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Work Smarter, Faster, and With Less Stress

On July 1, 2014 I was honored to be a presenter at the “Work Smarter, Faster, and With Less Stress: 20 Government Productivity Tips” webinar. I presented 21 tips from my featured blogs posts here on GovLoop. They featured productivity tips for individuals and group (meetings and the Briggs/Myers personality types). I wanted to take the chance to answer four really great questions from the session and give more detail.

How would you recommend managing having several meetings every day that take up most of your time?

Meetings must have a purpose. They must have a tangible outcome and a clear purpose. I’m a firm believer in Gartner’s four proposed reasons for meeting.

1. To make a decision

2. To solve a problem

3. To share critical information/training information

4. To celebrate an achievement

To take an extreme example, the President’s daily intelligence briefing occurs every day. It is is a type 3 meeting and possibly type 1 and 2. It could easily take the entire day, but it is limited to a certain amount of time (90 minutes on average).

Also, meetings must have a clear desired outcome. You cannot call a meeting unless you can answer this question: “At the close of the meeting, I want the group to _______”.

If you have regularly scheduled meetings and find they take the majority of your day, then you must evaluate the purpose of those meetings. If productive and tangible work comes out of these meetings, then great. Just be clear with all involved that the meeting is the mechanism by which work gets done. Make sure all participants understand this reality and come prepared to contribute.

However, if after these meetings you find that you need more time to get actual work products done, then you need to re-evaluate the meetings and consider canning them.

If you are not the owner of the meeting, then you need to have a critical conversation with the meeting owner(s). Discuss openly and honestly how the meeting is causing time issues for the rest of the day.

Here’s where visual thinking can help. Show them your calendar and the amount of time left over for working on deliverables after the meetings. Get a chart or walk up to the whiteboard and write this formula:

Total Meeting Time X Percentage of Ineffective Meeting Time X Number of Participants = Lost Hours for the Organization

For example, 1 hour X 50% wasted time X 6 participants = 3 hours of wasted work time. This is significant for the organization. Most senior leaders will be receptive to clear visuals like this.

If the owner insists the meeting must happen, then suggest breaking it into shorter, subject driven meetings. This is a very effective technique used by some of the most innovative people across several industries (provided by Gartner research):

  • Problem Definition – answers “what, who, how much, when, and why”

  • Bad news meetings – list issues/problems only. NO solutions are offered during these meetings.

  • Problem Solving – the “how” (done after the bad news meeting)

  • Alternative Approaches/Experiments- break out of the current bounds

Also, suggest that summary documents read before meetings will cut down on time “getting everyone up to speed”.

How to get ‘into the zone’ where you are most productive

Getting into the zone is personal and there is no formula that works for everyone. Some of the typical tips: have a distraction free workspace, schedule time for the task at hand, turn off email notifications during that time, play the right music (music without lyrics is best, try things like focusatwill.com), and have everything you’ll need at arm’s reach.

A list apart has two great articles with great tips. Getting into Flow suggests breaking a problem into smaller chunks, figure out what’s needed to deal with each one, determine success and then start going. This is also the basic idea behind agile software development.

Designing for Flow adds a concept of discovery. When you are exploring something – whether a map in a video game or a concept at work, the process of discovery is key to spurring you to focus and do more.

Really, it comes down to understanding what excites and motivates you. Then setting up the situation to encourage that. I typically work well when I have a deadline. So, I will create a non-dangerous consequence to help me ignore tempting distractions. I unplug and put my power cord away in another room. I drain my laptop down to 20% then work on deadlines. This gives me about an hour before my computer sleeps.

How do you keep from delaying your own deadlines/projects that may not have a firm external deadline to pressure you?

Create a list of things you want to accomplish. Determine an honest estimate of the time needed to do each one of them. Then, map out how each project gets you closer to your personal goals. If they don’t contribute to this goal, then consider dropping the project.

Add the projects you must do to your map so you understand your total time commitment. Give each project and its required time a node or “stop” on the roadmap. Use a natural, logical order so you can see how each project builds on the previous ones. Make the map big enough to be a complete view.

This roadmap and time estimate will help you understand how procrastination on any one project can hurt you from accomplishing what you set out to do.

I am a creative professional that works from 7am – 5:30pm. However my natural creative state is to be working late at night. How can I adjust to my earlier riser environment?

Don’t fight your natural tendencies too much. Understand where you are most effective and schedule your life to fit.

If you can’t negotiate a later schedule, then see if you can work in an afternoon nap. More organizations are understanding that well rested employees are more effective. Having a short 20 minute nap during your lunch break can be incredible recharging.

If you’re time shifted for no good reason, try using light therapy techniques to help adjust your circadian clock. Exposing your sleepy morning eyes to blue (daylight quality) light early in the morning helps wake you up and shift your clock to an earlier rhythm. Napping or having down time during your natural 2-4 p.m. dip will help enforce a more daytime focused cycle. This will leave you more tired at night and able to fall asleep by 11 p.m.

  • NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public or private sector employer, organization or related entity.

Chaeny Emanavin is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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