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Thursday, January 31, 2013

5 Steps to More Effective Time Management

Published December 16, 2010 by Steven Snell

Most designers and freelancers wish there was more time in the day to work. It seems like no matter how much you are able to accomplish in a day there is still more that you would like to have done. Time management is not only one of the biggest challenges for most freelance designers, but it is also a critical factor in determining the success of any freelancer or independent designer.

In this article we’ll take a look at 5 steps that you can implement to better manage your time and get more out of your working hours.

Step 1: Have a Plan for Your Time

One of the best ways to waste time is to have no plan or no priorities for what you need to accomplish in a particular day, week, or month. I’ve personally found that when I start working without a specific list of things that I need to get done, I am far less productive and I wind up working on things that aren’t very urgent or I waste the time entirely.

How you plan for your time is up to you, we all work differently. I like to work off of a to-do list on a daily basis, with items prioritized. I don’t necessarily start each morning with the highest-priority task because I am not at my best early in the morning, but I can at least start crossing off some of the minor tasks that need to get done, and then it feels better to have a to-do list with several things already crossed off the list.

Having a plan for your time is really not that difficult. If you haven’t done this in the past I recommend that you give it a try and see how it impacts your productivity. At the end of each week take a look at your progress on the projects that you have going at the moment and make a list of things that you’ll need to accomplish during the next week. Then take that list and break it down into a day-by-day list so it can be more easily managed. Each day you can work off of your list and you’ll find that you stay on task, waste very little time, and have more accomplished at the end of the day.

Step 2: Take Advantage of Your Hot Spots

Each one of us has certain times of the day when we’re able to concentrate and get more accomplished, and other times of the day when we struggle to stay focused. When I first started working from home full-time I didn’t take these natural “hot spots” in my day into consideration. I often found myself struggling to focus on the task at hand during certain times of the day and I would force myself keep working at it, but the results were usually far less than my best work, and it took me longer than it should.

After trying it that way for a while I realized that I could get more out of my time by taking advantage of my best times during the day and admitting that some hours are just not that productive for me. Instead of wasting my prime hours on things I could be doing any time, I now will plan my days to allow my best hours to be used for the tasks that will require the most focus, concentration, and/or creativity. During my weakest hours I can work on cleaning out my inbox, dealing with routine tasks, or simply take the time off. This way I can get the most out of my time, keep the most important items in focus, and still get something productive done even when I am not at my best.

Most likely, you are probably already aware of the times of day when you are at your best and worst. Take that into consideration when you are planning your time to be sure that you are maximizing what you have.

Step 3:  Recognize Your Distractions and Plan to Minimize Them

There are a lot of things that can be distracting to freelance designers. Often the distractions are actually necessary parts of the business, but they can just be an inconvenience. For example, most freelancers communicate with clients and potential clients primarily through email, so this is of course a part of your daily life. But email can often be a distraction because it can break up your time and get you off track.

Email is just one example. There are plenty of other potential distractions, like Twitter, obsessively watching stats, noise in or around your office, phone calls, etc. In order to get the most out of your working time you will need to recognize the things that are most distracting to you, and you must work to minimize their impact on the productivity of your time.

If your distraction is something that is a necessary part of your business that is a little bit out of control, like email or Twitter, you can help the situation by keeping those tasks contained to certain time periods within your day. Instead of having your email open all day and seeing each message the moment it arrives, you could set up a time each morning and each afternoon to deal with email, then close it for the rest of the day while you are working.

If your distraction is the phone you could do something similar by letting calls go to your voice mail (unless it is an emergency) and have a designated time to check the messages and return calls. If your distraction is a noisy house surrounding your home office you could plan your time so that your most important working hours are when your kids are sleeping, at school, or doing something else that is not overly distracting to you.

Regardless of what tends to be a distraction to you, finding a way to minimize or work around those distractions is key to getting the most out of your time.

Step 4: Cut Back on Your Hours

Most freelance designers tend to work long hours, especially when deadlines are looming. Although it is tempting to simply work more hours in order to get everything done, this can often be detrimental to your productivity and efficiency. We all need some time away from work, so working more hours isn’t usually the best answer.

