Why Office Hours Aren’t Just For Professors

time management office hoursOffice Hours: you know, that thing you swore you’d attend in college but never really did. Professors have office hours to give students a chance to get a hold of them outside of class. How do YOU communicate to your colleagues when you’re available for questions? Why not try this…

One of my favorite things about running time management workshops is that I always learn something in the process. This week I spoke to NHS Phoenix and had a blast meeting some truly fabulous people. One man shared that he puts his availability in his email signature. For example: “I return phone calls between the hours of 2 and 4pm” or “I return emails three times a day, at 8, 12, and 3.”

I love this concept because it gives people a reasonable expectation when they can expect to hear from you, so they don’t get upset with their communication isn’t immediately returned.

If having regular hours like this doesn’t work for you, maybe giving a broad time frame would work better. For example, “I try my best to return all communications within 24 hours.” While that might seem obvious (of course we want to be prompt with our communications) it reminds people that they can’t really be upset if they haven’t heard back from you 20 minutes later.

So what are your “office hours?” Remember, people need to get a hold of you, and if you haven’t conveyed when communication is convenient to you, people will be left to guess or assume, and you know that they say about assumptions.

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Why I’m More Productive with a Kid and How Non-Parents Can Learn From It

Time management babyAs we awaited the arrival of our daughter this year, I was excited, but also a little nervous. Here I am, a time management writer and speaker, about to face my biggest time management test yet. What if I couldn’t handle the demands of being a parent? Wouldn’t that make my time management advice a little hypocritical? Luckily, little Avery has drastically altered my productivity…in a good way. Here is why…

1. I use Parkinson’s Law to my advantage

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time we give it. Well, now I have far less time for work, which means I’m forced to avoid distractions and work more efficiently. When I had all weekend to finish a chapter of edits on my upcoming book, they took forever to get through. Now, when she’s napping, the dogs are quiet, and I have my office to myself for 30 minutes, I know that I have 30 minutes to get as much done as possible before I go back into Mommy-mode. The shortened time frame is a major focus booster.

2. I’m forced to prioritize

Now that family time has gotten all that much more important, I’ve found it much easier to prioritize my time. Some things that I thought were important don’t seem so anymore. Instead of thinking, “how in the world will I get all this finished?” I find myself thinking: “which of these things should I let go today?” or “does this really matter right now?” The world hasn’t stopped spinning yet.

3. I enjoy my non-work time much more

I now have a much sharper divide between work and non-work time. I thought I was pretty good at balancing my life, but I didn’t realize how much I think about work during leisure time until now. I’m getting much better at shutting off the work switch when it’s time to relax and spend time with my family.

I’m not going to pretend having a 2-month-old tiny human living at your house who is completely dependent on you for everything is easy. It’s pretty much the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but I’ve been surprised how it’s shaped my approach to time management in a wonderful way.

And don’t worry. You don’t have to bring a child into the world to change your approach. Just reconnect with whatever that thing is that you care about more than work, and start making it more of a priority.

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Texting While Talking: Why Do We Do It?

Time management textingYou’re having a conversation with a loved one, colleague, or friends. Suddenly, you notice their gaze turn down to their lap or table. They continue to nod at what you’re saying, but you’re aware that they are distracted. Pretty soon, you see your competition: a smartphone, it’s screen glistening in the sun, almost as though it’s mocking the fact that it has now replaced you as the focus of this person’s attention. I call it Communication Distraction, and it’s not OK.

When we try to do two things at once, our attention is split and we aren’t focused on either of the tasks at hand. People are starting to realize that multitasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but for some reason we don’t really think of texting as multitasking…or trying to do ANY two forms of communication at the same time for that matter.

Typing an email while on the phone, texting while in a meeting, both of these scenarios are examples of multitasking, and they are both rude! Not to mention the fact that distracted communication is not effective and therefore, not good time management.

How do we prevent Communication Distraction? Be more aware of your communications. Focus on the conversation you’re having and who you are talking to. When you find yourself a victim of Communication Distraction, you don’t need to return the rudeness, but perhaps you say something like, “Did I catch you at a bad time? I’m sorry, I can try again later if you’re busy right now.”

We can work together to help prevent distraction and make communication more personal again.

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3 Ways to Make Meetings Shorter

time management meetingOh meetings- a necessary evil! Whether it’s because of one person who won’t stop talking, or a multi-page agenda sent out 5 minutes before, meetings have a tendency to drag on forever. Try these three tips to make your meetings more efficient:

1. Add times to your agenda

Agendas help keep meetings on topic and focused, but not necessarily on time! Adding times to your agenda convey how long you expect each topic to take. It’s much harder for someone to keep pressing an issue when it’s clearly only been allotted 5 minutes on the schedule. If it becomes apparent that an issue will need far more than the allotted time, then readjust, but not at the expense of letting the meeting run long.

