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4 Reasons Leaders Waste Valuable Meeting Time

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4 Reasons Leaders Waste Valuable Meeting Time

The meeting that could’ve been an email: We’ve all been there. As much as we want every meeting we attend to be productive, almost every one of us has left a meeting wondering: “Was that really necessary?” 

According to a study by Harvard Business Review, 71% of senior managers in a range of industries say meetings are unproductive and inefficient. Executives spend 23 hours per week in meetings, on average, up from 10 hours in the 1960s.

Almost nobody actually enjoys meetings. So why do leaders waste so much time in them?

1. They get sidetracked.

Given how long they spend in meetings, many leaders struggle to create an agenda for each of them. Some are thinking ahead to the next one, while others try to tackle every meeting on the fly. 

Meetings should always have a defined purpose. Make that reason clear when calling the meeting, and prepare an agenda immediately after scheduling it. Give other participants a chance to comment on and contribute to it.

Setting a specific agenda ensures that you show up prepared, and it also gives your team members an idea of what to expect. Whether you prepare to use a written list or a series of slides, developing an agenda allows you to guide the discussion. 

2. They are disorganized.

Business leaders have hectic schedules as is, and meetings only add to the craziness. Staying organized is key for productive meetings.

Use scheduling software to manage your meetings. Calendar allows you to pick times and dates for your events, share your availability with others, and avoid scheduling conflicts. What’s more, Calendar’s dashboard shows where and with whom you spend your time, helping you make sure that your schedule aligns with your priorities.

Without a shareable scheduling system, it’s tough to know who’s coming to a meeting or whether someone might need to duck out part way through. Those details let leaders structure meetings in ways that make the most of everyone’s time. 

3. They have too many meetings on the calendar.

Between meetings, interviews, and training sessions the number of meetings on your calendar can add up quickly. It’s important to know when meetings are appropriate and when they are not:

  • When you should have a meeting: when you need to plan for the long term, get or give feedback on major projects, host executive-level negotiations, or deliver employee performance reviews.
  • When to keep meetings short (or not have them at all): when you need to share weekly progress updates, present revenue and expense breakdowns, brainstorm for marketing assets, or explain changes to your personal schedule.

When leaders use good judgment, they can cut out meetings that are unnecessary and focus on the ones that matter.

4. They can’t keep their employees focused.

The most wasteful type of meeting is one that attendees do not find valuable. If you want your employees’ meeting time to be spent effectively, it’s important to keep them engaged throughout.

There are multiple ways to make meetings more interesting:

  • Add visuals to presentations. Photos and videos can drive home key points. Beware, though, that adding too many visuals wastes time by distracting attendees.
  • Encourage group participation. Activities encourage buy-in from non-presenting members of the meeting. Ask people to raise their hands in response to certain questions, or request suggestions around a challenge. 
  • Keep all meetings under 50 minutes. Meetings that last for an hour or more should be split into two or more sessions. Set a timer if your meetings consistently overrun their slots.
  • Identify key takeaways at the end of each meeting. Concluding meetings with action items not only makes them more meaningful, but it provides markers for future measurement. When meetings begin with a review of the prior one’s action items, participants feel a sense of purpose and accountability.

Unproductive meetings may seem like a fact of life, but they do not need to be. Schedule only the meetings you need, always develop an agenda in advance, and keep participants engaged. Neither you nor your employees have time to waste.

How to Handle a Meeting-Happy Client

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How to Handle a Meeting-Happy Client

Saying “no” is tough for everyone, including entrepreneurs. You want to do right by your clients, but you can’t spend your whole day meeting with them.

Every moment you spend in a meeting is one you can’t spend working on your business. Don’t let meeting-happy clients pull you away from your other priorities.

Start by keeping a time log so you know exactly how you’re spending your time. If one or two accounts are responsible for a disproportionate amount of your meeting time:

1. Get to the root of the issue. 

Clients know their time is limited, too. If they keep asking to meet with you, look for common themes. Show that you’re working to solve their needs, and you should see those requests fall off.

