Category Archives: Time Management

Want High Productivity? Get the truth about “Pomodoro Technique”

I was at my vehicle service department recently when I saw that the cashier had several massive stacks of documents behind her. I asked her what they were, and she told me they were work orders that needed to be processed.

I mentioned how that looked like a daunting task and she said that it was.  She then mentioned that two other ladies helped as well when they had some spare time and they all hated the job.

Perhaps you have been in a similar situation?  You have a task that seems insurmountable and you hate doing it. We call that overwhelming work and we naturally hate doing it.

One of the reasons we hate doing it is because it seems thankless and endless and as hard as we seem to work we get little sense of accomplishment from all our hard work regardless of how diligently we apply ourselves.

Remember, that at the end of the day most of us just want to hear a “well done” from the boss so that we can go home feeling satisfied that our work was appreciated and meaningful, or at least see that we have accomplished something worthwhile; hard to do with an overwhelming number of massive stacks of work.

There are two techniques that can help us with this and make the task more enjoyable along the way.

The first one is chunking. In the case of the lady at the service department rather than her taking the first paper from one of the massive stacks and starting to process it, she could take a few minutes to organize the stacks of paper into smaller chunks (piles) of similar category such as week or month or even day.

Once the documents are organized into smaller chunks, it would not be too difficult to look at those chunks and assess what is a reasonable size of stack to deal with in a day.    Now the lady could take that day sized stack and split it into two, one for the morning and one for the afternoon.

The task is to just start processing work on that smaller morning chunk and apply the second technique throughout the morning which is the Pomodoro technique.

Pomodoro is the Italian word for “tomato.” The story goes that a man called Francesco Cirillo, came up with the technique using one of those plastic tomato shaped kitchen timers.

Anyway, the key is that you set the timer for 20 minutes and work solidly on your task without interruption. Of course, you must let your coworkers know not to interrupt and remember to set your phone to voice mail and close out Facebook etc.

At the end of the 20-minute work spell you take a five minute break to get water, or send a tweet or whatever but when the buzzer goes at the end of the five minute break it is back to focused work for another 20 minute “Pomodoro” There are a number of apps out there and some you can download for free directly onto your computer or phone as the case may be.

The benefit is that at the end of the morning and again at the end of the day you can see some accomplishment and get the feeling of moving forward thanks to using a simple timer and a system.

If you use the timer on your phone you can set it to for any time, you choose.  Some people use 20 minutes with a five-minute break and some choose 25 minutes with a five-minute break. The time settings should suit you and your environment.

If you are a disciplined and focused worker, then this may not be the instrument for you because you are already productive.

However, for those that struggle staying on task, breaking the work day into these smaller units can be really effective by improving productivity and how the worker feels about the task.

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Filed under organization techniques, personal development, staying organized, Time Management

Want High Productivity? Get the truth about “Pomodoro Technique”

I was at my vehicle service department recently when I saw that the cashier had several massive stacks of documents behind her. I asked her what they were, and she told me they were work orders that needed to be processed.

I mentioned how that looked like a daunting task and she said that it was.  She then mentioned that two other ladies helped as well when they had some spare time and they all hated the job.

Perhaps you have been in a similar situation?  You have a task that seems insurmountable and you hate doing it. We call that overwhelming work and we naturally hate doing it.

One of the reasons we hate doing it is because it seems thankless and endless and as hard as we seem to work we get little sense of accomplishment from all our hard work regardless of how diligently we apply ourselves.

Remember, that at the end of the day most of us just want to hear a “well done” from the boss so that we can go home feeling satisfied that our work was appreciated and meaningful, or at least see that we have accomplished something worthwhile; hard to do with an overwhelming number of massive stacks of work.

There are two techniques that can help us with this and make the task more enjoyable along the way.

The first one is chunking. In the case of the lady at the service department rather than her taking the first paper from one of the massive stacks and starting to process it, she could take a few minutes to organize the stacks of paper into smaller chunks (piles) of similar category such as week or month or even day.

Once the documents are organized into smaller chunks, it would not be too difficult to look at those chunks and assess what is a reasonable size of stack to deal with in a day.    Now the lady could take that day sized stack and split it into two, one for the morning and one for the afternoon.