Cutting back on your working hours will force you to prioritize and to manage your time more effectively, or you won’t be able to accomplish everything that needs to be done. If working longer hours is generally your answer when you have too many things on your to-do list, try going the other way and reducing your hours.

I’ve found in my own work that having a definitive ending point to the day helps to keep me on task and progressing towards the completion of everything the needs to get done. For example, if I know I am stopping work at 5:00 I have an end in sight that pushes me to work efficiently and effectively throughout the day. On days when I decide I will just work until I get everything done, whenever that may be, I find that I wind up progressing much slower because I do not have the same sense of urgency. In the end I often work longer hours on those days while accomplishing less.

Reducing your hours will also help to keep you fresh and it will be easier to focus on the task at hand, allowing you to get more out of your working hours. Of course, you’ll want to consider your hot spots to make sure that you are not eliminating your best hours when you are reducing the amount that you are working. This is probably the most difficult of these 5 steps for most of us, but it is important if you are going to focus on the long-term and to avoid burnout.

Step 5: Evaluate

Evaluating your use of time is also a critical aspect of time management. Every now and then it is good to step back and look at your typical process for going about your work, and try to identify some things that can be changed to improve efficiency. It’s easy to develop habits and without even realizing it you can get stuck in the rut of doing things in a less than optimal way.
There are plenty of apps available to help you with tracking your time so that you can recognize areas for potential improvement. Some leading options include Klok, Rescue Time, SlimTimer, and Manic Time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

3 Strategies for Prioritizing Tasks Pt. 2

Behold, The Trinity: Cost, Scope, and Time

When I was a project manager, one of the first things I learned to help me judge which projects were most important or needed the most attention is the "triple constraint," or a triangle with three equilateral sides. Each side represents the cost of the project, the scope of the project, and the time required to complete the project. None of the sides can be adjusted without making changes to the other two sides. The sides you're weakest in help determine the projects that need special attention. This holds true for all things, not just projects and project managers: If someone heaps more work onto you (scope), but insists that you finish in the same amount of time (time), you'll need more resources (cost) to get the job done.

For example, if you want to paint the spare room in time for out-of-town guests to stay over, you can't change the size of the job (scope), but you can control whether you buckle down and do it yourself overnight (time), or get someone else to do it for you while you do something else (cost). Here's how you can use these three principles to organize your everyday to-dos.

  • Time: Work Backwards From Your Deadlines. Time is usually the one variable most of us can't change. Deadlines are deadlines, and often we're not the ones who set them. This is where working backwards from due dates is crucial. Start a spreadsheet, and mark down when each project or task on your plate needs to be finished. Then work backwards to the present day, taking into account everything each specific to-do that needs to be done to get from here to there, and how long it takes to complete. When you're finished, you'll likely see a bunch of tasks that should have started already and others that hopefully won't start for a while if you're going to make the deadline. That list, by itself, is a good indicator of what your priorities are, what you should be working on right now, what you should work on next, and perhaps most importantly, what you should get help with—especially if they're tasks that should have started a week ago.
  • Cost: Get Help from Family, Friends, and Coworkers. Cost means more than just dollars. It also means people who can help you, or services you can call to give you a hand or take the load off. Could you finish faster if someone else worked on it for you? What if a teammate could take part of the job off your hands and you could pick it up later? Perhaps there's a program or application that can automate the process for you, and it's pretty cheap. It may be worth spending money or dragging in friends to help you finish renovating the kitchen before you run out of vacation days, or calling someone to install your new washing machine so you don't have to take time off to do it.
  • Scope: Don't Be Afraid to Make Compromises. If your to-dos have to be done by a certain time and you can't get help, it's time to sit down with the people waiting on you and start making some deals. Let them know what you can deliver by when, and then go on to explain what you can give them later. This is important, because it sends the message that you're not trying to avoid the work you have to do, but you're trying to give them something now that they can use while you keep working in the background to get them everything else on their wish list. The sooner you stop thinking of your to-dos in terms of all-or-nothing, the sooner you'll have the flexibility to say "I'll give you this tomorrow if you give me a week to give you the rest."

 Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

It's easy for us to toil away in obscurity, quietly hating our lives and our jobs and growing more frustrated with every passing minute. All the while, there may be a friend who's willing to help if we had only asked, or a boss who would be willing to help you out if you asked the right questions or gave them the right information.

We've talked about how difficult it can be to delegate, and how to delegate effectively in the past, but however you go about it, it's important to remember that you need to be assertive, not aggressive when asking for help, and you need to make your case with all of the data you have available. By now, you should have your priorities laid out and you have a good idea what you need. Use that information to ask for help and prove you need it, and remember, don't be upset if your friends, boss, or coworkers say no.

Buckle Up, It's Going to be a Bumpy Ride

Using this method to set your own priorities and keep track of your own responsibilities isn't just something you should do when you're starting to feel overwhelmed. If the walls are closing in on you, yes, it's definitely time to take a good, hard look at what's on your plate, what can come off, and what has to give, but waiting until you're already busy and stressed out will make it especially difficult to make the changes you need to get your head above water. Even so, it's essential, and once you do it you'll never look back. Hopefully, you can apply these tricks to your work, at home, and in your day-to-day life. Once you really understand what you have to work on and how long it takes, you'll be able to make smart decisions about whether you can take on that big new project at work, or help your best friend plan their bachelor party.

Monday, January 28, 2013

3 strategies for prioritizing tasks Pt 1

‘If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.’ ~unknown

One of the biggest problems people have when trying to find focus is having too many tasks competing for their time. It can be tough to prioritize.
Let’s break this problem into three smaller problems:

  1. too many tasks
  2. tough to prioritize
  3. tasks compete for your time
And with that, let’s discuss three strategies for dealing with these smaller problems.

1. Reduce your tasks

If you have too many tasks, the solution is to simplify your task list. Take 10 minutes to list everything you need to do — now just pick the 3-5 most important tasks. All the small tasks will go on a “do later” list, and you’re not going to worry about them now.
A good way to deal with the smaller, routine tasks that must be done (check email, pay bills, fill out paperwork, and so on) is to schedule a block of time later in the day to deal with them — perhaps the last 30 minutes of your day, or something like that. Early in the day, focus on the important tasks.

2. Choose the task that excites you

Now that you’ve simplified your task list, look at the 3-5 tasks left and pick one task. Just one.
How do you pick? Choose the task that most excites you, that feels compelling, that you’re most passionate about.
If you’re dreading the task, put it aside for now, and pick something more interesting.
If you have several tasks you’re excited about, you might also consider which task will have the biggest effect on your life. What will make the biggest impact?

3. Single-task

Now that you’ve chosen one task, put the others aside for now and just focus on that one task.
Clear away all distractions, including your mobile device and the Internet. Just have the application open that you need to work on that task.

Now get to work. Throw yourself into it, and do it for at least 10 minutes. After that, you can take a break, but try to immerse yourself for at least 10 minutes.
And have fun doing it.


Get Organized

In order for your priorities to even matter, you need to have some sort of a personal productivity system in place to which you hold yourself accountable—and in which your priorities will actually matter. If you've got a tried and true system, great. If not, check out our guide to building one that's right for you.

The goal of your system, whichever you select, is to take away the need for you to waste time deciding what to work on next, even when you have a lot on your plate. I've found that David Allen's GTD framework is one of the most effective methods for me, mostly because it focuses on what you should do now and what your next actions should be, and it emphasizes getting your to-dos out of your head and into some system that will help you work. I've mentioned before that I manage my to-dos in ReQall, but there are plenty of other options, like previously mentioned Wunderlist, or if you work on a team, Asana, a collaborative tool we adore.
Whichever tool and productivity method you choose, dump your to-dos and projects into it as quickly as possible. Make sure it's something you'll actually return to and use frequently, and something that's easy to fit into your workflow, and you'll be successful. In the end, you want something easy to refer to, easy to enter tasks into, and that gives you a great view of all of the balls you have in the air at any time.

