Monthly Archives: February 2012

Quality and Productivity

“Quality is not an act. It is a habit.” – Aristotle.

I often hear “I don’t have time to do it right”.   How does that work?  If you do something just to get done and you are not paying attention to getting it right then there is a high chance of creating the need to do it again.  This is counter to productivity.  Yet this mindset persists.

How can you fight the need to get things done quickly and the need to get it right, so it’s only done once?  Here are a few tips based on Deming’s quality cycle (Deming Cycle):

  1. Plan:  Before you start take a minute to be sure you know what is required of the task.  Clarity on expectations is one of the biggest keys to ensuring things are only done once.  If you are not sure what is needed then you should ask for clarification on the final product.  It gets frustrating to turn over a project only to have it returned for corrections.
  2. Do:  When you get started on a task make sure you have what you need to do the job correctly.  If you need input from others, collect it.  If you need materials, make sure they are on hand when you start.  If you need data or information, gather it first.  This allows you to keep the task moving smoothly.  As well, you won’t need to go back to add or correct something later.
  3. Check:  Review your work to make sure you completed everything that was in the expectations.  It takes a few minutes to proof read a document, verify the data in the report, or ensure an object is assembled properly.
  4. Act: If you find that certain assignments often need rework or cannot be completed correctly, look at the reason why that’s happening.  Is it due to incomplete instruction, insufficient resources, or lack of time?  If so, then go back to the beginning and get clarity on what is expected, make sure you have what is needed to accomplish the task, or negotiate the due date to ensure sufficient time is available.

While these principles of quality are normally applied to manufacturing or other business processes they are applicable to your daily tasks.  Taking a few extra minutes to ensure the quality of your work will save you time associated with rework.

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Articles That Inspired

Here a few articles that I’ve read lately that really hit home for me in terms of managing productivity.  I wanted to share some of these inspiring tips.

5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Time Management Today:  The first item on this list is something I do with my current task list and push my teenagers to do.  http://daytimer.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/5-simple-ways-to-improve-your-time-management-today

3 Habits that Will Destroy Your Productivity:  I am so guilty of all of these and this was a great reminder to keep these in check.  http://www.simpleproductivityblog.com/3-habits-that-will-destroy-your-productivity

5 Productivity Habits to Rock Your World:  I love these and have just started really tackling the filing in my home office.  As I’m working from home now I have to get it under control.  There’s still room for improvement, but progress is being made.  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/5-productivity-habits-to-rock-your-world.html

A Little Homework Might Help You Reach Your Objectives:  This is a great list of the steps to project planning and getting things started in a productive way.  http://unclutterer.com/2012/02/13/a-little-homework-might-help-you-reach-your-objectives

The Right NO:  This is something I’ve preached for years and have endeavored to teach others.  Overcommitting is a huge drain on productivity and your sanity.  http://theorganizedexecutiveblog.com/2012/02/09/the-right-no

Where do you find inspiration that helps you stay focused and on track?

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Preparing to Work

Now that you’ve gotten a handle on what you want to do and how you plan to do it what do you need to do to get ready to work?  Do you have a work space that is conducive to being productive?

Too often in corporate settings you have little control over your works space, you are assigned an office or a cubicle to work in and how it is set up is outside of your control.  I’ve had so many different work spaces it’s almost mind boggling.  However one thing is true no matter where you spend your day, you need to make it work for you within the constraints of your space.  What can you do?

Organize

First key to being productive is to have what you need within easy reach.  Keep the files you need close by.  If you need to roll to get what you need or to put it away you will not get started or you will let it pile it up.  Have the other tools you need close by as well, things like staplers, paper clips, pens, note pads etc. in a specific place that is easy reach.  To manage your paperwork; have your file cabinet organized in a way that works for you and have new folders on hand to make filing easy.

The key is to keep the things you need within easy reach and in a dedicated spot.  Keep the minimum number of each you need to be efficient.  Keeping too much is overkill and requires more space to store, so have extras nearby and only what you need close.

Maintain

Once you get things organized you need to maintain the area.  This means filing paperwork right away, clearing your inbox daily, removing clutter and putting things back where they belong when you are done.  If you get in the habit of returning things to their place it allows you to have a clean slate when you start the next task.

Arrangement

As you organize your area, no matter how big or how small, arrange items in a way that is nature to you.  I find that I like having my desk phone to the right of my computer screen, not sure why, but it is most comfortable for me, so that’s where I always put it.  Think about where you natural reach for things, what makes sense for you is the logical arrangement of your desk items.  Your inbox should be where you will see it and be able to act on items smoothly and efficiently.

Spatial Cues

Everyone has a primary mode of processing information; they are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.  If you are visual you will be very inclined to have a very clean desk, neat and orderly files, with everything in its place.  If you are auditory your space will be centered on the verbal communications, your phone will be a key tool and you will have a way for people to feel welcome coming to talk to you.  If you are kinesthetic you will have any area that will be very chaotic to the other two types and will be focused on physically doing things.  Often you will have piles of paperwork and files within easy reach because you want to be able to grab what you need.

