Ordinarily I don’t get into topics between the arms (heart) and stick to topics between the ears (brain). Lets face it, it’s easier (at least for me) to deal with something logical. If A then B- is simple. You can see results. But this time I want try and use the brain to control the heart.
There is one simple law to learn that will reduce stress: you can’t change others. Once you internalize this you can pick a strategy to overcome this stress and watch your productivity soar. You can choose to eliminate the stresser, change yourself or your perception.
You can (and should) control yourself, not others.
Meetings can be big time wasters or productive planning sessions. But there is one you should have daily- first thing in the morning – a meeting with yourself and it will increase your chances for success. This will give you time to prepare for the day and not rush into your morning. Let’s start with a case study of a typically morning for Eileen (based on a true story).
8:48am Eileen gets off her train at central station. She heads for the connecting bus and takes a seat- today she’s luck that she got one. She anxiously looks at her watch, still on schedule for her 9am conference call.
8:50am The Bus leaves central station. At this point it’s packed, Eileen is feeling the elbow of her neighbor in her ribs. Eileen glances at her watch and is glad the bus left on time.
8:55am The bus arrives at the front door of MegaCorp, where Eileen works. Eileen waits for her turn to get out and proceeds to the building. She’s still on schedule.
8:56 am Eileen is waiting at the elevator bank at MegaCorp. Only 4 minutes to her 9am meeting.
8:57am Bill from IT gets on the elevator just before the doors close, causing them to reopen. Eileen smiles at Bill, though secretly she’s upset at the 4 seconds he stole off her morning. They discuss the previous nights game as they ride up to the 20th floor, but Eileen is only partially engaged. She’s already thinking about her dash to her desk as soon as the doors open.
8:59am Eileen wishes Bill a good day and says “Gotta run, I have a nine o’clock”. She gets to her desk puts down her bag. Flips the on switch on her computer and sits down. Just in time as the phone rings for her 9am phone meeting.
9:02am Eileen scans her email during the call. She sees one from the client, just as the the content of it comes up. “I sent you an updated widget report overnight.” says the client.
“Yes I saw it. I’ll look at it closely and let you know my feedback later today.” she answers quickly while opening the attachment.
9:05am The subject of the new computer equipment comes up. Eileen says she’ll follow up on it and notes it on her to do list.
9:22am The client call ends. Eileen puts her bag in the corner where it belongs. She puts her lunch in the office fridge. She comes back to her desk to listen to her voice mails and processes her email.
9:40am Eileen goes through the client’s widget report and sends a detailed report of her feedback.
9:55am Eileen calls Bill from IT. They exchange pleasantries. Then she asks about the progress on the computer order.
10:00am Eileen dashes another email to the client about the computer order progress.
10:02am Eileen is happy with her productive start.
Now lets image Eileen changes just one thing- she has blocked her calendar so no appointments can be made first thing in the morning. Her 9am appointment is now at 9:30am.
8:48am Eileen gets off her train at central station. It’s a nice day for a walk to the office. She glances at her watch, she has time and strolls to the office. It’s a 10 minute walk or a five minute ride by bus. She’s glad she doesn’t have to rush and can walk.
8:50am As she walks she passes some school kids playing in the yard and thinks of the funny thing her five year old said that morning.
8:55am She’s two blocks away from MegaCorp but she sees the bus stops in front of her building. She sees people rushing out. It reminds her of the opening scene of the Charlie Chaplin Movie “Modern Times”. She chuckles to herself as she thinks of the pigs.
8:57 Bill from IT sees her coming in the building and waves to her as the elevator doors close in front of him. He waits for her to arrive. They take the next elevator up.
8:58am Eileen and Bill chat about the previous night’s game as they head up the elevator to the 20th floor.
9:00am Eileen and Bill finish their sports chat in front of the elevator banks. Eileen asks about the the equipment he’s ordered for “The Client”. He says he’ll look into it. She says “I have a 9:30 call with them. If you can get me the answers by then it would be great.” He assures her he can and they depart.
9:03am She puts her lunch in the office fridge as she passes the employee lounge.
