Congratulations – you’ve survived your first day back in the office! You’ve cleared your inbox, written an alarmingly long To-Do list and even written your name and phone number (neatly) in a brand new Moleskin notebook. You’re practically smug with a sense of organisation and readiness.
Fast-forward one week: 213 unread emails, endless meetings, doing ‘real work’ after 5pm, and back to scribbling on loose-leaf.
Many years ago, I sat next to the Executive Assistant for the Chief Marketing Officer at a very large bank. To me – a person who is calm in the face of 1352 unread emails – Ali was something of a mystery: alarmingly organised, a spreadsheet navigator-extraordinaire, and always ready with colour-coded sticky notes, Ali’s idea of heaven was a Scandinavian Container Store.
Although I can’t pretend that proximity to Ali transformed me into a Type-A Goddess, she did share some great, practical tips for increasingly personal effectiveness that I pass onto all fellow Type B’s today.
Eat the Frog
Most of us have a limited amount of willpower that decreases steadily throughout the day. Anyone who has ever planned to go to the gym after work, only to never actually get there will be able to attest!
For this reason, professional coaches like Brian Tracy recommend getting the hardest, most important task done first.
According to Tracy, your ‘frog’ should be the most difficult item on your to-do list; that ugly, distasteful, difficult job that you’re most likely to procrastinate about.
Rather than delaying, dreading and allowing your frog to sit there, staring at you while you do other less important things, eat it up first and feel energised for the rest of the day.
You probably already know what your frog is, but if you are in any doubt, look through your list of tasks and rate each one according to:
- Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do.
- Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do.
- Things you want to do and actually need to do.
- Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do.
Your frog will fall into Category 2, and the best way to ensure it doesn’t fall victim to procrastination is to subordinate it to habit.
Eating your frog at the start of the day is just such a habit and will leave you free to do things you’ll actually enjoy.
Meeting 101: Spend less time in Meetings
Getting out and meeting stakeholders and suppliers is a critical part of any procurement professional’s job, but what about the myriad meetings that go round in circles, without any clear outcomes, sucking energy and time from your day?
In this world of instant messaging tools (we have a fondness for Slack at Procurious) that make file-sharing, getting answers quickly, and making introductions easier, it should be possible to cut back on a lot of those meetings.
Where only a meeting will suffice, here are some hints for improving their effectiveness:
- Only accept meetings where the organiser has sent through a clear agenda. Even then, think about halving the allotted time to create a sense of urgency.
- With 10 minutes of the meeting to go, review the objectives and clearly agree what action items have come out of the meeting and who will be responsible for completing these. Set a clear date for completion of next steps.
- If appropriate, try scheduling a walking meeting. A change of scenery and the action of moving in the fresh air can help clear the head, stimulate creativity and can be particularly effective when having conversations that you don’t want to.
Don’t Skip Lunch
The 80s might be long gone, but Gordon Gekko’s “Lunch is for wimps!” philosophy still is alive and well in some firms.
While its possible to mistake ‘busy-ness’ for importance, evidence shows there are significant cognitive benefits of allowing our fatigued brains regular downtime.
So what’s the perfect work/rest ratio?
DeskTime App monitored employees’ computer use and found that the most productive 10 per cent of employees tend to work hard for 52 minutes, then take a break for 17. If this seems short, it is – our brains can in fact focus for up to 90 minutes, but then need roughly 20 minutes rest.
Strategic breaks equal more efficient work. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your 17 minutes should be spent online shopping – there are a multitude of more valuable (and less costly!) things you can do to refresh and reset:
- Most gyms offer express classes at lunchtime. Consider taking a 45-minute yoga class to reset your brain and energise you for the afternoon.
- Watch a 2-minute eLearning video or stretch your mind with a Big Ideas video or Ted Talk.
- Prepare a list of easy 2-minute tasks, things that won’t stress your grey matter but need to get done, that you can tick off in your down time.
- Embrace a creative pursuit. Stimulate your brain by doing small creative exercise daily. This might be a little sketch, writing a blog, or making a video. Share your habit daily on Twitter or Instagram – it builds accountability. Check out #yearofcreativehabits for inspiration!
The constant stream of chimes, pings, flashes and emails, Whatsapp and Facebook alerts is impossible to ignore – it’s designed to be that way!
Schedule at least 3 x 30 minute sessions into your day where you close Outlook, shut all your browser tabs and turn off your mobile phone.
It might sound scary at first, but it will help you power through those difficult tasks without interruption and at the end of the day, you’ll feel real satisfaction knowing what you’ve completed.
Harness the Power of Habit
We know that social media can eat up hours in the day. How often have you kicked off with a valid Google search, only to find yourself aimlessly clicking through old school-friends’ baby photos or reading click-bait articles like “21 Life-Changing Lessons From The Dalai Lama’s Twitter Account”.
At Procurious, we talk about establishing a ‘social media daily habit’. This isn’t only to limit the time you spend online, but to ensure you spend it wisely.
We suggest you dedicate approximately 20 minutes every day (and where you can, twice a day) to ticking off value-adding tasks:
- Build your network: Aim to expand your global contacts by connecting with stakeholders, peers you’ve met at conferences, thought leaders or find colleagues who look after similar categories in other geographies or industries.
- Scan the news: Using Google Alerts or Twitter hashtags, find out if your company, your category, your suppliers or even your competitors have been in the headlines. Login to Procurious and check out what’s happening.
- Share the intelligence: If you find something interesting, chances are someone else will too. Share the URL on Twitter, Procurious and/or LinkedIn.
- Ask a question: Scan the Discussion Board on Procurious and share your knowledge. If you’ve got a burning question, post it and make the most of this global brains trust!
- Learn something: Brush up on your skills and challenge your thinking by watching a 5-minute eLearning video or listening to a Podcast
And Before You Go…
Rather than working frantically right up until the last minute of the day, slamming your laptop shut and dashing for the train, stop working 30 min before you need to leave.
Use your last half an hour to review your day’s plan, transferring items that are still relevant, and adding any new priorities that have emerged during the day.
Categorise these tasks according to the Eat the Frog principles so that your first task tomorrow is ready and waiting to go.
And, unless you are fortunate enough to have a Personal Assistant, review your calendar and print out any documents that you may need to review ahead of meetings. Spending the first 30 minutes of your morning fighting with a printer is not the way to productivity!