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Productivity 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 Consulting, Professional Speaker.
Productivity Coach, Productivity Consultant, Leadership Coach, Executive 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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tasks Tag

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:

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Weekly Focus Session

If there was one thing you could do to get your most important work done will you do it?  It will take an hour or two every week and it will drive your productivity levels through the roof.  It’s what I call my Weekly Focus Session.  By looking at the work you have to do, comparing it to your goals and prioritizing what’s most important, you are setting yourself up for a most effective week.  In a nut shell here is the process:

1. Block out time each week.  Start with 2 hours.  As time goes on and you get into the rhythm it will probably take only an hour – sometimes less.  Put the two hours on your calendar.  If something comes up in that time slot simply move the Focus session to another open two hour slot.  I like scheduling my Focus session late Friday afternoon.  It helps me relax over the weekend, though some clients like to do it on Saturday morning, Monday morning, or mid-week.

2. Take EVERYTHING that is laying around and put it into ONE BIG PILE.

3. Review your goals – both long term and short term.  I like to keep them posted nearby so that it’s easy to reference.

4. Process the pile – picking up one item at a time  and decide:

  • Do I need to do it?  Does it help me reach my goals?  If no, let it go (recycle, shred or file for future reference).
  • If Yes, ask yourself: how important is it that it gets done?  Put the task associated with the paper on your to do list sectioned by level of priority (Critical, Hot, Sooner or Later.)   Put the paper in an appropriate file or pile so you can find it when you need it.
  • Pick up the next item and repeat.

5. When you are at the end of the ONE BIG PILE you are done.  And you will have a very clear picture of what you need to focus on for the upcoming week.

2 Minutes

Productivity Guru David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule is simple – If you can do it in two minutes or less do it now.  It’s a great concept for helping you move through the backlog of paper, tasks to-do and sticky notes laying around.  Basically, his premise is that it’s going to take the same amount of time to put it on your to-do list or into your task management system then it will take to do it, so just stop and get it done.  I do like this tactic and employ it often as I do my weekly review (next week I’ll explain how I manage this process), however, don’t take “two-minutes” literally:  Here are some variations to consider:

  • “Hold” time doesn’t count:  If there are calls you need to make that require you to wait on hold, but the conversation will only take a few minutes, make it now.  Put the phone on speaker and continue on with your processing.  This is actually a great use of time – processing paper is comprised of micro-decisions and stopping to take the call won’t require much re-ramp-up time.
  • 3 or 4 or maybe even 5 minutes is OK:  Remember, the concept is that it will take more time to anchor it to a future action than it will to do the task.  The number of minutes is much less significant than the concept.  Empower yourself to use your best judgment.
  • OMG: When you find something that it critical and you just have to do it now (and this does happen) it is okay to stop and do it ONLY WHEN YOU HAVE TIME TO FINISH THE WEEKLY REVIEW.  I believe that investing in this hour or two weekly is the one most important thing you can do to improve your productivity.  Taking the time to organize papers prevents you from finding OMG’s and is really the only thing short of a full time administrative assistant that can help you get your most important work done.
  • JUST Don’t Do It: I have yet to meet a client (or colleague for that matter) that can do everything.  EVERYTHING CAN’T BE IMPORTANT.  As you are evaluating next steps (do it now, put it on my list, etc.) consider “not doing it at all” as a very viable option.  If you are spending your time doing less important work at the expense of the most important work you are making a poor leadership decision.  Ask yourself – “What would happen if I just didn’t do it?”

I’ve stumbled upon an awesome technique to get me through the day on those days that I have just too much to do and can’t figure out where to start or what to do first.  I write each task, to-do, and action step on an individual post it.  Then I arrange them in order of:

  • Do what’s most time sensitive first
  • Do what’s most important next
  • Do what has to come before something else before I can do the other thing

It does take a few minutes to write out the post-its, but it’s a very useful exercise.  By doing this I am:

  • Getting clear on today’s priorities
  • Narrowing my focus on the most important things
  • Letting go of those things on my list that really aren’t important.

Useful Hints:

  • I’m loving these new 2×2 post-its
  • Post so you can see from your desk
  • Use a marker so you can read it from your desk
  • Color code if it makes you happy
  • If you have a lot of the same task to do, (phone calls, invites, notes to send) break it out in smaller groups (a few at a time – with each batch getting it’s own post-it) so it’s not so overwhelming.

The Best Part:

  • Taking down each post-it feels so good
  • You have a visual picture to get you through the day
  • At the end of the day when there is only a few post-its left you feel so good

And as much as I love my technology, sometimes low-tech is the best way to fly.  Try it and let me know how it works for you.

Making A List And Checking It Twice

Making A List And Checking It Twice

No… not talking about Santa’s list.  I’m talking about your TO DO list.  If you’re putting EVERYTHING on your list you are probably overwhelmed.  Before you say YES to a task or opportunity, run it through a filter list that helps you sort the yes’s from the no’s:

Possible Filter List Questions:   

  • Will it help someone or something important to me?
  • Will it help me grow personally or professionally?
  • Will it help me reach my goals?
  • Will I have fun doing it?
  • Will it give me joy?

Not sure? Ask yourself:

  • What’s the worst thing that will happen if I say NO?
  • Why should I say YES, and why should I say NO?
  • If I say YES to this, what will I be saying NO to?

If the answer isn’t clearly “yes”, then it probably should be “no.”

Last week I wrote about setting up your to-do list by priorities so that you didn’t have to copy the same information over and over again.  This concept captures the new way of managing time.  The reality is that no matter how hard we work or how organized we are, we can no longer get everything done.  When planning how to use our time I have found it most effective to group my to-dos into priorities.  Many time-management gurus have their own methodology.  Mine is a hybrid – based on what I’ve seen WORK with clients over the past 12 years.  As with everything I do, it’s easy, because we’ve learned – if it’s not easy it doesn’t happen.

Critical – must be done today before I leave the office or go to bed

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