Whichever tool and productivity method you choose, dump your to-dos and projects into it as quickly as possible. Make sure it's something you'll actually return to and use frequently, and something that's easy to fit into your workflow, and you'll be successful. In the end, you want something easy to refer to, easy to enter tasks into, and that gives you a great view of all of the balls you have in the air at any time.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow..

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

7 Tips for Prioritizing Tasks Effectively

Published April 21st, 2011 by Steven Snell

Most designers, regardless of whether you are self employed or an employee, have a to-do list full of all kinds of different tasks that are fighting for attention. It may include finalizing a project for one client, working on an estimate for another client, responding to emails, recording payments and working on financials, etc. With so many different things going on and a to-do list that likely includes tasks related to several different projects, knowing how to effectively prioritize can be a real challenge.

Having productivity in your work day is important, but having productivity on the right tasks is what will really lead to a successful use of your time. In this article we’ll look at 7 tips that may be of help to you when struggling with knowing what to work on next.

1. Respect Deadlines

When working for clients the most obvious factor that determines priority and urgency is the deadline. If your project has a deadline approaching or if you are behind the pace to meet a deadline in the future, the work should have some added urgency. Meeting deadlines is an important part of giving your clients a positive experience working with you, and most designers understand the need to use deadlines in prioritizing work.

2. Set Milestone Deadlines

If a client project only has a deadline for completion of the project, make an effort to break down the work that is needed to complete the project and put it into a few different steps or parts. Assign each part with a deadline to hit a certain milestone that will allow you to move on to the next step, and use these self-imposed deadlines to help with prioritizing. This way rather than just seeing the final deadline, which may seem like it is far off into the future, you’ll have a clear understanding of the smaller steps involved in the project and what you need to do now in order to stay on pace.

These milestone deadlines that you set for yourself may not even need to be shared with the client, they can be used just to help you stay on track and to view the big picture of the project. Staying on pace with a project can also have an impact on everything else that you are working on. If one project gets off track you may need to dedicate extra time to getting caught up, which of course takes time away from your other projects. So staying on course will allow you to prioritize effectively, rather than being forced to dedicate your time to certain things because you’re behind.

3. Consider the Consequences

Most likely there will be times where you’re not sure how you’re going to be able to get everything done. If you have several different things that are pressing for your attention and you’re not sure how to prioritize, consider the consequences of not getting the work done or not meeting the deadline. Chances are, there will be much different consequences from one task to the next.

For example, you may have a client project that would be disastrous if you can’t meet the deadline. Maybe the client has other things, such as a marketing campaign, that are dependant upon you getting your work done by a specific date. On the other hand, you may have a client project that has an upcoming deadline, but there really are no significant consequences if it falls a little behind schedule.

Another factor to consider is your relationship with the client. If it’s a client that you have worked with for a while and have always met deadlines, they may be more understanding if you’re struggling to meet a deadline (depending on the situation). Or you may have a situation where you’re working with a new client and hoping to get more work or referrals in the future from this client. In this case, your relationship with the client may be important enough to shuffle things around to get the work done.

4. Consider Payment Terms

You’ll also want to take into consideration the impact that a task will have on getting paid. You may have a project where you will be paid at various milestones throughout the project. If you are just a small step away from reaching one of those milestones you may want to give added priority to getting it done and getting paid.

Likewise, there may be a situation where a client has already paid for your services and you just need to complete the work. Completing this client’s work may take priority since they have already paid for your time.

If you’re a freelancer you’ll always need to be considering your cash flow situation. So taking into consideration the situation with money and how/when payment will be made will help you to know what you need to be working on to keep your business functioning smoothly.

5. Consider Time Required

There may be times when you have two or more equally urgent tasks that are competing for your attention. However, although they are equally urgent they may not require the same amount of time to complete. My preference is to prioritize the tasks that will take less time to complete so that I can get it crossed off my list and be able to focus more effectively on the remaining tasks.

