Bennis Inc. | Time Management
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Time Management

Clearing Out the Mental Clutter

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Clearing Out the Mental ClutterSimply put, clutter is stuck energy. It’s a clog in our mental piping that prevents us from working, communicating and acting as effectively as we could. There are more than enough mental-clearing techniques to help us relax and refocus, but these don’t address the ways in which we rebuild the same cluttered mind every day. Here are just a few instances where mental clutter may be messing with your psyche and some easily implemented fixes to help you start moving forward.

Clean out your email inbox…every single day – Take a moment and click over to your email. What does your inbox look like right now? If this is the beginning or middle of the work day for you, chances are you’ve accumulated quite a few messages. That’s normal. But how many of these messages were rolled over from the last work day? Some of these messages may even be from several days or weeks ago. If so, you’ve unknowingly been creating your own landfill of emails which might be making for a pretty unpleasant work environment. The fix? Clear the inbox clutter by treating it like a to-do list. Any email that comes in should be read and prioritized before the day’s end. Some emails are a quick response and easily taken care of. Others will require some time or further action before it can be considered ready to archive. For these types of message – utilize folders! I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t take advantage of the folder organization Outlook and Gmail provides. Label them with titles most applicable for the messages you commonly deal with and the actions they require. With these messages organized, you’ll never risk them “disappearing” under the heap of emails that build up over a week’s or month’s time. Since starting this practice myself, I’ve been much more aware of the messages requiring my response at any given time, know where to find them when I need them and have all but eliminated the dreaded “I don’t think I ever saw that email” moment.

Remove mental clutter by removing physical clutter – I’m not sure when this began for me, but to this day if I’m in a messy environment, I can’t work as effectively. I need to have a clear space which translates to a clear mind. In the midst of a project or a busy day, it’s completely acceptable to have some small mountains of paper fill your desk, but by the day’s end be sure these mountains aren’t left for you to climb over the next morning. If you tackle your physical clutter every day, each new day will begin with a clear desk and a clear mind.

Capture your thoughts in writing – In a world surrounded by cutting-edge technology, you may be surprised to know that we’re still allowed to be human. By this I mean we aren’t expected to commit every task, appointment, phone conversation or change in plans to memory. The times in which I have a lot of mental notes to remember are among the times when my mind feels the most cluttered and least productive. So write it down! Whether this is a pen and paper to-do list, phone app, word document or calendar reminder, capture your thoughts however best fits your lifestyle. It’s simple…the more you put in writing, the less that’s on your mind.

Eliminate unnecessary noise – When I first began running Bennis Inc I would often keep a television set or music on for “background noise.” It’s not so much that I would become distracted by the show on TV or the artist singing the song, but I would become distracted (and irritated) simply by the noise. It was competing with my inner thoughts and making me work harder to concentrate on the task at hand. The silliest part is that I was self-inflicting this irritation and audio clutter. I now recognize that I prefer to work in as close to a silent environment as possible. Some days this can even be setting the phone to vibrate and turning off email alerts. I don’t doubt that some people may work better with a little bit of background noise, but I urge you to try at least one day “working silent” to be sure you’ve given this option a fair shot. It’s not boring when your thoughts really get on a roll!

Address what’s really fogging your mind – If you’ve made your best effort to eliminate all of the mental clutter by following the steps listed above, but you’re still feeling fuzzy and unfocused, there’s a good chance there’s something else in play. What’s really fogging your mind? Mental blocks can come from feelings we’re harboring about a relationship problem, financial stress, or recent negative experience. These aren’t just clutter; these are actual issues that should be dealt with fully. If a personal situation has you distracted in other areas of life, you can’t bury it deeper and hope it will go away. The best thing to do to resolve this completely is to talk it out, go for a run to clear your head or seek a solution if one is possible. Once this major mental plug is removed, you can return to addressing the rest of the minor clutter rolling around.

Whether your mind is cluttered or organized right now, share with us some of your struggles or secrets to achieving a clear mind!

 

How to Stay Productive When Working from Home

How to Stay Productive When Working from Home

More and more people are realizing the benefits of working from home and making the transition into a virtual work environment. The core benefits are obvious, but there are also pitfalls to avoid. The biggest is hitting unproductive roadblocks when you’re in full control of (and fully accountable for) your own schedule.

So what are the best ways to stay productive when working from home? Here are my top pieces of advice for anyone working from home and wanting to maintain a productive virtual work environment!

Define a real office space

When working from home, it’s ideal to have a defined and closed off environment that is designated as your work space. I have been guilty of not following this very advice, and can tell you that when you blur the lines between what area is for work and what area is for living, you do neither efficiently in those spaces.

For example, I used to work from the living room sofa. It was comfortable and convenient. But I found it difficult to unplug each evening because sitting in the living room made me feel like I needed to be doing work. It’s funny how easily we are trained!