No matter what your style is having things clean and organized will be the driver to improved productivity.  Filing systems need to address the spatial cues of your predominate type.  Location and format of your to-do list and calendar must also best suit your needs.  Take the time to consider what it is that works for you, do you need to see, hear or touch what needs to be done next.

Getting a plan and setting goals are necessary to being productive.  It is also vital to have a work space that is conducive to letting you work efficiently and effectively.

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Changing Habits

I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately and why it’s so hard to change the way I do things.  I’ve been reminded of a couple of barriers to successful change and how to overcome them.  As the saying goes “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

First is the fact that the current habit is comfortable, it’s a comfort zone now.  Getting outside of that comfort zone is hard, and yet that’s where all learning occurs.  So how to push yourself outside that zone?  Make a small changes in what you do, just a bit of an adjustment and you will be doing something different.  It can take up to a month of consistent behavior to really change a habit, so make it easy to stay in the new pattern and it will more quickly become your comfort zone.

I had gotten in the habit of brigning my laptop into the family room and doing research while the TV was on.  This was totally inefficient and it ended up making my arm hurt due to poor positioning of the mouse.  Yet I kept doing it.  I had gotten comfortable with this practice.  So to get out of it and make myself more efficient I banned my laptop from the family room.  I now only work on it in the office where I have fewer distractions and a more comfortable work area.  I get things done much more quickly and my arm doesn’t hurt nearly as much now.  It’s taken about a month to really get myself into the mindset of working only in the office.

The second obstacle is accountability.  If you just think about what you want to do differently you will make the change about 50% of the time.  If you go one step further and write down you will improve your chances to about 66%.  If you go all out and think it through, write it down and tell someone about it your will make the change about 90% of the time.  This is due to accountability.  When you get someone else involved in your change they will help hold you to it.

To help me keep my laptop in the office I told my husband and son that I had banned it from the family room.  They both ask me why I have the laptop in the family room if I move it out of the office.  Then I have to think about what I’m doing and it helps me adjust what I’m doing to stay on track.  It’s been a good reminder system for me.

So start what can you do today?

  1. Start with something you want to do better
  2. Make a small tweak to what you currently do to improve
  3. Stick with the change until it becomes comfortable
  4. Tell someone else about your desire to change

Good luck and remember “The bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.”

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Time Wasting Meetings

How many hours a week do you waste in meetings?  Studies show that there are approximately 11 million meetings each day in the US and that 50% of the time is wasted.  That’s an amazing amount of time thrown away instead of used productively.

I’ve seen a variety of levels of effectiveness in this area.  Some organizations require meetings to be done well and it’s just become part of the culture while others use the shotgun approach to meetings.  When meetings are done well it impacts the entire atmosphere of the office.  You know that things will be covered efficiently and things will get done.

On the other hand poor meetings can really drag down the overall productivity of the office.  People dread going to meetings so they procrastinate on preparation and then the meetings accomplish less than planned, so another meeting is needed.  And so on and so on…..

How can you minimize the impact to your productivity?  If you do this one thing your meeting time will be much more productive and you will end up with more time outside of meetings to get things done.

  • Have a clear agenda prior to the meeting

Having an agenda published before the meeting allows everyone to know what is going to be covered, what must be done to prepare, what is needed to have in the meeting, why each person specifically have been invited, and when and where to show up.  If you were invited to a meeting without getting an agenda, ask for one.

Sometimes an agenda is not needed such as where the people invited are there to receive information only.  When participation and decisions are part of the outcome of the meeting an agenda is critical to the success of the meeting.

Besides letting people know why their presence is needed and what they need to do it, an agenda helps to keep the meeting on task and on time.  The meeting leader can use the agenda to keep people on track with the discussion and minimize off topic distractions.  If the leader isn’t controlling the meeting the others can use the agenda to get it back on track as well.

The agenda is a clear plan for the meeting and when shared in advance everyone can keep focused on the right things.  From my experience this is the single biggest key to effective meetings.

Please share your ideas on the key to effective meetings.

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Plan Your Project Time

The other day I received a massage and I was struck by how efficiently the therapist used the allotted time.  It got me thinking about how it could be applied to my work.

The process she followed was:

  1. Assess what needs to be done
  2. Start the work using a specific plan of how to complete it
  3. Within the plan there was flexibility to spend more time on problem areas
  4. Wrap up the time with a review of what was accomplished

This process can be used anytime you start working on a more complex task or project.

Assess the Work:

Before jumping in spend a few minutes reviewing what you want to accomplish during the timeframe you have allocated.  Make sure you have the materials you need readily accessible.