The task is to just start processing work on that smaller morning chunk and apply the second technique throughout the morning which is the Pomodoro technique.

Pomodoro is the Italian word for “tomato.” The story goes that a man called Francesco Cirillo, came up with the technique using one of those plastic tomato shaped kitchen timers.

Anyway, the key is that you set the timer for 20 minutes and work solidly on your task without interruption. Of course, you must let your coworkers know not to interrupt and remember to set your phone to voice mail and close out Facebook etc.

At the end of the 20-minute work spell you take a five minute break to get water, or send a tweet or whatever but when the buzzer goes at the end of the five minute break it is back to focused work for another 20 minute “Pomodoro” There are a number of apps out there and some you can download for free directly onto your computer or phone as the case may be.

The benefit is that at the end of the morning and again at the end of the day you can see some accomplishment and get the feeling of moving forward thanks to using a simple timer and a system.

If you use the timer on your phone you can set it to for any time, you choose.  Some people use 20 minutes with a five-minute break and some choose 25 minutes with a five-minute break. The time settings should suit you and your environment.

If you are a disciplined and focused worker, then this may not be the instrument for you because you are already productive.

However, for those that struggle staying on task, breaking the work day into these smaller units can be really effective by improving productivity and how the worker feels about the task.

Leave a comment

Filed under organization techniques, personal development, staying organized, Time Management

What we find depends on what we look for

Growing up as a lad we were taught that children should be seen and not heard. So we let grownups speak and we listened unless we were asked a question. Old fashioned I know, but that is how it was. I would listen to adults sharing opinions on everything from the price of bread to how the country was going to the dogs. (They should have let it; maybe the dogs would have done a better job!)

As I was growing through my teens I never really had an opinion on anything very much and was always quite happy to go with the flow of my school or my friends. When I hit my college years I pretty much kept quiet   as I really did not know what to say to start a conversation. As I listened I picked up the opinions of those around me and started to adopt and share those opinions. In the army we were pretty much a working class group of lads and learned to become good at complaining. I became a pretty good complainer, if I say so myself and could give a good complaint about the sergeant or the regiment or whatever else we were talking about and could generally get plenty of nods of agreement from my friends.

Later on in life as I entered my thirties I had a number of colleagues share with me that I was quite opinionated and could be somewhat bombastic when sharing ideas or solutions to problems.

I have since learned differently. Back in the early eighties I was listening to some audio cassettes by Rita Davenport and she said that we don’t always find the gold (goodness) in people because we are not looking for it.

This got me to doing a lot of pondering about the idea especially during my 40 minute commute every day. I believed that certain people were just useless because of my narrow judgment on them. I started to look for the good things in people and realized that I had only been looking at folks through a very narrow lens.

I wanted to change that and be able to be much less judgmental and far more considerate. Any change that is so big can be a tough pill to swallow and so it was for me. I was however, determined to make the adjustment within myself so that I could learn to begin seeing the gold in other people.

I think I have come a real long way since my early thirties and am much more flexible and mostly unattached to any judgments such that I can easily let go for judgments, opinions and even thoughts that do not serve me well.

If we see someone as unapproachable or obstinate, then that is all we will see because we unconsciously behave towards them as though that is all they are. They in turn unconsciously act that way because that is the way they are being treated by us.

I have found that if I continually practice not being attached to my knee jerk judgments’ of people, reach out and communicate with them and listen more than I talk, then I can often find the gold in them. Once we find the gold in people we can treat them as if they were gold and they generally respond accordingly. Yes, what we find really does depend on what we look for.

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Don’t Let Life Happen To You, Make It Happen For You

I have worked with many professional managers over the years and it seems to me that many of them get really good at life as it happens to them.

Most jobs have some kind of structure that we have to follow anyway and there are usually key result indicators that keep us focused on what needs to be done to help make sure that we are all productive.

There are also daily challenges with people, materials and machinery or equipment that we have to deal with. We learn as we go along and get better at dealing with these challenges as they hit us and soon this becomes our comfort zone. We start to spend more time on dealing with activities than we do on planning and analyzing our productivity to see where we can improve it. This is what we call dealing with life as it happens to us. The same can be said for our families, we know when the Birthdays are and what the kids need to do for each grade so they can slowly work their way up to college and hopefully success in the big world after college.

