I Get By With a Little Help From My Colleagues

March 13, 2011
For this week’s dose of time management wisdom, I decided to do some offline crowdsourcing and turned to some of the most productive people I know: my talented colleagues at Sedgwick CMS.  They were kind enough to share their insights and tactics for staying organized and on deadline.  Meet…
 

Lu Crowder

Lu Crowder, a strategic project manager who oversees a number of company initiatives.  She travels a lot for business and pleasure and stays busy keeping up with her four active grandchildren.  Lu recommends to:
  • Protect your time: I’ve learned so much from working closely with Lu, but perhaps my all-time favorite is that “inefficiency on your part does not consistute an emergency on mine.”  Don’t let others who are less organized than you monopolize your time.
  • Leverage technology: She is a heavy user of folders and sub-folders in her Outlook inbox and electronic documents, which helps her spend less time searching for things.  Lu also uses e-mail discussions to minimize the need for timely face-to-face meetings and long conference calls.
  • Delegate: This can be tough to accomplish without being bossy, she says, but it allows others to learn and grow and frees her up to focus on other things. 

Jason Hood

Chief Legal Officer Jason Hood has a lot on his plate, including managing our active legal department and spending time with his wife and two children.  He uses tools like Franklin Covey’s day timer and desk file sorter to stay organized.  He also suggests:

  • Set goals: Jason’s refreshing management style includes asking his employees to carve out one big professional goal and one big personal goal each year.  He then works to support them in both areas.  You can focus on maybe 3 or 4 goals at a time, Jason says, but not 12.
  • Be flexible: Accept that your best-laid plans will go often astray.  When interruptions do arise, address them and then get back to your original goal, or replace it with a new one.
  • Discipline: Schedule time for the things you really don’t want to do.  Power through to get them done, rather than procrastinating by accomplishing five smaller and less important tasks.
  • Write things down: Jason puts his task list to paper so that it’s not constantly scrolling through his head.  He also tries to journal what he achieves each day to give himself a sense of accomplishment and clear his focus for tomorrow’s tasks.
Joe Labetti

Joe Labetti is a regional account executive who is notorious for having the cleanest desk in the office.  His secret: never touch a piece of paper twice.  It’s a mantra he learned from an old boss that remains central to his approach to work.  For example, the only papers on his desk at any given time are those he is acting on that day.  After something has been handled, it either gets filed or thrown away.  The same holds true for his e-mails–messages stay in his inbox for no more than a day.  The rest are sorted into folders.  Joe warns against falling into the trap of moving piles of paper around (a.k.a. story of my life), as he finds clutter very distracting.  How does he keep up with it all so efficiently?  Structure and organization, he says. 

Melisa Spencer

Attorney Melisa Spencer is a busy working mom of two young children.  Her biggest challenge is the work/family balance that so many of us struggle with.  Her tips for staying afloat include:

  • Find stable childcare: “I’m not functional if my kids aren’t taken care of,” Melisa says.  Knowing that her children are in good hands gives her the peace of mind she needs to focus on work.
  • Schedule what’s important: Keeping an up-to-date calendar in Outlook helps her prioritize and manage her time each day.
  • Work on yourself, not just work: Meeting personal goals can be even tougher than succeeding at work, but it’s important to remember that you are a person too.
  • Master the art of delegating: It’s ok to admit that you can’t do it all by yourself.  Enlist help where you can.

Tom Pfingstag

Tom Pfingstag, director of program management, is without a doubt the most cheerful person in the office, so he must be doing something right in the area of work/life balance.  Tom recommends:

  • See the big picture: With so many distractions from phone calls and e-mails, we end up taking care of a lot of small tasks that don’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things.  Stay focused on what really matters.  Don’t confuse what you want to get done with what really needs to get done.  Think to yourself: What’s the most important thing I could be doing at this very minute?
  • Decompress: No one can work 24/7.  We all need to relax once in a while to sharpen our focus.
  • Know how you work: By trial and error, learn what motivates you and what makes you more efficient. 

