Spring is in the Air!

April is often one month out of the year that marks a fresh start. The dreary weather making way for sunshine is symbolic of the “out with the old, in with the new” mentality that can positively affect not only our personal lives, but our professional lives as well. Spring cleaning plans are being made at home, so why not apply this to your work as well?

Just as important as it is to shampoo the carpets and deep clean the kitchen at home, taking an annual (or even better yet, a quarterly) look at what needs some extra TLC at your office is essential in maintaining a workspace that is free of clutter, ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency. Engaging in workspace organization, both physically and electronically, helps you keep all your ducks in a row, providing a less chaotic way of managing your time.

Tidying up and organizing the physical mess is what we often think of when we hear the word “cleaning.” Sifting through and filing/shredding piles of paperwork, cleaning out desk drawers, wiping down work surfaces, and engaging in a general decluttering of your office space leads to a less stressful work environment, allowing you to think more clearly, leading to higher levels of productivity.

Electronic organization is just as important as cleaning up tangible clutter. If you don’t do this on a regular basis, start with your email account. An easy habit to fall into, we often let our inbox get larger and larger rather than sorting emails into their designated folders as they come in. By creating specified folders (either organized by subject, client/customer, or chronologically), you can move emails immediately after reading, and can even set emails from specific users to automatically be delivered to their assigned folder. Keeping this space organized makes it far easier to refer to information in old emails, saving you time and frustration.

Additionally, take a look at your document folders. Are they organized in a way that allows for the quick reference of data, both for yourself and (if folders are shared with other employees) your coworkers? Archive folders and documents that are no longer pertinent and delete documents that are duplicated or have no importance. Much like decluttering your physical area, organizing your e-files can improve performance and can save you time in the long run.

Take advantage of the spring cleaning mode many of us find ourselves in this time of year to “deep clean” your office and general workspace. The benefits of taking some time to engage in an annual, and then quarterly or ongoing, purge are countless and lead to a more productive and less stressful environment for you to work in.

When Goals Fail

That to-do list you created at the beginning of the week still has a few items on it that you just haven’t managed to check off. A client had a last-minute project they needed completed immediately and other duties got pushed to the back burner. Procrastination reared its ugly head and as the end of the week creeped up, you found yourself unable to complete those final tasks.

No matter how accountable you hold yourself, no matter what steps you put in place to ensure you reach your goals and meet your objectives, sometimes you just can’t quite get there. Failure is a natural part of growth in any facet of our lives. In the workplace, it is important to make sure we learn from those mistakes, view any failures as teachable moments, and strive to improve next time.

Making peace with these failures is a first step in moving on from our mistakes. Just because you missed that deadline, you made an error in a document, or were unprepared for a meeting doesn’t mean you are a failure. Don’t make it personal and try not to let your mistakes define you as an individual or an employee. Another part of making peace with our faults is making certain we don’t dwell on things for too long. So often we beat ourselves up for the mistakes we make far worse and far longer than anyone else does. Changing the past is impossible; focus rather on reshaping the future.

Review what went wrong. Why did you fail to meet your goal? What steps did you overlook when trying to complete your objectives? What can you apply to your goal setting process next time to ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice?

As long as you can walk away from the situation with a new outlook and can genuinely say you learned from the experience, try looking at your mistake as a learning experience rather than a failure. We are all human, even the most experienced of us struggle from time to time. What matters is how we move on and our desire to grow.

Let Me Distract You

Take a moment and think about your day. How often where you interrupted by something or someone? One statistic says that 28% of your workday is dealing with unnecessary distractions (2009, Basex). Even as I write this blog post I am finding myself distracted by my cell phone, email, and even thoughts about my other projects (both personal and professional).

And I am back from my five-minute jaunt into email. Is this all too familiar for you? Some days it is amazing that we get anything done. I found it necessary to create some simple tricks to help me focus when working on a project.

  • Email: Turn off your email program. Yes, you heard me right. Schedule your time to check email. If you are very busy, use your out of office setting that notifies people to call you if it is an emergency otherwise you will check email at X time.
  • Phone: This one may be even harder than email. Turn your cell phone off or at the very least silent and set your office phone to do not disturb.
  • Social/work visits: Set a busy time on your corporate calendar and if you have a door to your office, close it. If you don’t have a door, try posting a sign on your cube letting those drop-in coworkers know that you are unavailable.
  • Music: If you are a music listener like me, find a genre that doesn’t distract. When studying for my Bar exam I chose music that had few words and a steady rhythm. The bonus was that earphones isolated me from the outside world. If music is distracting, put on noise canceling earphones but don’t plug them in (earplugs also work).

Trust me on this, there are very few things that are such an emergency that isolating yourself for two hours to work on a project would be devastating to the company or your work.

What do you do to avoid distractions at work?

Managing Your Time

Time management is a skill that even the most productive of us can struggle with. Being inundated on a daily, if not hourly, basis with new duties, employee relations issues, and client-related projects can make your organized calendar and to-do list seem pointless. Though there is no way to control some of the random items that pop up, there are a number of factors that are within your control that can help make those spontaneous tasks seem less daunting.

