Tag Archives: productivity

This One Thing is Ruining Your Productivity

If you’re like most leaders, you spend your days rushing around dealing with emergencies, challenges, meetings and emails. Your days seem like a blur, and you struggle to articulate what you accomplished in your 10+ hours at the office. This may be the norm for most leaders, but it doesn’t have to be.

One of the biggest challenges leaders face at work are interruptions. Whether it’s phone calls and texts, emails pinging all day, or employees dropping in for “a quick question”, these interruptions take a serious toll on your productivity. Experts say the typical office worker wastes 40 to 60 percent of their day on interruptions.

And even if your interruptions don’t involve people, there are a plethora of distractions that impede getting real work done. As an entrepreneur, my office is in my house. There are no people there during the work day, but there are dishes in the sink, toys on the floor, and papers to be filed. Even looking at these distractions hinders my focus and concentration. When I have a big project or an article to write (like this one) that requires me to focus, I often go to a coffee shop so I can get in the zone and not get distracted by non-urgent things pulling at my attention. Ironically, the buzz of the coffee shop also helps my concentration and focus. I get more done in two hours there than I do all day in my office.

I believe your office is one of the worst places to work, because everyone knows where to find you!

Below are four strategies for reducing interruptions so you can get real work done.

Close your door. In the age of the “open door policy,” closing your door may seem bold. But let me assure you, you cannot be productive with your door open all day. Most organizations have taken the open door policy to the extreme, thinking that having your door open all day sends the message to your employees that you are a great leader. Employees want leaders who are approachable and supportive. They don’t need you to be available every second of the day. Frankly, most employees would welcome you to close your door once in a while so they can focus on their work without their leader watching every move. I’m not suggesting you close your door all day, every day. But blocking out two hours a day to close your door and focus will increase your productivity dramatically.

One of my clients created signs for their team members that says “Brilliance at Work”. When an employee needs some quiet time to focus, they put this sign on their door or cubicle to signal that they are in the zone, so don’t interrupt.

Silence your electronics. It’s not a novel idea (or is it?), yet so few leaders practice it. Part of what drains productivity is the time it takes to recover after an interruption. Even that email notification that you glance at for a few seconds breaks your concentration. Studies show it can take up to 25 minutes to the return to the original task after an interruption. It’s a wonder how leaders get anything done at the office. Multi-tasking has been proven to not be effective and actually hurt productivity, so the best way to get real work done is to sequester yourself and turn off your electronic devices. Even if you do this once a day for an hour, you will see a dramatic increase in your productivity.

Start your meetings by articulating the purpose. How many meetings do you attend each day that are a waste of time? Usually it’s because you are trying to do too many things in one meeting. A best practice is to identify the purpose of that specific meeting, and announce it at the beginning of the meeting so everyone is on the same page. This keeps the meeting focused and on track. An example might be: “The goal of this meeting is to review the three proposals we received and decide which company we will partner with”. That’s much different than just starting the meeting and going off on several tangents that just wastes time.

You can cut out useless follow up meetings by making the first meeting productive in the first place. Less meetings equals more time for real work!

Reduce upward delegation. Many of the interruptions leaders face is from employees. While at times you need to provide guidance and support to your staff members, many interruptions are avoidable. Some employees “upward delegate” to their leaders—they look to their manager to make a decision for them. A way to reduce these interruptions is to coach your employee through the challenge. If an employee approaches you to ask how to handle a situation or project, ask her one of these questions:

  • What do you think?
  • What are your options?
  • What might your next step be?

These questions put the ownership back on the employee and require her to think about how to approach the situation herself. If you continue to coach employees around tasks they can handle themselves, you’ll start to see a reduction in the interruptions as they learn to think for themselves.

Effective leadership requires that you get results. To get results, you need time to focus on real work, not just the typical office “emergencies”. To be a successful leader, you have to take charge of your productivity, because no one else will.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some ways you reduce interruptions so you can get real work done?

