Get organised!

This blog is for people who are a little bit less well organised than they’d like to be. The good news is, the year is still young enough to take yourself in hand and get organised. To that end, I’ve got seven short suggestions to help you out.

  1. Get a routine. In my grandmother’s day, Mondays were for washing, Tuesdays for ironing and so on. Routines mean you don’t need to continually make routine decisions. They give you a default–something to swing straight into without wasting time wondering what to do.
  2. Organise your emails, favourite websites, word documents and so on into well-named folders so you don’t waste time searching for information when you need it.
  3. Love lists. When you write down what you want to do (your ‘To do’ list), it’s easier to organise all your jobs into groups of similar activities and do them together, saving your brain manically switching from phone mode to read mode to write mode…  For recurring activities, make a checklist template to use every time.
  4. Get your ducks in an even straighter row by gathering everything you need before starting a job. That makes it much easier and faster to finish.
  5. Become a neat freak. When you’re surrounded by clutter, your mind gets cluttered too, and doesn’t function as efficiently. Have a place for everything and put everything in its place as soon as you’ve finished with it. No more time and energy wasted searching for something that’s ‘right here … somewhere …’
  6. Follow through and follow up. When you promise to do something, note it down and transfer it to your calendar, ‘To do’ list, a notes app or whatever you use for your reminders. This means you honour your commitments and wins you applause.
  7. Speaking of reminders: Have either a list of important events like birthdays and anniversaries in an obvious place like your address book or, better still, on your computer or smart phone and schedule automatic reminders. More applause.

All easy to do, right? Some may take a bit of time (but not much) to set up but truly, it’s time well spent.

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Trouncing technological distractions

The same research I mentioned last week that showed information workers are interrupted every 4 to 11 minutes also found that half of those interruptions are self-initiated! I suspect that also applies to people studying. I can tell you with certainty that it also applies to people who write books and blogs—that would be me.

The sad fact is, you are just as likely to interrupt yourself as to be interrupted by someone or something else. People in open plan offices interrupt themselves the most and I imagine that’s because of the distractions. You get distracted by someone in a nearby desk talking on the phone, you’ve lost concentration, and since your concentration is blown anyway, you do a quick self interruption of Internet surfing or solitaire or Facebooking or twittering or whatever takes your fancy.

You can’t prevent all interruptions, but you can choose prevent half of them by not interrupting yourself.

Technology is a huge distraction and, for many people, it’s an addiction as well as a time waster. It easily diverts your attention and energy to trivia. (Are you wondering whether you’re addicted? You probably are if you check your smart phone every 15 minutes or less. Gradually limit the time you spend checking your technology and don’t take it to bed with you: the blue colour of the LEDs spoils your sleep, which prevents you learning and consolidating the day’s events.)

If your job means you need to stay connected to technology, take a 10-minute break every hour and a half: take a walk, sit quietly, walk up a flight of stairs.

Otherwise, turn your electronic gizmos off when you don’t need them so you can use technology strategically. Accept you can’t read every email, tweet, social media post or news feed, nor can you post five times a day or tweet eight times a day (unless it’s part of your job to do so). Let your computer sort that incoming information into folders so you can read it when it suits you. And, by the way, respond and share only what adds value.

Don’t multitask with technology, either. Multitasking in general places a huge burden on your brain and the resulting mental fatigue takes its toll in mistakes, shallow thinking and poor self-regulation. Your brain’s control network loses the plot when it’s overwhelmed from multitasking or working towards too many goals (that’s why seven key result areas is the top limit). Too much multitasking, especially with technology, means your memory suffers and your behaviour is driven by immediate, situational cues—whatever distraction grabs your attention—instead of being aimed at your priorities.

Let your technology save you time, not waste your time!

Working with interruptions

You might be working in an office or on a building site, studying for an exam or or even trying to finish off your expense claim so you can go home on time. For a change. And then it happens. An interruption. Annoying. And something worse: interruptions reduce your productivity by up to 1/3rd. And to add insult to injury, they increase mistakes and diminish your ability to solve problems and complete tasks.

The trouble is, of course, that life is filled with interruptions. For instance, we know that people who work primarily with information (i.e. most office workers) are interrupted every four to 11 minutes. The telephone rings, someone needs to see you or it’s time to pack up and go to a meeting – there’s always something to get in the way of what you’re trying to do.

You can prevent some interruptions, and so you should when you’re doing something that needs concentration and thought. Close your office door if you have one and put up an ‘On a deadline’ or ‘Concentrating!’ sign to encourage people to think twice before entering.

Angling your desk and chair away from walking paths lessens distractions, too, because it’s harder for people to catch your eye and stop for a chat.

At work, you can set time aside to concentrate and block it out on your calendar as ‘quiet time’, ‘planning time’ or ‘meeting with myself’ so others sharing your calendar can see not to disturb you. You can turn off your audible and visual incoming email alerts and divert your phone or switch it to voicemail; when you do that, mute your incoming messages so you aren’t tempted to listen to them. (I’ve been to that many meetings at people’s desks and they do the right thing and switch their phone to voice mail but don’t mute the messages; inevitably, the phone rings, the meeting stops and the desk owner freezes, waits for the message machine to pick up, and proceeds to listen intently to the message. Don’t do that.)

In some workplaces, it’s normal to interrupt people. But whatever you do, don’t fall prey to thinking: ‘I won’t be able to finish this, so I’ll do it later’, because that guarantees you’ll never get anything done.

Often, the most sensible thing you can do is to simply make a start. Work on big tasks in the time between interruptions. After spending several shorter blocks of time on a big task, one concerted effort generally sees that job completed and crossed off your ‘To do’ list.

Do you walk your talk?

We all know people who say one thing and do another. The manager who says: ‘I believe in participation’ but fails to listen to people’s ideas and suggestions. Translation: ‘I don’t believe people have ideas or suggestions worth listening to.’ Or the manager who says ‘My team is first rate’ but constantly checks up on them and avoids delegating work. Translation: ‘I don’t trust my team so I need to keep an eye on them.’

Are those managers hypocrites? Maybe. I think there are three more likely reasons they say one thing and do another:

  1. They really do value participation or think their team is great but their core beliefs–their hearts, which guide their day-to-day actions, haven’t caught up with their heads yet.
  2. Participation and saying positive things about your team may be part of the organisation’s values and culture but they aren’t part of the manager’s values or core beliefs. So the manager gives lip service to the company talk, but but doesn’t walk it.
  3. A stronger value or belief overrides the manager’s weaker value of participation or belief their team is great. Maybe the organisation punishes mistakes and the manager values staying out of trouble more than trusting the team to do its work or come up with sound suggestions.

Whatever the reason, failing to walk your talk costs you credibility, trust and respect. The trouble is, people generally don’t know when their deeds aren’t matching their words. It’s the ‘blind spot’, and we all have them.

So what to do? Here are three ideas:

  1. When you trust the people you work with enough, you can ask them for some honest feedback.
  2. You can listen to your words and spend some time quietly reflecting on whether your actions match them.
  3. You can consider whether your own values match your organisation’s values and when they don’t, you can start polishing up your CV.

Walking your talk is an important part of integrity and authenticity. It gives your formal authority legitimacy, without which, your leadership is … well let’s be honest here … doomed.