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Productivity Coaching, Time Management Consulting and Leadership Coaching for business and nonprofits - get your most important work done. Collaborating with leaders and their teams to become more strategic, focused and productive. Leadership and Board Coaching, Strategic Planning Facilitation, Productivity Coaching and Time Management Consulting, Professional Speaker.
Productivity Coach, Productivity Consultant, Leadership Coach, Time Management Coach, Business Consulting, personal productivity, time management, nonprofit, board coach, collaboration, strategic planning, facilitation, change management, leading productive teams, project planning, board development, volunteer engagement, association management, workplace productivity, executive director.
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With summer upon us many of us will be changing where we’re working from.  The following are things to consider regardless of where you’re working from.

Working Remotely

Working from home is not new. Many entrepreneurs have been doing it for years. Remote work has been knocking at the door of corporate America for some time. However, COVID brought it mainstream. The global pandemic and the high proportion of workers working out of the office have forced us to rethink how and where we work. 

Moving into the future, one thing we can be sure about is working away from the office, at least part of the time, will be routine. Knowing how to work effectively, regardless of location, is central to the success of today’s workers.

The biggest challenge about working remotely is lack of structure. When we no longer have to wake up at a specific time, commute, attend in–person meetings, network in person, and “go to work,” our time foundation shifts. Personal time and work time blend together. Many people are in work-mode all the time. 

When we leave home and “go to work,” natural guardrails form. By simple proximity, we are not doing home related duties or having personal conversations when we are at “work.”  Yes, we may take a call from a family member or spend a few minutes on a personal task, but we aren’t walking the dog, doing laundry, or letting the repair person in. 

When working from home we spend more time on “home” tasks than anticipated and that means it takes longer to get our work done. To avoid that work/life confusion, consider how to structure your time so there is separation between work and personal tasks.

Working Hybrid – Remote, From Home, and At Work

Productivity in the hybrid work environment focuses on mobility and flexibility. The goal is to work effectively regardless of location. Your office is often in your work bag.  

You already face the challenges of structuring your work time when you’re in the office. Hybrid work brings more complexities because now you also have to consider where you work and when. Building systems to support your productivity is helpful.

Going to work is helpful too. Humans are social animals and we are much healthier with human interaction. While not everyone looks to their work to fill their need for belonging, many do, at least to some degree. 

If we can structure our work and our time effectively, the hybrid model, working remotely or from home for Focus Work time AND going to the office to collaborate and connect, is the best of both worlds. But how do we manage our productivity on the move?

Remote and At Home

You now have much more control over your time. While your meetings are scheduled, everything else is fluid. No one sees your true start times or end times. There is no peer pressure about lunch breaks or coffee breaks. And no one is watching when you are actually producing.

  • You’ve gained time by not commuting. Does this allow you to exercise before you start working or sleep later if that’s what your body needs?
  • You have flexibility when you do your Focus Work. Quiet without interruption is ideal. Is it best to wake early and get a couple of hours in before family activities or regular work interruptions start or better to work in the evening when meetings and emails subside?
  • Can you walk the dog (or just take a walk) at midday for some fresh air and to reenergize?
  • Do you need to tag team with your partner, one working early and the other working late, to be sure there is coverage for the kids?
  • Do you need to plan start times and end times so you have enough structure to get results and know when to stop?

Hybrid

A hybrid situation, where you spend part of your time in the office and part of your time at home, has advantages as well. All the above holds true for your time working out of the office. When we add in a day, or two, or three in the office each week, good things can happen.

  • Time in the office can be energizing. Take advantage of the lift you get when you’re with others, understanding that effectiveness improves with a change of environment and social interaction (even for most introverts). 
  • Child care and family obligations shift. Going to work can provide a much-needed break. The flexibility enables you to be better in each situation.
  • Self-care continues to be important. Taking time for a walking meeting helps with your steps goal. Leaders are on the lookout for ideas to support the new normal. Tell them what you need.
  • Planning start and stop times in the office is helpful to creating routine. These time anchors provide benchmarks to keep you on task and effective.

With proper planning and consideration your summer work can be successfully executed regardless of where you’re working from. 


This is an excerpt from Chapter 13 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

does email suck the life out of you?

Does email suck the life from you? Do you worry about missing important emails? Do you wish email supported you better? Here are some new ideas that can help! 

Consider Your Email Style?

Different people seem to be fine with different amounts of emails in their inboxes. While there is a correlation between structure preference and email style, it probably has little bearing on what you’re doing now. Do you see yourself in any of these cases?

  • Inbox 10,000+ – If I need something, I will search for it. If I miss something it’s ok. If it’s really important it will come up again.
  • Inbox 500 to 1500 – It’s unmanageable. I don’t kid myself. I know I miss important things and it does cause stress.
  • Inbox 25/100/250 – I can get it under control. Identifying a number I don’t want to get above cues me to spend an hour cleaning up my inbox. Still, there has to be an easier way.
  • Inbox one page – As long as I can see everything in my inbox, I’m good. Once it goes to a second page, it’s time to pause and clean it up.
  • Inbox Zero – All emails are moved into folders for future action. Nothing stays in the inbox. (Use with caution. For most, since there is no automatic cue once an email is moved from the inbox, it is never thought of again.)