It is not easy to step out of this mold and it takes a definite desire to be able to turn things around. If you want to make life happen for you then you have to know what it is that you want to happen. You have to have a clear picture of all of the aspects of your life such as career, health, education, family spirituality, finances, contribution and social. Once you have dreamed up a future for each of those areas you need to right them down as clear measurable goals. These goals then need to be broken down into all the smaller steps that are necessary to accomplish those goals. These smaller steps then need to be put into your planner over the appropriate period of time. The period of time could be anything from one year to 25 years or more.

Then your job is to make sure that every day you are following the steps that you have planned out.

For example if you wanted to lose 20 pounds of weight that could be put down as 2 pounds per month for ten months. Most people want to lose 20 pound in two weeks and when that doesn’t happen the go back to old habits. So to lose 2 pounds a month you would need to start to monitor your daily intake and see how many calories you are taking in daily. Once you know this you can now plan to make just a few small changes that you can stick to and then follow those changes on a daily basis. Instead of two wines with dinner just have one glass. Instead of six ounces of meat have four ounces of meat. Instead of three sodas a day try living with just one and drink more water.

Dream your dreams. Plan them out in detail and then just follow the plan. Adjust as you go along and keep the changes small and stick with the plan. Before you know it you will be achieving goals and instead of letting life happen to you, you will be making your life happen for you!

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What the Heck, You Did What? Who Even Cares?

One of the challenges I have found with managing people is that they often tend to gravitate to what they like to do rather than what they need to do.

An example of this is a dishwasher in a busy restaurant kitchen. His job is to keep the dishes clean so that the cooks always have plenty of clean dishes to put the food on. If there is a lull in the activity a dishwasher could take time to wash some walls or clean some shelving because he likes to see it clean and shining. Now this is OK as long as it is not at the expense of what really needs to be done.

The dishwasher thinks he has added value because he is doing the extra work and keeping the dish room area nice and shiny. When he goes for a performance review he may even think he will get a good review because he is going above and beyond and surely the chef will appreciate that.

At his performance review the chef lays into him and gives him a poor review. The dish washer is shocked and upset about this as he has convinced himself that the work he was doing is important.

Sadly the chef does not care about those other things as much as he cares about the clean dishes. The dish washer could argue that the chef does not even notice the messy walls or the grungy shelves and what kind of a chef is not concerned with these things. The chef on the other hand thinks that those cleaning tasks can be done once a month and that is sufficient.

Whenever we do anything outside of our specific job description it is always a good idea to ask ourselves “So what, Who Cares?” not to be smart or sarcastic but to genuinely find out what difference it makes to the big picture and the managers or supervisors that are involved in that particular area.

Before you do something that is not specifically required ask yourself what difference it will make to the person who is evaluating your performance. If you were to say “Hey boss I am going to prepare a report on the benefits of taking a typing course” what do you think the boss would say? Would she say thank you or would she say so what? If she does not really care about your idea then you would be wasting your time.

When I would teach performance review courses to HR managers one of the things that came up was the disparity between the expectation of the worker being evaluated and the actual evaluation from the supervisor. So often a team member goes for an evaluation thinking that they have done good work and that it is appreciated and then that effort is not recognized in the performance review.

So going forward save yourself some heart ache before you start being all enthusiastic and doing extra work ask yourself “so what, who cares?” and if no one cares then it is probably best to not bother. On the other hand if the supervisor does care and is appreciative then go for it!

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Getting things done! As easy as ABC as simple as 123

For those of us who are eager to accomplish many things on our day a to-do list is the way to go.

We thoughtfully put all the items we would like to complete in a day on a list and then we go at them hell for leather all day to get them done. By following this regimen we believe we will successfully move forward in our lives and have room for plenty of re-energizing “me time” at the end of the day.

The trouble with this is that more often than not at the end of the day it seems we have not stopped being busy and yet the list hardly seems to have been dented with check marks!

One of the keys to accomplishing more meaningful tasks in the day is to prioritize your list. I know it can be a pain to give a lot of thought to a to-do list but believe me it is not as painful as not giving it sufficient thought. So how do we do this?

