Tag Archives: How-To

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.



 

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.

4. (BONUS TIP) Use Time Management Software

Working alone is tough and it’s easy to get distracted. Email, Social Media, that great match-up on ESPN can all get in the way and before you know it you’ve fallen short of your goals and made zero progress on your important projects.

Using a time management software can help you stay focused and productive. Time management software tracks the time you spend on each task and alerts you when you’re wasting time on unproductive tasks. Click here to find a great little article from Forbes.com with a few of the best options.

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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.” 

 


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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.



How to make a dent and have a successful career in the new era of work

The days of ‘cog-in-the-machine’ employment is coming to an end. As the information economy grows and develops, people who can do more than shift a lever or press a button on a production line are more important than ever.

But, what is it exactly that we need people, in this new era of work, to do? And, how can we create a culture and environment that facilitates and supports their work and produces the results today’s businesses need?

I won’t bore you with a long winded, wanky, geo-politico-eco-historical exploration of the needs of modern businesses. If you’re reading this I’m sure you already have some ideas.

I will instead state, quite simply, this:

We need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems.

I’ll say that again. Today’s organisations need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems. And, herein lies our dilemma.

The way we run organisations and the way we manage people does not support or create the right environment for this type of person, let alone a whole team of them, to operate with the autonomy or freedom required to be effective.

So what can you do? How can you become the type of person we need to work and manage in a modern organisation?

Start here:

Do something you enjoy

You are likely to spend more time working throughout your lifetime than doing any other activity. You may as well spend it doing something you’re good at and love doing.

Universities and colleges offer more degrees than at any other time. Online courses are easily accessible and many are free or cheap. There’s no reason to settle for a career doing something boring or that you feel indifferent about.

There are also more opportunities than at any time in our history to start your own business and be successful. Don’t limit yourself to the rat race. A credit card with a few hundred dollors and a good idea is all you need to start an independent business with a good chance of being successful if you do it right.

Work toward something you care about

There is plenty of evidence that shows that when we are alienated from the outcomes of our work, we become unhappy. There is also plenty of research that shows that when we work towards a high level goal in an area we care about, we become happier. I’ll let you do the math.

Lead from behind

You will work for morons, idiots, know-it-alls, know-nothings and lazy jerks for the majority of your career. Don’t let them stop you. Don’t let them kill your spirit. Your boss will micro-manage, get in the way and just generally slow progress on a regular basis. Your job is to convince them that they have more to gain by leaving you alone to do your work.

Create and support the right environment

If you’re a manager: hire the right people with the right skills, set the goals and the strategy, support them, give them the time and materials they need and then, get out of the way.

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Today’s organisations need leaders who can work collaboratively and creatively to solve complex problems. Be that person. Be that type of leader. Don’t settle for a generic, uninspired career. You’ll be happier and more successful for it.


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3 quick tips for working smarter

Working smarter is all about efficient systems and processes, good organisation and avoiding distraction. Here are a few ways I keep on top of things based on these work smarter principles.

1. Create systems for managing email

I cut my email traffic in half by using a CC inbox. I created a new folder and called it ‘CC Inbox’ and then created a rule in Outlook that sends all incoming emails that I’m only cc’d into directly to the CC Inbox. I only check that folder twice per day at scheduled times. This reduces the amount of time I spend reading unnecessary and unimportant emails. Learn more about mastering your inbox here.

2. Get organised by sticking to a good note taking system and keep all your notes in one place

I use the Bullet Journal system. It’s easy to learn thanks to a quick video on the website that explains everything. It’s an easy to remember system for taking notes, making to-do lists, and prioritising what you have to do. I’ve used it for years and it works! Just make sure you’re always using the same notebook or it becomes useless. Keeping a single notebook and taking it with you everywhere is a good way to build a professional reputation. Here are some other tips.

3. Avoid distraction by turning off email and social media notifications

I used to hear a ‘ding’ every time a new email came into my inbox. It would make me stop what I was doing to check it. I turned off the notification and it improved my focus a huge amount. In fact, I now close down my email completely while I’m focussed on work to take it that one step further.

I also used to get a push notification on my phone every time someone tweeted at me or when I got a message on Facebook, for example. Even if I didn’t stop what I was doing to check it, it still momentarily distracted me form my work. Now, I’ve turned all notifications off so I only see what’s new when I take the time check each app individually. I’ve scheduled social media time during the day so it doesn’t pull me away form my work. It’s also improved time with family.

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Everyone’s busy, but not everyone is productive. Change the way you work and you’ll get more done in less time and create space in your life for the things that really matter.