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Productivity Consulting and Leadership Coaching for business and nonprofits - get your most important work done. Collaborating with leaders and their teams to become more strategic, focused and productive. Leadership and Board Coaching, Strategic Planning Facilitation, Productivity Coaching and Consulting, Professional Speaker.
Productivity Coach, Productivity Consultant, Leadership Coach, Executive Coach, Business Consulting, personal productivity, time management, nonprofit, board coach, collaboration, strategic planning, facilitation, change management, leading productive teams, project planning, board development, volunteer engagement, association management, workplace productivity, executive director.
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system Tag

improve efficiency

When I think of improving efficiency  I think of when I was in college and learned about the time and motion studies of the 1950’s.  I envision Lucy and Ethel wrapping chocolate on the production line.  And then I think that no one wants to live life with so much constraint that we are more machine than human.  However, so many of my clients tell me they want to be more efficient.

I am a big fan of putting rote tasks on autopilot so that our energy can be put towards creative process and enjoying life. I am embarrassed to tell you this, (but will because perhaps it might help,) but I’m always looking at how to do things in the fewest steps.

I will exemplify this with a task we all do – emptying the dishwasher. I’ve observed many people empty the dishwasher – I do it differently.  And I typically get it done in the time it takes to brew a couple cups of coffee.

  1. I work from the bottom up so that if water spills out of something it’s not going to get anything below it wet.
  2. I unload in groups –the silverware into my hand and then direct to the silverware drawer
  3. I place things on the counter at the location it will be put into
  4. I unload completely, then I put away. I’m only opening the drawer or cabinet once and I’m putting everything away at one time
  5. And I make it a game to see how fast I can do it. It’s fast and it’s done.

I waste not a moment on something as routine as unloading a dishwasher.

Now let’s apply that to our work.

  • How can I process my email as efficiently as possible?
  • How can I keep my to-do list as streamlined as possible?
  • How can I make my meetings as effective as possible?

I’ve blogged about all of this and I’ve linked the above questions to those posts.  What I’m addressing here however is how to create systems and processes to be most efficient, streamlined, and effective.

Creating efficient systems

  1. Notice it – recognize the opportunity. Don’t assume you can be efficient without thinking about how to be more efficient. Awareness is the first step!
  2. Analyze the steps. Is there a better, faster, more effective way to do something?  Can you eliminate, combine, or change the order of doing something.
  3. Do – Assess– Adjust. Try it out, practice, watch, question. Shift, try something else.  Keep modifying until you get it right.
  4. Practice and Repeat – use the system until it becomes routine and you don’t have to think about it. Watch your stopping and starting. Stick with a task until it’s done, or at least until there is a logical stopping point.

Sometimes having a productivity coach or organizing consultant helps. We work with our clients to help them develop the best ways to improve efficiency.

Have you ever wondered why that book on time management didn’t help?

What about that article espousing the top 5 things you must do each morning to have a productive day?

And how about that author who focuses on the one great thing you must do to be successful?

Have you thought “what’s wrong with me – that will never work?”

I have good news for you.  Productivity is not one size fits all.  These “experts” are talking about what works for them. They are sharing the secret to their success. They are not sharing the secrets to your success.  They are not considering your unique needs; your brain wiring based on your life experiences, your learning style, your body-clock, or your temperament.

How can they even imagine what will work for you?

The one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty, after spending the last 18 years helping clients get more organized and be more productive, is that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.  There are many right approaches.

The secret is in actually figuring out what the best “right approach” is for you.  I work with my clients to help them determine their best solutions.

We look for clues:

  • What has worked for you in the past?
  • What doesn’t work for you?
  • When have you felt most in control?

And then we create a strategy based on those clues. And we don’t stop there. We test the strategy.  I tell my clients to think of themselves as a science experiment.  We test and we tweak until we end up with a “best solution” that really fits.