Try this: When the client reaches out, respond by asking for more details about the reason for the meeting. In many cases, a meeting simply isn’t necessary. If it’s something that you can address yourself, do it. Report back, and ask if the client still wants to meet.

2. Delegate. 

If your client constantly asks to meet — especially if it’s for a legitimate reason — one solution might be to ask a team member to take the meetings. That way, the client feels supported, and your schedule stays open.

Be sure, though, that the client respects your employee’s time. Ask them to schedule meetings at least 48 hours in advance, and ensure meetings last no longer than an hour. 

3. Be direct and quick.

What if, despite you solving the client’s issue, he or she still wants to meet? Say no, but don’t beat around the bush.

Being decisive and clear benefits everyone. Think of it like tearing off a Band-Aid: It’s better to get through the pain quickly than let it fester. In fact, a great client will appreciate your straightforward, timely response.

4. Provide additional resources.

Just because you say “no” to a meeting doesn’t mean you can’t be a good partner. If you can’t solve the client’s issue yourself, share content about it or make a referral to someone who can.

If multiple clients have come to you about this issue, consider developing a whitepaper or similar asset around it. A robust content strategy can be a great way to bring in new business. 

5. Template your responses. 

No matter how well you handle meeting-happy clients, there will always be more. Prepare yourself for the next one by setting up templates. Make each response is decisive and inoffensive.

Start with two: For those that you see no reason to meet with, “My calendar is booked for the foreseeable future” is a good response. For the rest, say something like, “I would love to discuss this with you further, but let’s wait for our next scheduled meeting.”

Practice makes perfect: The only way you’re going to get better at saying “no” to your clients is by doing it over and over again. Own your schedule, and don’t be ashamed of it. 

6 Ways to Use a Spare 15 Minutes at Work

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6 Ways to Use a Spare 15 Minutes at Work

When you’re used to moving from task to task or meeting to meeting, fifteen minutes of downtime can be a bit unsettling. You don’t want to waste half of that time thinking about what to do and wind up regretting it.

Luckily, there are so many ways to spend downtime at work. The key is to have a plan to make the most of it:

1. Declutter.

Decluttering can significantly benefit your mental state and productivity levels. Maybe there are papers piling up all over your workspace, or perhaps you struggle to find office supplies you need. Downtime is perfect for reorganizing the area that you work in. 

But decluttering doesn’t end there. Your digital workspace is just as important as your physical one, so use your downtime to get rid of unneeded files and create new folders for organizing the ones that you do need. 

2. Respond to emails.

How often do you open up your email to find an empty inbox? Don’t let them pile up; spend your spare 15 minutes deleting unnecessary ones and responding to others.

Which are worth answering immediately, and which should you put off? Apply the two-minute rule. If you need more time than that to answer any one message, shelve it until your dedicated time to answer emails. 

3. Get some reading done.

Fifteen minutes is plenty of time to read through some news articles, informative editorials, or blog posts. If none of those tickle your fancy, haul out an inspirational book

What if you aren’t sure what to read? Take those 15 minutes to prepare your reading list. Send out emails asking for suggestions. Order them according to your interests and the insights you expect to gain by reading them. 

4. Play a game.

Games are not a waste of time when they have a purpose. If you’re feeling a little burned out or are struggling to get your brain in gear, play a game of Sudoku or a word search. Keep a booklet of puzzles in your back pocket for cab rides and airport lounges. The New York Times has some mini-crosswords that won’t take as long as their larger ones. 

5. Listen to a short podcast.

Podcasts are another good way to stay informed during periods of downtime. There are dozens of business podcasts whose episodes are 30 minutes or less. Put on a pair of headphones, and take a walk. 

What if you’ve got a little more time? Throw on a TED Talk. Learn something new by selecting one outside of your field. And if you do need to cut it short, podcasts can always be paused and resumed later. 

6. Meditate.

If you get anxious during the workday, why not take 15 minutes to meditate? Even short periods of meditation can significantly boost your productivity and reduce your stress levels.

