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18 Minutes That Can Save You Hours

It’s so easy to get off track…and sometimes we need a reminder. I was just listening to an interview by one of my favorite podcasters, Accidental Creativewhere he was discussing time management, or maybe more accurately ‘priority management,’ with Peter Bregman. I love Peter Bregman’s philosophy and process and am a fan of his book “18 Minutes.” In fact it has a prominent place on the bookshelf in my office…but I had sort of forgotten it was there. It was a good reminder that had me reaching for the book once again.

While I don’t follow Peter’s plan precisely, I do think he lays out a simple solution to a problem that plagues most of us; too much to do, a never-ending task list, and the overwhelming struggle to master the issue of time management.

To be fair, his 18 minutes a day process alone is not the entire solution. He goes beyond daily task management, to address the larger issues that overwhelm us, not being happy and fulfilled with what we’re doing, feeling like we’re beating our heads against the wall and becoming more clear about where we want to go with our lives.

With strategies like using the Four Elements of Focus, hourly reminders and learning to pause.

“A brief pause will help you make a smarter move. Know what outcome you want before you respond.”

- Peter Bregman

Here’s a quick summary of the “18 Minutes” process…Read the book for the full explanation…

STEP 1 (5 Minutes) Set Plan for Day. Before turning on your computer, sit down with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. What can you realistically accomplish that will further your goals and allow you to leave at the end of the day feeling like you’ve been productive and successful? Write those things down.

Now, most importantly, take your calendar and schedule those things into time slots, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email. If your entire list does not fit into your calendar, reprioritize your list. There is tremendous power in deciding when and where you are going to do something.

STEP 2 (1 minute every hour) Refocus. Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour. When it rings, take a deep breath, look at your list and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don’t let the hours manage you.

STEP 3 (5 minutes) Review. Shut off your computer and review your day. What worked? Where did you focus? Where did you get distracted? What did you learn that will help you be more productive tomorrow?

The power of rituals is their predictability. You do the same thing in the same way over and over again. And so the outcome of a ritual is predictable too. If you choose your focus deliberately and wisely and consistently remind yourself of that focus, you will stay focused. It’s simple. This particular ritual may not help you swim the English Channel while towing a cruise ship with your hands tied together. But it may just help you leave the office feeling productive and successful.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that a higher priority?

Let me know your thoughts on this book?

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How To Use “Beginner’s Mind” To Solve Any Problem

We are often stuck with “old eyes” and an “old mind.” No, I don’t mean that are peepers are getting old and we’re going senile. What I mean is that it might be time for “beginner glasses” and a “beginner’s mind.”

Why do we need a beginner’s mind?

Because we can’t expect to solve an old problem, or restructure a current situation, with the mind that created it. That is unless we don’t really want to solve it.

How do we use beginner’s mind?

Clear your mind of all preconceptions, expectations, and beliefs about what works and what doesn’t. Warning, this is really very difficult for most of us.

Change something about your normal routine or atmosphere. Go to a different location, sit in a different chair, discuss the problem or situation with someone other than you normally do, change your pen, write with a different hand. I know some individuals who have done some very odd things to change their perspective and as weird as it sounds, many times it has actually worked very well.

Approach the problem from a different side. Look for what doesn’t need to be changed instead of what does. Consider a solution that you’ve automatically dismissed, because it can’t possibly work and try to convince someone – or your self – that it will. Throw something completely out of left field on the wall and see if anything sticks.

Ask yourself, “if there were absolutely no constraints, what would you do about…”

Your company’s future plans

Your career plan

A health issue

Your educational plans

Your marriage or an important relationship

An existing or developing product or service

Your living arrangements

Nearly any problem, situation, or plan, whether old, current, or future can benefit from the “beginner’s mind approach.” It’s a simple and accessible strategy and a whole lot cheaper than a therapist or team of experts. You can always call in those resources later. Why not put on your new glasses and try the beginner’s mind or stood?

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Don’t Forget the Golden Rule….of Productivity

English: Line art drawing of a scroll

Image via Wikipedia

Every once in a while we need to be reminded of the basics…

We are, most of us at least, creatures of habit and structure. We thrive when there are rules and guidelines to assist us through the veritable maze of life and work processes. Why should productivity be any different? Learning or developing any routine or program can be frustrating and confusing. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t let those feelings discourage you from your quest for higher personal and professional efficiency. You will not master every technique for organization or effectiveness; you should not even try. I can hear the type A’s protesting out there – mostly because I am one of them – but if you strive for perfection, you will inevitably come away disappointed.  Seek instead; measurable improvement over time and your pay-off will be less stress, greater success and more time to enjoy your life.

So, with that in mind, I have assembled a list of the most crucial rules that will ensure your success in becoming more productive over time. They are a combination of strategies gathered by researching and studying highly successful productive professionals, juggling mothers and also what I have personally found works for me.

Productivity Golden Rules

  1. One Change at a time – you get the best results when you truly focus on one change at a time.
  2. Know Your Why – What is the purpose behind your goals or work?
  3. Clarify your objectives.
  4. Plan your day, every day.
  5. Energy management – Know your peak productivity cycle.
  6. Set boundaries – Protect your time and space.
  7. Play to Your Strengths – Delegate or automate the rest.
  8. Don’t overthink, don’t procrastinate, and just do it.
  9. Invest in yourself – Learn, grow, improve your skills.
  10. Focus, Focus, Focus!

