Never Check E-mail in the Morning
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and Other Unexpected Strategies for Making your Work Life Work by Julie Morgenstern- Ms. Morgenstern was a professional organizer for 17 years at the point she wrote this book.
Throughout the book, there are "grab-and-go" strategies that can be employed to help attain the overall goal of the competency being discussed. These are marked "GNG" in the text.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Self-Assessment
- 3 1. Embrace your Life-Work Balance
- 4 2. Develop an Entrepreneurial Mind Set
- 5 3. Choose the Most Important Tasks
- 6 4. Create Time to Get Things Done
- 7 5. Control the Nibblers
- 8 6. Organize at the Speed of Change
- 9 7. Master Delegation
- 10 8. Work Well with Others
- 11 9. Leverage your Value
As a prototype of the problems this book addresses, we are introduced to Rita, a highly motivated productive worker at first, who after a few years become mired in endless to do lists, minutiae, and other distractions that don't build on her strengths. She is left exhausted, working long hours, and feeling that she cannot accomplish anything anymore.
The goal is to put work back in perspective so you are appreciated, in control, successful, and in balance. The solution revolves around 9 competencies found in each of the books chapters; each is a separate skill to be developed individually.
A series of anecdotes drawn from real life experiences (such as Rita, above) are sprinkled in boxes through the book.
Employees come in three tiers in a proportion something like 20 60 20- keepers, normal workers, and the "pathological" (summarizer's term). Where are you on the scale? A brief quiz summarizes how well you are doing on an organizational axis.
1. Embrace your Life-Work Balance
The author relates some statistics that show that American's work harder than those in other countries, and offers anecdotes about her client that show that many simply do not spend enough time or energy outside of work. She feels that developing a working balance is often a prerequisite for making progress the other skills. Particularly important are: physical health (make time for exercise an your doctor's appointments!), escape (make sure you do something that you enjoy to reset your attitude), and people (stay connected and positive in your relations with others.)
GNG #1 Let go and grab hold
Only by putting a bit of distance between yourself and work can you rebuild your energy and understand what you need to do.
She recommends tracking your time to see what you are actually giving short shrift. If you are more comfortable at work than at play, work hard to break out of that trap. Work to prioritize your work life and let go of things you can, delegate them, and schedule time to leave. Furthermore, schedule your home life a bit too, to make yourself play and enjoy more. Start your evening and weekends with a self-renewal activity.
GNG Focus on Physical Health, Escape, and People
Schedule these things- keep track of your energy cycles, and in particular schedule those escapes that you need in order to perservere!
GNG Analyze and Break Through
What are the things that are preventing you from achieving these PEP objectives? You probably CAN leave work on time, etc., if you just understand where your head is at, and overcome your limitations.
2. Develop an Entrepreneurial Mind Set
You own your own career. Do not cede control of it to others, but consider in this dynamic world how you should be taking control of it for yourself: don't become a victim. Having a "sense of choice" can make you feel more empowered and optimistic on the job. Moreover, projecting yourself as victimized and unhappy is a real "turn-off" to your employer and business. It's often very unhelpful to reveal this side of yourself. Study and develop knowledge. Examine the big picture: you probably bring more talents to the job than you think. Sometimes you will have to reorganize yourself and your position to address new opportunities, roles, or limitations. Your vision can be your own, and/or be aligned with the organization's vision.
GNG Don't be a victim
Find the things that make your work life meaningful and pursue them. Take ownership of your life.
GNG Cultivate your value
Examine your value to the enterprise and strive to increase it. Build on your skills.
GNG Trust your Truth
Make sure your value matches what you think!
Develop a personal vision for where you are going, and articulate it with the organizational vision.
3. Choose the Most Important Tasks
GNG: Dance close to the revenue line.
Basically, there are some activities that are closer to the "revenue line" of your organization. Do those things first: or at least make sure you get to them.
GNG Capture all your todos in one place
If don't have your tasks captured in one place, it will be very difficult to prioritize them against each other. Moreover, you will find yourself straining to remember them if they aren't captured. Some hints on how best to fit this in to your own modus operandi and organizations are also discussed.
GNG Prioritize from the Top Down
Do the essential first! Don't fill in with a bunch of little things that don't really need to get done. First things first!
GNG Remember the 3 Qs and the 4 Ds
- How long will it take?
The author actually writes down the estimated amount of time so that the day can be filled with the right amount of work.
- What is the return on investment?