How to Succeed When You’re Overcommitted and Overwhelmed

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you want to crawl back under the covers, eat a pint of ice cream, and watch Friends on TV all day? I had a moment like this last month when I overextended myself and felt swamped with all my commitments.

I was flying back from California after traveling for business, and felt a wave of panic as I thought about the week ahead.  I had a week full of clients, a speech to present that Friday, and my kids had a slew of activities. I had also volunteered to be Vice President of the Parent Association at my children’s school earlier that year, and I was in charge of the spring fair event that was to take place the next weekend. We were getting ready to have pictures taken to put our house on the market, and on top of all that, I had volunteered to lead the new website project at the school as well. I was overcommitted, overwhelmed, and completely stressed.

I’ve always prided myself on being able to balance so many projects and commitments. I’m great at managing my time and juggling multiple responsibilities. But there was a precise moment that week when I reached a breaking point. I had no balance. I stopped exercising, I was staying up late, and wasn’t eating healthy. I felt anxious all the time, and didn’t feel like I had a moment to even breathe. My mind was so overwhelmed with what I had to do, that I felt paralyzed and couldn’t think straight. I had no space in my schedule for at least three weeks, and felt depleted and exhausted.

My husband gently reminded me that perhaps I couldn’t do it all, and needed to make some choices about what I could reasonably accomplish. The answer was clear to me in that moment: I needed to resign from vice president of the Parent Association.  Saying no is hard for me, but I realized I needed to put boundaries in place to gain my time and energy back. That one decision took a huge weight off of my shoulders.

Although on some level it felt good to be a part of so many things, it was at the expense of the bigger picture. Being overtaxed was in direct conflict of my values. Particularly the time I was investing in my children’s school.  I was making a big impact for the school, but at the expense of my own personal impact. The time and energy I was spending volunteering could be channeled into my family, my business, and my health and make a bigger impact in my own life.

I’m sure you’ve had an experience like this. You say yes to so many things because you are a leader. You are a leader at work, in your life, and in your family. You want to serve; to be involved, make a contribution, and get things done. And maybe you feel a little bit obligated to contribute your best effort all the time.

It was tough for me to admit that I couldn’t do everything, and that I had overcommitted myself. At first I felt like I had failed and that I should be able to handle everything with ease and balance my life perfectly.

This experience got me reflecting: why do we feel like we have to do it all? And, is there such a thing as work life balance?

There has been a significant change in our society and how we live over the past 30 years. More women are in the workforce and contributing in broader ways. While this is a positive shift, for many women, these changes have added an additional layer of stress since most of us still have responsibilities and commitments outside of work. Even if you have a great partner who shares the responsibilities, there is still a lot to balance with raising children, running the household, getting involved in the community, and working a full time job. And that doesn’t even take into account time for yourself. Simply put: we’ve added several more roles in our lives, and we have the same amount of time to perform them. I often have to remind myself that I have two jobs: running my business, and running my home life. The responsibilities of home life don’t diminish for women who are working outside the home.

Most of us walk around each day in a state of stress, and look outside ourselves to place the blame. We blame our boss. We blame our kids. We blame our spouse. We even blame time.

But busy is a choice. Overwhelm is a choice. Stress is a choice. It was hard for me to accept that, but I realized that I have choices in how to spend my time. I don’t have to say yes to everything, and I am ultimately responsible for my life experience.

One of my mentors, Marie Forleo, so brilliantly said, “You can have it all, but you can’t do it all.”

Although we may want to do everything, and do it all well, when there is an abundance of things to do and only so much time, there has to be tradeoffs. It’s just not possible to do everything and do it well. This creates an enormous amount of stress that bleeds into our work. Leaders who value achievement and impact often have a hard time saying no. We load up on our commitments and fear we may be perceived negatively if we can’t handle it all. And if you are a leader at work, juggling the responsibilities of coaching, developing, and mentoring employees can add to the stress.

