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The Results Curve: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time

Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

“The highest level of accomplishments are achieved when we work in bursts” from bnet.com/live

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Jun 08, 2011 @ 06:00 AM

time management tips

Sumi Das, host of the The One Live show at BNET asked me during the show:

“What advice (relating to managing interruptions) do you have for those of us who work in a deadline-driven industry, and even for people who don’t, if is not an option to only check email once every couple of hours--you may need to respond to a message immediately upon receipt, particularly if it is from your manager!”

This was my answer

“Checking e-mail once every couple of hours in today’s work environment? Not only this is not possible, but I think it may be counter-productive.

We live in a highly collaborative work environment, and we are highly interdependent, so we need to check e-mail more often and keep the issues and decisions moving along.

What I recommend is checking e-mail after each focused session.
So if my current task requires 20 minutes of focus, I stop checking e-mail during this focused time, and then the first think I do after the 20 minutes is check e-mail.

This is the message that I want everyone to hear: The highest levels of accomplishments are achieved when we work in bursts. A burst of focused effort, followed by a burst of collaborate effort, and then followed by a burst of play time to get re-energized and ready for more.

Now e-mails from managers are a whole different story. Managers need to become more aware of the impact that their e-mails have on their team and not expect immediate response. When issues are critical and require immediate response, use a different way to notify their team. Something they should discuss with their team and agree upon ahead of time.”

View the recording of the show for more tips about Accomplishing More With Less! And learn more about The Accomplishing More With Less Workbook.

Topics: social media, time management tips, interruptions, email management

40 minute focus for breakthrough results--at the whiteboard (3 minute video that can change your worklife)

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Jun 01, 2011 @ 09:52 AM

results curve focus resultsIn my recent interview at BNET, we got to work at the whiteboard. I drew and explained the breakthrough concepts behind the Results Curve which have helped thousands of business professionals manage their focused and collaborative time!

Now you can share this with your manager, your staff, your colleagues, so that you can better synchronize your focused and collaborative time, so everyone starts to become more awareness about where everyone else is in their workflow before you interrupt them:

40-minute focus for breakthrough results--at the whiteboard:

results curve focus and collaborative time

Looking forward to your comments here and on YouTube!

Topics: business results, time management tips, interruptions

How to handle constant interruptions from your colleagues and manager!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, May 10, 2011 @ 06:00 AM

constant interruptionsConstant interruptions can really get in the way of our productivity. In a recent conversation with BNET (the CBS Interactive Business Network), I discussed this issue and outlined some tips for those who want to effectively solve these workplace challenges (or "landmines" as the BNET team calls them).

Watch the video and/or check out some of the key points below.

Host Question: I have a colleague who is constantly sending me Instant Messages and often stopping by to talk to me.  It's not that I don't like this person but these constant interruptions are having an adverse impact on my ability to make real progress.  What can I do?

Answer: There are two important issues that we need to discuss with our workgroup.

First, how do we indicate to them that we are focused. In other words, when we are trying to focus and prefer not to be interrupted, how do we make this known to them so they become aware of it and therefore minimize their interruptions? Some groups approach this playfully and agree that a person would post a visible “sign” of some sort indicating that they’re focused. Other groups use their Instant Messenger status.

Second, we need to discuss with our group how do they escalate issues to us when critical issues come up while we’re focused. Using e-mail to escalate issues is not the answer because we would need to monitor e-mail all the time and therefore can’t focus. Phone, cell phone, pager, text messaging, work much better.

Host Question: How about my manager? Many of my interruptions actually come from my manager?

Answer: Ideally, you would have a similar discussion with your manager, and also agree on a response time. It would be helpful if the issues are grouped into two categories: Urgent issues that require immediate attention, and less-urgent that can wait until the next time you are on e-mail or next time you see your manager.

Host Question: So what should managers do?

Answer: I have three tips for managers. First, clearly differentiate between what is truly urgent, and what is perceived urgent. Second, have a designated place to capture the issues that are not truly urgent instead of e-mailing them or calling your team members right away. This can be a paper journal or an electronic document. Third, make it okay for your team to say “no” and to ask to postpone discussions until they are finished with their current focused task.

In Summary?

Constant interruptions can really get in the way of our productivity and to minimize them we need to discuss these issues with our group openly and come up with a win-win formula where we can help each other stay focused and yet stay responsive to urgent and critical issues when they come up.

Additional Resources

Topics: business results, time management tips, interruptions

How to turn 20 hours of writing into something fun and achievable

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, May 09, 2011 @ 12:56 PM

deadline business writingAs the deadline approaches for completing the manuscript for the Accomplishing More With Google Apps book, I needed to take some drastic measures to stay on track. One of them was to take two whole days out of my busy schedule and work uninterrupted on writing and editing.

