Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Time Management

To to handle interruptions at work

Economy, Management, Motivation, Organization, Strategy, Team building, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian2 Comments

With the economic realities we have been living with since 2008, companies are forcing employees to do more with less. Not only are companies asking employees to be more creative and use less resources, they are also asking less employees to do more work.

An interruption is anything that distracts you from the primary task at hand. Common workplace distractions are emails, phone calls, drop-in meetings, etc

This means that most people you talk to, working in a corporate environment, have too much to do and not enough time. This means a small number of daily interruptions can have a huge impact on your productivity.

I wrote an article about MAC OS Lion January 2011 and one of the note in it said :

The Research The truth is that when we attempt to multi-task, we become much less effective. Modern cognitive research clearly demonstrates that when people multi-task, they perform less work and miss information. Researchers discovered that re-orienting yourself to the task at hand, after a distraction, takes 10-15 minutes. Quantifiably, performance for multi-taskers can drop as much as 40% along with a marked degradation of memory and creativity.

The reality is that you cannot completely get rid of distractions. They are a natural part of your work life, the key is to managing them efficiently.

You cannot improve that which you cannot measure

Having managed large operational groups for some multinationals, there is a mantra I repeat to most of my managers. You cannot improve that which you cannot measure. Before you start panicking about how many interruptions you have to deal with on a daily basis, make an objective inventory. Using a simple sheet of paper and a pencil, write down at least the following information (each time you are interrupted):

  • Date / Time
  • Duration of interruption
  • Who interrupted you
  • Why they interrupted you (the subject)
  • Was the interruption worthwhile?

I recommend you log interruptions for at least 2-3 weeks before you conduct your first review. At the end of your first logging period, it's time to make the data sing. First determine which interruptions were worthwhile and valid. Are they coming from a particular person or group? Do they concern a particular topic? Determine if you can stop these interruptions by making time for these topics or people as planned events in your calendar. You can then inform people to keep these issues until the planned meetings.

You will most likely have interruptions that were not worthwhile and you have to address these. Talk to the people in question and explain why you believe they were not valid and how they should address these in the future. Coaching is the key here. It is useful to explain how these interruptions impact your productivity.

Voicemail is your friend

Most people I talk to at work don’t know how to configure their phone to send calls straight to voicemail. Now is a great time to find out. I’ll wait here while you go and ask the question to a colleague or support person.

If you are working on a tight deadline or simply need some uninterrupted time, send calls straight to voicemail. I recommend you change your voicemail greeting every morning so callers know you are in. Your voicemail message should mention that you are busy and will be checking your messages sporadically during the day.

Do not disturb sign

 Whether you work in an office or cubicle, people may drop by unexpectedly and demand an audience. Most of the time, you should you the log method but there may be times when your work is too important and you just can’t afford the interruption. For these times, I recommend you create a notice printed sign that says you are working on something important and would appreciate not being disturbed.

Hand this sign just before people come into view so they do not break your concentration. Explain to your team that you expect them to comply with the sign when they see it because it is only up when absolutely necessary. People generally understand and will comply.

Reserve some available time

  1. If you are a manager or team lead then a good habit is to reserve some “general availability time” in your calendar. There is no magic rule of how much time or how often. You should reserve as much time as needed but no more. Share these windows of opportunity with your various stakeholders and ask them to leverage these when they need your attention.
  2. There are people that you interact with on a regular basis. These are people for whom you should have dedicated reserved time in your calendar.

Conclusions

Hopefully you found some good ideas to help you be productive. Feel free to send me comments, questions or ideas.

The Getting Things Done (GTD) Weekly Review Process

Evernote, Management, Organization, PersonalBrain, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian1 Comment

As a GTD fan, I have read the book, listened to the 10CD audio seminar,  read the articles on GTD Times and subscribed to David Allen’s audio blog. In all of these mediums, one of the key messages that seems to come up over and over, is the requirement to do the weekly review.  What would happen to your car if you never changed the oil? The car would get sluggish and eventually the engine would die. Same thing for GTD. You need to review your system and fine-tune it weekly otherwise it will die a horrible death.

