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7 Questions For The Productivity Pro

Posted by | General Productivity | No Comments

The best way to learn about any subject is to study the leaders of that particular field. For this week’s post, we had the pleasure of speaking with Laura Stack about different ways to increase productivity in the workplace.

Laura Stack is America’s premier expert in Productivity. For over 20 years, her seminars and speeches have helped leaders improve output, execute efficiently, and save time at work. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides workshops around the globe on productivity, potential, and performance. She’s the bestselling author of five books from major publishers, most recently. To invite Laura to speak at your next event or sign up for her free monthly newsletter, visit www.TheProductivityPro.com.

1) What inspired you to become a productivity expert? What helped you make the jump and apply the principles in your daily life?

My father is a veteran, a retired colonel in the United States Air Force, so I moved around quite a bit. Today, when people ask me about my childhood “home,” I think about the pink bedroom in Colorado, the yellow kitchen in Ohio, the whitewashed porch in Texas. I’ve moved nearly 30 times in all and hated every single one of them. So I survived by taking control of what I could. I became a master at packing and organizing.

My friends used to laugh at my perfectly clean bedroom, my compulsive list making, and my overwhelming urge to organize. But these experiences helped me with my life plan. The upheaval of my childhood taught me how to create order out of chaos, which laid the foundation for my work today. My background helped me build the systems I use today as The Productivity Pro, teaching professionals how to spend their time moving closer to their goals in work and life.

At my core, I don’t think of myself as an author first. What I really love doing is getting up on a stage and speaking. Being a professional speaker really floats my boat. I speak at professional conferences, meetings, retreats, training events…actually anywhere someone will hire me to talk. I knew that books would be the best vehicle to get my message into the hands of a mass market, prompting them to pick up the phone or email me with an inquiry to speak.

2) We encounter people that know they could be making better use of their time, but ironically never make the time to actually improve on their unproductive habits. How do you typically get those people to start finding the time to make positive changes?

Start small. Think about how productive you are right before you go on vacation. Everything inside of you supports your desire to leave! The unimportant things magically disappear, and you focus on higher-value activities. Similarly, you can pick a single day, perhaps Thursdays, to be “the” day you leave work on time. To support this decision, you will automatically begin to be more productive on Thursdays and work your day more carefully. Even though you work a normal workday on Thursday, you don’t get any less work done.

After you sense what it’s like to have Thursday nights to yourself, you benefit from a system of self-reinforcement, because you enjoy the rewards you created. Then add another day, like Monday, and do the same thing. Keep working on productivity skills and adding more days, until you’re working reasonable hours again and accomplishing even greater results.

3) What is the most common problem you typically hear in regards to poor meetings? How do you solve it?

The biggest problem people complain about is an unclear agenda.

People need to know why they’re meeting and what you expect to accomplish as a result.

Distribute the agenda and associated materials at least 24 hours in advance, preferably 72. At the end of the meeting, have someone distribute the minutes, which should list what decisions were made, who is responsible for what, by when. Rather than invite too many people, send the minutes to those who might be interested but don’t have an integral part in the meeting.

4) As technology continues to play a bigger role in the business world, do you think more companies will look to software to help solve their productivity problems?

Most organizations don’t have a clear methodology to accomplish the distribution of agendas, minutes, decisions, and action items. Most use a haphazard approach, and meetings succeed or fail based upon the organizational skill of the leader. Cloud-based technologies and apps like Less meeting allow for standardization, consistency, and follow-through on promises made. Less Meeting becomes the collective “memory” to allow members to refer back to what happened and what actions items are required.

5) What is one productivity tip you wish you knew 20 years ago?

I wish I would have hired people sooner to help me. The more money I’ve spent on partnerships, outsourcing, agents, and employees, the more successful I’ve been in business. I should have looked to other experts sooner to “fill in the blanks,” rather than doing everything myself. Identify people who can do what you can’t, pay them to do it, and get out of the way.

6) In your new book ‘Execution IS the Strategy’, you emphasize empowering employees to achieve success; in what ways could we start empowering our employees tomorrow?

Rather than simply issuing orders and expecting team members to follow them blindly, encourage them to do what they already know they need to do. Accept the fact that, despite your leadership role, they’re the ones at the sharp end of the stick. Modern leadership is more of a partnership than ever before.

Work may not be a democracy, but it’s definitely not a dictatorship. Circumstances change too fast. So be the change leader when you must and the visionary when you can. Give your team all the facts they need to advance, and allow them a free hand to shift course and goals quickly. Let them tell you the best way to achieve your priorities and get out of their way. Maintain the conversation as a positive feedback loop. That way, they know that what works best is constantly added to and strengthens the workflow system.

7) We find a lot of individuals who try to implement meeting best practices, but can’t seem to get their team members on board. How do you recommend getting coworkers to participate?

You should create a joint meeting code of conduct. The next time you attend a staff or committee meeting, request the opportunity to lead an exercise aimed at making meetings more productive and less draining.

