Eric Kraus

productivity

Advice for Running Meetings More Effectively

We’re all busy these days but there’s nothing worse than wasting time in a meeting. Here’s some advice for running meetings people on your team actually want to attend.



Advice for Running Meetings More Effectively

 

1. Types of Meetings: Choose whether the meeting is a “status” meeting or a “decision” meeting

Make sure that everyone invited is aware of the purpose of the meeting. There are basically two types of meetings: “status” meetings and “decision” meetings. A single meeting cannot be both. For both types of meetings, it is still critical to create an agenda, and it’s equally important that you stick to it.

Meeting Agenda Format

If the purpose of the meeting is to update the team on “status”, everyone (or the appropriate people) should give an update. There are several strategies for this: round-robin, etc. The meeting char/organizer’s job is to allow enough time for everyone to provide his or her status. One additional thing to be aware of is people who consistently volunteer to go first and then leave the meeting early. By not having too many “status” meetings, this should help mitigate that challenge.

“Everyone does NOT need to share an update”

If the meeting’s purpose is to make a “decision”, the focus should be on doing just that. In this meeting, everyone does NOT need a turn to share an update. Meaning, there is no need to do any type of round-robin or “turn-style” sharing. The meeting chair/organizer’s job is to keep the conversation on track and make sure the decision is made by the end of the meeting.

One more thing to consider…if your team is only having status meetings, are you moving the ball forward?

2. Do the necessary prep work

It’s not respectful or productive to schedule a meeting and not share the agenda. You’ve requested that people take time out of their day to attend, and then not give them the full context of what is going to be discussed will appear as a waste of their time. This also goes hand in hand with #1 and a clear purpose.

In most cases, an agenda or an outcome is mandatory. Also, many times meetings take longer than are actually needed. So if at all possible, send out an agenda or any prep work at least a day or two in advance. As a best practice, I always try to do this at the same time I send out the invite.




3. Start late, end early

Being late is rude. Besides that, you’re holding up the meeting from accomplishing its goal. If your team/company’s culture is notorious for being 5 minutes late, start the meeting at 10 minutes after. You’re better off starting “on-time” with everyone’s attention than working through interruptions.

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

This rule also applies to the meeting’s duration. Parkinson’s law says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion“. Meetings always seem to expand to the space they have been given. If you schedule an hour meeting, it will always seem to take that full hour. However, the same meeting, with a bit more structure and focus, could many times be accomplished in 50 minutes or even 30 minutes.

Schedule meetings with agendas that can be covered in 20-25 or 50-55 minutes. This will leave an extra 5-10 minutes before and after as a buffer. Don’t assume everyone will be on-time. Also, don’t expect others will want to stay late either. Having an adequate buffer will ensure the meeting runs smoothly and ends appropriately.

4. Stand, walk or otherwise get away from distractions

We’ve all been in conference calls/meetings where someone asks a question and, following a brief pause, we hear the response, “Umm… can you repeat the question?” This is a red flag that the people are disengaged.

It likely means one of two things:

  1. your meeting isn’t important to them (or they don’t understand why it should be)
  2. the person *thinks* they can multi-task

 


Related: The Worst Advice We’ve Been Given About Productivity


 

If at all possible, schedule meetings in-person, this will significantly reduce the amount of distractions and “multi-tasking”. If you have remote attendees, try using video or having an active “back channel” (email/IM/social) with everyone in the meeting to keep them engaged.




5. Take excellent notes, follow up with the team

It’s unlikely that everyone on the team will be invited to every meeting. Taking good notes allows others to catch up. However, more importantly, even people who DID attend, likely won’t remember everything that was discussed during the meeting.

Notes give the full team, even those that didn’t attend the meeting, a place to go back and review what was discussed. This is probably most critical for confirming follow up action items. After the meeting, send a copy of the notes out to each person invited and get buy-in that they are being ‘accepted’. Later, you’ll have a consistent process for retrieving historical notes and follow up items, validating that they have been completed.

 

Do you have any other tips or advice for running meetings?  Please share them below!