Example of why it’s important

  • When I get in the execution zone, I start completing one task after another, after another. This means that I sometimes complete tasks and forget to mark them as complete in my system. This also means that some of my projects may be without their Next Action Item, which is bad in the world of GTD.
  • Even though I try to diligently capture everything in my inbox, I sometimes forget and end up with to-dos in my head. The weekly review is a great time to clean out my head.
  • Just like my oil change example, without proper maintenance and care, your GTD system will eventually become crusty and no longer applicable. Keep it relevant by constantly maintaining it during your weekly review.
  • Mental nirvana. I get a feeling of calm control when I realize that everything is in my system and being tracked properly. Even if my system is perfect and well maintained, there are mental benefits to doing the weekly review and realizing everything is capture and your life is in control.

How much time does it take?

There is no magic rule of thumb here. It should take as much time as you need but no more. Some of my weekly reviews take 30 minutes and others can take upwards of 2 hours. It all depends on how much action I had that week and how I managed to maintain my system on a daily basis.

I’m convinced, what do I do?

This is a question even experienced GTD practitioners need a refresher on from time to time. It is super simple.

When I sit down for my weekly review, here is my process:

  • I do a brain dump and make sure I “empty” out my mental to do list.
  • I ensure my emails are brought to zero and captured in my inbox
  • I ensure my voicemails are all listened to and captured in my inbox
  • I ensure my physical papers are all reviewed and captured in my inbox as appropriate
  • I now process my inbox and bring it to zero
  • I go through my calendar for the last 2-3 weekly and check if I missed any open loops. You will be surprised how many times this reminds me of things I may have forgotten.
  • I go through my calendar for the 2-3 upcoming weeks, and determine if all of my open loops have been captured
  • I then go through each of my lists and context to ensure the items are valid. Did I complete something and forget to mark it as such? Do I have a project with no next actions? Did someone owe me an item from the Waiting for list?

How do I do it?

My weekly review is planned in my calendar every Friday afternoon for 2 hours. For me it is a hard coded obligation. There are times when other activities become a bigger priority and I cancel my weekly review but this is the exception more than the rule. I never skip more than 1 review in a row and the next review (after a skip) will likely take double the time.

Other GTD Articles:

The four truths about Getting Things Done (GTD)

GTD, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian1 Comment

Like I have said over and over, I love Getting Things Done. It has allowed me to stay on top of things and I try to teach it to as many of my colleagues as possible. Having worked with dozens of people, I realize that there are some misconceptions about GTD, so I decided to write this article to talk about them.

1. GTD is simple and difficult

Whether you read the book, listen to an audio training program or participate to a live training class, you will realize that the core concepts of GTD are simple and based on common sense. They are very simple to learn and understand. The tools required for GTD can be as simple as folders, papers and a pencil.

So how is it complicated? The truth is GTS isn’t complicated but implementing it may be. Humans are creatures of habit and change is difficult. In order to really implement GTD, it has to become a way of life, both personally and professionally. Acquiring a new habit can take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years, depending on you. This is the difficult part. You will fall off the wagon and you have to be committed enough to get back on.

2. GTD is not free

I am not talking about cost but rather time. Many people mistakenly believe that implementing GTD will save them time (i.e. give them more free time). The reality is that GTD will require time to implement, control and manage.  You need over an hour a week just for your weekly review (mine sometimes take close to 2+ hours). Then you have monthly reviews, inbox processing, etc.

The key message here is that GTD will take more time out of your day but will give you the tools to make better decisions about how you spend your time. It will give you the confidence that you are making the right time decisions.  Consider the time you spend for GTD an investment. Like all good investments, it will reward you handsomely but you need to go in with realistic expectations.

3. You’re doing it wrong

As you go through GTD, you will realize that David Allen always gives suggestions of how GTD could be implemented but really leaves it up to you to customize it. Each user will setup unique contexts, collection tools and systems, review timeframes, etc. The message here is that there is no wrong way to implement GTD. As long as it is working for you and you are getting the benefits you need, then it is the right way for you.

Many GTDers will continue their search for perfection and will join GTD communities in an attempt to learn how others are using GTD. You may get great new ideas, tips or tricks that will help your own system but ultimately the best GTD system for you is the one that works for you.

Don’t worry about doing it wrong. Get it implemented, then start your lifelong commitment to fine-tuning it.

4. GTD isn’t for everyone

The reason there are thousands of time management books is that not every system works for everyone. GTD is no exception. Although I feel GTD is the best time management system I have ever used, and it seems to work for most people, it isn’t for everyone.  Try it, give it a real fair chance but it it doesn’t work for you, move on and try something else.

