Planning a Successful Project: Five Great Tips

successful project project planning project support successful projects admin projects project support project tips

Planning a successful project involves managing a number of moving parts, ensuring that everything fits together to create a beautifully engineered whole which runs smoothly along to a well-managed conclusion.  These five tips will help you to ensure your next project does exactly that.

Have a breakdown

No, not a nervous breakdown.  A breakdown of the project.  Break the whole thing into component parts.  This will allow you to work out timings for each discrete section as well as identifying which parts are dependent on each other.  You can then start to look at the order in which you will tackle the elements of the project as well as who will be responsible for each area and which tasks are dependent on each other.

Knowing which parts are dependent on each other is critical to designing an effective and successful project plan which delivers maximum productivity with minimum delay.

Plan for Failures

By which I don’t mean plan to fail, but rather examine your project for weak points, problem areas and dependencies that might trip you up.  If you have examined the areas where you think there could be a problem and have contingency plans available to mitigate the risk of failures in these areas, you will feel more in control of your project.

Order, Order

Task sequencing and expected task duration are key to a well-run, successful project plan.  There is absolutely no point engaging the kitchen fitter for Tuesday 10th if the electrician isn’t due to finish the rewiring of the room until Thursday 12th and the plumber won’t finish the pipework until Friday 13th.

By constantly monitoring the project, and the order in which you need or want tasks to happen, you can also see clearly when things start to go off track and take corrective action to bring the project back onto track.  This might involve changing the order in which tasks are completed.  Perhaps prioritising a particular area of the project to ensure it completes to time and does not delay other parts of the project which are dependent upon its successful completion.

Communication

Keeping up to date with everything that is happening on every strand of the project is crucial to success.  Making sure you know if something is delayed, has hit a problem, or is on target to complete more quickly than expected.  Ensuing people have the information they need to solve any problems.  Putting people in touch with each other when their work has dependencies.  Negotiating day to day changes to the project plan to take account of issues arising whilst still ensuring you can deliver the full project to time and budget.

Choose the Right People

Engaging people with the right set of skills to complete tasks well, to time and budget, is a critical element of successful project control.  If you have to re-do an element of the project this will generally take three times as long as planned.  Poor work is done, discovered, undone and then re-done correctly.

Time is money and if you want a task carried out correctly and efficiently then outsourcing the work to an expert is one of the best investments you can make.  It will take them less time, it will be done correctly, and it will be right first time.

Being careful to engage the correct people for the job at the start of a project will help you to bring that project in on time and within budget.  An expert will have a very accurate idea of how long a task will take, what might go wrong, have a plan to control risk, and the skills and resources necessary to complete the task to a high standard.

successful project project support project planning project management

It just so happens that I am rather good at admin and organisational projects.  If you want to see how good, have a look at this blog, and read what others say about my project skills here.

If you do have an admin project you are looking to complete, I would love to chat to you so please do get in touch.  I can take on any size of project from Inboxes that are threatening to explode, through offices that need some organisation to make them work efficiently, all the way up to putting processes and procedures into place to support a business that is looking to scale up.

Delegation:  The Rocket Fuel for your Business

Delegation

The Oxford Dictionary defines delegation as “entrusting of authority to a deputy”

In practice, this means breaking down responsibilities into discrete tasks and allocating those tasks to the most qualified person.  By delegating you ensure the task is done quickly, effectively and correctly.  Most importantly for the small business owner, delegating the tasks you aren’t good at, don’t like or take a long time to do will free your time to complete more of the revenue generating tasks that will move your business forward.

Delegation can be a worry and some people experience barriers to delegation which can feel difficult or even insurmountable.  However, the benefits for your business can be huge if you push through the discomfort and learn to delegate effectively.

Here we are discussing delegation of tasks to outsourced service providers rather than the problems of delegation within a large organisation.  They share some challenges but delegation to outsourced providers arguably has fewer problems because there are fewer, if any, organisational barriers in place.  The small business owner can choose from a range of outsourced providers and pick the one most suitable.  They are not constrained by the pool of talent offered by their department as they would be within a corporate setting.

The 7 most commonly experienced barriers are discussed below.

I like doing the task

Although you love doing it, do you do it quickly, effectively and well?  Can you complete the task in the same timeframe as an expert in that field?  If it is an enjoyable task but one which takes up a lot of your time, can you break down the task, remove and outsource the part that takes a long time, and keep the part of the process you really do enjoy?  This would save you some time, still allow you to gain enjoyment from the task.

I can do it better myself

If you really can, then don’t delegate that.  But if you can’t then it may be you fear the results of handing over the task to someone else in case they don’t do it quite how you would like it.

Getting over this is down to trust, training and communication.  Choose your service provider very carefully.  Be sure that you feel comfortable communicating openly with them about what you need.

