Blog Archives

Do You Procrastinate?

I think Benjamin Franklin has to be one of the original productivity guru’s. His quotes are productivity lessons in themselves.  So you can imagine I really enjoyed the article from the Business Insider that includes 14 action lessons from Mr. Franklin.  One of his more famous quotes “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today” refers to procrastination.  Occasionally I have said procrastination can be a good thing especially in those situations where waiting actually allows you to gather all the pieces you need or sometime leads to not having to do the task at all. However when procrastination becomes a habit it definitely can cut into your productivity.

The  ‘5 Counter-Intuitive Productivity Tips’ from the Swift To-Do List Blog that I talked about last week had a good tip to help with the procrastination habit; Schedule the fun stuff first and then only work between those blocks of fun time.  According to the blog author Jiri Novotny, ‘this way, your reptile brain won’t feel threatened when you want to do the work, because it will know that the fun is guaranteed.’ Jiri says this tip comes from the book ‘The Now Habit (A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play)’ by Neil Fiore, Ph.D. Neil’s definition of procrastination is a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. I really like the insight and the tools Neil Fiore presents not just to overcome procrastination but to help with productivity as well. From self-talk to three tools for overcoming blocks to action, Neil’s suggestions offer tips and tools even for those of us who don’t make a habit of procrastinating.

I came across an interesting interview with David Allen author of ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’.  In the interview David says “The whole planet is unproductive; it’s just that technology is making it more obvious.” David goes on to suggest people are letting themselves be distracted by technology because they are not clear about what they are doing or where they are going. The more I think about that the more I understand my own productivity or at times lack thereof.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.

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Too Much Time

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?

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.

It’s the Small Steps

Have you ever given thought to the most productive way to learn? According to Robert Bjork, the director of the UCLA Learning and Forgetting Lab, in a recent article I found on Geekdad, “People tend to try to learn in blocks, mastering one thing before moving on to the next, ” which really isn’t the most productive or effective way to do things. Instead Bjork suggests we should interweave the skills. Don’t just practice one thing – a tennis serve for example – but mix in a whole range of skills like backhands, volleys, overhead smashes, and footwork. What this does is it forces you to make almost unnoticeable steps forward with many skills that are seated among each other. Over the same amount of time the improvement is much greater learning this way than if you would have spent time focusing on one element at a time. In fact this approach uses our natural ability to leverage other things already in our memory to make learning more powerful. A word of caution however this does not mean multitasking (see blog post Multitasking; Good, Bad or Downright Rude?). The skills you are trying to perfect must be related in some higher-order way. Trying to perfect your synchronized swimming and your tennis game at the same time won’t give the same results.

Bjork also states that once you learn something you never actually forget it – it’s just the recall that is tricky and he has some suggestions for that too.

Do you feel overwhelmed or burned out? According to Tony Schwartz in a recent article on Harvard Business Review between 25% and 50% of people do and I would venture to say this number is higher in our area. Tony goes on to say it’s not just the number of hours we work but the number of hours we spend juggling too many things at the same time. We no longer stop to smell the roses. We take our technology with us everywhere which means we have no stopping points, finish lines or even boundaries. And because we are constantly doing something we are burning down our available reservoir of energy. According to Tony the biggest cost is to our productivity. Any time you are partially engaged in multiple activities and rarely fully engaged in one you are increasing the time it takes to finish a task by 25%. I don’t know about you but I don’t have that kind of extra time. Apart from the obvious Tony does have a few suggestions including ‘stop demanding instant responsiveness at every moment of the day’ from the people around you and most importantly from yourself. 

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.

It’s the Little Things

its the little things that make you productiveI am repeatedly reminded that in most situations it’s the little things that make the difference. Being more productive is no different. I have compiled quite a list of ‘little things’ that can make us more productive and today I thought I would share some of the pointers on that list.

Email is always a time user and there are a number of articles on how to do this better. 9 Healthy Habits to Manage Your Email Overload being one of them. But for a ‘little thing’ that works try the Barbara Hemphill FAT method; File, Act or Trash. If you need the email for reference file it, if it needs to be acted on and you can do it in less than 2 minutes do it, if it takes longer add it to a list, finally trash everything else. I know from personal experience having an empty inbox is a great place to be in terms of productivity.

Another of those little things: Write everything down. David Allen says “Use your head to have ideas not to hold them”. Great advice. Science says you need to deal with things or else they take up memory space. (see The Value of Focus) One of the ways to do this is to write things down.