Meet my client Margie (not her real name!) Margie has ADD and understands the value of exercise in keeping her brain functioning optimally.  She came to me wanting to create a structure so that she could get up each morning at 5 am and exercise before her work day began.  She had read that this was the one best thing she could do to manage her ADD; her doctor agreed.

However, Margie didn’t fit the norm. She worked from home, she liked to work at night, and often got her most important work done in the wee hours of the morning.  Margie hated mornings and hated exercise more.

I had this suspicion that exercising at 5 am wasn’t Margie’s best solution.

  • We discussed when she’d been successful exercising in the past (when her daughter was young and she’d drop her at preschool and exercised right after.)
  • We learned that having a time-driven deadline prior to exercising was helpful.
  • And we talked about how badly she felt about herself when she pressed the snooze button at 4:45 am and didn’t get out of bed, though she couldn’t really go back to sleep.

Alas, Margie wanted to try.  So, we did. However, I asked her to try 5 different times to exercise and to track her success.  This is what we learned:

Exercise Success   Time of Day  to Exercise # of workouts in one-week period  
Week 1  5 am  zero
Week 2  9 am 1
Week 3  Noon 1
Week 4  4 pm 3
Week 5  7 pm zero

Turns out 4 pm was Margie’s optimal workout time. She wanted to have dinner with her family at 6:30 pm.  Working out at 4 gave her time afterwards to shower and get dinner on the table. That time-driven deadline of a 6:30 pm dinner helped motivate Margie to get started exercising at 4 pm. She found the late-afternoon break refreshing and that she actually enjoyed her workout. And the extra couple of hours sleep in the morning was really helpful all around. When the system fit it was easy to implement and easy to stick with.

One-size did not fit Margie?  Does one-size fit you? Is there something you should rethink that might fit you better?  Try the following 5-step process to create your best solution:

  1. Look to the past for clues
  2. Create an experiment with different variables
  3. Test the variables
  4. Assess the results
  5. Pick your “best solution”

 

I’d love to hear what you learned.

Welcome to the Productive Leader Blog 2.03 things productive leaders do

I’ve taken my own advice.  I set aside blogging and writing on personal productivity, and productively engaged in my volunteer leadership responsibilities. But I’m back.

Last week at the NAPO2019 National Conference, I was honored with the 2019 Founders’ Award – our industry’s top recognition for advancing our profession.  What a thrill. Gratifying and fulfilling, the Award acknowledged my 7-year service  on the NAPO Board(National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) Board, including 2 years as their President.

And now it time to get back to the business of my business, and I’m excited to share my thoughts and ideas, with a clear focus, on supporting productive leaders.

Here’s what I know about being a productive leader – it is someone who:

  • Creates an engaging, positive, and psychologically safe environment so those they interact with can do their best work, …
  • and implements and supports practical systems so those they interact with can work most effectively, …
  • and exemplifies excellence by having and executing reasonable personal productivity habits.

Providing you with short, useful, and meaningful takeaways on leadership, team productivity, and personal productivity are my goals for the Productive Leader Blog.

So, stay tuned or unsubscribe as you see fit. As always, I welcome your questions, comments and thoughts.

Here’s to a thoughtful, fulfilling, and inspiring future.

use post-its to simplify planning your next project
Do you have a project to do, but don’t know where to start?  Most of us don’t have access to complex project management software, nor do we want to make the time investment to learn to use it.  I’ve developed a simple project planning process that yields many of the same results without the learning curve.

1.  Get a stack of Post-its

2.  Write down each task associated with the project. Don’t worry about writing them in any order, just write as fast as the ideas come to you.  Be sure to use a new post it for each individual task.

3.  Put the post-its in order. Consider – what has to come before another step, what would be the most logical way to do the work, if there is any significant wait time, and what would be best for you?  During this process you may think of extra steps.  Create a post-it for those steps and insert them into the process.

4.  Assign a length of time it will take to complete that step to each post-it – it could be 15 minutes, an hour or a week.

(more…)

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.

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?”