Banish the time bandits
How to minimize office interruptions
Interruptions from e-mail, phone calls and people at the office door eat up a quarter of the average workday. Here are four ways to get on with your job:
1. Keep Staff in the loop
“Interruptions often occur because staff don’t have enough information,” says Harold Taylor, of Toronto-based Harold Taylor Time Management Consultants Inc. Convene a five-minute stand-up meeting each morning to brief everyone on pertinent projects and developments.
2. Save ’em up
Where possible, request that your staff collect their questions and meet with you at the end of the day. That means one interruption instead of four or five.
3. Screen your calls
While working on important projects, send telephone calls directly to voice mail or have an assistant take messages. You can return calls at your convenience.
4. Curb chatty co-workers
If you see someone heading for your office, stand up and look at your watch to signal you’re in a hurry. Or ask staff to walk and talk with you, which will give you a destination at which you’re forced to wrap up the conversation.
Read with speed
Making short work of long reports
Who wouldn’t like to accelerate their reading without missing meaning or sacrificing recall? You can do it, says Lucy MacDonald, a Montreal-based speaker and the author of Learn to Manage Your Time, by knowing what information you want from a document before you read it. If you only need an outline, for example, skim documents for essential facts. A detailed analysis requires you to slow down enough to absorb more information. Here are MacDonald’s other top speed-reading tips:
5. Read the introduction and conclusion first
They will tell you whether the rest of the information is worth exploring.
6. Skim less important words
Look for key words and phrases that contain main ideas and skim over less important words. You’ll immediately get the essence of documents.
7. Trace the Lines
Train your eyes to read quickly by using your finger or a ruler to guide you through lines of text.
8. Avoid repetition
“Keep reading even if you don’t understand something right away,” MacDonald advises. Core ideas are often explained more than once or elaborated on later in the document.
Top tools for working remotely
A recent survey by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Internet security firm SonicWALL Inc. revealed that 76% of employees believe working from a home office aids productivity. It can work for bosses, too: with the right tools, you save on commuting time, eliminate needless interruptions from staff and really get time to focus. Bruce Wilbee of H&P Computer Solutions in Duncan, B.C., shares three top technologies you need to keep your home office humming:
9. Get a multi-function machine
An all-in-one printer, scanner, copier and fax machine saves travel time between separate machines — and is three fewer machines you need to learn how to use.
10. Get synchronizing software
Don’t waste time copying files back and forth from your desktop to your laptop. Consider purchasing the Windows XP Professional operating system, which will automatically synchronize any new or updated files between PCs. Similarly, synchronizing software such as SynchPST will harmonize your Outlook folders and files.
11. Install remote-access software
You’ll never be without a file or application if you invest in remote-access software, such as Microsoft’s Remote Desktop or Web-based GoToMyPC (www.gotomypc.com). It allows you to log in remotely to your PC and use it as if you were sitting right at your desk.
The rules of delegating
Simple steps to sharing the load
Guess what? The prototypical entrepreneur’s do-it-all mentality doesn’t do a business any favours, says Janet Wright, principal at Baxter Bean & Associates Inc., a Calgary-based consultancy. Business owners obsessed with running the whole show get overworked, fall behind and drown in details. Wright offers three tips to help you let go of the reins and delegate efficiently:
12. Delegate lower-value activities
Determine which activities bring the most value to the company (such as networking and client contact) and which ones are necessary but lower value (creating PowerPoint presentations and administration). Delegate the lower-value activities.
13. Delegate to the right person
Pick someone who has the skills to do the job. That way you won’t lose time dealing with a learning curve.
14. Spend time to save time
Sit down with the person to whom you are delegating the task, and explain in detail what you want. Then ask the person to articulate his understanding of the project, says Wright: “You’ll see if he understood your instructions.”
The perfect voice mail
How to get a callback every time
15. Know what you want
Figure out the purpose of your call before you dial, so you can leave a brief, focused message. This makes it easier for the receiver to understand what you need, explains Shelle Rose Charvet, agent provocateur of Success Strategies in Burlington, Ont.
