Busyness versus Productivity

jugglerOne of the things that I have noticed in my work with organisations, is that many organisations have what I now call “organisational busyness” – where it becomes almost impossible to get important meetings in diaries, where it is hard to get anyone to commit to anything because they are just too busy to give it any thought, and where people pride themselves and see their value in their busyness. Busyness becomes a cultural norm within an organisation – something to aspire to. But busyness does not equate to productivity; it often acts as an impediment. Here are 7 tell-tale signs which can show you the difference between a busy person and a productive person

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How To Beat Procrastination

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Procrastination describes the process by which we delay starting or completing a task. We know we are doing it when we make the 10th cup of tea in a morning, check our emails yet again, or for us homeworkers – start cleaning the fridge, or sorting out the plumbing. Procrastination is normal, we all do it to some degree, but it can result in loss of productivity, frustration for colleagues and an increase in your stress levels.

Here are 5 top tips for beating procrastination:

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Are You Suffering From Nomophobia?

mobileDo you answer yes to a number of these questions? The chances are you could be suffering from nomophobia – the fear of being out of phone contact:

1. Do you regularly use a mobile phone and spend considerable time on it?
2. Do you have one or more devices and always carry a charger?
3. Do you feel anxious or nervous at the thought of losing your handset or when you can’t use your phone because it has been misplaced, doesn’t have coverage, has a flattened battery or lack of credit?
4. Do you avoid as much as possible places and situations in which you cannot use your mobile phone?
5. Do you constantly look at your phone’s screen to see whether messages or calls have been received?
6. Do you keep your mobile phone switched on 24 hours a day, and sleep with it next to you?
7. Do you prefer to communicate using technology rather than face-to-face?
8. Do you incur debt or great expense from using your mobile phone?

I defy most of us to not answer positively to many of those questions, suggesting that we are suffering from nomophobia.

Nomophobia (named by conflating ‘no mobile’ and ‘phobia’) describes discomfort, anxiety, nervousness or anguish caused by being out of contact with a mobile phone or computer – it is the fear of remaining out of touch with technology.

According to a 2008 survey by the post office more than 13 million British people are suffering from it, which is about 53% of mobile phone users.

Academics are making the argument for the inclusion of nomophobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is currently in its fifth version and is the standard classification of mental disorders in the United States and influential around the world.

But does this really describe a new psychiatric disorder, or does it describe for many of us the reality of living and working in a modern world?

The Helsinki Institute for Information technology has found that, on average, people check their phones 34 times a day. ‘Over dependence’ on our phones and/or other technology doesn’t necessarily describe a new medical condition it could just be a sign that much of our work and social lives are now conducted on our mobile phones.

Yes for some people this anxiety will be very real and disabling, and it’s absolutely essential for them to be seeking professional psychological help to help them manage that anxiety. But for most of us we just need to practice prudence and common sense.

• Keep your work mobile phone and your personal mobile phone separate. That way you can turn off your work mobile phone at night or when you are on holiday.
• Even if you use your mobile phone as an alarm clock, most handsets will allow you to turn off the ring tone but still use it as an alarm clock.
• Very few of us have jobs where we have to be instantly contactable. Let your phone go to voice mail and respond to the call at a more convenient time.
• Turning off your phone means turning it off – not putting it on vibrate. The constant vibration of your phone is just as annoying as the ringing.
• Before sending that text message or making that call, stop and think – do you really need to communicate that message now? Is it essential that your partner knows what you had for lunch, or that your office knows that you are delayed by 5 minutes or that you are ‘just coming into the station’ – or can that news wait until you see them face-to-face?

If you want to cut back on your mobile phone use, then lead by example – cut back on your communication and other people will follow your example. Manage your technology, don’t let it manage you.

For more information:

Bragazzi, N.L., Del Puente, G., (2014) A Proposal for Including Nomophobia in the new DSM. Psychol Res Behav Manag 7 155-160

How To Master Your Email

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Email is one of the technological innovations that has transformed the way that we work. But as with most technology, it can only ever be as useful as we allow it to be. It’s a bit like dog training. Most trainers will tell you that it isn’t the dog that needs training; it is their owner. So this is our attempt to train you to master your emails:

1. Don’t Prevaricate
Don’t allow your emails to become another form of prevarication or distraction. A day spent answering emails is not necessarily a productive day. Limit the amount of time you check your emails, and turn off any visual or audio notification systems. Your emails are there for you to check when you have time to focus on them – they should not be a siren call distracting you from your work.