For a more in depth discussion on these productivity rules, read their individual posts, where we describe them in further detail.

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Great Leadership is the Key to Success in Business and Life

leadershipIn the wake of completing my transition from part employee-part business owner to full-time consultant and small business owner I have been giving some thought to what makes a good leader.

Leadership is the key to success, both in the office and in the home.

What lessons have I learned that will help me as I move forward building my company and my future?

I didn’t have to look any further than my last and certainly best employer…ever. Messenger Associates, Inc., led by their unbeatable leadership team understand how to lead by example, get the most out of their team and deliver the best value for their clients.

So what did I learn?

Professionalism is paramount – Intelligence is a given, competence a matter of course, but tact, manners and consideration go a long way in developing relationships and building a reputation.

Receptivity is a must – An open door policy to the extreme. Every idea is valuable, every opinion is worthy, and discussion and dissention are to be encouraged. The best ideas do not always come from the top; they are thrown out, tossed around, picked apart and built as a team into something better, something more.

Positivity sets the tone – A positive attitude is not the same as burying your head in the sand. It simply means that you look for the best possible outcome while planning for potential obstacles. If you expect the best from people and encourage them to give it, you will most often find yourself surrounded by the best and brightest.

Relationships matter – A company is about more than the work that gets done every day. A company is about people. It’s caring about the lives of the people you work with. It’s affecting the lives and businesses of your clients and customers. It’s your relationship with the community that surrounds you.

Great leadership is about understanding that people, relationships and business go hand in hand. If you place your focus only on one, you will inevitably damage the other two. But if you can find that combination of all three that is most powerful, you will have discovered the secret.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” - Aristotle

If you can learn to adopt this philosophy, then you will have stepped into a place of greater understanding and greater effectiveness.

 Great leadership cannot be taught; it must be observed.

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10 Ways to Make Office Meetings Productive

Guest post contributed by John Brook who reviews business supplies for the Office Kitten.

Most office employees complain about every meeting that is held because of the perception that meetings are a complete waste of time. When the meeting is over, the participants must work to complete their daily tasks prior to the close of business. Improve the productivity of office meetings by implementing the following guidelines.

1. Never hold Monday meetings – Customers and employees should be the focus in the office on Monday. Every employee must use the work hours during the day on Monday to plan the week and lay the groundwork for the other four business days of the week. Productivity will improve across the board when employees have uninterrupted time that is used for productive tasks. Train employees respect these quiet hours and not consume them with casual conversation.

2. Communicate information through email – When facts and details must be communicated, write an informative and succinct email that can be sent the employees who need the information. Standard format should include a meaningful title that includes the date for easy reference later. A question that is buried within the text and requires each individual to answer can be an effective way to ensure that the email is read. Track the responses and contact those who do not respond.

3. Cancel half of all existing meetings – Evaluate every meeting currently on a recurring schedule and combine meetings that happen on the same day. Never spend more than two hours each day in meetings. Well-written emails can replace time-wasting meetings. One result of fewer meetings will be a shortened workday where most employees are able to leave at closing time. Overtime hours will be reduced and more work will be completed during the eight-hour workday.

4. Consider meetings as non-productive time – Individuals, who spend more than half of every business day in meetings, are not productive. Revenue-generating activities must take precedence over meetings. Track meeting time as a separate category and monitor the percentage of hours consumed by meetings. Listen to the input from employees and take the steps to conduct only necessary meetings.

5. Invite essential participants – Evaluate participant lists and invite only the employees who can accept an action item from the meeting discussion. Fewer participants will make faster decisions and then meeting outcomes can be communicated to others through an informative email. Ask participants to evaluate the quality of the meeting.

6. Publish a meeting agenda – Writing an agenda will prove to the meeting leader that the meeting is important. When an agenda alludes definition, the meeting can be cancelled, and the time used on productive tasks. Brief agendas will set the tone for succinct communication during the meeting. If significant information is required for the meeting, send the information in a separate email with a meaningful title. Knowing what to expect will increase participation.

7. Start and end on time – If only two people are in the room when the meeting start time arrives, start the meeting with the first item on the agenda. When others walk in late, the lesson will be learned that meetings start on time. Respect the participants by staying on topic and ending the meeting at the stated time.

8. State the purpose of the meeting – At the beginning of the meeting, the person who wrote the agenda and will lead the meeting should state, in very specific terms, the purpose of the meeting. At that point, anyone who does not feel that their presence would help should be excused from the meeting. Employees who believe there is value in the meeting will actively participate and side conversations will not occur.

9. Assign action items – Meetings are meant to complete work through cooperative discussion and idea sharing that cannot be accomplished without the right people being present in a room or on a conference call. As the topic is discussed, assignments must be given to each participant who will complete the work associated with the stated purpose. After the meeting, the list of action item assignments should be sent to every participant with the completion dates listed.

10. Follow-up with each individual – Discussions concerning the work assignments are best conducted individually where the employee can openly identify obstacles that have been encountered in the attempt to complete the assignment. Set a positive tone for each follow-up meeting and communicate that a request for help is welcome, and incomplete tasks are not acceptable. Reassign tasks that were given to someone who is unable to complete them on time.

Meetings do not earn revenue for a business. Habitual meetings are borne out of ritual time management techniques. After experience in a business where meetings are held only when absolutely necessary, most employees put additional effort into communicating with coworkers concerning the work processes and deliverables without meetings. When meetings must be conducted, follow these steps and turn meeting hours into productive work hours.

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