Be very clear about what you want the outcome to be.  Communicate clearly about details, deadlines, layout, format etc.  If there is an area you have concerns about, ensure you are particularly clear about your expectations in that area and the reasons why this is important.  Be open to answering questions from your outsourced service provider so they can understand your needs and meet them first time.  A good service provider will welcome feedback as it allows them to complete the task quickly, accurately and effectively.

I can’t explain what I want

Oddly enough, this isn’t always the insurmountable issue that it might seem to be.  Because you are delegating to someone who has expertise in the area, they will also have experience of the problems and pitfalls of what you are trying to do.  This reduces the amount of explanation that is needed.  Take the problem to them.  See what solutions they suggest.   You may be surprised.

I’ve worked with people who have rung me up and said “Help.  I am drowning.  I don’t know what I need, but I know I need help.”  With a few carefully placed questions I’m able to identify a place to start that will make a difference quickly, make some suggestions for medium and long-term solutions we can work toward when time allows, and quickly get them from drowning in the deep end to swimming strongly toward the shallow end where they can sit quietly and catch their breath.

No one can do it the way I like it.

It is very rare that this is true.  It is almost certainly going to be possible to train someone to do things exactly the way you need them to be done.  Take McDonald’s as an example.  They train thousands of people to turn out the exact same burger, in the exact same timescale, cook it for the exact time, for all I know they add the exact same size piece of gherkin (which most people throw into the exact same bin).

Yes, if you like things done a certain way then you may need to spend a little more time training your outsourced service provider initially.  However, just think how brilliant it will be when you can delegate that task and your provider can turn out the equivalent of those burgers within your business day after day, week after week, same level of detail and just how you like it.  At less money per hour than you charge out at.  Meaning you save money every single time they do that task.  How cool would that be?

I have no time to spend on telling someone else how to do this.

See above.  The time invested in training will pay off later.  Also, of course, if you are delegating to an expert, they won’t need to be told how to do the task properly… and they might have some fresh ideas that will save you even more time, and money, as well as making your life simpler.

I don’t know who I can trust.

Ask for recommendations and check reviews and testimonials for the people you’ve had recommended to you.  Most, if not all, outsourced service providers will have testimonials on their website and LinkedIn profile.  Some will have reviews via Google My Business or Facebook. I am very proud of the testimonials I’ve gathered and they are all viewable here.

The testimonials, together with the rest of the website, will give you a great idea about the person, the business, their skill set, the things that drive them to excel and the tasks they have completed for others successfully.

Once you have a shortlist of people whom you think you could work effectively with, get in contact with them and arrange to meet for coffee and a chat.  Meet with several people so you can find the one that you will work most effectively with.  I am always really pleased when a potential client tells me they are looking at several possible VA’s so they can find just the right one.

I can’t afford it

Say you charge out at £75 an hour.  And you decide that you won’t outsource your admin because VA’s are charging out at £25 an hour on average and it’s just admin which you can do yourself.  So you spend on average 7 hours a week on your admin.  A whole day.  That’s £575 a week that you can’t bill for because you are busy doing admin.  You are only working on your paid tasks four days a week.  Or maybe you do your admin on a Sunday so it doesn’t interfere with your billing of work during the week and get grief off your family for doing admin at the weekend.

Even if your VA can’t do the work any faster than you could, delegating those 7 hours to her would cost you £175 for 7 hours work.  Admittedly you’d have one day a week where you billed only £400 a day and not the full £575.  But you would be free to bill for five days work every week and not four days.  Running at full capacity you could potentially make an extra £400 a week after you’ve paid your VA.  Assuming that you take a two week holiday every year, this means that over a full year you would be able to bill a whopping £20,000 extra a year. What could you do with that?  Pay for the two-week holiday?  Change your car every other year?  Private school fees for your children?

The question then becomes, can you afford not to delegate. 

To talk to me about the admin and organisational challenges you are facing in your business and discuss the ways I can support your business growth plans, please click here.

Really Effective Email Management

email management, inbox management, email tips and techniques

Does your email inbox contain every email you have ever received?  Do you struggle with email volume and despair of finding a really effective strategy for managing your ever-growing Inbox?  

Have you started a system of folders to manage your Inbox and then given up in frustration because you can’t remember which file you put things into?  Can you actually find what you are looking for within 30 seconds of starting a search? Or do you spend hours combing through your Inbox looking for that email you were sure you had the other day?

If these scenarios resonate with you then these simple tips will help you to get your Inbox under control and keep it that way.

Unsubscribe from things you never read.  All emails should have an unsubscribe button on them.

Move the things that are informative, and you think you might want to read later, to a separate folder.  You can do this automatically in both Outlook and Gmail by setting up rules for things like company notices and reports from your analytics software.  You can then review the folder you send it to once a week and move anything you want to keep to the correct permanent folder.

