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Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

4 Steps to Be a Productivity Champion at Work—Right Now

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, Sep 04, 2014 @ 12:31 PM

Pierre Khawand 100x100By Pierre Khawand, People-OnTheGo

The modern day workplace is overloaded with distractions and technological temptations that dramatically reduce our productivity and results at work. Our brains simply can't recover and maximize our efforts from these "start-and-stop" work habits taking over our day.

Ask yourself: When was the last time you sat down at your desk, undistracted, and accomplished 40 minutes of continuous, uninterrupted work?

describe the imageYou're not alone. Countless professionals simply haven't been trained in the art—and science—of workplace focus. And while it can seem challenging, changing your work habits doesn't have to be hard.

Here below, I've outlined five steps you can take, right now, to become a productivity champion at work.

1. Prepare.

Create a distraction-free zone at work. Make sure your desk is free of clutter. Shut down email, social media, even your smartphone (or set it to silent, if you need it on for emergencies.) Hang a sign on your door to let co-workers know that you're in a "focused session," and when you'll next be available to collaborate. These quick and simple preparations will help set you up for success.

2. Focus.

Now that you've made your environment free of distractions, you're ready for your first focused session. Set a timer and challenge yourself to focus for 30 to 40 minutes. Don't let yourself get distracted by technology, your thoughts, or another task. Focus on one thing at a time. If you happen to get distracted or are interrupted, try to get back to the task-at-hand as quickly as possible. You can do it! The timer will help hold yourself accountable and encourage you to cross that finish line.

describe the image

3. Collaborate.

Success! You've just completed your first focused session. Now it's time to collaborate. Take 10-15 minutes to check email, social media, or collaborate with your co-workers, if needed. For managers, this is a great time for your to make yourself available or check in to your team.

It's important to "come up for air," after each focused session, so that you can assess if any priorities have changed, or if you need to bring in any stakeholders to help you complete your task or move to the next phase. Working much longer than 40-minutes at a time will not improve your results—in fact, results have been shown to drop off after 40 minutes of focus! You need to take a rest, regroup, and recharge.

4. Play.

Take 5 minutes or so to break, stand-up, stretch, meditate, eat a snack... Whatever it takes to re-engergize and prepare again for the next focused session. If you're just starting out, make sure to reward yourself for accomplishing your first round of focus, collaboration, and play!

5. Bonus!

Be can advocate for workplace productivity—where you work, and beyond. Vote for "The Results Curve: Focus, Collaborate, Play!" to head to SXSW Interactive 2015! Voting runs through end of day 9/7/14.

Click to vote now.

Topics: time management tips, productivity

3 Great Reads on Lean Process Improvement

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Oct 09, 2013 @ 04:37 PM

We recently hosted the Director of IT Quality at UCSF Medical Center, Pierre Brickey, at our complimentary, Lunch & Learn Webinar, "Lean in Action: Streamline your process and achieve results!" In his presentation, Pierre shared about the remarkable improvements the IT Department has been making at the San Francisco hospital. You're invited to watch the recording of the 40-minute session in our Accomplishing More With Less groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Our next free webinar on Thursday, November 7 also deals with productivity and process improvement: "An 'Agile' State of Mind: How Agile software development & values power productivity (in business and beyond)." You can click here to register for the webinar now.

By request from participants, Pierre Brickey has kindly shared his recommended reading on Lean process improvement. Here are his selections:

1. Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones

lean thinking book
2. Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Add Value and Eliminate MUDA by Mike Rother and and John Shook

learning to see lean book
3. The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer by Jeffrey Liker

the toyota way lean book

 Are you using currently employing Lean in your business or organization? What books or methodologies do you recommend on process improvement? Please leave your comment below.

Additional Resources & Webinars

Topics: books, Technology, business results, time management tips, productivity, Lunch & Learn Webinars, management

Guest Blog for ProjectManagement.com: Four Productivity Tips for Managing Projects and Teams at the Micro Level

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 @ 11:32 AM

By Melissa Sweat, Online Community Manager

"When you manage a project for efficiency, accuracy, and speed, it’s not just about managing the details and flow of the project, it’s about managing the details of the details."

