Category Archives: Productivity

Oprah’s three questions for running effective meetings

Meetings, meetings, meetings! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

It’s estimated that on any given day in the USA, there are 11,000,000 formal meetings held. That works out to well over 200 million meetings per month. Around half of those meetings are 30 to 90 minutes in length.

Another statistic says, during the meeting, nine out of 10 people will daydream, and 73 percent of people will work on other things. That’s a lot of unproductive meeting time.

There are many ways to make meetings productive. Reportedly,
Oprah Winfrey kicks off every meeting with the same three questions to get everyone engaged and to set clear goals:

What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?

High performers seek out clarity; they don’t sit around waiting for things to become clear. A report in the journal “Current Directions in Psychological Science” provides a formula of sorts for what should happen before, during, and after meetings.

After examining nearly 200 studies, the research team found that essentially, productive meetings come down to being clear about your reasons for meeting, while stripping out what’s unimportant to focus on what is important.

Meetings should not include agenda item like “information,” “recap,” ” review,”or “discussion.” Productive meetings often have one-sentence agendas like, “Determine the product launch date” or “Select software developer for database redesign.”

Effective meetings result in decisions: who is going to do what, and when? Clear decisions made efficiently.

At your next meeting, ask Oprah’s three questions. It works for her, it should work for you.

8 Time-Saving Tips

  1. Use the “standby” or “hibernate” feature on your PC instead of shutting it down when you step away for a short time. You’ll be able to resume your work much faster than from a cold start.
  2. Find urgent computer files faster by starting file names with numbers. That ensures that they will be at the top of your list of files.
  3. Cut down on steps. Instead of jumping up every time you have work to deliver, stow it in an expandable file with slots organized by department. Then, take one stroll through the office to deliver everything.
  4. Take a “personal errand day.” For personal errands you can’t schedule on Saturday or Sunday, take a day off to take care of them all. That’s less disruptive than rushing from the office and back several times.
  5. Become a hero to staff members who know only the basic functions of your voice-mail system and other devices, by learning the shortcuts and most useful and underused features; then teaching them.
  6. Create checklists for common tasks, such as preparing your boss for a business trip. You’ll run through the preparations faster and will be less likely to forget a step, even when you don’t look at the list.
  7. Take a short break. Carve out 15 to 30 minutes at lunch for something you enjoy, such as walking, reading or photography. You’ll return to work with more energy.
  8. Anticipate wardrobe emergencies by packing quick-change options. Keep one full outfit ready in your closet for those mornings when you discover a missing button or other hassle. Tuck stockings or a neutral tie in the back of a desk drawer so you can change quickly, instead of trying to stop a run or clean a stain.

How to Manage the Rush Jobs

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon and your boss calls from the road and says, “Drop everything, I need this report in an hour.”

Fifteen minutes later another manager comes by looking for last-minute help with a PowerPointpresentation.

Meanwhile, you’ve skipped lunch, a courier is waiting on a delivery from you and the intern is hovering, looking for approval on the next step.

When urgent requests come in from various sources and you’re already pressed for time, how do you handle them?

Here’s four tips:

  1. Show how much is on your plate. Create a chart that shows the projects you are handling and the time required to complete them. It can be as complex as a Gantt chart or as simple as a pie chart.Another approach would be a two-column to-do list. Column one is tasks you’ve been asked to complete, column two is the task as you’re taking the action steps, scheduling them into your day.

    You then have a visual representation showing the trade-offs required to accommodate the demand for a rush job.

  2. Suggest work that can be traded-off. Conventional advice suggests placing the decision of priority back on the one requesting the rush job. “Here’s what I’m working on, you decide what is a priority for me.” That puts control of your workflow in somebody else’s hands.Instead, you make the suggestion as to what should be deferred to accommodate the job.  ”I suggest we move the deadline for the widget report to Wednesday. That way, I can complete your presentation today.”
  3. Point out any issues that might interfere with finishing a rush job. If you know you’re going to need information from Nancy and she’s in a meeting at a client’s office, let the requester know. This way you’re not left holding responsibility for not completing the task.

  4. Have a chart of common task times. Often, the boss will not know how long it took you to complete the rush job. You’re there until midnight, the boss went home at 5:00.

    Put together a list of tasks you commonly complete along with the time it takes to finish.For example: typing a 40-slide PowerPoint presentation: two hours, provided all the material is complete.The boss then has some idea what kind of time commitment  the request represents.

The boss, being the boss, may still go ahead and expect the rush job to be completed. However, this four-part strategy will help you gain control over those rush jobs.

Outline of time management principles

I’ve yet to find a pithy quip that summarizes time management. Until that time, here’s my outline of time management principles.

If you have a pithy quote that summarizes time-management, leave it in the comments below.

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3 Quick Steps to Preventing Clutter

If you want to prevent clutter, you have to be preemptive. Before you add an item to your home, office, yard, workspace, etc., ask yourself three questions.

  1. Are you going to use it? The gadget looks like the latest in efficiency tools. You buy it, you get it home, you use it once and it’s now part of the clutter in the catch-all drawer.
  2. Are you going to use it now or soon? I once bought a stationary bicycle. My reasoning was, if I had the bicycle, I would instantly start exercising every day. Instead it became a new clothes hanger.
  3. Where are you going to store it? Whether the item is decorative or functional. if you have no place to put it, it’s going to end up as clutter.

