Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's on your 'Stop Doing' list?

If I asked you what was on your 'To Do' list, you'd probably have no trouble rattling off a long list of tasks.

Consider this question instead: 'What's on your 'Stop Doing' list?'

It's a little harder, isn't it. Many of us could think of a few 'vices' we'd like to quit, or switch to doing in moderation, but what about a list of our top time-wasters?

Think about your habits at work. Make a list of all the ways that you fluff around (with the best intentions, of course), wasting time, energy and resources.

How many times a day do you check for new mail? How long do you spend 'perfecting' that paragraph? How much time do you waste looking for paperwork or emails that you haven't filed?

What are your particular 'knacks' for expanding the time you spend in the office?

Start today

If you could claw back 30-60 minutes each day by crossing items off your 'Stop Doing' list, how would you use the extra time?

Exercise? Coffee with a friend? Picking the children up early?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How to hang up

How much time do you spend on long phone calls with people who drain you? Do certain people in the office soak up a lot of your time, with little impact or result?

It might be a clingy acquaintance, a family member, an annoying colleague or a mum from school. It's often someone who has a lot more time on his or her hands than you do.

How do you extricate yourself from this scenario? Someone I know makes wild gestures to her husband that are a signal for him to ring the doorbell if a phone conversation is getting out of hand - a fabricated circuit breaker.

Many of us have little time to achieve everything on our lists, let alone save time for ourselves. We need to be skilled at protecting our boundaries.

Start today

Become better at ending conversations tactfully. If a phone call or face-to-face chat starts meandering when you have better things to do, simply say, 'What can I do for you?'

It's polite, helpful, cuts to the chase and sits more comfortably than making up an excuse.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What matters most?

Our thought and hearts were in Queensland this week - watching the loss of life, homes and businesses was heartbreaking.

I'm from Canberra, and as a city we know only too well after our devastating firestorm of 2003 how quickly you can lose everything in a natural disaster. We also know well the generosity of human spirit in this country.

I've never experienced a flood but, when our fires hit, I recall my daughter piling the barbie dolls up in the lounge room, in case we had to evacuate. I also recall thinking that our precious items were spread throughout the house, and that I'd have little hope of mustering them all in a hurry.

When the reality of evacuation is before us, our perspective on what really matters sharpens dramatically.

Start today

The disaster in Queensland provides an opportunity for us to give our money, time and muscle if we're close and clothes and other items for those in need.

If you happen to be going through your cupboards (though charities plead for cash donations at this stage), be thankful for what you have and take the opportunity to make an inventory of which personal possessions matter most to you - while you have the luxury of time to think.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Take an idea and run with it

There's a great scene in the movie 'The Social Network', when Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg gets the idea to include a 'relationship status' feature on the site, so people who are scared to ask will know whether someone is available or not.

It's the 'missing piece' in his concept for an online social network - the last thing he adds before the site goes live for the first time.

When the idea occurs to him in a Harvard bar during a casual conversation, he doesn't file it away for later, or add it to his mental 'to do' list. He stops talking mid-conversation, drops his beer and runs at top speed through the dark campus, tearing through the halls and bursting into his dorm, where he adds the feature immediately and hits the 'go live' button.

Start today

Do you ever have a good idea that gets 'overtaken by events'? Do you let your ideas pass by without acting on them, only to see someone else achieve a similar thing?

Zuckerberg didn't create a $50 billion website by keeping a 'mental to-do list'.

Drop everything, run with your idea and 'go live'.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Top 10 tips for life balance in 2011

1. Have a reason to leave

Just as it’s easy to expand into a higher income, work can morph into the available hours. If you consistently amaze yourself at how late it is when you leave the office, it may be that you made no solid plans for after hours.

Having somewhere else to be sharpens your efficiency and helps you pull the plug on work. It’s harder to ‘just do one more thing’ when you’re coaching your daughter’s soccer team at 6pm, or you’re enrolled in a Zumba class or meeting a friend for dinner.

2. Stop colouring-in the title page

Swamped by more work than it’s humanly possible to plough through? Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and need to make choices.

Ask yourself ‘Am I colouring-in the title page here, or doing the actual assignment?’ Ditch the 80% of time-wasting distractions that bring you 20% of results and focus instead on the 20% of tasks that deliver 80% of your results. If the purpose of a task isn’t clear, there’s a good chance you’re wasting your time doing it.

3. Ignore the shiny things

Trying to focus against a barrage of phone calls, texts and emails in open plan offices swells the time it takes to complete jobs. Control what you can. Learn the power of ‘single-tasking’: turn your phone off and close email down for an hour if you really want to make progress and get to your after-hours activity on time.

4. Say ‘no’ and ‘not now’

Do you accept every task you’re given, even if it pushes your workload over the edge? Managers aren’t mind-readers. They may not know what’s on our plates unless we tell them. Ask about the purpose of the new task and decide if it’s more important than other jobs you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a new deadline or delegate tasks to others if appropriate.

5. Ask for help

If you’re playing the martyr, the control freak or the ‘best person for the job’, you’re probably doing too much. Contrary to what we sometimes like to believe about ourselves, the entire office won’t fall apart if we step away. A study found that there are more than 250 ways to wash dishes, all of which achieve the same result. If you’ve already done enough, let someone else do it their way while you take a break.

6. De-clutter your diary

How much ‘white space’ is in your diary? Block out regular chunks of time for no fixed purpose and experience the gift of breathing space. Correctly estimate the time it will take to get from A to B and build in a buffer to move between commitments in a stress-free way.

7. Switch channels

If you’ve spent all day focussing mentally, de-stress by ‘switching channels’ to a physical activity or escape with some light reading or a movie. If you don’t change the channel, it’s harder to switch off and get to sleep, which leads to higher stress and burnout.

8. Let things go (don’t sweat the small stuff)

Think about the last twelve months. How much energy did you invest worrying about things that didn’t matter? Whether it’s office politics or cleaning obsessively before your mother-in-law visits, we waste a lot of time dwelling on matters that could otherwise ‘go through to the keeper’. Invest that energy positively, towards the things you want to achieve.

9. Get out of your own way

It’s human nature to want to blame other people for the imbalance in our lives, but how do you hold yourself back? Do you think you’re not good enough? Are you over-compensating for this? Are you on a quest for perfection? Do you avoid delegation in different parts of your life due to Nobody-does-this-as-well-as-I-do Syndrome? Become your best ally, instead of your own worst enemy.

10. Lock in a holiday

Open up your 2011 diary. What are you doing in September?

Ask for the time off when you get back to work. Open a new bank account and set up a fortnightly transfer. Visit the travel agent and make a booking.

Most people fail to take holidays because they ‘don’t have time’ and ‘can’t afford it’. Those who do go away have usually planned for the trip well in advance. If you don’t start thinking about a holiday until later in the year, there won’t be a spare weekend left when you get there, work commitments will be immovable and there’ll be no savings in the account.

If you want things to be different in 2011, become the architect of your own lifestyle and they will be.