The perfect work space

Christmas is over. New Year is over. Lunar New Year is over. I bet you’re back at work and trying to get into the rhythm once again.
Often at this time of year, there’s actually not all that much going on. And sometimes you just want to procrastinate a bit before getting on with the real work. Whichever it is, I have answer. It won’t take long and it will be a good job well done that will save you a lot of time, over and over, for the rest of the year.
Here it is: Spend a few minutes adjusting your work space so it’s perfect. Everything flows more easily and more quickly when you’re working in an orderly way.
I have a really good filing system that makes it easy to find what I need. Or easy-ish. I plan to re-vamp it when I’ve finished the 7th edition of Management so it’s even easier to file things away and find them again. My system is by topic and subtopic, but different systems suit different people; some file by date, others by customer, for instance. A good, workable filing system is a must have.
 Then you make it work for you by keeping your most often-used files close to hand – unless you’re struggling to reach your 10,000 daily steps, in which case, you can put your most-used files far, far away, but that becomes a bit of a pain. I know because I tried it!
My desk drawers are really tidy, too. I know which one to open and where to put my hand to grab whatever it is I want. I don’t even have to look. When I’ve used it, it goes straight back, so I know where to find it next time I need it. Voila! A clear work area, which relaxes the brain so it can get to work.
Now set up your space. Face at right angles to walkways or the door. This makes it harder for passers-by to catch your eye and stop for a chat and it means people can’t see your computer screen and what you’re working on. The light should come over your left shoulder if you’re right-handed and right shoulder if you’re left-handed so you don’t work in your shadow. Put reference books, manuals, stationery etc. where you can reach them easily.
Next, spend some time setting up your desk chair so it’s the right height. Professor Google can tell you how and it doesn’t take much time at all.
The key is to have minimal pressure on the backs of your knees and lower thighs and to support your back. You want the chair seat to be at a height that puts your knees at right angles, your thighs horizontal and your lower legs vertical when your feet are on the floor. And of course, no dangling feet or crossed legs. You want your computer screen to be at a height that you can look directly at it so your back and shoulders don’t get stiff. Position your keyboard so you bend your elbows at right angles and your forearms are parallel to the floor.
Your back will thank you and you’ll find you work a lot more easily, too, because when you’re sitting properly, you breathe properly and that’s good for your brain, too.
Go ahead – set up your perfect work space it now!

Do you Love to Learn?

Love, honesty, hope and humour are four important predictors of how happy you are. They all fall into the collection of personality traits called PERMA: Positive emotions, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

There are two even more reliable PERMA predictors of how happy you are. The first is gratitude, which is pretty obvious when you think about it. When you’re thankful for the good things in your life – your family, your friends, the food you eat, the view outside your window – you’re healthier, happier and better prepared to face the world and whatever it throws at you.

The second may surprise you. It’s love of learning. People who enjoy picking up new skills or knowledge feel fulfilled wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. Whether it’s strolling through a park, sitting in a classroom or getting on with whatever job is at hand, everything presents an opportunity to learn.

Learning keeps you sharp and confident. It keeps your memory working. It helps you lead a more rounded life. Learning gives your brain something it craves – novelty. Learning is necessary because without it, humans would have been extinct long ago.

And that old myth ‘You can’t teach an old dog mew tricks’? That’s just what it is – a myth. However old you are, you can do yourself a real favour by engaging with the world around you and seeing what it has to teach you.

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.

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.

Start the new year off right

Welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. And I hope you like our new banner; it’s based on the cover of the new edition of Management Theory and Practice.

Now then, here are some words of wisdom to heed as you begin the new year.

‘Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is a nobler art
of leaving things undone.’

Lin Yutang said that. So before you launch into your usual routine, take a few moments to reflect.

  • What are your challenges for 2016?
  • What problems remain unresolved from 2015? How would resolving them make your working life better?
  • What can you do to help your team be more successful?

If your team functions as a team, or perhaps to help them function better as a team, try opening your next three team meetings with one of these questions:

  • What are our challenges for 2016?
  • What can I do to help you as a team be even more successful this year?
  • What problems linger from last year that we can resolve so we can work more effectively or provide a better service?

Would individual meetings with team members work better? Then you can adapt these questions to open your one-on-one meetings.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can build working on them into your schedule. Commit to working on at least two every day.  Otherwise, you may find yourself drifting through the year without making any great leaps forward. And that won’t do your team, your organisation or your career much good.

Set yourself up for those great leaps forward by starting the day by completing, or at least making significant progress, on at least one important, value-adding task. Yes, even before you check your emails.