Monthly Archives: February 2017

7 Secrets to a Productive Work Day

A few simple measures taken at the start of the day can make all the difference to how productive and how calm you are by the end of it. Here are some tips to help you get your workday off on the right foot.

1. Limit Start-Up Time

Don’t spend more than 15 minutes getting coffee, settling in, looking at newspapers or reading emails. You are often at your freshest and most productive at the beginning of the day. A prolonged morning routine takes the positive edge off and makes your afternoon more stressful. Better to jump into the important work quickly and read the non-essential emails after you’ve covered lots of ground.

2. Write Two To-Do Lists

The first should contain everything you need to get done soon. It should be a comprehensive list of short, medium and long-term projects and work, and you should constantly adjust it. The second to-do list should be what you can reasonably expect to get done today, and today only. Be fair to yourself. Factor in the likely disruptions, meetings, phone calls and travel hassles. Make the tasks as specific as possible and assign the amount of time you plan to devote to it. Print the list out on brightly colored paper; this keeps it from getting lost on your desk. By prioritizing your work and breaking it down into small, achievable pieces, you greatly increase the chances that you will be satisfied with your day’s accomplishments.

3. Assess Your Day

Take a few moments to assess the day’s emotional challenges. Almost as important as your to-do list is a ‘be-prepared-for’ list. Make an inventory of tough phone calls, boring meetings, challenging customers, frustrating red tape, infuriating rush-hour commutes, droning detail work and other mental challenges you are likely to face. Then accept that they are inevitable and prepare yourself to get through them without anger, frustration or impatience. Remember: it’s usually not work that gets us down, but rather the challenges that lie along the periphery of the job.

4. Schedule Social Time

You probably work with people whom you like and know well. In fact, camaraderie is what makes many jobs great. So build a ritual into each morning in which you spend a few moments of social time with colleagues. Make it short, at an appropriate time, and don’t let the day go by without it. But avoid personal phone calls if you can; they can unexpectedly turn into big time-eaters.

5. Schedule in Some Reading Time

There’s no job that doesn’t require at least some reading, be it about the company, the industry, the marketplace, the economy. Create a ritual that gives you 15 minutes or so to review newspapers, electronic newsletters, industry magazines, company memos and other reading. Be disciplined – this is not the time to do online shopping. You’ll find that being up-to-date with your business has many advantages, just one of them being a sense of control about your own situation.

6. Drink Some Hot Cocoa

Research shows that one cup of pure cocoa a day for five days can increase blood flow in the brain, hands and legs, as well as helping to regulate blood pressure. Choose pure coca over drinking milk chocolate to get the full effect.

7. Set Your Alarm

Set a quiet alarm on your watch or computer to go off every hour. This will be your signal throughout the day to take a break, get up and stretch, walk around the building, etc. But, in an open-plan office, for instance, keep volume low so that it doesn’t upset your colleagues.

20 Ways to Save Time with Your Smart Phone

In many ways, life has become more stressful for the knowledge worker. Information is coming at you in many different forms. Sometimes it can seem relentless. This is made even harder if you are regularly required to spend time away from your desk. Not long ago, time spent away from your desk meant that there would be a great deal of time where you couldn’t do anything important e.g. if you had to travel to a one hour meeting, it was hard to make effective use of the time spent traveling before and after the meeting. If you were taking public transport, you could carry work with you but this brought its own problems. Thankfully there is now a tool which allows you to make the most of your time, even when you are on the move – a smart phone. Almost everybody in the western world has a smart phone but they may not be aware of the many ways in which it can help them save time.

Save time with your smart phone

Your smart phone, if used correctly, is an excellent tool for helping you to save time. Your smart phone can perform a wide array of functions which save you time. The following list covers just 20 of the easiest ways that you can use your smart phone to save time.

1. Capture commitments and information

The first step in staying organized is to capture your commitments and important information. You don’t just receive information when it is convenient for you to do so. You will have conversations, ideas and receive requests at many different times. While it may not be convenient at that time, it is imperative that you capture that information so that you can review it and process it at the earliest opportunity.