6. Set Monthly Goals and Work Backwards

Setting goals can be very helpful for determining what needs to go on your to-do list. This process is made a little bit easier if you take a look at the big picture before setting your to-do list for a particular day. Try starting with monthly goals of what needs to be done. Then look at the specific actions or tasks that need to be done in order to reach this goal. For the first week of the month take the most urgent actions, those with deadlines and those that are foundational for other tasks, and put them onto a to-do list for the week. Then you can plan your week more effectively by splitting them up and setting certain things that need to get done each day.

This can be a much more effective way of prioritizing tasks than simply trying to decide what to work on for a particular day without really giving much though to the big picture. With weekly and monthly to-do lists in addition to a daily list you’ll be able to see how each task impacts the other things on your list, and priorities tend to clearly emerge.

7. Schedule a Percentage of Your Time for Personal Projects

There are other tasks that are important aside from just working on client projects. Things like working through tutorials, reading a book on a topic that you’d like to learn more about, re-designing your portfolio site, maintaining a blog, etc. often get pushed to the back burner because they don’t seem to have the same urgency as other things on your to-do list. In the long run though, these types of personal projects and opportunities for development or improvement are very important.

The best way to make sure that you get time to work on these things is to prioritize them by setting aside time in your schedule. You can decide that you’ll dedicate 10% of your time (or some other amount) to working on projects like this, and set aside time each week to do something for your own improvement. If you don’t set aside the time, most likely you won’t get around to it since other things will always come up.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Time management: Tips to reduce stress and improve productivity

Effective time management is a primary means to a less stressful life. These practices can help you reduce your stress and reclaim your personal life.

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the number and complexity of projects that need to be completed at work each day? As the day flies by, do you often feel as if you haven't paid enough attention to each task because other tasks keep landing on your desk, co-workers interrupt you with questions or you can't get it all organized? 

You probably know that managing your time effectively will help you get more done each day. But it has important health benefits, too. By managing your time more wisely, you can minimize stress and improve your quality of life. 

But how do you get back on track when organizational skills don't come naturally? To get started, choose one of these strategies, try it for two to four weeks and see if it helps. If it does, consider adding another one. If not, try a different one.

  • Plan each day. Planning your day can help you accomplish more and feel more in control of your life. Write a to-do list, putting the most important tasks at the top. Keep a schedule of your daily activities to minimize conflicts and last-minute rushes.
  • Prioritize your tasks. Time-consuming but relatively unimportant tasks can consume a lot of your day. Prioritizing tasks will ensure that you spend your time and energy on those that are truly important to you.
  • Say no to nonessential tasks. Consider your goals and schedule before agreeing to take on additional work.
  • Delegate. Take a look at your to-do list and consider what you can pass on to someone else.
  • Take the time you need to do a quality job. Doing work right the first time may take more time upfront, but errors usually result in time spent making corrections, which takes more time overall.
  • Break large, time-consuming tasks into smaller tasks. Work on them a few minutes at a time until you get them all done.
  • Practice the 10-minute rule. Work on a dreaded task for 10 minutes each day. Once you get started, you may find you can finish it.
  • Evaluate how you're spending your time. Keep a diary of everything you do for three days to determine how you're spending your time. Look for time that can be used more wisely. For example, could you take a bus or train to work and use the commute to catch up on reading? If so, you could free up some time to exercise or spend with family or friends.
  • Limit distractions. Block out time on your calendar for big projects. During that time, close your door and turn off your phone, pager and email.
  • Get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. A healthy lifestyle can improve your focus and concentration, which will help improve your efficiency so that you can complete your work in less time.
  • Take a time management course. If your employer offers continuing education, take a time management class. If your workplace doesn't have one, find out if a local community college, university or community education program does.
  • Take a break when needed. Too much stress can derail your attempts at getting organized. When you need a break, take one. Take a walk. Do some quick stretches at your workstation. Take a day of vacation to rest and re-energize.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How a One-Person Show Can Look Bigger to Clients

Posted by Angela Jia Kim | December 17, 2012
In this special feature of 'Ask Entrepreneur,' Facebook fan Michael Bunner asks: How can my one-person (and hopefully growing) consulting firm look bigger to clients so clients don't treat me (and want to pay me) as if I were just an individual?

Michael, this is a great question, and I'd like to -- from the outset -- reframe the perspective a bit.

