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The Results Curve: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time

Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

How to Be More Productive When You Work From Home

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 @ 02:31 PM

At-home workers often bear a stigma of being less productive and effective than office workers—but that's simply not the reality. Whether you work at home or not, employees who create a more controlled and distraction-free work environment can see huge gains in their productivity and results. And when you work from home, where you alone define your surroundings, you truly have a powerful opportunity to accomplish so much more.

To find out how, check out my guest blost post for Dell's Tech Page One.

ResultsCurve People OnTheGo 2013

Additional Resources & Webinars

Topics: virtual teams, interruptions, productivity

Brain, Interrupted by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson (New York Times, 5/3/13); summary + commentary by Melissa Sweat, Online Community Manager

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Jun 18, 2013 @ 12:02 PM

Heard about our summary+commentary (s+c*d) format? Learn more!

Summary

describe the image“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.” –C.S. Lewis. Today, we live in an era of constant distraction: a fast-paced digital age of multi-screens, electronic alerts, instant messages, and alarms, social media, and near-infinite web search & surf possibilities. At work the temptation toward distraction is a very persistent reality; and it’s making us not only less productive but less smart, too.

In a Carnegie Mellon experiment cited in the article (“Brain, Interrupted,” NYT), it turns out that an interruption made test takers “20 percent dumber” than the control group. In the second part of the experiment, a portion of the test takers were interrupted again, and yet improved to 14 percent (still lower though than the control group). Meanwhile, the other portion of test takers, who were told they’d be interrupted and were not, improved by 43 percent—even outperforming the control group.

Commentary

The authors conclude this last group may have focused to “steel themselves” against the interruption that never came, or that an awareness of imminent interruptions better prepared them. People-OnTheGo helps professionals develop this exact power of “micro-level focus,” and offers many strategies and webinars to this end. Here are 3 tips to help get you focused right now:

  1. Create a distraction-free work environment.

  2. Use a Micro-Plan™ and timer.

  3. Quickly “capture” any distracting thoughts in a paper journal so you can remain focused on the task at hand.

Discussion

How do you handle distractions at work? What strategies and techniques are you currently using? What are your greatest interruption challenges? Do you feel you’d be more productive if you learned to better manage interruptions?

Productivity Webinars You Might Enjoy

Topics: summary-plus-commentary, time management tips, interruptions, productivity, webinars, information overload

Disruptions: Life’s Too Short for So Much E-Mail by Nick Bilton (New York Times, 7/8/12); summary + commentary by Melissa Sweat, Online Community Manager

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Aug 20, 2012 @ 09:17 PM

Haven't heard about our summary+commentary (s+c*d) format? Learn more!

Summary

summary commentary emaildistration 8.20.12

Corporate employees send and receive about 105 emails daily. Writer Nick Bilton thinks that’s a big problem as he tries to manage his more than 6,000 monthly emails, using everything from filters to away messages to no avail (see "Disruptions," NYT). He cites a 2012 UC Irvine report stating that those who didn’t check email regularly at work were less stressed and more productive than those who checked more often. Bilton considers other forms of messaging instead, like Google Chat or Twitter, or even not responding at all.

Commentary

We relate with Bilton about email frustration, but “avoidant inbox disorder” is not the solution. Our methodology at People-OnTheGo is that email is a task you schedule into your day. This enables you to focus your work effort, while saving time for collaboration (email, social media, etc.). We have a unique inbox strategy that helps you prioritize emails, daily and weekly; no more switching tasks to attend to every alert. We also agree with the UC Irvine study:  those who check email less regularly—though we would add “and more strategically”—are less stressed and more productive.

Discussion

Are you frustrated and overwhelmed by email? Do you try to avoid it? Are newer forms of communication like chat and social media messaging more preferable to you? What are some email solutions that you use in the workplace?

Additional Resources

Topics: summary-plus-commentary, Gmail, Technology, time management tips, getting organized, interruptions, productivity, information overload, time on social media, managing stress, email management

Staying focused: The three-headed puzzle, and how to solve it!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sun, Jun 03, 2012 @ 04:53 PM

At the micro-level

staying focusedStaying focused means sticking to the desired train of thoughts, relating to a specific topic or task, without having our mind wandering into unrelated and unnecessary areas. In today’s ADD world, this is very challenging. There are many tempting distractions around us and within us that keep taking us off track. Our brain has become very scattered and jumping often from one thing to the next.