Ask Stupid Questions…Please!

The local Microsoft Technology Center has a mantra of “No guessing”…and I love it. All engagements start out with a level-set that in order for the effort to be successful, all assumptions must be validated and no concerns left unaddressed. I have really enjoyed this collaborative ‘mandate’. There is a level of efficiency AND effectiveness that comes with the removal of all the usual barriers.

However, this level productivity maturity only comes when people talk. “No guessing” is a theme that manifests itself through full transparency (and that means everyone). This means people need to speak up when they have doubts and when they disagree. And yes, as you can imagine, great listening skills are still valued, and needed.

I recently read a fascinating quote by Abraham Lincoln via a blog post by Simon Terry:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

– Abraham Lincoln

Unfortunately, many of us belong to a culture that still feels they cannot be seen as vulnerable. I see it every day…and I’m admitting…I fall victim too. We lie, exaggerate and cheat ourselves by making it appear as if we’ve got everything under control and aligned to a solid vision. In reality, we could all use some type of help. And especially when we are part of a team…ego is the antithesis to team.

Those people who ask questions and never let doubts or concerns fester often end up helping the entire team move forward faster toward its goals.

Valuable Things to Do With Your Free Time

Many will probably laugh at this title. Free time? Yes! In reality, we all have some amount of free time. It’s the time that isn’t dedicated to school, job, family, etc. We likely already use this time to catch up on our favorite TV show or go work out.

Using this free time to do something “valuable” can be an important part of staying mentally and physically strong. Often people think the only way to relax is to do “nothing”. But in fact, many people unwind by doing activities that other people would perceive as effort.

We first need to explore what “valuable” means to you. Are you the type of person that is a perpetual learner? Or, are you the type that is always overly stressed out? Based on the type of person you are, you will value an activity in your free time differently. The first personal would likely pick up a book to read, while the second person would rather have a massage to relax. Once you know what energizes you, you can use that to choose things that are rewarding for your body and mind.

Let’s look at some types of activities and examples in each.

Self

Do something for your self. In this category, you should do things that are beneficial to both your mental and physical well-being. Examples of activities can be meditation, reading a new book, journaling, going for a walk, working out, etc. etc. The key is that you are doing it because it’s good for you (even though you may not necessarily enjoy it every time).

Learning

Learn something new. Don’t worry, this includes more than just reading. For example, you could watch a documentary/movie about something interesting. You could even search the internet for the latest fashion trends. Or maybe learn to knit. Of course, you can read too. The key is to learn something different (new) each time.

Volunteer

Do something for others. This could be stocking food at the local food shelf or even helping out at the humane society walking dogs. There are TONS of opportunities to help out around your community. If you are looking for some suggestions, take a look at VolunteerMatch.

Hobby

Do something fun! Go for a bike ride. Paint a picture. It’s important to do something that you like and that is fun. It doesn’t necessarily have to be “good” for you, but it shouldn’t be harmful either. It must be enjoyable. If you’re stuck on ideas, check out some of these resources:

Money

Do something for more money. If you are motivated by having some extra cash to spend, using your free time to work a second job can definitely be categorized as valuable. You don’t necessarily need to get a second full-time job either. There are lots of ways to make money from home (part-time). Check out a few of these inexpensive books which have a wealth of ideas to make some side-money at home.

 

Just by putting in a little thought, you’re likely already on the right track to making valuable use your time.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

Any athlete will tell you, practicing more won’t necessarily make you any better. Just the same, working more hours won’t necessarily improve your quality: “Work smarter, not harder”, they say. Real quality comes from analyzing process, learning from and improving mistakes and rehearsing good behaviors. This is why athletes have a coach…and we need one in our personal lives too.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”

If there’s one single thing I retained from my high school years, it would be a quote from my band instructor, Mr. Robinson. He would drill into our heads a mantra that still has so much applicability today. Every day during practice he would tell us, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. What you practice is equally as important as how often you practice it.”

a lesson from golf

A golf swing is a great analogy for life. We all have personal flaws. For those who don’t hit the ball perfectly each time, you’re just like me. I have a very predictable, yet frustrating, slice off of the tee-box. Some tell me to just “play the slice”, but that’s really just reinforcing my handicap. Every spring, I am determined that I’ll fix the slice. So, I head to the driving range as soon as the snow thaws and buy 2 or 3 buckets of balls. I take a couple swings and see where I’m at. If not good, I change something (grip, stance, backswing, etc) and take a few more swings. After hundreds of balls and some of the goofiest grips, stances, etc, I still have the same slice. “Ah, better luck next year”, I say.