16. Be brief
Make no more than three points in a voice mail message, warns Rose Charvet. More than that and people won’t take in all the information.
17. Make connections
Leave your full name and a reminder about why you’re calling. For example, “Hi Bob, it’s Sue. Last week we spoke at the conference in Florida about new printing technologies.” Or drop the name of a mutual acquaintance. The receiver can place you quickly and will be more likely to return the call.
18. Speak slowly
The number of people who leave rushed messages containing indecipherable names and numbers is shocking. “When saying your phone number, imagine you’re speaking to your 95-year-old grandmother,” advises Rose Charvet. If the receiver can’t make out your phone number, you won’t get a callback.
19. Leave callback times
To avoid voice-mail tag, let the person you’re calling know when you’ll be available
to take a return call.
More knowledge, less effort
20. Think RSS
Instead of surfing websites to find new information, install an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader and software and subscribe to the RSS “feeds” of websites you’re interested in. When you open your RSS reader, you’ll see clickable headlines and descriptions of content posted to the site since the last time you checked in — no more pointless surfing.
21. Sign up for Google Alerts
News on topics that interest you is e-mailed directly to your inbox, says Brad Hill, author of Google for Dummies. Create a free Google alert at www.google.com/alerts
22. Try Podcasting
MP3 players aren’t just for music. You can download seminars, presentations, and radio and Web broadcasts from many websites, then listen to these “podcasts” on your MP3 player while commuting.
beat the clock!
Quick tricks to get time on your side
23. Write it down
Schedule your work and keep the appointment. “If it’s in your Day Planner, you have actually set time aside to accomplish the work instead of just listing it as a to-do item, which you may not get done,” says time management consultant Harold Taylor.
24. Take advantage of peak hours
Your energy levels are typically higher at the beginning of the week, says Dan Sullivan, president of The Strategic Coach, a Toronto-based consultancy. Reserve Mondays and Tuesdays to tackle priority tasks.
25. Use one day planner
Many people use one calendar for social events and another to schedule work tasks, which easily leads to double-booking, Taylor explains. To avoid mix-ups and spending time rescheduling appointments, use one planner — and always carry it with you.
26. Allow time for interruptions and emergencies
Because managers spend so much time dealing with interruptions and emergencies, never schedule more than 25% to 30% of your day for important tasks, advises Taylor. This will help you meet expectations of yourself and others.
27. Learn to say “no”
If you’re already working at capacity, then face the facts: there’s a limit to how much you can do. Ruthlessly evaluate whether the meeting or event you’ve been invited to will add value; if it won’t, then decline.
Build a better office
Essentials of efficient workspaces
A company employing 1,000 knowledge workers wastes about US$2.5 million a year due to an inability to locate and retrieve information, according to a 2001 report by Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. Brenda Borenstein, president of Organized Zone Inc., a Toronto-based organizing service, shows you how to clear the clutter and make your workspace more efficient.
28. Use your real estate wisely
If the tools and files you use frequently are not within arm’s length, reorganize your workspace. You should be able to reach everyday items without getting up out of your chair.
29. Clean your desk!
If your desk is cluttered, your mind will be, too. Gather up all those loose papers and folders, then file them.
30. Adopt “transparent filing”
Keep active files in a see-through filing pocket you can hang on your wall, allowing you to see and access folders at a glance instead of rooting around
31. Get a comfortable chair
Invest in a high-quality ergonomic chair. With your back and arms properly supported, you’ll be physically able to spend a full day at your desk.
32. Organize your “junk drawer”
Everyone has a junk drawer, even at the office. Remove the items you’re not using (e.g., old keys, decommissioned office passes, out-of-date business cards), then insert dividers to organize the remaining items. You’ll find what you need faster.
Downtime for uptime
Ways to add fuel to your fire
33. Bend it like Beckham
Attention desk jockeys: get up and move. It may seem trite, but stretching and bending to relieve your knots and stiffness will increase your physical comfort and your ability to work more productively, says Patricia Katz, a life-balance strategist and president of Optimus Consulting in Saskatoon. Invest in software such as Stretchware (www.stretchware.com), which will remind you to take a break and provide stretching exercises.
