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Clear Your Day And Block Your Time


by Mark Ellwood  |  Add Comment

Life rushes at you. Deadlines, requests, e-mails and meetings. You’re in a reactive mode, getting through the day but with never enough time to plan for the major projects. Here’s a technique to make sure you get to the big stuff. Every day, write out a list of activities that need to be done. Your to-do list. There’s nothing new about that. What’s new is a key question you should ask; “If I had nothing else to do today, what activities could I finish that would affect my results one month from now?” Imagine a blank slate. Nothing else to do. What projects would you attack? You’d make sales calls. Or develop next year’s budget. Conduct a performance review. Research a new initiative. These are your “A” priorities. They shouldn’t be confused with the urgent responsibilities you also need to complete. You always find time for those. The “A” items though sometimes get slotted in last. They shouldn’t They’re the things you should plan for first. So make an appointment to do them. Block off time for them. And even though you can’t complete an entire project in one day, there should be something you can complete to move it forward. You can’t do the entire budget today, but you can complete the competitive analysis. That would be an “A” priority. Schedule time for it. And don’t allow other people to interrupt your appointment with yourself, unless it’s a real emergency. Most interruptions can wait at least an hour. After all, your time is worth it.


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
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How to Delegate


by Mark Ellwood  | 

Our time study data indicates that the average employee spends 19% of his or her time on administrative tasks.

This increases to 25% for managers. For many of them, delegation of some tasks would free up more time for high priority activities.

But employees make all kinds of excuses for not delegating. They justify their inefficiency through beliefs that are unfounded. If you want to make better use of your time, you’ll get more done through delegation. Catch yourself when you say one of the following. Often, the opposite is true!

  • I don’t know if I can trust her to do it.
  • I could do it better myself. He isn’t qualified to do it.
  • She doesn’t want any added responsibilities.
  • I don’t have the time to show anyone how to do it.
  • There is no one else to delegate to.
  • He already has enough to do.
  • I like doing this task, or I’m the only person who knows how to do it.
  • She messed up last time, so I’m not giving her anything else to do.

Assume that most people want added responsibilities (don’t you?). Assume they are keen to learn. Recognizes that the short term training investment will pay off in the long term.

Look around. Even though you’re not the boss, there are people who will help you if you approach them in the right way.

WHAT TO DELEGATE:

  • Items that can be eliminated. If you shouldn’t be doing an activity, then perhaps you shouldn’t be giving the activity away to others.  Eliminate it.
  • Minor decisions that can be found in policy
  • Fact-finding assignments
  • Preparation of rough drafts of reports
  • Problem analysis and suggested actions
  • Collection of data for reports
  • Photocopying, printing, collating
  • Data entry
  • Email sorting
  • Things you are good at and do too much of
  • Things that aren’t part of your core competency. For small businesses, these include accounting, web site design, deliveries, hardware upkeep, software help, graphic design, travel arrangements, patenting, legal issues and even HR functions such as payroll.
  • Tasks for which you are least qualified, that you dislike
  • Tasks that provide opportunities for employees to grow (Some things you can’t delegate: performance reviews, discipline, firing.)

PLANNING

  • Create a plan to delegate. Don’t give out assignments haphazardly.
  • Invest short term time in training to gain a long term increase in productivity.
  • Others may end up doing a better job than you can or finding new ways to complete a task.
  • Delegate, don’t abdicate. Someone else can do the task, but you’re still responsible for the completion of it, and for managing the delegation process.
  • Delegate to the right person. Don’t always give tasks to the strongest, most experienced or first available person.
  • Spread delegation around and give people new experiences as part of their training.
  • Obtain feedback from employees to ensure they feel they’re being treated appropriately. A simple “How’s it going with that new project?” might be all that’s needed.
  • Be sure to delegate the authority along with the responsibility.  Don’t make people come back to you for too many minor approvals.
  • Trust people to do well and don’t look over their shoulders or check up with them along the way, unless they ask.
  • Be prepared to trade short-term errors for long term results.

DELEGATION INSTRUCTIONS

  1.  Delegate the objective, not the procedure. Outline the desired results, not the methodology. What needs to be done and when should it be finished?
  2.  Make sure the standards and the outcome are clear. To what degree of quality or detail?
  3.  Clarify the decision-making authority the delegate has.
  4.  Outline the resources available.
  5.  Ask if there is anything else they need to get started. They’ll tell you. (This can save you time spent showing them.)
  6.  Ask people to provide progress reports. Set interim deadlines to see how things are going.
  7.  If appropriate, let others know who is in charge of the task.
  8.  Give praise and feedback at the end of the project, and additional responsibilities.