The single most important thing for a consultant to do, from the moment you first communicate with your client, is to lead them by the hand. When you are able to be the "leader" in the client relationship, they won't treat you as an "individual." Clients don't necessarily want "bigger." They want to feel led and taken care of.

Your Chance to 'Ask Entrepreneur'

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Being a leader means that you set high expectations from the get-go. Create an agreement outlining how you work, answer frequently asked questions before they have to ask them, and set up a timeline of when they can expect deliverables. You always want to be one step ahead so your clients feel guided in the process.

You mentioned that you are (hopefully) growing, and this system will help set you up for that growth.

If you are the one consulting, you need someone else to handle client expectations, emails and scheduling. It's always sticky if you are the one who is answering questions, invoicing and dealing with the smaller details. It can not only be disruptive to your work, but it can give the impression that you're wearing too many hats.

You can hire a virtual assistant for just an hour or two a day to check customer-service emails, follow your process of welcoming new clients and issue invoices. If you go this route, set yourself up as if you are already a bigger firm. For example, create a Gmail account with your professional address and input processes in the Google Drive. I have every single process for my assistant in this drive, from "How to answer the phone" to "How to schedule my appointments." You can also create canned responses for FAQs in a Gmail account. This streamlines the tasks, saves time (and therefore, money), and ensures quality responses from your assistant.

You can also hire a business intern from a local university to help you out in person. This alternative is more cost-effective, and some people like to have an in-person assistant helping out. You can teach the intern about your business and groom him/her for a bigger job within your company as you grow.

A virtual assistant can cost anywhere from $15 to $60 an hour, and an intern can work for credit or you can pay them $10 to 15 an hour. For the tasks I've outlined above, one should not pay more than $20 an hour. Once you begin hiring for more complex tasks such as managing your website or working in Photoshop or Powerpoint, you can expect to pay more.

Lastly, it's important to note that small is not a bad thing. I would brand and position it "boutique" versus "corporate." You may be surprised that your perceived weakness is what your clients see as your greatest strength.

Copyright © 2012 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

20 Time Savers

  1. Learn to set priorities on things like goals, tasks, meeting agenda items, interruptions.
  2. Start with "A-priority" tasks; is it the best use of your time?
  3. Fight procrastination; do it now if it's important.
  4. Subdivide large, tough tasks into smaller, easily accomplished parts.
  5. Establish a quiet hour, even though it requires will power and may not always work.
  6. Find a hideaway. The library or office of a co-worker who's traveling.
  7. Learn to say "no" when you've got something important to do.
  8. Learn to delegate.
  9. Accumulate similar tasks and do them all at one time.
  10. Minimize routine tasks; spend only the time they deserve. Shorten low-value interruptions. Throw away junk mail and other low-value paperwork. Delegate, shorten or defer indefinitely the C-priority tasks.
  11. AVOID PERFECTIONISM. Remember the 80/20 distribution rule.
  12. Avoid over-commitment. Be realistic about what you can do in the time you have.
  13. Don't over-schedule. Allow some flexible time for crises and interruptions.
  14. Set time limits. For example, some decisions shouldn't take more than three minutes to make. Know how to recognize these.
  15. Concentrate on what you are doing.
  16. Use big blocks of time for big jobs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to Prioritize When Everything Is Important

You know that sinking feeling you have when there's too much on your plate? When you try to tackle your tasks by priority, but it feels like everything's important? Don't get overwhelmed—it's a problem that everyone faces at some point or another, and while it's difficult to skillfully juggle multiple priorities and competing responsibilities, it's not impossible. Here's how. 

It just so happens that there's a career that focuses specifically on juggling competing tasks and priorities: These people are called project managers. And as luck would have it, I was a full time PM for many years, PMP-certified and everything. In that time, I learned a number of helpful tricks that can help you manage your workload at the office as well as your ever-growing list of to-dos at home, with your family, or with your friends. Here's how you can apply some of those techniques to your everyday life.

First, Answer the Question: Is Everything Really Important?