Create folders that make sense to you and when your work has been completed on that email, file it in the correct folder right away.  It honestly does save time if you put things where they belong in the first place.

Have an “Action” folder into which you put all the items you need to deal with.  You can then go to that one folder once a day and deal with it all at once, moving the completed emails to their final location in your folder system. You do have to be very disciplined about getting into the habit of checking the folder daily as it can have an element of “out of sight, out of mind” about it.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

Only review your email inbox at set times during the day.  Three times a day is absolutely fine.  If something is “hair on fire urgent”, the client will ring you up.

Use the Getting Things Done approach to guide your initial review.  If the email will take you less than 2 minutes to read and action, just do it there and then.   If it needs a more considered response, flag it or colour code it and deal with it at the time you have set aside for this task every day.  If the email opens up some sort of can of worms or needs a really detailed response, and will be time-consuming to deal with, perhaps taking 20 minutes or more, I usually add the task to my To Do list so that it becomes a task of its own.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

Colour coding and stars are not just for the classroom.  You can colour code emails in both Outlook and Gmail to show the priority you have allocated to them during your initial review.  This allows you to deal with emails quickly and in the right order of priority when you do sit down to tackle them.

Using an agreed colour coding system is also a great way to work collaboratively with a shared inbox so that two people don’t end up answering the same email.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

I like to do a bit of work on my emails after lunch if it fits with my schedule.  Most people have a dip in energy levels after lunch so a spot of routine email answering is a great use of that time.

If you get distracted by those notifications that ping up every time an email comes in, and you find you can’t ignore them, you can disable the notifications entirely or choose settings that work for you.

Email management, email organisation, inbox management

If you have tried these tips and are still struggling, why not outsource your Inbox management?  Whether you need support with routine emails, assistance with streamlining your systems, or a full-scale intervention to bring calm to a chaotic Inbox, there is help at hand.

To access advice and support, and regain control of your wayward Inbox, get in touch for a free consultation.

Time-Efficient Meetings: The Agenda

Agenda, Meeting Agenda, Meeting support, Meeting documents

We have all sat in one of those meetings.  The meeting where you have to pinch yourself to keep awake.  The meeting which takes three hours from your day and you are no wiser at the end than you were at the beginning.   

It doesn’t have to be like that though.  Meetings can be very useful. If they have a purpose, are tightly controlled and ruthlessly keep to the agenda.  You do have an agenda don’t you?  You really should.  And everyone needs to know about it.  It can’t just be in your head.  People need to know what is going to be discussed so that they can arrive properly prepared to make the most of the meeting time.

Time Allocation

time for business; need more time;

Adding a time allocation to each agenda item to guide people as to how much time they have available for each discussion item can be really helpful in keeping meetings strictly within the timescale set for them.  The chairperson usually sets the timings, although they may be guided by the individuals raising the items.  For example, someone might be presenting a new process for the company and their time slot will be dictated by the length of their presentation.

Preparation

The agenda needs to be sent out by the administrator or minute-taker in plenty of time to allow delegates to prepare properly and arrive at the meeting with the correct information to share.  If you have lots of supporting papers, the agenda and papers must go out about a week ahead of the meeting.

Agenda Planning

Sometisupporting documents; paperwork; administration support, agendames you will need to invite a person who has specialist expertise.  If they are only needed to discuss one agenda item, why not consider placing the item first on the agenda and allowing the person to leave after they have presented?  Or just before the coffee break section so that they can leave during the break.

Any Other Business

If you are going to keep the Any Other Business section on the agenda then this part should be particularly tightly controlled by the Chairperson.

This section of the meeting is often abused by delegates who want to raise issues and grievances that would be better dealt with outside the confines of the meeting.

The purpose of Any Other Business is to cover items which arose in the time period between the agenda being sent out and the meeting happening.  Usually, this would be urgent issues or matters that arose which have a direct bearing on one of the items already on the agenda.

One option for keeping the Any Other Business section on the agenda but still ensuring that it remains under strict control is to add an agenda point entitled Proposals for Any Other Business at the start of the meeting, just after the apologies section.  This allows the Chairman to ask whether anyone will wish to raise items in Any Other Business.  Only items raised during this section of the meeting can then be discussed during Any Other Business itself.  The Chairperson can then veto the raising of issues that won’t add to the meeting aims.  It also means that everyone can work out how long the Any Other Business section might take, consider points they might wish to raise during the discussion and feel confident that the meeting will finish on time and not drag on and on.

Administration Support

professional support, note-taking, minute taking, writing, agendaAdministration support can really add value to a meeting. A professional administrator will not only manage and efficiently circulate the agenda, but also manage attendance and assist the Chairperson in keeping the meeting on track by reminding them of timings, asking for clarification of action points and accurately recording all the details necessary to allow delegates to recall and complete their actions effectively during the time following the meeting.

If you are looking for professional support to ensure your meetings stay on track and really deliver value, you can contact me here to discuss your requirements.