Click to read the full article at ProjectManagement.com.

Project Management GuestBlog People OnTheGo

Additional Resources & Webinars

Topics: effective meetings, business results, time management tips, productivity, management, team work, leadership

Time Out! How Taking Breaks Can Improve Your Writing

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 @ 11:56 AM

describe the imageBy Lynda McDaniel, Your Write with Confidence Coach

Lynda will be teaching a two-part webinar on Sept. 10 & 17, How to write attention-grabbing, brand-building blogs, articles, and social media. Click here to register for the sessions.

She'll also be presenting at our FREE Lunch & Learn Webinar on Sept. 12 at noon PT: Unleash Your Inner Storyteller for Business Writing. Register now for the complimentary session!

“Take breaks” ranks high on my list of favorite writing tips. It’s an excellent example of “accomplishing more with less” and can boost the results you get from your writing.

Sound too good to be true? Let me share a real-life example.

TimeOut People OnTheGoI was writing an article about Jeffery Robinson, a lawyer whose career was shaped by the Civil Rights Movement. He is kind, courteous, and caring, and I wanted to do him justice. That said, I also was eager to cross this assignment off my to-do list. I put the final touches on the article and asked a colleague to review it. She came back with the dreaded words, “You’re not done.”

She was right. I found several areas that needed to be stronger, including this prosaic phrase: “Robinson has amassed an impressive list of awards.” (No wonder she said I wasn’t done!) I tried many approaches, but I was still stumped. I gave up and took a nap. When I awoke 15 minutes later, this phrase popped into my head: “If awards were legal tender, Robinson could forget about billable hours.”

Where did that come from? According to William Zinsser, author of, On Writing Well, my brain had been working on this problem while I napped. He writes: “Your subconscious mind does more writing than you think... While you slept, your writer’s mind didn’t. To some extent, a writer is always working.”

That’s just how our brain is wired, and we need to give it time to work for us. Maybe you go to lunch or work on a different project, or, if you’re lucky, take a nap. Everyone complains about not having enough time to write well, but how are we spending the time we do have? Breaks are as vital to your writing as your choice of words and punctuation.

Most of us never learned the writing process and how it works. Like my scratch-it-off-the-list mentality, we just want to get our writing done as fast as possible. But attention-getting writing doesn’t happen that way. Sure, get your first draft done fast, but then spend time editing, taking breaks, and editing again. Who knows what will pop out of that marvelous brain of yours?

Join Lynda at her next webinar on Sept. 10 & 17, How to write attention-grabbing, brand-building blogs, articles, and social media. And don't forget to register for the free webinar on 9/12: Unleash Your Inner Storyteller for Business Writing. You can also watch her interview on WriterSpeak, below, for additional writing inspiration, tips, and more.

Additional Resources & Webinars

Topics: business writing, time management tips, webinars

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!


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.


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.


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

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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.


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.


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

Time for a workflow audit by Seth Godin, summary+commentary by Pierre Khawand

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Sep 07, 2011 @ 08:27 AM

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seth godin productivitySeth Godin suggests: "Go find a geek. Someone who understands gmail, Outlook, Excel and other basic tools. Pay her to sit next to you for an hour and watch you work. Then say, 'tell me five ways I can save an hour a day.' Whatever you need to pay for this service, it will pay for itself in a week."


We hired geeks and business people and watched them work, and packaged the results in dozens of technology workshops. But the biggest finding was that time saving is not about technology and tools, but about thoughts and behaviors. We studied these! Hence the Accomplishing More With Less Methodology. Here are 3 of the behaviors: a) Stop constantly interrupting yourself and others b) Stop checking e-mail compulsively c) Stop getting busy with the small stuff!


How do you waste or loose time? Is it technology and tools? Which ones? Is it in your thoughts and behaviors and which ones? Do you consider yourself efficient? Do you consider yourself effective? How much do you reflect on these topics? What feedback do you get from others? Are you getting the results you want?

Topics: summary-plus-commentary, time management tips