Tag Archives: Structured Time and Workflow Management

Reclaim quality, productivity, efficiency, and sanity…


reality

Differentiating what’s important to us from what’s urgent to others lets us take situational control by not confusing the two, and helps us to decide what to do next!

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But take a look at your to-do list. And how are you doing on your bucket list? Do you find that you keep putting off things that you really, really want to do or must do? Do you catch yourself first doing things that feel more urgent but just for the moment?

Separating your Critical Few “must do” tasks from your Minor Many “nice to do” tasks is an essential step in the process and is my version of the 80/20 Rule. It’s a fact of life that applies across the board from business to your personal life—80% of your stress is caused by 20% of your problems. In network television, it’s the concept of “prime time”—the three hours of prime time produce 80% of the revenues despite being only 20% of the programming. In time allocation, the idea is for you to allocate 80% of your time to 20% of your tasks that deliver the greatest return on your effort. In other words, you shouldn’t just “work smart,” you should “work smart on the right things.”

So let’s say you’ve identified your Critical Few. When was the last time you had enough time for all of them? Prioritizing them is next. If you can’t get them all done, to which do you allocate your time first?

I don’t know the answer for you. But I do know a reliable method for arriving at the right conclusion. I call it the Given Reality Test.

“Given” because our Critical Few don’t appear in a vacuum. We develop them based on some givens – assumptions accepted as facts. There’s a due date we can’t change. We have role-based responsibilities that are inescapable. If your daughter is counting on seeing you on the sidelines of her soccer game, sending your assistant is no substitute. If you’re the corporate lawyer, you have to read the regs. If you’re the press liaison, you have to return that reporter’s call.

“Reality” because our wishes don’t govern our surroundings. Reality persists in defining what we can and cannot do. We might wish we could enact culture change overnight, but reality says otherwise. We wish our family commitments would not conflict with our work priorities, but often they do. We wish our strategy off-sites didn’t get interrupted by urgent calls from clients, but they usually do.

“Test” because testing means we don’t have to choose the wrong Critical Few and experience the bad effects before realizing we made a big mistake. We can put our toe in the water and then decide if we want to proceed.

Here’s how the Given Reality Test goes: First you define the problem clearly in your own mind. Then you articulate and calculate the effects of not doing each of the activities that is demanding your attention. When you analyze those effects, you’ll end up clear and committed as to what your priority should be. If circumstances change, you might have to repeat the Given Reality Test, but it still works.

That’s the process in the abstract, but let’s give it some color—some context so that you can apply it in your own circumstances. Let’s say you have three activities vying to be your Critical One for an afternoon. 1) Keep your promise to attend your best friend’s gallery exhibition. 2) Participate in an impromptu meeting called by your biggest distributor who is getting customer complaints about your products. 3) Try to get in and see your doctor about a worrisome pain you noticed earlier this week and haven’t had time to deal with.

  1. Define the problem: I can’t be three places at once. So I have to tolerate two of the following: keenly disappoint my best friend, push the distributor problem on to a colleague, stress out about that pain.
  1. Calculate the effects of not addressing each of them now: My 30-year friendship will not be altered by a single disappointment. This distributor wants to be heard and acknowledged, not fire us, and my colleague is a better listener and relationship builder than I. This will be my fourth sleepless night worrying about what that pain could portend—I’m too worried to enjoy the exhibition or even pay attention in the meeting.

So, there’s your answer, inescapably: Go see your doctor. It might be a different answer for somebody else, or different for you if the circumstances were slightly altered. But articulating the effects that way is its own revelation. It keeps you from ruminating in endless circles that all start out with “But maybe I should…” It lets you arrive at a conclusion that you can live with about how to allocate your afternoon.

Do this, and you will find yourself allocating your precious time better. You can claim your own time and reclaim the quality of your work, your productivity, and your sanity.

What if… your performance fails “suddenly”?