34. Get out
If you don’t need to take notes, take brief meetings outside. For example, have a 10-minute walking meeting with a colleague. The fresh air and exercise will increase your energy.
35. Take a catnap
Many companies have quiet rooms complete with beds, dim lighting and soft music. But according to the University of Texas Southwestern University Medical Center, reclining in your chair with your door closed for 15 minutes can give you the same jump for the rest of the day.
36. Try something new
Take a new route to work or eat lunch at a different restaurant. New experiences prompt your brain to release dopamine, a motivating chemical.
Googling for results
How to soup up your search engine
37. Download the Google toolbar
Brad Hill, author of Google for Dummies, suggests complementing your standard browser controls with the Google toolbar (www.toolbar.google.com). This will give your browser a built-in Google search bar, which saves you from visiting the search giant’s home page and gives you one-click access to subsearches, such as Google News and Google Local.
38. Change it up
Change the order of the search words and you may uncover relevant search results that you wouldn’t otherwise.
39. Use quotation marks
To narrow your search, put quotation marks around your search terms (e.g., “how to attract venture capital”). Google will then return only results that match the exact phrase.
40. Use the “NOT” operator
Use the minus sign to exclude words that might bring up undesirable page matches, says Hill. For example, you might search for “kayak lake-canoe” to exclude search results with the word “canoe” in them.
41. View more at once
Go to the Google home page, click on the “Preferences” link and change the “Number of results” from 10 to 100 — you’ll receive up to 100 search results on one page, allowing you to scan more listings in one shot.
Make the perfect hire
Never waste time on bad staff again
Replacing a bad hire can cost employers more than three times the job’s salary — not to mention the rehiring hassles involved. Follow these simple steps to finding the right person on the first try:
42. Use a CheckList
Create a list of non-negotiable skills and experience required for the job, and then check the resumés against the list, suggests Sylvia Schumacher, director at Madison MacArthur Executive Search Consultants in Toronto. You’ll narrow the field quickly by removing resumés missing the listed requirements.
43. Testing, testing
Give candidates a formal test of their technical skills. A junior employee can tally up the results and weed out those who lack the necessary proficiency.
44. Outsource hiring
A recruitment firm will screen thousands of resumés, interview candidates and compile a short list of three to six people with little input or effort from you.
45. Conduct a group interview
Cut interview time by sitting down with up to eight candidates at once. You’ll see how each candidate operates in a group setting and make quick comparisons on performance and professionalism.
46. Find out when they’ll quit
Ask questions to determine whether the candidate views the job as a temporary stop or a long-term career opportunity; avoid hiring the former.
Business travel tips
How to be a better road warrior
Fred Pentney, president of Toronto-based Dyna-Form Time and Business Management, offers four ways to get more uptime out of travel time:
47. Make a list
Keep a checklist of all the electronic devices, chargers and cables you need on your trips.
48. Store it
Carry a portable storage device (e.g., a USB memory card) that allows you to save your files, take them anywhere and easily load or view them on someone else’s computer, when necessary.
49. Go digital
Use a digital camera to photograph documents rather than making notes. This is a faster method to gather reference materials.
50. Go Wi-Fi
Purchase a Wi-Fi-enabled Internet router and a laptop (many newer notebooks have built-in Wi-Fi; older ones will need an external card). This equipment will give you high-speed Net access where there’s a Wi-Fi hot spot (e.g., airport lounges, cafés).
Close that sale… fast!
Secrets of supersellers
Entrepreneurs often waste time on tepid prospects. Colleen Francis, president of Ottawa-based Engage Selling Solutions, explains how to identify the best potential buyers and “get to yes” faster:
51. Talk money early
Many people go through the whole sales cycle and present pricing at the end, only to discover that the customer doesn’t have the budget or the desire to buy at your price. Talk about price early in the process and you’ll weed out prospects that aren’t a fit.
52. Establish a time frame
Ask your customers when they need to get the project started. Then create a workback schedule to show them the date by which a purchasing decision must be made to meet that time frame.