In her article, Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family, Claire Cain Miller cites research from a Pew survey that indicates women still do the majority of the housework and childcare. As one woman put it, “you feel like you’re doing a horrible job at everything.”

So what ‘s the solution? I’m not sure this challenge will be solved anytime soon. Most organizations still operate in a bureaucratic manner and struggle to embrace a more modern approach of work life integration. And most women struggle to find a balance between work and home with all their competing roles.

But there are small steps that can make a difference. I am much more deliberate about how I schedule my time. I am pausing to consider opportunities and commitments before I say yes. I have hired more help with managing the home because I realize I can’t do it all. I put boundaries in place and don’t accept weeknight commitments that will keep me out past 8:30 p.m. so that I can keep to my 9:30 p.m. bedtime. I am saying no more often. No, I don’t need to accept every play date or have my children attend every birthday party. No, I choose not to volunteer any more time outside of my family. And no, I will not feel guilty for going to yoga on Saturdays.

These small steps make a difference, yet I’m experienced enough in life to know that it doesn’t solve the problem. There will be times where I start to feel stressed and overcommitted. I may fall off the wagon and say yes too much. I am a work in progress. I may never manage this life perfectly.

But for now: I choose space. I choose calm. I choose to say no.

The Top 5 Reasons Employees Leave

In 1998, I moved from my native New York to Washington, DC searching for a fresh start. I needed to get away after some of the toughest months of my life: my parents were divorcing after 25 years of marriage, I had just broken up with my boyfriend, and my grandfather had just died of Alzheimer’s disease. I figured things could only get better. My best friend from college lived in DC, so I quit my job, loaded my Saturn SL with all my belongings, and moved 300 miles away to a new city with no job.

I was pretty new in the corporate world, so I was willing to start near the bottom and work my way up. I took a job at a small technology firm as an office manager. On my first day, the HR director told me they were going to sit me at the front desk temporarily until they hired a receptionist. She also told me that the CEO didn’t like the title “office manager,” so they would be changing my title to “administrative assistant.” Needless to say, the three months I spent with the company were not my happiest. I was disengaged, didn’t trust management, and didn’t feel appreciated.

Have you ever had an experience working in a job you didn’t love? It’s tough to stay engaged if you work for a micromanaging boss, if the work environment is stifling, or there’s no sense of appreciation from management.

Unfortunately, my experience of feeling disengaged on the job is more the norm than the exception for many people.

Studies show the top reasons employees quit include:

  • Not feeling appreciated
  • No advancement opportunities or development
  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of clarity around expectations
  • A bad boss

Most leaders think the reason employees leave is because of money. While being paid fairly is important, for most employees, other factors like a great work environment, a good boss, and work-life balance contribute to better engagement at work.

So, how do you ensure you keep your top employees? Below are three simple tips for increasing engagement on your team.

Upgrade your leadership skills. Being a leader is more challenging today than ever before. Employees have more choices and opportunities. The expectations are higher. Exceptional leaders always look to improve their leadership skills by reading books, listening to leadership podcasts, and attending conferences and training classes to enhance their skills. One of my favorite leadership resources is Success magazine. Each issue is packed with leadership tips and even has a CD with interviews from leadership experts.

Conduct stay interviews. Most organizations conduct exit interviews to gather feedback when employees quit. A stay interview is when you have a conversation before the employee decides to leave. The purpose is to understand what will keep your best employees engaged. If you want to learn how to conduct an effective stay interview, I offer tips in this article: Stay Interviews

Hold regular staff meetings. According to research firm Gallup, employees are three times more likely to be engaged when their manager holds regular staff meetings. Use your staff meetings to set priorities, answer questions, and coach your employees through challenges. Most employees feel they are given little guidance for understanding what is expected of them. Individual coaching sessions and regular staff meetings help to create clarity for your team.

Engagement isn’t just about having happy employees. It’s about having productive employees. And productivity increases your revenues and impacts your bottom line. Productive employees tend to be happier, which decreases your turnover rates. This all adds up to a more profitable business.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. In the comments section below, tell me:

What is one thing you do to keep your employees engaged?

