helpgrowchange

3 Ways to initiate change

I’ve written a number of articles trying to pass on the message that you can change your world. You can make your own changes in your life to better your job, your family, or simply… you.

You’ve been thinking about making a change. But you don’t know where to start. Do I start a new hobby? Should I try change my team structure? What will happen if I say no when asked to do something?

After re-reading some of the articles and some thoughtful feedback from my wingman (ie my wife), it has become evident that I often don’t mention how. Let me remedy that right now.

When you want to initiate change, there are 3 is simple rules to remember:

  1. DECIDE
  2. TRY
  3. LEARN

Decide

The first thing that needs to happen before any action happens is to make a decision to do it. We have to be willing to take that first step. We have to be willing to take a risk. We have to be open to the possibility that this might just fail. We might fall far short of what we dreamed and planned. In the same breath, we might surprise ourselves. We might far exceed our expectations. We might just make it happen.

Decide on a new hobby. Decide on a possible new team structure. Decide on whether you are going to say ‘no’.

We choose change by making decisions. The magic begins with the decision to at least give it a go. We have to try.

Try

Action must be taken on the decisions we make. We simply just don’t know what will happen when we try. Good or bad, the truth of the matter will only appear once we attempt to make the changes necessary. The attempts don’t have to be big either. I’m suggesting that you make small ones.

Like starting one little bit of your new hobby, or reviewing the team structure with peers or the team, or saying ‘no’ when you can’t take on a new task.

What happens next is just as important. Whatever the outcome of our actions from decisions, we must learn from them.

Learn

There is no point in trying out our decisions if we are not willing to learn from the outcomes. That is like hitting your head against the wall and hoping the next time won’t hurt.

Enjoyed the introduction to your hobby? Make the decision to explore some more. Didn’t enjoy it? Ditch it and make the decision to try something else.

The review of the team structure didn’t go so well? No problem, now you know what the team really wants.

What happened when you said ‘no’? The person maybe said ‘ok’, and carried on their path. Or they asked ‘why’, and a more fruitful conversation evolved about your workload.

I seem to have oversimplified how you can initiate change, but I fully believe it is as simple as this. Make the decision, try the decision, learn from the experience.

[Featured image: Sylwia Bartyzel]

Productivity Tip #1 – Make Time To Manage Time

Your task list is piling high. You barely have enough time to finish what you are meant to do (or not finish at all). Your boss is breathing down your neck for that report you were meant to finish last week. And your team is waiting for you approve their leave request.

Eventually it gets too much. You throw up your arms in exasperation! You know you have to find a way to manage your workload. Surely there must be a better way in order to get through your tasks.

I hear you – I felt like this before. I was busy all day every day, but when I got home at night, I didn’t feel like I had achieved anything. There was so much I was busy with, I didn’t know my left hand from my right. Emails, Incidents, Requests, Projects, further pressure from my management, it just never seemed to end. Sometimes, I would even need to work late into the night (many nights actually) in order to simply stay afloat in an ocean of workload.

I knew I had to do something about this, as working like that is simply not healthy. I started to read anything I could about productivity and time management. There was a plethora of information and many great tips, but one thing got to me – I didn’t have time to implement any of the advice. I would ask myself questions like ‘How the hell am I supposed to do this stuff when I am so busy with everything else’, or ‘These people make it sound so easy, that will never work for me’.

These were just excuses, though. I was just too lazy to try something new. I was comfortable in what I knew, and it looked like way too much effort to try these new tips. I also felt that some of the advice seemed a bit too generic, and would never work for me.

Despite my doubts, I tried the suggestions. Some worked, most failed. I discovered that not all advice worked for me. I found that I had to combine many different techniques in order to find what worked. And so should you. Even this advice I’m giving you right now should be taken with a pinch of salt, as it might not even be right for what you are looking for. But what if it is – you have to try.

No matter what you try in order to be more productive, you have to make the time to change.

Something has to give in order for you to have a better tomorrow. You must sacrifice some task completion now in order to ensure the better management of all your tasks going forward. It is going to be hard. You will not get to be the super-productive-ninja overnight. There is no magic wand to clear all the tasks away. It takes a lot of time, consistency, and many boring repetitions.

Having no time is not an excuse to hamper your future productiveness.

If you want to manage your workload better, the first item on your to-do list is to schedule the time in order to form your new productive habit. That habit will require conscious effort in order to be maintained. And after a while you will be doing it on auto. At that point, you schedule time to improve the next thing.

Some tips I’ve learnt over the years are;

  1. Make time to implement a new productive habit (whatever habit works for you).
  2. Implement only one new habit at a time. Having too many new habits will not allow you to apply the amount of focus needed to effectively form the new habit.
  3. Be vigilant. Your new habit will not be in place one, two, or even ten days. It’s going to take a while. That ‘while’ varies for different people. I believe that when you are performing your habit on auto more times than you have to think about it, then it’s comfortable enough to form a new one.

Read up more about my productivity methods in the Productivity Section

Having some problems implementing your productivity habit? Ask me a question, and I will try my best to help out with it.

[Featured image: Sonja Langford]

How To Focus And Churn Through Tasks Faster

You have a million tasks to get through. Many of them high priority, many of them not. Some of them quick and easy, others are most definitely not. You sit and ask yourself “Where the hell do I start?”.

So you pick a task, and start working on it. After a number of minutes, an email comes into your inbox. You have a look at it, and start working on that email. As you’re working on this new email, you have a thought about something else, and open up your browser to investigate further. You carry on like this for a while and before you know it, it’s been a couple of hours, you’ve been busy, but none of the tasks you started have been completed.

Does this sound familiar? It should. Most of us work this way every single day. We work work work, but don’t actually get anywhere. There is a way to work smarter, not harder. A way to start – and complete – tasks like a machine.