Consider using a meditation app like Headspace or Calm to guide your sessions. Otherwise, simply listen to your breath, and try not to judge your thoughts. You can meditate in an office, a conference room, or while walking. 

Downtime is not the same as — or shouldn’t be, anyway — wasted time. Fifteen minutes may seem like a small amount of time, but when you use it wisely, it can make a big difference in your day.

When Are Hour-Long Meetings Worth it?

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When Are Hour-Long Meetings Worth it?

More than 10 million meetings are held every day in the U.S. Well spent or not, those interactions add up to billions of dollars in employee time.

Given how expensive meetings are, it’s incumbent on businesses to use them sparingly. If something can be accomplished via email or a quick chat, it should be. But while that should be the rule, there are some important exceptions.

When Long Meetings Make Sense

When are lengthy meetings appropriate? At least four common business situations call for them:

1. Executive-level negotiations

When you’re trying to forge a partnership or sway an investor, an hour-long meeting might make sense. High-stakes decisions don’t lend themselves well to snappy phone calls or quick chats at Starbucks.

Start by developing an agenda. Estimate the amount of time you’ll need for each step; before creating the calendar invite, add it up to determine a meeting length.

If you suspect you’ll need more than an hour, consider breaking the meeting up into two or more sessions. Executives and investors are busy people, and they simply may not have a calendar slot large enough to accomodate a multi-hour meeting. 

2. Performance reviews

Whether you’re digging into marketing data, financial projections, or employee conduct, performance-analysis meetings take time. Because these reviews do not happen every day (or even every week), spending more time on them isn’t such a bad idea. 

The greater measure of time between reviews, the lengthier a meeting can — and is expected to — be. A quarterly review may take an hour and a half; an annual, whole-company performance analysis might be worth spending an entire day off site for a retreat. 

3. Long-term planning

Certain long-term topics are worth taking a full hour to discuss. Take hiring: Filling an open role costs more than $4,000, on average. In terms of lost productivity and the company’s reputation, making a mishire costs even more.

Another is product development. New products costs millions of dollars and years to develop, and just 1 in 20 of them succeed in the market. At that level of investment, an extended discussion is warranted: What’s the product’s audience? What need does it fulfill? How does it do so better than similar products on the market?

4. Feedback on major projects

Project feedback is a mixed bag: A blog post doesn’t require a meeting to review, much less an hour-long one; a high-fidelity prototype that cost $30,000 to produce, however, probably does. 

How can you determine where that line is? Ask yourself two questions: How important is the project to the business, and what’s the risk to the company if it does not go well? If in doubt, ask a colleague whether they think it’s worth getting the whole team together to discuss.

Conducted properly, these types of meetings deliver more value to the business than they cost in employee time. But many other common reasons for meetings do not meet that bar.

When to Keep Meetings Short (or Cancel Them Altogether)

Fortunately, knowing which meetings can be cancelled or kept short is relatively simple. Don’t even dream of scheduling a full hour to discuss:

  • Weekly progress updates, especially with individuals or small teams: If the update can be summed up in an email, it should be. If you need to know how an individual is progressing on a project, send them a Slack or set up a quick call. 
  • Revenue and expense breakdowns for the wider team: Understandably, you want your workers to know how the company is faring. But figures can be shared via email; if employees have questions, they’ll stop by to ask.
  • Brainstorms for marketing assets, such as blogs or email campaigns: Competent team members can come up with topic ideas on their own. If a large number of topics are needed at once, ask everyone to bring a few ideas to the table, using the meeting time to pare them down to the strongest ones. 
  • Personal schedule updates, such as vacations or appointments: Use an online calendar to communicate out-of-office events. Send an email to explain where everything stands before leaving the office. Again, expect colleagues to bring any questions they may have to you directly. 

There’s nothing wrong with getting multiple perspectives on an issue. The fact is, though, few business situations require hour-long, team-wide deliberations.

Treat team members’ time with respect, and they’ll treat your company’s time the same way. That’s one topic everyone can agree on, no meeting required. 

