Why you need to keep your work space clean and organised

People tend to focus too much on what app they can use to boost their productivity, when often it’s their physical environment that’s holding them back.

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Studies have shown that the average worker loses about an hour a day to disorganisation. Consider for a moment what that means in productivity terms.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you work 5 days per week and get paid $30 an hour (even if you’re a freelancer being paid by the contract you should still calculate what you’re making per hour worked to maximize your productivity).

Losing that hour a day to disorganisation, costs you 5 working hours every week, (that’s more that half a day’s work) 10 hours a fortnight (getting that back could earn you a long-weekend twice per month) and 260 hours per year.

 

“If you’re a business owner with 10 employees, they’re costing you $78,000 a year in lost productivity.”

 

If you work from home for someone else, that’s time you could be spending with your family, working out, tending to your garden, going out with friends or reading your favorite book.

If you work from home as a freelancer, that lost hour per day is costing you $150 per week, $300 per fortnight or $7,800 per year. If you’re a business owner with 10 employees, they’re costing you $78,000 a year in lost productivity.

If those figures don’t make you want to get better organised, I don’t know what will. Try these tips for optimising your workspace for maximum productivity.

Change your frame of mind

Think of your workspace as a command centre. There’s a reason institutions like the military, police or fire departments enforce strict organisational practices. It’s because when the shit hits the fan, they need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Imagine being called to put out a fire, only to find that you still haven’t rolled up your hose and don’t know where your helmet is. If you’re an aspiring high performer, you also need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

De-clutter

Over time, our offices and desks get so full of useless, non-essential garbage it’s not funny. Cull it all and get rid of everything you don’t need. Be ruthless. Old documents — file them or chuck them. Too many pens — keep a few on your desk and put the rest in your drawer or a cupboard.

Also, take some time to organise your cords and cables. Use velcro cable-ties to bunch cords together and pick a spot on your desk (preferably on your dominant hand side – more on that later) to keep devices on charge and on-hand.

Create systems

When I was a younger man, I would use the single bucket technique for organising my affairs. You know the one. Ok, I’ll explain. Take income tax for example.

Receipts and pay-slips came in, I put them all in a single, unmarked shoe-box along with any and everything else (including non-tax related stuff) I thought might be important enough to hold on to, and when 30 June came around, I would spend hours sorting receipts, throwing half of them away because they were useless and usually finding a bunch of important documents missing. What and waste of time.

A few years ago I came to my senses and started trying different processes and systems that actually helped me organise my affairs in a way that saved time, saved effort and which led to better outcomes.

If you haven’t’ read it already, David Allen’s Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity is a great starting point for creating systems that will help you do a better job of managing your affairs (turns out I was on the right track though. He too uses a bucket system, just with more buckets. My friend Paul Minors has written a great book summary, download it free here).

Set up your space

A work space that’s set up in the right way helps to reduce your risk of injury, save you time and energy and make you more productive. Try these tips for setting up your workspace:

  • Get your monitor and keyboard into comfortable positions. Offices often have workspace assessors who make recommendations about how to set up your desk to reduce the risk of injury. While that’s reason enough, knowing how to set up a safe workspace will also enhance your productivity. Do some research on workspace setup and consider getting someone in to set you up properly. Your back, eyes and whichever wrist you use to control your mouse will thank you later
  • To reduce clutter, only keep on your desk the office supplies that you use on a daily basis. Keep supplies you use weekly in your desk drawer and all others in a cupboard.
  • Keep regularly used stationery and your devices on your dominant-hand side of your desk to reduce reaching across your body. Sounds small but it will save you time and energy.
  • Keep your desk clear but be sure to include anything you need to facilitate the operation of your systems ie. in-trays and file holders (don’t go too minimalist). Avoid keeping too many personal trinkets on your desk – they’re just a distraction and you’re already at home so there’s no need to be reminded about how cute your cat is.

Use a clear-desk policy

It’s common for employees in government departments and some big companies to have to ensure that all desks are clear and clean before they go home. You should do the same in your home office. With a clear desk, you’ll be able to focus on work when it’s work time and forget about work when it’s not.

It will be a pain in your proverbial at first, but once you’ve been practicing a clear-desk policy for a couple of weeks it should only take you 5 minutes in the morning and evening to pull out and put away what ever it is you’re working on at the time. If it helps you to save an hour a day, it’s a winning investment of your time.

Schedule cleanups

Even after changing your mindset, de-cluttering, putting systems in place and setting up your desk properly, you’re still going to get a build up of unnecessary papers and things laying around. Schedule a workspace clean up in your calendar once a month or so to keep your desk in tip-top shape.


This post is an excerpt from my article – “How to be more motivated, creative and productive than ever before: a short guide to working from home” – click here to read the whole article.



 

It’s better to initiate

I recently listened to Seth Godin’s Tribes on audio book. It is… amazing! I’m going to listen again, and again, and probably again. I think that you should too.

