” every other month.)

The holding zone can be a file, a bin, a basket or a level of a letter tray.  I use a letter tray because that’s easy for me.  What kinds of things do I have in my holding zone? Here’s a sampling:

  • The certificate for the two hours of tech support I won at the silent auction
  • Notes from a project that I completed but want to keep around for a bit just in case
  • A sample of a marketing campaign from a local theater that I liked and might want to do something with
  • An idea for a product that I might want to do something with

Once again, remember that if the system isn’t easy, it’s too hard.  Find an out of the way yet accessible place and set up your holding zone today.

 

Get on Top of Your Paper Piles

Paper Piles
Paper Piles

If you follow my blog or get my weekly tip you’ll know we’ve talked about the importance of scheduling time to go through your papers on a weekly basis.  Today I’ll share with you the most important tip to process your papers most effectively.

The Secret:  Each time you pick up a piece of paper during your paper processing session ask yourself:

How can I make this piece of paper go away?

Could you:

  • Put the contact information into your smartphone – you’ll be able to find it when you need it and you won’t have to keep the card or scrap of paper
  • Put the events on your calendar including details – you will know you have it scheduled and you won’t have to keep the flyer
  • Make an Evernote – if you have a note with something you need to remember – put it where you can find it.  As we talked about last week, EVERNOTE is a fabulous application that crosses platforms and can be accessed from your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
  • Put a corresponding to-do on your task list and place the paper in your “working on now” pile
  • And then there is always file, shred, and recycle.

When you reduce the paper in your office your productivity soars.  The more paper you eliminate the easier each future weekly processing session becomes.  Remember to ALWAYS ask yourself “How can I make this piece of paper go away?”

How do you make your paper go away?  Please share @ http://www.ellenfaye.com/blog/.

 

Top Tips for Taming Tax Day

tax drawer
tax drawer

Once again Tax Day has come and gone.  For me it’s about 8 focused hours.  I sit down to prep, our CPA Steve appears at our door, we work together for a couple hours, he leaves…we are done!  We’ve had this routine for years.  Steve always chuckles and tells me I’m his most organized clients.  The secret – it’s not what I do that day, it’s the little things I do all year long.  Here are my top tips for taming tax day:

  1. The Annual Check Register – I don’t know many people that keep check registers these days.  Most everyone just counts on their on-line balance.  But I still do.  And I start a new register on January 1st each year.  That way, when it’s tax time I have many answers all in one place, my auto-pays, donation checks I may have missed, household expenses, medical bills – most of the things I pay by check I need when I pay my taxes.  On Tax Day I go through my register and it helps me to prepare my Medical, Donation and Household expense totals.
  2. Dedicated ONE Place for Tax Receipts – As you walk in the backdoor of my home I’ve created a command center.  It is the designated spot for mail, and each family member has a cubby.  There are also a couple of shelves for general use.  On one of those shelves I have a 3 drawer bin.  One of those drawers is labeled taxes.  During the course of the year any and everything I need for taxes goes in that drawer.  Goodwill receipts, on-line donation receipts, medical bill receipts, prescription receipts, and anything else relevant.  On January 1st I empty it out and put it in an envelope for totaling on tax day.
  3. Pull Records on January 1 (or 2) – Each year I start my records fresh on January 1st.  That way last year and this year are never comingled.  I put all of the prior year’s records into a Bankers Box that gets stored under my desk.  After Tax Day the box goes into storage in my basement.  I most comfortable keeping 7 years of boxes (ask your tax advisor what’s best for you).  Steve left last night at 7pm.  My box went to the basement as he walked out the door.  I pulled the box that was 8 years old and it will go off to my towns next free shredding day.
  4. Dedicate One Spot for Year End Tax Statements – Regardless of what it is, if we need it to do our taxes it goes in one spot.  That way we have everything we need when we need it.
  5. Tell your Teenagers What a W-2 is – This is the 2nd year in a row that we couldn’t finish our taxes 100%.  We were missing one thing.  Last year it was our older son’s W-2.  This year, our younger sons W-2.  If we don’t tell them what it is and that they need to give it to us we don’t have it.  Bummer.

(In New Jersey where I live the % deductible for medical is substantially less than the Federal %.  Ask your tax preparer about your states limit.  It is definitely worth it for me to track this.  It may or may not be or you.)

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