My Confession…

I have a confession to make: I struggle with delegation. My mind is often in overdrive, and stopping to ask for help is not one of my strong points. A couple of months ago, I came to a breaking point. I was printing out materials for a leadership program, and the ink in my printer ran out. I didn’t have another cartridge, and I had to run to Staples in the middle of the day to buy more ink. In that moment, I thought of the all the important things I needed to be doing, and it was not buying ink.

My business has been growing, and I was wearing many hats as a business owner: coach, consultant, accountant, marketer, and administrative assistant. I was becoming so bogged down in the details, that I wasn’t able to focus as much on the strategic side of my business. I realized I could not reach the next level in my business if I didn’t learn to work smarter and focus on the most important areas. I decided to hire an assistant, and I’m already seeing an increase in my productivity and a decrease in my stress level. I see her as the backbone of my business; she takes care of very important things behind the scenes so that I can focus on what I do best.

Most of us know we should delegate more. We may be very busy every day, but most people aren’t very productive. And on some level, we become addicted to the busy feeling because it makes us feel we are getting something done; even if it’s not the best use of our time.

 

Here are two strategies that helped me “train” myself to delegate more:

 

Envision leading at a higher level. Take just 15-30 minutes to think about what your leadership would look like if you were operating at the optimum level in your position. For me, I envisioned a clean, organized office, systems in place to run my business (like an accounting system), having more space in my calendar for creative time, being proactive in marketing my programs, an updated and refreshed website, developing new programs, and consistently sending resources to my clients. I realized many of these things I don’t have to do myself (accounting system), and having someone else do them would allow me the time and mental energy to focus on the other areas (developing new programs, sending resources to clients). This motivated me to want to delegate.

Keep a log. Throughout your day, keep a running list of things you are doing that are not the best use of your time. At the end of the day, determine which of these tasks can be delegated to someone else and write that person’s name next to the task. After one week of logging, set up a meeting with your team or the individual to teach them how to handle the tasks (and in many cases, no teaching is involved; it’s more about letting go). Here is a partial list of my items: filing, invoicing, bookkeeping, registering for conferences/events, contacting a vendor for information, ordering supplies, and updating my website.

A trait of highly successful leaders is the ability to focus on key areas and delegate lower level tasks. It is a core leadership skill, and often determines if a leader will move toward success or derailment. Just remember: you can have it all, but you can’t do it all.

Where You Should Spend 80% of Your Time

Have you ever left the office at the end of the day, knowing you worked really hard, but unable to pinpoint what you really accomplished? I used to have many days like this; days where I was really busy, but I wasn’t able to find the time to work on the most important areas that would make the biggest impact in my role as a human resources executive.

There is one exercise you can do that will dramatically change your leadership and how you work. If you do this exercise, you will become massively more productive and save so much time in your day, that you will be able to really focus on the areas that are important in your role as a leader.

The exercise is to define your key result areas. The key result areas of a position are the three to five main results that you must accomplish to perform the job successfully and make the maximum contribution.   It’s the value the position brings to the organization; the reasons why the position was created. The key result areas can’t be delegated (although you may delegate tasks or duties that support your key result areas) or outsourced. Defining your key result areas gives you clarity around what you should be doing so that you can focus, be highly productive, and make the most impact in your role.

Most leaders struggle to be productive and get results because they are very vague about what they should be doing on a daily basis. They spend most days being reactive and putting out fires. Defining your key result areas identifies the most important areas you should be working on; where you should be spending at least 80% of your time.  

Here is an example of possible key result areas for a human resources executive:

1. Create a strategy to develop and maintain an exceptional work culture that engages employees

2. Coach and develop the human resources employees to be successful in their jobs and reach their highest potential

3. Create a strategy for developing the organization’s leaders into highly effective, engaging and successful leaders

4. Create a talent strategy to attract and retain the most exceptional employees in the metro area

Your key result areas may be different based on the size of your organization and the company’s strategy. But notice they are not low level tasks that can be accomplished by staff members. Most leaders spend 80% of their time on tasks and 20% of their time on key result areas. To be an effective, successful leader, you must spend 80% of your time on key result areas.  