Even if everything on your plate is supposed to be equally important, you still need a way to break down which ones you spend your time on, and how you slice up your time. The first question you have to get past is whether or not everything really is of equal importance. Here are a couple of tips to help you cut through the fog and get a feel for how important your responsibilities and projects really are.

  • Grill the boss. At work, you have a manager. At home, you're your own boss. One of the primary responsibilities of any manager is to help you understand what's important, what's not, and what you should be working on. You may have a manager at the office who does this (or needs your help doing it well), but everywhere else, you're in charge of your own work, and no one's going to tell you that backing up your data is more important right now than painting the house. It's easy to give up and think "it's all important," but at work, you can lean in and tell your boss that you really need their help. At home, sometimes you just have to pick something from your to-do list and get started to build some momentum.
  • Ask around. If you're prioritizing tasks that involve other people, like your family, friends, and coworkers, talk to them. Find out from them when they need your help, how much work is backed up behind the things you're working with them on, and if they can lend a hand. If they don't need you for another week and someone else needs you tomorrow, or if they aren't as busy as you are, you know what to do.
  • Work backwards. We'll get into this a little more later, but you probably have an idea of when each of your tasks are due—or at least when you'd like them done by—and how much time is required to work on each item. Start with the due dates, take into account how much effort you need to put into each one and how much input you need from others, and work backwards to find out what you should be working on right now (or what you should have already started, in some cases).
  • Cover Your A**. Finally, once you've taken some time to determine what's really important and arranged them based on what you think you should tackle first, it's time to put it in writing and share it with everyone involved. Set expectations with others for when you'll get your work done for them, and set expectations with yourself for when you'll have time to work on your own projects. This is more important in a work setting, but involving others in your non-work to-dos can also keep you—and others—accountable.

Get Organized

In order for your priorities to even matter, you need to have some sort of a personal productivity system in place to which you hold yourself accountable—and in which your priorities will actually matter. If you've got a tried and true system, great.

The goal of your system, whichever you select, is to take away the need for you to waste time deciding what to work on next, even when you have a lot on your plate. I've found that David Allen's GTD framework is one of the most effective methods for me, mostly because it focuses on what you should do now and what your next actions should be, and it emphasizes getting your to-dos out of your head and into some system that will help you work. I've mentioned before that I manage my to-dos in ReQall, but there are plenty of other options, like previously mentioned Wunderlist, or if you work on a team, Asana, a collaborative tool we adore.

Monday, January 14, 2013

10 tips for time management in a multitasking world

Posted in: Productivity December 10th, 2006

Time management is one of those skills no one teaches you in school but you have to learn. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t organize information well enough to take it in. And it doesn’t matter how skilled you are if procrastination keeps you from getting your work done.
Younger workers understand this, and time management is becoming a topic of hipsters. 

In today’s workplace, you can differentiate yourself by your ability to handle information and manage your time. “Careers are made or broken by the soft skills that make you able to hand a very large workload,” says Merlin Mann.

So here are 10 tips to make you better at managing your work:

1. Don’t leave email sitting in your in box.
“The ability to quickly process and synthesize information and turn it into actions is one of the most emergent skills of the professional world today,” says Mann. Organize email in file folders. If the message needs more thought, move it to your to-do list. If it’s for reference, print it out. If it’s a meeting, move it to your calendar.

“One thing young people are really good at is only touching things once. You don’t see young people scrolling up and down their email pretending to work,” says Mann. Take action on an email as soon as you read it.

2. Admit multitasking is bad.
For people who didn’t grow up watching TV, typing out instant messages and doing homework all at the same time, multitasking is deadly. But it decreases everyone’s productivity, no matter who they are. “A 20-year-old is less likely to feel overwhelmed by demands to multitask, but young people still have a loss of productivity from multitasking,” says Trapani.

So try to limit it. Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users suggests practicing mindfulness as a way to break the multitasking habit.

3. Do the most important thing first.
Trapani calls this “running a morning dash”. When she sits down to work in the morning, before she checks any email, she spends an hour on the most important thing on her to-do list. This is a great idea because even if you can’t get the whole thing done in an hour, you’ll be much more likely to go back to it once you’ve gotten it started. She points out that this dash works best if you organize the night before so when you sit down to work you already know what your most important task of the day is.

