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  • Attention Please! How to Increase Your Productivity

    Posted on July 16th, 2010 Nelson Bodnarchuk 1 comment

    Yes, you too can avoid distractions and get more done in less time. According to a study from the University of California-Irvine, people switch work tasks approximately every three minutes, switch projects every 11 minutes and require up to 23 minutes to return to a task if interrupted. Those are some interesting statistics when one thinks of their personal work day. It comes back to Multi-Tasking not being about doing more things at once but doing one thing and then skipping on to the next, like a stone skipping on the surface of the water, you never really get to get involved deep enough mentally to commit to making a positive change in the work you’re performing if you’re constantly switching tasks.

    You may have the idea that most distractions are external. However, the research also found that nearly 44% are self-initiated, and these distractions are found to stem from anxiety in four major areas, that affect most everyone: money; time; relationships; and decision-making. The study shows that when we’re feeling stressed we have trouble focusing and waste time on non-value added behaviour, such as excessive e-mail checking or taking that third five minute break to catch-up with your Facebook news feed.

    To avoid this, as I have caught myself several times over the past few years in this situation, I have set times during the day when I read and respond to emails. I also turn off message and IM alerts and have downloaded the necessary apps on my smart phone so I can checkup on my social media accounts anywhere, the key is to limit myself to once per day I prefer checking email in the morning after my daily 5 min goal setting routine & calendar review, just before lunch around 11 AM and near the end of the work day prior to my daily 5 min progress review in preparation for the next day.

    There’s also the classic “Time Thief” that adds to the mix. You can avoid letting others hijack your time with phrases like: “Do you have a minute?” Most of the time my response to this is “one moment please.” and then I ask if a minute will do the trick or if we should schedule a meeting. This technique weeds out the “Time Thief” from the people with a legitimate issue.

    Leveraging the daily, or weekly, “scrum” meeting so employees & co-workers know when they’ll have a chance to discuss issues with you helps them feel less inclined to interrupt your time. Another technique that I’m a huge fan of is empowerment, if you train your employees, if you have them, to make decisions on their own, and hold the scheduled scrum meeting(s) to ensure that the organizations goals are being worked toward in the most efficient way possible then you’ll free up more time within your day to focus in deep on hitting the big fish with those rocks you were skipping.

    It doesn’t really matter when you perform these tasks during your day, just as long as you set a schedule and stick to it. Doing this type of time compression consistently and keeping to it until it becomes routine will allow you to get more done in less time.

  • Managing the E-mail Avalanche

    Posted on December 14th, 2009 Nelson Bodnarchuk No comments

    I’m feeling the pressure it at this point in the year, as many of us are preparing for vacation while the constant stream of work builds up. I referring to the barrage of e-mails overwhelming our in-boxes. There are ways to manage this for the long term though here are a few ideas that I’ve implemented or will be implementing…as soon as I catch up on all my email ;)

    Taken from the essay: Taking Control of Your Time, one of the “Results-Driven Manager” guides from Harvard Business School Press, the author suggests these four simple steps to message control:

    1. Begin your day differently: Don’t jump to your e-mail first thing in the morning. Instead, start the day with a blank piece of paper or a blank screen. Write down a strategic goal and develop an operational plan to tackle what needs to be done first or next. Allocate a block of uninterrupted time to work on this goal.
    2. Reply to e-mails at the end of the day: You’re tired then and eager to get home. This means you’ll be better at focusing on the important ones and keeping your responses short. Besides, fewer people will be able to respond immediately.
    3. Teach people how to send you e-mails: One executive decided to respond to every e-mail for a week with a note on its appropriateness. He coded his responses as follows: a “1” meant “Keep sending this sort of critical information”; a “2” meant “Unless I’m on this team, don’t send me this information”; a “3” meant “Send this to the responsible person on my staff, not me”; and so on. His e-mail load dropped precipitously.
    4. Use better alternatives whenever possible: Make a point of relying on face-to-face meetings, not e-mail messages, for anything that involves ambiguity, interaction or emotion. Technology is only a tool, and it shouldn’t determine how we make decisions and manage our time.
  • The Most Difficult Management Challenge: You!

    Posted on September 25th, 2009 Nelson Bodnarchuk No comments

    I’ve found that no matter how difficult it seems to manage a team, managing oneself is the most difficult management challenge of all. Being objective towards yourself is next to impossible when when you really think about it. Put another way there is an immediate and inherent bias and error with your internal gauge when measuring your own performance. I find that there are extremes, at times I forgive myself for offenses that I’d never accept in others, while other times I’ll hold myself to impossibly high standards of performance setting the stage for failure. To avoid such extremes, one must approach the task of managing oneself as if they were managing someone else.