For example, you may be out to lunch when you have a great business idea. When you have your smart phone at hand, you always have a means to capture that idea e.g. you can email yourself or call your own voicemail and leave a message. Then, when you review your email or voicemail later on; you will have captured the idea and be in a position to act upon it.

2. Task lists

Task lists are fantastic if you manage them properly. One of the most important aspects of effectively managing your task lists is that you must have access to it. When you maintain one or more task lists, you must maintain them in a way that means you will have access to them when you need to.

For example, my friend Jay works from his desk for the vast majority of his day. He chooses to maintain his task lists using Microsoft Outlook and that works for him. My work requires that I am regularly away from my desk and I do not have Microsoft Outlook on any mobile devices. Therefore, if I was to depend on Microsoft Outlook to manage my tasks lists, I would be without access to them for much of the day.

Thankfully, smart phones have a large number of apps which allow you to store your task lists online and access them from a mobile device. I choose to use a Google Spreadsheet to manage my tasks lists as I like to keep things as basic as possible. Thanks to my smart phone, I can access my task lists 24 hours per day, allowing me to maximise my productivity.

3. Contacts

With a smart phone, you always have the contact details from your all of the important people in your life. You don’t have to go digging through files or business cards. You can also back up your contacts list meaning that a change of device does not mean that you have to manually transfer all of the contact information. This is one of those tips where you don’t realise how it will save time until you hit a problem.

4. Calendars

Just like task lists, calendars are a wonderful time management tool, if you use them properly. You should only ever use one calendar and you should always have access to it. There are a number of different calendars that you can use with your smart phone; just choose one that meets your needs.

5. Document access

In the knowledge work era, more and more people are spending large chunks of time away from their desks. It used to be that if you wanted to work on a document or, just read it, you had to be on your PC or Mac or, you had to print it and carry it with you. Now there are a number of apps that allow you to store documents online and access them from anywhere, on any device. This allows you to save time by reducing down time.

If you are away from the office, you can still get valuable work done thanks to apps such as Google Drive or Dropbox which allow you to store and retrieve your documents, as and when you need to.

6. Reading material

When I worked in my first job, we used to have an external consultant who regularly came to the office to do some work for us. When I would go to meet him at reception, he would be reading a novel to kill time. While novels are great, they are not the best use of work time.

As highlighted in the previous point, you can now access important documents via your mobile device so that you can save time by using your mobile device to maximise downtime. In addition there are a number of apps which allow you to read books related to your industry e.g. Kindle, Scribd. And, if you want to stick with the novel, you can access it on your smart phone rather than having to carry it everywhere.

7. Social media

The advent of social media has seen a new way to provide customer service, provide information and market yourself. It is important work which if managed correctly, can be done in just a few minutes. This makes your mobile device an ideal way to check in on social media and handle quick tasks. It can be done from anywhere at any time.

It is important to remember that the objective here is to save time so, any time that you go onto social media, it should be with a clear purpose. Once you have done what you have set out to do, you should be logging off again.

8. Timer

Parkinson’s Law tells us that a task will expand to fill the time allowed. If you are struggling with time management, one of the best things that you can try is to use a timer. You can set a time limit e.g. 40 minutes and work on the task for that period of time, without interruption. It is far easier to avoid distractions when you know that you are only working for a set period of time and that at the end of that period of time, you will be able to tackle anything that pops up.

You can check out the Pomodoro technique for more ideas on how to use a timer to improve your time management skills.

9. Picture capture

When I say picture capture, you are probably thinking of pictures for fun or for posting on social media but let me give you an example of using the camera on your smart phone to save time.

I was on a coaching course in London when we were divided into groups to brainstorm an exercise. As a group, we produced a Flipchart sheet full of great ideas. Three more groups did likewise.

As you might imagine, nobody wanted to lose these great ideas so we all took out our pens and notebooks to write them down. Suddenly, one lady walked up to the Flipchart sheets (we had pinned them up) and took out her smart phone. She took a picture of each sheet and sat back down. The rest of us just laughed before following suit.

When you have a smart phone in your pocket you can save time by just taking a picture of anything important rather than spending time trying to write it all down.  You can also take pictures of important documents, receipts, business cards etc. which may prove important in the future.

