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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.

5 Concepts To Set Yourself Up For Productivity Success

Sometimes a good task list just isn’t enough. Which of these hacks can you use to move from to–do to done. 

Plan Today’s Work

The simplest technique is to take a sticky note and write down the top three tasks you want to accomplish for the day. Place it where you’ll see it, such as on the lower edge of your monitor or on your cleared-off desk. 

When it’s time to work, look at the note and move into action. You’ll stop wasting time on inconsequential tasks and get to your important work without hesitation.

Why a post-it and not an app? Every time you pick up your phone it’s an opportunity to get distracted and lose productive work time. The sticky note on your monitor takes NO TIME to glance at.

Batch Tasks

Task batching is the act of grouping related tasks together to create an economy of scale. Large operations do it all the time – think production lines or accounting systems. 

You probably do it often without thinking. Do you put one dish in the dishwasher at a time? Do you run one errand at a time? Do you do laundry every day? For most people, it’s more efficient to do tasks like these all at once. Batching work-related tasks is equally efficient.

When we spend our time thinking about what we have to do, remembering where we were in the project, and then building up momentum to get results, we are ramping up. Nothing is more frustrating than going through the ramp up process to get to the meat of a project and then having to stop. 

By batching tasks, you only have to ramp up once. You gather information, assess the situation, make a plan, and move into action once.  

Multitasking vs. Task Switching 

Multitasking isn’t a thing. It doesn’t exist. The brain can only process one thought at a time. What have you been doing? You’ve been task–switching, moving from one mentally demanding activity to another mentally demanding activity. 

You may be a fast “task–switcher,” which means you can quickly move from task to task. But you are simply shifting your focus from one activity to the next and back. In the long run, this takes longer to complete each task. Because, as we’ve just discussed, it takes time to ramp up, remember where we were, and move into productive action.

Sticking with a task through completion is the only way to get it done.

Note: There is a difference between multi-tasking and low cognitive load white-noise activity. Some people need to doodle, color, play phone games, etc. to stay engaged and focused. That is not multi-tasking or task-switching. The white-noise activities don’t challenge your brain, so you are able to focus on the task at hand. This is why you can listen to a book on tape while you are taking a walk. Walking is rote — you do it without thinking. But cross a busy intersection safely and you will have to go back and listen to the part of the book you missed while your brain was keeping you from getting hit by a car. 

Do It Now

Sometimes, during planning, it takes less time to do a task than to plan to do a task. Additionally, if you have an open time slot that wouldn’t be useful for Focus Work, use that time and get those 5-, 10-, or 15-minute tasks done.

If something has been on your task list for weeks and you still haven’t done it, think about how much mental and emotional energy you’ve put into worrying or thinking about the task. Think about how much time you’ve wasted NOT doing the task. Sometimes it’s best just to do it and get it off your list and off your mind.

And sometimes it feels fabulous to spend a few hours clearing out all the little annoying few-minute tasks, getting them off your plate. Clearing out makes room for more important things.

Create Follow-Up Cues

The brain is not wired to arbitrarily remember new things. Neuroscientists say our working memory can hold between five to nine pieces of new information at a time. To remember everything that needs to be done, we need to create cues to help ourselves move into action.

Have you ever put something in front of the door to take with you? As in – you can’t open the door unless you pick up the bag in front of it? If you have something you absolutely MUST NOT forget to bring with you the next day, have you ever put it in the car the night before? These are examples of creating a cue to remember. 

The more we create cues the less we have to remember. We are setting ourselves up for success and freeing up our valuable working memory for more important things.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 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.

Pings are everywhere. They permeate our workdays and our time off. Interruptions are meant to be disruptive, yet people can’t seem to remember to turn off their audible beeps before going on national television or walking into an important meeting. 

Each time you get a ping, you are also getting a dopamine infusion to your brain. You are addicting yourself to interruptions. Those pings however, are undermining your productivity. That ping is costing you time. Research indicates when you are interrupted, it can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to get back up to speed for the task you were originally working on. In addition to the time cost, that notification could also be affecting your health. In a fascinating study from UC-Irvine, research showed that frequent workplace interruptions cause greater levels of stress and frustration.