Always look for opportunities to delegate, even when there appears to be no obvious person to delegate to. There usually is. Your time is worth it.


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
  

Mark Ellwood Radio Interview on Productivity


by Mark Ellwood  | 

Microphone

Have you got six minutes? Here’s a punchy radio interview with some practical tips for managing your time.  Along with the tips, you’ll hear time study insights from our work measurement and process improvement projects. Give it a listen, and share it with your colleagues.  Your time is worth it ! 

(Click on the link below, and wait a few seconds for the file to load.)

The Useful Commute Interview with Mark Ellwood


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
  

Take Control When You Can’t Say No


by Mark Ellwood  | 

Maze

Sometimes it is difficult to say no. An urgent request comes your way and it has to get done. Right now. Yesterday if possible. If you could say no and turn down the request, you’d have more time for the things that count. But the situation demands action and you can’t refuse. You’re not too happy about it. In that case, you might just have to say yes. But when you do, take control of the situation rather than letting it take control of you. Provide suggestions or alternatives to the person making the request. “I can help you by finding out who really should be doing this,” or, “How about if I show you how to do that and then you’ll be all set to go.”

Or, agree to the request this time. But ask how the two of you might plan better to avoid a rush the next time.

Another strategy is to tell the person “yes”, but remind them that they owe you one. For example, if you have to fill in for them at work, they might reciprocate by covering you for a shift the next time you need time off.

You can’t always say no, but you can you can take control by setting the timetable on your own terms. For instance say, “OK, I think I can squeeze that in. I expect I’ll be able to get it to you by four o’clock today. Does that work?” Set the schedule rather than letting someone set it for you.

Finally, consider putting a tough condition on your agreement. “If it would only take an hour, I’d be able to help, but I can’t give you more than that.” When in doubt, it’s easier to say no now, and then change your mind to a yes later, rather than the other way around.

So take control and manage those interuptions.  After all, your time is worth it.

 


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
  

How to Prepare for Meetings


by Mark Ellwood  | 

One reason that people dislike meetings is that they are not well planned.

If you are the chair for the meeting, some preparation steps can make a big difference. And even if you are not the chair, you can ask that these be done.

Writing an agenda in advance forces you to determine which items you want to cover. You can also use the agenda to communicate to participants what they will be considering and what is expected of them. An agenda helps create order and control at the meeting. Ideally, those attending should have a copy in advance.

If you are not in charge, approach the chair beforehand to make sure there is an agenda and that your items are on the list for discussion.

The most important item on the agenda is the purpose of the meeting. You should be able to state it in one succinct sentence, such as, “To review and approve details of the annual budget.” Keep the list of items to be covered specific and focused. Ask yourself what you expect to happen after each item is finished.

Of course, the agenda needs to include the time, the place, and the names of those who will be attending and the start and end times. End times are rarely included, but when they are, you can bring some urgency to the meeting by counting down the time remaining, especially when items run long.

Consider starting meetings at unconventional times. Time study research that we conducted indicates that meetings tend to start more on time on the half hour, rather than on the hour. Also, if you want a short meeting, schedule it for later in the day. Our time studies show that meetings are shorter later in the day. Business has a tendency to move quickly as five o’clock approaches.

A few days before the meeting, send out the meeting invitation and agenda.  Some people wonder whether they should send a follow up confirmation – often this is just a waste of valuable time.

If you’re unable to circulate an agenda in advance, write it on a flip chart or white board before participants arrive. Or give everyone a printed copy.

Meetings become dysfunctional when homework has not been done in advance. Attendees debate issues back and forth based on their impressions, feelings, biases, recollections, and quite often their loud voices. Instead, they need to come to the meeting armed with reports, research, recommendations, surveys, and conclusions from prior discussions. So as chair, encourage attendees to do this work in advance. Then, the meeting agenda will accept reports and recommendations rather than trying to formulate them. “Rubber stamping” a recommendation is not a bad thing. It works effectively when adequate homework has been done.

The investment you take to plan meetings thoroughly will result in meetings that people want to attend. Your time is worth it.


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
  

The Best Tip For Planning Your Day


by Mark Ellwood  | 

Employees who spend more time planning generally get better results.