What sits with me after having listened this first time are his ideas about how we, as leaders, should take action. Most people, he says, react. Some people respond. Others, a smaller few, initiate.

The difference between them is stark, particularly with regard to our intent and the outcomes we can achieve.

This is what I took away.

To react is to allow something to happen and then act without proper thought or consideration of what can or should be achieved, and done defensively and out of fear.

To respond is to allow something to happen and then act with consideration of the environment and what one hopes to achieve, and is done in self-interest.

To initiate however, trumps both, because it’s about taking action to make something happen, rather than allowing something to happen and then taking action, and is done out of generosity.

The difference between initiating and responding is the difference between a leader and all the others.

All the others respond to things that happen to them. Leaders do things that others respond to.

Which will you be? A leader? Or, just one of the others?



 

How to become the “go-to” person for important projects

We were once limited by our existing skill set. We were locked into our speciality. If you were trained in preparing budget reports, you prepared budget reports. If you were really good at writing copy, you wrote copy. If you were a project manager, you managed projects.

There was very little room to move outside of our sphere of knowledge and skill. We were like cogs in a machine and that’s all that organisations expected of us.

But, things have changed. Organisations now need and expect people to be flexible and have a broader range of skills. Those who are able to contribute in diverse ways to important projects are valued more than anyone else.

This is great news for you and I because we now have more opportunities to make a meaningful contribution that helps our organisation grow, helps us get ahead and allows us to do interesting work outside of our existing skill set.

So how do we become the type of person who can do almost anything when in reality, we are in fact limited in many ways by our existing skill set? Answering that question could be the topic of an entire book, but just quickly, here’s one strategy.

Almost anything you need to know can be learned quickly online and Google is your secret weapon. You can learn the basics of almost anything with a Google search and some time spent reading, studying diagrams, listening to audio and watching video.

This is not to pay any disrespect to people who are actually experts. It’s just to say that a lack of access to specialised skills need no longer hold back a project in the short term; and that thanks to technology and the plethora of free resources online, we now have the opportunity to contribute in bigger and more exciting ways than before.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say your boss asks you to develop a draft communications plan for a project you’re working on, but you’ve never done one before. Maybe you’ve never even seen a communications plan.

No problem. You don’t have to be an exert to put together a good quality communications plan. You just need to Google it.

Search terms: communications plan; how to develop a communications plan; communications plan template.

Spend a couple of hours reading articles, looking at images, listening to audio and watching YouTube videos and then download and adapt the best template you can find. Now you know enough to get started and have the tools to develop a draft communications plan.

You can take this approach with almost anything: project plan, risk assessment, staff engagement survey, consumer insight research, lead indicators for an impact framework – these are all examples of tasks I’ve been asked to do at different times in my career that I had no idea how to do in the moment, but instead of saying “no, I don’t know how”, I said “sure, let me look into it”.

Finally, and this is really important, don’t pretend you’re an expert. Be confident in your ability to figure things out, but don’t say yes to things that are clearly way above your head and don’t submit something that is of poor quality. Poor quality work is a career killer.

I’ve always felt like I could take on any task, but I would always ensure my boss knew that whatever I was handing them was my first attempt and that it should be treated as a starting point. Managing expectations is key.

If she thought it was good work, great! If she thought it needed more work or required a specialist to take it further, great! Either way I contributed, solved a problem for my boss in the short term, got the ball rolling and showed the people I work with that I am someone who is talented and can be trusted to get shit done. At the end of the day, this is what managers really want: people who can get shit done!

You and I are no longer held back by our existing skill set, and the more we dive in and do the work despite our limitations, the more valuable we are to almost any project in almost any organisation.



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Management has experienced a strong shift in recent decades toward empowering individuals and teams to lead and problem solve. Like any important change, there’s a danger of going too far.

Don’t get me wrong. As a manager I do all I can to empower my people to lead and problem solve. But, there also comes a time when as managers, we need to make a decision, make a call, develop the plan, and at times, even go against the collective wisdom of the team.

The new management paradigm can be used as an excuse by indecisive managers to rely too heavily on their team, and even blame them when things don’t turn out as planned.

Please, empower your teams. Trust your individual leaders. But don’t think that’s all there is to management and leadership. It’s also your job to protect your team and make decisions that are in everyone’s best interests.



 

3 Epic Time Management Techniques for New Freelancers

Freelancing is a tough business. Don’t get me wrong, escaping restrictive office hours and horrible bosses and embracing the creative freedom that comes with doing what you love and are truly good at makes it all worthwhile. But, at the end of the day, it’s still work and tough work at that.

As a freelancer you have to be an all-rounder. Marketing, business planning, accounting, sales, networking and then after all that, there’s the actual work of creating and delivering the product or service that brings in revenue. With these pressures and competing priorities, good time management is essential.

Here are my top 3 most epic time management techniques for new freelancers. And since you don’t have the time to sit back with a cuppa and read an essay on the subject, I’ll keep them brief.

Good luck and go get’m!

