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Holidays bring a general air of festivity and a whole list of traditions, fr om office parties to tree-trimming to gift exchanges, fundraisers, and community service opportunities. Then there are more vacation days than usual, plus, for many businesses, a huge rush in work orders and customer service needs. All the festivity can cause a lot of disruption to work getting done.
You don’t want to be a Scrooge, but none of us can afford to be unproductive for weeks even for the holidays. Try these tips to stay festive and stay productive.
1. Stick to your daily routines as much as possible.
When our schedules change, we tend to react to those changes by changing our routines. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but often those routines can help us find our place even in the midst of chaos. When you find your daily schedule getting crowded or interrupted, do your best to stick to your routines, even if you have to adjust them a bit.
The beauty of a good routine is that it doesn’t have to be time-dependent; even if you get a later start or an earlier cut-off time, simply go through your routine at an adjusted time. Shorten it, if needed, or eliminate parts of it, but stick to your basic structure. Keeping your routine in place will help you to get your mind in the work-groove and find your place of productivity.
2. Set a distinct focus and clear goals for the month.
You’ll have to deal with the chaos and change in your schedule during the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s. Plan to do so by giving yourself a very clear focus for work.
You can’t do it all at anytime, and when there’s upheaval due to holiday parties and travel plans it’s even more important to be realistic. Make it easier on yourself to get right back to work by setting realistic and measurable goals. Be specific about what you want to accomplish during this month, so you know what to focus on during work time and can make the most of those hours.
3. Choose the holiday traditions you love; skip the rest.
An abundance of holiday traditions does not mean that you have to participate in all of them. Choose the traditions that you love, the ones that mean something to you. Let the rest go.
You can love the holidays and participate in some festivities, but there’s no reason you have to participate in everything. By making deliberate choices about the traditions you will be part of, you help yourself to make the deliberate choice to focus on work during other times.
4. Have an alternative ready for invitations.
When you’re approached during your work hours with an offer for some sort of holiday festivity, extra break, or treat, have a statement at the ready with an off-work alternative.
The idea isn’t to avoid holiday fun, but to maintain productivity while also taking part in the holidays. So instead of agreeing to an in-office event that will eat up your work hours, make another offer. Say something like, “No thanks, I’m not going to take a break right now, but I’d love to do something after work.”
5. Take care of yourself.
With all the extra food, treats, parties, and festive occasions, it’s easy to let self-care slide. You’ll exercise later, you tell yourself. You’ll catch up on sleep later.
But failing to take care of your basic physical needs, while also expecting your body to handle all that extra fat and sugar and alcohol, is going to slow you down. Get your time in at the gym, and get that sleep you need. Drink plenty of water and eat well whenever you can. Your body will have more energy, your mind will be sharper, and you’ll get more done.
6. Leave yourself clear directions.
Because the holiday season does offer more disruptions and distractions, it’s important to leave yourself clear notes on what you’re doing and where you need to pick up when you get back to work.
Leave yourself detailed notes on open projects. Ins ert all the important information in to your task list. Send yourself emails or voicemails with clear directions on wh ere to pick up work and to remind yourself of what the current priorities are. That sort of “breadcrumb trail” will make it simple and easy for you to jump right back in to work without missing a beat.
7. Party when it’s party time.
Spend your work time on work, but when it’s time to enjoy the holidays, do so without guilt. Our minds need a break from thinking about work, and we come back more productive after a break. Do your best to be effective and productive during work time, but once the holiday party or family festivity begins, join right in and enjoy the time.
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Mornings are magical, and not because of those little marshmallows in your cereal.
They’re magical because they hold an amazing power over the rest of your day. Use your first hour wisely tp set yourself up for an entire day that is productive and enjoyable.
Here are 5 ways to make that first hour count.
1. Start with a Plan
Your day begins better when you know what you want to do with it.
For this to truly work well, though, you don’t start your day by making a plan. You start your day already having a plan.
Make your plan the night before. You can do this in that last half hour of work, when you’re wrapping up for the day.
Or look at your schedule and task list before bed and spend a few minutes mapping out a plan for the next day.
Then, in the morning, in that first hour, spend five minutes reviewing your plan.
2. Feed Your Mind First
Breakfast is great. But food for the body isn’t food for the mind. Feed your mind with something insightful, something profound, something challenging.
Then give yourself a little time to soak it in: meditate for five minutes, or write for five minutes, or just sit and stare out of the window for five minutes.