I frequently observe clients simply ignoring their dings, pings, and pop-ups. Instead of improving productivity, they are reducing it by giving the user a false sense of security.

If notifications cost time and cause stress, and if we set them to cue us to move into action and then ignore them, resulting in missing an important action or deadline, those pings really are doing more harm than good. 

Are notifications useless? Absolutely not. The question we should be asking is how do we use them to support us?

Use Notifications Prudently and Intentionally

Prudently

  • Start by turning ALL your notifications OFF. All of them. On your phone, your computer, your watch, your laptop, your tablet, everywhere. (Think zero-based budgeting!) 
  • Then ask yourself — which top three sounds really matter? Go back and turn those three on. Turning everything off and then selectively turning some back on will yield excellent results. 
  • If you have a Smart Watch, take it a step further and always keep your phone on silent. You can set your watch to vibrate for important notifications. 

Intentionally

  • Used intentionally, timers and pings can help. Too many pings and you just ignore them. When they occur infrequently, they catch our attention and can support us.
  • Pings can:
    • Cue us to move into action such as check for an important email response, switch tasks, prep for a meeting, start finishing up a project.
    • Cue us to leave or get ready to leave.
    • Cue us to take a break as a motivator to continue working on a hard project.
    • Cue us an ending time is coming.
    • Cue us to be aware of how much time is passing.

Turning off automatic notifications and instead setting intentional reminders is much more efficient. Experiment with the following timer techniques:

  • Voice-activated personal assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant are easy. “Hey Siri, 10-minute timer” and you’re cued. 
  • Browser – type “10–minute timer” into your browser search bar and you’ll get a ping in 10 minutes.
  • Smart Watch and Smart Phone Timer – Whether via an app, voice activated, or by “complications” on your watch, timers are quickly set.
  • Time Timer® – An analog clock shows the passage of time through a patented red disk. As time elapses, the red disk disappears, helping create awareness around the passing of time. This is helpful for phone calls, meetings, and Focus Work. It is marketed to the ADHD community; however, I have seen it help busy people without ADHD equally well. 
  • Any timer that doesn’t automatically turn off – When it really matters, set a timer that requires you to get up out of your chair and walk across the room to turn it off. If you have a strong need to “just finish this one thing,” find a timer that doesn’t automatically turn off. If you work from home, try your stove timer. If you are in the office, try an old-fashioned alarm clock and place it across the room.
  • The Pomodoro Technique is based on using timers to help sequence your work. Think interval training for your work. Coined “Pomodoro” by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the technique uses a timer to designate work and break times. (It’s called Pomodoro, Italian for tomato, since Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to cue himself into action).
    • The original Pomodoro Technique suggests you work 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and repeat 4 times. After the 5th 25-minute work interval you take a 25-minute break.
    • Many of my clients, however, don’t find the 5-minute break long enough. This is another great opportunity to experiment.
      • Do you want a 10-minute break? Try 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off.
      • Do you prefer working to a logical stopping point? What if you’re in flow and don’t want to stop at all? Try setting the timer anyway. It can be motivating to know a break is coming even if you don’t take it.
    • There are numerous apps available for you to try the Pomodoro Technique. Experiment to help you determine your best work time and break time combination.

Timers and notifications can boost your productivity if you use them prudently and intentionally.  Experiment with these suggestions and watch how much more you get done.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 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.

 

In my last blog post I explained the importance of setting your goals and intentions, and we discussed why adding intentions was so important. In my book Productivity for How You’re Wired, I share 3 different models you can use to set goals and intentions based on your structure preference. You can create your own plan by following the steps below.  Definitely do the first 3 steps. Steps 4 and 5 are optional based on “how you’re wired.”

Step 1: Identify Focus Areas

Focus areas are the spaces in which you want to spend the time of your life. In a financial budget you’d have areas such as home expenses, utilities, clothing, food, and entertainment. For your life’s Focus Areas these may be business/work, professional development, personal growth, self–care, family, spirituality, friends/social, volunteerism, service, activism/advocacy.