GTD is not the be all end all. It should be one tool amongst many. I believe that  an investment in oneself is the best investment you can make. They can take away your house, your car and your couch, but they can’t take away your knowledge. Remember that self-improvement is a constant journey that never ends. Strive to be a better person today then you were tomorrow.

 

LINKS

The Getting Things Done Workflow (GTD)

Getting Things Done may be the most important business skill

What is the next action" may be the most powerful question you can ask

Getting Things Done may be the most important business skill

Behavior, GTD, Management, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian4 Comments

From a very young age, I realized that if I really wanted to succeed, I had to be smarter, faster and better than everyone else in my field. I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on training products and seminars.

When working with younger professionals, the question I get asked most often is this : “What do I consider the one most critical skill required for success in business”. This is a great question and the answer is simple, learning a technique that allows you to GET CONTROL of your to dos. Notice I did not say time management because the minute something unexpected happens, most time management strategies go down the drain. I am talking about a system that allows you to always stay in control of all of your commitments. 

I have bought dozens of time management training products and attended even more training seminars. Nothing has proven more effective than “Getting Things Done” as taught by the master himself, Mr David Allen. 

The Stuff factor

In his first book, David defines stuff as “anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step.”

Stuff can be anything from buying groceries to preparing the big merger plan. If your system forces you to keep this “stuff” in your head (which most people do) then it is likely causing you undue stress and keeps popping into your conscious mind at the worst possible time. Have you ever been lying in bed at 2am and all of a sudden get a “to do” pop-up in your mind?

Because most people keep this stuff in their heads, they really don’t have a good way of conducting a full inventory of their “open loops” (aka all of the stuff you promised to do) and usually work on the latest and loudest item.

GTD

GTD is not a product. It is not a computer software that manages your time. It is a strategy that helps get stuff out of your head and into a trusted system where it can be captured, evaluated and prioritized.

In GTD a project is anything that takes more than one action to complete.

To really appreciate GTD, buy one of the books, CDs or DVDs. I guarantee it is worth the money and your time.

To introduce you to it however, here is a Coles Notes version:

  1. Collect all of your action items
  2. Process what they mean and what to do about them
  3. Organize the results in a trusted system
  4. Review
  5. Do

 Ok… here is a little more detail:

  • Identify all of your open loops (action items you have agreed to). This takes anywhere from  1 hour to several days, depending on how badly you have been managing your tasks.
  • Track each project on a project list. For each project as yourself 2 questions: What would be the successful outcome to this project and what is the very next action you need to take to move this project along.
  • The 2 minute rule. Any action that takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish should be done immediately. Filling it for later evaluation would take more time and “Getting Things Done” is empowering.
  • Cleanup Determine if there are things on your list that no longer need to be done and cross those off. Maybe you missed some deadlines, it’s ok. Just cross those off. Are there any actions that should be done by other people, make sure you transfer those (determine if you need to keep track of these or can just transfer and forget).
  • Contextualize your stuff. For each action, determine what you need to get it done. As an example, you need a phone to return phone calls for the context would be @Phone. To send emails, you need to be in front of a computer so the context would be @Computer. By contextualizing your actions, you can determine what to do regardless of where you are.
  • Create a “waiting for” list. Everything that has been delegate but must be tracked should be on this list.
  • Weekly review. Once everything is categorized and in your system, conduct a weekly review to make sure everything is in tip top shape. It is the time to gather and review all of your stuff. Update your lists.

The Power

GTD means everything is written down. I mean everything. The minute I take ownership of an action or project, it get’s written down on a piece of paper and put into my inbox. Once a day (usually in the morning), I process my inbox and ask myself the key questions:

  • What is the item ?
  • Is it actionable

If not actionable then:

  • Is it trash
  • Put in the Someday/Maybe file (i.e. something without a fixed timeline like getting a degree)
  • Stored in my reference system

If it is actionable then

  • What is the very next action item
  • Who should do it?
  • Does it take less than 2 minutes? If so do it now. Otherwise add it to one of my task management lists and track until complete.

By having everything in a trusted system that I know I will keep coming back to, my mind is in a state of clear. I am always confident that I am working on the right item at the right time.

GTD is not software

 This is worth repeating. Dozens of products claim to be GTD compliant but David Allen doesn’t really endorse any of them. He believes that there is no perfect GTD system yet and that the important is to implement the system. He actually recommends starting with paper for most people.

