The Productive Leader Blog
Improving Leadership Effectiveness One Task at a Time
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The Productive Leader Blog

email

We seem to live in a world of 2 email camps:

  • NEVER look at your email first thing in the morning
  • ALWAYS look at your email first thing in the morning

The “NEVERS” believe that if you get caught up in email minutia you will not get your most important work.

The “ALWAYS” believe that if you don’t know what’s lurking and clear up the “must-dos” than you may miss something important.

I suspect that some of this has to do with the type of work you do and the kind of responsibilities you have.  For those that work globally, email may in fact be your primary means of communication.  For those of us in the service business we communicate with our clients via email and I personally, could NEVER not be an “ALWAYS.”

HOWEVER, it isn’t this cut and dry.  It isn’t about ALWAYS or NEVER.  Like everything, the answer lies in the grey zone.  The question is: What systems can be put in place to ensure that email doesn’t take over your life?  I’ve tried a lot of different things, and I’ve worked with my clients to try different things.  As with ALL productivity systems, there is no such thing as one size fits all, and no one system ALWAYS works for the same person ALL the time.  Different circumstances require different systems.  Here are a few you may want to consider:

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work play

work before play???

I don’t know if you were raised like I was, but when was little I was taught to finish my work before I played.  It made sense in to finish my homework before I went out to play.  It made sense to study for a test or clean my room before my friends came over.  It made sense then.

But does it make sense now?  Will we EVER be done with our work?  I don’t think so.  As a business professional, homeowner, and mom I could work 72 hours a day and still not be done.  In this day and age of information overload and cutting budgets we are all trying to fit the work of 3 or 4 people into one.  It’s time for a shift.

It’s hard to up your game when you’re burned out and overwhelmed. It’s hard to think clearly and productively when you don’t have the bandwidth.  Our short term memories are finite and sometimes there is just no more room.  If you don’t take time to care for yourself it will take longer to get your important work done.  As Abe Lincoln said “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.”

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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.

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Printer Icon

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.

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.

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 okay 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?”