Manage Your Inbox Contents

What belongs in your inbox? Some clients prefer to keep everything in their inbox. However, there is a high risk of losing important emails. Some clients are fine with the philosophy “if it’s important, I’ll get it again,” though most prefer a more proactive solution.

Keeping everything in your inbox is like keeping all your trash on your desk. Unlike paper, however, the problem isn’t finding it when you go to look for it — the robust search function helps with that. The problem is that you won’t know to look for something you don’t know you have.

To have confidence in your email system, the only items that should be kept in your inbox are the to-do actionable items. Those emails you MUST do something with. 

If you have read your inbox shouldn’t be a to-do list, I disagree. It’s inefficient to use it any other way. However, this only works if you move everything except actionable emails out of your inbox.

To have control over your inbox, you need to judiciously decide the fate of each email. There are three options: File, Delete, and Action:

  • FILE emails to keep for possible future reference 
  • DELETE emails you don’t need 
  • ACTION emails remain in your inbox

Clear Out Your Inbox

  1. Create a folder/label called Reference Emails or Past Emails or something that resonates with you that will indicate to you where your older emails will reside. 
    1. You will move all emails over two months old into this file.
    2. You’ll want to move over a few hundred at a time. If you move too many at once, you may overload your computer’s resources and lock them up. 
    3. In order to keep this information current, I’m not going to give you specific keystrokes to identify and move a range of emails. Instead, do an internet search on “batch move emails” and include your computer (PC/Mac) and email platform (Outlook/Gmail).
    4. Some clients are more comfortable moving the old emails into files labeled by year. This gives them more of a direction as to where to look when trying to locate something. On the other hand, it gives more places to search.

  2. You now have two months of email remaining in your inbox. The next step is to process these and remove additional non-actionable email. 
    1. Do a sort by subject —  This will allow you to batch delete or batch file large groups of emails that are not actionable. Look for: 
      1. Projects that have been completed.
      2. Events that have passed. 
    2. Do a search by sender — This will allow you to continue the batch deleting or batch moving process. Look for:
      1. Newsletters you’ll never read.
      2. Ads that are no longer relevant.
      3. Multiple emails of a string and you only need to keep the last one or the ones with attachments.
    3. Set up rules/filters — As you are going through these remaining emails, look for opportunities for similar grouping of emails to bypass your inbox. 
      1. You can tell your email program to route specific emails to specific files without stopping in your inbox. This is helpful for items you don’t need to look at regularly. 
      2. Some use rules or filters for newsletters, forum posts, or the like. Others use them for confirmation emails that don’t need to be looked at yet need to be kept for possible future reference.
      3. To keep things simple, create a file called RULES and direct all emails that you have created a rule for there. It makes searching, scanning, and purging simple. There is no need to overcomplicate this — remember, if it’s not easy, it’s too hard. 
      4. To learn how to use the rules function with your email system, search “how to use rules in Outlook/Gmail.”
  3. You will be left with far fewer emails than you started with. These emails can then be processed into FILE, DELETE, or left in the inbox as an ACTION item.

It is important you do this process in a short period of time. This is a great task to do in one or two chunks this week. To get your inbox under control, you need to reduce the number of emails so when future emails come in, you can process those and maintain the integrity of YOUR system.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

 

Email – you can’t live with it and you can’t live without it. It seems to take on a life of its own and it seems to impact everyone’s productivity. Today we will look at some email best practices that if we all followed would make everyone a little more productive.

Email Composition

  • Keep the SUBJECT relevant – update the subject line as topics change. Remembering that people search by subject will hopefully motivate you to take that extra second to check that your subject line is relevant. During the course of an email conversation, if the topic changes, change your subject line.
  • Be concise – make your point as briefly as possible. Long and complex emails are often put aside, never to be looked at again. If you want an answer, keep your message simple and short.
  • Be decisive – minimize emails going back and forth by making decisions. Instead of saying “should I call you or do you want to call me,” say, “I’ll call you.” Instead of saying “should we talk at 10 am or 11 am,” say “let’s talk at 11 am.” Better yet, say “I’ll call you at 11 am unless I hear from you otherwise.”
  • Share sentiments sparingly – while “thank you” and “great job” are lovely thoughts, email may not be the best venue to share them. Be mindful of email overwhelm before you share kudos and DO NOT REPLY ALL.