To Be More Productive, Let Tech Lighten Your Load

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To Be More Productive, Let Tech Lighten the Load

You’ve heard it before: “It’s sad how much we rely on technology these days” and “All people do is stare at their phones!”

As someone who works for a tech company, I happen to believe that when used appropriately, technology can actually boost your productivity. Think of it like outsourcing: Yes, asking another team to take on work only you could do is a bad idea — but many projects are a matter of repetition.

If you’re tired of all those smaller tasks getting in the way of your mission-critical projects, take these five tips for using tech to enhance your productivity:

1. Embrace automation.

Why bother spend your waking hours on monotonous work when software can tackle it for you? Automation technology can help you with all sorts of tasks, including:

 

  • Posting on social media: Whether your full-time job revolves around social media or you do it as a side gig, content management programs can save you huge amounts of time. Tools like HootSuite allow you to write posts ahead of time and schedule them for any day and time you’d like.
  • Backing up files: Backing up files is extremely important so that you don’t lose everything when disaster strikes. Fortunately, it doesn’t require your undivided attention. Saving files to an external hard drive used to take hours. Nowadays, cloud-based backup can happen in the background while you work.
  • Responding to emails: If you find yourself repeatedly answering the same questions over and over again, it may be time for some email automation. Certain scripts can suggest responses for common questions. And of course, automated out-of-office responders let people know when you’re away. 
  • Paying bills: Every business has bills to pay. Why write checks by hand every month when you can set up automatic payments? You’ll never miss a payment, which means you’ll also pay fewer fees and have happier vendors. 
  • Signing emails: Developing a professional email signature might sound like a low-priority task, but think about it: How many emails do you send in a day? Do you use the same signature again and again? Stop writing it out every time, and let your email client handle it for you. 
  • Sending reminders: Tools like Slack and Trello let you set reminders for yourself by the hour, day, or week. Stop adding Sticky Notes to your monitor or setting your watch, and start letting software remember for you.

 

2. Use a digital scheduling system.

Time management is one of those things no entrepreneur succeeds for long without. Learn to control your calendar. A cloud-based scheduling system will keep you organized, make you more collaborative, and cut down the time it takes to schedule meetings.

The right online calendar will integrate with your other tools, feature a clean interface, and take relatively little time to set up. Get one not just for you, but for your whole team. Simply being able to look at each others’ priorities at any time will make your company more productive.

3. Default to video conferencing.

Why bother traveling just to take a meeting? Unless it’s an investor interview or an employee firing — the sort of thing that you want to do in person — do it via video and don’t waste your time traveling.

Offices that are thousands of miles apart can use video conferencing software to hold meetings and collaborate between teams. Beyond saving time, videoconferencing also eliminates the stress and cost of flying people in from remote locations.

4. Get an instant messaging platform.

Can you and your employees still be productive when working from home? When you’re away from the office, you can’t just pop over to your co-worker’s cubicle every time you need to ask her a question. Even with email, it may take her hours to respond to your message.

Instant messaging platforms like Slack are used by companies of all sizes. Direct channels let you get fast answers to those random questions, while public ones let the wider team weigh in. Opt for the paid version, which allows you to search back through Slacks since you adopted the tool.

5. Analyze only what counts.

Today’s business intelligence tools let you get a deeper understanding of overall company performance. Most project management software comes with reporting tools to analyze how much time your team is spending on each type of task.

Although you can analyze everything, though, realize that not all data is important. Is knowing the open rate of internal emails really worth your time? What about your intern’s weekly time breakdown? Analyses are only worthwhile if they actually save more than they cost. 

There are many ways technology can boost your productivity to help you get more done. Realize that you’re fortunate to live in an age of smartphones and software. Why not use them to your advantage? 

4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Sales Schedule

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4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Sales Schedule

Sales is a juggling act of meetings, demonstrations, paperwork, cold calls, and emails. The more balls you can keep in the air, the more revenue you’ll pull in — and the larger your commission checks will be.