Life is more than your task list. Fill your mind with some beautiful and good thoughts to carry with you for the rest of the day.
3. Quit Wasting Your Energy
Studies show that, like a muscle, our willpower weakens after much use. It needs time to build energy back up before it is at full strength. Making decision after decision is a quick way to deplete your mental energy.
So what are you doing, first thing in the morning, using up so much willpower on mundane decisions? You decide what you’ll eat for breakfast, and what you will wear, and what you will take for lunch, and which task you will tackle first.
You need to save yourself from wasting willpower on these decisions.
Spend a few minutes the night before setting up for your morning routine: lay out your clothes. Prep your breakfast items. Pack your lunch.
The more automatically you can go through your morning routine, the more energy and willpower you will reserve for the more important tasks that are coming up later.
4. Keep a Wall Around Yourself
The first hour of your day is for you: get ready, go through your morning routine, spend some time feeding your body and your mind.
Reserve your space and your silence in this first hour. Guard your privacy.
In other words, don’t begin with email and social media. Keep your notifications off. Don’t open the inbox. It can wait for another hour.
Use your time to focus and remind yourself of your goals, and get a head start on the important work you want to do. The urgent requests and endless intrusions will flood in later; there’s no need to open that door before you have to.
5. Picture Your Entire Day
This is an ideal exercise for the last few minutes of that first hour.
You’ve gotten physically and mentally ready for the day.
You have reviewed your plan.
You have maintained your space and focused yourself on the next actions.
Now, before you launch into work and face the world, take one minute and write down a sentence. A single sentence, written in past tense, describing your day as you want to live it *as if you already have*.
“Today I wrote the first two chapters of my next book and got in touch with that editor.”
“Today I focused and wrapped up the last tasks of that huge project.”
“Today I stayed positive even around negative people, kept a great mood going, and had fun doing what I love.”
“Today I helped my team work through some issues and kept the discussion open and honest so we could make progress.”
Now, with that sentence in hand, spend a few minutes visualizing yourself doing those things you’ve just described.
Picture the process.
Picture yourself doing that work, making those choices, responding that way, leading or deciding or focusing or accomplishing as you’ve just described. Don’t picture the end result (you’ve already described it in your sentence); picture the actions that get you to the end result.
Research shows that this type of visualization has a powerful effect on helping us to achieve our goals. Wrap up the first hour of the morning with a little power-punch of process visualization, and then go out there and have a great day.
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Social media is all about connection and networking, but it’s also distraction and procrastination in their finest, pixelated forms.
Help your team use social media productively with these tips.
Define the End Goals for Social Media Use
Who’s doing what, and why?
Social media professionals know that without clear goals, social media use becomes a chaotic mess of button-clicking and key-tapping. You have to know what you’re attempting in order to know if you’re getting close.
What are the end goals for social media in your business and for your team?
Define these and you are giving your team members a way to quickly determine if their use of social media is helping to reach those goals.
Discuss Limits for Social Media Use
Defining goals and assigning roles will help your team members know how to use social media in a productive way… that is, in a way that is helping them to reach those goals.
For some, social media use is great for a few minutes in the morning and in the afternoon, for a couple of status updates a day, for a distraction on break time or for those five-minute intervals in between meetings.
For others, social media may require more intensive time and input: a few hours crafting updates, researching analytics, finding or creating great content to share.
Discuss how the over-arching goals - and each person’s role in helping reach those goals - necessitate different limits on social media for each person. Then ask your team members to set their own limits, as appropriate.
Encourage Real Breaks
Taking regular breaks is actually great for productivity. But a ten-minute break of browsing Facebook doesn’t come with the same mental and physical payback of a ten-minute brisk walk outside, or chat and cup of tea with a coworker.
However, our social norms and work environments often surreptitiously encourage the wrong kind of break: the social media, mind-numbing kind. It’s easy to pull up a new tab and idle away five minutes, and no one looks unproductive because they’re still staring at their computers.
But leaving the office to go for a ten-minute walk?
Asking a coworker to step down to the lobby for a cuppa and quick chat?
That’s not easy to “get away with.” You can’t disguise that sort of behavior as real work, the way you can with social media binging.
The answer is to encourage real breaks instead of making your people feel like they need to pull them off on the sly.
Education over Enforcement
You can make all sorts of rules about social media, and some of them might be really great rules. Really effective.
Knowledge is the real power, though, and educating people works a lot better than enforcing rules.