This is based on evidence from our work measurement studies where employees track their time using our TimeCorder device. So make time for planning each day. Here is my favorite tip on how to do it – just two minutes long

 


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
  

Be Accountable and Stop Procrastinating


by Mark Ellwood  |  23 Comments

Keyboard

It is so easy to put something off that doesn’t matter. Or at least, you think it doesn’t matter. Maybe not today. But someday it will. That aching toothache you think might just go away. The overdue taxes that maybe they won’t check up on.

All of these catch up some day. That’s when the trouble really begins.

So you need to avoid procrastination in order to prevent these negative consequences. One way to do it involves adding accountability. You need to be accountable to yourself. You can do this by writing your tasks on a to-do list. When you include items that you have been putting off, you begin to create accountability. As you do your work during the day, you glance at your to-do list and see that outstanding item. You have committed to doing it. So the time to do it is now.

At the end of the day, review your to-do list. Did you meet all of the goals that you set for the day? Did you get all the tasks done that you said you would? If not, what got in the way? An external factor that was unavoidable? Or your own procrastination? The temptation is to re-write the task on tomorrow’s to-do list. After all, you’ll get to it then. But that’s the problem. You don’t get to it. So there is a danger in repeating tasks on successive to-do lists. If your own disinterest caused you to put it off, writing it down yet again won’t change things. Instead, write down a small part of the task that you could very easily do. For instance, you need to clean up your basement. You haven’t yet. However, you could certainly go down there and list all of the boxes you need to go through. And if doing your taxes is too daunting, how about simply gathering up all of your tax receipts and putting them into a pile? It’s a start.

There is another even more powerful way to build accountability. And that is being accountable to someone else.

Take a task you have been procrastinating on. Break it into small pieces and choose the first step. Then make a deadline. When are you going to accomplish it? And what will it look like when you finish? You can’t just say, “Work on a project…” Instead, you need to say, “Complete the research from three sources required for the project…”

Now, here is the all important accountability step. Let someone else know what you plan to do. And ask them to check up on you. It could be a spouse, partner, parent, boyfriend, girlfriend, neighbor, work buddy – anyone. It’s helpful, but not necessary that they have a stake in the task. If you need to do a household repair, then telling your spouse is a good idea, because your spouse will benefit from the task being done.

So stop procrastinating. Build accountability. Find a buddy and get stuff done.

Your time is worth it.


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
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Productivity and the Home Renovator


by Mark Ellwood  |  2 Comments

Hammer and tape

You can learn a lot about productivity from a home renovator.

We had some work done in our basement recently. It’s the kind of work that anyone might do. We wanted to fix up an unfinished room, the size of a bedroom. We needed it because we rented out our house for the summer. We would be travelling to Europe, visiting museums, exploring cathedrals and remotely conducting our time and motion study projects. In the basement a small brick wall needed to be taken down – because of some previous renovations, it was redundant. And the ceiling needed new drywall to make it into a serviceable guest bedroom.

A while back, we met the contractors, agreed to a quote, and set a date for them to begin. It was a month out because they had another job to finish. That was fine with us. It seemed like good scheduling when they had a window to do our relatively small job. Maybe a week beginning to end.

But the job ended up stretching out over three weeks. On this basic productivity measurement, the contractor failed. His company had another job, and needed to give it priority. So someone showed up at our house for two or three hours to do some work, and then poof! They were gone.

The contractor thought he was being efficient by booking two jobs at once. Do a bit of work here, wait for something to be ready, then off to the other place to nail some studs, and then back to the first place again for the next bit. Two clients at once! Busy, busy.

Waste, waste is more like it. There is a huge productivity inefficiency to starting and stopping a project. First is travel time. If a job extends out for ten days instead of five, then that’s ten extra trips (there and back) for each extra day. Most trips are at least a half hour, so there’s an extra five hours of time right there. Also, most contractors clean up at the end of each day. So that means more clean up time. And more set-up time at the beginning of the next day. All those tools that were put away have to be brought out again.

And then there is reset time. All of us need time to get refocused after an interruption. Contractors are no different.

We know another contractor who is much more productive. He shows up early in the morning and works right through until the end of the day, rarely taking a break. If something has to wait – concrete drying for instance – he schedules that towards the end of the day. If it has to be in the middle of the day, he always finds something else to do. He plans out his work using basic project management techniques. As a result he finishes on time with little waste.