If you are looking for further support with running an effective meeting, this blog post should be useful.

Simple Steps to Increase Productivity

increase productivity; simple steps to increase productivity

Filing. 

There, I’ve said it.  In this fourth part of the Getting Things Done series, I’ll be looking at filing.  If you have missed the other three parts of the series, you can read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.

I love filing, something I have been told is more than a bit weird.  Apparently, No One likes filing.  That being the case, I’d rather like to meet this mysterious No One.  I think we’d get on fine.  But I digress.

The Getting Things Done method won’t work as effectively if you don’t have a decent filing system.  Before your eyes glaze over and you run away screaming in horror, can I just say that a filing system really is only a system that works for you, in which stuff that you need to refer to is kept.

Your filing system doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to make sense to you and hold the things you want to find quickly and easily.  Your system will reflect what you do, what you need to keep, and how you like to work.  And that’s fine.  It’s your system.  Design it to work for you.

Designing your file system can sometimes take a little time to get right, but is worth spending that time because a well-designed system that is kept up to date will allow you to lay hands on things when you need them.  The less time spent digging around in the files, the more time you have available for revenue-producing activity.

Key Considerations

key to success; key to admin success

Key things to consider when designing your filing system:

Ease of access.  You shouldn’t have to trek across the office to add something to a commonly used file.  Keep the reference files you use most often closest to you.

Label things in a way that makes sense to you, so you can locate information quickly.

If you are using hard copy files then keep a stock of new file covers close at hand so that if you need to create a new file for something you can do so quickly and easily.  When you finish with the file (or anything else) put it back where it belongs so that it’s always easy to find.  Put the correct documentation into the correct file.

Filing System

filing, file folders, filing processes, filing tips

Don’t make your filing system really complicated.  Follow a naming process, ideally a really simple one.  Always follow the same file naming protocol whether that is client surname, project name, or whatever works for you.  When you are busy you don’t want to be searching around wondering if you filed the Garside Project under G for Garside, P for Project, I for IT, or C because your client’s name is Charles.

File things away regularly.  Ideally, put things away when you’ve finished with them.  As a minimum, tidy stuff up and file things at the end of the day.

If the item you need is in your filing pile rather than the file it will get overlooked, or you will have to spend ten minutes taking the filing pile apart to look for it.

Of course, much of your information will be held in electronic form and the same ideas apply here as for physical paper in terms of labelling and organising things logically for fast retrieval.

Ideally, your electronic filing systems should follow the same labelling plan across all devices and mirror any paper files as well.  That way you can find things, quickly and easily, in every system you own.

Don’t forget your Email System

email, email organisation

Email In-Boxes need to be kept tidy.  It is so much easier to find things if you have a filing system within your Email system and you actually use it.  Again, the labels should echo the labels in the rest of your system so that you have a limited number of places to look for the item you need.

It is very tempting to keep lots of stuff “just in case I need it”.  Sometimes this is exactly the right approach.  Sometimes it is not.  One area where people seem to accumulate far more items than necessary is the Email System.  It can be helpful to look critically at what you are keeping hold of and be realistic about whether you really do need to keep the information.

Sometimes, you can get so overwhelmed with all the things you need to organise that it can be helpful for an outsider to come in and help you to sift through the information and support you in creating a filing and information management system that works well for you.  So, if you want to start the process of increasing your productivity using this method, but are struggling to set up your filing system, get to Inbox Zero, or find time to sort out all the information that needs to be captured and organised, then give me a call.  I’d be happy to support you.  You can contact me here.

Three Steps Will Increase Your Productivity

increase productivity, three steps to increase productivity

This is the third in the series of posts about the organisational methods outlined in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”.  This post examines the importance that review, update and reflection play in the system.  If you missed the previous two posts, you can read them here and here.

When I first started with the Getting Things Done system I had to really force myself to review my lists regularly and to stick to what was in my diary.  You do need to regularly review both in order to make the system work.  No matter how good your system is, if you don’t visit it and reflect on its contents, it won’t be functional.  No diary can ensure you are where you are supposed to be if you don’t actually look at it after all.

Review

review tasks, review lists, listing and reviewing tasksSome people like to review and update the lists daily, having a mini-brain dump/mind sweep session as their last task before finishing work.  Others do it once a week, often on a Friday night, or on a Sunday.

If you find you are adding the same thing to your To Do list each week, or regularly moving a task to a fresh list without dealing with it, then ask yourself why that is.

Is it outside your skill set?  Is it not as urgent as you first thought?  Is it too large a task? Does it need to be broken down a bit to make it manageable?  Do you hate doing the task?  Do you need to outsource it to ensure it gets done?  Do you really need to do it at all, or can it be removed from the list?