You don’t want to waste time having endless round-table discussions about social media and its effect on our productivity. You do want to help your team understand how social media can be either a powerful tool or a deadly distraction, based on their use.
To help educate your team, you can
share articles, studies, and data
ask for their own insight and experience
talk about apps and extensions that streamline social media
set up reminders of social media goals
continue to encourage real breaks
call in a professional to teach techniques for social media use
find the expert on your team and ask for help.
The Habit of Asking
One small but powerful habit can help your team more than anything else. It’s a simple question that each person asks and then answers:
“What am I doing right now?”
It’s the question to ask anytime someone wakes up mindlessly surfing the Internet, scrolling through Facebook, lost in Reddit or Twitter. It’s the question to ask when one project or task is over and people are hanging out in that dangerous dead space before the next project begins.
“What am I doing right now?” is a simple but powerful question when asked and then answered, immediately and honestly.
“I’m looking at pictures of other people’s lives.”
“I’m reading stupid articles about celebrities.”
“I’m searching for a good joke to share.”
“I’m trying out photo filters.”
“I’m trying to think of a clever status update.”
When your people learn to ask and answer that question, they can’t ignore what they’re doing. Or not doing.
In some cases, what they are doing is perfectly legitimate, and they can feel good about that:
“I’m posting my daily update to our company Facebook page.”
“I’m sharing news from the conference I attended.”
“I’m live-tweeting this event.”
“I’m editing product photos.”
“I’m finding great content to share with our followers.”
When you and your whole team know what the social media goals are and get in the habit of thinking about how to use social media well, you get productive social media use.
That’s an update worth sharing.
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Email has become one of the biggest detriments to productivity.
Your team members are spending 28% of their workweek dealing with email: reading it, responding to it, processing it. In other words, an entire day of a five-day workweek is spent on email.
Is email really that important?
Of course, email provides convenience. We can communicate across the globe instantly. When email becomes an overload of unnecessary communication, however, the burden outweighs the benefit.
Check Yourself First
Start by making sure you’re part of the solution, not the problem.
If you like to communicate by email about everything…
If you like to use group emails to discuss projects, tasks, clients, and the company holiday party…
If you keep multiple email threads going with multiple employees every day…
If you expect immediate replies to your emails…
…then you might be part of the problem.
If you have trained your employees that they must be immediately responsive to every email you send, guess what? You’ve trained them that they have to be immediately responsive to every email that everyone sends.
That sort of email obsessiveness will keep your people fr om doing the real work.
Start by changing your own email usage. Lim it the emails you send. Do email in batches instead of in a continual stream all day long. And include a timeline for responses: “Please respond by end of day,” or “Please let me know by next week,” or “Please respond within the hour.”
Your attitude toward email will help your people to feel free to use their own time wisely as well, instead of hopping and twitching every time their email notification dings.
Try Email-Free Times
Let your team members know that they are free to ignore email most of the time.
Our digital inboxes reduce productivity by dinging us with distractions. We get focused, head-down, on a project, and the beep or buzz or ding rips us away from it.
No matter how unimportant the email itself is, the energy and focus lost to dealing with that incoming buzz can totally derail productivity.
Encourage your employees to have email-free times to work: they can turn off notifications, shut down the email tab, and focus without any worries about what is appearing in their inboxes.
Instead of responding to email whenever that ding happens, they can focus fully on the task at hand, knowing that they are free to respond to email in their own time.
Batch Process for Email
Batch processing is the simple practice of doing a batch of similar tasks together, and it allows us to do those tasks in a more streamlined method and with more efficient results.
Email works really well in a batch processing method. Encourage everyone to choose a couple of times each day - perhaps once in the morning and once later in the afternoon - to read, answer, and otherwise process emails. This practice enables them to tackle an inbox with a batch processing approach, and work through a stack of emails in an efficient way.
Back Your Team Up
Let your team know that you will back them up with demanding clients.
If your team is working with clients who expect instant responses to email, let your people know that you stand with them in a saner approach to the inbox.
Remind them that they can stick to their productive email practices, such as email-free times and batch processing. Take a proactive approach: many times demanding clients will be much more understanding if they know what to expect and why.
Use targeted subject lines, especially for in-house communication, so that no one has to dig through a paragraph of email body to figure out what’s going on.
Encourage the people on your team to be brief and clear in their emails. They should ask for specific responses and name timelines when appropriate (*Please respond by tomorrow, I need this information by next Monday)*.
