Archive for the ‘At Your Convenience’ Category
In this episode, we share 25 simple but effective tips for improving your Out of Office work style – in the areas of productivity, e-mail, reducing interruptions, flexibility, and online meetings.
Listen to the episode here:
Buy the book here (available at a reduced price for a limited time).
Summary of the 25 tips:
Set up your workspace with productivity in mind:
- Have a dedicated office
- Make it easy to switch between workspaces
- Create good ergonomics
- Make it a place where you like to work
- Turn off alerts for non-urgent communication
- Conversely, allow important and urgent messages to get through
- Educate people about your work day
- Schedule work for quiet times
Manage your time:
- Use the Pomodoro Technique or Work Sprints
- Set priorities for the day
- Track your time
- Focus on outcomes and results, and keep promises you make to others
Handle email efficiently:
- Don’t use your inbox as your To Do list.
- Separate processing from responding
- Unsubscribe from irrelevant newsletters, notifications, and mailing lists
- Use sub-folders to organise incoming mail
Run better online meetings:
- Have a pre-meeting checklist
- Know what you want to get from the meeting
- “Arrive” early, and be ready to start on time
- Get comfortable with the technology
Be flexible, but in a smart way:
- Set aside dedicated time slots each week for certain things
- Establish a routine for the day
- Set weekly goals rather than daily goals
- Mix it up
- Try different things, and break all the rules!
Fast Company magazine published an interesting article with advice for telecommuters. You can read the full article here, but in summary, here are the three things the author, Kevin Purdy, advises:
- Look the Part, Be the Part (dress up as if you’re going to the office)
- Schedule offline social time, batch your online social time (schedule your breaks, just like you’d do in the office)
- Realize when the problem is motivation, not space (do stuff that motivates you)
I have no argument with the second point, and in fact we endorse that in the book “Out of Office” when talking about personal productivity. But the other two points are more controversial.
First, I don’t believe it’s necessary to “suit up” if you’re working from home. Of course, I’m not suggesting you dress and act like a slob in your home office! But that’s just an extreme, and dressing up for the office is the other extreme. For many Out of Office workers, one of the biggest benefits is that every day is Casual Friday, and it’s good enough to dress comfortably. If you do find it helps to dress slightly better, then do so, but it’s certainly not necessary.
The other point – about working on stuff that motivates you – makes sense, but the advice isn’t always practical. We might all wish for more inspiring work, but that’s true whether or not we work in an office. Purdy doesn’t offer anything useful to improve the situation (other than a vague suggestion to “plan your next move”). Of course, if you can arrange to do something more meaningful and interesting, that helps. But sometimes you really do need to roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done. In that latter situation, it’s far better to focus on being more productive rather than wishing for something better.
When you’re working Out of Office, you often don’t get the natural distractions that come from working with others. Although some of these distractions can be annoying and harmful to your productivity, they also have some positive side effects. In particular, they prevent you from spending excessively long intervals working at your desk. This means you have to be disciplined enough to create your own management plan to prevent stress, poor posture, and overwork.
The Workshifting team has five suggestions to help:
- Take frequent breathers.
- Walk at lunch.
- Play some of your favorite tunes.
- Don’t be afraid to say No.
One of the productivity tips we offer in the At Your Convenience chapter of the book is to subscribe to the Web Feeds of your favourite blogs and Web sites. We also recommend using Google Reader to do this. Unfortunately, Google recently announced that they will be retiring Reader on July 1, 2013.
So, if like us, you use Google Reader then you’ll need to move your feed subscriptions to another tool. Google provides advice on how to export your feed subscriptions using the Google Takeaway service. If you’ve not done this already, then now is a good time. It’s quick and easy.
As for choosing an alternative tool for consuming Web feeds, there are many choices. Slashdot recently published a list of four popular alternatives to Google Reader:
For what it’s worth, I’ve migrated to Feedly. My reasons for doing so are as follows:
- I can run it on my desktop PC using the Feedly plug-in for Firefox
- I can run it on my tablet or smart phone using the Feedly Android app
- It can automatically import your Google Reader subscriptions
If you use a different Web feed reader then please leave a comment.
This is just one of the many books that tries to tackle the growing problem of information overload, but it stands apart from others because it couches the problem in strategic terms, and then proposes very specific tactics and techniques to implement the strategy.
For example, Hurst suggests that we should only focus on the specific things we need to do today, and that anything else is a distraction. So he proposes that any future items should be assigned to a future date and then forgotten until that date arrives. This seems like common sense, and yet it’s rarely done in practice (as anybody with a bulging e-mail in-box knows).
I particularly liked the first half of the book, where he tackles e-mail overload. Despite the plethora of technical tools available for managing, sorting, filtering and filing, e-mail is still probably the biggest information overload problem for most business people. So it makes sense for this to be a large part of the book, and Hurst gives it the attention it deserves.
From a practical viewpoint, he not only proposes specific tips and techniques for managing e-mail, he has also created software, available at GoodToDo.com, that supports his system. It’s a Web-based “To Do” list, with associated smart phone apps, so you can keep your entire action list in one place, and access it from any device.
I tried GoodToDo myself, and found this slightly too cumbersome for my liking. But I already have an effective way of handling e-mail, so perhaps the benefits of GoodToDo weren’t as great for me. I do know others who say it completely transformed their life! As an aside, I do still use GoodToDo, but for a slightly different purpose: for my PA (personal assistant) and I to keep track of actions that involve her.
If you read this book, be aware that it was written in 2007, so it was five years old when I read it (which is a lifetime for a technology book!). So, although the principles and strategies are sound, some of the techniques are obsolete. For example, there is a chapter about how to name the files on your computer, and that is less relevant nowadays (because of smarter operating systems, better tagging systems, and faster searching). That’s why I found the first half of the book (about e-mail) more useful than the second.
One of the biggest advantages of telecommuting is of course the opportunity to have better balance in your life. But this doesn’t always work in practice. Lea Green suggests these five tips for telecommuters in order to increase your balance:
- Empower yourself to power down.
- Compartmentalize to create and recreate.
- Experiment with your creative cycles.
- Daydream to dream big.
- Train your mind to focus.
Many organisations are facing the issue of employees wanting to use their own phones, tablets and other devices at work. This is called “BYOD”, or Bring Your Own Device.
Most of the discussion around BYOD is about how organisations can manage security, access and privacy (One of my friends, who works in IT for a large organisation, calls it “Bring Your Own Disaster”). But it goes beyond that, and perhaps users think these devices are more powerful and more productive than is actually the case.
There’s no doubt that the Out of Office work style isn’t right for everybody – especially if you need structure and restrictions to help you focus. But even the best Out of Office workers sometimes find it difficult to focus, and need help with overcoming distractions.
Julia Roy addresses this in her blog post “A Workshifter’s Mantra for Focus”. She suggests three simple principles:
- Be aware.
- Be diligent.
- Be accountable.
Read the full blog post for more detail …
One of the most important things you’ll do as an Out of Office worker is to set up your workspace for comfort and convenience. The Smashing Apps blog has a wonderful collection of 40 such workspaces from real Out of Office workers.
Your own workspace will be unique, of course, but I hope you can use this collection for ideas, insights and inspiration!
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