The thought of spending two full days on one task is not necessarily the most appealing especially when it comes to writing and editing; a process that takes energy, creativity, and requires a certain mindset/mood.  I had to pull every trick I know, and every tip  and technique I teach, in order to make it through!

So here are how I turned these 20+ hours of writing into a fun and successful project:

  1. Started with a vision:  I spend some time reflecting and reminded myself of why this is important to me, and what the finished product will look like. As you know, I am a strong believer in writing things down. So I described this vision vividly on my journal!
  2. Proceeded to breaking the project down: I divided the two days into 4 half-day chunks, with a goal for each, and each half-day chunk, into about 5 or 6 smaller focused sessions. The exact times were loosely defined to allow for flexibility and spontaneity.
  3. Alternated between focus sessions and mini-breaks and play time: After each focused session of exactly 35 minutes (for some reason my default guidelines of 40 minutes seemed too long for some reason), I engaged into an active fun break or exercise of some sort. This included moving around, stretching, and/or a little walk. I even designed a 5 minute exercise that I will be soon introducing at some fo the workshops (those who are attending my May 18th workshop are likely to experience it).
  4. Arranged the environment ahead of time so I can stay uninterrupted during this project: I cleared the inbox, handled any outstanding and time sensitive issues, and even full cleared my desk. So now my workspace and my mind were ready for focus. Most importantly I cleared by schedule and set the expectation that I won't be available.
  5. Stayed offline the whole time: While there was an overwhelming temptation to check e-mail on the breaks, I resisted and shut down e-mail all together. No e-mail and no browsing except when I needed it for my task--writing and editing. With no connectivity, focus got deeper and deeper, and momentum got higher and higher. No connectivity largely contributed to the success of this project.

How did you manage your last important project or deadline? Did you apply any of the above and how? Or what other tricks did you pull to overcome interruptions, complexity, and procrastination?

Topics: business writing, business results, interruptions

Tip-Of-The-Month: From 500 Hats to 5 Hats: How to focus, collaborate, play, do e-mail, and get accomplished!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Dec 02, 2010 @ 10:57 PM

focus collaborate playFor years, my friend and fellow entrepreneur Dave McClure used the expression "500 Hats" (which became his personal and professional brand) to refer to the many hats entrepreneurs wear as they get a new startup off the ground.  Dave did an outstanding job at wearing these hats and he recently went on to start a new seed fund & incubator program called 500 Startups in which Dave offers advising and investing.

While a few “super” entrepreneurs like Dave McClure and Mark Zuckerberg might enjoy, and even thrive, wearing the 500 Hats, the rest of us are likely to be happier and more effective with far fewer hats. Yet today's workplace, and our own self-inflicted work habits, seem to continuously gravitate us towards wearing too many hats and leaving us more often than not stranded in a world of utter chaos or at best with less-than-optimum performance, and not to mention stress and dissatisfaction.

So let me "simplify!" Are you ready to meet the 5 Hats?

The 5 Hats of Highly Accomplished People

If you have downloaded my free eBook titled the Results Curve: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time, you already have a head start in putting these 5 Hats into practice. If not, I invite you to do so to get the full picture and the underlying concepts as well as the specific techniques that will help you stick to these new habits and turn them into natural behaviors.

Hat #1: The Focus Hat

Focus HatPut on your Focus Hat and dive deep into an important task that is going to make a difference. Meaningful accomplishments don't come from working a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Meaningful accomplishments require focused and purposeful effort. When you are working in few minutes increments, or even seconds nowadays, you may be getting things done and getting some immediate gratification, but hardly thinking strategically and creatively, and rarely solving important and complex problems. 

Depending on the task on hand, keep the Focus Hat on until you have made significant progress. For some tasks, this may be 10 or 15 minutes, while for others, it may be 30 or 45 minutes, or even longer. The Results Curve suggests 40 minutes as the limit and then switching hats for at least a bit before coming back to the Focus Hat.

Hat #2: The Collaboration Hat

After your focused session, take off your Focus Hat and put on your Collaboration Hat. This means check e-mail, voice mail, talk to people, ask for what you need, give others what they need, and be fully collaborative. This is fast paced, total multi-tasking, and utter engagement. With the Collaboration Hat on, go as fast as you want and can, un-limit yourself, and multi-task to your heart’s desire. After all, we live in a highly interdependent and fast-paced work environment. Oh, and don’t forget to check the social networks.

Collaboration is key and therefore the Collaboration Hat is absolutely necessary. And while we hear so many messages about multi-tasking being a problem, Dawna Ballard, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, confirmed at our lunch and learn webinars a couple of week ago that multi-tasking is not in and by itself the problem. It is only a problem when we “only” multi-task. In other words when instead of wearing the Collaboration Hat, we get stuck with a Collaboration Shirt at all times.

