Productivity And Staying On Top Of Things (4)

After last week’s longer post, I try to get a short one in this week. It is sometimes difficult to get all content in, yet stay within a certain range of words. And some chapters just don’t break up nicely.

So let’s look at another real life examples.

You have a project that needs to be finished in time, start with the end, work backwards and identify the critical path. That is simple. Baby step identification that will lead to the achievement of the bigger goal. Like in coaching. You start with the yearly calendar, then the monthly, weekly, daily, hourly….and I guess you do not have to go much more granular. Key is that in any project you start with the bigger picture and always take actions towards it.

GTD suggests a lot of tools, like having different lists for different occasions. That can work very well, so you have a list of calls you can make on the go, or offline tasks whilst you are in a plane. Remembering having all those lists can be tricky, so that I usually just keep one to-do list and work off it with reminders put into my diary for when I am at locations; so when I know I have a flight I put a reminder in the diary to “read the paper on real time bidding” rather than looking at my list of “things to do offline”. But that is where everyone brings in their own system. Having a physical in-tray is nothing new, using it for everything that needs to be sorted makes a lot of sense.

The biggest challenge for me is and will always be to stop my brain from going into overdrive because it is easily done and very distracting. The urge to do too many things at the same time is tempting but not very productive. Making this handwritten to do list or to brainstorm and then putting one’s thoughts into order is just fine. Just because you can do things, does not mean you have to. Delegate what you can and try to find a quick and easy way to get some tasks done.

The challenge is really to not overcharge your brain. And as mentioned, and probably experienced by most readers, the brain likes to go into overdrive. When you emptying the dishwasher and realise you have the coffee maker on, whilst burning the bacon. You already know what you want to watch on TV whilst eating and mentally already put the dishes in the dishwasher…..The moment you realise you cannot do everything at the same time, you need to relax, deep breathe in and remind yourself that it is enough to just do one thing at a time. You won’t forget to tidy the kitchen or clean it at a later stage. Just because you know the workflow already, doesn’t mean you should do it all at once. Help yourself by slowing down and chilling out, doing one thing at the time.

The trick is simple: it is called focus. And focus can be trained by meditation. By being mindful in the NOW.

Let’s look more into focus next week, and how you can train your brain. I don’t want to overload you this week 😉

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Why not try to meditate this week?

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Productivity And Staying On Top Of Things (3)

Accepting that things take time isn’t always easy. I am for instance someone who just loves to get things done right here right now. I cannot stand emails building up in my inbox. Yet, I am learning. I am learning that no one will read my emails on a Friday night, so why not email on a Monday. Yet, I am also still getting emails on a Saturday morning from people thinking to clear their inbox at the weekend for Monday. Never mind.

There are David Allen’s 6 Horizons of Focus:

Begin with the bigger picture. Have a vision to live for, a goal to achieve. David Allen suggests his six horizons of focus. Starting at 50,000 feet with the overview and vision down to the ‘runway’, the daily action points what needs doing.  This ground level then equates to action lists. The 10,000 ft level, the projects, are an overview of projects that need finishing, implementing or organising. The Area of Focus, 20,000 feet, is about the areas of responsibility at work like relationships, quality control, customer service etc. The goals and objectives are the 12-18 months goals, like discussions to have with the team or the family. Goal setting for a period of time. I also do a quarterly forecast/review which I would put down there, additionally to a yearly one. Vision, however, being almost on top, refers to long term goals and things you would like to achieve in life.

It is more a strategic direction. The purpose on top is about your value in life. It is similar to Anthony Robbins ‘need for purpose’ – what do you want to achieve in life? David Allen also adds the principles in that category, like which behaviours are crucial for success and which standards need maintaining.

Too quick of a summary? Let’s look at an example. I built companies. Every year I sat down with my boss to discuss what we needed to achieve: financial, sales, marketing, positioning, bigger picture. Then we broke it down to quarters, mainly based on revenue. I then took it away to make my own quarterly plan, which resources I use for it etc. Then the monthly targets and goals, broken down to weekly accomplishments in order to achieve the bigger picture. Did it work? Very much so!

In 2012 I wrote a blog post about Life Life Balance:

Triggered by an article in the New York Times, I thought I pick up on some thoughts re life life balance. I have written about work life balance before. Both when discussing the move towards the South coast and regarding jobs and personal development.

I prefer the term life life balance as we do not balance work and life, we essentially balance our life.

Actually, there is a reason why I am so interested, and to my mind very good, in productivity. I get a lot more things done than others in less time and know when and where I can get things done. What do I mean by that?

On a normal day I get up at 5 am. (even back in 2012) Check any important emails, check for podcasts or video on demand services, and go on the treadmill for 30 minutes to catch up on those. Following that I have a small healthy breakfast whilst catching up on the news, shower and be out of the door for my half seven train.

My 50 minute train journey is different every day. Depending on my workload I might nap in the morning, catch up on emails, RSS reader, read a book, write a blog post or listen to a podcast. I normally do not nap in the evening but still catch up on the day’s events, doing similar things to what I do in the morning.

Since moving to the South coast I try to leave the office on time on Mondays and Fridays, and normally not later than six or half six during the week. I know anything outside those hours can be dealt with on the journey or when home. I do not need to be physically present in the office.