Tell the group you would like to discuss some guidelines and protocols about meetings. Standing in front of a flip chart, ask the group, “If you were king or queen of the world, what rules would you make about meetings, to make them as productive as possible? What makes you crazy about our meetings? How do we waste time?” and list the statements people make. Type these up, title it “Code of Conduct,” put it on a piece of 8 ½ x 11 paper, and take it to a print shop to be blown up into a poster-size piece of paper. Frame it and hang it in the meeting rooms to remind people about proper behavior in a meeting.

Some sample guidelines include:

  • If the leader or key decision maker no-shows, attendees may leave after 10 minutes.
  • Use a timekeeper (appointed by the leader) to keep the meeting on target and follow the agenda.
  • Appoint a scribe for the meeting. When something comes up that’s not on the agenda, the scribe records it on the flipchart. If there is time at the end of the meeting, those items can be addressed. If time runs out, they roll over to the next meeting agenda.
  • Action items are recorded as “who/what/when” on a flipchart. The scribe types these up after the meeting and distributes them within 48 hours.
  • Meetings will start and stop on time, unless all in attendance agree to extend the time.
  • Try to finish early if possible; don’t stretch the meeting.
  • Attendees may get up and leave at the stated end time.
  • Eliminate any discussion that involves only two people.
  • Don’t stop meetings to bring latecomers up to date.

 

What guidelines would you add to the list?

3 Project Management Tools

Posted by | General Productivity | No Comments

Here at Less Meeting, we’re no strangers to the project management world. Many of us are former PM’s and many of our users are PM’s trying to find better ways to manage their always growing workload.

Along the way, we’ve picked up a few tips from users who are using software to help maximize their efficiency.

Here are our top 3 Project Management Tools:


Starting at $20 per month, Basecamp is one of the most common project management tools used by Less Meeting users and is built upon the principle of simplicity. 

Jason Fried (co-founder of Basecamp & 37Signals) follows the philosophy of “less is less” and allows users to form discussions, add to-do lists & files, manage calendars and keep track of projects in one very easy to use interface.

If you are looking for something easy to use without over complicating your current process, this is your tool.



Starting at $24 a month per user (for a yearly subscription), Liquid Planner is less complex than Microsoft Projects, integrates with Salesforce.com, and includes some convenient features that many other tools are missing (like analytics and reporting):

  • Unlimited projects
  • Free training and support
  • Software integrations
  • Phone and tablet applications
  • Document sharing
  • Regular feature updates 

 


Starting at $25 for 5 team members, users can share files, create group discussions, assign tasks, collaborate on writing, set reminders, track time, and manage tickets & milestones.

ActiveCollab has a great mix of straightforward features, but also has additional features for teams that tend to do a lot of writing / collaborating. 


What other tools are you using to help manage your projects?

Stress Free Meetings by Carthage Buckley

Posted by | Meeting Tips | One Comment

Meetings are often used within business to solve problems. If used effectively, meetings are a fantastic tool for solving problems. If they are not managed effectively, meetings can create more problems than they solve. Poorly managed meetings regularly run over time, fail to stick to the agenda, result in unnecessary disputes and can be a general source of stress. These factors mean that many people dread meetings or come up with an excuse not to attend.

The solution is to focus on creating stress-free meetings. Stress-free meetings solve a specific issue in the minimum time required, causing the minimum disruption to the attendees. Once you have implemented stress-free meetings, people will be happy to give up their time to attend and contribute.

12 Tips for stress-free meetings

The following tips will help you to create stress-free meetings which invitees are eager to attend:

1. Only meet when necessary

Too often, people have meetings for the sake of having meetings. If there are not any issues to be resolved or important information to be delivered, then a meeting is usually unnecessary. Before arranging a meeting, take a look at the objectives of the meeting and ask yourself ‘Could this be dealt with by email?’ If the answer is yes, forget the meeting and send the email.

2. Set a strict agenda

It is tempting to try to solve all the companies’ problems in one meeting but it is not possible. Meetings work best when they focus on one main topic or area of the business. Keep the agenda narrow and focused. Set specific beginning and end times for each item on the agenda and make sure that everybody understands exactly what the meeting is about.

3. Only invite those who need to be there

You are not the only one with a hectic schedule. You need to be respectful of other people’s time.  The objectives of the meeting are important to you but that does not mean that they are important to everyone. People who are required to attend a meeting, which is unimportant to them, resent being there and resent the person who invited them. They can often become disruptive by dragging the conversation off track or making comments on issues that they do not fully understand.

4. Offer options

Make sure that it is acceptable for non-essential attendees to decline your meeting request e.g. you can arrange to copy them in on the minutes. Alternatively, they may only need to be there for part of the meeting. If so, arrange for them to attend that part and leave afterwards. As you will have set specific times for each item on the agenda, this will be easy to arrange. They will be grateful for your attempts to facilitate them.

