Setting up Systems that Work

     One thing I notice when I start working at something new is that the task takes extremely long to accomplish. For example, tasks that now take five minutes used to take 30 or 45 minutes! It was such a waste of time. Part of the problem was simply not knowing what to do. The next step was once I did know what I was doing, was finding the best way to do it. As the cliche saying goes, practice makes perfect (well more like practice makes better because I believe there is always room for improvement and not really a "perfect" way to complete a task). Once comfortable with a task or procedure, the next step is to increase efficiency. This can be accomplished by setting up a system. 

    What is a system? I am glad you asked! It is whatever makes a process more efficient. Ever try to do something haphazard and all over the place? That's never the most efficient way to do something. Having a detailed schedule, managing a to do list, and writing out procedures are all examples of systems. For example, when keeping a detailed schedule, there must be some way to maintain and upkeep the schedule. It could involve making the schedule for the next day the night before, or making the schedule for the next week on Sunday night. If you are really good, a whole month in advance. Whatever works best for you is the best system. For me, it is usually the night before for the most part since my schedule can change and sometimes there are a lot of contingencies involved some days so it is somewhat difficult to plan sometimes.

      Using certain apps and programs can really help putting these systems in place. Again, whatever works best for you will be the best. For me, Google Calendar for my schedule is amazing! It syncs on every device, even on iCal for Mac and iOS calendar programs with near perfection. I use Nozbe for my To-Do list and aTimeLogger to track my time. These are all amazing tools but not the only ones, so find the ones that work best for you.

     One more thing about systems is that it is important to actually implement them. Some times it can be fun to build a system and process and then get lost in the excitement and end up not actually implementing it. If that's the case, then it is just a waste of time and pointless. I've been guilty of this before, I have put detailed and good schedules into place but not actually follow them. Even now that happens at times, usually in the morning. It really does take discipline to implement a system, not just developing it. The best thing to do is to keep persevering and tweaking until you do have something that works. Right now, getting a good schedule in place and following it consistently is something I am working on.

     There are also times when exceptions to the system in place can be a good thing. Breaking out of the routine is necessary because we are not robots. It can be beneficial to break out of our system because we can often find new ways of doing things and end up enhancing our procedures. Sometimes, I do find it better to keep my schedule open or not make a schedule at all and sort of unwind. Don’t become a prisoner to your system but feel free to change it and even completely do away with it if it is something that is no longer working for you. That way you can create another system that will work better.

The Drawbacks of Distraction

      It is common knowledge that distraction is bad for productivity. However, there are many different ideas on how bad it really is. For example, let’s say it takes 20 minutes to do a task and you stop for 2 minutes to do something else. On paper, that means it would take 22 minutes to complete the task. However, that's not actually the case if the task takes any type of concentration. The more concentration and thought required, the more damaging distraction will be. A task such as vacuuming or sweeping a floor will not be derailed significantly if the task is interrupted. It is simply a task that can be stopped and started again whenever. It will not take longer because one does not need to get back into focus for it. Whatever is on the floor will need to be cleaned, whether it’s 15 minutes, or 4, 8, and 3 minute segments.    

      However, it's different with tasks like reading a book, writing a blog post (like this one), setting goals and doing long-range planning. The distraction (i.e a phone call) may only be two minutes, but we must also take into account the time it takes to get back into focus again as well as lost momentum. That 20 minute task may become a 30 minute task just by the one two minute distraction.

      This can be worse depending on how easily distracted you are, your work styles, your environment, and a lot of other factors. So the numbers can be different. For example, a person learning a new task will definitely be more derailed by distraction than someone who is experienced in the task because there is a lot of uncertainty in doing a new task and not sure if it’s being done right or how to do it. Also, some people might be quicker on certain tasks because they enjoy them more than others so that will mean there is more natural focus and less tendency towards distraction. This is not an exact science! 

      The time it takes to get back into a task could be determined by timing certain tasks and seeing how much distraction can affect the length of time to complete the tasks. This is where the time budget and time tracking tools come into play. There are well known methods for focus such as the Pomodoro Timer where there is a set time to focus on a task, for example 50 minutes, then take 10 minute break for all distractions like emails, social media, responding to missed calls and text, etc. It is also important to determine when the best time to focus is. It may be in the morning, after a cup of coffee or tea, in the evening, etc. Whenever you focus best is the time you should work on these tasks that require focus. There may also be times of the day that work better for certain tasks, this will be determined by you as you realize how you function. Again,everyone is different.

      Another key to minimizing distraction is to get the big tasks done first and early in the day. This reference commonly referenced as “eat that frog” (book by Brian Tracy) will get the tasks that are concerning you out of the way so that you will be able to focus on the other tasks later in the day. I personally find this to be very helpful because undone tasks can bother me. I am way less productive if I am overwhelmed with tasks both big and small because I am constantly distracted by what has to be done. Unfortunately, in many work situations as an employee, you do not have control over what work to do. In the workplace there are so many distractions that you are frequently derailed from your plan for the day. For example, if I schedule what should be four hours of work for a eight hour work day, and I actually get through those tasks that I plan to focus on, then I am actually doing well, leaving the other half of day for tasks that come up the same day. This can certainly vary Nevertheless, the more practice that is done, the better this gets. 

Employer vs Employee and how to Maximize Efficiency

    A problem that is all too prevalent is the employee against employer mindset that exists in most companies. A core example is that employers want employees to produce the most work and/or most amount of time for the least amount of money while employees want the least amount of work and time for the most amount of money. How do we bridge that large gap? This is a question that many business owners and employees ask alike. 

    For the employer and employee alike, it is essential to establish some excellent time management strategies. Of course, this will not be the case all of the time because productivity in the workplace has so many factors involved that they could not all be discussed in this post. For example, a more efficient boss will most likely know how to run a company efficiently and therefore foster efficiency in their employees. This boss knows how to communicate well with the employees and knows how to put the right employees in the right positions. Most likely, the employees are also encouraged to be as efficient as possible. Giving incentives for maximizing productivity will work the best in this case. 

    There are however many roadblocks to efficiency in the workplace. For example many bosses feel the need to control and intimidate employees while employees feel entitled, even in cases where they are not. Employees often believe they are doing their best they can and that they are right. One good way to go about this is to make an investment in each other and talk things out and figure out a way to work best with each other. Unfortunately, this practice is quite difficult because employers and employees are too busy. This is where putting good time management practices into place is essential. Of course this will be different for each employer and employee as well as work places. This is something that is learned with time as I did in my different jobs. I found that each job was different and that a certain strategy that may work for one didn’t work for another.  Whether you are want to have your own business or work for someone else, these strategies will have value.