The first step is to always have your list prepared and prioritized the night before. This way when you arise in the morning and get going with all of your energy and enthusiasm you do not have to think, you just have to follow the direction of the list.

So how to prioritize? Be sure that you have your written SMART goals handy as well as your daily planner. Now put time in your planner for the things you MUST do to get through the day such as have feed the kids, drop the kids off, eat breakfast, pick the kids up, house work, meals, daily chores such as walk the dog, get the kids back packs ready, exercise, and etc. Unfortunately many of us do not put these things our planner so we believe we have more time available to us than we actually do.

More often than not it is not necessary to put these daily routine items on the to-do list because we do them automatically, however it is very important to block of the appropriate amount of time in our calendar. I found that Google calendar does this very well and I only have to put the entry in once and then complete the appropriate “repeat” function to make multiple entries into the future. Google calendar allows you to color code your items which also makes it easier when looking at the calendar to see how your day is going.

Now look at your to-do list and look at your goals and make sure that whatever your daily task might be to help you reach those long term goals is given an “A”. So often we do not achieve our goals or resolutions because we see them as a large achievement somewhere “out there”. When we break those goals down into daily actions, and not all need to be addressed every day but they do need to be addressed, then we will find that we start getting closer to achieving them. So instead of spending our time on minutiae and business we at least work towards our serious life accomplishments on a regular basis.

Look at your to-do list again and now write a “B” next to the things that need to be done but not necessarily to-day. This could include getting the car washed or picking up some supplies from the pharmacy for example.

The “C” s written to the things on our list that we would like to do but our daily life quality will not be affected if they are put off for a while.

Once the list has been prioritized with A, B and C the next task is to go to all the A’s and give them a priority order by putting a number beside the A such as A1, A2, A3 and so on. Do this numerical exercise for all of the letters.

The last step before getting started is to now take the top three items on your list and give them an amount of time necessary for you to work on them and then transfer that time block into your planner. So if A1 is review the household budget and account for all spending this month and you need on hour for that, then put “Budget” in a one hour block on your planner say from 10:00 to 11:00 AM. Do this for the top three items on your to-do list.

Now the key part is to work from your planner and not your to-do list. This way rather than wondering what to do next, which often happens when following the list, you now have a commitment and time frame in your planner so just follow the plan. When you complete something early or have an open window of time you can now go back to your to-do list and tackle the next prioritized item.

Be sure to put your coffee break and 15 minute reading time in the planner as well so this way you get some me time daily and keep the stress from feeling overwhelmed away.

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Don’t feel bad, Swiss watchmakers did not know what industry they were in either.

Do you ever feel like you are so busy but you are not getting all the things done that you need to get done? This generally comes about because we are not sure what we are about or where we are going so we just get busy with whatever is directly in front of us.

I have been in the same boat many times. My intentions when I get busy with things that detract from getting everything done are good, but they are not the right ones. I see an article and I’ll read it because it needs reading and I know I will benefit from the knowledge. I just check face book and other social media to see who is doing what so that I can stay in the loop. I’ll just read that article advertised on Google plus because I may be able to share it with my tribe and so on and so on.

In the sixties the Swiss watch industry, which dominated the world was convinced they were in the watch building industry but they lost a massive percentage of their market to Japan and the quartz digital display watches because they did not recognize that they were actually in the time telling business. They did not keep the main thing the main thing.

After World War II and with the advent of the American dream it became possible to fly to other major cities instead of having to take the train. The railway industry knew everything there was to know about moving people from one place to another and were uniquely positioned to take their knowledge to the airways with the new planes that were being built in the early sixties. Unfortunately they thought they were in the railway industry and not the People moving business. This left the door wide open for new companies such as Eastern Airlines, Pan American Airways and many others to take over the people moving business. Not knowing what the main thing is and not keeping the main thing the main thing can be costly to large corporations and yet the same ideas apply to us as individuals.

The challenge is that we need to be able to prioritize our activities and then spend time only on the things we have prioritized in the appropriate order.