To address this challenge, we need to work at “arranging” the environment to be more conducive to focus, and on retraining our brain to be better at focusing. Arranging the environment means taking precautions to minimize external interruptions, ranging from having agreements with our, to closing our office door or putting a visible sign at our cubicle, or putting on headsets, among other measures. Re-training our brain requires some effort. However, Micro-Planning™ and the timer can go a long way in helping this effort.

At the macro-level

Learning SmallStaying focused in this case means keeping our projects, activities, resources, and decisions all aligned and all working together to achieve a bigger goal.

To address this challenge, there need to be a clear vision and well defined end results in the first place. But this is only the beginning. What is more important is learning to apply “strategic thinking” project-by-project, task-by-task, and moment-by-moment. Strategic thinking, simply put, consists of reluctantly asking the “why” question. Why are we embarking on this project? Why are we putting resources in this area? Why am I spending time on this task now? And recalibrating accordingly.

In between the micro and macro

staying focusedHere comes our daily focus, which requires managing focused and collaborative effort, not to mention our energy and our mood, as we manoeuver between tasks, unexpected demands, and the ups and downs that go with them.

To address this challenge, we need to work in bursts of focused, collaborative, and play periods. It is almost like wearing different hats to achieve each of these goals.

Which level is more challenging for you? And how do you stay focused? Join the conversation by including your comment below!

Additional Resources

Topics: time management tips, interruptions

Unwanted interruptions versus welcome interruptions: 6 ways to take control of the unwanted ones!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 @ 11:22 AM

workplace interruptionsIf you happen to be in a service role or a business development role, then certain interruptions are “welcome,” and handling these interruptions is critical for your success. If your customer calls or sends an urgent e-mail while you are working on another matter, it is likely that handling this interruption is necessary or even desirable in order to increase customer satisfaction or close the next sizeable deal. By the way, this applies also to internal customers—people and groups within your organization who depend on your services.

While “some” of the customers’ interruptions are necessary and desirable, most are not. It is easy however to assume that “all” customer interruptions need to be attended to right away, especially if our customers are insistent or when we happen to “enjoy” being helpful and attending to the needs of others.

It is therefore crucial to create effective strategies for managing such interruptions and differentiate between the unwanted ones and the welcome ones. This might involve negotiating with our customers and setting their expectations. This could also involve having an agreed upon definition for what constitutes urgency and agreed upon response times for various types of issues.

Professional sales and customer service organizations tend to put serious effort in creating systems that rank and manage customer requests. But other individuals and groups still struggle with this issue. This includes administrative professionals, project managers, product and program managers, and many others. If you fall in this category, make it a priority to design and implement your own strategies. Here are some ideas:

  • Work with your customers to jointly define what constitutes an urgency and how they can reach you when urgent issues come up. In addition, agree on response times for non-urgent issues.

  • Develop Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) documents that are easily accessible so that customers can get answers on their own when they need them.

  • Educate and train your customers ahead of time so they will have fewer questions later.

  • Solve the source of the problems whenever possible. Periodically review the types of questions and requests that you are getting and determine if you can address the underlying issues.

  • Qualify the requests before you spend time and energy on them. Consider automating the qualification process if possible, or maybe having the requests screened by someone within your group before you invest time in them.

  • If you have several people in your group who are involved in handling similar requests, implement a “rotation” strategy, so that everyone gets their daily and/or weekly uninterrupted time.

What welcome and/or unwelcome interruptions do you face? And how do you handle them?

For additional resources on interruptions, check out the free Results Curve(tm) download.

Topics: time management tips, interruptions

Take control of e-mail interruptions! 3-min CBS News MoneyWatch video

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 @ 09:43 PM

Taking Control of E mail InterruptionsIn this video session at CBS News MoneyWatch, we got to work at the whiteboard again. The topic was “taking control of e-mail interruptions.” I drew and explained how most business professionals handle e-mail today (the shocking truth!), and then demonstrated how we can significantly improve on this “bleak” picture and transform e-mail from being an ad-hoc activity that has “us” under control, to a structure task that “we” have under control.

In doing so, we take control of one of most ubiquitous and detrimental interruptions of all, and that is e-mail interruptions!

What are you waiting for? Don’t wait for the next e-mail beep, instead listen to this 3 min video and start taking action now. And don’t keep it a secret. After all, e-mail is a shared responsibility.

