CLEAR YOUR SPACE…BE MORE PRODUCTIVE

mystery box
mystery box

A friend shared a blog posted with some quick easy organizing tips this morning and that got me thinking about productivity and organizing.  I try to keep a productivity voice to my blog – it’s what I do and who I am.  But, sometimes good old fashion SPACE CLEARING is the one thing you need to do to be most productive.  Everything I talk about is a cross between getting organized and being more productive – they are not separate, getting organized is what you do to make yourself more productive.  So in honor of Jodi’s post, here are a few tips to help you clear some space.

A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING: The greatest benefit of having a place for everything is NOT that you know where to find something when you need it (though that is lovely), it’s so you have a place to put things so they are not sitting around cluttering up your physical or emotional space.  I always think more clearly when my space is clear and it only takes a moment to put things in their place.  Having THE place is the secret.  Here’s an example:

  • Unattached or Unidentified Cords and Wires – everyone has them.  My solution is to create a MYSTERY CORDS and WIRES BOX.  When I’m looking for a cord or wire I know exactly where to go look.  But the best part is that cords don’t clutter my surfaces, if I have one I toss it in the box.

LESS IS MORE: Seriously it is.  When you have too much stuff you can’t see what’s important.  If you leave everything out so you can find it you won’t really be able to find anything.  The #1 tip for keeping stuff under control is to have less.  It’s less to take care of, less to manage, less to clean.  And the reality is you don’t NEED everything you think you need.  We keep stuff to make ourselves feel better and it actually makes us feel worse.

  • I challenge you to an experiment. Pick one thing today (pens, Tupperware, magazines, business cards) and do a purge.  Divide them into 3 piles – love, don’t need and not sure.  Donate the “don’t needs”, put back the “loves,” and tuck the “not-sures” out of the way for access later just in case.  Let me know if it’s not easier.

START WITH A CLEAN SLATE: When you start fresh it’s so much easier to make good choices.  Start planning your week with a fresh to-do list, start working for the day with a clear desk surface, start cooking dinner with a clean kitchen, start figuring out what you need for your fall wardrobe by organizing your closet.  Leaving old stuff just clutters everything up.  Clear your space and you WILL be more productive.

Drive Your Important Work with a Good Delegation System and Evernote

Done with Evernote
Done with Evernote

Delegation is sharing some of your responsibilities with the people that work with you.  The leader who is not delegating is trying to do it all, and we know how well that works out… There is only one of you and your job isn’t to do everything, it’s to drive the important work.

Just as setting priorities for ourselves is critical to goal achievement, helping our team learn to set priorities is critical too (this works at work, at home and in volunteer settings.)

Delegating priority tasks is great, but without follow up and accountability it almost seems that delegating is more trouble than it’s worth.  However, when done well it’s a game changer. All of a sudden you are free to drive forward.

A good delegation system has the following components:

  1. Delegate clearly – specifically identify the what, the how and the when
  2. Confirm understanding – ask the assignee to repeat back the assignment to ensure that you’ve been as clear as you need to be
  3. Be available – your job is now to mentor and support.  If there are questions, the assignee needs to feel safe coming to you for direction
  4. Follow up – if you don’t hold the assignee and YOURSELF accountable the assignment will not make it to the top of anyone’s priority list.

My accountability partner of choice for delegating is Evernote.  Evernote has some great features that makes it an ideal follow-up tool:

  • Working from your computer you can add a table to an Evernote.
  • The check box helps you keep current on completion status
  • You can add to and change your list from your computer, tablet or smartphone
  • You can add new tasks to the top or insert rows and columns as needed
  • You can create a completed tasks table or simply delete them.
  • You can create multiple notes for different people on your team and use this as your guide each time you meet with them.

evernote task list

Nothing beats follow-up for motivating completion of a delegated task.  Let Evernote help.

Vacations + Boundaries + Time off = > Productivity

August Calendar

It’s August and it’s been one heck of a year, not just for me but for so many friends, colleagues, and clients. Yet Tuesday morning beckons and I know that means it is time to write my blog post for the week.  Most of the time the words just pour onto the page.  Unlike some bloggers I don’t pre-write, my posts are inspired by my clients, my week, and my life.

Except today I’m stuck.  Maybe it’s how sad I am about the loss of Robin Williams.  Maybe it is because both my children are leaving for college on Saturday (sad, excited and super busy all at the same time), maybe it is because I need a vacation. I think that’s it. I have been reading all these great articles about how productivity improves with down time. This is what I’ve picked up:

  • Take true vacations: “If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations – true vacations without work – and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s biggest problems. (New York Times article on creative thought: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/opinion/sunday/hit-the-reset-button-in-your-brain.html?smid=fb-share)
  • Create and respect boundaries. “You cannot achieve your balance if you don’t respect the boundaries you have put in place. It will be hard in the beginning but you need to stick with it so you develop a routine and drive a culture and lifestyle of predictability. You will find that there is also something else you can do. There is always another email to reply to or a problem to work, but you need to PERSONALLY respect your boundaries. If you don’t then you can’t expect others to respect them.” (Entrepreneur Magazine article on Work-Life Balance: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/235427)
  • Time off improves productivity: “The Greeks are some of the most hardworking in the OECD, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But German productivity is about 70% higher.”  (Economist Magazine article: http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/09/working-hours)

So, my productivity tip for the week is to take some down time.  Happy August, vacation, and napping.  Talk to you next week – then it’s VACATION TIME!