5. Appoint a strong chairperson

An agenda is only as good as the person who enforces it. Appoint a strong chairperson who will make sure that people stick to the point and that the agenda is strictly adhered to.

6. Send the minutes of the previous meeting in Advance

Valuable meeting time can be wasted by arguments over the minutes of the previous meeting. If you pre-distribute the minutes, you can require people to raise any objections prior to the meeting, where they can be handled without disrupting the meeting. Then, the minutes can be read swiftly, and agreed to, at the beginning of the meeting, allowing you to move onto to the agenda.

7. Agree a group contract

For long meetings or regular meetings, agree a group contract beforehand. This sets out how people are expected to behave and communicate, along with the process for handling disputes. All attendees can be required to agree to it before the meeting.

The most effective way to do this is for the organiser, or chairperson, to draft a contract and send it to all attendees, allowing them to raise any objections they may have. If no objections are made, attendance will be viewed as agreement.

8. Set up working groups

Meetings are often dragged off track when discussions about minor issues on the agenda escalate. Where it becomes apparent that the issue needs to be tackled, it is better to set up a working group to tackle it, and then get back to the agenda. The working group can then meet separately, prior to the next meeting, and report back with their conclusions.

9. Schedule Breaks

If it is anticipated that the meeting is going to last a while, breaks should be built into the timetable. If attendees know when they are going to be able to have their toilet break, make a phone call, send an email or have a cigarette; they are less likely to pop in and out of the meeting. Instead, they are likely to give their full attention.

10. Refreshments

For longer meetings, it is essential that there are refreshments available for those in attendance. People who are thirsty, or hungry, lack concentration and are likely to make less valuable contributions.

11. Stand up

If you are aiming to keep the meeting brief, you might consider requiring the attendees to stand up. This prevents them from getting too comfortable. As nobody likes to stand for too long, they will be motivated to keep to the point. If the meeting is long, it can help to allow people to stand up and move around the room. This will help them to stay alert.

12. Have an effective wrap up process

At the end of the meeting, summarise the main points and inform the attendees of the date of the next meeting. At the first opportunity, distribute the minutes of the meeting and request agenda items for the next meeting. Don’t forget to set a closing date for submissions for the agenda of the next meeting.

Conclusion

If they are not managed effectively, meetings can create a lot more problems than they solve. Confusion, arguments and stress can occur as a result of badly organised meetings. The alternative is stress-free meetings. Stress-free meetings solve problems with the minimum of inconvenience.  With stress-free meetings, you get attendees who are motivated to be there and have a valuable contribution to make. At the end of the meeting, these people are glad that they attended. They leave with a sense of progress and achievement. If your meetings are unproductive and stressful, it is time that you focused on creating stress-free meetings. The 12 steps listed above will help you to create the effective, productive and enjoyable meetings which everybody wants to attend.

Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach with Coaching Positive Performance. Carthage has more than 10 years international experience working with entrepreneurs, executives and ambitious professionals; helping them to eliminate stress and maximize performance.

Productivity Tools You Need To Be Using

Posted by | General Productivity | 3 Comments

The old saying, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” is a mantra for mediocrity. If you could be doing something more efficiently and save time doing it, isn’t that something worth fixing?

By very definition, good technology is intended to make your life easier. With the invention of the internet, smart phones, and other handy gadgets (august locks, nest), old processes have been completely revamped to be more efficient, more convenient and even more fun.

Imagine if electricity was never invented because carrying candles from room to room worked just fine. It’s easy to laugh at now, but think about how many inefficient things we hold on to just because we are familiar with them already.

It’s no secret that the staff at Less Meeting geeks out to productivity tools. We have seen the positive results of good technology and wanted to share a couple of our favorite tools that make our lives easier:

1) Mailbox

  • We used to get a lot of mail in our front yard mailbox and now we get it all in our email inbox. Mailbox helps organize / prioritize the emails you need to answer first, to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

2) Trello

  • I love checklists. My wife will make fun of me for excitedly checking items off my list immediately after they are done. With that said, Trello enables the staff at Less Meeting to easily see what each person is working on, as well as add new items in real time. “Trello is anything you want it to be—a lesson planner, a community bulletin, a repository for inspiration.”

3) Ducksboard

  • We set up a monitor in our office that displays important metrics that are useful to know throughout the day. I can simply look up and see any new app purchases, twitter followers, site visits, youtube views, etc. all in one easy / nice-to-look-at interface.

4) Yammer

  • Communication can easily get lost in lengthy company email threads. Yammer allows employees to collaborate on ideas, share information, and organize projects in one place. Event coming in town? New idea for a blog post? Share them on yammer.

5) Evernote

  • Whenever I have a new idea or simply don’t want to forget something important, Evernote is always there for me. I used to keep several notebooks- one on my nightstand, one on my desk, and one at work. Now I have everything conveniently located on my phone or laptop (and I don’t have to re-copy notes over and over). I even use their web clipper to cut out images from websites I like for inspiration.

What other products help your productivity?