Category Archives: Productivity

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.

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.

3 “Needs” of Time Management

Before you can start managing your time, you have to analyse how it’s being used.

Keep a log of your daily activities for 2–3 weeks. Once you have a fair representation of your regular time usage, ask yourself the following three questions for each of the items in your log.

  1. Does it need to be done? Just because the weekly sales report has been produced for the past 10 years doesn’t mean that you need to keep generating the data. Perhaps you’re duplicating work being done by another department. Are all your tasks necessary? Are there things you can eliminate because they do not add value?
  2. Do I need to do it? Once you’ve created your list of necessary tasks, decide if you should be doing them. If a regular sales report is needed, perhaps an assistant can prepare the information. Put your delegating skills to work.
  3. Does the process need to be improved? Now that you’ve pared things down to the essentials, this is the time to look at efficiency. Do the meeting minutes need to be prepared, printed, collated, staples and distributed to committee members? Can the minutes be handled by an e-mail attachment or better yet, posted to some form of groupware? Perhaps you are producing a brochure when you have an in-house desktop publisher? Are you making the best use of tools and processes.

Working through needs 1 and 2 should go a long way to reducing the tasks that are not necessary or not necessary for you. Need 3 will ensure the remaining responsibilities are handled with the most efficient processes and tools. Once you’ve completed this analyses, you can move on to making sure your organizing system captures the tasks and gets them done on time.

24 Time Management Tips

  1. Know what is important to you. Figure out your values.
  2. Make goals and review them regularly to keep focus.
  3. Learn to delegate: co-workers, professionals, family members, neighbour teenagers earning extra money can all help with your workload.
  4. Learn to say no.
  5. Stop being a perfectionist. Not everything has to be done perfectly.
  6. Clear the clutter from your desk.
  7. Use a paper or electronic planner.
  8. Empty your planner of clutter and junk. Put loose pieces of paper in your in-box to catch during your daily/weekly review.
  9. Keep your planner with you at all times.
  10. Do not keep a bunch of calendars around. Use only one so everything is in one place.
  11. Keep a master list of all the things you need to do, call, see, write, etc. Don’t use loose notes that can easily get lost.
  12. Plan your day the night before.
  13. Tidy your desk before you leave work.
  14. Try to spend time on planning and important things so you are not always “putting out fires.”
  15. Listen to CDs or mp3s during your commute or household tasks.
  16. Answer routine letters by answering them on the original. Photocopy your message for your own files then send off the original.
  17. Turn off the television.
  18. Use a timer to track how you use your time.
  19. Relax when you are relaxing and work when you are working.
  20. Have a simple filing system and keep it up to date.
  21. Get rid of things that don’t work: pens, gadgets, equipment, etc.
  22. Do the difficult things first.
  23. Make your waiting time productive.
  24. Periodically analyze your work flow with a time log.