While a true room to call your office is the best case scenario (for tax purposes too), this additional space is not always available in a busy home. Find an area that you do not tend to use for other “living” at least on a regular basis. Maybe this is a guest room, your dining room table that is only used a few other times a year, or a nook in your bedroom or finished basement that can accommodate a small desk. Just because your office environment is virtual, doesn’t mean it needs to be portable! Establish roots and you will be amazed how much more “grounded” you feel when working from home each day.

Limit your “social” visitors

When you work from home, people can often mistake what you do during the day for sitting around watching soap operas and eating Bon Bon’s. Work of all types and magnitudes can and does occur from people’s homes every day.

While I strive to make my home a relaxing space during my off hours, I am also a nose-to-the-grindstone type of worker when I need to be. The precious hours I dedicate to work are easily disrupted by a social phone call or pop-in visitor. Beyond the actual time conversing, I also lose the time it takes to get back into the work mindset.

Just because you’re at home during the day, doesn’t mean you are available for a mid-afternoon coffee date any more than people who work in a traditional office environment. My advice – schedule even your social appointments like work appointments. You will see how they add up throughout the week and steal productive hours from your day. If possible, save them for the evenings or weekends just like most other people do!

Don’t waste work hours on too many personal tasks

I have the tendency to want to multi-task (even though I know this is not an effective use of time). When working from home, I’m always finding household chores vying for my attention. I can lose hours of my workday to sweeping floors, tidying up and doing laundry. Here and there, these tasks can be fit in when I need a break from writing and help me to free up my evenings for more family time. But I try not to allow them to eat up more than a total of ½ hour of my day.

Another big time eraser is running personal errands. If I tack on grocery shopping after a client meeting, I lose at least another hour of my day by the time I can sit down and get in the work zone again. Inevitably such personal tasks may need to occur on work hours, but try to resist the temptation to use them as a way to procrastinate completing the bigger work projects you are simply trying to avoid.

Meet with clients outside the home

It’s a good argument that getting clients to come to you for meetings is the epitome of efficiency – but is it? I highly discourage hosting client meetings from your home. When you meet in a neutral space like a coffee shop or café, you both have the ability to make an exit whenever you need to.

In contrast, when you invite someone into your work space, you become a hostage to however long they wish to chat. Also, a home environment feels more casual and invites people to stray from business conversations or arrive late because they figure you’re going to be there anyways. All of these little things add up and eat away at your efficiency, leaving you less time for personal time at the end of the day.

Get help with childcare

If you are a hybrid mom or dad who works from home, there can be a lot of pressure to save money on childcare by handling it yourself since you’re =home during the day. The fact is that you already are saving a good bit of money by working from home and it’s not in the best interest of you or your children to try and juggle their care with your work. Someone will always lose.

When my son stopped sleeping the majority of the day, I realized I needed help with childcare. I was never fully present with him or my work. We have a nice schedule where I get four dedicated work days a week and he gets to see a variety of children his age and loving adults who offer him great care. The money I make during the hours he is in care more than offsets the investment. Plus, I am able to dedicate much needed attention to my first baby – my business – which all around makes me a happy mama!

Remember to strive for balance and flexibility – but it’s a work in progress!

Finally and most importantly, be reasonable with expectations for what can be accomplished in a day. Your workday is meant for work, but it should still be enjoyable. And working from home is a real treat that not everyone will get to experience!

Distractions, unexpected illnesses and other setbacks will occur, believe me. They do for everyone. Foremost, try to keep your sense of balance – and humor – before you try to do it all!

If you work from home, how do you preserve your productivity and avoid distractions? Share your ideas in the comments below!

The Two-Day Truce: Reclaiming Respect for the Weekend

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


The Two-Day Truce Reclaiming Respect for the WeekendI can’t be the only one to confess that my blood pressure raises and eyes dilate when I hear the all too familiar “Ding!” of my phone when a new email comes in. I’m like one of Ivan Pavlov’s dogs, except instead of salivating, I’m overcome with the urge to immediately check my phone and respond instantly with an answer to or acknowledgement of the pending request. This mindset can make for a stressful week, but apply it to the 2-days we’re supposed to allow ourselves for rest and relaxation each weekend and this flirts on the brink of insanity.

As a new business owner, I’m told – this too shall pass. But what if it doesn’t? What if fate should have it that my obsession with instantaneous answers isn’t linked to my young entrepreneurship, but rather the growing trend in technology? Now we’re no longer flirting on the brink of insanity, we’re outright courting it with a fancy dinner and bottle of wine.