Additional Resources

 

Topics: time management tips, interruptions, email management

MG Siegler from TechCrunch quits e-mail for a month! I will show you how you can quit e-mail too (part 3)

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Fri, Aug 05, 2011 @ 04:59 PM

results curve email management

A few weeks ago I described to you how MG Siegler from TechCrunch quit e-mail and I demonstrated how you can do that too and take control of your life again. I showed you how working in bursts of focused and collaborative sessions to create e-mail free zones and e-mail dedicated zones is the answer.

managing e-mail

Then, I revisited this topic again (how you can quit e-mail part 2) and discussed the 80/20 rule, and shows you how you can quit the 80% of the low impact messages, and focus on the 20% of the high impact messages.

And here we go again! This week (part 3) I would like to suggest you quit e-mail when e-mail is not best suited for what you are trying to communicate and use the most suitable tool!

Using e-mail for what e-mail is best at

Blinded by the ease and speed of e-mail, among other factors, we tend to forget that e-mail is not the only tool for communicating. This is a list of some of the tools that can largely benefit us when used appropriately in conjunction with e-mail. What do you think these tools are ideal for and not so ideal for? Use this opportunity to jot down your answers and then compare with the answers below:

  Ideal for  Not so ideal for 
 E-mail  < jot down your answers >  < jot down your answers>
 Instant Messaging    
 Phone Calls    
 Web Conferencing    
 Virtual Worlds    
 Video Conferending    
 In-Person    

While there is not one answer, and no right or wrong answer, when it comes to how best to utilize these tools, here are some suggested answers as a starting point:

  Ideal for  Not so ideal for 
 E-mail  Factual/Asynchronous    Emotional
 Instant Messaging  Quick exchanges  Long exchanges
 Phone Calls  Discussions  Visuals
 Web Conferencing  Document sharing  Interacting/Seeing people
 Virtual Worlds  Interacting  Simple hardware setup
 Video Conferending  Seeing people  Simple hardware setup
 In-Person  Complex/Emotional  Remote people

Let us add a few more asynchronous tools to the mix

  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • SharePoint
  • Google Docs 

Blogs, wikis, Microsoft SharePoint, Google Docs, and other information and document sharing tools, can tremendously help take the load off of e-mail. One of the examples that I give in our workshops relate to how blogs for instance (in this case, we are referring to internal blogs) can help the knowledge experts within the team or organization answer important questions once instead of time after time, and make these answers accessible to everyone within the team or organization. E-mail is not the best way to leverage and share knowledge.

Let us start using e-mail for what e-mail is best at! Before you write your next e-mail, stop for a second and ask the question: Should this be an e-mail or not?

Additional Resources

Topics: interruptions, email management

MG Siegler from TechCrunch quits e-mail for a month! I will show you how you can quit e-mail too (part 2)

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sat, Jul 23, 2011 @ 05:34 AM

Last week I described to you how MG Siegler from TechCrunch quit e-mail and I demonstrated how you can do that too and take control of your life again. I examined how results change with time, and how interruptions--like e-mail interruptions, can significantly reduce our productivity. Then I showed you how working in bursts of focused and collaborative sessions to create e-mail free zones (green bar below) and e-mail dedicated zones (red bar) is the answer:

results curve email management

Today, I would like to take this "quit e-mail" concept a step further.

To do so, I would like to bring to the picture the 80/20 rule! This rule states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our effort. In other words, there are some activities that we do that are closely connected to the desired results (the 20%) while many other things that we do that are marginally connected to the desired results if at all (the 80%):

managing e-mail

The rule has many implications and applications, but for now, I would like to apply it to e-mail and propose that only 20%  of our e-mails are closely connected to the desired results while 80% are not.

So instead of quitting e-mail all together, how about we quit the 80% and focus on the 20%. I am not just referring to incoming e-mails, but I am also suggesting you start sending about 20% of the e-mails you send today. As a result:

  1. People start to send you less e-mails and their e-mails are likely to be focused on the important issues.

  2. People start to reach you using more appropriate tools instead of always e-mailing you.

  3. You spend a lot less time on e-mail and more time on important endeavors.

Additional Resources

 

Topics: interruptions, email management

MG Siegler from TechCrunch quits e-mail for a month! I will show you how you can quit e-mail too!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 @ 06:00 AM

I Quit Modified SmallMG Siegler, from TechCrunch, tweeted and blogged recently "What if I just stop responding to e-mail?" The tweet soon became reality. MG decided to stop responding to e-mail for a whole month as an experiment. His frustration with the high volume of e-mail, and the feeling that e-mail has taken over, led to this experiment--which I believe is still in progress.