This Is where a personal mission statement and a set of goals can come in really useful. Once we take the time to write out our mission statement it helps us know who we are and what we are really about. You can do this for free at http://www.franklincovey.com/msb/ Then, it is important to have some key life goals that you are working towards.

Once you have done this ground work then you will want to spend some time every day on the most important goals and make sure that they are aligned with your mission. By doing this you are keeping the main thing the main thing.

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Are you doing your to-do list or is it doing you?

One of the more popular ways people get a lot done in their day is by using a to-do list.

The to-do list can be a very successful tool to help you get things done in your day so that you feel that you have accomplished a lot of tasks and that you feel good at the end of the day.

On the other hand the to-do list can be an ineffective tool that puts you off doing what needs to be done until you no longer use this handy tool. Many professional people have been down this road of frustration and in some cases some people have been down it more than once. One day they get re-inspired and start again with their to-do list only to end up getting frustrated with it and quitting it again.

So let’s look at what could be going on to cause people to quit using a tool that when applied correctly is really quite useful. The items on the to-do list can fall into two categories, one is daily tasks and the other is assigned tasks. Daily tasks could be things like make breakfast for the kids, clear the table, get the lunch boxes ready, check the kids have their homework in their backpacks and so on. Assigned tasks can be things we may not do every day such as write a performance review, begin the ABC company proposal, write a blog post and things like this

A good plan is to look at your tasks and prioritize them with an ABC and 123 system. So everything on your to-do list that absolutely must be completed today will have an A. Items on a to-do list that could possibly wait until tomorrow would be labeled with a B and things that could have a little less urgency would labeled with a C. Once the items on your list have a letter in front of them you now want to review all the items with the same latter and prioritize with one being the most important and then two and three and so on. Now do the same thing for the B items and also the C items.

You now have a prioritized list and all you need to do now is to make sure that you start the day by working on A1 and only when that is complete move on to A2 and so on down the list.

Voila you now know how to prioritize your list. Be sure and complete it the night before so you can get a flying start in the morning.

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Struggling with trying to find enough time in the day to get everything done?

I think many of us who are struggling with trying to find enough time in the day to get everything done would like to find a way to get more things done in our day. I know because I often feel like this too.

I have learned a few things that can really help if you take them on, tweak them for you and apply them on a consistent basis so that they become your habits. When you make this commitment and follow through with the appropriate action you will be amazed at what is possible. One exercise I have used in training classes with professional people is that of having a small helicopter at the front of the class built with Lego bricks. Each group has enough bricks to replicate this helicopter but only one person from the group can go forward and examine the model. It takes quite a few goes before they can duplicate the model and once they have done it I take away the model and their completed helicopter and give them a bag with sufficient Lego bricks to rebuild the same helicopter, they seldom do it. Why do I mention this, because it takes a lot of practice to become good at even something quite simple. We must have a clear picture of the end result and then we must practice it enough times so that our brain has a clear pathway of where to go to achieve the desired result. Unfortunately so many give up to early

To get more done begin your day with a plan that was made the day before. Wake up early enough to eat and drink healthy foods without rush so that you are nutritionally set for the day.

Avoid overwhelming yourself with an overpowering to do list. Limit your to-do list to just a few items so that it is not overwhelming or distracting. If you find you have a massive to do list then prioritize with AB and C and just keep the prioritized A list and work with that.

Be sure to schedule time in for you. Whether that is a couple of 15 minute coffee breaks or 15 minutes to get quiet time and just meditate or read a book it is important to “sharpen the saw” so many people believe they have no time for this and so they take on their day overwhelmed, worn out and tired and feeling in a poor state of mind because they have no time for themselves. That is like a carpenter sawing wood all day without taking time to sharpen the saw. By the end of the day everything takes longer because he never kept his tools sharp. You, your mind and your energy along with your self-esteem are the most important tools you have, keep them sharp. Ever cut food with a dull knife and then someone hands you a sharp knife? It makes a massive difference and sure makes the job so much easier. So there you have three simple strategies that when applied constantly and tweaked to be personalized for you will definitely help you get more done in the day. Remember just doing work is not necessarily getting things done.