Plan Your Attack:

Know where you are going to start and then have an idea of the flow of the work.  If you are doing the same type of things on a regular basis having a set plan for how you will accomplish the tasks will allow you to get into the flow more quickly and you will be more efficient.  It’s important to have a clear starting and ending point with the steps between mapped out.  It doesn’t have to be a detailed, written out plan that is followed exactly every time.  Just understanding what needs to be done and in what order is enough to keep you moving.

Plan for Flexibility:

Your plan needs to be flexible enough to allow you to spend extra time on one step or another if needed.  Even routine actions are rarely identical every time so make sure you are able to adjust the time and effort as needed to get the work completed properly.  Hurrying through a problem because you have only allowed 15 minutes and this time you need 25 minutes will lead to errors and rework.  This is much less efficient than taking the extra 10 minutes up front and adjusting the time of a later step.

Wrap-Up and Review:

In your plan allow for a few minutes to wrap-up the project.  This includes cleaning up materials as well as noting where you are stopping if this project will continue another day.  Even when you are completely done a quick review will let you look at what went well and what went poorly so you can adjust you plan the next time.

Creating a systematic approach to larger tasks/projects will help you get into the work more quickly and move through it more efficiently.  Typically I am good about the first three steps I outlined above and I realize the last one will actually help me get more out of my time if I do it consistently.

What tips do you have for planning your work on a project?

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Procrastination

One of the factors in late delivery of projects is procrastination.  We are all guilty of it at some time or another.  There are people who are chronic procrastinators and others who seen to rarely procrastinate.

So why is it a part of our daily life?  Most of us tend to avoid things that are unpleasant, complex, or overwhelming.  When it’s difficult to get our heads around what needs to be done we delay getting started.  If it’s a task we dread doing most of us will stall until the last possible moment.  Here are two ways you can get a handle on reducing or eliminating procrastination from your life:

  • Tackle unpleasant tasks in small pieces and short time segments.
  • Do a small task that will get you moving in the right direction.

A key to this is to take the big, complex or overwhelming items and looking at what steps you must take to get them done.  It’s easier to take a single step then to complete a project.  Besides, projects are really just a series of completed tasks, so take the time to evaluate what must be done step-by-step.

For example doing your taxes is a project most of us have to do each year and it can be unpleasant, complex and overwhelming.  If you break it down into pieces that can be more easily managed it’s really not so bad:

  1. Collect all your income statements, the W-2’s, the dividend and interest statements, etc.
  2. Enter those into the forms you are using (I love tax software for this chore).
  3. Collect all your deductions, taxes paid, interest income, charitable donations, and so on.
  4. Enter those into the forms.
  5. Review it all for anything you may have missed.
  6. Do the final calculations.
  7. Sign and send.

When you look at it this way it’s not quite so daunting of a task.  I tend to break down the deductions into multiple steps; the charitable donations always take me longer so I do it as a unique step.

Apply these principles to the other projects or overwhelming things on your plate and you will find it easier to get things done and avoid the procrastination trap.

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Attitude Towards Time

How would you answer the question “Who is in control of your time?”?  There is a spectrum for this answer that determines if you are externally influenced or internally influenced.

How Many Things Can I Control in My Life

Nothing

A few things Some things Most things

Everything

If you fall into the left hand side of this spectrum you are completely externally influenced.  If you are on the right hand side you are internally influenced.  Most of us fall somewhere in between and it can vary from day to day.

What does this mean for personal time management?  If you are externally influenced you feel you have no say in your schedule and have no control over your own time.  People I have worked with in this mindset believe they MUST say yes to everything handed to them during the course of the day.  This leads to feelings of helplessness and being overwhelmed by their work load.  The key is to learn how to take some control over items given to you.  It may be as simple as asking when something is due when it’s given to you instead of assuming it’s needed immediately.  In reality it may not be required immediately and you can get it in after completing other existing items.  Another step is telling your boss you will get to the new assignment once you complete the one you are currently working on for him.

Gaining confidence that you have some control over your day will allow you to better manage your time and will reduce the helpless feeling and stress.  Asking for due dates and asking what can be pushed back if the new item overlaps an existing assignment can help you gain a sense of control.  It also demonstrates to your boss that you understand what you have on your plate and forces them to set the priorities for you.  Unfortunately in some organizations these questions can actually hurt your image so it is critical to phrase these in ways that fit your organization.  It’s about gaining clarity on your bosses priorities so that you can successfully complete your work.

For those who feel they can control everything in their world, they need to understand that there will be situations where they must relinquish control to others.  There are things in this world that are beyond individual control.  As an employee we have no control over market influences on our company.  This could be a major client going out of business or defaulting on payment.  As well weather can wreak havoc on a business.  Years ago a supplier of mine had their manufacturing facility flattened by an F5 tornado.  No one had any control over the event that took them off line; however we did have control over how we managed the recovery for my company.

To really master your own schedule you need to understand how your attitude towards control of things in your life impacts your day-to-day management style.  Understanding that some things are beyond your control while others are totally within your control will help you find the much needed balance in your life.

Let me know how you react to things that are beyond your control.

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