Category Archives: time management
How many of us have too much time and not enough to do in it? I venture to say not too many of us can claim that! Which means we start every day knowing we are not going to get it all done. Talk about setting ourselves up for failure.
I recently read Peter Bregman’s book ‘18 minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done’, and I must say this was one of the better time management books I have read. I really enjoyed Peter’s analogy of likening our time management challenge to a buffet. I have trouble with buffets. I have a tendency to want to try everything and even if I only take a little of everything that is often still way too much. Peter suggests we often manage our time like that – because there is so much to do, so many interesting people, enjoyable activities, worthwhile causes and compelling opportunities, it’s hard to choose. So we don’t. We try to do it all. Peter offers some really good solutions, ones that are do-able, all in 18 minutes a day.
On the same theme of too much an article on CBS News from the Harvard Business Review suggests that the culture that the smart phone is encouraging, one of 24/7 availability, actually is decreasing our productivity. The argument is that not only does this 24/7 availability cause productivity and effectiveness to decline but customer satisfaction declines as well. The article provides a pretty convincing argument.
Now here is something a little off the wall (literally). Have you given any thought to the effect colour has on productivity? Well this painting company has. It seems painting the walls in your office blue may actually make the staff more productive. Pink on the other hand is tranquilizing and may make the staff want to fall asleep. Be careful with red as it is thought to make people more cautious and accurate but it also raises blood pressure and heart rate. And better stay away from yellow as people tend to lose their tempers most often in yellow rooms. Who knew?
Jason Womack, author of ‘Your Best Just Got Better’, recently did an interview with Susan Heathfield in which he gave 8 tips on how to improve your performance. One of the first tips Jason gave has already improved my performance! As I have said before I have been a list maker for years but what Jason Womack suggested in this interview has caused me to refine my lists. Jason suggests we need three lists, no more, no less. The first list is ‘Things to think about some more’. This helps me by capturing those things for a later time and allows me to focus on the task at hand knowing they will not be forgotten. The second list is ‘Things you’re managing over the next 3 to 9 months’. This helps me see what I have going on in the future. Womack recommends updating the list monthly but reviewing it weekly. I really like this approach because sometimes if you tackle things too early the landscape changes and you have wasted your time. The third list is ‘Things to do in the next 96 hours’. So here is my To Do List, uncluttered with those things I need to think about and my future projects. Simple. Womack goes on in the interview with more tips – including maximizing interruptions. Well worth the read.
Now here is something to help you manage that ‘Things to do in the next 96 hours’ list. Have you heard of Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret? Seinfeld suggests spend some amount of time doing a desired activity every day and when you do, cross off that day on a calendar. This creates a chain of Xs showing your progress. It’s based on the idea that daily action builds habits. Small improvements or actions accumulate into large improvements rapidly because daily action provides ‘compounding interest’. I like this approach because for me any lasting changes need to be incorporated in my lifestyle or they just don’t last. Adam Dachis who wrote this post uses this method for getting in better shape and keeping his apartment clean. For a more detailed explanation click here.
One last tip in closing today. When sending emails instead of putting a subject in the subject line, use an action. That will let the recipient know exactly what you are asking them to do – immediately, helping them be more productive in answering your emails.
Lately I have become aware of how much I get annoyed at having others waste my time. For example when I fill up with gas I pay at the pump. I think going inside to stand in line behind someone purchasing lotto tickets is a total waste of my time. You can imagine how choked I get when I have to go inside to collect my receipt. Another time waster for me is meetings that don’t start on time. This is wasting time for a number of people and in my world that is totally unacceptable. Turn that around and to the contrary I am ok if a friend is late for a scheduled visit (it doesn’t happen very often as I have a reputation I’m afraid). This is because I carry a note-book with a couple of things listed in it that I need to accomplish so I am prepared for that gift of extra time. It all comes down to managing expectations. How well do you manage yours?
Now here is something that is a little controversial – pay your great people slightly more than the market dictates. According to a study conducted by the Nobel Prize in Economics winner George Akerlof and his wife Janet Yellen; Paying great people slightly more than the market demands helps attract better talent, reduce turnover, and boost productivity and morale. They found that the firms that paid their employees more rather than construct elaborate incentive systems, outperformed their competitors. I just want to add this note from Daniel Pink: ‘Policy makers and business leaders take note: money matters. But often the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table—so that people can focus on the work rather than on the cash.’
Let’s take this one step further and have a look at paying people commission. Both in the UK and in the US some companies have found that commissioned sales were not leading to better performance. In fact according to one company ‘By their very nature, individual commissions discourage collaboration. Why help ‘Mary’ close the deal when she’ll get the gains from the sale? The comp plan was dividing people.’ When the companies changed the system the managers, instead of spending a huge amount of time and effort policing the compensation system, could focus on more productive activities. Collaboration and better team work were also benefits.
I recently came across an article on Inc.com called ‘7 Unusual Ways to Motivate Your Employees‘. The one I saw the most value in was from Stanley McChrystal, the retired four-star U.S. Army general. Stanley served as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and was once ‘boss’ to more than 150,000 service members. In a keynote speech at the 2011 Inc 500|5000 Conference the general said he sent out more than 2,000 thank-you notes to his troops each year. “I used to get thank-you notes for my thank-you notes,” he said in his keynote speech . “I’d find them framed in [the troops’ bunk] areas.”
You don’t have to be in charge of a large number of people to apply this tip. I used make a point of sending out thank you cards every year at Christmas. I would sit down and hand write a thank you note to every one of our employees. In the note I would write how much I appreciated their contribution to the business and what qualities I admired in each of them. It always came from the heart and I could tell how much the notes were appreciated as I too got thank you’s for the thank you’s. Showing people how much you value them is a great way to keep them motivated and productive.
Now here is a tip from another former U.S. Army member, former captain Gary E. McCullough. In a 2009 interview with The New York Times Gary says “When people ask me for time, they generally don’t need the time that they ask for. So my assistant asks people, ‘How much time do you need?’ If they say an hour, we cut it in half. If they say 30 minutes, we cut it to 15, because it forces people to be clearer and more concise.”
That makes sense to me. If I have only 15 minutes to make my point I am going to really think about what is important and focus on that. Gary seems to be using Parkinson’s law (See blog post ‘Do your tasks take too long?) specifically to focus others so they are productive with his time. Could you apply that method to the meetings people request with you? You could take that one step further and apply it to the meetings you request to have with someone else. I bet that would create a lasting impression!