53. Use the word “never”
If you have a prospect who is constantly raising objections, try saying, “I just get the sense that we’re never going to do business.” People hate the word “never,” and it will increase the urgency to tell you what it’s going to take to make the sale.
54. Push for an answer
Get to the close by asking, “Where do we go next?” or “Where do we go from here?” This will signal to the customer that it’s decision time and he or she needs to tell you the next step to make the sale happen.
Get help with the ho-hum
Where to outsource ordinary tasks
55. Pick up a personal assistant
For about $65 an hour, a personal-assistant or concierge service can take care of time-consuming domestic tasks, including grocery shopping, walking the dog and picking up your dry cleaning. They will also buy gifts and book your entertainment pursuits.
56. Hire a Virtual Executive Assistant
A virtual executive assistant, who works from his or her own office, will take care of administrative duties such as e-mail follow-up, invoicing and bookkeeping. You can hire for an hour or a block of time each month. “This allows executives to focus on revenue-generating tasks,” says Chris Hafstein, owner of eAssistant.ca, a Vancouver-based virtual-assistant company.
Generate better ideas
Four ways to brainstorm effectively
Creative thinking is the lifeblood of any organization. But it can be difficult to come up with inspired ideas on demand, says Lola Rasminsky, president of Toronto-based Beyond the Box, which trains executives to think like artists. These are her best brainstorming tips:
57. Appreciate every idea
Collect all ideas and solutions, even outrageous ones, says Rasminsky. The longer the list, the more likely you are to find a winner. “Plus,” she says, “it’s much easier to tame a wild idea than energize a limp one.”
58. Encourage diversity
Welcome different perspectives by including employees from every department. Encourage challenging questions and diversity. If five people in a room agree on everything, four of them shouldn’t be there.
59. Try right-brain exercises
To jump-start your creativity, try some right-brain exercises, such as improvisation and storytelling. Or set up some hands-on activities such as painting or building blocks to loosen up participants and stir imaginations.
60. Keep the focus
Avoid brainstorming and evaluating at the same time, which deters participants from adding to the mix. Keep the session focused on getting all the ideas on the table. Once you’ve accumulated a list, you can follow-up on the most promising ones.
Business lunch basics
How to eat, drink and do the deal
Too many business lunches eat up the afternoon and leave you with nothing but the bill. Margaret Miller, president of TERAGRAM Coaching & Consulting Group in Hamilton, Ont., offers these lunch lessons:
61. Watch the clock
Set aside 90 minutes for lunch. To keep to your schedule, don’t wait an hour before getting down to business.
62. Have an Agenda
Take a list of the few key points you want to discuss to the meeting, which will help you avoid chasing down information you forgot to get over lunch.
63. Take Notes
Let your client know that you’d like to make some notes during the meeting rather than trying to recall discussions from memory. Your notes will be more accurate and you won’t waste time recovering any information you forget.
Tough lessons in E-Mail
How not to be a slave to your inbox
64. Check less often
Studies suggest that half of all workers check e-mail messages either immediately or shortly after the message arrives, but checking three times a day is sufficient for most people. Also, respond in the morning only to e-mail that can’t wait, and then move on to other priorities while you are still fresh, says Montreal author Lucy MacDonald. Respond to any remaining e-mail before you leave at the end of the day.
65. Put an end to CCs
Ask your staff to copy you only on e-mail that you really need to see. In many cases, you don’t need to be involved, and in others a weekly digest or summary of the activities might suffice.
66. Set up folders
Filter less important e-mail into folders so you can deal with it when you have time. That way, you can focus on the critical e-mail in your inbox.
67. Change the Subject Line
Scanning through hundreds of archived e-mails for the one message you need can be a massive time-waster when the subject line doesn’t reflect the message’s content. So always write descriptive subject lines (e.g., “2006 forecast update” versus “Hi there” or “Update”) when composing an e-mail. And don’t hesitate to change a subject line when replying if the topic of conversation changes.
