Archives for posts with tag: Productivity

Emails are tough to manage aren’t they? You blink or go away for a couple of days and all of a sudden your inbox looks like a war-zone.

Are you an active email manager or a laissez-faire kind of a person? On the one hand you can spend a few extra moments sorting out every single email the first time you read it, deleting it or filing it, which aggregates to hundreds of hours. On the other, you file nothing, maybe delete nothing, safe in the knowledge that you can search for emails and do an emergency triage if your storage limit gets tripped.

I take a different approach to my work emails and my personal emails. With my work emails I leave everything in the inbox or sent items, searching for stuff when I need it and doing a periodic cull of large attachments to relieve storage and aid computer speed. I knew a colleague who was a very successful salesperson and religiously kept his work inbox down to a handful of emails, all the time. How he did it I’ll never know.

With my personal emails – and many of the emails I get are subscriptions to emails from businesses – I try to delete and file, keeping my inbox as clear as I can. Inevitably it mushrooms out of control and I have to spend a few hours every 6 months getting the inbox and sent items down to a reasonable level, deleting stuff I should have and filing other emails away into folders that I’ll rarely access.

The trouble is, the periods immediately preceding a seasonal wipe session are less than serene. Like now, for instance…

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Our French friends use the same word – faire – for both ‘to make’ and ‘to do’. Perhaps some other languages do too. You get the sense from the French of which word it translates to in English.

When it comes to combining the sense with the word ‘work’, however, it’s a really good job we have two separate words, and with every justification, as they’re fundamentally different things.

Making work is making work for yourself, to keep yourself busy, or in a job, or making work for other people to have to do, in various uncharitable and unhelpful ways. It’s the creating of a system that keeps people and organisations in a job, rather than serving the community as a whole usefully. It’s the overcomplicating of things to discourage people from applying for or claiming what is either rightfully theirs or what they’re entitled to. It’s preserving the complex, the difficult to understand, the proprietary or the difficult to join in order to justify whole departments or maintain the exclusivity of a club. Huge swathes of the public sector are guilty of this.

Then there is doing work; creating outputs, producing things, executing on plans, the act of getting something done. Productivity and performance lives at its heart. It’s about closing sales rather than preventing sales. It’s about accelerating motion, rather than retarding it. It’s about access over exclusion, encouragement over discouragement, others over oneself. It’s about knocking through barriers rather than putting them up, and it’s about telling people what they can do, rather than what they can’t.

So the question to ask yourself, obviously, is this: are you making work, or are you doing work? And the sanity question is this: what would others say about you?

If you’re a good typist, a touch typist, you intuitively know which keys you’re hitting and you can focus on the screen. You can then see autocorrect suggestions as they come up, whether they’re spelling mistakes or typos, and choose to accept or reject them on the fly.

If you’re not a touch typist, you have your eyes focused on the keyboard as anything between 2 and 7 fingers flash across the keys in a blur of crossovers and other inefficiencies.

Autocorrect only works if you’re a proper typist who looks at the screen while you type. Most of our generation look at the keyboard as we type, and then it’s too late. We look up and our typed line is a mess of autocorrections we didn’t want that the system inserted by default as we typed on. So we go back and recorrect them, which is a huge time-suck.

I wonder what percentage of people touch type compared with those who are fixated on the keyboard? It’s pretty important to the usefulness of autocorrect on a laptop, where the keyboard and screen are a long way from each other.

Even with a smartphone, where the keyboard and screen are a couple of centimetres apart, I miss autocorrects because I’m looking at the keys.

Entropy is a fascinating concept. It seems to be one of those underlying laws of the universe that works for work and life too.

From what I understand, the ever-expanding universe is subject to it, the tendency for things to naturally descend into a state of disorder, randomness and chaos. If you apply this principle to work and non-work, to put it crudely, it means that eventually everything goes to sh*t. Not in the literal sense of human effluent, but in the American sense of rubbishness, poorness, brokenness.

For me it rings true. On the one hand people say if it ain’t broke don’t fix, but on the other, if you don’t keep improving something and leave it to do its own thing, it will eventually break down and not work.

