Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eliminate time spent searching for documents

Do you spend too much time at the start of a task searching for critical documents? One quick trick: when you put the task on your calendar, also write in the notes section where the document is filed. For example, let's say I set up a marketing meeting regarding Project X in another state with a resource working on a small but critical part of the project for 2 months from today. I know when I set up the meeting that we'll need to discuss the marketing results up to that time and the plans going forward. He may also want some information on the vendors.

When I put the meeting on my calendar 2 months ago, I write in the notes section, "F:/project x/marketing & F:/vendors; bring results & plans".

Now when it's time to pack for my trip, I know exactly where to go to get the several different files I'll need. I also try to match the names on my paper files to the names on my computer files. That way, if I need to grab something that is printed out, I'll know to also get that same file from my cabinet.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eliminate time wasting interruptions

To open up time in our day for the truly important things -- discussions, reading, and research that enable us to learn new concepts, coaching sessions with our direct reports that facilitate their development and commitment and improve our department's productivity, planning and communications that facilitate the smooth-running of our projects -- we have to eliminate time wasters.

Time wasters include: interruptions on issues that are not relevant to us or our organizations, time spent searching for documents or materials that are not where we first expected them, and time spent on activities that we think relax us but only add to our stress (such as reality television).

How do you handle people who pop into your office for a chat that neither builds your relationship (which is important as good team relationships facilitate work completion) nor supports your work?

Learn to triage all interruptions. After a brief welcome, help people get to their point by asking, "how can I help you today?" Based on their response, determine quickly if the discussion will be about something urgent or not urgent. If not urgent, you can politely say, "I'd love to talk with you about that. Let's meet for coffee, say around 2?" Put it on your calendar and send the chatter on his way. It's okay, you need to take a walk at 2 anyway.

You can preempt some of these interruptions by instituting "quiet time": post a notice on your door (or chair if you have no private space) that says, "quiet hours: M - F 10 - 11 and 2 - 3" (or whatever time might work for you).

Let people know you are available for emergencies, but for non-emergencies they should please stop by another time.

Any other solutions out there?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yet we keep looking for the easy solutions

"difficulty builds mental muscle, while ease often builds only confidence"*

I teach an engaging interactive class. Students love being in the environment and report learning a great deal. When I can keep class size to 15, students report that they have to work hard to keep up with the discussion, they can't hide. Bigger than that, and I know there are some folks who, while they are listening and learning, they're not pushing themselves hard to build those mental muscles.

Those who do push themselves build those mental muscles. It's clear in their work products and in-class comments.

Yet, other instructors and often students assume that because they're having fun, the class must be easy. Students seem to feel betrayed when they earn a B or C -- their work floats above the surface, they're not digging deep, and they've earned the grade they've earned. And administrators and other instructors overlook the grade distribution noticing only that students like the class so it must be easy.

What a weird position to be in: I can get people working their brains hard and reward those who dig in and do well, but because they work their brains hard in a way that's engaging, everyone assumes the class is "light". If I stood there and talked at them -- which I think would be a far easier class as I spoon feed them ideas -- everyone would think the class is challenging.

*From: Come On, I Thought I Knew That! By Benedict Carey (

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Step two: evaluate time management matrix

Now you have the data you need to complete Covey's time management matrix:

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Crises Pressing Problems Deadline-driven projects Prevention, PC activities Relationship building Recognizing new opportunities Planning, recreation
Not Important Interruptions, some calls some mail, some reports Some meetings Proximate, pressing matters Popular activities Trivia, busy work Some mail/email Some phone calls Time wasters Pleasant activities

* PC = production capacity
P = production

Source: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

What percent of an average day to you spend in each quadrant? Is the greatest percent in the second quadrant -- important and not urgent? If not, what we want to work on is moving tasks from the 3rd quadrant -- not important but urgent -- to that quadrant and on eliminating items in quadrant 4 -- not important and not urgent.

More in the next posting.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Step one: keep a daily diary

Want to get a handle on your to-do lists to ensure you spend less time fighting fires and more time discovering opportunities, coaching your team for future success, and accomplishing more important tasks? The first step is to write down everything you do in a day, and do so for several days.

After you've written it all down, code each item:
1) interrruption -- trivial
2) interruption - important and urgent
3) interruption -- important and not urgent
4) interruption -- urgent but not really important
5) task - urgent and important
6) task - urgent but not really important
7) task - important but not urgent
8) task - trivial

Then sort the items and add up the amount of time spent on each item. Now you have a picture of where your time is going.

In the next posting, I'll share what to do with that information.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Time management training helps people complete important tasks

Of the 73% of planned tasks that an average R&D Engineer completes in a day, less-important tasks are somewhat more likely to be completed than more-important tasks according to Things to Do Today . . . : A Daily Diary Study on Task Completion at Work by Brigitte J.C. Claessens, Wendelien van Eerde, Christel G. Rutte, and Robert A. Roe.

After all these years of Steven Covey telling managers (in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) to focus on" important but not urgent tasks", for most of us, "tasks that are both important and urgent are more likely to be performed, but tasks that are only important and not urgent are unlikely to be completed."

The authors write that "respondents who were more conscientious and emotionally stable had completed a higher percentage of the planned tasks. Also, those who had participated in a time management program prior to this study completed more of their planned work."

What are some of the things you do to ensure you complete important tasks to prevent the firefighting that accompanies completing urgent-and-important-tasks?