10. Videos

Video can be used for many wonderful purposes; from recording events to making tutorials. Within your smart phone, you have a video making machine. You may need to add one or two tools to make it even more effective but you can save time by making videos for clients, colleagues, friends etc.

For example, imagine that a colleague has emailed you asking for some advice on setting up a proper filing system. Rather than trying to explain in great detail how you use your filing system, you could just take your smart phone out of your pocket and record a video of you walking them through your system. They can watch the video any number of times until they understand thoroughly, meaning that you save time by not having to answer questions by email.  You could even upload this video to YouTube so that others may learn from it too, meaning that you can record it once and use it an unlimited number of times.

11. Audio recording

As well as making video recordings, your smart phone is also capable of making audio recordings .This function can be used to dictate notes, make educational resources or even record interviews.

12. Reservations

With access to the internet, the opportunity to make bookings and reservations is easy. Regardless of where you are going or what you need to do, you will usually be able to make the reservations with a few taps on your smart phone.

13. Shopping

Online shopping is becoming more and more popular. Most physical stores now have an online presence too. I remember during my college days, Amazon was just starting out. Many people laughed at the idea of buying books online. What they failed to understand was how much people value convenience and time saved.

You no longer need to go to a store for most items. You just order and pay online and they will deliver it straight to your door. Even supermarkets offer home delivery so you can just order your groceries online and they will be picked up and delivered straight to your door. If you want, you can usually save your grocery list on the supermarket’s website. That way you just have to login, review your list and either add any additional items you need or remove items you do not need before you complete your purchase. Once you set it up, the amount of time saved really does add up.

14. Travel arrangements

Not only can you book your travel and accommodation via your smart phone; you can check for potential delays too e.g. you can check to see if there are any traffic delays on your planned route and search for alternatives.

With many travel companies, you don’t even have to waste time printing your tickets now. You just save them to your phone and display them at check in, meaning that you save time, save paper and help save the environment. Now you’ve got to love that.

15. Banking

Waiting to be served in a bank is a pain in the backside and, now it is an unnecessary pain in the backside. You no longer have to travel to a bank, wait in line and fill out a multitude of forms just to make a simple transaction.

With your smart phone, you now have your own banking machine in your pocket. You can check your balance, transfer money and pay bills in mere moments. Save time and save hassle by setting up online banking and installing your bank’s app.

16. News

It’s important to keep up to date with what is going on in the world and in your industry. With your smart phone you can do this. You can search the internet or you can set up RSS feeds from your favourite news sites. This allows you to access the news when you have a few free moments, rather than having to sit down at an exact time to watch a news bulletin. This flexibility means that you can fix your own schedule and keep moving throughout the day.

17. Relaxation

Life cannot be all work and no play. Neither your body nor you mind were designed to work that way. Rather than wait for the opportunity to relax, you can make a conscious effort to use down time to relax and unwind. Play a meditation or some relaxing music – even a hypnosis track. Just a few moments spent relaxing can have a massive impact on your health, wellbeing and performance. As a result you will save time and improve your performance.

With your smart phone you can do all of this. Just make sure that it is safe to do so e.g. do not do any of the above while driving.

18. Fun

Just like relaxation, fun is an essential component of effective time management. Having fun will allow you to unwind, release stress and escape the pressures of your work life for a few minutes. With your smart phone, you have a virtual amusement arcade. Whether you are into video games, music, comedy etc. your options for fun are virtually unlimited.

19. Education

The internet is full of educational content. Whether it is in the form of writing, audio or video, your smart phone allows you to access any of the educational content that you desire. Free time can easily be used to improve your knowledge and skills allowing you to learn and improve on the go.

20. Communications

Yes, I know it is obvious but you have a communications hub in your pocket when you have a smart phone. With email, phone, text, Skype etc, there are unlimited ways to contact people and conduct important business. One of my task lists contains tasks for which I only need access to my phone. That is so that when I am out of office, with only my phone, I can still quickly scan these tasks and choose the most important one that I can get done at that moment.