The 15-minute workout
Three simple body builders
Regular exercise improves your stamina and cognition — and you don’t need time for long workouts. Josh Feuer, co-owner of Diesel Fitness in Toronto, shares three secrets to getting enough from a 15-minute workout.
68. Choose the right equipment
Use a rowing machine or elliptical trainer, which work your legs and arms at the same time.
69. Go full tilt
If you only have 15 minutes, work at maximum intensity, suggests Feuer. Get your heart rate up as quickly as possible during a cardio workout. If you’re strength training, work muscles to failure. Try wearing a portable music player, because music can help motivate you during your workout.
70. Change It Up
Your body responds best to variety. So, vary your workout. Spend 15 minutes on yoga the first day, strength training the next and run or power walk on the third.
How to perk up your pc
Solutions for non-geeks
Nothing slows down your computer more than a jam-packed hard drive or a desktop of shortcuts. Here’s how to make a clean sweep of your hard drive — before it hits overload:
71. Buy software
Invest in a software program like Enfish, which assesses your directories and creates an index file. Then it continuously updates a master index of your documents, e-mail, Web bookmarks and contacts for faster retrieval.
72. Nix shortcuts
Shortcuts or aliases on your desktop look messy and slow operations. Sort through all the icons that link to applications stored elsewhere and keep only those you use regularly.
73. Delete already
Installing more RAM to deal with shortages will only lead to chaos down the road. Hit the “delete” key instead.
Rest for success
Four ways to get more ZZZs
When faced with a pressing deadline or challenge, entrepreneurs often try to overcompensate by working more and sleeping less. The problem is that losing just one hour of sleep a night for a week will make you as clumsy and stupid as pulling an all-nighter. To get the rest you need…
74. Turn it off
Experiment with cognitive relaxation therapies, like meditation. Try imagining peaceful scenes, controlled breathing or listening to relaxation tapes.
75. Don’t bring the office home
Thirty-four percent of Canadians bring work home, according to a 2002 study conducted by Leger Marketing. Bringing your work home doesn’t help to put you in a relaxing frame of mind to go to sleep. Shut off your computer, cellphone and pager to disconnect from work, suggests Gary Baskerville, spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council of Canada.
76. Make your bedroom a sleep haven
If you are one of the 45% of Canadians with a TV in their bedroom, remove it — and your phone, pager, computer and PDA. Research shows you’ll sleep better in an environment that’s conducive to peace and relaxation.
77. Set aside worry time
Is worry keeping you awake? Schedule some worry time. Sit down and list all your problems, then think about possible solutions. Committing positive think time to your troubles will allow you to “put them to rest” before you turn in.
Make meetings matter
Hot boardroom secrets
78. Define the times
Set time limits for each agenda item and then appoint a timekeeper to keep the meeting on track.
79. Leave debates for later
“Avoid discussing a controversial topic at the beginning of the meeting,” says Roz Usheroff, principal of The Usheroff Institute, a training and image consultancy with offices in Toronto and Florida. “You’ll start off with a debate and never get to the next point.”
80. Let’s get it started
Never wait for a latecomer. Start the meeting on time and don’t recap for late arrivals, which only rewards tardiness.
81. Stay on Topic
Create a “parking lot” page on a flip chart and write down any off-topic items. Recording the item for future discussion acknowledges its importance while keeping the meeting focused on the agenda’s items.
How to spend time on what counts
82. Determine key tasks
An important task should add to your bottom line or enhance your reputation, says The Strategic Coach’s Dan Sullivan. If a task doesn’t fall into one of those three categories, then it’s not important and shouldn’t be given priority.
83. Narrow the field
On a sheet of paper, in one column write down 20 tasks that deserve your attention. Then narrow down the list to 10 tasks in a second column, ranking the tasks in order of importance. Next, draw a line under the top three. “Those are your priorities for the week,” says Sullivan. “The other seven tasks are bonuses.”
84. Remember the 80/20 rule
Some 80% of your results come from just 20% of your efforts. If you double the amount of time you spend on output-generating activities and stop doing the others, you’ll double your productivity and spend 60% less time.