MG is not alone in his frustration! This frustration is shared by the majority of the thousands of business professionals that we work with. Our survey showed that on the average, the 1000 survey respondents spend 3.27 hours per day on e-mail. One of our workshop participants described it as "e-mail jail."

While MG's boss at TechCrunch may find that MG quitting e-mail is "interesting" and can lead to potentially great content for TechCrunch, you and I may suffer different consequences. Our bosses and clients may just fire us!

However, don't go to despair just yet! I am going to show you how you can quit e-mail too. This is like quitting e-mail for the rest of us.

You can quit e-mail too and let me show you how

Let us start by examining how our results change with time when we are working on a task. when we start to work on a task, we start to produce results, and then as we continue to work on that task, we produce more results. This continues until eventually the flow of results begins to level off and start to diminish:

Quit Email Results Curve1

What happens in reality though is that after we spend a few minutes on a task, we get interrupted, and our results go down to zero. This happens again and again so that our actual results rarely if ever reach the results curve shown above. Instead, we live in this low-productivity constant-interruption state depicted in the shaded areas below:

Quit Email Results Curve2

To remedy this situation, we need to stay focused long enough, before we switch tasks. How long is long enough? This depends on the task and it is a moment by moment decision we need to make depending on the task that we are undertaking next. If the task is strategic and important, my recommendation would be 40 minutes. Then switch and be collaborative. The results curve then looks like this:

Quit Email Results Curve3

All you have to do: Quit e-mail for 40 minutes

So if you don't have the luxury of quitting e-mail for a whole month, how about something much more attainable and sustainable, and more revolutionary in its impact on your productivity. All you have to do is quit e-mail for 40 minutes at a time, in other words creating e-mail free zones (shown in green below), and then handling e-mail right when you get into the collaboration zone, creating e-mail-dedicated zones (shown in red below).

Quit Email Results Curve4

Let us not "throw out the baby with the bath water." Let us take control by creating these e-mail free-zones and e-mail dedicated zones.

Stay tuned for more ways in which you can "quit" e-mail!

Additional Resources

results curve

PS: After reading Lynda's article about Exclamations marks, I tried to limit them in my article above, but still had more than two! I will try harder next time Lynda.

Topics: interruptions, email management

Staying focused in an ADD World: 3 techniques that can help!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Jul 11, 2011 @ 10:31 PM

 

Staying Focused in an ADD WorldIn my most recent interview at BNET, we got to work at the whiteboard again. I drew and explained how our mind works and how our own thoughts can be the biggest distraction of all, and then concluded with 3 specific techniques that can help us become better at staying focused, and also recovering quickly when our mind drifts into other unrelated territories or someone else interrupts our focus:

 

First Technique: Use a countdown timer

Not any timer – a countdown timer. Setting the countdown timer for 40 minutes (or whatever time period we choose) and then pushing the Start button has significant implications.

Just the fact that the timer is running seems to drastically heighten our awareness of time and allow us to quickly notice when we deviate from our task. It’s as simple as that. It is fascinating that such a simple and easy tool can have such an impact on our focus, but it does. Buying a countdown timer may very well result in the biggest return on investment that we can ever achieve!

Second Technique: Micro-Planning™ each 40 minute session

Creating a brief outline at the beginning of each 40 minute session listing key steps that we need to get done in order to complete the selected task can make the session as successful as it can be.

Ideally the Micro-Plan™ is handwritten in just a minute or two in the Notes section in the paper journal (described in the Accomplishing More With Less methodology).

Just like the timer, which appears to be a simple and perhaps expendable tool on the surface, Micro-Planning™ is a powerful technique that can help us stay focused, and if and when we have to deviate to take care of urgent issues, the Micro-Plan™ helps us restart our task with the minimum amount of effort and the fastest recovery time.

Third Technique: Turning Off External Interruptions

It sounds simple, and it would be if all external interruptions were within our control. Wishful thinking! Indeed, we can turn off the e-mail beep, forward the phone to voice mail, and indicate that we are busy or “away” in our Instant Messaging status, which we should do during our focus sessions. But it is much more difficult to switch off the people who stop by, the noise or conversations around our work area, and most importantly the urgent and critical requests that come from bosses, colleagues, customers, family and friends, not to mention the blame and guilt that come from not being available to handle all of the above promptly.

Staying focused in an ADD World--at the whiteboard

Staying Focused in an ADD World

Additional Resources

 

Topics: business results, time management tips, interruptions