What is closest to the revenue line? Does it really matter? The author actually uses high medium and low.
- When is the due date?
An actual date. It's often best to work on the task that is closet to the deadline.
What's the worst that can happen if I don't do it?
Sometimes you need to delay until a time when you are better able to fulfill the requirements, for example concentration and time might be required.
If someone else can do it better, faster, or even well enough, give it to them!
Use templates or simplifications to get through work faster. For example, read a clipping service or only the abstracts.
As an example, the author filled in a table with the the three Q's, and came up with a plan. It got busted, but by reviewing her todo list and applying the 4 D's, she managed to pull through.
4. Create Time to Get Things Done
We start the chapter with the example of Francine, who is on probation for not doing her strategic work because she is consumed by low level tactical work, like copy editing, that it seems simply cannot be delayed.
Basically, we all have both short term tasks and long term tasks that we need to perform; when we fail to make time for the long term tasks we will probably regret it.
GNG Avoid Email for the First Hour of the Day
Email is a bag of instantaneous distractions that will inevitably scatter your brain. When you are doing extended creative work, find a time when you can turn it off and really create. Focus on your most critical task. If possible decide the night before so you are primed to dive in promptly. Frequently this approach can give you a feeling of accomplishment that will follow you through the whole day. Some more hints:
- Turn your email alarm off- process your email in sprints
- Process all of your email completely during those sprints
- Say what you need on the subject line
- Start longer emails by telling the reader what you need from them
- Stick to one or two points per email
- Use template responses
- Don't send everything to everybody
One way to deal with email is that it should be for the routine, not for the emergency; that's where the phone comes in.
GNG Pay Attention to your natural energy cycles
Matching your work to the energy cycles of your day can optimize your productivity. Sometimes this is a daily cycle, sometimes longer, but building in these expectations can make you more productive.
GNG Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking makes you stupid. Not only when you are doing it, but afterwords too! It needs to be avoided if possible, since getting in to a new task can take approximately 15 minutes. Many switches a day are disastrous to productivity.
You should strive to be able to focus for an hour at a time, and ask yourself not "what can I start," but "what can I finish."
GNG Stretch Time by Planning
"One of the primary causes of multitasking is worry."
- Group similar tasks:
Do similar things at the same time. Follow a daily pattern if that is possible. It can be helpful to have a transition ritual, to be consistent, and to train those around you what they should expect. Some offices even institutionalize a company wide quiet hour. Schedule your time so you are energized: take a walk, stretch, snack, etc.
5. Control the Nibblers
Nibblers are distractions that reduce productivity.
can of course drag your time out of you
GNG Shorten your work day
Shorten you day, and your priorities will become clarified. Your time is rare, and you will use it more efficiently.
GNG Be a perfectionist only where you need to be
Gauge what needs to be done when for each project, give yourself a finite amount of time, and produce. When you have a task which you tend to obsess over, delegate it.
GNG Do not make tasks monolithic and threatening
One frequent problem is viewing tasks such that they are so frightening that they will never be properly attacked: one will procrastinate. Some tools to use against procrastination are
- Break the task into small chunks
- Force yourself to get started: set a timer, do a rough rough draft, set a time limit.
Try to release the pressure on yourself that is making it difficult to get started.
GNG Expect the unexpected
First, try doing a census of your interruptions, including, who, how long, and importance. Some hints: give people an amount of time, and then cut them off when the time is up. Make a short list of people who are allowed to interrupt you any time, and put the rest off to later. Get a few catchphrases to put people off. Hold people accountable for the amount of time they are taking from you, and treat it as a scheduled event. Begin each conversation with "what can i do for you", not "how are you."
GNG Make meetings more efficient
Make sure the only the right people come to the meeting, that the meeting is well defined, that action are always generated, that the meetings are concise, and that they couldn't be done by email. A few hints for better meetings:
- Question the value of each meeting
- Question the value of each participant
- Question the length of the meeting
- Control people being late: start the meeting at an odd time, like 1:35
- Create an agenda with no more than 3 items
- Have the meeting standing up
- When someone rambles off topic, defer to another meeting
- Start on time, regardless of who was there-
- Take 15 minute to clarify actions. Follow up.
6. Organize at the Speed of Change
Organizing is vitally important, but quite hard to do, since we seldom seem to have the time to do a good job of it. In this chapter the author gives some tips on quickly getting organized. Although a full 24 hours or more of organizing might be what we really OUGHT to do, well, get over it, and at least try to apply some of these hints!