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How I handle my email to save time and prevent email overload

Probably one of the biggest time thief’s of today is email. Many of us have this need to check it frequently throughout the day and see what news there is or what is going on with friends, colleagues and family. I have been guilty of this myself and it is only when I have logged the amount of time with a time log that I have gotten the full scope of what a terrible time waster email can be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying email is bad, I’m saying my habit of checking email frequently was disastrous to my daily productivity. I was guilty of not having an email strategy!

Because we all need and use email in different ways based upon our business and position there is no one hard and fast set of rules that will suit everyone. That being the case let me share what I have put together for myself and perhaps it may give you some ideas to help you put together your email strategy. I am always open to new methods, techniques and ideas that will help me improve anything I do and I would suggest being open to new ways could be a useful way for anyone to look at things too.

I only check email once a day at 2:00 pm.

You might think this is a bit drastic just like I did at first.so let me explain something here; I realized that other people’s emails were driving my daily productivity and my agenda was secondary. I do not know where that habit came from but none the less I knew that it had to change. I felt I had a duty to get right back to people with an answer and that answer often needed a little research which in turn was just eating up my time. I also noticed that the more I responded to people and helped them out the more they used me and my time to solve small challenges they could easily solve themselves.

Once I started only checking emails at 2:00 pm some people were upset that I had missed a deadline or not responded on time. I politely let them know that if something was so urgent that they could always get hold of me face to face or call my cell phone. The key here was being polite and firm and let them know that I was sure they would support me getting my work done as I had key production indicators to meet as well.

I do not use email as an instant messaging system.

I have work to do so “Please Do Not Disturb” when people would whine about this I make it clear that if it is important they can call me or they can swing by my office. I actually had a “Please Do Not Disturb” sign that I would hang on my office door when I was working on my own tasks. When folks found that I was not so easily accessible or they had to actually talk to me instead of using email their need to communicate with me seemed to fade away.

Where possible use only the subject line for the communication.

I ask people to do this as this saves time and keeps us both on point

One topic per email.

This helps me keep the email thread focused on one idea only. If the subject line is clear then this makes it easier to reference any communication on that topic. If there is more than one topic in the email then I have to start going through different emails looking for answers to any questions I may have.

Use BOXBe or some other filtering app to keep your inbox lean https://www.boxbe.com/

For an email to get through to me it has to go through BoxBe first. I have just under 400 approved senders and anything else will be kept in the Boxbe waiting list folder to be reviewed by me when I choose.

UNSUBSCRIBE!

I sign up for a lot of newsletters and blogs that I feel may have some value for me and when I receive them I realize that they may not be a good fit. If this is the case I take the time to unsubscribe so that I do not have to deal with anymore emails from that site. I do not want to be one of those people that end up deleted mail on a frequent basis that could have been avoided in the first place.

Use Folders

I have many folders and once I have dealt with an email I save it to the appropriate folder which could be a person’s name or a project name. This keeps my in box clear and makes it easy to reference the email should the need come up in the future.

Deal with it or delete it.

I answer emails when I read them so I do not have to go back to them. This is a great way of dealing with them straight away and saving time later on. If the person needs a reply I reply immediately upon reading it. If I need more time to find some more information to be able to respond I reply with a bcc to myself saying when I will get back to them so they know when to expect the complete answer. I then make an appointment in my calendar with a reminder so that I have blocked of time to do the necessary research and respond appropriately. If the email has information about a meeting or a reservation or other similar details I put that information immediately onto my calendar with the appropriate invites and reminders so that I remember to do what is necessary. After making additions to the calendar I save the email to the appropriate folder.

Switch off email reminder and turn off your email

Unless your job requires that you answer emails as they come in then turn off your email when not using it. I put a reminder on my calendar to check emails from 2:00 to 3:00 PM. This one hour is more than enough time for me to respond to the emails that have arrived over the last 24 hours. This works for me but for some people you may need to schedule a time slot two or maybe even three times a day.

I made a decision to make email work for me. Email does not require me to be at everyone else’s beck and call. I have made some firm decisions in a polite way to control my email to serve me the way I want it to. The reason for this is because time is very important to me and I demand of myself not to be a victim to the needs of others and that I spend my time the way I choose.

I have two email accounts and all mail is directed to my Gmail account.

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