MY TOP 5 REASONS EVERNOTE IS MY NOTE TAKING TOOL OF CHOICE

Evernote Implementation Plan
Evernote Implementation Plan

The last six weeks have been crazy for me.  I’ve attended conferences, workshops, board meetings, college orientations, coaching sessions, mastermind groups, held client intakes and more.  The result of which, of course, are tons of notes.  But the good news?  I have no piles of papers. NONE! How did I do it?  I used Evernote for EVERYTHING.

I’ve written about Evernote before but I’ve been observing you users out there and know that many of you still haven’t taken the step to make Evernote your note taking tool of choice.  Here is why it works for me:

EVERNOTE Is Always with Me – regardless if I have my phone, my iPad or my laptop I have my (cloud based) EVERNOTE.

EVERNOTE is Easy – regardless if you have a Mac or PC, Android or iPhone (or other), Tablet or iPad, you can download Evernote for free. If I run out of storage space I can buy more, but I understand that takes a really long time.  I’ve been using Evernote for years, have over 350 notes (and some are very long notes) and have 80% of the free storage still available.

EVERNOTE is searchable – any word, any phrase, any letter combination.  Imagine having 500 notes and to find something all you have to do is type a word or phrase and it pops up instantly.  That is what Evernote does.

EVERNOTE is organizable – when I make my notes I make them work for me.  I can highlight, bold, and make different words different sizes, fonts and colors.  However my most favorite is the action box  that I can drop into my document whenever I want.

evernote box uncheckedI use it at the top of each note for actions I must take.  That way when I get home I know what I need to do. And what is coolest?  When I’ve completed the action I can check it off like this:

Start using evernote today

EVERNOTE is quickly retrievable – I can keep ongoing lists and add to them is a split second.

And my top favorite reason:  I HAVE NO PAPER PILES!

If you haven’t tried EVERNOTE yet, you should.  If you want help, call or email me to schedule an Evernote session (either live or via phone/Skype) and I can get you up to speed quickly.

How to Conquer Paper Clutter – Think Before You Print

Printer Icon
Think Before You Print

Paper overwhelm is one of the most commonly voiced productivity concerns I hear.  There is just too much. There are many was of managing paper but today we are going to focus on printing less.  The best thing you can do is think before you print.

Thinking before printing not only helps the environment but helps you be more productive by reducing the quantity of stuff you have to plow through to find the stuff that matters most.  What can you do instead of printing?

  • Emails: Learn to use the search function.  All email programs today have excellent search functions.  While my preference is to file emails logically, even if you leave them all in your inbox you can still search for what you need when you need it.  It is actually easier to find a specific email on your computer than in various unfiled piles in your office.
  • Articles: If you haven’t yet downloaded Evernote do so today.  It’s free and crosses platforms – that means you can use it on your phone, tablet, and Mac/PC.  Evernote also has a fabulous search function so you can find what you are looking for in a heartbeat.  You can copy and paste the article into Evernote, you can save links in Evernote, and you can clip pictures into Evernote.  It’s much more efficient to find what you are looking for in Evernote than in the various piles in your office
  • Drafts:  Do you need to print and keep every draft of a project you are working on? If in fact you need to print, only keep the most current or two most current.  Printing and keeping multiple copies of the same thing is both confusing and wasteful.

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?”

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.

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/.

 

AN ELEPHANT NEVER FORGETS… AND NEITHER DOES EVERNOTE

EVERNOTE
EVERNOTE

 

Imagine 1000 sticky notes that are organized and available at the click of a mouse.  Meet Evernote.  Evernote is a cloud based application that can be accessed from just about anywhere – your PC, your Mac, your iPhone, your iPad and/or your Android phone.  And it’s FREE!  Go to www.evernote.com and download it.  Play with it.  Basically, all you need to know to get started is that you make a note – give it a title and Evernote saves it.  Then when you want to find it you can search on any word in the note and it will pull it up for you.  Later, when you get more comfortable with it, you can take pictures into your notes, cut and paste links and photos into your notes, and even do voice to text input.  Here are some ideas about how I use mine:

  • Favorite lists:  books to read, restaurants to go to (each city has its own note), wines to try, nail polish colors I like
  • Numbers: Frequent Flyer Numbers, Insurance numbers, Clothing/Shoe sizes
  • Maps: Pictures of how to get from point to point
  • Things to Buy: Pictures of my odd size light bulb for my desk or the humidifier filter I only have to buy once a year
  • Lists of names: friend’s kids/ grandkids/ husbands names, etc.
  • Notes from meetings
  • Summary notes from articles or books
  • Absolutely anything that is on scrap of paper that can now be placed into a sortable manageable system

Evernote is really a simple system to use.  Do yourself a favor and try it today.

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