By keeping on top of the list, adding to it, reviewing it and reflecting on it, your mind is aware that you have the tasks under control and isn’t wasting energy racing around in circles trying to remind you about things and making you feel stressed.

Once a week, review your list of tasks completed and still to do, and the brain dump list, and make your plan for the week.  Sunday evening is a great time to do this part.  You will hopefully be fresh, rested, have a clear head and be starting to consider the week ahead.  Preparing on Sunday allows you to start on Monday with purpose and know what your goals for the day and week will be.

Keeping the systems up to date and reviewing the tasks regularly takes practice but it can produce some great rewards.

“Do it, Defer it, Delegate it”

delegate, delegate tasks, delegate workDavid Allen suggests using the “Do it, Defer It, Delegate it” approach.

If a task will take less than two minutes to complete you should just do it right away rather than adding it to a list.

If it will take more than two minutes then you should defer it, that is, document it on a list, and, if appropriate, add it to the diary or planner, so that it can be done at the most suitable time.

Finally, for those tasks which are very time-consuming, are not your area of expertise, or you absolutely hate doing, you should delegate the task to someone who has the time and expertise to do it well on your behalf.  If you hate the task then you will either put it off, do it badly, or it will take you much longer than it should.  All of which will have a negative effect on your productivity and impact on your work-life balance.

If the thought of cross-checking and updating that spreadsheet sends you to sleep.  If your paperwork backlog makes you want to poke out your own eyes with frustration.  If you’d rather handle a live snake than fill in those forms, then the answer is simple.  Delegate those tasks.  If you have a task or two that you aren’t that keen on doing, why not get in touch with me here.

Plan to Succeed: Using Lists to Save Time

Brain Dump Lists; Save Time; Succeed

Our lives are so busy now.  Just keeping up with technological change, new ideas, apps and methods can be a full-time job.  We have so many things to juggle on a daily basis and so many calls on our time.  It can be difficult to track it all. Many of us turn to lists to help us to manage everything, but a Brain Dump type list alone is not enough.  You need a system in order to succeed.

A system is exactly what David Allen’s brilliant book, Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1) provides.  It’s a great resource for learning how to list, organise and get a grip on all the various tasks that you have to manage in your life.  This is part two of the series and focuses on the day to day use of the system to achieve better productivity. If you have missed the first part of the series, you can read that here.

For this part of the method, you will need a planner, diary, Filofax or similar.  Paper-based or electronic, it doesn’t matter.  It’s your system and should be designed to fit your needs.

One of the first things to do is to examine your brain dump list and put any time critical tasks into the diary or planner.  Appointments, deadlines, meetings, project goals, insurance due dates, social events and so forth.

Another category that you need to note in the diary is dates by which others must deliver their part of a shared project upon which your own tasks are dependent.  If you can’t start until they have finished, then you need to know when to check the delivery date with them or ask about any changed priorities that might impact on your diary planning.

David Allen suggests that you should use the diary only for the time-critical framework and not place your To Do lists into the diary.  I take this to mean that a time-critical task from my To Do list can go into the diary but the entire list should not.

The diary forms a framework that will be central to keeping you on track and feeling organised. By checking your diary regularly to identify upcoming events and deadlines, you can ensure that you allow enough time to prepare for them.  Working backwards you can place tasks on a list for each day that will move you nearer to the target in your diary.

Next look at the remaining items on your long brain dump list.  Add the most critical tasks to a To Do List for the week.  These will be things you need to do to meet the commitments you put in your diary as well as things which you have decided to complete that week.   The latter will be driven by the larger business goals you’ve set yourself.  If one of your goals is to re-write the copy on your website by 20th March you can break the goal into separate tasks, for example, tackling a page a week, and allocate the tasks to different weeks in your planner between now and the deadline.

By breaking large tasks down into smaller ones with measurable outcomes they feel more manageable. You can feel a sense of satisfaction that you have completed a step on the journey to completing the whole task.  If a task is too large and you don’t break it down then it will feel too difficult and you will put off doing it.

Having a long list of tasks with no real feeling of urgency (beyond that awful feeling of having too much to do and not knowing where to start) can lead to things being missed.   Creating a set of daily To Do Lists works much better as you have a much shorter list to get through, and this feels more manageable, and you are therefore much more likely to actually succeed in completing the items.

Choosing too many tasks for your weekly list leads to feelings of overwhelm which will negatively impact your productivity.  Having only one piece of paper for the list is one way to keep the list manageable.   Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day or week.  Three to four main tasks per day is a good number to choose.  You can always go back to your list for more if you finish quicker than expected.

Small related tasks can be chunked together.  Dealing with related tasks in one go can save time as your brain doesn’t need to switch tracks too sharply.  The brain isn’t great at switching rapidly between disparate tasks and takes a while to get back into the concentration zone.   If you plan your week so that similar tasks are done back to back, you will often get more done.  You could write more than one blog post in a particular session for example.