Latter is what has changed since the 1950ies when people had rules: clock in clock out, time stamps, or wife is a stay at home mum whilst the husband is the breadwinner. I would try to be home for dinner but currently the kids eat around 5 pm and are in bed by 7pm. That means unless I leave the office extremely early I cannot see them during the week. But some days I see them in the morning.

I am lucky that I can work from home regularly and try to do so too. It makes a huge difference to spend some time with the family during the week.

Another key to a good life balance is to be able to switch off. Not only your mind but also your phone. Evenings and weekends are key. Before I had two separate phones I got calls and emails late at night or at the weekend. I would not do that again. If you spend most of your week working, then you need to be fully present at the weekend, to spend as much time with your family as you can. Full on!

Note in 2015 this has changed, I now only have one phone but separate my work emails through an app. That essentially means I still have one number but the work emails can be turned off anytime. That helps me to unwind from work but not having to carry two phones.

It seems like I am always full on. Relaxation happens in the evening, weekends or whilst running. Or on the way home travelling. Having a GTD (Getting Things Done) like system that allows for optimal task management plus my productivity suite on my iPad makes me super efficient on the go.

Or at least I like to think so. There are still some improvements I can make, and I guess I am lucky because my company understands I have family and does not judge me on time in the office but results. Latter is how we should manage performance in the 21st century.

How do you manage?

Just to summarise the reason I brought in the Work Life Balance post. It hopefully shows that you can prioritise, and put your priorities in order. Note that the word priority used to be singular until early 19th century, so one could only ever have one priority. Which makes sense.

What is your overarching goal and what is your daily routine to get the ground work done?

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Productivity And Staying On Top Of Things (2)

Curious from last week?

I have read a lot of books on theories of time management and getting things done (GTD). Latter is the title of a book by David Allen (Allen, David (2001), Getting Things Done – How to achieve stress free productivity, USA Viking). I am quite sure if I had been David’s age, e.g. young when he was,  and this is with all respect, I could have written his book. When I visited his seminar in 2008 I realised that I already applied 90% of his techniques. So what makes me, so productive? Maybe being German, being organised and efficient?

From early age I wrote things that came to my mind on a piece of paper instead of dwelling on it in my head. This allowed me to go to sleep at night rather than trying to remember things or my brain going into overdrive. On the other hand, it freed up my thinking space (brain) for more important things. Like having RAM (RAM = Random Access Memory – at a computer that is used as workspace, the more you take out of it, the greater the capacity to do calculations. If you go through your day, at the end of the day, before you go to sleep, and revisit what has happened, there will be a lot of things you might remember and need to write down. A simple yet very effective exercise for anyone to do. You better process what happened on the day.

When doing homework, from early age, I started writing down for when the homework was due not when we got it in school. Makes sense? If I got an assignment on Monday to be finished by Wednesday, I wrote it on my to-do list for Tuesday (or the to-do list for things to be done by Wednesday). This way I prioritised things that were more important than others and by making little signs for written or oral exercise, it was visually effective to understand whether you could do it prior to the last day. What I mean by that is that you could do written exercises on Monday if you had some extra time, but if you had to read a story and remember the content, it was better to do it the day before. Or do it two consecutive days to better remember it.

My own trusted system. I still use that. I changed it over the years from a Palm pilot to Outlook and Gmail-suite. I have my personal trusted system with Evernote and Dropbox but also my work one with Outlook and a combination of the ones above. Syncing between devices, keeping information organised and prioritised seems to be one of the major issues of today’s world.

Important is one thing: never clutter your brain with too many things you need to remember. Write them down on a piece of paper. Call it a “to-do” list a “brain drain” or whatever, if it is out of your mind, you free up thinking space, you are getting more work done. Look at the list later. The other advice on not cluttering your brain is to let go: once delegation of a task took place, trust in your subordinates to report back. If it is really important, and has a deadline, put a reminder in your trusted system. If not, e.g. passing on leads in sales, just trust them getting on with it. You cannot always follow up on everything.

Just accept that.

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Productivity And Staying On Top Of Things (1)

The next few weeks I will publish another chapter of my book. This will probably take a few weeks again for you to get all the content. Of course you could just buy my book 🙂

I have been asked a lot recently, why I make the book available online, for free. The answer is simple: I like to share my knowledge and at the same time review content, make it more easy to read, adding more depths and research at the same time.

When I first wrote this chapter my kids were younger, my team was bigger and I had less sleep and more staff responsibility. Now my kids are older, needing almost more attention or different attention, yet my team at work got smaller. Nevertheless the responsibility, neither at home nor at work, has changed much. One of the main responsibility is to engage with people, staff and kids. You are a manager, and as the title suggests you manage people and things. You have to stay on top of many things.

Hence we are speaking about Information overload. Big Data if you like.

Information overload? Yes, we have all been there and done that. The fear of not getting enough work done in the day, staying late at work, not eating, not taking breaks, and when you arrive the next morning the email inbox is full again. As a manager you get millions of requests, attend a lot of internal meetings and realise that you will never get on top of things. And, you do not seem to get anything done.

But actually you do. You just realise that things aren’t sorted within a week, and that things take time. Decisions take time. And that is something you need to accept.

Your inbox dictates your work flow, others determine what you do with your time. Expectations to reply to emails are also higher.

Stop! Right here, right now.

Read next week how you should proceed.

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