GNG Build on the working parts of your system
Usually not all of your system is a disaster. Identify which doesn't work. Here are the areas you might want to consider:
- Paper filing system
- Computer files
- Reference/Reading materials
Also, three categories of problem are identified: you can't find things, others can't find things, and you are out of space.
GNG Map your assets
If others can't find their way around your stuff, label clearly, photograph, and/or create a file index.
Extend systems that already work, or return to systems that used to work. Don't re-invent needlessly!
Anchor your filing system in one place, paper or computer. Don't make it so you have multiple places to look!
If you are using paper, create check-out lists or flags to make it easy to re-file them. Your briefcase should be divided into evanescent and permanent section; you should empty your evanescent section whenever you return from a trip or meeting. Don't carry around hard cover books or thick files, and really don't carry anything unless you have a specific schedule to work on it.
GNG Keep you desktop functional
Divide into working, in, and out areas. If possible keep the working and out areas far apart. You might want to subdivide to avoid having to go through each area periodically: you should try to avoid touching things more than once (at least in the in and out boxes). Completely empty your inbox periodically. Often it is useful to create "transient folders" for your work area arranged by function, for example by person contacted, so you can quickly store and recall information for that person (this might or might not make sense depending on your work flow.)
GNG Continuously disrgard dross
If you're not going to use it, don't keep it! Frequently things like conferences and projects build up huge files that should be trimmed at the end, but aren't. Fix this by creating "auto-save" lists of what you should and should not keep at the end of the conference.
7. Master Delegation
GNG Don't be reliant solely on yourself
We make excuses to not delegate.
"Save the time for what you do best, and delegate the rest." Sometimes people avoid delegating to avoid revealing their own weaknesses.
GNG Delegate to the right person
Ask yourself how often the job will be repeated, and how hard it will be to explain it. Ask yourself if the designee has the skill, the motivation, to succeed? Motivation can be more important than skill!
GNG Delegate Clearly
Make sure the roles and responsibilities are clearly delineated.
GNG Delegate in Chunks
Delegate one thing at a time, at a pace that the delegate can handle, and at which you can evaluate their work. It's painful to be delegated to, but not hear any feedback! "Be clear on the outcome, creative on the path." Some suggestions:
- Give a due date
- Define limits of authority
- Define follow up
GNG Don't give up if the delegated task didn't work
Give it back to the delegatee!
8. Work Well with Others
It's easy to fool yourself about how easy you are to work with. Being easy to work with is not equivalent to being a friend: it's about productivity and efficiency.
GNG Six things to avoid
GNG Watch the status of your relationships
Sometimes you need three sets of scores, one for how you deal with your boss, and one for how you deal with your peers, and one for how you deal with your reports.
Really this is kind of like psychoanalyzing yourself.
GNG Improve your relationships
This section contained many good hints on working well with others. Most of them amount to avoiding the 6 things to avoid.
9. Leverage your Value
Previous chapters were about how you could change your behavior to improve your situation. This chapter is about how to negotiate changes in your situation with the organization.
Before starting any negotiations, be sure you are in the top 20%! Possible issues for negotiation include
If workload is the issue, documenting your current workload in a daily diary, including accomplishments and what has been deferred is probably a tool that can be used to convince your management of how your role might improve with a better set of responsibilities. You might also want to ask for more challenging work, work that is more fullfilling.
- Company Culture
To manage a difference with company culture, earn respect by producing, work with a subculture like your own, and focus on the places where you do fit in with the culture.
It seems inevitable that things will change. Don't look to the past, look to the future. If it is within your power, help build the new structure, don't become a victim to it. This is the opportunity to change your own position!
Build your career, take a long time line, and build yourself into a new position. Make a deal with your employer so that they don't loose anything or risk anything when you make the jump to a new position.
GNG Negotiate your Change
- Tell them what you need
- Ask for their reaction
- Listen as much as you talk
- Keep it about the work
Don't ambush your boss with proposals, but treat it as a business negotiation. Pushing them back on their heels doesn't help your position. Limit the time and topics, be organized (write down the topics), and keep it strightforward.
GNG Be Stoic- or Buddhist- about it
Don't get overemotional. You control your own reaction to things.
GNG Compartment your thoughts
Focus on the things you can change, especially yourself. Don't get involved in issues of ego or pride, you can't win. You must build the solution yourself!
GNG Always keep your work/life balence
Your life is the font from which your energy springs. Be sure to drink from it!