1-on-1: Productivity

The Experts Up Close
Louis Barajas
is a financial expert and business author of Small Business, Big Life and Overworked, Overwhelmed & Underpaid.

Jan Yager has been researching time management and conducting workshops since the 1980s. She is the author of three books on time management, most recently, Work Less, Do More: The 14-Day Productivity Makeover.

Peggy Duncan is a personal-productivity expert, speaker, consultant and author of The Time Management Memory Jogger and Conquer Email Overload.

Q. I run a business out of my home, and I get distracted by home projects and family coming and going. How can I retain a laser like focus in a home business environment?

Louis Barajas: You are going to need to create a "sacred work space" in which your family learns to respect your physical work boundaries. Many business owners working from home are personally responsible for breaking those invisible boundaries. Schedule breaks to see your family.

Peggy Duncan: Just as you do for work, you'll have to stop long enough to put systems in place for getting everything done at home.

Assess interruptions. If you assess family interruptions, you can make simple changes to reduce them, such as lowering a shelf in the refrigerator to give a child easier access.

Establish boundaries. Set up office hours just as you would in a traditional environment, and make it clear what constitutes a worthy interruption, such as the stove being on fire.

Get organized. You should give up your job of running the lost-and-found department at home. Everyone should get organized so they can find whatever they need without you.

Create routines. To make scheduling work easier, it'll help if you establish routines. For example, cook for the week early every Saturday morning.

Q: When writing to do lists, is there a way to make them more effective?

Jan Yager: Key ways to make to-do lists more effective are:

Order your list by priorities.

Try to estimate how LONG something will take.

Try to make your to-do list not just the big things—write a book, but break it down into steps—write Chapter 1 or do the interviews for Chapter 1.

Make sure you always move an item that has not been completed from the current list onto the next list.

Whatever type of list that works for you is fine. Some people prefer a computer or a PDA, including a BlackBerry or even a phone. Others prefer paper. Some make daily lists, and others make weekly, monthly or even annual lists, including goal-setting and business plans.

Writing down something helps you concretize your plans and goals. Create a to-do list at the end of each workday to help you zone in on what you will do first the next morning.

Refer to your to-do list, and check off what you've accomplished and what you still have to do. Things do not magically get done because you've written them down on your to-do list.

Peggy Duncan: It's important to use your brain for thinking but use external cues for remembering. A to-do list simply serves as a reminder to get something done. It could be a spiral notebook, Outlook task, notepad, calendar reminder, checklist, alarm, etc.

Here are some examples:
Conference call at 1 p.m.
In addition to a calendar reminder, set an alarm on your cell phone so the noise tears you away from your work. Another option is a free download from CinnamonSoftware.com, the Talking Alarm Clock.

Folder for your next trip. Put the folder in a logical place and note on your calendar or travel checklist that you need to take it. When you prepare for your trip (always the day before), check your notes and get the folder.

Projects needing more than a few hours. Move these from your to-do list and onto your calendar with a monthly, weekly or daily plan for getting them done. Break your project into phases, and create a tracking system to keep you on schedule.

Errands on Saturday. This could be as simple as a sheet of paper stashed in your pocket. Batch your errands so you can handle them based on what they are and where you need to go.

Voice-mail messages. As you listen to voice mail, use a spiral notebook to make note of it. After the return call, check it off the list. If you didn't get it done that day, highlight it. Remember, it's fine to use a combination of all these tips.

Q: What are your best tips for getting more done—what habits should I try to adopt?

Jan Yager: Prioritizing is key. What do you have to accomplish or want to achieve in the long run or right now, and what steps do you have to take to succeed at those goals? Try to be as concrete as possible.

Learn how to delegate tasks that are either too boring for you or are not the best use of your time. But don't delegate what you do best and what is the key to your success. Also, delegate tasks, not relationships.

Avoid being a workaholic. Remember that most workaholics are poor time managers. They work constantly because they can't start and stop work; so once they start, they keep going. Burnout, a higher rate of accidents or mistakes, and poor work or personal relationships are some of the negatives associated with workaholics. Workaholics need to realize that work-life balance is the better option for sustained time effectiveness, and a satisfying and rewarding life. That doesn't mean there aren't times with occasional work crunches because of deadlines or seasonal demands, but if around-the- clock work is 24/7, improved time management, including better pacing and planning, can lead to greater efficiency and a healthier you and family life.

Louis Barajas: Everyone should plan their workday by writing down the one most important thing they need to do before they leave the office. Organize your workday by using technological solutions and practical systems for getting things done. Without a daily work plan, it's virtually impossible to focus on being efficient and effective. Also, create a circle of support to help you delegate or manage time more effectively. Lastly, ask yourself the following question daily: How can I create more value in my life and for my customer today?

Peggy Duncan: A few things you should consider include:

Take the word try out of your vocabulary. You're either going to change and do this or you're not.

Pay more attention to how you spend your time. Keep a log for a few days to create a visual representation of how you spend your time. Then compare how you spend your time to your values, goals and priorities.

Become more selfish. Do what you need to do to hold it together by putting yourself first.

Delegate as much as you can. Once you create calm and clear the chaos, delegate more and focus on your core work.

Stop procrastinating. When you procrastinate, you will not have time to do your best work, and you're taking a chance that nothing will go wrong (i.e., the printer runs out of toner). If it's the rush you like, find something else healthy to replace that pleasure.

Drop the 9-1-1 mentality. What would happen if you weren't available the instant every e-mail, phone call, instant message or knock on the door happens? You'd survive. Stay focused on what you're doing and who you're with.

Stay in this weekend. Leave at least one weekend completely free each month. Don't get out of your pajamas, and get some projects done at home.

You have to approach life as if you don't have seconds to spare. As you start to work smarter, you'll create more time to think. And when you start thinking, all kinds of wild, crazy things will start to happen.


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