The reason why I can’t improve is pretty simple. Despite all my crazy adjustments, I am practicing bad form.

don’t practice bad habits

If you have bad habits, or habits that prevent you from achieving your goals, stop them as fast as you can. Every day that you practice those rituals, you further cement them into your routine. Introducing a new habit (e.g. working out) is hard, but stopping an existing habit (e.g. smoking) can be even harder. Even harder than making these changes is sometimes realizing what needs to be changed. This is why you need a coach.

get a coach

Before starting a self-improvement regimen, get a coach. All professional athletes have a coach. Why not have one for your personal life? An athlete may be excellent at what he/she does, but a coach offers a third-party perspective that cannot be seen by an athlete themselves. Sometimes being too close to the problem IS ‘the problem’. This is my golf swing problem. As much as I read about what I should do, I am too close to the problem. I need a coach.

For your personal life, a mentor or even a community of like-minded people can offer observations and help continually evolve your swing. Once you have a coach, you can start to experiment with guidance you receive.

experiment. but with guidance

There is no right way to improve your personal life. There is no single process, advice or phone app that can help every person. It’s very important to try a number of things and record how they work or don’t work. If you’re giving journaling a shot, this is an excellent writing prompt. Give each experiment at least 3-4 weeks to work. Don’t experiment with more than 1 or 2 things at a time. It will be hard to determine what is/isn’t working with too much going on. Report your learns back to your coach and repeat the feedback loop.

Perfect is not a reality that should be feasible

If you are investing in improving your life, you should already be the type of person that realizes it will never be “perfect”. And that’s ok.

What you practice is equally as important as how often you practice it.”

Self-improvement is a continuous cycle of goal setting, hard work, reflection and refined goal setting. “What you practice is equally as important as how often you practice it.” So getting as much feedback and self-reflection on the what part will pay dividends as you get started.

And, next year, I WILL fix that slice. I promise.

How To Come Up With Great Ideas

Whether you are a professional in a career, a student working on a thesis or boot-strapping entrepreneur looking for the next big thing, producing a stream of new ideas may be something you struggle with. You often hear people say, “But I’m just not good at coming up with ideas”. Regardless of the purpose, the process is pretty much the same for everyone: Practice.

We all possess this amazing tool for creativity, our brain. It’s true that some people are better at ideas than others. It doesn’t come from some innate power where ideas just come to them. It comes from their approach and practice toward problem solving.

Here are some suggestions to rev up your own creative engine.

Start mental exercises 

  • Write problems down on a piece of paper or at the top of a page in OneNote, Evernote, etc. This will help you keep track, but also being clear on the problem you are trying to solve will help you focus better.
  • Start journaling. Fiction writers do this to break through writer’s block. If you’re stuck on developing a problem statement journaling can help. The goal is to get your mind working.
  • Make lists of things you like/dislike about your personal life, job, etc. This can help spark new ideas or vet out potential solutions. See below for more on this.
  • Read Quora for trending questions. Add filters to narrow on your interests.
  • Review Google Trends for things people are searching for
  • Use a random idea generator to give you a topic to think or write about
  • Be open to ideas that are related but not relevant to what you are seeking. These “tangents” are often the thoughts that spark other ideas that get you want.

Have dedicated “thinking” time

  • Do it early in the day. You are likely a better thinker at 6am than you are at 6pm after a crazy day. Much like a runner feels the best before a race…don’t try to dedicate time to creativity after you’ve just run a mental marathon.
  • Dedicate at least 10 minutes to thinking. Daily. It’s only 10 minutes. Depending on the type of method you use, meditation can be great tool for this as well.
  • Uninterrupted time will serve you better than trying this with kids running around or emails/IMs distracting you.