Using email productively is a matter of establishing good team habits. The more you educate and encourage productive email use, the better you and your team will be at it.
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You know that feeling at the end of the day, when you’ve worked and worked and have nothing solid to show for it?
Let’s get rid of that feeling.
Here are seven simple but powerful techniques to help you stay on track, focused, and organized at work.
1. Limit Your To-Do List
An overwhelming amount of tasks waiting for you has a negative effect on your productivity. It tends to, well, be overwhelming.
We see the whole long list as one big, intimidating project, and it’s difficult to get started on something intimidating. So rather than produce, we procrastinate. We’re overwhelmed and intimidated by the volume and confusion, so we shy away fr om dealing with it.
Severely limit the size and scope of your daily task list. Focus on one to three important things per day. Allow minor tasks to fill the in-between times, and don’t worry about the rest.
2. Work in Time Segments and Take Breaks
You can find a dozen suggestions for the optimum “time segment” you should work.
It really doesn’t matter.
The point is to use a timer. Set it for a designated number of minutes. Choose one item fr om your (short) task list, start the timer, and do nothing but work on that item until the time is out. Then stand up, stretch, walk around. Take a break for five to fifteen minutes.
Come back, reset your timer, and then either a) resume work on that task or b) if the previous task is complete, choose a new task from your list.
3. Create a Space-Use Hierarchy for Your Stuff
Here’s how it works: the stuff you use most often should be closest to you, preferably within arm’s reach. But how often does that work out?
It’s time to arrange your workspace to match how you actually work.
Think of your workspace as a series of concentric circles. Three, to be exact.
Put the stuff you use daily closest to you, in that first, center ring.
Put the stuff you use weekly in the next ring.
Put the stuff you use monthly in the third, final ring.
Anything else? The stuff you use annually, or every few months, or never? It goes right out the door. Get rid of it, or store it elsewh ere.
4. Use Containers and Labels
Follow this simple rule for any physical item you keep in your workspace: put it in a container and
Group small items together. Maybe you’ll get a set of those plastic drawers, stick them in the closet, and label them: paper and printing supplies, reference materials, so on.
Label things that you file. They go into a container (a folder in the file drawer) and that folder has a label.
Label things that you save digitally. They go into a container (a folder in your digital filing system, or your digital inbox) and they get a label (a tag, a color code, or a label via the file name itself).
5. The Inbox Habit and the 2-Minute Rule
The inbox habit works like this:
Designate two important inboxes. One is physical and one is digital.
Take all inputs - whether it’s mail, information, your own notes, voicemail, email, business cards - and you put them in the appropriate inbox.
Physical stuff goes in the physical inbox, digital stuff in the digital inbox.
Set a regular time to go through your inboxes. This is a great practice for low-energy times.
To keep your inbox stuff from piling up, employ the 2-minute rule.
When something comes in, glance at it; if it takes 2 minutes or less, then do it, answer it, schedule it, delegate it, or delete it right away. It doesn’t even need to go into your inbox.
6. Assign Days to Particular Projects or Areas
Perhaps you have three big projects currently going. Plus you have all the regular, non-project stuff, like keeping up with communication, team meetings, client follow-up, and maintenance work.
Assign a particular day to a particular areas, something like this:
Monday is for planning and Project #1.
Tuesday is for communicating and Project #2.
Wednesday is for meetings and Project #3.
Thursday is for client follow-up and non-project work.
Friday is for maintenance, plus wrapping up whatever didn’t quite get done on the other four days.
Assigning a day a particular focus will give you an automatic filter for what should get your attention on that day and what should wait.
7. Identify and Control Your Distractions
There are two primary types of distractions: external and internal.
The external distractions are the ones you don’t directly cause; they are people-powered interruptions.
The internal distractions are the ones you cause yourself: the internal voices that cause you to procrastinate, the piles of disorganized clutter that drive you crazy, the Internet addictions like social media and mindless surfing.
For external distractions, follow your inbox and 2-minute protocol for most inputs. For the people interruptions, it helps a lot to be using time segments. When someone pops during your work time, just say, “I’ve got to work on this for the next [x] minutes and then I’ll be happy to chat.”
For internal distractions, either designate a time to deal with it (clutter) or implement a lim it on it (installing a blocker software that keeps you from social sites during certain hours of your day).
As you start using these techniques in your work day, you will see a difference. Remember that the first few days are the most difficult. Stick with it, and you will build productive habits that will save you from the frustration of wasted time and lost opportunities.
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