It also seems to me that in our work and our lives we should be engaged in a constant state of what I call ‘reverse entropy’, trying to create things, build things and fine-tune things, raging against the dying of the light, to borrow from a well-known Welsh poet.

Reverse entropy is our conscious, active way of bringing order, quality, skills and artifice to the world and what we do, from which we derive pleasure, money and nourishment.

August is a deceptively busy month.

On the surface, everyone’s on holiday and you can’t get anything done. If you’re relying on getting stuff back from suppliers, partners, or customers, you’re done for. It’s the holiday month. Don’t ask me for an answer, a budget, or a decision, it’s not happening.

But August is a deceptively busy month because everyone comes back on the first of September and immediately has to hit top gear until the next silly season hits around mid-December til the second week of January. To be ready to go in September we have to do the work in August, getting everything ready and managing our projects and our lead times.

August is a great month for getting the work done, undisturbed, so you’re ready to go when the wheels start screeching in the autumn.

As long as you don’t need anything back from anyone, that is. It’s a great month if you only need you to produce what it is you’re producing. But, interaction, collaboration? Forget it. Shoulda got that done in July…

Water is essential to life, human life anyway. We can’t live without it, much as we can’t live without oxygen. No oxygen and we’re done for in a minute or two. No water and we’ve got a few days of excruciating agony before we slip away.

We’re supposed to have at least 2 litres of the stuff per day, that’s 8 glasses. The more the better too. They say that if you’re 1% down on hydration you might be 25% down on performance.

Me, I can’t stand the stuff. It’s boring, I don’t find it particularly refreshing, unless I’ve had a salty meal or I’ve been exercising hard. I inherited this from my mother. She can’t stand water, so much so that she never bothered to learn how to swim. She’s not shy of the shower, she simply doesn’t like water.

When we were kids we didn’t have water with our meals. We drank milk. I hardly had water as a kid, and I did OK, except I’m on the short side, and I don’t think you can blame the lack of water for that.

About a decade ago, I paid for one of those full health check-ups with a private hospital. It was partly discounted by the company’s health insurance and I felt I should go in for a 50-thousand mile service. I remember scoring very well on the hearing test, nearly off the chart. The doctor said to me in the debrief that my hearing was very good. ‘Pardon?’, I said in reply. I know, I thought it was funny, a had-to-be-there moment.

The doctor didn’t laugh either, but what she did say was that I could take me 8 cups of water in any form I wanted: tea, coffee, cordial. I don’t think beer counted.

This was music to my ears, but I have since heard conflicting reports that it really should be ‘unpolluted’ water. I do track my water intake and it’s rarely 2 litres per day, and usually 50% of it is tea or coffee.¬†Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years.

On the odd day that I do make a concerted effort to up my water intake, I find that I need to use the bathroom almost every half an hour. That’s simply not practical when you’re in meetings, presentations or travelling.

 

There are some jobs where deadlines are constantly present. Journalism for one.

There are also people who can’t seem to work unless they have a deadline in front of them. Are journlists in that category too? Some of them I guess.

The thing that many of us experience with working to deadlines is that the closer the deadline is, the more we get done. When you have to make a deadline you cut through the unnecessary and get to the nub of what your project is all about. This is fine for creating something with words, but when you’re involved with something that has an already defined process, like a complex sales process, one that you can’t bypass or cut short, then you’ve got problems. Then, it’s not your deadline, the end of your sales month for example, that counts, it’s your customer’s deadline.

With the more undefined processes, though, like writing for example, it pays me in my daily work to create deadlines to maximise my productivity. If there aren’t deadlines on a job, or the deadline is a long way from now, create an artificial deadline to work to. Or, split the project up into pieces and create mini-deadlines. For example, can I create two blog posts before lunchtime? Can I get the last page finished before this meeting starts? Can I reach the half way mark before the end of the day?

Of course, the risk you run with this approach is that you’re always producing shoddy, rushed work, work that would have benefitted form a little more time, and a less demanding deadline. That’s the balance between the two that we strive for: the best we can strive for versus the commercial reality imposed by time being money.