Note: it is important to remember that while you can contact others, they can also contact you so, if you are working on something important you should remember the most important function on your smart phone – the power button.

Being away from the office is no longer an excuse for not being able to do some important work. With your smart phone in your pocket, you have an abundance of ways to make better use of your time. It is important that you have predefined work hours and this article is not intended to have you working 24/7/365. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the many ways that your smart phone can help you to make better use of your working hours, meaning that you are less likely to have to work outside of these times. With your smart phone you can make your productive time more productive; allowing you to relax and enjoy your own personal time.

6 Ways to Build Healthy Competition at the Office

Charles M. Schwab (the steel magnate, not the investor) once said, “the way things get done is to stimulate competition.” For Schwab’s steel business, it meant encouraging a friendly rivalry between the day and night shifts by writing their respective production numbers on the mill floor. 

Even if you’re not a titan of steel, you can employ similar management tactics by helping employees understand how they stand relative to their colleagues, encouraging the best performance from each individual and motivating everyone to have a stake in furthering business goals. 

I think all business should be approached the same way, with the right balance of teamwork and healthy competition.

Here are six ways to build an organization that strikes this balance: 

1. Remember, it’s a game.

People often ask what advice I’d give my 18-year-old self. If I could go back in time, I’d remind myself that business is the sport people play as they get older.

Nobody dies when you make a mistake — in most industries, at least. Take risks, swing the bat and see what happens.

2. Hire for hunger and humanity.

When interviewing candidates, I always ask myself, “Does this person want to win?” Some people believe success happens to other people. Then there are those who expect it from themselves.

If you can find the right balance of goal oriented and likeable in a person (skip those who are cutthroat), that’s the magic combination.

Consider if you can imagine working with this individual during an hour-long brainstorm or sitting next to him or her during a five-hour plane ride. That’s the kind of person you want on your team. 

3. Translate athletic experience into teamwork.

I like to hire athletes. If you walk through the office of my company, Invoca, you’ll see a semi-pro tennis player, a former sprinter on the UCLA water polo team and a member of the US ski team.

You certainly don’t have to be an athlete to succeed in business. But I believe that athletes are self-motivated, want to win and know how to help one another achieve a common goal.

Are they trying to close as many deals as they can? Yes. Are they helping each other do it? Yes.

4. Be clear about acknowledgment and goals.

Ensure everyone is appropriately challenged and acknowledged. My company holds monthly all-hands meetings where high-achievers who are exceeding their goals are praised.

Don’t just give top performers a high five. Encourage others to learn from what they’re doing right.

Consider upping the level transparency by creating an open office plan where people become comfortable making calls in front of colleagues, overhearing one another’s pitches and leaning over desks to ask one another questions.  

5. Create a culture of ownership.

Every person should think like an owner and walk the floors like the company is his or hers. Whether your employees are literally owners or stakeholders, encourage them to blend their personal brand with the company’s.

At my company, there’s a whiteboard that’s always open for suggestions. If leaders decide to dedicate resources to one of the suggestions, the person who came up with the idea knows he or she must do research and make it happen.

For instance, one of our engineers thought the company ought to have bikes available for employees’ commute. The company funded the project, but she put in the research. Now there’s a fleet of company bikes.

Another employee wanted to start a company ski trip. Still another wanted to brew a company beer. And yet another wanted to start a company band. Guess who got to make all those things happen? 

6. Make things playful.

Competition doesn’t have to be serious or even directly related to a business objective.

Beyond setting formalized goals, incorporate fun challenges into your company’s culture. Every year at my company’s off-site meeting, staffers do silly things like sumo wrestle in 30-pound padded suits and race through obstacle courses.

It’s these kinds of moments, along with a spontaneous Nerf fight in the middle of the office on a Tuesday, that help people break out of their shells and think of themselves as part of the team. 

Whether you’re in the steel business or building a software as a service company, build friendly competition into your work culture. And hire people who expect the best from themselves and helping them achieve their personal best every day —  on their own and as part of the larger team.

That’s the kind of competition I’m interested in fostering. I believe it’s the kind that Mr. Schwab would say “gets things done.”

 

Published on Entrepreneur by JASON SPIEVAK