Eliminate unnecessary interruptions. For unwanted visitors, try moving your in-box out of your office to eliminate unnecessary drop-in visits and unproductive socialization. Close your door when you’re busy and put a sign up that says “Do Not Disturb” until X time.

Turn off the speaker and notifications for email on your computer. You don’t need to hear e-mails come in or see the pop-ups which cause you to lose your concentration. You don’t need to immediately jump when e-mails come through.

Do something with each message you open. Either delete it, file it, forward it, delegate it, do it if it’s quick, schedule time to do it later, pend it, or flag it for follow up. View your Inbox as a tool for the temporary storage of messages, not a to-do list for unfinished work.

Use your voicemail. Don’t pick up the phone when working a critical task. If you’re working on a deadline, put a message on the answering device that says you will be returning calls at a certain time so people will know when you’ll be getting back to them.

Discover your most productive hour. This will take some experimenting, but one way to discover this is to block out a different hour each day and judge how productive you were during that time. Make sure you have no interruptions for that hour. Once you have determined which hour of the day you can do your most productive work, save that time each day for the items that require the most brain power.

Conduct quick meetings. Many employees complain that meetings take up a lot of their time. The average meeting runs about an hour and time is often wasted with nonworking-related items. Try conducting more effective meetings by always having an agenda and preferably only one or two items. Set a time limit on the items and stick to your agenda.

Managing Your Tasks

The management of your tasks is an equally important managerial organizational skill that is necessary in ensuring that you and your team function as optimally as possible. Sometimes it seems that our duties come in “feast or famine” waves, and during those times that we are inundated with tasks, it can be a challenge to manage priorities and make certain that everything gets done.

There are countless methods you can implement to manage your tasks, but three are three basic method techniques that everyone should have in place to effectively manage both their short and long term projects and assignments.

The Tickler File

A tickler file is an effective way to organize your paper-related tasks down to the day. To set up a tickler file, you’ll need 31 hanging folders (one for each day of the month) in addition to 12 folders in a different color (one for each month). Place all of these folders in the lower right or left hand file drawer in your desk or other accessible place. Rotate the days of the month (31 folders) so that the current day is the first folder in the box. Put the Jan through Dec folders behind the daily folders and leave them in their chronological order. You will only rotate the daily folders.

At the end of every day make sure the current day’s file is empty. Carry over tasks to the next day. Move tomorrow’s folder to the front, empty out the papers and place them in the vertical holder on your desk. You can implement a similar filing system on your computer, creating main folders/directories and subfolders as well.

The Calendar

Many of us are guilty of using multiple calendars. If at all possible, use only one calendar. It saves time and prevents mistakes from happening. It doesn’t make any difference if it is a carry around pocket calendar, an app on your phone, or a desk calendar. Do whatever works for you, but make sure to keep it current.

The To-Do List

Research indicates that the best time to create a daily to-do list is right before you go home. After you have emptied the day’s tickler folder, make a list of the items that need to be done the next day. The most important items take priority.

A time-management expert, Jeffrey J. Mayer suggests: “As a reminder of tasks to complete, most people leave papers and Post-Its on their desks. Instead of piles of papers, create a list of priorities. You can keep adding new items to the list and, when you finish something, scratch it off. Ask yourself, ‘Which is the most important thing to do?’ After you decide which task to pursue, instead of thinking about it, just do it.”

Managing Your Paper

Last week we discussed some practical ways to help manage your workspace, ensuring maximum organization to help you manage your time, duties, and employees in a more efficient manner. One factor that aids in helping keep your office in order is striving to eliminate piles. Piles of paperwork, of old documents, of items you have yet to get to, etc.

Taking that component of optimal organization one step further, we going to learn how to “RAFT,” an acronym for handling paper. Remember, no more piles. The goal of this exercise is to reduce the number of times we touch a piece of paper when going through the mail or when addressing our in-box.

R – Refer  Pass it on to another person to take care of. Never keep what you can refer, what you can delegate. Just write a note on the document and send it on.

A – Act      If it needs immediate action, do it now. If the action needs to be taken in the future, file it in your tickler file for the appropriate day. You determine when you will need to begin working on a particular project, then mark the date the project is due at the top in erasable pencil so you won’t have to reread the whole document. Place the paper into the tickler file for the day you will start the project.

F – File       Some items need to go into permanent files. This is why you should have an expandable file readily accessible. You will file under the appropriate heading and then once a day, transfer the documents to their appropriate, permanent location.

T – Toss     A trash can and shredder are important tools to have in your office. Use them liberally. Don’t keep even one unnecessary piece of paper. Toss and shred.

Next week we will go into further detail of the tickler file and other methods to aid you in effectively managing your tasks, leading to more resourceful project and time management skills you can teach your employees to ensure that your department runs as smoothly and productively as possible.