TWP blogHave you ever been in a situation where your professional life seems to fall into pieces? You have been around for some time, you have been successful so far, you were even used as a role model for others, but suddenly the winds changed? Nothing goes right, whatever you try fails, and even those who supported you before now turn their backs on you.

Well, if you haven’t, congratulations! I hope your life continues without this experience. However, in case you have been in a similar situation, like I have, or even worse, in case you are in this difficult situation right now – here are a few ideas for how to get yourself out of this dip of misery.

  1. Get yourself out of the center of attention – sometimes the best move is to take a few days off if you can.
  2. Think about what led to the situation: What could you have done differently? Could you or should you have done more of certain activities? What other influencing factors do you recognize?
  3. Gather hard facts (e.g., data, reports, stats) about your performance.
  4. Obtain observational feedback from colleagues who know you and who can assess the particularities of your work environment.
  5. Once you’ve done # 2, 3, and 4, work on your personal list of what you would like to achieve professionally: What is important to you? What fills you with joy? Where have you been most successful before?
  6. Think outside the box – what would be best for you? Stay with your current employer or move on? If you should move on, what comes next? If you want to stay, think of other ways to improve your performance; the protocol What? How Much? By When? can be a useful guide.

The most important message though is: Do not doubt your abilities and capabilities! They are still in you, and you’ve proved yourself many times before – you simply need to re-discover them again! Good luck and all the best in your future career path!

Claudia Irmer is Senior Results Consultant at Cohen Brown Management Group and an expert in behavioral embedding. Claudia covers continental Europe and Russia.

Do you say it’s urgent?


eisenhowerDwight David Eisenhower had a pretty decent career. Supreme Commander of the forces that defeated one of the vilest regimes ever to threaten civilization. 34th President of the United States during one of the most prosperous periods ever experienced by any country in the history of the world.

So who better to turn to as a model for how we use the precious time of our lives? I’m referring of course to the Eisenhower Principle that distinguishes between urgent and important activities. It goes like this: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Rendered as a graphic, the Eisenhower Principle might have looked like this on June 5, 1944.

With all the claims on his time, Ike needed a simple, clarifying way to make sure that things that appeared to be urgent didn’t divert him from things that were assuredly more important—and at the same time, not procrastinate matters that were both urgent and important.

He also recognized that great time management means being effective as well as efficient. We must spend our time on things that are important and not just the ones that are urgent. To do this, and to minimize the stress of having too many tight deadlines, we need to understand this distinction.

When I began to teach managers and employees how to manage their time most productively, I was working with executives from one of the country’s greatest brokerage organizations – ambitious, hard-charging, intelligent executives. But they had in common a failing endemic among high achievers who are not skilled in managing their time: They had trouble distinguishing between urgent and important. So I adapted the Eisenhower Principle to the workplace in the form of Critical Few versus Minor Many.

Our Critical Few are those which, if we neglect them, will have dire consequences for us, whether in business or our personal lives. Our Minor Many are not necessarily insignificant, but they can wait, and their neglect might be disappointing but not dire.

Personal preferences can complicate our reasoning. I get great intellectual stimulation from floating new ideas with my team, and I consider time spent this way to be of the utmost importance. One of my colleagues likes to work out problems alone, doing solitary research. Another likes to solve business problems by putting a pencil to them – working them out in financial terms. Who doubts that these preferences cause all three of us to consider work that we enjoy to be more “critical” than work we dislike?

So, to separate our Critical Few from our Minor Many, the first step is to subject our too-long to-do list to an 80/20 analysis that obviates personal preferences: Which ones deliver more value than the time, energy, and expense it takes to accomplish them?

When clients wrestle with priorities, I take them through the DERSSIM Logic System.

  • Define the problem.
  • Understand the Effects of not solving the problem.
  • Identify the Reason for the problem.
  • Conceive a Solution.
  • SIM stands for the Solution Implementation Methodology.

Which problem, if not solved, has the greatest negative or positive effect? Sometimes the reason for the problem isn’t immediately identifiable, but the effect may require immediate attention.