9:04am She gets to her desk and puts away her bag. Flips the on switch on her computer. Eileen listens to her voice mails as the computer starts up. Then processes her email.
9:15am Eileen notices an email from “The Client” and goes through the client’s widget report. Instead of composing a long email, she prints it out and marks it up so that she can go over it during the phone call. She highlights the four main issues.
9:25am Eileen goes back to finish processing her emails. She sees Bill’s response which includes the tracking number.
9:28am She prepares her notes on the meeting with a few bullet points.
9:30am The phone rings and Eileen picks it up confidently.
9:35am The subject of the new computer equipment comes up. Eileen gives them the update and says she has the tracking number if it’s not received.
9:45am “I sent you an updated widget report overnight.” says the client.
“I got it. I went through it and have 4 questions for you.” Eileen replies and they talk about the widget report.
10:01am The client call ends.
10:02am Eileen is happy with her productive start.
As you can see in both these scenarios Eileen was productive. But in the second one she had time in the morning to prepare. The preparation gave her more confidence and allowed her to accomplish two important tasks: First, the meeting gave her feedback on what she needs to do with the widget report. Second, she was a step ahead following up on the equipment order.
She was also able to squeese some relaxing exercise into her morning and wasn’t curt when talking to co-workers. Of course I worked out these times to correlate. But less stress and more time thinking help. The ideal scenario would be to come in early each morning, but that isn’t always possible. Coming in early allows you to prepare in a quiet environment.
Starting your day with stress can send a bad tone for your day. So don’t run, walk into your new day.
43 unread emails, 1713 emails in out inbox, 18 new letters in the mail, 33 ideas in our head, 4 piles of papers on our desk, 36 items on our to do list and a blinking answering machine. Our inboxes (electronic and physical) are constantly being filled with more demands on our time. To keep our sanity and be productive we must take a short time to “process” our overflowing inboxes and get it empty (or as close as possible). This will ensure that our task lists are filled with manageable tasks.
Here’s a quick mnemonic to making this process go faster and efficiently- use the 9 Ds: Delete, Deposit (file), Deflect, Deter, Delegate, Defer, Designate(calendar), Do Now, (To) Do List.
If an item is junk or you’ll never need it, get rid of it right away. Newspapers are trash(yesterday’s news is worthless), old magazines are trash(you’re not going to get to it anyway), junk email should be vaporized, old clothes go to good will, you get the idea. Bonus: figure out how to never deal with it again (e.g. unsubcribe from lists, sign up on do not call lists etc.)
File your reference information. Many of the files on your desk or old emails are no longer needed except as a reference just in case. If you think you’ll need it someday- just put it in a obvious file folder- out of site so when you’ll need it you can quickly find. Get it out of the way so it’s not cluttering your workspace.
If you are definitely the wrong person for this task then quickly point the requestor to the right place and get this out of your boxes. You don’t to do this immediately so you don’t hold up the project.
Learn how to say no. Not every request that comes to your inbox means you must do it. See if it fits within your responsibilities and/or goals. If not just say “no”.
There are some tasks that should be done but someone else can help you with it. If someone on your staff or your spouse etc can do it let them help you especially if they can do it better. Some people get in the mindset that only they can do a task, that they do it best. Given some else a chance. Keep in mind when you delegate you are not completely giving up the task, you will still get the last word and should keep a follow-up on your task list so the issue is done on time with quality.
Some tasks are interesting but it’s not important or urgent. Put it on your “someday/maybe list”. This way you’ll still have it on your radar but it wont clutter your mind. Examples of items to defer are painting the house (you dont have time for it now anyway), launching a completely new product etc or other tasks that you know aren’t needed in the near future.
Designate a specific time for an appointment. Just put it on your calendar and move on. An appointment should sit in one central place so you dont double book your time or miss appointments.
Any task that takes two minutes or less should be done quickly. No excuses- do it. It will feel great to shorten your to do list.
(To) Do List
All other tasks go on your “to do” list. Just get it out of your inbox.
It was a Wednesday like any other. I passed by my CFO’s office and we began discussing the Mets’ previous night’s victory.
The HR director walked in and interrupted our conversation. “I thought you were talking about work. Are you a Mets fan?” he asked.