So the next time a contractor quotes you – ask how many other jobs he is doing, and what he does to minimize waste. Ideally, ask for a completion date, and build in a penalty clause for every day he goes over what didn’t result from a change you requested.

Your time is worth it.


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
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The Cure For Boredom


by Mark Ellwood  | 

Live Differently!


300 kids come to our house every Halloween. Instead of candy they get stickers and a “magic scroll”, a rolled up poem that I write every year.   This year, my son inspired me to write  ”The Cure For Boredom.”  I’m passionate about inspiring people to spend their time on what’s most important to them.  Sometimes, what’s most important is just curing your child’s boredom.
Be inspired.

 

THE CURE FOR BOREDOM

 

Mommy I’m bored there’s nothing to do

I don’t know what’s next, I don’t have a clue

 

I’ve read all my comics, my coloring’s done

I’ve played with my toys, they’re not really fun

 

I finished my homework, there wasn’t too much

Rectangles, triangles, big circles and such

 

I don’t want to finish my drawing right now

The one of the barn with the horse and the cow

 

There’s a whole lot of clay, but what should I make

A monster from Mars, or a big birthday cake?

 

I could build an old castle with all of my blocks

Or play that weird game with the hen and the fox.

 

I’m squirming around in dad’s favorite chair

I turn upside down, put my legs in the air

 

I might twist around all my fingers and toes

And make a strange face while I turn up my nose

 

I’m here all alone there’s nothing to do

I sit at the window and stare at the view

 

I’m bored of this boredom, I’ve now had enough

I don’t want to play with any old stuff

 

But what I would like when there’s nothing to do

Is just to spend time with someone like you

 

Let’s play with some cards, I don’t know the name

It’s like crazy eights, a really fun game

 

I could stop being bored I think I know how

Mom did you hear, can you play with me now?

 

I really don’t care what we do, you and I

Just reading together or playing “I spy”

 

The thing I want most from my mom and my dad

Is time spent with me, and that makes me glad

 

  Mark Ellwood

  October 2014


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
  

When Do Employees Work Overtime?


by Mark Ellwood  | 

When do most employees work overtimes at the office? Do they go in early or do they stay late after work? If you want to catch them, what would be the best time to find them? Data from our work measurement studies provides some insights.

If one considers a “normal” work week for knowledge workers to begin at 9:00 a.m. and finish at 5:00 p.m., this would add up to 40 hours per week, including lunch and breaks.

We examined time and motion strudy data from employees who tracked their own time using the innovative TimeCorder device. All of the data is anonymous, so employees felt comfortable in tracking the time they spent on work activities. Across a broad range of industries, our data shows that the average employee works 46.7 hours per week. This means that they work just over an hour per day extra, assuming a base of a 40-hour week.

For this time study analysis, we looked at people who work more overtime hours than the average . Examining the pattern of activity among 235 employees who work over 50 hours, TimeCorder data shows the average time worked for this subset of workers is 55.5 hours per week. 72% of these hours (or 40 hours per week) are completed during the 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. period. Of the remainder, 19% occur prior to 9:00 a.m. and only 9% occur after 5:00 p.m.

So overtime work occurs more in the morning than in the evening.

An expanded work day shows the same pattern. When the bookends of the day are extended one hour earlier and one hour later, the result is a work day that stretches from 8:00 a.m. in the morning until 6:00 p.m. at night. Among those with high overtime hours, the total time worked during this period now represents 85% of all hours. Earlier in the morning than that, hours worked are equivalent to 10% of the total. Meanwhile later in the evening, overtime hours represent just 5% of the total.

Clearly, when people work long hours, there is a greater tendency to come in early and do their work before the start of the official work day. The chart below show the percent of time spent during each of the 24-hour periods of the day, starting at midnight, the “0” hour.

Overtime chart

(On the chart, it appears as if work drop off in the afternoon. This is because some  employees shift their hours by arriving very early in the morning and finish their day by 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. )

What does this mean for organizations? If they plan to provide snacks to those who work overtime, breakfast items may be more appropriate than dinner items. And if extra meetings need to be scheduled, employees may be more willing to come in early than to stay late. Finally, energy levels may be higher in the morning than at the end of a day when some employees have already worked ten hours or more.

Undestand the hours of work when you are most productive. Your time is worth it!


Mark EllwoodMark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 
  
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mark@getmoredone.com

Pace Productivity Inc.
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