If an individual is having difficulty breathing, the reason may not be immediately apparent; however, getting the individual to breathe is of utmost importance. In other words, act now on urgent matters.

Even when the reason is apparent, remember that a solution for a problem without a solution implementation methodology is worthless.

So the next time you are faced with way too many obligations, all of which “feel” urgent, take a deep breath, and run them through the DERSSIM Logic System. It won’t take long, and it will quickly clarify things for you. You will end up knowing, with confidence, how you should allocate your next minutes and hours. You will know what is urgent for you when you apply the Important vs. Urgent Test, taking care to apply it objectively to your own situation and needs. We all know people for whom almost everything seems urgent. When my wife answers calls for me at home at inopportune times, she has a habit of cupping her hand over the phone to whisper a reminder to me: “He says it’s urgent, but it might be HIS urgent and not YOUR urgent.” I find that immensely helpful.

Just remember – nobody else can decide your urgent. Learn how to quickly draw those distinctions for yourself so that you don’t suffer those agonizing moments of wondering what to do for whom and when – and almost inevitably, out of a desire to please or clear the decks for your own purposes, doing other people’s urgent, not your own. That’s not the path to career success or life happiness!

Time Out On Interruptions: How to get Time Lock Cooperation


shutterstock_72172714 (1)What is Time Locking? It’s nothing less than the perfect antidote to today’s fast-paced, chaotic culture of interruptions. It is how you recover stolen time you never knew you had – stolen by Time Bandits who interrupt you. Time Bandits who leave you desperate for more time to finish your work, do it well, and find some satisfaction in it.

Time Locking is your way of staving off the chaos for a specified period of time while you focus on an important task that requires close concentration. You can do that because someone else has agreed to cover for you by absorbing all those interruptions.

“What,” you say? That’s impossible. Why would somebody else, already plagued by the same culture of interruptions, agree to do that for you?”

Because every Time Bandit has their own Time Bandits, needs their own Time Locks, and will want you to reciprocate. All it takes is a grasp of communication arts and skills so that you can find the right words and way to talk to your Time Bandit without giving offense.

Here’s how you get Time Lock cooperation from your Time Bandit(s).

  1. Explain how you run your business and your frustration with deadlines, and ask them if they have similar concerns. Go as far as asking how they approach their Time Bandits. They may say, “I haven’t figured that out,” or they may tell you what you’re about to tell them, which is to enter into a Mutual Time Lock Agreement which would provide both of you hours of uninterrupted time.Sure, at first it might take a little back-and-forth, or give-and-take. It did for us at my company, but it was well worth it. Now, we understand what kind of work is eligible for Time Locking and what is not. We agree on which periods of time are convenient for Time Locks and which are not. We put Time Locking signs on our doors when we need to, confident that our colleagues will understand and count on us to reciprocate for them.We don’t break anyone’s Time Locks unless it’s an absolute emergency, partly because we respect others’ need for Time Locking, but also because we understand that our best interests will be much better served when they can focus on our needs deliberately, not when we happen to interrupt them. It makes our working lives so much more harmonious and productive!Not to exaggerate: we don’t pretend that we’ve eliminated all interruptions and time pressures. But we do carve out and protect time for what matters. You can be sure our finance department doesn’t get pestered when they Time Lock to run payroll. My CFO Ruben can call me any time he wants, but he doesn’t when I’m in make-up in the studio with camera crews waiting. And no matter how excited I am about a new idea, I will respect the Time Lock of a consultant who is finalizing a new contract proposal.
  1. A stylish presentation includes the right body language. Make and never lose eye contact, keep your arms down and your hands open. Smile, not only physically but mentally as well. When you speak, speak from the heart. That way, your Time Bandit will not be defensive, and will return in kind what you say and what they see.Learn to do this the right way at the right time, so that you don’t suddenly find yourself bursting out in frustration and saying things in a regrettable way.
  1. When I began my career as a teacher in the workplace, the students complained bitterly that just the time they were going to spend with me would increase their frustration, because they already had “too much to do and not enough time to do it in.” Too many clients, too many hand-holding obligations, too many in-bound and out-bound calls. In other words, “Mr. Brown, we realize that training is important, but we just don’t have enough time.” I soon realized that the Cohen Brown rule was once again proving correct: Nobody will ever make the time to listen to or participate in any behavioral-based training if it is not their intention to use what you’re teaching or asking them to do. So make sure your Time Bandits know that what you’re proposing will be as good for them as it is for you!
  1. If all interruptions were eliminated, based on focus groups I’ve recently conducted, the survivors of those interruptions would recapture 3-5 hours a day every day, which equals 40-60% of the standard work day. If recaptured, it could be devoted to significant gains in productivity. In 2005, a Basex research study reported that the cost of interruptions in America was $588 billion and increasing at the rate of 7%. Do the math: in 2015, the cost will be approximately $1 trillion. But what does that mean for you and your Time Bandit. Try to attach a dollar figure to 3–5 wasted hours a day in your world – either in lost pay, lost sales… No matter what metric you chose, the figure you arrive at should be all the incentive you need to learn how to Time Lock and “recover stolen time you never knew you had.”