And that is by using focus periods to complete tasks.

In it’s simplest form, these focus periods are chunks of time that you set aside to complete a task, or set of tasks, that you have prioritised to be completed. You focus on the task, and only that task. No reading of email, no going off on a tangent when your thoughts wonder. Only. The. Task. At. Hand.

I recently discovered this method through my research for more effective productivity, and came across the Pomodoro Technique as well as a few similar concepts. The Pomodoro Technique is comprised of strict 25 minute sessions (or pomodoros), 5 minute breaks in between, and a 20 minute break every fourth pomodoro. However, in my daily schedule, this simply does not work. In turn, the method I use is a hybrid of the Pomodoro Technique, whereby I’ve adjusted the lengths of the focus periods slightly.

I personally find 25 minutes per focus period is just too short to accomplish any decent tasks. In turn, I use 35 minute chunks. I’m also not as strict on the breaks, as there isn’t a long enough period where I’m at my desk for a given length of time – either through meetings or assisting my team.

In summary, this is how I churn through my tasks. I’ve found a huge increase in my productivity since using this method. And I sure hope you can too.

  1. Specify a task, or tasks, you wish to complete in the focus period.
  2. Start the timer.
  3. Complete the tasks.
  4. Don’t get distracted by thoughts or emails
  5. NO DISTRACTIONS
  6. Have a 5 minute break after the timer has ended.
  7. Repeat as necessary.

TIP: A handy little application that I use for timing the focus periods is Focus Booster.

[image source: Dart by Asif Akbar]

Get Tasks Sorted With These Proven Tactics

In a previous post, I described the 3 core methods I use to manage my email. I described an efficient system I use to manage and file my emails.

However, it is all well and good having a system, but that is all it is – a filing system. In this post I will expand on the foundation previously mentioned, and go over an additional 3 methods I use to efficiently and effectively read, prioritise, and action incoming emails. A lot of things we read about ‘productivity’ tell us to “use this application or that one”. “Use a notepad for your to-do lists”. “You have to use something else to manage your time”.

Stuff that.

I’m a huge fan of keeping things simple. Why use multiple applications and trinkets to achieve something, when one application will do? Email applications – especially Microsoft Outlook – are premium task management suites that contain functionality in order for you to fully optimise your tasks, in addition to the usual email functions.

Right, enough time wasting. Let’s move on to getting stuff done.

1. Read

Read as they arrive

Many productivity tips tell you to only read emails once or twice a day.

Again, Stuff that.

In some industries, it is just not viable to close your email application. Services rely on it, systems rely on it, deadlines rely on it.

For me personally, I hate opening my email after a number of hours (as recommended elsewhere), only to find 20-something unread emails that I need to attend to. My heart sinks, my stress spikes, and it seems like I have too much to do.

A much simpler option is to check when you need to, or after a focus period (I will expand on this in another post).

What I do recommend, though, as a substitute to closing your email completely, is to disable alerts. I don’t have any alerts, but simply check email only when necessary. This can range from a few minutes to half an hour, but never more (unless of course I’m in meetings). Yes, some of our job roles require emails to be attended to as soon as they arrive, but this is rectified as simply as configuring desktop alerts to appear only for those emails required.

TIP: Use your smartphone to check emails during downtime while away from your desk. Read, delete, or file as necessary. This will reduce the amount of reading required when returning to your desk.

Once you’ve read all the email, what next?

2. Prioritise

We have no unread email in our inbox now, wonderful! But how does this help with task management and getting things done? Prioritisation.

Microsoft Outlook has functionality to assign Categories to your emails and tasks. Create a simple list of categories according to priority. I personally use the following four:

  1. !Next
  2. <5 Minutes
  3. A
  4. B

!Next – This means an email is of the highest priority, and needs to be dealt with after your current task.
< 5 Minutes – A task that will take less than 5 minutes. For those times when you have a few minutes to spare.
A and B – Lesser priorities than !Next.

Every, yes every, email must be assigned a priority. Without a priority, how do we know if one email is more important than the next?

TIP: Adjusting the view to show a Category column, will draw attention to the associated priorities of the emails.

Delete anything that you know is not needed. Seriously. Newsletters, notifications, nude pictures. Anything that you know that will not be queried in future. Why clutter your folders with unneeded information?

Archive anything else that does not require your attention. Remember, the objective we’re trying to achieve here is ‘the less you see, the more focus you can give to what is there’.

3. Set a deadline

Wow, our inbox is starting to take shape now. Only email requiring our attention can be seen. We also know which emails are more important than others. But now which one do I attend to first? This is where deadlines need to be set.

Microsoft Outlook has a nice feature whereby we can assign a follow-up date on emails. This is handy, because now we can assign deadlines to our prioritised emails.

Go ahead and do that now.

Sorted

Your inbox should look quite content now. Everything you see should only be emails that need attending to. Every email should have a priority and a deadline. Without deadlines, they’ll never get done.

One other thing I highly recommend, is to keep your email list as short as possible. Preferably to a number short enough so that there is no need to scroll to find emails. The scrollbar is a dangerous thing. If there is a scrollbar, emails will get missed.

By using these methods, I have a constant handle on what tasks I need to do, how important they are, and when they need to be done by. My inbox is my task hub. I’d be dead in the water without it.

3 Ways To Immediately Manage Your Inbox Better

How many emails do you have in your inbox today? 3, 30, 300, 3000? Every day we have to deal with the constant demand of email. Constantly streaming into our account, constantly distracting us from our real tasks at hand. Below are 3 sure-fire methods that I have found to maximise my inbox manageability. I use these methods every day, and truly believe they help me manage my email quicker so that I can get on to bigger and better tasks. Read more »

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