Make lists, diagrams and other notes to spark ideas

Topics can include anything from world issues to common challenges encountered while preparing a meal at home. I often experiment with diagraming these topics. I’ve found The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking incredibly helpful for generating ideas and example diagrams. Each page of the entire book is a different strategic model. It’s really easy to skip around and try different ones out.

Don’t just think. Do.

One of my favorite quotes: “Starting a business is like choosing lunch.  Picking nothing is guaranteed to leave you still hungry.  Picking ‘something’ is better than nothing.  It’s not about being right, it’s about being.” – Seth Godin

I think the same applies to getting started with anything. It’s better to start thinking today than to wait for ‘the perfect idea’ to come along tomorrow.

After a short amount of time, you will be amazed at the new ideas that your exploration brings to you. As you get better at it, managing all the new “tangents” will be more difficult than generating them. It’s best to have some type of “Icebox” to let your ideas chill so they aren’t a distraction. I use OneNote  which allows me to quickly create a new Page and toss in a few bullet points about the idea to build on later. I have also had good experience with the Werdsmith app, but found it’s rich editing capabilities lacking.

Good luck and happy ideation.

8 Mistakes We Continue to Make on LinkedIn

Almost all recruiters now use LinkedIn as part of their employee search program. However, trying to line up a company’s need for an employee and your need for a new job is a little bit of a game of luck. Waiting until you need a job to update your LinkedIn profile is by far the worst thing you can do. Keeping your profile current, building connections and building a personal brand is a theme through these 8 mistakes that people make on LinkedIn.

1. Not including a professional photo.

LinkedIn is not Facebook…or MySpace or any other personal social networking tool. Let’s just get the naughty list out of the way:

No selfies, No alcohol, No picture of you with your girlfriend cut out.

As far as tips for a good picture: Hire someone to take it and dress professionally. There’s a reason why it’s never good to submit a photo with your resume (unless of course you’re a model). Don’t give a recruiter any reason to dismiss you before they even know you.

2. Failing to complete your entire profile

You may not want to share your University or volunteer activities, but think of the possible connections that you may have with other people. Great networkers are always thinking of possible connections. (and they leverage them)  Anything positive that might connect you with another person is worth sharing.

3. Not using it to network.

LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool. It gives you the ability to connect with other professionals and, more importantly, connect with your connections connections, and so on. If you are not using LinkedIn to navigation relationships and ask for introductions, you are missing out on the power of a professional networking tool.  Don’t wait to network until you NEED it.

4. Failing to be strategic with your headline or leaving your profile outdated

Somewhat old advice, but still something that is frequently overlooked. Your LinkedIn profile is like yard work. It’s not much work to keep it updated and fresh. But leave it go for a while and it will take some effort to clean up. In the meantime, think of all the people that drove by and said, “Eh, look at that…he obviously doesn’t care”. For many people, updating a LinkedIn profile is something they do after they leave a company. Like a resume, it is something you should always keep ready and up-to-date.

5. ANY grammatical errors

This should be self-explanatory… Grammatical errors are the kiss of death for a professional job. I can’t tell you how many resumes I review with severe grammatical errors on them. Personally, do I care? Eh…  However, how can that person represent the company I work for? I can’t assume a potential client will have the same forgiving perspective.

6. Focusing on quantity of recommendations and not quality

Ten mundane recommendations will never beat out three rockstar recommendations. If you are soliciting recommendations from colleagues, ask them to send you their recommendation ahead of time. You don’t want to tell them what to say, but you can get a glimpse of what they would post and encourage them to be more specific or use examples. Without telling them to write, it may not hurt to remind them of the work you have done together and always offer to return the favor (LinkedIn or privately).

7. Listing generic qualities

How does this sound?  “I am a self-motivated team player with exceptional communication skills that learns quickly and is very professional.” You would hire that person, right? Words are just words. This advice is universal for your LinkedIn profile: be specific. Use examples to show how you “earned” everything you claim about yourself on your profile.

