Archives for posts with tag: Productivity

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…

Advertisements

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.

What did we call life hacks before we called them life hacks? That phrase has only been around for a few years but already I can’t think of what term we used to describe the short-cuts or tricks of getting by in life that we pick up as we pass through the decades of our earthly existence.

Anything that gives us the inside track on a task and saves us time improves our personal productivity, wellbeing and happiness. There are myriad life hacks we use every day without even thinking about them.

I drive a lot of different cars. I travel overseas once a month and hire a car when I’m over there. Whenever I’m picking up my hire car I generally ask the staff member I’m dealing with if the car has blue tooth for hooking up my mobile phone (they almost all do nowadays) and which side of the car the fuel cap is on so I know how to pull into a fuelling station on the correct side to fill up the tank. If I forget, I have to get out of the car and look for it.

I’ve been driving for over 30 years. Imagine my surprise and astonishment, then, when someone told me earlier this year that on almost every car dashboard there is a little icon of a fuel pump and an arrow indicating which side you dispense fuel from. Brilliant! I’d noticed the icon many times but hadn’t registered the significance of the arrow. I’m sure most of you knew this one already, and are tut-tutting to yourself, safe in the knowledge that you’re probably oodles of life hacks ahead of me.

For me, however, it was another life hack acquired. Another micro-improvement.

When I’m in the UK, one of my colleagues and I travel to the office from different ends of a major motorway. I go north, he goes south, and then we reverse our journeys to go home at the end of the day.

His journey is invariably more snarled up than mine. A daily commute that regularly turns sour is a major source of mental ill-being in my opinion.

The other day I was returning to the office from an event and using the length of motorway my colleague uses, which is unusual for me. There was a stretch of roadworks on the motorway. It was about 20 miles in length and had a restricted speed limit of 50 miles an hour, with narrowed driving lanes and more traffic cones than you get grains of sand on a mile-wide beach.

The total amount of ‘road work’ activity on this 20-mile stretch, in mid-afternoon on a mid-week day? None. Not a single vehicle or worker. Zero activity.

This is the lost productivity of negligible roadworks. It’s the cumulative time lost for thousands of travellers, not to mention the increase in annoyance and frustration – increased enough for me to pen this blog 2 weeks after the fact – coming from having to drive at reduced speed for the guts of half an hour.

Who suffers? As usual, the individual. The private citizen, who is a customer of the infrastructure by virtue of having paid their road tax, and a bunch of other taxes besides.

 

I came across a new word the other day, courtesy of a link from a friend of mine that I also am lucky to work with occasionally. It’s called deloading. It’s taking proper down-time to recharge the batteries and ensure that when you get back on the horse you’re still super-productive.

The link is here. It’s written by a chap called Tim Ferriss, who many of you will know as the author of the 4-Hour Work Week, and other books on a similar theme. I thought he was a good bit older than he is. Not that he looks older, but that he seems to have packed an annoyingly large amount of stuff into his CV already.

You might know from my own blog that I’ve been an advocate of deloading for a long time, although I can honestly say I’ve never referred to it by that term. I guess I’ve always been practising the exercise of taking regular breaks, but not time-wasting breaks, from more run-of-the-mill activities like writing, work or study.

I guess you could boil it down to the time-honoured phrase that a change is as good as a rest. There is so much to be said for the productivity benefits of taking regular time out. It seems counter-intuitive that you can get more done in less and with less. Perhaps that’s the reason why many employers and managers are keen to get as much work time from their people as possible. But’s never been about the hours you put into work, it’s about the work you put into the hours.

Return on investment is the corner stone of business. We have a number of competing projects to invest in. We can’t invest in them all, so we have to select the best ones for our circumstances and objectives. We measure success by the money we get back for the money we’ve spent.

So what better return on investment is there when your outlay is zero? Yes, I’m talking about getting value and return from other people’s money, or OPM. Not your partners’ cash, your competitors’.

For example, companies often sponsor projects like events, white papers or other publications. If you’ve carved a reputation for yourself as a thought leader in your field, or even someone whose opinion would be interesting, then there’s an opportunity for you to get a platform for your message in something that someone else has paid for.

You don’t need to prevail on your competitor for air time. Often, the event or the publication is organised by a third party, like a journalist, many of whom respond to the argument that a greater breadth of views and opinions makes for more balanced output.

Leveraging other people’s money, legitimately, is always better than leveraging your own.