What are your key result areas? Set aside a half hour to get clear on your key result areas and then evaluate how you are currently spending your time. Delegate or outsource the tactical areas that can be handled by someone else. If you find yourself saying, “I am the only one who can do this task,” then develop a staff member to handle it. Remember that delegation doubles your productivity. Review your key result areas when planning your month, week and day, and you will become much more productive, effective leader.

 

Habits of the “Super Achiever”

One of my personal goals each year is to improve my habits over the previous year. Whether it’s being more productive, spending more time planning and prioritizing, exercising more, or focusing on cultivating personal relationships, keeping my focus on getting better and better helps me to get greater results over time. Small incremental improvements yield better results than a list of lofty resolutions or goals.  

This year, one of my small improvements is implementing a “Half Hour of Power. ” I learned of this idea from famed coach Tony Robbins, who suggests an “Hour of Power” each day. I determined a half hour would be manageable for my schedule, and have been working to implement this improvement into my day. Each day, I spend a half hour writing what I am thankful for in my journal, envisioning future successes, reviewing my annual, monthly, and weekly goals, setting my two top priorities for the day, and getting centered to be able to work at maximum productivity. This small change has helped me to stay on top of my key result areas, be highly productive, and stay centered and focused.

I’ve worked with many leaders through coaching and leadership programs, and I’ve noticed the highly successful leaders share many of the same daily habits or traits. They focus each day on improving and don’t make excuses. The most successful leaders make time for the important areas, they don’t complain about how much time they don’t have. They take control and responsibility.   Here are the most common habits and traits of highly successful leaders, or what I call “Super Achievers”:  

Planning and Focus. They develop plans and goals, and then execute those plans. They take time each day to make sure they are working on their top priorities. They are proactive and purposeful, and their day reflects it.

Passion for learning and improvement. They have a desire to constantly learn and grow. They tend to be relentless readers of leadership books and articles, and they invest in their growth and education. They make time to develop and improve themselves as leaders.

Keep commitments. They keep their commitments and don’t make excuses. They rarely miss schedule events and meetings, and are always well prepared and focused. They take time to do the work needed to make each encounter meaningful. They bring their ‘A’ game to meetings and are prepared.

Focus on people. They always make time for their employees and the important people in their life. They understand the value of cultivating relationships, and regularly interact and meet with their employees in a meaningful way. They understand the importance of communication and learning, and foster an environment of truth and feedback. They take the time to communicate vision, plans and goals, and ask questions.

100% effort. They always give all their effort to everything they take on. They are deliberate about their choices and focus on a few initiatives to do really, really well rather on a bunch of things half-heartedly. They don’t settle for mediocre; they aim to work at peak performance.

 

The Power of Today

Happy New Year!

Did you know that most leaders are only 30%-40% productive each day? Most people spend their days reacting to issues that come up and focus very little on the important key result areas. One of my professional goals last year was to work at 95% productivity every day. I didn’t succeed every day, but having that goal made me focus intensely on increasing my efficiency by blocking out time, planning, focusing on the most important tasks, and getting more done in half a day than most people get done in a week. The results were incredible–I had my most productive and successful year ever, worked less hours, felt less stress, and had more time to focus on some of my personal goals. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you take advantage of the power of each day.

The best book I read in 2012 was The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Although this concept is not new, I find it inspiring to be reminded that small daily changes lead to big results. There is power in TODAY. If you get clear on the top two things you need to accomplish today, and make that a practice EVERY day, where will you be this time next year? Your results will compound and you can literally make dramatic changes in your life. Whether it’s being more productive, improving your leadership skills, reading more books or eating healthier, small actions taken each day will yield great results by the end of the year.