    The Golden Rules for Managers, by Frank McNair, offers the following suggestions for self management:

    1. Focus on your weak points: admit to yourself where you’re most likely to fail. Identify your shortcomings and surround yourself with people whose talents will help compensate for what you lack in these areas. Continue to grow, in order to mitigate your weak spots until they become areas of strength. Avoid focusing only on your current strengths, this will limit your potential for success.

    2. Set a deadline and reward yourself only if you meet it: the next time you have to complete a difficult less than exciting project, become your own boss and get it done! Set a due date for completion and offer a performance based incentive, such as dinner at a fancy restaurant or show. You’re likely to achieve the goal if the payoff for reaching the objectives is clear, use SMART goals (Specific Measurable Attainable, Realistic and Timely).

    3. Keep Positive, the more negative you become, the less effective you become: in the heat of an argument, we have all said and done things that, if given the option, we wouldn’t choose to repeat. You’ll never meet anyone who thinks better and makes better decisions when they’re angry (With the exception of Ron Hextall). Refuse to allow yourself to react to a situation in a compromised state of mind, this can damage valuable relationships. Remember that, as a manager, you don’t have to get angry in order to give feedback.

    4. Don’t skip holidays: in 20 years, the only people who will remember that you didn’t take your vacation will be you and your family, who will recall feeling shortchanged by your excessive devotion to business. Take time off to experience the joy that comes only from being with your loved ones. You’ll also return refreshed, energized and bring new insights to the table.

    5. Fire yourself if required: at some point, many people find that they’re in a job that is not satisfying. Most people stay due to a fear of change. That can happen even if the job is CEO and it’s your own company. If you reach this point, you should “fire” yourself—either by finding a way to fire yourself up with renewed enthusiasm for the work, or by actually firing yourself from the job. If it’s the latter, you need to find a job you like better, whether within your own company or elsewhere, and then attack it passionately. You only live once and in life there are no dress rehearsals, so spend your time doing something that you love doing. If you do you’re more likely to enjoy life more fully and make a positive difference in those around you.

  • The Myth of Multi-Tasking & the 80/20 Rule

    Posted on July 9th, 2009 Nelson Bodnarchuk No comments

    Every Morning on my way back to the office from the gym I drive South on HWY 400 for approximately 5 min, sometimes 15 if there is a problem on the main roads. The one thing that I notice are the amount of people that use mobile devices, eat bowls of cereal or are smoking while trying to update their play-list on their i-Pod. This post isn’t about the obvious dangers of attempting to operate a motor vehicle at approx. 120km/hr on a busy road while focusing on other less critical tasks, nor is it meant to offend anyone who regularly practices this type of multi-tasking. What this post is about is the myth and dangers that go hand-in-hand with multi-tasking during your working hours. Here’s MSNBC’s take on The Myth of Multi-Tasking.

    I believe that the less interruptions one has, the more focused they are, the more they’ll complete and the quality of what they complete will be higher. As a rule I only have one meeting at the beginning of the day with my team, and let them call others if required. Also just because one has several windows open on their screen doesn’t mean they are focused or getting the job done. As for multi-tasking I can only do one thing at a time, call me old fashioned.

    There’s two parts to this equation though, the first part is focusing on one thing at a time with little to no interruptions and the second is actually doing only value added activities.

    I once had a great manager that said to me: “Probably 80% of what you do during your work day is unnecessary, so if you can focus on that critical 20% you’ll have more time to get more done.” At the time I didn’t fully understand what he meant as all of the things I had on my To Do List were there for a reason. On closer inspection of my list I found that most of what I was doing was non-value added work that cost allot of time for little benefit, or in finance lingo these activities had a low ROI. So from then on I’ve reviewed my To Do List daily, sometime more, to ensure that only the priorities are on it. So what to do with the other less critical items, well you’ve got options:

    • Don’t write them down, and if they’re important enough then they’ll come up again. (37 Signals does this and it seems to be working out for them so far)
    • Create a separate “Parking Lot List”, just in case. (the Six Sigma Methodology uses this tool, I like it for when you’ve got a large group in a room and you don’t want to focus, and spend time, on non-priority issues)
    • Prioritize the list (A, B, C or 1, 2, 3 or !, *, #) and focus on the most critical first.
    • Create an ice berg line to distinguish what you’re going to focus on first (usually you move the most critical items to the top so they’re above the line).

    You can also use a combination of these (this is my personal preference) but the key is to review the list and be objective. Remember focus on that 20% that will generate value for your team, project or whatever the case may be.

    Another key is where possible, or required, get others involved in the process. You’ll gain a different perspective, most likely improve the quality of the list and build morale with out doing something like a company roast. Do this and your To Do list will quickly become a To Done List or even better a To Don’t List.

    If you’re not sure of what I mean by company roast, reference this clip from The Office.