Next time you’re ready to buy, ask yourself these three questions. Not only will you reduce clutter, but you find you’re saving some money as well.

Eight Ways to Eliminate Paper and Clutter in Your Office

Working at a regional head office, we see a lot of paper. We were recently involved in a capital project to build a new program facility. When the HVAC system was installed, someone thought we might want the user manual for the system: a 400 page PDF document. Instead of filing the PDF on the network, the document was printed and placed in a filing cabinet, where it will sit until doomsday or at least until someone cleans out those files.

We really didn’t need the manual. We will never troubleshoot the system; we will never program the system; and we will never maintain the system. The next time we will be concerned with the HVAC in this building is when it stops working and needs to be replaced.

Despite improvements in document handling technology, despite the convenience of PDF files, we still produce a lot of paper. Keeping your desk and files clutter–free in a paper–filled environment isn’t easy, but a little planning and a little technology can help.

Start with the 4 D’s of Effective Paper Management:

  • DO IT. Perform the necessary items on this piece of paper today. Once you’ve completed these items, the paper should be filed, re-routed to someone else or discarded.
  • DELAY IT. If further action needs to be taken on this paper, file it in a Reminder file or inyour file cabinet. If necessary, write a date and time on your calendar when you’ll retrieve this paper for further action.
  • DELEGATE IT. Immediately give this paper to someone else, whether this person is someone in your company, a client, vendor or someone else you outsource to.
  • DUMP IT. This is the greatest one of them all. It’s probably safe to say that a huge percentage of the paper that enters your office can be discarded right away.

Manage your “to read” pile

The paper littering desks and files is mostly mail or things colleagues send, stuff that you mean toread, but never get to. Have a plan to eliminating the paper as soon as you get it. That doesn’t mean throwing it in the recycle bin as soon as you receive it, but you need to know where things will end up after they hit your desk.

Put non–urgent “to read” items in file folder; use multiple folders if you have different to-read categories. As you receive new items, place them in the front of the folder. If the folder gets too full, toss the old stuff without looking at it. That way you always have current stuff that might go back a month or two. Don’t worry you’ll throw away something vital, if it’s vital, it shouldn’t be in a general reading file.

Think before you print

We also create a lot of the paper piles, without giving it much thought. It can be tempting to print every interesting thing we find on the web or print a 400 page PDF “just in case.” It adds up. Stopand think before hitting the print button. Is there a better way to store the material.

Here’s a place where technology can be put to good use. The cost of storage media keeps getting less and less. I just bought a 1 terabyte (that’s 1,000 gigabytes) hard drive for $120.00. I can print any web page to pdf and store it on the drive. Combine that with a good filing system and a search tool like Google Desktop and I can quickly find previously saved material.

Create a record retention policy

Despite technological advances, there are certain files, such as personnel records and corporate documents, that you’ll need to keep for extended periods of time. To manage this process, you’ll need a record retention plan. How this policy reads will vary depending on local laws. However, these are the kinds of documents controlled by such policies:

  • Annual financial statements, corporate documents (including corporate charter, deedsand easements, stock, minutes of board of directors’ meetings, labor contracts, trademarkand registration applications), and income tax paperwork and payment checks.
  • Bank statements, voided checks, purchase records (purchase orders, payment vouchers, vendor invoices), and sales records (invoices, monthly statements, shipping papers andcustomers’ purchase orders).
  • Personnel and payroll records.
  • Monthly financial statements.

Archive off site

Use off–site storage for those files that you don’t use everyday, but can’t discard immediately. This allows you to keep your office space free of the files, but the information is still available if you need. Assign a destroy date to each box that you store. This forces you to make a decision about a set of documents that you might not do if the files are on–site.

Before sending your files away, cull them and discard duplicates, non–essential files, or those past retention dates according to your policy. You’re paying by the box, you don’t want to send unnecessary bulk.

Invest in equipment and software

Technology lets you toss more than ever before. New information is constantly accessible to via the Internet, there’s less need to maintain all types of files.

  • If you have documents that you need to keep, but you don’t use everyday or don’t have the room to store, use a scanner to create an electronic copy.
  • If discarding confidential documents makes you resistant to purging files, shred sensitive documents before recycling.
  • Business cards can be filed in a book, or scanned to keep electronic copies of the cards, which can later be searched by name or keyword.
  • To file effectively and quickly, you need to have the essentials: plenty of file folders, file labels, cardboard boxes and bins, plastic crates and carts, and file cabinets.
  • And don’t forget wastebaskets and recycling bins for the items that you choose not to file.

Organize your office heart

You may have business documents items which have more of a sentimental or morale value: photos, letters from clients, awards, etc. Have a memento box or album when and collect those gems — pictures of the first office party, thank you letters from their first few clients. Keep the box or album in a designated area in your office.

Keep it clean

Once your office is organized, keep it that way! A major part of maintaining order is your approachto the task. To prevent future accumulation, treat paper in your office as if it’s perishable. Don’t pile it up, telling yourself that you’ll deal with it when you have time. Make decisions on the paperimmediately. Keep a recycle bin and a wastebasket next to your desk and use them frequently.

Continue filtering, filing and tossing and you’ll maintain a clutter–free environment.

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