Business Insider recently did an article where they asked 6 companies for tips on how to be more productive with technology. The companies included; Brother, Dell, Epson, HP, Local, and Research in Motion (RIM).  Most of the tips were backed up with justification and made sense. For example using all-in-one printer/fax/scanner units to maximize both cost and space or using a printer that allows printing on both sides of the page and a draft mode for internal documents.  As the Product Manager at Epson says, it’s the little things that can have the biggest impact.

Now here is an interesting twist on being more productive. Machen MacDonald suggests in the Business News section on TheUnion.com that you only need to ‘Follow your bliss to more productivity’. Basically MacDonald suggests you need to get out of your own way and be your authentic self. This is not usually on the list of productivity tools but well worth the read.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.

Getting Things Done

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.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.

Wasting Time

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 wasting time includes standing in lineis 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.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.

Productivity Do’s and Don’ts

There has always been some difficulty around how to define productivity. I recently came productivity graph to illustrate productivity do's and don'tsacross an interesting post called ‘Uncasting the Spell of Productivity’ by Jessica Lawrence.  She suggests we have gotten away from the original definition of productivity – being as efficient as possible in a set period of time, to – a productive person is one who never stops working. You can tell from that where she is in her life. I suspect a lot of people are there especially in this age of super connectivity. Jessica recommends stripping away anything excessive and unnecessary. That sounds suspiciously like applying a ‘Lean’ methodology to me, casting yourself in the role of the customer and eliminating anything that doesn’t provide you with value. Interesting.

In that same post Jessica offered a link to a short video (1 minute 35 seconds) on ‘lost time’ and how to take advantage of it. The video makes sense but I would suggest you take it one step further and actually plan for the ‘lost time’.  I had a meeting with someone the other day and due to circumstances beyond their control they were late. Because I plan for this kind of thing I had my notebook with me and I did some planning for a course I am giving next month on becoming an entrepreneur. It wasn’t just having the notebook but having the plan of what to do that made the difference.

Are you hindering your employee productivity? I came across this list of 5 Management practices that kill employee productivity and felt it was worth posting here. Some of these things I have talked about before such as ignoring top performers (see What are You Rewarding Employees For?) and ineffective meetings (see Meetings; Good, Bad, or Just a waste of time?) but I encourage you to check out the other 3 to see if you are contributing to the problem. Till next time I will leave you with my definition of Productivity:

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.

Motivating Employees with a Thank You Card

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!

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.

Meetings; Good, Bad, or Just a waste of time?

I spent most of last week at a conference followed by a couple of days of meetings. There wasn’t much time left to write a blog post or do other things that I needed to. Don’t get me wrong the conference was excellent and the meetings were good but they aren’t always that way. I am sure we have all participated in meetings we wish we didn’t have to.

There are lots of really good tips for how to hold a productive meeting. Check out Christopher M. Knight’s web site top7business.com for a pretty comprehensive list.  Christopher suggests the meeting needs a purpose. How many of us have attended meetings that seem to be just for the sake of having a meeting? I would take this a step further and ask the question can the purpose be successfully achieved without a meeting and then act accordingly.

But what if you are not in control of that? If your organization seems to be having endless meetings without purpose then perhaps you need to follow Elaine Pofeldt’s advice and empower employees to skip the meetings. I imagine there will be some push back to that but that may open the door to some discussion that allows for better meetings.

Elaine also suggests if you must hold a meeting sticking to the allotted time is important. Part of that is scheduling the meetings appropriately in the first place. Another suggestion is to have ‘hard’ starts and stops. If the meetings you go to have a tendency to run on perhaps leaving at the scheduled stop time will encourage future ‘hard’ stops.

I once had a friend share with me how she made her meetings more productive. Their meetings were typically three hours long but a full hour was spent going over things they had already done. My friend changed things slightly by sending the old business reports out early, using an agenda by consent, and then only if there were questions would the old business be dealt with again. To everyone’s benefit their meetings were reduced to two hours.  

One of my favorite ways to hold required meetings with a large group is standing up. This ensures the meetings will be short and to the point as people will only stand for so long before they become restless and let you know from their body language it’s time to go.  

If you have 5 minutes check out Nicole Steinbok’s video on the 22 minute meeting. Not only is it quite entertaining she shares some good tips for holding focused meetings in 22 minutes.

If you have tips for making meetings more productive I would love to hear from you. Together we can all get better at what we do.

Productivity is a measure of how much – work, time, effort, money, or energy – you have to put into something to get the desired outcome. For more tips and tools on how to get more productive please visit Blue Collar Consulting Inc. at http://www.bluecollarconsulting.ca/.