What does it mean to be productive? That’s the question Dustin Wax asks in his Lifehack.org post, There’s More to Productivity Than Time Management – Lifehack.org.He suggests the typical answer might be, “Getting the most done in the least possible time.”
Once upon at time, efficiency experts and time-management consultants would have been brought into the workplace with one goal in mind: getting the most work possible out of employees. It was a matter of a good “bottom line”.
However, productivity goes far beyond time management. Dustin goes on to say,
“Here’s a different take on what productivity is: You’re being productive when your work is entirely satisfying and fulfilling.”
He touches on some of the qualities that define “entirely satisfying and fulfilling.”
- You grow as a person.
- You enjoy the company of others.
- You are proud of what you’ve completed.
- You feel confident about your abilities.
- You look forward to undertaking the same or similar projects in the future.
- You help others.
- You receive the acclaim of your peers.
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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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
I’ve yet to find a pithy quip that summarizes time management. Until that time, here’s my outline of time management principles.
- Identify time over which you have control
- Set systems for routine tasks
- Use technology
- Make best use of the 80/20 rule
- Identify and use your energy cycle
- High energy tasks scheduled during high-energy peaks
- Save less intensive tasks for the low-energy periods
- Set goals and create plans
- Analyse your time usage
- Personalize the system
- Use the tools that work for you
If you have a pithy quote that summarizes time-management, leave it in the comments below.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.