If, whilst doing a task, you think of something else you need to do, just make a note, and then return to your original task.   This will be less disruptive to your concentration than thinking you will remember the new task and write it down later.   At the end of the day or week, you can then add the various notes to your main brain dump list.

By concentrating on only a short list of things and having all the time critical elements noted in a diary, you have a plan for the week which allows you to calmly progress through your week, regularly referring to your list and planner to ensure that you are always engaged in the task that you should be doing and moving to the next task in a timely manner.

If you find that you still have too many tasks that fall into the critical category and you are not able to fit them all into your day, one option is to delegate some of the tasks.  I will be examining delegation in more detail in a future post and it is often the answer for those time consuming but essential tasks such as data input, research, sourcing images for social media, proof checking and filing.  If your lists include time-consuming admin tasks that you just don’t have the time to do, then just get in touch.  I’d be happy to help you to get it all under control.

Lists: The Key to Productivity

Getting things Done; Lists: Productivity

Keeping track of everything you need or want to do in a reliable and effective system is utterly critical to successfully negotiating a world in which you are bombarded by information from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.  Getting Things Done, both quickly and effectively, has never been more important.

This is the argument which David Allen puts forward in his book Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1).   Getting Things Done is a whole system and I will only be covering some small areas of it.  However, in the book, David himself suggests that if you take only some of the ideas from the book and apply them, then you will improve your productivity.

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the method and if you find them useful then I really do recommend you purchase the book.  There is so much more to the book than the tips I will be sharing with you.

Like all methods, Getting Things Done does have a learning curve and this can make it feel a bit of a challenge to start out with.  Just like the latest productivity app, it does add some time to your day before it takes it away again, but when you have made it your own, it really does work.

The idea is to capture all of the things that you need to act upon or remember, all the things you want to do in future, and any half thought out ideas, in a trusted capture device.  The recommendation is to use a loose-leaf folder or notebook for the capture device.  You could use an electronic tool rather than paper and a pencil, but writing the lists longhand is the recommended method.   Alternatively, you can write each thing on a separate piece of paper.  This has the advantage of allowing you to deal with each item separately, shuffle the paper into themed piles and easily add items to themed lists.

This initial Brain Dump, which I won’t lie to you, does take time to do properly, captures every single thing that is swirling around in your head.  All you have to do is sit down with a notepad and a pen and write down anything that comes into your head, both professional and personal, that either needs doing, or you would like to do.  Even those big goals that you hope to achieve at some point, such as climbing Everest or buying a sports car.    Big ideas and small ones. Even really small things like get a lightbulb for the bathroom or brush the dog.  It doesn’t matter what it is, just dump it all out.  If you find it easier, you can put it onto separate sheets of paper headed things like work, family, goals, house, garden.  Whatever works for you.  It’s your list after all.

Once you have everything captured initially it needs to be organised into sections so that you can find things easily on your lists.  Loose leaf files work well for this reason.

I can hear people grumbling as they read.  “So, you want me to create an immense list of stuff to do?  A list that will mainly remind me of all the stuff I haven’t done?  Have you been sniffing the highlighters again and lost your mind entirely?”

But wait.  I promise it will all make sense in a moment.  Firstly, you won’t need to look at that immense list every day.  Secondly, there is a scientific reason why this process works.

A Russian psychologist, Zeigarnik, discovered that the brain can more easily recall incomplete tasks.  Knowing you will want to finish the task at some point, your brain works hard to keep that information available to you.  Once the task has been done it will breathe a sigh of relief and instantly forget that particular thing.  So, if you have lots of unfinished stuff swirling around your head, then your brain is always cursing and swearing at you, having to hold on to much more information than it was designed to hold.  It will drop some of it because there isn’t room in there for the sheer quantity of stuff that we are exposed to in the digital era.  It will also make you feel stressed, upset and on edge all the time as it constantly tries to remind you of all the things you have left undone.

Later research by Baumeister and Masicampo showed that tasks we have not completed will actively distract us from other activities.  This is why we become less productive if we have a lot of things that we are trying to juggle.  However, they also showed that distraction evaporates once we have noted down a plan for completing the distracting task at a later date.

In short, dumping stuff out of your head brings calm.  Calm allows focus.  And focus enables productivity.

The lists work because they become an external hard drive for your brain. Once your brain realises that it is all written down it can let go of all that stuff that is swirling around in your head making you feel stressed.

For those of you who are already terrified about just how long your list will be, I’ll cover the organisation step in the next post because that part is critical.

Productivity Starts with You

Productivity; Productive; Tips for productivity

Yes. You.  There are all sorts of productivity tools and methods out there but they share a key feature at their heart.  You.  When it comes down to it, the only way you can become more productive is by changing the way you think about and act toward, the things you want to achieve.  So, at the start of a new year, here are ten tips that should help to start you on your way to greater productivity.  