4. Check your email on a schedule.
“It’s not effective to read and answer every email as it arrives. Just because someone can contact you immediately does not mean that you have to respond to them immediately,” says Dan Markovitz, president of the productivity consulting firm TimeBack Management, “People want a predictable response, not an immediate response.” So as long as people know how long to expect an answer to take, and they know how to reach you in an emergency, you can answer most types of email just a few times a day.

5. Keep web site addresses organized.
Use book marking services like to keep track of web sites. Instead of having random notes about places you want to check out, places you want to keep as a reference, etc., you can save them all in one place, and you can search and share your list easily.

6. Know when you work best.
Industrial designer Jeff Beene does consulting work, so he can do it any time of day. But, he says, “I try to schedule things so that I work in the morning, when I am the most productive.” Each person has a best time. You can discover yours by monitoring your productivity over a period of time. Then you need to manage your schedule to keep your best time free for your most important work.

7. Think about keystrokes.
If you’re on a computer all day, keystrokes matter because efficiency matters. “On any given day, an information worker will do a dozen Google searchers,” says Trapani. “How many keystrokes does it take? Can you reduce it to three? You might save 10 seconds, but over time, that builds up.”

8. Make it easy to get started.
We don’t have problems finishing projects, we have problems starting them,” says Mann. He recommends you “make a shallow on-ramp.” Beene knows the key creating this on ramp: “I try to break own my projects into chunks, so I am not overwhelmed by them.”

9. Organize your to-do list every day.
If you don’t know what you should be doing, how can you manage your time to do it? Some people like writing this list out by hand because it shows commitment to each item if you are willing to rewrite it each day until it gets done. Other people like software that can slice and dice their to-do list into manageable, relevant chunks. For example, Beene uses tasktoy because when he goes to a client site tasktoy shows him only his to do items for that client, and not all his other projects. (Get tasktoy here.)

10. Dare to be slow.
Remember that a good time manager actually responds to some things more slowly than a bad time manager would. For example, someone who is doing the highest priority task is probably not answering incoming email while they’re doing it. As Markovitz writes: “Obviously there are more important tasks than processing email. Intuitively, we all know this. What we need to do now is recognize that processing one’s work (evaluating what’s come in and how to handle it) and planning one’s work are also mission-critical tasks.”

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

From: The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic, by Stephen R. Covey, Simon and Schuster, 1989.

1. BE PROACTIVE. Between stimulus and response in human beings lies the power to choose. Productivity, then, means that we are solely responsible for what happens in our lives. No fair blaming anyone or anything else.

2. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND. Imagine your funeral and listen to what you would like the eulogists to say about you. This should reveal exactly what matters most to you in your life. Use this frame of reference to make all your day-to-day decisions so that you are working toward your most meaningful life goals.

3. PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST. To manage our lives effectively, we must keep our mission in mind, understand what's important as well as urgent, and maintain a balance between what we produce each day and our ability to produce in the future. Think of the former as putting out fires and the latter as personal development.

4. THINK WIN/WIN. Agreements or solutions among people can be mutually beneficial if all parties cooperate and begin with a belief in the "third alternative": a better way that hasn't been thought of yet.

5. SEEK FIRST TO BE UNDERSTANDING, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD. Most people don't listen. Not really. They listen long enough to devise a solution to the speaker's problem or a rejoinder to what's being said. Then they dive into the conversation. You'll be more effective in your relationships with people if you sincerely try to understand them fully before you try to make them understand your point of view.

6. SYNERGIZE. Just what it sounds like. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In practice, this means you must use "creative cooperation" in social interactions. Value differences because it is often the clash between them that leads to creative solutions.

7. SHARPEN THE SAW. This is the habit of self-renewal, which has four elements. The first is mental, which includes reading, visualizing, planning and writing. The second is spiritual, which means value clarification and commitment, study and meditation. Third is social/emotional, which includes service, empathy, synergy and intrinsic security. Finally, the physical element includes exercise, nutrition and stress management.