I can’t help but fantasize with the idea of living in a 1950’s office environment just for contrast. What was it possibly like to lock the door on your business at 5pm Friday and be unreachable until 9am Monday? Moreover, what was it like to wait around for a written memo to be passed from office to office until an answer was returned hours…or days later? The TV show Mad Men might give us a glimpse into this lifestyle, but we will never truly know what it is like to live it. What some might see as a business-stifling, slow communication process, I see as the key to a work-life balance. With the aid of ever-connecting technology, we have officially become accessible at all hours of the day and so we have trained ourselves, and our peers, to expect immediate responses regardless of weekends, holidays and once in a lifetime occasions like weddings, funerals and even the birth of our own children.

I acknowledge that I’m somewhat at fault for this. I check emails on my phone with the same repetition in which I breathe or blink. And answering emails on the weekend only encourages conversation because I voluntarily make myself accessible. So this weekend it stops. I want that 2-day break; I earned that 2-day break – and so did you. So why do we continue to choose to watch our phones rather than watch a movie with our significant other? Why do we use our weekends to pitch to a potential client when we could be pitching to our son or nephew on a beautiful sunny day?

Let’s call a truce. Let’s work hard this week so we can designate this weekend for rest and relaxation. But I can’t do it alone. I challenge each of you to limit your emails this weekend to urgent communication only. Ask yourself, “Can it wait until Monday?” And then get out there and enjoy an entire Saturday and Sunday to yourself. Lock your email, just as you would your office door, at 5pm on Friday and open it again Monday at 9am. I promise you that calling a Two Day Truce, won’t result in the demise of your business, but more likely will result in allowing others to also reclaim the respect for their own weekend.

8 Reasons Why We Never Have Enough Free Time

8 Reasons Why We Never Have Enough Free Time

Think of the last time you went a whole day without doing something that could be considered work. Whether this is catching up on emails over the weekend, working ahead on a project after the kids have gone to sleep or spending what should be leisure time overexerting yourself cleaning the house, tending to the garden or sorting out a closet.

If you’re lucky to have recently enjoyed a fully unplugged vacation, you are in the rare minority of people who can actually recall a day in which they have not worked. What’s worse is that most of this “work” is self-imposed when really leisure time would totally be acceptable. We are creatures of habit and work has become a habitual part of our daily routine that gives us comfort and security.

As Americans, our growing addiction to using every ounce of our day doing something productive has greatly impacted the way we view and distribute our free time. We are now wired to always feel like free time is this luxury we can never afford when really it’s surrounding us all the time. We simply cannot break out of our habit of busyness to enjoy it.

After some deep reflection on the way I personally view and use my own free time, I want to share with you 8 reasons why I believe we feel we never have enough free time (even when we do). Take a look…

We quite literally see time as money.

Back in the 18th century, the clock was first used to synchronize labor. Ever since then, our society has grown an increasingly strong correlation between time and money. We are paid by the hour, bill by the hour and even if we’re salaried or paid on a per project basis, we still know approximately how many hours we’re working and how that breaks down into dollars.

In our minds, time is money. This is why we worry more and more about spending, saving and profiting from time.

Busyness is a badge of honor.

Centuries ago, only the wealthy were afforded the luxury of free time. Now we no longer see free time as a luxury, but as a sign that we’re not working to our full potential or that we are not needed. Think of the typical office environment. The people who are deemed dedicated and successful are often the first to arrive in the office and the last one to leave for the day. Sometimes it even becomes of competition over who is willing to skip lunch, forgo bathroom breaks and steer clear of water cooler talk just to appear the busiest.

Our society now sees the busy person as the more valuable person. Clearly they must be more talented and in higher demand if they have nonstop work to do, right? With busyness as the new indicator of success, free time makes us question our self-worth.

The more we feel our time is worth, the stingier we become with how we spend it.

As we continue to link the relationship between time and money, here is one more reason why we never feel like we have enough free time. It’s because we overvalue what our time is worth. We keep moving the target for how much we should earn per hour, always striving for more. Because for many of us, this amount will never be enough, we struggle to find any leisure activity that is worth the opportunity cost of not working (thus not earning money) for this amount of time.

The thought of “wasting time” is causes more anxiety and stress than we realize.

And because we see time as money, it now has a real value to us. Anything that is valuable seems scarcer, therefore we see time as this resource we cannot afford to waste. When we have free time, our habitual minds tell us to use it to do something productive or something that will earn more money.

We feel comfortable and secure when we are spending time working. It’s what we know and what we ultimately crave. If someone were to take away your means to be productive for a day (cell phone, computer, tablet and internet connection), how anxious and stressed would you feel? See how long it takes people to realize the internet isn’t working in a coffee shop and you’ll see this scenario play out before your eyes. You would think the oxygen had been “turned off.”

Choices raise the opportunity cost of leisure time.

There are so many ways we can spend our free time and this often results in the paralyzing inability to spend it at all. We struggle to narrow down our options and stress over the opportunity cost of picking one thing over another. Simply put, we overthink how we spend our free time and then default to the easy and familiar option of work.