2. Lead By Example
If you want to limit the number of emails that you are receiving then you need to lead by example, and try and encourage your organisation to develop an email protocol. Be clear and short in your communication. Don’t CC everyone in unless they really need to be copied in. Be clear about why you are sending the email and what response you are looking for. If possible give people a reasonable timeframe to respond in. Give yourself a reminder to check that they have responded.

3. Talk To People
Don’t email someone sat at the next desk or in a neighbouring office when you could just pop your head around the door and ask them a question. Face-to-face contact is good! Some organisations have a regular day when emails are discouraged and people are encouraged to speak to each other instead.

4. Pick Up The Phone
If it is urgent, pick up the phone. Don’t presume that people are going to be seeing your email and responding to it immediately.

5. Don’t Send Emails At Night
Ok, so you are working at 10 o’clock at night – but do you really have to let everyone else know that by sending out emails at that time? Night-time emails do not make you look dedicated and hard working – they make you look disorganised and unprofessional (unless you are working across time zones). Write the emails at this time if you have to – but save in your draft box and send them out during office hours. This is particularly important if you are sending emails to staff you are managing. Don’t encourage a culture of out of hour’s emails.

6. Don’t Send In Haste
Never send an email in haste. If you have any doubt about an email, save it in draft and give yourself 24 hours to think about it. Once that email has been sent there is no getting it back.

7. By Professional
Always presume that your email will be forwarded on to other people. Write your emails in a professional and considered way. Never gossip, or say anything in an email that you wouldn’t stand up in front of a group of your colleagues, clients or customers and say.

8. Don’t Clog Up Inboxes
Try not to send large attachments with your email it just clogs up people’s inboxes. Look at ways of storing the emails in a shared file and sending the link. This is particularly useful if you are asking people to comment on the document – by using a shared file everyone can comment on the same document and you don’t have the nightmare task of version control.

9. Separate Work and Personal Email Accounts
Separate out your work and personal emails. Have different accounts for both. Don’t use your work email address for making personal purchases or signing up to on-line groups and websites. It looks unprofessional. Combining the 2 email accounts also makes it impossible to monitor your personal emails whilst on holiday or at the weekends, without having to check you work emails.

10. Learn To File
Learn how to file your emails and search for them. Use the subject box to give an accurate description of the content. If the focus changes during a long stream of emails then change the subject box.

All common sense stuff, but all stuff that we can forget as we try to cope with the avalanche of emails that come our way. Instead of bemoaning the number of emails you receive, lead by example and show other people how they can send professional, effective, targeted emails that don’t just litter up other people’s inboxes.

How To Get More From Your Working Day

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OK, so here is a $64,000 dollar question: how do you get more from your working day? Here are our WorkGuru Top Tips:

Prioritise, Prioritise, Prioritise
And when you have prioritised: delegate! The ‘trick’ to prioritising is learning to distinguish between your important and your urgent tasks. Important tasks contribute directly to your work goal, and usually have a long-term perspective. Urgent tasks usually demand urgent attention and tend to be dictated by someone else. They have a short-term perspective. Learn to delegate your urgent but not important tasks, and begin to focus on your important not urgent tasks. These are the tasks that will really help you to achieve your goals.

Learn To Say ‘No’
The bottom line is, that you can’t keep squeezing more and more into your day. Something has to give – and usually that something is you. Learn to say ‘no’, even to the things that you would really really love to do but you know that you just wouldn’t be able to do justice to. Saying ‘no’ to new stuff will help you focus and deliver on the things that you are already committed to.

Create Routines
Creating routines helps you to converse energy. Decision making depletes your energy, leaving you less able to focus on the things that are important. Creating routines enables you to cut back on the decisions that you make every day and provides you with the foundation from which to build your working day. Routines help you to be more consistent and effective.

Don’t Multi Task
We have said this before (and I am sure we will say it again) don’t multi task. We all have a finite capacity for paying attention. The amount of attention we have is limited, so we can not effectively focus on more than one thing at a time. Learn to focus on one thing at a time and to batch similar tasks together, saving on energy and keeping yourself focused.

Match Your Task To Your Energy
Another WorkGuru classic – learn to match your tasks to your energy levels. Our energy levels fluctuate during the day – and often during the week. Learn when you are at your most alert and use that time for complex or creative tasks. Learn when you are most depleted and use that time for routine tasks: answering emails or telephone calls. By routinising (I think we might have made that word up!) your tasks to your energy levels you can make the most out of your working day.