8. Not engaging your connections.

These days, 50% of my LinkedIn request are from people I have never met. I do filter who I accept as a connection, but I do not immediately say ‘No’. ABN: Always Be Networking. After you’ve mutually agreed to connect with someone, then what? Hopefully not “nothing”.  Reach out and introduce yourself especially if it is someone you have never met before. If there is an area you can offer expertise in or something you need help with, share that. At a minimum, start a relationship. You never know when you might need it.

Leading a Grassroots Initiative

For the last year, I’ve been working on a project to increase efficiency and communication across my team. Sounds easy enough, but it wasn’t. It involved fundamentally changing how my team and teams that work with us behave. I’ve recently started reflecting on patterns that I have been using to lead this effort and finding a core set of principles that have led to its success.

Make sure your project doesn’t interfere with your day job

It certainly won’t do you any good to work on something while your “day job” suffers.  Making sure you are exceeding in what you are supposed to be doing first will ensure you continue to have a job to come to.

Tackle a real problem that is specific and benefits the whole organization

True to the first point, finding a problem that is specific and benefits the whole organization, and being able to articulate it, will help get stay aligned to the responsibilities of your job. It can also help you get support down the road. If you can find a problem that is meaningful to you or your team, it will make things a lot easier.

So, if you’re in an exploration/ideation phase, look no further than your own team or processes. Things here might be related to inefficiency, wasted expense/cost, poor team morale, etc. Just ask yourself:

“What’s the most frustrating part of doing my job?”

The answer should give you a good idea of something that deserves further thought. Also, instead of existing challenges, you can also look for opportunities to drive new revenue, productivity or employee satisfaction.

Have manager awareness and support

One way to get support from your manager is to know what is important to him/her. It’s also important to know how your skip level manager is evaluated and ultimately compensated. If your effort aligns to those measures, management will have an easier time understanding and supporting your effort…

Build a campaign

In order to build a movement, you need people joining with a clear message. Initially, you’ll probably do the evangelism. But eventually, you won’t scale. Having a place where your campaign can be discovered and referenced (like a blog or website) will help people share the right message. Many times with large cultural changes, it’s helpful to track success stories as well. Some tips I’ve found helpful:

  • Use a #hashtag on your company’s enterprise social network
  • Post updates on an internal blog
  • Track mission/charter and other important info on a Wiki

Solicit Feedback, look for champions/evangelists

If your intentions are good, you’ll want as much honest feedback on the effort possible. If your effort is just a political, ladder climbing exercise…you may have to do it alone.

Find out what others are thinking and incorporate that feedback into your plan.

Ask those who have been successful in similar activities to review your plan/progress and offer advice. Also be perceptive to people who may fear your project could replace their job. Gather their direct feedback (and ultimately their buy-in) so your plan can account for that earlier in the process.

Plan to experiment, learn and adjust

Run mini-experiments and trials to test your theories out.  Don’t spend too much time planning, just go do and learn.

There is no sense building some grand vision only to find out there is a kink that prevents it from actually happening. The entire process should be iterative when possible.

Share with Executives

Once you have some good material and successful supporting stories…start sharing it with executives. I have not talked with an executive who wasn’t very *intrigued* with the outcome I am seeking. Not only will this help your career, but it’ll give you a good indication of the likelihood your project can go mainstream.

Be persistent

If you believe in your cause, don’t listen to nay-sayers.  Enough said.

 

Month #10 – Be More Social

At the beginning of 2015, a few colleagues and I set out to beat the odds of failure of creating one big “New Year’s Resolution”. Our plan was to create twelve smaller Responsive Resolutions that were easier to achieve and built upon one another. Each month we would work on that one thing and at the end of the month, use learnings from our experience to inform what the resolution would be for the next month, and so on. Goal: A full year of continual learning and growth.

We started off with a lot of success. I had success with resolutions like Journaling and  Meditation.  However, like most new habits, I failed at keeping the rhythm going. I lost the monthly review of what I needed in my life and the goal setting for the next month. Why?