Like it or not, though, you can’t work leads around the clock. Instead, improve your efficiency with the following tips:

1. Single-task wisely.

Although multitasking creates more problems than it solves, that doesn’t mean you can’t make more of your time.

Start by applying the 80/20 rule: Identify the 20% of your activities that account for 80% of your desired results. For example, you might focus on landing five larger clients that are worth 50 smaller ones because it’s easier to get five people to say “yes” than 50.

Arrive at the office knowing which are your “20%” projects for the day. If you commute by train, subway, or some other means that doesn’t require you to keep your attention on the road, use that time to comb through your task list. 

2. Batch your work.

Instead of doing tasks in the order that they pop up, organize them by type and tackle them in batches. Batching increases your efficiency by minimizing how frequently your brain needs to change gears.

Writing creative sales emails and updating your sales CRM take very different thought processes, for instance. Jumping back and forth between them forces you to be creative one moment and analytical the next. It’s much easier on your mind to shift gears only once. 

3. Own your calendar.

Stay in control of your calendar, or it will control you. Rather than let leads and co-workers choose any slot in your schedule, block off office hours when you are free to talk.

Go ahead and schedule your entire day. Include not just work priorities, but also personal ones like lunches with friends and doctor’s appointments. That way, neither you nor your boss needs to ask what you’re supposed to be doing.

Remember, too, that today’s calendars can do more than just organize meetings. Choose an online calendar that doubles as a project management tool. Sharing key deadlines and priorities with your team allows everyone to work more efficiently. 

4. Improve the way you email.

Email isn’t new, but there are new email tools to boost your efficiency. Boomerang, a Google Chrome plugin, lets you schedule emails in advance so you can make sure your emails get to their recipients at the most effective times. Rather than push out sales emails on Friday at 4 p.m., you could schedule them to be delivered Monday morning instead. 

Get in the habit of creating scripted email templates, especially for cold pitching and answering frequently asked questions. As long as you remember to customize the greeting and other details, they shouldn’t sound like canned responses. Double-check autofill fields so you don’t accidentally send Client X something that refers to Client Y.

No matter how busy your sales schedule is, you can always squeeze another task into it. Use technology and workflow optimization to get more done, and your sales quota won’t stand a chance.

How to Break Down Big Tasks to Boost Your Productivity

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notebook-breaking-down-big-tasks

When you try to tackle a task that is too big for a single work session or strategy, it can feel like running right into a brick wall. Productivity can plummet, morale can suffer, and a general state of stress and anxiety can ensue.

The next time you come up against a task that feels too big to handle, follow these steps to break it down and meet the challenge one step at a time:

1. Brainstorm then order action steps.

When you’re not sure how to approach a big task, get out a pen and notepad. Start by brainstorming all of the things you’ll need to do in order to accomplish it. The right starting point will become clear once you see them all on paper.

Say you want to develop and launch a new product. It’s a big task, but you probably know the smaller steps:

  • Research product-market fit.
  • Wireframe the design
  • Develop a minimum viable product
  • Beta-test the product.
  • Analyze the beta test results.
  • Research the best time to launch the product.
  • Make alterations and re-test the product (and repeat if necessary).
  • Develop a marketing campaign.
  • Make alterations (if necessary).
  • Develop a marketing campaign.
  • Officially release the product.
  • Follow up with customers for feedback.

Even to someone without a background in product development, that order probably makes intuitive sense. But it can be tough to see that until you’ve actually listed everything out.

2. Don’t overthink things.

For most people, writing down the individual steps involved in a project makes approaching them easier. For others, though, it can trigger a case of analysis paralysis.

If you find yourself in that boat, don’t think about the project as a whole. Focus just on that first step: What do you need to do in order to get the ball rolling? Thinking beyond the step immediately ahead of you only puts more stress and pressure on your shoulders.

Mentally simplifying projects, especially at their outset, makes you more motivated. Keep a map of the broader project tucked away so you can reference it without giving it brain space all of the time.