Email Triage

  • Get extraneous emails out of your inbox immediately
    • if you have reviewed an email and it has no use to you, DELETE IT IMMEDIATELY! You wouldn’t leave trash around your house, why would you leave it in your inbox?
    • For emails containing information that you might need some day and CAN’T GET ANYWHERE else, MOVE the email out of your inbox into a folder.
  • Unsubscribe – when sitting around waiting at the doctor’s office, for the train, for carpool, or on hold, use that time to unsubscribe from emails that no longer serve you. The fewer that come in, the more you’ll be able to manage the important ones.
  • Set Rules – if your email client (Outlook, Gmail, etc.) offers the option to set rules, use them to automatically move emails that are not important out of your inbox. I have one folder called RULES that I use for things that I don’t need, but sometimes like to see (favorite store ads, newsletters, political information, etc.)  The rule is set to automatically move those items from the inbox to the RULES folder. That way I can check if and when I want to.

Email Communication:

  • Feel no obligation to respond – just because someone asks you a question or wants your time doesn’t mean it is productive to respond. It is okay to delete something that is unsolicited or not important.
  • Stop the REPLY ALL craziness – Use Reply All very sparingly. Almost all the time your answer is most relevant to the sender and a time suck for everyone else.
  • Use Bcc when sending to a group – if sending out emails to a group be sure to use the Bcc (blind carbon copy) option rather than the Cc (carbon copy) option. This will ensure that others in the email string don’t have access to everyone else’s email address. It is poor form to publicly share other people’s emails with your group.

Shift your Perspective

Think of email like snail mail.

  • Do you feel obligated to open every piece of junk mail that comes into your home and office?
  • Worse yet, could you imagine KEEPING every piece of junk mail that comes into your home and office (gosh I hope not; and if the answer is yes, I have wonderful Professional Organizer colleagues that can help you!)
  • Just like you get rid of the garbage in your physical life it is necessary to get rid of the garbage in your virtual life too!

email

We seem to live in a world of 2 email camps:

  • NEVER look at your email first thing in the morning
  • ALWAYS look at your email first thing in the morning

The “NEVERS” believe that if you get caught up in email minutia you will not get your most important work.

The “ALWAYS” believe that if you don’t know what’s lurking and clear up the “must-dos” than you may miss something important.

I suspect that some of this has to do with the type of work you do and the kind of responsibilities you have.  For those that work globally, email may in fact be your primary means of communication.  For those of us in the service business we communicate with our clients via email and I personally, could NEVER not be an “ALWAYS.”

HOWEVER, it isn’t this cut and dry.  It isn’t about ALWAYS or NEVER.  Like everything, the answer lies in the grey zone.  The question is: What systems can be put in place to ensure that email doesn’t take over your life?  I’ve tried a lot of different things, and I’ve worked with my clients to try different things.  As with ALL productivity systems, there is no such thing as one size fits all, and no one system ALWAYS works for the same person ALL the time.  Different circumstances require different systems.  Here are a few you may want to consider:

(more…)

Printer Icon

Paper overwhelm is one of the most commonly voiced productivity concerns I hear.  There is just too much. There are many was of managing paper but today we are going to focus on printing less.  The best thing you can do is think before you print.

Thinking before printing not only helps the environment but helps you be more productive by reducing the quantity of stuff you have to plow through to find the stuff that matters most.  What can you do instead of printing?

  • Emails: Learn to use the search function.  All email programs today have excellent search functions.  While my preference is to file emails logically, even if you leave them all in your inbox you can still search for what you need when you need it.  It is actually easier to find a specific email on your computer than in various unfiled piles in your office.
  • Articles: If you haven’t yet downloaded Evernote do so today.  It’s free and crosses platforms – that means you can use it on your phone, tablet, and Mac/PC.  Evernote also has a fabulous search function so you can find what you are looking for in a heartbeat.  You can copy and paste the article into Evernote, you can save links in Evernote, and you can clip pictures into Evernote.  It’s much more efficient to find what you are looking for in Evernote than in the various piles in your office
  • Drafts:  Do you need to print and keep every draft of a project you are working on? If in fact you need to print, only keep the most current or two most current.  Printing and keeping multiple copies of the same thing is both confusing and wasteful.

Many people use their email signature as a way to communicate credentials, contact information and marketing links. Sometimes people include an inspirational message. These are all great uses…but there is more you can do.

Most email programs provide an option for multiple signatures. Some people use this feature to change between business and personal signatures. This of course is helpful. But imagine the possibilities if you used these signatures to communicate information you use all the time.

The best way for me to explain this is to share what I do. If I find that I’m sending the same information in emails over and over again, it is worthwhile to turn it into a signature (I actually put the body of the letter into the signature.) Then when I need to send that email, all I need to do is change to that particular signature, add the salutation (Dear Jane), make a few personalization tweaks, and hit send.

Here are the signatures I use:

  • Coaching – is used when replying to a client interested in coaching
  • Ellen – is for when I just want my name
  • Ellen Faye Organization – is my full blown signature with all the bells and whistles
  • Ellen Personal – is for personal correspondence with my home phone #, etc.
  • Ellen Short – is essential information used for business
  • Mom – is for my kids… (says…Love, Mom)

This super useful tool saves me a great deal of time. Check out the signatures feature in your email program to see how you can benefit. Questions – post them as a comment on my blog and I’ll get back to you right away.