The interesting thing about struggling to keep this habit was that it had nothing to do with the value/benefit I was getting from the activity of self-reflection. In fact, I still did that for myself quite often. It was just the structured activity of picking a new goal for the next month that was gone. In someways I felt like I was still doing it, but just not calling it out.  I believe calling it out is still important.

For the months that I was successful in setting goals… I have still kept many of those. For example, I started this post at 5:15 AM. Getting up early and working is still one my happiest/most productivity parts of the day. Another resolution that I have kept and couldn’t live without: Journaling.

So, I thought I would spend this morning’s journaling session sharing about this reflection on the Responsive Resolutions journey and my thoughts for the remainder of the year ahead. Because I believe being intentional with your actions is important, I am also resurrecting my Responsive Resolutions, starting with October.

Month # 10: “Be More Social”
With all of the things going on “at work” and outside, I want to focus October on being more active on social media. Whaaa?! Who ever says that?  I don’t mean life tweeting every moment of every day. I want to be more engaging with content that I post and content I generate.

I’ve created a personal page on Facebook as an additional platform to engage with people on. Looking forward to October being a solid kickstart for that.

The Worst Advice We’ve Been Given About Productivity

I’ve been talking with other productivity experts about the worst advice on productivity and how they would evolve it to be more valuable. I’ve put together a collection of outdated “tips” and broken down the points of failure and finished it up with a recommendation for a modern update.

 

If you don’t say “Yes”, you’re not a team player

 

Everyone knows this probably isn’t true, but we often feel guilty about saying “no”.  (saying “no” will be a recurring theme across this entire post).  In reality, focus is not about what you choose to do, it’s about what you choose NOT to.  If you always take on too much, you run the risk of over-promising and under-delivering. That is certain to kill your reputation as a reliable teammate. Also, people are horrible at estimating. There are numerous discussions on this topic too.  You may think you can handle a small amount of extra work, but it might really be bad estimating and guilt taking over.

Modern Update:
Choose whether or not you can say “no”. Sometimes you can’t. An alternative to rejecting the ‘ask’ altogether is delegation. Offer to work with the requester to find an alternative person to get the work done. If you have the capacity, offer to supervise the work. It will show your boss that you are a leader and can juggle multiple things at once, without adding a significant amount of extra work to your day.

 

To get everything done, you have to multi-task

 

I hope it’s safe to say most people at least question whether or not this really works. It’s been well proven scientifically (here’s just one example citing sources) that you cannot successfully focus on multiple tasks at the same time. (ok, other than things like walking and chewing gum or listening to music and breathing). In reality, work “tasks” require most of your conscious attention. Think about these activities: email, note taking, blogging, building a presentation, etc. How could you actually work on two at the same time?  Constant switching between tasks takes time and mental strain. It’s similar to shifting between reverse and forward gears in a car. You need to slow down to a near stop before you change gears.

Modern Update:
Pick an activity and work on it for a set amount of time with no distractions. Take a break. Then, go back to work on that activity or, better yet, a different activity.  It’s ok to have multiple projects in flight at the same time, but it’s not realistic to move them all forward at the same rate.

 

Always finish the things you start

 

I start a lot of blog posts that I never finish or publish. However, the content in those posts and the time I spent is not wasted. The content usually feeds the source for one or two different blog posts. And the time writing usually sparks additional ideas.  If I were to finish the original version, it would likely not land the message(s) I want as effectively as splitting the work in half.

Modern Update:
Most large work tasks are longer than the mind’s endurance to do them. Good advice for this is to work on smaller chunks and take frequent breaks. Taking breaks is an essential practice and gives the mind time to reflect on the work done so far. Also, look for opportunities to get better return on your smaller investments. If you can split a blog post into two, likely the message in each of those is more concise and the additional work to “double” your output is minimal.