3. Group similar tasks together.

As you work through the individual steps in a project, it’s wise to group similar ones together. Performing multiple actions that are closely related is known as batching, and it can be a great way to knock out large parts of a project quickly. 

Say you’re building a website and need to create an individual page for a dozen different products. Create all of the pages at once. Then, go back and write all of the product descriptions in a row. After that, go back and add the back-end metadata to every page. You get the idea.

Batching similar tasks lets you get into a flow state. Not only will that mental state make you more productive, but it will help you enjoy the work.

4. Tackle tough tasks during your prime time. 

It’s important to be aware of when you do your best work. Ernest Hemingway, for instance, was famous for writing as soon after first light as possible. Many others find that their prime working hours are in the late morning or the wee hours of the night. 

Identify your own “prime time,” and schedule the hardest parts of your project for those periods. Once you have a list of subtasks, you should be able to identify which things will be easy to do and what items may require a bit more work — physically, mentally, or both.

5. Schedule your time.

In the words of William Penn, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” If you don’t make an effort to schedule your time, you’re going to get bogged down as you go along. 

Schedule not just each phase or subtask of your project, but your entire day. Designating time to do things like respond to client emails and exercise ensures you don’t let other important priorities fall by the wayside as you make progress on your initiative. 

Proper scheduling will also give you the opportunity to take breaks regularly. Breaks are a critical part of maintaining long-term productivity.

Avoid working on the same task for more than two hours at a time without giving your brain a rest. Schedule a ten-minute break every two hours, or at least switch to a lighter task at that time.

6. Celebrate milestones, even the small ones

When you finish a step in a massive project, it’s tempting to move on immediately. Don’t: The way you handle those small wins dictates your future progress.

The human brain is reward-oriented. If you train it to expect good things when you finish a task, you’ll be all the more motivated to tackle future ones more efficiently.

Be sure, though, to reward yourself in healthy ways. Try:

  • Taking a walk
  • Making yourself a healthy meal
  • Booking an experience for yourself
  • Brewing a cup of tea or coffee
  • Calling a friend

Every massive accomplishment started with a single step. Plan well, schedule things smartly, give yourself plenty of breaks, and recognize the good work you do. Keep at it, and you’ll be there sooner than you know it. 

How to Have More Productive Brainstorming Sessions

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The combined brainpower and creativity of your employees is a powerful thing. When you focus that many people on a tough problem, you’re able to find solutions that no one person could spot.

Why do some brainstorming sessions seem to produce better results than others? Because brainstorming is about more than just mentioning whatever comes to your mind. Here’s how to make yours more productive:

1. Make brainstorming sessions a staple.

Imagine walking into your conference room one morning, pointing to people at random, and telling them they’re going to brainstorm: They’d feel clueless about what they should be contributing or what you might want to hear.

When you make brainstorming sessions a way of life at your office, you create a culture where employees are always prepared to think about new ideas. People who expect to be asked for ideas on a regular basis not only come up with better ones, but they feel greater buy-in when those ideas are implemented. 

Set a regular time, and start each session with a clear team mission. Once a week, perhaps right after your all-staff meeting, put everyone’s brains together and see what problems you can solve.

2. Encourage pre-brainstorm solo ideation.

Why bother sending out an agenda before the brainstorm? Introverts, in particular, need time by themselves to think clearly, but everyone can benefit from pre-ideation.

Ask each member of the brainstorming session to come prepared with a few ideas ahead of time. Doing so will make members more confident in their own ideas, and it will allow others to build on those ideas. Depending on the problem at hand, three to five starter ideas per person should be plenty plenty.

3. Get the time and place right.

How creative do you feel at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon? What about first thing on a Monday?

Take advantage of the fact that most people do their best creative work in the mornings. Schedule your meetings early in the day, but give people time to get oriented so their brains aren’t on their inboxes.

Consider a change of scenery as well. If it’s a nice day, take your team outside. If not, how about a trip to a local coffee shop instead? New environments encourage new ideas. 