Step 2: Set Goals and/or Intentions
A few people can state their goals or intentions off the top of their heads. Most can’t.

If the answers don’t come easily to you start by developing your priorities (Step 3). Then use your priorities to back into your goals and intentions. While it goes against every rigid business planner’s process, completing your priorities first can help you see exactly what matters. Ask “what is the purpose of doing these things” (the priorities.) The answer will bring the goal or intention into focus. Keep your goals and intentions concise and clear. They cue you to remember. They do not need to include ALL the details.

Step 3: Determine Strategic Priorities
The next step is to figure out the three most important things you want to accomplish in each focus area. Your priorities should be actionable within the established time frame of your plan. The priority should identify what you will do.

  • Start with an action word such as plan, complete, strategize, or implement.
  • Be concise – provide enough detail so you understand what want to do, but not so much you can’t easily grasp the action.
  • When identifying your priorities, it is often helpful to prime the pump by ask yourself questions such as these:
    • What project, task or action is critical to my success/my organization’s success?
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • What would I be disappointed with if I didn’t achieve?
    • What do I need to do to be who I want to be? 

Step 4: Create your Mission/Purpose/Success Statement

This is your WHY, your driver, what motivates you in work and/or life. If you know your WHY, add it now. If not, it often comes into focus as you complete the rest of the map. This step is optional. Add it if it supports you. Your statement should inspire you:

  • Use words that will reinforce what is important to you.
  • Define what success means to you.

Step 5: Plan your Quarterly Tactics

If you thrive in high structure and you’re excited about having a full–blown, step–by–step quarterly plan, this last section is for you. However, if the thought of doing this last step sounds dreadful, you’re best to skip it.

  1. Think the project through.
  2. Now put the project elements in order. Consider what steps must come before the others. You’ll probably identify a couple of things you are missing. Add those in.
  3. Estimate the time you’ll expect to spend on this element. A good rule of thumb is to double your time estimate.
  4. Now plug the elements into your quarterly plan.

Start thinking about what matters to you.  Use a template from the book or design your own. What’s most important is that you take a bit of time to identify how you want to “spend” your time.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

Counteract Burnout

Excessive busyness is no longer looked upon as a badge of honor. More and more companies are moving towards eliminating the frenzied activity and psychologically unsafe conditions that cause burnout. What can be done?

From an Organizational Perspective:

  • Shift from the quarterly results mentality to sustained positive performance
  • Support work cultures that value members of the team
  • Dismiss managers who create and promote dysfunction.

From an Individual Perspective:

Knowing that your work culture may be contributing to your burnout is validating; however, it’s probably not enough to effect change. We, as individuals, need to learn how to protect ourselves from chronic stress and burnout.

The emotional component must also be considered. Finding balance between your passion for contributing to a project’s success and caring for yourself is much easier said than done. 

In monitoring your relationship with burnout, consider the following:

  • Selfvalue — Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can do it better than anyone else still doesn’t mean you should. 
  • Connectedness Do you feel connected to your work colleagues? Do you fit in?
  • Contribution Are you part of something bigger than yourself? Are you empowered to do the work you were hired to do? Does your work matter?
  • Work Fit Are you working to your strengths? If not, this in itself is exhausting.
  • Support If you have a problem, is there someone you can go to for direction or to help you sort things out?
  • Balance Can you slow down enough to relax or are you always seeking your next big rush?
  • Interests Do you have interests outside of work? What else matters?
  • Fun and Joy Do you know how to have fun? Do you know what gives you joy? 
  • Happiness Have you lost yourself? Are there things that make you happy that come from inside you and not from external validation? 

What does relax mean to you? Another exercise class? Reading more? Cooking more? If these activities help you decompress, then great. But for many, they are simply personal to-dos, done for outcome and not pleasure. What makes you happy? What helps you enjoy life? We are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings. Can you identify one act of “be-ing” that helps you relax? 

Take a few moments this week and self-coach yourself around some of these questions.  You could journal, take a contemplative walk, or simply sit and “be” with a question or two.  Setting intentions about how you wish to live and creating structures that support your personal self are positive actions you can take.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.