Review your activity regularly.

Can you streamline the task you are doing?  Can you do the task differently, or put the steps in a different order so that you can be more efficient with your time?   Can you automate any steps?   Can any of the routine tasks, or parts of tasks, be outsourced to save you time?

By regularly evaluating what you are doing, and how you are doing it, and making small changes, you can improve productivity a little bit at a time.

Baby steps are better than no steps at all

A little bit at a time is a great way to tackle anything.  Baby steps can build into quite a journey if you just keep going.  This is particularly valuable if the task is large or one that you are not looking forward to.  Breaking a larger task down into smaller chunks and taking steps to complete each small chunk, one by one, gives a sense of achievement.  Also, if you have lots of small things on your list and you get through several of them, you do feel productive.  Feeling productive will encourage you to be productive.

Just get started on something.  If you are really stuck, just start on the thing that you know you can do well that day.  Even if that thing is tidying up the office.    Oddly, I have been known to have my best ideas when I’ve stopped trying to force them and just had a tidy up.  Some new idea will be triggered, you will get your motivation back, and you will be off again.

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.” – Henry Ford

Motivation and having a positive mindset are key parts of productivity.  Believing that what you are about to tackle is not only possible but that you will smash it, is critical.  It is hugely helpful to surround yourself with positive people who motivate, challenge and support you.  When you are struggling (and no one can be super positive all the time) having people there who are supportive and positive can be hugely beneficial in getting you back on track and allowing you to believe that you can do the task you have set out to achieve.

If you find yourself feeling negative toward your task then it’s time to put that task away and work on something that you do feel positive about.  Go back to the difficult task on another day when you are feeling more positive about the work and you will probably find that it moves forward more quickly.

Say No more often.

That might seem odd, but it works.  There are only so many hours in the day and you can’t do everything.  If the task must be done but you don’t have time, then delegate it.  If the task is not important enough to actually delegate, consider whether you should just say No.   If you concentrate only on the tasks that will move you toward your goal, and say no to the things that will not contribute to the goal or will move you further from it, you can become more productive.

Consider tasks in the light of your goals each time and take on those that you really feel have value.  Reject or delegate tasks that will affect your work life balance because getting that right is also a key part of productivity.

Get some sleep, have some downtime

You can’t be productive if you are exhausted, stressed by all the calls on your time, starting to hate your job or business because you are spending too much time in it, and have lost sight of why you are doing what you do.  Motivation will hit rock bottom if you are tired and if you do nothing all day and all night other than work.

You will be more productive if you switch off for a while each day.  Whether you exercise, veg out in front of the television, pursue a hobby, read or meditate, whatever works for you.  But do something different.  You will get a perspective on your tasks and be more productive as a result.

Deadlines

If you don’t have an externally provided deadline, then create one.  Whether you are the sort of person who leaves the work to just before the deadline, or one who takes pride in submitting work well in advance of the deadline, it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is to set deadlines so that you have to complete work by a particular time or date.  If you don’t, the work just expands to fill the available time and you end up doing busy work that doesn’t contribute to the outcome.

Organise your day into chunks, fit tasks into time slots, and stick to those.  It really does help to make you more productive.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Don’t multi-task.  Please.  Just don’t.  Most people don’t benefit from it and there is scientific evidence to suggest that it actually reduces productivity.  It is much more productive to really focus on one thing at a time.

One way to do this is the Pomodoro Technique, which has you completely focus on a task for a set time, usually 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break.  Do four of these task focus sessions, with the 5 minute break between, and then have a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.  Rinse and repeat.

Keep your To Do List short

There are few things more stressful than a massive To Do list.  You will spend much of the day panicking about how much you still have left to do on the list.  This panic will affect your productivity because in the back of your mind you are always thinking of the next task and this affects your focus.

It is better to be realistic, have only three or four main tasks on your list and get those done.  You can also add a few small tasks that need very little focus and can slot those in between the larger tasks.  This can be helpful in giving your mind a bit of a rest before you tackle the next larger task.   Things like answering Emails, making routine calls and setting up appointments would all count as smaller tasks.

By keeping your list realistic you can focus fully on each task on your list and you will complete them successfully because of this.

Notice what wastes your time

And take steps to corral those things into a set timescale so that they cannot take over your day.  For me, it is Social Media.  I have three set times each day when I look at it.  I’ve banned myself from looking at it at any other time because otherwise I’d be reading interesting articles and adding new and exciting ideas to my “Investigate This Further” list for rather longer than planned.

Disorganisation and mess are the enemies of productivity

I’m not advocating a sterile, clear desk that contains only a beautiful mug, a flower and one, beautifully clean, laptop.  I am not sure I’ve ever owned a desk that had a flower on it, and most of my mugs are well loved and not a candidate for one of those fancy flat lay photos that seem to suggest we all work on clear desks, in really large, light rooms, and make fancy patterns on our coffee every time we go to the kitchen for a brew.

