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The Results Curve: How to Manage Focused and Collaborative Time

Less-Is-More Blog by Pierre Khawand

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

“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

How to harness the power of working in "iterations" to overcome stress, procrastination, and perfectionism!

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

working in iterationsWanting things to be right, especially right the first time around, can be stressful or even exhausting and not to mention counter-productive. This is a trap that we all fall into and those of us who may admit to be procrastinators and/or perfectionists are likely to fall into it more often.

One strategy to fight this phenomenon back is to work in iterations. I described this strategy a while back and outlined 5 iterations that can get us going swiftly and help shatter procrastination and perfectionism. Most recently, I used this strategy and adapted it as follows.

  • Iteration #1: This worked wonders. My project, which seemed daunting at first, transformed into a fun and exciting endeavor. This iteration gave me the permission to be creative and to approach the work from a problem solving perspective. Ideas started to flow without being restricted by filters and critical judgment. When there were gaps in my information or knowledge, I made a note of it, and kept going without that information. I was unstoppable during this time.
  • I skipped iteration #2 because I didn't have much time and my project was short term.
  • Iteration #3: Now this iteration started to flow easily. It is still in my opinion the more difficult iteration but a lot less daunting than if this work was approach all at once without iterations 1 & 2. Iteration #3 is when we take our original playful work and take it to the next level. This is where we fill in some of the gaps and address the issues in more depth. This is however also the most rewarding iteration because this is when results start to shape up and become more concrete.
  • Iteration #4: In this case, this involved sharing my plan with others and discussing them via a virtual meeting. Involving others helped get some alignment on the goals and implementation plan, and avoided having me invest time in areas that weren’t consistent with the stakeholder’s vision and desired outcome.
  • Iteration #5: This is still going on. Refinements are underway. This iteration is turning out to be more fun and relaxed than anticipated.

Rediscover fun and excitement in your work! let the power of iterations work for you and overcome stress, procrastination, and perfectionism! Try this out and report back in the comments section below!

Topics: business results, time management tips, productivity, managing stress

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 do you deal with hundreds of e-mails in your inbox right after a vacation?

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Tue, May 31, 2011 @ 06:00 AM

vacation e-mailMany people tell me that they dread coming back to work after having taken a few days off or gone on vacation because of e-mail! If you have taken advantage of the holiday weekend and took some extra days off, you may soon experience the same challenge. I experienced this previously when I found 1200 message in my inbox after a vacation, and here is how I dealt with them, applying many of the tips and techniques we teach in the Accomplishing More With Less methodology:

  • Anything that resembled spam, subscriptions, news, group messages, sports tickets offers, and the like, got deleted. These amounted to several hundred messages.
  • FYI e-mails that don’t require an action got scanned quickly and moved into the Catch-All folder. This is the folder where unimportant messages are kept and referred to only on an as needed basis.
  • Messages that can be answered quickly, got answered right then. Once answered, they got dragged into the Catch-All folder as well.
  • Messages that required further action (or thinking) got assigned the red category**. Those that are time sensitive, got also assigned a reminder with the desired dates and times.
  • Remaining messages, which are the not-so-urgent messages, got assigned the blue category** and occasionally got assigned reminders with the desired dates and times.

Suddenly, a daunting inbox got transformed into an organized list of messages with red and blue categorise, and with the appropriate reminders for those that are time sensitive. The job is not done. The next task is to set some time aside, preferably by the end of the day, to focus on the red messages and handle these in a timely manner.

To make this work, make sure you budget a couple of hours when you come back (reserve this time on your calendar before you go on vacation) to sort through your messages systematically as described above! Remember to take a break every 40 minutes and move so you stay energized and complete this task successfully.

Afraid about being off e-mail during vacations or holidays? Fear no more. 

Additional Resources

Topics: time management tips, email management

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority! Overcome priority overload!

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Thu, May 12, 2011 @ 06:00 AM

managing prioritiesI couldn't have said it any better. "When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority" said my client today as I was shadowing him in order to better understand his organization's work process and tailor our training programs accordingly. Shadowing is such an insightful exercise. It allows us to take a look at what is under the hood; the nuances that make each work environment unique. It is a great learning for everyone involved; the observer, the one being observed, and everyone around them.

Back to the priority overload

Priority overload seems to be a common complaint which we hear about often in our workshops. It is a complaint that we need to pay closer attention to!

Creating a priority (such as communicating that an issue is urgent or a task needs to be performed under a tight deadline) needs to be taken very seriously and exercised with utmost care. If not, and if too many priorities are created, and if they are reactive rather than strategic, the result is counterproductive if not even harmful. If this persists over time, it can lead to the team getting tired, then exhausted, then fatigued, resentful, and maybe rebellious. Then comes exodus!

managing priorities

By the way, priority overload need not be confused with changing priorities and with being flexible and responsive to changes in the marketplace. Priority overload is about having too many priorities to the detriment of being successful at any of them. Changing priorities on the other hand is part of being dynamic and responsive, but should also be considered carefully and strategically.

The key question: "What is the link?"

So how do we ensure that the priorities we are creating or changing are carefully selected and don't backfire? One practice that we stress in the Accomplishing More With Less Workshop is a simple but overlooked one, which is getting into the habit of asking the question "What is the link?" In other words, what is the link between this task, or this priority or project, and the end results that we are seeking? If the link is clear, we are good to go. If not, trouble is on its way and careful reassement is in order!

Managers and executives, beware!  And be strategic! And be attentive as to whether your team is already on the graph above!