Hat #3: The Play Hat

Take off your Collaboration Hat and go wild (with a little obvious disclaimer here about staying professionally and socially responsible). The concept of play in the workplace continues to be worrisome for some. However research is proving time after time that environments that tolerate or even encourage play are thriving with engagement, innovation, and productivity.  Chuck Hamilton, Manager at the IBM Center for Advanced Learning, talked about the IBM@PLAY program at our lunch & learn webinars last year. Chuck discussed how playful tools and projects are spreading across their workplace including the use of Virtual Worlds to help connect people globally across the organization.

Play means different things to different people. I would like to define it as being whatever activity gets you refreshed, energized, and fully engaged. It is intended to help you avoid heading downhill on the Results Curve into the darkness of boredom and inefficiency. Play can mean getting physically active and engaging in a play activity on one end of the spectrum, to having a few minutes of silence and letting the mind wander on the other end of the spectrum. Stay tuned for more discussions of play activities and for the “playtime challenge” that is coming soon!

Hat #4: The E-mail Hat

Take off the e-mail “shirt” that you are wearing all the time (you know what happens when you wear the same thing all the time) and put on the E-mail Hat. This means don’t treat e-mail like an on-going activity that you do all day long. Last time I checked, e-mail was not part of your job description and you are not being paid to just do e-mail. So I suggest a mind shift: “E-mail is a task, and like any other task, it needs to have a clear beginning and a clear end.” So put the E-mail Hat on and work on this e-mail task—fearlessly and fiercely processing the new messages in your inbox. Then you take your E-mail Hat off and now stay off e-mail until after you gave focus, collaboration, and play the time their deserve. 

Similar to what Dawna Ballard, Ph.D., said about multi-tasking, I extrapolate this to e-mail: E-mail is not the problem, the problem is that we do e-mail all the time. For more details and to view a demo of how to simplify the e-mail task, visit my previous article “Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 2 of many.

Jared Goralnick (Founder of Awayfind.com) and I share a vision in which we want to enable business professionals completely change the way they do e-mail and break free from the e-mail jail. Stay tuned for more information about how to setup automatic notifications based on smart filters so that important messages are relayed to you instead of you having to watch for them on e-mail.

Hat #5: The Light-Focus Hat

While the Focus Hat is critical for the important and strategic tasks that require in-depth thinking, a myriad of other tasks can be handled while still being able to keep an eye and respond to incoming inquiries. The Light-Focus Hat is exactly that--working on our own tasks while still being open to handling incoming inquiries. Put this hat on when you are able and willing to stop the task on hand, handle a request, and then resume your original task. 

The Results Curve Hats

If you have seen the Results Curve, you may enjoy its new look with the key hats I described above:

Results Curve Hats

By the way Dave McClure actually wore a variety of "chapeau" while playing ultimate frisbee around the SF bay area. So don't by shy. Get real hats and make use of them to make a point to yourself first and to your community second! I got my Focus Hat (the one displayed above) and now shopping for my E-mail Hat!

Download the Results Curve for a more thorough examination of our work habits today and how to better manage focused and collaborative time!

Get The Accomplishing More With Less Workbook to get the full picture! See reviews at Amazon.com

Topics: tip-of-the-month, interruptions, email management

If you can't resist chocolate, don't have chocolate around: 5 things to avoid having around for increased productivity!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Sep 13, 2010 @ 02:02 PM

productivity interruptionsMy friend Liz said that she realized after a while that no matter how hard she tries to resist having the variety of chocolate treats that are nicely distributed throughout her home, she kept falling for the temptation and having them! What eventually worked for her is to not have chocolate around--in other words, a chocolate-free home!  Without getting too deep into the psychological aspects of addictions, let us just keep things simple for now, and extrapolate this techniques to see how it might help with resisting daily interruptions and distractions that keep us getting off track and away from our important initiatives and projects.

Interruptions are the primary enemy

How much do you think interruptions reduce your productivity? 10%? 20%? 50%? I am sure you are curious about the answer. The answer (both quantitative and qualitative) lies in the Results Curve (free download) and it is estimated to be a shocking 80% or more. 

So anything we can do to avoid them is a good thing. Here are 5 things to avoid having around so we are not constantly interrupted. While it is not possible to not have these around for too long, see if you can avoid them for 40 minutes at a time as the Results Curve suggests.

5 Things to avoid having around

  1. Having your e-mail open while you are trying to focus on something else.
  2. Having Social Media open or easily accessible!
  3. Having extra documents open that can easily distract you and draw you into a different topic or task.
  4. Having extra papers laying around that can sidetrack you.
  5. Having food (such as chocolate) that is easily accessible. Instead make it your reward after you finish your focused task (and maybe keep in a remote place that would require some physical movement to get to).

Now if you really want to move into more advanced techniques that can help you stay focused, check out the the countdown timer suggested in the Results Curve! Stay tuned for the next technique on how to stay focused that is coming soon!

Topics: interruptions, productivity