2. Cut down the invite list

If you’ve ever counted ceiling tiles to stay awake in a meeting that didn’t pertain to you, you’ll agree that not everyone needs to be invited to every meeting. Only invite the people who will directly benefit from or contribute to the discussion in some way.

3. Postpone questions

If someone asks a question that doesn’t pertain to the whole group, answer it later offline. Making yourself available to answer questions is important, but not at the expense of everyone else in the group.

Face to face communication and brainstorming can be excellent tools when used properly. Don’t let “meeting” become a four letter word!

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How to Write Lightning Fast Emails

time management fast emailWhat’s the number one time management problem I hear when doing time management trainings? Email management. “My email consumes my day!” “I spend all day answering emails!” “How can I be faster at email?” One way to help cut down on your email time is to spend less time writing them. Answer these three questions before starting an email:

1. What is the action item?
I’ve seen emails that are 4 paragraphs long in which the sender doesn’t mention the action she/he would like to see the recipient take until the very last sentence. No need to be unnecessarily curt in your messages, but don’t make it difficult for the recipient to find out the intent of your email. In an email that’s to-the-point, they’ll spend less time reading and you’ll spend less time writing.

2. What is the subject?
Too often I see emails with blank subject lines. A descriptive subject helps your recipient know exactly what to expect in your message. Think of it as a one-line summary, which helps make the body of the message shorter and easier to act upon.

3. Is it necessary?
Because email is so easy, it’s tempting to get into the habit of sending more email than you really should. If your message is not truly necessary, don’t send it. It takes up your time and clogs up your recipient’s inbox. Besides, people are far more likely to overlook an important message from you, if they are used to seeing a flurry of unimportant ones.

Finally, don’t forget that email in general isn’t always the most effective means of communication. Sometimes a phone call, in person meeting, or hand written letter is more appropriate. When you use email efficiently, you’ll minimize the time you waste staring at your inbox.

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The One Thing That Makes You Jump Out of Bed Early

Time management snooze buttonIn my time management coaching, one of the most frequent complaints I hear is, “I just can’t seem to get up in the morning!” Hitting the snooze button 15 times can make us late to work, skip breakfast, and stress us out before our day even starts. It would be easy to get up earlier…if sleep weren’t so darn enjoyable. That’s why I had to find something else to motivate me to jump out of bed at the first alarm. Here is what I did…

I’ve had my eye on a Keurig coffee maker for the better part of two years, but I just couldn’t justify the expense of the daily coffee pods when I can already make good coffee for pennies a day. However, my husband got one for me last month and I have to tell you, my mornings have never been the same.

Excuses

When my alarm went off, I used to sit in bed thinking of which excuse I could use to rationalize hitting the snooze button a few more times. Now when my alarm goes off, I sit in bed thinking which flavor of delicious coffee I’m going to go downstairs and make. It’s an extra motivator to get out of bed and start my day.

What makes you happy in the morning? Is it a run? A special breakfast? A few minutes of quiet time reading the news? It’s no wonder we don’t want to get out of bed when the only thing awaiting us is some sort of work. Scheduling something enjoyable into your morning gives you motivation to get out of bed and starts your day off on a happy note.

I’m not going to pretend that the thought of a delicious cup of coffee makes waking up early instantly enjoyable, but if you can give yourself a little extra motivation to start your day earlier, why not take advantage of it?

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My 3 College Time Management Regrets

Time management for college studentsOver the next few weeks, thousands of young adults will embark on one of the most difficult time management challenges of their lives thus far…college. When adults look back on their college experiences, we tend to remember all of the fun, crazy times instead of how insanely difficult it was to adjust to being completely in control of our own schedule for the first time in our lives. It’s difficult. Looking back, I wish I’d realized three things sooner. Please do your favorite college student a favor and share this advice!

1. Remember you’re there to learn, not to get a grade

I didn’t figure this out until my third year of undergrad. My first year, I was focused on figuring out the least possible work I could do to get the best possible grade. I thought I was being efficient with my time…but I wasn’t retaining much information. When I stopped working for a grade and instead focused on learning, my studying time actually decreased. I found myself paying closer attention in class, so reviewing for tests was much easier and faster.

2. Give up on group studying

Study groups weren’t a good use of my time…but I continued to spend hours studying this way because that’s what everyone else was doing. If studying in a group works for you, great! Do that! But if it doesn’t, don’t feel that you need to say “Yes” to every study invitation just to be polite. Protect your time, study in a way that works for you, and then use the non-study time for socializing.

3. Try something different

If I regret one thing in college, it’s the fact that I didn’t sign up for the Ultimate Frisbee team. That might sound like a silly thing to regret, but it’s the only time I even remotely considered being involved in some sort of athletic team. Back then, I thought I “didn’t have time,” but now, I really don’t have time and I wish I had taken the opportunity to try something different when I had the chance. There are hundreds of ways to be involved in college, and nobody has time to try everything, but picking one thing to try that’s outside of your comfort zone is worthy of your time investment.