85. Take five on Fridays
Spend five minutes on Friday afternoon to set next week’s priorities. Come busy Monday, you’ll save time by knowing immediately where to focus your energy.
Master the Blackberry
Your thumbs will thank you
86. Fill in all contact information
Fill a contact’s full information into the address book, not just their name and e-mail, suggests Chris Ellsay, president of Workshift.com, an Ottawa-based technology consulting company. That way, you won’t have to call the office when you’re on the road because you don’t have the contact’s phone number or address.
87. Add words to the “autotext” function
Your BlackBerry uses a list of shortcut words, whereby the full word appears onscreen after you’ve typed just the first few letters. Save typing time by adding frequently used jargon and proper names to this list, including company and product monikers.
88. Stay briefed
Copy meeting or event details from your e-mail directly into your BlackBerry’s calendar without retyping.
89. Consider add-ons
Many third-party manufacturers make inexpensive add-ons that can increase your BlackBerry’s functionality. Consider, for example, Google Maps and BlackBerry 411, which allow you to quickly search the Yellow Pages and the White Pages for phone numbers.
Make more connections that count
90. Avoid the competition
Attend functions less likely to be frequented by industry colleagues, suggests Vancouver-based Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, co-author of Work the Pond. There will be less competition and more prospective buyers.
91. Go early
Get to an event early and position yourself at the entrance of the room. That way you can meet people as they come in and also touch base with people you know, says Hallgren-Rezac. A quick chat with a business associate beats voice-mail and e-mail tag.
92. Wear your name tag
A name tag can actually do some of the work for you, says Joan Kulmala, president of Thunder Bay, Ont.-based Totally-U Image Communications. People don’t have to ask your name (which can be awkward), and it invites them to inquire about your company.
93. Turn on your prospect radar
It’s easy: ask probing questions of people you meet and listen carefully to their responses to determine whether they’re looking for your product or service.
94. Do lunch with a crowd
Instead of a tête-à-tête at a fancy restaurant, invite a guest to a business luncheon that features a speaker of mutual interest, says Hallgren-Rezac. You will be able to introduce your client to your network, and your client may return the favour.
Easy ways to improve your memory
Let’s try to remember how memory influences productivity. Oh, right: a good memory saves time looking up details and makes you more effective in social situations. To strengthen your powers of recollection…
95. Connect the dates
“If you want to remember a meeting, find a way to connect that date to one that has meaning for you,” says Martin Wojtowicz, a physiology professor at the University of Toronto. For example, if you have a meeting on January 25, think, “one month after Christmas.”
Pay attention to detail. We’re bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information every day, but we only remember what’s important to us. Expand what you consider to be important and you will remember more. Imagine you’re a detective, and that every aspect of what’s going on around you is a clue.
97. Spell their names
When being introduced to someone, spell their name in your head. It will aid recall by forcing you to hear the name, says memory coach Bob Gray, president of Memory Edge Corp. in Whitby, Ont.
98. Make up a story to remember
a list, make up a story that links all the list elements together. The more outrageous the story, the easier the list will be to remember, says Wojtowicz. Say you need to bring three items to a meeting: financial statements, pens and an overhead projector. Imagine using the pen to write “my dog ate my financial statements” and then placing it on the overhead projector for the staff to view. You can also use acronyms and combinations of names or make sentences using the first letter of every word as mnemonic tools.
Do eight things at once
The juggler’s guide to multi-tasking
We’ve all become masters at doing more than one thing at a time. Or have we? A study by New York-based research firm Basex Inc. suggests that multi-tasking may actually erode productivity. Even dividing your attention among seemingly simple tasks, such as reading e-mail while talking on the phone, can reduce comprehension, concentration and short-term memory.
99. Pick the right tasks
Know the activities that can best be multi-tasked. Troubles arise when you try to juggle problem-solving tasks that require focus and creativity.
100. Separate and conquer
You’ll be a better multi-tasker if the pieces of work you’re handling simultaneously require separate resources. For example, you can probably work out a financial challenge while you are clearing your office.
101. Practice meditation
Meditation emphasizes wilfully controlling your attention.