Time Management

Clear your Inner Clutter to Achieve More at Work

Are you constantly searching for ways to become more productive and get more done in less time? Do you look for strategies to organise your e-mails, hold shorter and fewer meetings and get through your piles of paperwork?

And in spite of this, do you still avoid getting down to things and resist doing stuff?

In his book “Inner Productivity” Chris Edgar describes how, even though you know all the “rules” of time management, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings get in the way of applying them, or at least applying them effectively and consistently.

He asserts that time management and organisation strategies usually fail to address the biggest obstacles to productivity – our minds and bodies.

I recently interviewed Chris about his approach to “Inner Productivity” and found that he uses practical techniques to help you focus, relax, stop procrastinating and generally get better results and more satisfaction. The thing that surprised me most is that you can use these techniques where-ever you happen to be. No need to wait to get to the gym or yoga class, no requirement for a quiet private room and an hour to practice meditation, you can tap into your inner productivity while sitting at your desk.

You can put your questions directly to Chris as he’ll be dropping in on the blog to answer them and to respond to comments.

Meanwhile I would love to know what you do that helps you get into the mental and emotional state that allows you to be most productive at work.

Tried and Tested Time Management

A few months back I was listening to a speaker on time management. As he gave very simple and practical tips I saw worldly wise Directors and Executives making more notes than I had seen them making during any of our speaker sessions for a very long time.

The surprise for me wasn’t that they were hungry for help with managing their information overload, ways to balance their lives more effectively or techniques to plan ahead in order to be more productive, but that they weren’t already familiar with these quick tools and techniques.

I know that for some people, having any amount of tools and tips will not be effective until they also address their mind set, including their values and beliefs. But for others it‘s a case of trying lots of different strategies and seeing what works best for them.

Over the years I’ve found a few simple things that work well for me and I use them consistently without even thinking. For example:

  • Each morning I ask myself…if I could only achieve one thing today what would it be? If I could only achieve one more thing what would it be? And so on until I have 3 things. I do the same process at the beginning of the week and the beginning of the month. It makes sure I focus on important things that don’t have a deadline.
  • Just get the file out. This comes from Mark Forster. When I am putting something off, I tell myself, I’ll just get the file out, or just read the spec or whatever the smallest first step is. If I do that and don’t want to do anymore that’s okay. Although invariably I end up saying something like, now I will just make a few notes etc.
  • A “done list!” Much more satisfying than a “to do list” especially for those days when I am doing bits and bats and it feels like I’m not making progress.
  • Schedule important and not urgent tasks into my calendar and commit to them as if they are my most important client. This includes things like self-care, and time with the children as well as work projects. Covey’s “Big rocks!”
  • Ask yourself. Does this task need doing at all? Does it need doing now? Does it need me to do it?

What are your favourite tips, tools and techniques for managing yourself and your time? Whether it’s about managing your emails, planning your day, using technology well, or getting over procrastination, I would love to hear them and will compile them into a free e-book that everyone can use.

Stressed? You’ve got 3 choices

Today I’ve conducted 5 coaching sessions with managers and there is a pattern running through all of them. A feeling of being overwhelmed, stressed and lacking any control over their own destiny. This isn’t surprising given that the managers are from various companies going through redundancies, re-organisations and other major changes.  However, just because it is a normal response to imposed change it doesn’t mean we have to feel helpless. The challenge is to focus on the parts that are within our control rather than waste precious time and energy on things outside it.

Stress happens when there is a mismatch between the demands being placed on us and our perceived resources to meet those demands. When we are not challenged enough we are in danger of rust out (I don’t see as much of that these days) and when the demands are greater than our perceived resources we risk burn out.

According to Ross and Altmaier in “Intervention in Occupational Stress” stress management is a decision making process and there are only 3 choices to make. We can:

Alter it – by changing something in how we approach our work, e.g. problem solving, clearer communication, better planning.

Avoid it – by removing ourselves from the situation or not getting into it in the first place, e.g. walking away, having clear boundaries, saying no, or even leaving the organisation.

Accept it – by building our resilience to it, e.g. self care, support systems, identifying goals and values, and by changing our unhelpful beliefs and perceptions about the situation or ourselves.

Which choices are you making? They may not be ideal, but they are choices, and they are yours.

Effective Coaching…

If coaching is so effective why don’t managers do more of it?

When I run coaching programmes for managers they often arrive “bought in” to the idea of coaching. These days they don’t need convincing of the benefits, they are increasingly likely to have experienced being coached themselves, having read about it, or having received some training.

However, when it comes to the part in the programme where we consider what is going to get in the way of fully transferring and implementing their coaching skills these are some of the barriers that frequently arise:

  • Lack of time
  • Fear of seeming contrived e.g. “Oh I can tell you’ve just been on a course”
  • Lack of confidence in skills
  • Lack of organisational support  i.e. organisation rewards results over time spent developing staff
  • Feeling expertise/status under threat. Due to asking questions rather than giving answers
  • Fear that team members won’t accept coaching
  • Lack of opportunity to coach, especially in geographically dispersed teams

If you are aware of similar issues slowing you down or standing in the way of coaching your staff more often this may help.

Many of the barriers, e.g. lack of time, lack of opportunity, lack of confidence, stem from a belief that coaching is only really coaching when it is formal, structured, diarised and lasts an hour. That just isn’t the case. Every interaction is a coaching opportunity and a chance to develop your skills and confidence.

This approach also deals with the fears about people rejecting the coaching approach or feeling it is “being done to them” as a result of your attendance on a course.  You can choose to take a quiet, incremental approach to implementing coaching. For example, setting yourself a target to practice active listening in situations you know you find difficult for one week. You might follow this by focusing on asking effective questions where you would normally issue instructions, for a week. These small action steps taken consciously and consistently would effectively develop and sustain your skills and be unlikely to lead to objections from your team members. Who would object to being listened to well and asked for their thoughts, ideas and suggestions?

So, while other blocks to implementation may be more complex, if you consciously choose to look at each conversation as an opportunity for coaching, keep it front of mind, and recognise that 3 minutes of quality listening can be far more effective than a longer period of on/off listening you will overcome these barriers, and develop and sustain the coaching approach that you already know is such an effective part of your management toolkit.

I would love to hear more about what might be getting in the way of coaching your staff and what strategies you have found that work well for you.