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Hurry Up And Wait

time management boredEverything I know about life I learned in my college marching band…

OK, that’s not entirely true, but it makes for a good opening. (Spare your “one time at band camp comments. I’ve heard them all. Twice.) In band, we had a saying: “Hurry up and wait.” It was amusing because every time we had a performance, the staff ran around urgently telling people to get ready quickly…only to sit around for 45 minutes afterwards while we waited for the performance to start. I’ve had this phrase on my mind a lot lately as I’ve thought about the overall pace of my day. Here is what I think it means to me now…

My Mentality

I realized that I live by the “hurry up and wait” mentality. It’s better to be 20 minutes early than 1 minute late. That philosophy has served me well, however, I’m realizing that it can be taken to the extreme.

“It’s better to be 20 minutes early than 1 minute late” only matters when there is a consequence for being late. When being late means missing an important deadline, an airplane, or your best friend’s wedding…rushing to be early matters. However, when being late is not a problem, rushing just for the sake of rushing is stressful.

Does Everything Need a Deadline?

I realized that I do this. Sometimes I set arbitrary deadlines for myself because that’s how I operate best. Then I hurry hurry hurry to meet the deadline, when in reality, being a few minutes (hours, days, etc…) late wouldn’t really matter. I end up stressing myself for no good reason.

Do you do this too? I talk about how setting your own deadlines can be a good motivator, and that’s true, but I’m going to be careful about what types of tasks I set deadlines for.

Not everything needs to be done in a hurry. This week, I’m going to try to be better about slowing down. Or next week. Whenever I get around to it.

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Does The Phone Go Next To The Knife or Fork?

Time management for dinnerWe use technology to speed up our lives, but does it end up slowing us down instead? We have coffee machines programmed to turn on when we wake up, apps to find the quickest route to our destination, email so we can quickly communicate with the world, etc…We use all of this with the assumption that it’s making our lives faster, but I read an article this week that challenged that notion in an unexpected way.

It Started With a Picture…

This week, we celebrated our anniversary dinner at a trendy restaurant. When the delicious food showed up, I did what any self-respecting restaurant patron would do…I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture. After all, in two years how would I remember that I ordered a scrumptious kale salad if I didn’t take a picture of it? My husband chuckled and sent me the following article: Slow Service Demystified

The nutshell version of this article is that an NYC restaurant was getting complaints about slow service, so they checked surveillance footage to see what was going on and it turns out, the customers were wasting time and distracted with their phones, which stretched out their dining time.

My Own Observations

Now, I’m not one to believe everything I read on the Internet, so who knows if this situation actually happened, but it has made me do a double-take at restaurants. True or not, I’ve noticed that my use of a phone does significantly lengthen my dining time, and not in a relaxing meaningful way, but rather in a distracted way.

I take my phone out to snap a picture…and then notice that I have an email…and then I want to check in on Facebook…and then check my phone a few times to see if anyone has commented on my check-in…and then notice an article on my USA Today app that I haven’t read…and pretty soon my food is here and I hadn’t even noticed.

I Promise!

If I’m going to linger at dinner, I want it to be because I’m enjoying good food and company, not because their WiFi is slow. So, I’m making a vow to start enjoying food and stop making my cell phone a permanent place setting. I encourage you to do the same!

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How Time Killers Can Make You More Productive

Time management social mediaWe all know what it feels like to be sucked into a Time Killer. What starts off as a “quick glance” at Facebook, quickly becomes an hour long time indulgence we didn’t plan for. We can bemoan the time they waste, or we can analyze what keeps us addicted to these platforms for hours on end and use it to our advantage.

Here are three ways to harness the power of Time Killers to be productive:

1. Keep your next task in front of you
Why is it so easy to binge watch Netflix? Because the next episode pops up before the credits for the last one are even done running. Use this same concept in your productivity. It’s very easy to stop working when you finish a task and you can’t remember what to do next. Writing all of your tasks on one consolidated to-do list helps keep the next task in front of you so you can keep your productivity streak going.

2. Make it easy to work
You’ll notice that on social media, the interface is designed to make it easy to keep you hooked. It’s very easy to friend, like, follow, etc… You don’t have to search very hard for those buttons. Similarly, don’t make yourself search for a space to work. Giving yourself a comfortable, pleasant place to be productive will help make you want to use it!

3. Get your friends involved
Part of the allure of Time Killers, particularly social media is the thought that a friend might have commented on something witty we posted. We enjoy getting feedback from other people, so bring them into your productivity too. Don’t go it alone. Involve your friends and coworkers in your goals to help hold you accountable.

We ultimately must face the fact the work just isn’t nearly as FUN as Time Killers are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to make productivity as easy as possible.

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