After I confirmed it, he said “We like the Yankees around here. You’re fired”. He proceeded to turn to the CFO and have the same conversation.
Of course this conversation was all in jest. Now the three of us have something we can jibe each other about.
Wouldn’t it be great if other work disagreement could be discussed as candidly without each side getting defensive?
Next time you’re in an argument (or about to get in one) ask yourself “What’s the best way to resolve this?” Often you’ll find avoiding the whole issue or agreeing to disagree can save a lot of ill will and time.
In the meanwhile I’ll be plotting my revenge against the HR director.
Readers of this blog know that being more successful can be easy and fun- all you have to do is follow The Rule of Thumb for Success: do more of what you like and less of what you don’t like. Today we’ll concentrate on doing less of what you don’t like using techniques you already know.
Identify Your Tasks That You Don’t Like The first step in any en devour is to figure out what you’re trying to accomplish. During the course of your day there will be numerous tasks that will annoy you, cause you to pull out your hair or that you simply don’t like. Identify them- they are now put on notice. Pick a few items you will work on eliminating. I suggest you start with a few easy ones so you can see quick results (see layering). Once you get the hang of it go for the really annoying ones that may be harder to eliminate.
Eat the Tasks You Don’t like
Now that you know what you want to accomplish it’s time to plan how to do it. I recommend you Ate your task- By ATE I mean eliminATE, delegATE or automATE. Below I’ll explain the concepts and show you how you can use it. To better illustrate the power of these techniques I’ll give you specific examples using everyone’s least favorite task: washing dishes.
Decide– Decide that you don’t want to do it. It could be it’s not needed or it’s not that important anymore. If you’re doing the task for someone else ask them if they still need it. If you’re too chicken to ask your boss if he still needs that monthly report, just ask him if you can enhance it or make it better in any way. Perhaps you know of a different report that will do the job better.
Lets see how to use this to do fewer dishes: Decide you don’t want to do dishes anymore and switch to plastic (at least for really mess stuff). Decide that you don’t want to bake anymore.
Combine– Combine the task you dislike with something else you like. People often combine exercise with TV. Before they know it they’ve run another mile. Be sure that the tasks are compatible (e.g. no tv and washing dishes because your eyes cant do both at the same time) and that you don’t multi-task. You need to give each task the appropriate attention.
Do fewer dishes: Use dishes time as quality time with your partner. You are going to talk about your days (at least you should) and discuss future plans you may as well get something accomplished at the same time. He can even dry.
Simplify– Try not to over complicate the process- that may be leading to your dislike. Try to isolate the parts you don’t like doing and find a solution for that.
Do fewer dishes: Eat out/Order in. The goal is to eat- not to cook. If you don’t cook, there are no dishes. If your issue with washing dishes is that your hands get too dry be sure to have gloves handy and that will eliminate your problems.
Batch it– Do multiple tasks together and save setup time. It will also limit your dislike time to a small portion of the day.
Do fewer dishes: Don’t wash a dish at a time, wash them all together.
Insource– See who within your organization (or family) you can get to do the horrid task. Offer to trade tasks or even bribe them. If you don’t have people capable train them. You may think it takes a while to train but it can pay huge dividends in the future.
Do fewer dishes: Trade tasks with your partner- you take care of the kids if she’ll wash the dishes.
Outsource– Pay someone to do it. You can find personal assistants for virtually anything. It may be expensive but you may decide to skimp on your budget elsewhere or put in extra hours just to afford the luxury.
Do fewer dishes: Hire help.
Automate the process– Look to computers and other technology to take care of the task for you. It may take an investment of time or effort but often can lead to huge dividends.
Do fewer dishes: Get a dishwasher.
Habits– Set habits for yourself that will make your job easier. You can try to set habits for others to.
Do fewer dishes: Annoyed that your kids don’t bring the dishes? Have a candy dish at the sink. When dishes are deposited then they get to take an item. Replenish it quickly at first and then less in the future until it becomes second nature.
Sometimes there are tasks that you just have to do so try to make it more fun. Add music to it. Do it in a fun way (splash the water). Remember it’s not work if you want to do it.