 

I Don’t Have the Time… or Do I?


frozen yogurt

It’s 9:00pm, and the school term ends tomorrow.

The college student is frantically racing to complete a report worth 50% of his grade. It was assigned a month ago. It isn’t that he didn’t have time to work on it until now. He simply didn’t want to.

Trip to the library to gather information for his paper, or trip for frozen yogurt with friends? Frozen yogurt.

Get feedback on a draft of his paper at the college writing lab, or hang out and enjoy some draft of another kind? You know what happened.

Luckily he didn’t spill a can of coke on his expensive new laptop while finally finishing the paper minutes before it was due after a night of working on it.

I’ll protect the identity of this person, but I share the story to illustrate that people don’t manage their time in such a way as to free up time to do that which they don’t want to do in the first place. The activities that are most important to a student’s grade are often the things they least want to do.

This applies to work as well. Activities that are most important to performance outcomes are often things we least want to do. Need to call and speak with more clients and prospects to increase revenue? If it’s not something you want to do, then at 5:00pm today you’ll notice you just didn’t have time to make those extra calls.

What do you find people just can’t seem to find time for? And is it really a matter of time or of choice?

Structured Time and Workflow Management

Julie Freeman is Regional Director for Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.

Stop, Drop and Roll


SoManyDistractions

I know that’s a saying used for fires, but it also can be used as a solution for today’s busy and distracting workplace.

Somehow the connection came to me this afternoon, and I have linked Stop, Drop and Roll to some of our main concepts of Structured Time and Workflow Management. 

Stop = Focal Locking

I don’t really know how this happened, but I ended up with a Friday afternoon with no meetings, no appointments and no projects that were due yesterday. So I decided to use my time to think about business development and used focal locking on that concept. I was able to stop thinking about all the other things I do and focus only on business development. I even dug out some of my previous plans that are still good!

Drop = Meetings, Distractions

Once I decided to focus on business development, I was able to turn away from my PC, drop the urge to immediately respond to incoming emails and focus again on this one area, business development. Putting a time lock on for thinking and dropping everything else, even for a few hours, was so productive, and I still felt like part of the 21st century even though I didn’t answer an email for 2 hours.

Roll = Plan

Now that I was able to focus and time lock, I emerged with a plan. I actually was able to brainstorm (with myself) and came up with some things that I think will work. Had I not used this Window of Opportunity for thinking, stopped all the busyness and dropped all the self-created distractions, I would still be thinking about my plan (and not have one) days later.

It’s funny because in my recent research with former colleagues on what they would do with surplus time, they all said “think, plan, analyze”. I know what they mean now and can add my name to the list.

Next time you need to think, Stop, Drop and Roll with the concepts of focal locking, time locking and planning.

Your thoughts?

Johanna Lubahn is Managing Director of Call Center Services for Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.