We can earn more money, but we can never earn more time.

One of the biggest traps we fall into is deferring our happiness for this mythical moment in the future in which we will finally enjoy the fruits of our labor. The reality is, we will always keep pushing this goal further and further away with the promise that the end result will be even bigger and better if only we work a bit harder for a while longer.

As we work hard to earn more money to one day afford a life of leisure and happiness, we are using up prime hours that could make us very happy right now. The bottom line is that we can earn more money, but we can never earn more time.

Instant gratification breeds impatience.

Yet another reason why we can’t seem to enjoy free time is because technology has us so high strung. We want instant access and gratification for everything we do. Leisure activities become stressful when we feel like we are being inefficient with our time – which is the whole point.

I know I personally feel annoyed or panicked when I try to stream a movie and the internet is slow. I get impatient and usually check emails or answer texts while I wait. Or think about spending a day at an amusement park. Not only does it cost a lot of money, it also requires a lot of time to wait in line, sometimes several hours for a single ride. For these reasons, many would agree that a trip to an amusement park feels anything but leisurely.

We are surrounded by constant reminders that our work is never done.

Even if we dare to take a break and use some of precious time to do something that is unrelated to work, we can never fully escape. Our phones, computers and tablets seem to always be within reach. Our deeply rooted habits tell us we should be refreshing our emails or answering any call that comes in “just in case it’s an emergency” (though it rarely ever is).

One of the biggest reasons why we don’t feel like we have enough free time is because we never actually experience being completely disconnected to the point we couldn’t answer a work email even if we really wanted to. If you haven’t taken a vacation somewhere where internet simply isn’t an option, I urge you to do so this year (think tropical island, secluded cabin, etc). Shutting off your phone and stowing it away for a few days is one of the best things you will ever do to find true relaxation and redefine your self-worth beyond your hourly billing rate.

Do you share in some of these reasons why we never seem to have enough free time? Do you have others to add to the list? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

Why No Experience is Ever a Waste of Time

Why No Experience is Ever a Waste of TimeThe past several years spent starting my own business and living the out-of-the-box life of a young entrepreneur have provided me with as many new experiences as the 23 years prior. While “new experiences” may sound fun, exciting and even a little sexy, any business owner will tell you that there is a large range in altitude between the valleys and the peaks.

In my reflection upon these life experiences, the negative and positive, the helpful and hurtful, the uncomfortable and encouraging, I realized that I’ve developed an almost nostalgic sentiment around each one. Even the moments that could be viewed as mistakes or wastes of time have all helped to teach me something and bring me to where I am today. And I think we can all relate this back to our own lives.

Consider this thought for a moment. “If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new.” This quote, attributed to Voltaire, challenges us to never see anything as a waste of time, but more as an opportunity to experience something new. Is this a reasonable request? I think so.

Here are four reasons why we should reframe what we’ve been dwelling on as past mistakes and wastes of time and view them simply as a new experience.  

Because something motivated you to make this decision

When you feel like something has become a negative experience or a waste of time, stop and recall what led you down this path to begin with. In many instances, passion, inspiration, hope for a better future or enjoyment guide our choices. While you may never know where the journey will lead you, it’s the best intentions with which you began that really matter.

Because you choose your experience

We are the keepers of our own happiness and only we determine how we feel about any particular situation. There are some people who have really been dealt a tough hand, yet they live a life of contentment and gratitude. Then there are people who appear to have everything going for them, yet they couldn’t be more miserable. What sets each of these types of people apart is simply how they choose to experience life. We must choose happiness in order to be happy. And if we choose to never see a situation as a mistake or waste of time, then we will live with a lot less regret.

Because there’s always a bright side

Any experience – even a negative one – contains at least a pebble of happiness, if only we’re willing to look for it. To apply this to a challenging example, let’s say the experience was that your new business failed and you had to close your doors. As Voltaire would reason, this is not something pleasant, so we must then look for the “something new” to turn this into a positive experience. The bright side would be that now you have the opportunity to restructure your business model and try again, venture into a new line of work or simply spend more time with your family. The bright side will not always cast away all of the dark shadows, but it will at least restore some of your hope and happiness.

Because dwelling is not mandatory

By nature, I dwell. I dwell on the big things, the small things and everything in between. Sometimes I’ll continue to walk around with this weight on my shoulders, unable to remember what was bothering me in the first place. This makes it very easy for setbacks or negative life experiences to take a toll on my emotions. But I’ve gotten better. I now remind myself that worrying accomplishes absolutely nothing, so instead I get active. If it’s a problem I can’t solve personally, I go for a run to clear my head or start working on another project simply to feel in control. We determine how much we allow ourselves to dwell and the sooner we take our mind off of a negative experience, the closer we are to our next positive one.

Share your thoughts! Have you found any life experience to truly be a waste of time? How much does your mindset impact how you experience life?