4. Work in small, strategic groups.

One of the most common mistakes in brainstorming exercises is allowing too many people into each session. Three to seven participants is the perfect number of people to get ideas flowing without having too many voices talking over each other. Adding more members tends to result in unproductive side-conversations.

Choose people who have different points of view on the subject at hand. Think about personality, too, taking care not to overwhelm the group with too many talkers. Especially when the topic has to do with business strategy, include members from multiple departments.

5. Provide structure and limitations.

Think about how your son or daughter responds to “How was your day today?” compared to “What did you eat for lunch?” The first question is so broad and vague that it often yields the famous one-word response, “Fine.”

Adults and children alike struggle to respond to a prompt that is too open-ended. Limiting the question a bit can actually prompt better, more specific answers. 

Help your team out by providing boundaries, such as a budget or a specific audience. Giving your brainstorming sessions a few definitive guidelines will allow your team to think creatively within those set bounds and come up with effective solutions.

6. Suspend judgment.

For a brainstorming session to be productive, everyone attending must feel free to mention all their ideas — particularly the crazy-sounding ones. An idea that initially seems off-the-wall may turn out to be the perfect solution.

Create an atmosphere where your employees are not afraid of “sounding dumb” by focusing on quantity of ideas over quality. Setting a timer and asking the team to spitball as many ideas as possible in five minutes is a great way to make everyone feel comfortable around each other.

Once everyone’s ideas are up on the whiteboard is the time to pare them down. Until then, there truly are no wrong answers. 

There’s a solution out there to every business problem. Put enough brains together — and get the conditions for the conversation right — and you’re sure to find it. 

5 Tools to Slice Distractions From Your Work Schedule

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Distractions are everywhere. Whether you’re working from home, at your company’s office, or from a coffee shop, loud noises and tech-based temptations are there.

As attention spans reach an all-time low and schedules get busier, in-office and at-home workers need new tools to stay focused. The following resources and software are great picks:

1. A physical or digital to-do list

I’ve always been a believer in using to-do lists to stay on task, but it’s taken me years to figure out the format that works best for me. While writing down tasks in a paper planner works well for some people, it’s easy to lose that planner at home or in the mountains of paperwork on your desk.

Give Trello a test drive. The board-based project management tool is great for collaboration, but it’s also an ideal way to organize your own schedule. Create columned lists that correspond to project status: I use “now” “pending” and “completed” lists to organize my tasks. Plus, Trello has Android and iOS apps that make it easy to take your to-do list anywhere you take your smartphone.

2. An online calendar

To-do lists are great, but they’re not the only tool you need to keep distractions at bay. For one, they don’t display appointments, a key part of your schedule. Keep an online calendar to know at a glance what you should be working on when. Update it in the morning, over lunch, and before you leave work each day.

Like digital to-do lists, online calendars make sharing easy. Most of your work projects involve at least one other team member, right? Use a digital calendar to set up appointments with them, show them when you’ll be working on each project, and keep deadlines top of mind for everyone.

3. A web-limiting app

It happens to the best of us: One moment, you’re doing important research online; the next, you’re stuck in a spiral of social media, YouTube videos, and cat memes. Use a tool like SelfControl or Mindful Browsing to keep yourself off distracting sites when you’ve got other things on your schedule.

What if you use sites like Facebook and YouTube for work? Set your web-limiting app to allow five-minute sessions — enough to find the information you need but too little to fall down a rabbit hole. You could also take a softer approach with a tool like Momentum, which reminds you to stay on task whenever you open a new tab. The Google Chrome extension displays your day’s main goal, motivational quotes, and upcoming tasks.

4. A timer

There’s something about knowing the seconds are counting down that keeps you on task. Although you’re technically on the clock any even when you’re working from home, it may not feel that way. Hold yourself accountable to your schedule and get a better sense of where your time is spent by setting a timer whenever you begin a task.

A timer doesn’t need to be fancy to get the job done. Timer Tab has stopwatch and countdown functionality, displaying the current count in a browser tab, but little else. There are no eye-catching ads or extras that might distract you. Use it to put just the right amount of pressure on yourself.