If you want to relax on your time off, and simply while away the time in those most luxurious moments when you have the luxury of time, then simply set no targets for the day, no objectives.

As an example, yesterday I set myself the goal of thinking up a blog post topic in the three minutes’ time I had before a call started. I came up with this one, and wrote it today.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Gone are the days where we work ludicrous hours, unless we have our own business, earn stupifyingly large amounts of money or have a misplaced and unrequited sense of loyalty to our employer. It’s all about work-life balance these days and so we tend to work a reasonable amount of hours.

Which brings me back to my original question. I worked recently with an SME which had two principal guys. One started very early and finished at a reasonable time. The other started reasonably late and finished late. Their dovetailing partnership worked well and they were able to provide longer corporate coverage as a result.

I find that if I’m doing intense stuff like writing then an early start brings out the best in me. If I’m doing other kinds of work, then a later start seems to pay off. When I was a student, I was a night owl – on the studying/working front. As I’ve got older I’ve found that the early bird suits my lifestyle balance better. Plus, I’m usually mentally wiped by the end of the day.

As a consequence of this I find it really helps me to plan out my working week, and even into the weekend. Plotting the early bird and the night owl requirements ahead of time means that I get the required rest and family time, as well as the work done.

Ah, email, the scourge of modern lives, both work-based and social-based. It’s no wonder that the young are not embracing it as a communications vehicle in anything like the numbers that the older generations have.

Emails can represent both a time-suck and an intrusion into our daily lives. If you’re like me and you subscribe to suppliers’ mailings, or have simply bought something from a company which has your email address, you’ll know what a chore it is to wade through email subject lines from organisations you don’t want to unsubscribe from, in case the occasional email provides something of use to you.

Email has its problems. A large percentage of knowledge and intellectual property is buried in email, often not archived or indexed properly, and it can be difficult to find and retrieve. That’s not particularly efficient. Email intrudes on a regular basis, with a ping here and a ping there, and business gurus are lining up to tell us to ignore 80% of our email and do our necessary email work in batches so that we stay productive.¬† Businesses are soon to be subject to the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which places more stringent requirements on those companies that collect and use data on us, like our email address. Here’s a nice summary by a marketing automation provider on GDPR implications for companies that email their customers.

Email marketing has been trending down for some time, as search engine optimisation / marketing and social media have been trending up. By 2020, according to Forrester and CMO, email will account for only 2,5% of our digital marketing spend.

It’s not all bad for email though. For example, a couple of years ago I called a couple dozen customers of a client of mine and asked them what their communications preferences were, both as prospective customers, and as active, ongoing customers. The overriding preference? ‘Email. Yes, I get loads of them, but if you send me one that I know I need to read, from looking at the subject line, I can leave it in my inbox and get to it when I’m ready.’

So it seems that, at least for non-millennials and business folk, the hugely prevalent mechanism that is email is still the best of a pretty bad lot when it comes to written communications.

Reduce, reuse or recycle: so goes the environmentally-aware aphorism to keep us on the straight and narrow with the earth’s resources. We should reuse what we have if at all possible. If we can’t reuse it, we should recycle it. If we can’t recycle it, then we should reduce it, so that it occupies a smaller space in the places where we borrow but can’t pay back, namely landfill.

It turns out that this guide applies equally well for the food we buy and consume. I derive an odd sense of pleasure from being able to use up all the frozen food from the freezer, or combine left-over perishables into a meal that wouldn’t exist if I threw out the separate items.

It’s that thrill of maximum utility – getting the most use out of what we’ve paid for.

It also turns out that it’s a handy approach to adopt in our work, especially marketing. Content, especially good content, takes painstaking time to create. But it can also be the gift that keeps on giving, since you can use it again, or recycle it into other formats, or reduce it into smaller parts that can form a series. Beautiful.

Any why not other areas of work as well? Whatever processes, resources and technology you can reduce, reuse or recycle, you should, as long as you achieve the goal of greater productivity.