Call to action

I hope you can feel the enthusiasm I have for this system. It is so empowering to know that you are in control and not a victim. I recommend getting the book and going through it. It is well written and easy to understand.

Like any other learned skill, GTD will take time to properly understand. You will likely re-read the book (or sections of it) a couple of times. You will periodically fall of the bandwagon and David provides guidance on how to get back on the horse.

 

 

Creating the paperfree work environment with Evernote

Organization, Time ManagementEdward KiledjianComment

The Brilliant Idea

The fine folks at Evernote came up with a brilliant idea. They created a hybrid cloud-based solution to store all your personal digital information, making it available everywhere, on any platform and completely searchable.

I call their solution a hybrid-cloud solution because it is based on an offline-online model. All of your data is downloaded and available offline on their Windows, Mac and Linux clients. At the same time, it is available via their web interface or dozens of other mobile devices like Android, Iphone, Ipad, Nokia, RIM, etc. Your information is always synchronized across these clients and always available.

Evernote also gives each user a unique email address. Anything you send to that email address is uploaded to your default notebook and available within minutes.

What is a note

All information in Evernote is stored in a capsule called a Note. A note can be as simple as a line of ASCII text or as complex as a collection of Office files, videos, pictures or any other type of digital media you can throw at it.

Unlike other systems, Evernote provides a bunch of organization tools but doesn’t specifically force you to use any of them. You decide how to store your information and make it available. Their tools include:

  • Notebooks A notebook is a collection of notes.
  • Tags A tag is a way to logically group related notes together making them easier to find later. Evernote supports sub-tags, which means you can even associate one tag as a subordinate of another.
  • Saved Searches If you find yourself performing a particular search over and over then why not save it as a Saved Search?
  • Attributes Evernote automatically saves a lot of attribute information with each note (which can be used to fine tune searching). They save things like creation and modification dates/time, geotag information (when available), type of information the note contains (i.e. word file, picture), etc.

Did someone order some OCR

OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition and it’s on the Evernote menu. They have a sophisticated OCR engine that detects text in images and makes it searchable. As an example, you can take a snapshot with your smartphone of a wine label and upload it to Evernote. Their elephants will analyze the image, detect the text and make it searchable. I take a picture of every business card I get and upload it to Evernote. It makes the text searchable so it creates a digital Rolodex. If you have decent handwriting, it may even be able to understand it.

note: In this case OCR does not mean it converts text in the image to usable text you can copy and paste. In Evernote land, OCR is only used to make content searchable

As you can imagine, they prioritize detection for their premium users over the free ones. In my testing, a premium account had a new image indexed within 5-30 minutes (often almost immediately). In free mode, I once waited about 24 hours to have an image indexed which is really acceptable.

If you create a PDF from a word type program then it automatically makes the PDF searchable and Evernote includes this in your “in document” search results. If you scan a page and then convert it into a PDF, it usually does not have a searchable index (since it is a picture imbedded in a PDF container). Premium users also enjoy the benefit of their PDFs being searchable.

The Trunk

A discussion about Evernote would not be complete without mentioning The Trunk. The guys at Evernote realized that their users had lots of feature requests and that they would never be able to meet every requirement, so they built an API that partners could use to interface with Evernote.

There are already dozens of partner created products that work with Evernote and according to numbers presented by the company, many more are on the way.

The freemium model

In addition to the OCR differences between the free and paid users, there are also some other benefits to upgrading (which costs $5 per month):

  • 1GB per month Upload Limit (instead of 60MB for free users). This is not a total data size limit, it is how much new data you can upload. They do not limit total data size.
  • More filetypes. Free users can upload PDF and image fines. Premium users can upload any type of digital file from Office documents to videos and more.
  • More powerful sharing Every Evernote user has the ability to share a notebook with a group of users. Free users can only share notebooks in read mode whereas Premium members can share notebooks in READ/WRITE mode.
  • Priority Processing As mentioned above, priority for OCR processing is given to paid users. Paid users are also given support priority.

To be honest, most users will find the free version more than adequate for what they need to do. Even as a free user, you get 720MB of free cloud-based, searchable data storage per year (60MB per month).

My only wish is that they revamp their iPhone client to make it more powerful and intuitive. Overall, I give Evernote two thumbs up and a hearty endorsement. I am moving my digital info to their service and I strongly encourage you to take a look.

LINKS:

-Evernote Link

-GTD Using Evernote Link

-Evernote Essentials Link