1. Find your rhythm

You’ve probably read the books and articles online about the ‘8 most important things you must do before 8am’ or how the early bird gets the worm so you must wake up at 5am everyday or your projects will fail. All bad advice, at least for some, possibly most.

The time in the day that you’re most productive will depend on your biology and lifestyle, not someone else’s prescription. Some people are early birds and others are night owls. As a freelancer you’re not obliged to work when people tell you to, so experiment with working during different times of the day and night and find a rhythm that’s most productive for you personally.

2. Schedule everything

Your to-do list and your calendar are your biggest allies in the battle against time.

Start by adopting a system for note-taking and to-do lists. I use Asana for project and task management online and the Bullet Journal system in my trusty Moleskine for being organised moment to moment.

Once your tasks are listed and laid out front of you, prioritise what’s most important, estimate how long each task or batch of tasks will take to complete and schedule them in your calendar. Now, you’ll know where you should be, what you should be working on and how long it will take at any given time throughout your day.

Be sure to keep some time aside through your day for ad-hoc jobs that pop up.

3. Batch your work into pomodoros

The pomodoro is a technique used to complete focused work or batched tasks during specific blocks of time. There are a few different iterations of the technique, but I do it like this.

Know what you want to achieve, set your timer for 23 minutes and go. When the alarm goes off set your timer again for 7 minutes and take a break. Repeat this cycle 3 times and on the third take a 20-30 minute break. Repeat throughout your day.

*   *   *

Time management is an essential skill for successful freelancers. Whenever you feel like you don’t have enough hours in a day, come back to these techniques and, remember, as H. Jackson Brown Jr, Author of the New York Times best selling “Life’s Little Instruction Book” said:

“…You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” 

 



Why you should stop worrying about being a procrastinator

I’ve struggled with procrastination my whole life. When I was young, I wasn’t called a procrastinator, I was called lazy. I even referred to myself as lazy.

I recently had a realisation that I think all so-called ‘procrastinators’ should have. One that’s changed the way I look at my work and the way I do it, my behaviours and my output.

As it turns out, I’m not a procrastinator in the negative sense of the word, I’m just intuitively more productive than non-procrastinators. I don’t mean for that to sound self-righteous. Let me explain.

In 1955 The Economist published an article written by Cyril Northcote Parkinson about his experience and observations of the British public service.

These observations included that the public service had a tendency to grow, year on year, not in response to there being more and more work to be done, but because of the availability to resources to grow it.

He also noted that bureaucrats liked to create non-essential work for one another and expand their teams so they would be in the company of more allies than enemies.

Welcome to Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s observations have come to be known as Parkinson’s Law, which over time and within the productivity realm looks and sounds like this:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Essentially, this means that demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource. The reverse is never true. No matter which way you look at it or say it, this law gives incredible power to procrastinators.

Are we procrastinators lazy? Or, as I now like to believe, do we just intuitively know that our efforts to complete a task well before its deadline are wasted? That my efforts will be much greater and the time spent on a task will be much longer if I start a task now, compared to if I start it later.

And, that no matter when I start, the task will inevitably get done, but that by starting it later I’m doing it more efficiently.

The point

Please, stop worrying about being a procrastinator. At least just sometimes. If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.



Success doesn’t just happen. You have to work for it: apathy will get you nowhere and kissing ass will only take you so far.

To be successful at something you need to be awesome at it first. If you’re not awesome at what you do, someday you will be found out, probably humiliated and likely hit a ceiling that will put a halt on your career.

There is some good news, though. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, it’s not too late. You can still become awesome and if you’ve already hit that ceiling I mentioned you’re in luck again because it’s breakable.

Here’s where to start:

  • Stop looking for the silver bullet: the journey to success starts at the bottom of a staircase, not an escalator. It’s not called climbing the corporate ladder for nothing. There is no magic potion for success. Insert as many (misquoted) clichés here as you like, bottom line is you need to start working harder!
  • Know what you want: it’s cool to be all like ‘I let my moral compass be my guide in a career that makes a difference’ but you still need goals. There is no career without them. Stop being a floater. Write down your goals and get at them!
  • Know your business, organisation and your job inside out: research your ass off until you’re an expert and you know all you can about your industry/sector!
  • Seek out and grab with two hands every learning opportunity you can: create your own personal and professional development plan. Show your boss if she’s interested and supportive. Make it happen even if work doesn’t support you!
  • Become T-shaped: if you’re a generalist, become an expert at something; if you’re an expert at something, start learning about everything else!
  • Surround yourself with people who are successful: success breeds success!
  • Don’t make your career your only measure of success: your personal life, health, fitness, hobbies and intellectual pursuits are important and achieving outside of work will make you better at work. Don’t just aim for a successful career, aim for a successful and happy life!

Without hard work and being great at what you do, a successful career will be nothing more than a pipe dream.

When you’re old and looking back on your life, what do you want to see? A loser who looked for the cheap, easy way to the top and didn’t reach their potential; or a winner who worked their ass off to achieve what they were destined to?