5. A music streaming service

If you are lucky enough to work from home or in an office that lets you listen to music, use a streaming service like Spotify to improve your focus and motivation. Set up your own relaxing-yet-energizing playlists, or try one of Spotify’s suggestions: Workday Lounge, Deep Focus, and Your Favorite Coffee House.

Isn’t music just one more way to lose sight of your schedule, though? Not according to workers. A Robert Half survey showed seven in 10 workers say music makes them more productive, while eight in 10 say they enjoy it. Listen to what you like, but avoid songs with lyrics: Humans are hardwired to tune into spoken communication.

Distractions don’t have to rule your schedule. In the age of tech, you have access to more tools than ever before to stay focused and be productive. Embrace them, and watch the things that distract you during work melt away.

6 Tips for Smart Multitasking

By | Time Management | No Comments

Multitasking isn’t the monster it’s made out to be. Although studies have demonstrated that multitasking can harm your overall productivity, moving between tasks can also keep your mind energized and creativity flowing. 

What’s the key to effective multitasking? It’s about being intentional with your tasks, the order in which you tackle them, and the amount of time you allot to them. Here’s how to do it:

1. Prioritize tasks by value.

Multitasking hurts your productivity most when you use it as a strategy for working on all those smaller, less significant tasks in place of your big projects. Sort and schedule your tasks by importance: Which projects will bring you the most value upon completion?

Major projects take time, meaning you need to take breaks. Use those breaks as opportunities to switch, making a little progress on each project. After you’ve fried those bigger fish, you can reward yourself by knocking out several of those easier items on your list.

2. Set a timer.

Another way multitaskers shoot themselves in the foot? Spending too little or too much time on each project. Devoting five minutes to a major initiative before switching isn’t likely to move the needle. Sinking five hours into it when another deadline looms isn’t a great idea, either.

Instead, set a timer. The amount of time you spend on each project is up to you; the important thing is to be deliberate. Some productivity experts suggest the Pomodoro technique, which calls for 25-minute work sessions bookended by 5-minute breaks. When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and either rest or move to a lighter task to give your brain a break.

3. Tackle hard tasks in the morning.

Research suggests that most of us are capable of the most productivity in the morning hours, usually 2.5 to four hours after we wake up. Your mornings are the ideal time for multitasking between difficult tasks.

As the morning ends and your energy dwindles, shelve those heavier tasks until the next morning. Using your mornings well can take away the pressure to work on cumbersome projects in the afternoon, when most of us are less energized and effective. If you must multitask in the afternoon, switch between things like scheduling appointments, responding to emails, and returning calls.

4. Block out multitasking time on your calendar.

Because multitasking requires more material to be stored in short-term memory, it takes more mental bandwidth than tackling a single task at a time. That leaves less brain power for distractions like random questions from colleagues.

Rather than let come what may, block off time on your calendar. Schedule “do not disturb” hours to be spent multitasking on those major projects. Hang a sign on your door, and set yourself as “away” on Slack. Ask your coworkers to send you a text or give you a call if something is truly urgent.

5. Group related tasks together.

As you add tasks to your calendar, sort them not only by importance but also by subject. You will find it much easier to jump from task to task when each project is related to the next. That way, you aren’t having to completely switch gears every time you start to work on something else. 

Don’t worry if your categorization method doesn’t make sense to others. Someone else might not understand why, say, you’d switch between social media content development and sales follow ups. But if you need to find a groove to write in a conversational style, go for it.

6. Disconnect from digital distractions.

Especially when working from home, technology can be distracting. From the ping of incoming emails to the temptation of your favorite television show, these small-but-strong interruptions can seriously damage our concentration.

When you sit down to multitask, turn off all your notifications. Better yet, shut down your devices and put them away. If you want to write on paper and later type up your work, go for it. Don’t allow yourself access to your digital devices until you’ve reached a scheduled break.

Everyone multitasks. The question is, are you doing it in a way that slows you down? Know your priorities, conquer your most difficult tasks first, and give yourself mental space. That’s all there is to it.

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