Topics: business results, time management tips, productivity

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

Tip-Of-The-Month: How to manage the e-mail overload, part 4 of many

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Mon, Jul 26, 2010 @ 01:13 PM

Fearlessly facing the issues

e-mail tips tutorialsE-mail messages, especially the not-so-easy ones, seem to sit in our inbox for a while before we finally take actions on them. We may agonize about them for days and looking at them dozens of times before we finally take the necessary action. By that time, it may be too late and we may find ourselves missing important windows of opportunities or critical deadlines and therefore needing to do some damage repair. Or even if it is not late, we still feel exhausted and guilty, having spent valuable mental and emotional energy without making much progress. 

You know these messages that I am referring to. Scan your inbox right now and identify 5 to 10 of these messages and let’s get to work:

  1. If you need more information before you can handle the message (like more clarification on certain issues, or access to a report that has some relevant data), then initiate the request to get the necessary information. Put a reminder so that if you don’t get the information within the necessary timeframe, you can follow-up in a timely manner. Then move to the next message.
  2. If you need time to think through the content of the message and/or preform the related task, then set time on your calendar to do so, and then move to the next message (most important treat this time like a serious appointment that is not easily subject to change. So when the time comes, just do it!).
  3. If you need to consult with others before you can handle the message, then initiate the request to consult with the relevant people. Also, put that reminder so you can follow-up. Then move to the next message.
  4. If you have the information you need, and don’t need more time to think it through or perform a related task, and don’t need advice from others, then prompt yourself to take the action now! If you have been postponing such a message, it is likely that what is stopping you is an underlying fear of facing the issues (making a decision, saying no to people, giving information or opinions that may rock the boat, etc.). So the solution is to fearlessly face the issues and learn in the process. Below is the 5 step process that can help you do so.

Fearlessly Facing The Issues: A Five Step Approach

  • Step 1: Draft your “fearless” response (but don’t send it yet). In other words, how would you respond if you had no fear and if you were to face the issues to the best of your knowledge.
  • Step 2: Write down what you are afraid of (specific thoughts that are causing your fear), and what are the likelihood that these unfortunate events will come true (jot this down, don’t just think it), and how you would manage them if they would come true.
  • Step 3: Review your “fearless” response again and potentially refine it to minimize any associated risks. At this point you may already feel ready to face the issues and send your response. If not, go to step 4.
  • Step 4: Get feedback about your response from someone else, and preferably someone objective who is not a stakeholder in the issues. Get some objective feedback on your analysis in step 2 above.
  • Step 5: Refine your response and send it and stay tuned for more learning.

If you start fearlessly facing the e-mail issues on a daily basis (every time you go to your inbox), you are likely to dismantle these fears quickly and accelerate your e-mail process! 

Additional Resources

Topics: tip-of-the-month, time management tips, email management

Old terminology, new terminology: "People connecting with other people"

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Wed, Feb 10, 2010 @ 08:33 AM

Time management tipsBrian Solis & Deirdre Breakenridge in their book Putting the Public Back in Public Relations talk about the new terminology in the social media era. Old terminology, before Web 2.0 and social media, refers to messages that get broadcast to users. New terminology refers to conversations that are shared with people. Brian and Deirdre also refer to what Josh Bernoff from Forrester wrote about his frustration with the term "users". Web users are no longer "users" he says. Knowing that we are at 80% of Net penetration in the US for instance, these "users" are now "people" looking for information. In the social media era, "users" are "people connecting with other people".

The most important part is not the terminology but the thinking that goes with the terminology. Thinking in terms of people and conversation changes everything. It creates a two-way street that allows all of us to change and learn in the process.

I believe that in training (or "learning" in the new terminology) and productivity ("accomplishment" in the new terminology) a similar terminology and mind shift are happening. Here is a start for comparing old and new terminology:

Traditional ways to refer to things  The new terminology and mindset 
 Users, attendees, trainees   People, participants, learners
 Messages, course material, presentations   Conversations, topics, interactions
 Time management, getting organized, being productive   Working well, optimizing, accomplishing

You additions and comments are welcome!

Topics: social media, time management tips, getting organized

Do the most difficult first; 3 ways to get the ultimate business result and for managing stress

Posted by Pierre Khawand on Sun, Jan 31, 2010 @ 10:30 AM

It is a human tendency to take the path of least resistance. To do the easy stuff first. As we do the easy things first though, what is ahead of us is always more difficult than what we currently have. We end up living a "difficult" life with a persistent anxiety about what is next. After all, with this approach, what is next is always more difficult and we end up with more stress and less results:

Business Results

Let us take a look at the alternative. If we reverse this tendency and do the most difficult first, observe what happens:

Managing Stress

What happens is that our anxiety is gone. The next task is now easier. Most importantly, we face the real issues, get real data, gain experience, develop skills, and increase our confidence. We most often rise to the occasion and reap the benefits. Even if we don't fully succeed at the task, we still succeed at learning from it, and being able to apply this knowledge again and again.

Here are 3 ways that can help us adopt this new approach of heading towards the most difficult first:

  1. Start with sound task design. As I suggested a few weeks ago (see When the task seems overcomplicated or overwhelming, reconsider the "task design"!) start by setting the right expectations, then line up the necessary resources, and don't forget to break down the task into manageable components.
  2. Get support and advice. More often than not, the help we need to approach the most difficult is just around the corner or even in front of our eyes. All we have to do is look around and ask. People are more willing to help and provide support when we make it easy for them to do so.
  3. Just do it. We have heard the "just do it" a million times but hearing it and applying it are two different things. It is only when we dive into the action that we can truly experience the learning and the emotions that go with it. It is all wishful thinking until we action.

Your turn to get better at managing stress and getting business results through action with the most difficult action first! Your comments below!

Topics: business results, time management tips, getting organized, managing stress