One of the actions I took last year was to read at least 45 minutes a day, five days a week. I read over 25 books, got caught up on all my magazines, and read many professional articles and periodicals that contributed to my professional development.

Here are some questions to help you harness the power of TODAY:
• What big results do I want to accomplish by the end of the year?
• What small steps can I take each day that will compound dramatically over time?
• What are two steps I can take to work at maximum productivity each day?
• How will I measure my results and keep myself on track?
The key is to focus. Most people write a list of lofty goals, only to abandon them after a couple weeks because it is too much change at one time. If you focus on a couple habits at a time, you have a better chance of following through, building momentum, and succeeding.

Wishing you a productive, prosperous, and joyous year!

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Last week I almost burnt my kitchen down. In my quest to get all the important things done on my list, I decided to multi-task. I put my lunch on the stove, and then went into my office to answer a couple e-mails while simultaneously making an important phone call. I was so engrossed (and overloaded), that I completely forgot about my lunch. I totally charred the pan, and black smoke filled the house. It was not a pretty scene.

 Multi-tasking is overrated. You think you are getting a lot more done, but in fact, you are not. You just end up doing a few things poorly (i.e., burnt bacon and an interrupted phone call) than doing one thing really well. It’s a fact that quality suffers when we multi-task.

I often hear clients talk about multi-tasking like it’s the sought-after skill that will help them get more done in less time. I even see “ability to multi-task” in most job advertisements. We have become obsessed with trying to squeeze as much as possible into each minute of our day in the unrealistic quest of being perfectly efficient.

 The “skill” of multi-tasking has become a popular buzzword in organizations. But it’s killing our business. It’s killing our effectiveness. It actually has the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve. And that’s because our brains weren’t built to do more than one big thing at a time. Research has shown that workers waste an average of two hours a day on recovery time from interruptions and multi-tasking. It’s costing businesses about $650 billion a year; not to mention stress, loss of composure, and sloppy work.

Remember the days before iPhones, Facebook, and e-mail? When you left work, you actually left work at the office. Technology is meant to make our lives easier, but that’s not what happens for most professionals. We feel more stressed and over stimulated than ever. We can’t seem to pull ourselves away for a mental break.

Have you ever left your office at the end of the day and thought, “What did I get done today?” If you can’t pinpoint what you accomplished, you probably spent a lot of the day multi-tasking. One of the best things professionals can do to boost performance is to focus on one thing at a time.

Here are six strategies for improving your focus (and your performance!):

Concentrate on one task at a time. Block out a specific time in your schedule to focus on one project. Make it a habit of scheduling your entire work day in chunks of time meant for focusing on specific tasks and projects.

Check e-mail only a few times a day. Turn off your e-mail and message alerts so they won’t distract you when trying to focus. Schedule a few specific times in your day to check e-mail and messages and focus only on that task.

 Say no and simplify your life. You don’t have to volunteer for everything. Pick a couple things you really enjoy, and do them well. When you are asked to take on a responsibility, tell the person you will think about it and get back to them.

Change your scenery. Most professionals I know can’t get much done in their office because that’s where most of their distractions are. Find a quiet conference room or go to a local coffee shop to get away from distractions and you’ll improve your focus.

Focus on two or three accomplishments a day. Executives often make a list of ten or fifteen things to accomplish in one day. We become too overwhelmed because our expectations are unrealistic. Pick two or three important tasks for the day and focus on accomplishing them (and doing them well). If you finish early, then you can move on to another task.

Delegate tasks and projects others can handle. Most managers I’ve worked with don’t use their employee resources effectively. They either feel they don’t have the time to teach employees or that their staff will resent them for piling on more work. The truth is, most employees enjoy the challenge and want to help their boss. Keep only the major initiatives you must be involved in, and delegate other tasks.

I’ve seen huge improvements in my efficiency and quality of work when I focus on one thing at a time. Learning to banish it from your life is a work in progress, and will take some time. But with practice and focus, you will feel less stressed and more accomplished.