Like Tom Pfingstag said, no one time management model works for everyone.  Chances are that, like me, you work with some really smart people who have different time management styles.  I learned so much from my conversations with these five individuals and highly recommend that you do a little crowdsourcing of your own.  Get up the courage to ask your colleagues about their time management secrets, and then try them on for size.  Some will work for you, others will not, and that’s ok.  You can learn from the experience of others and make it your own.  As Jason Hood said, no matter how good you already are at something, there is always room for improvement.

What have you learned about time management from the successful people in your life?   

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The Wisdom of the Twitter-sphere

February 27, 2011
Twitter chat, courtesy of Guy Kawasaki

Image courtesy of Guy Kawasaki

As I’ve been describing on my social media reflection blog, I recently discovered live Twitter chats.  As explained by blogger Lisa Barone,

a Twitter chat is a guided conversation where users interested in a particular topic hop onto the service to chat. The chat is given a hashtag, which makes it easy for anyone looking in to identify the chat and participate. It’s similar to a chat room in that it’s a topic-driven conversation happening in real time; it just happens to be housed on Twitter.

Twitter chats are a wonderful way to engage directly with experts on any topic under the sun right from your desktop.  It moves quickly, but it’s a wild and enjoyable ride–and a unique learning experience.

I recently caught a Twitter chat on time management for freelance writers under the hashtag #wclw, coordinated by Michelle Rafter of the WordCount blog.  I reasoned that I could learn a lot from this crowd because freelancers have perhaps the toughest time management challenge of all: being their own bosses.

Here is some of the great time management advice I picked up along the way:

  • Don’t get caught up with online distractions: Delete irrelevant e-mail without even reading it.  Limit the amount of time you spend on social networking and aimlessly surfing the Web, especially when you’re trying to meet a deadline.  And don’t leave your e-mail open all day.
  • Set specific time goals: Aim to get a particular task completed in a set amount of time and work your hardest to meet that goal.  Use a timer to help you reach your target time frame.  (It can also help freelancers keep track of billable hours.)
  • Stick to a to-do list: You may not be able to accomplish everything on your list, but it can be helpful to chart out your most important tasks for the day.  Be sure to celebrate the small victories by crossing things off the list as you complete them.  And there’s no shame in adding something to your list just for the satisfaction of crossing it off.  This will boost your confidence and help drive you toward meeting your other goals.
  • Tackle the tough stuff first: Instead of dreading those particularly challenging tasks all day, get them done and over with early.  They’ll go more smoothly with a (good) night of sleep and a cup of morning joe on your side.  Plus you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, you’ll be less stressed, and you’re more likely to be productive the rest of the day.
  • It’s ok to ask for help: One chat participant hired a virtual assistant a few hours a month to cover her administrative tasks.  This support frees her up to focus on her writing.

As a self-professed overachiever and control freak, that last one is probably the hardest one for me.  But I’m working on getting better at delegating things to other people.  I recently requested an intern for my department at work because I was feeling so overwhelmed.  My fellow graduate student Rachelle Pavelko has been a very valuable addition to our communications team.  Having her in the office 12 hours a week has helped me focus on urgent communication needs while she tackles those items that are important but don’t always make the top priority list.  This experience has also given me my first run as a supervisor.  It may be to find good help, but thankfully I did.

So whether it’s a housekeeper, a co-worker, a friend or family member, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I am working on accepting the fact that there is no shame in admitting you can’t do everything by yourself.

What time management advice would you add to the list above?

Special thanks to the #wclw chat participants for sharing your insights and experience.  Follow these wise writers on Twitter: @michellerafter, @leslieajoy, @urbanmusewriter, @nancygoll, @saralancaster, @nicoleindenver. @lowrha, @jenwillis, @susie, @lvanderkam, @thoughtshappen, @susanweiner, @sakurachica, and @ajdigitalfocus.

Chat coordinator Michelle Rafter wrote an excellent and very thorough summary of the discussion on her blog.

Above image courtesy of Guy Kawasaki