 

Brainstorming helps you predict problems and avoid them

 

Ok, this is somewhat true. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t plan or be prepared. Always be prepared. However, don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis about things that are theoretical. I love the quote, “The best way to stay in business is to be in business”  Meaning that, you learn so much by being in business vs. just planning to be in business. The same goes for productivity. You learn a lot more by doing things than you do by planning for them.

Modern Update:
Never let perfect get in the way of good enough. Do minimal (but necessary) preparation and start your work right away. Don’t get discouraged by a change of course. Embrace iterative design. It is much easier to adapt your work as you go than try to plan for perfection.

 

You Do Your Best Work Under Pressure

 

While some people have produced more quantity of work while under pressure, it is likely not their best quality. Research shows, most people actually choke under pressure. Some of the best examples of this are in sports. Just read about “The Comeback”. Too much stress causes you to think about other aspects around what you are doing, less on what you are actually doing.

Modern Update:
Nothing will beat proper planning, preparation and prioritization of your tasks (see Time Management). Planning the right things to do, giving yourself enough time to do them and taking frequent breaks to review your work will always produce your best quality output.

Time Management

I have been experimenting with different aspects of productivity lately.  Everything from waking up early, meditation to time management.  Time management?  Blah Blah Blah.  I always thought time management practices were something sold to people who were highly disorganized.  I used to think: “I’m not disorganized, I’m just really busy”.

Productivity Definition

“Productivity is spending your time on working towards your goals.”

It took my research into ‘productivity’ to really discover the truth.  I found it easiest to relate to Asian Efficiency’s simplified definition of productivity: “Productivity is spending your time on working towards your goals”.

The two keys to productivity here are:
1. setting goals
2. working towards them.

Denial

In my past thinking, “busy” was accomplishing the “time working” portion…and I thought I was done.  However, I was missing the most important part: “setting goals”.  Without a plan or goals for the day, I was a bit scattered.  I worked on things as they came in, was often distracted away to the next “important” thing and I never felt fulfilled after the day was done.

I have come to admit: “I was disorganized.”

Goal Setting Practices

I recently started practicing a morning ritual (following meditation) of goal setting.  For no more than a couple minutes, I dedicate time to plan out my day.  I pull from a general list of tasks that I gather throughout the week (Wunderlist) and categorize them into three major buckets for the day: MUST DO, BLOCK TIME, OPEN.

MUST DO: These are items I absolutely need to accomplish for the day.  I try to do these items first thing, if I can, before I even leave for work.  The better I am at this, the more I’ve opened my day up to work on the other things or handle the “urgent” firedrills that are thrown my way.

BLOCKED TIME: These tasks are ones that are all similar in nature: checking email, reading blogs, etc. I’m the type of person that, if allowed, can easily take 30 minutes to reply to a single email.  Time boxing helps force me to get through as much as possible.  At the end of the day, unless it’s an email to an officer of a company, it shouldn’t take 30 minutes to compose.  I also don’t have time to read through the 1,000s of blog posts I subscribe to.  So, I use this blocked time to read through my Saved list of posts (not the most recent ones that came in). [future post coming on my blog/feed reading strategy].  The key is to stick to your time block, whatever it is: 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc, and then move on to the next item.

OPEN: These items are things I can get to when I’ve completed all other tasks.  Here I include things like choosing blog posts I want to Save for later, replying to more emails, researching something, reading, etc.

Practice

Early on, it felt like I would never be able to block time for things like email, let alone get to the “open” items on my list.  Before, I never had time to read a book, and I wished I did.  So, I was curious to see how this would go.  The biggest lesson learned for me was noticing the days where I completed my goal setting ritual vs. the ones where I just rolled out of bed right into my day.  The days where I effectively set goals, I was much more likely to have felt “caught up” early in the day.  Also, dedicating one or two uninterrupted blocks to do email was by far more efficient than 60 separate 30 second quick replies as email came in.

“…it’s what gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment for the day”

The snow ball effect of freeing up time was another eye opener.  While I might not have gained a full hour back in my work day, it significantly reduced the amount of time AFTER work that required my attention.  Getting my evenings back to “personal time” allowed me to actually get to the “open” items and it’s what gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment for the day.