If you saw my desk you would know it was a place of work.  However, I know where everything is.   The things I need to lay my hands on quickly are right where I need them.  My filing system yields up its information quickly and effectively.  I seldom need to spend much time looking for things.

You can be so much more productive in an organised environment.  If you are surrounded by an environment which you feel is not organised then you will feel less organised.  You will be distracted by the need to put something away, move something out of the way, or search for something that you were sure you had last week.

It can be useful to set aside time to tidy the desk or workspace on a Friday before you leave work.  When you get to your desk on Monday you have a tidy and organised environment which will set the tone for a productive and effective week.

Next Steps

Task delegation was mentioned earlier in the article and it really can make a difference to productivity as it is the best way to free up more time for you, more time for you to concentrate on your business and more time to achieve your goals.  If you are struggling with your productivity and your admin is taking over your life, then let’s have a chat.

I can take your admin tasks and make them run smoothly, so you don’t feel you want to run away from them.  Leaving you free to be really productive in the areas that will most benefit your business.  Still not sure?  Why not see the difference my support has made to other businesses here.

Choosing a Voice Recorder for your Business

Voice Recorder; transcription;

Some of you will recall analogue Dictaphones.  The tapes would jam, snarl up and stretch from repeated use.  The sound quality was variable.  The recording time was limited and it was all too easy to accidentally wipe a tape by pressing the wrong button.  But times change.  The new breed of digital voice recorders are a huge improvement on the old analogue systems.  A modern voice recorder is an incredibly useful tool in the modern office with a wide range of practical applications across several sectors.

Can’t I just use my Smart Phone?

Most smartphones have a voice recorder on them.  These are perfect for practicing presentations, creating reminder type messages that you can listen back to, and also great for recording 2am thoughts that you can later note down and expand upon.  We often have our best ideas when we are out and about, just about to fall asleep, or following a really great discussion (whether at networking or in the local pub).  As most of us have our mobile phones with us all the time, they are great for this kind of off-the-cuff verbal note-taking.   Voice recording apps aren’t really designed for heavy-duty use but if you aren’t going to use the voice recorder for lengthy tasks and won’t need to transcribe your information very often then your smartphone may well be adequate for your needs.  Some smartphone apps do allow you to send the file to your transcriptionist via Email.  If this is something you intend to do, even if only occasionally, then it is worth checking that your chosen app will allow you to do this quickly and easily.  You should also check that your chosen transcriptionist can transcribe the file type on their system.  I use a system that will work with many, though not all, file types.  A good choice is an app which saves to MP3, MP4, or WAV format.  These work well with most transcription systems.

Dedicated Recorders and how to choose one.

If you want to use your voice recorder more effectively in your business, and really harness the advantages which they can bring, then a dedicated machine is best.  These machines have better sound quality, making the recordings clearer and allowing your Virtual Assistant to transcribe the information much more accurately.  Higher quality machines can also minimise background noise.  This is particularly important if you intend to use it for focus groups or interviews.

Consider the battery life if you are planning to use the machine a lot.  Some machines have a battery life of 48 hours which should be more than sufficient.  However, it is worth choosing a machine that takes standard batteries as it will be easy to carry a spare with you.  It will also be straightforward to purchase a replacement battery if you do forget the spare.

It is also important to consider the file format.  As with the voice recorders mentioned earlier, MP3, MP4 and WAV are popular formats which all transcriptionists should be able to work with.

The machine needs to sit nicely in your hand, not being too heavy, bulky or unwieldy.  It should have one press record and be easy to pause, replay and stop.  Some machines are voice activated which is a nice feature if you use it for interviews or meetings.  You can also get machines that will playback at variable speed, though if you are planning to send out your dictation, your Virtual Assistant’s system will allow for this so it is not necessary for you to choose that option unless you want it for your own playback purposes.

Some of the more expensive devices produce incredibly clear sound and have directional microphones which will record simulated 3D sound.  However, unless you are using your system for a very specialised activity which really requires that level of clarity, a mid-range machine should be absolutely fine.  It is worth taking into account the amount of storage which the advanced directional systems use.  This will reduce recording time.  You need to balance the need for accuracy against the available recording time and purchase your machine accordingly.

Recording time is related to memory capacity on a digital system.  The more memory the machine has, the longer it will be able to record for.   If you think you may need more memory at a later stage, then it would be worth looking at devices which have Micro SD slots so that you can add cards to extend the memory at a later stage.

When you are ready for the files to be transcribed, they can be sent via Email to your Virtual Assistant.  Alternatively, you can upload them to a shared cloud storage area and let your Virtual Assistant access the files from there.  I am happy to receive files via either method.   You can see more details about my transcription services here and can get in touch with me here to discuss your transcription task and book it into my diary for accurate completion.