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    Mastering the 'R' in Productive Reduction

    Excerpted from
    Leave the Office Earlier: The Productivity Pro Shows You How to Do More in Less Time...and Feel Great About It
    By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP

    Because a finite amount of time is available, if you want to get more done, the temptation is to go faster and work more hours. However, productivity is not about squeezing more into your days. This chapter will help you reduce things that waste your time, called "speed bumps." By eliminating speed bumps, you create the space to accomplish the important.

    Speed bumps exist at organizational, departmental, and individual levels, for example, IBM wanted its employees to move faster, make decisions faster, and complete projects faster, to compete with the hungry startups that were gnawing on the edges of its business. Employees were so used to operating in the status quo, they were unsure exactly what that looked like. So IBM established a "Speed Team." consisting of successful project managers who had a strong reputation for pushing projects forward at a blazing pace. This team educated IBMers on the characteristics of fast-moving projects and taught them how to eliminate time wasters. For IBM, the speed humps included administration. unnecessary levels of bureaucracy, too much red tape, and unclear priorities. You can also be a speed bump-the causal factor in wasting precious time. Each item in this chapter will outline a potential speed bump and give ideas for reducing its effects.

    Reduction Quiz Item #11:

    The Sky Is Falling

    Jen, one of my newsletter subscribers, wrote, "Laura. I feel like my workday is completely out of control. I have a Palm Pilot and a huge list of tasks, but some days I barely have the time to even glance at them. How can I get my head above water and get to the point where I'm not spending every day just fighting the most current fire that has come up?"

    Indeed, many people like |en are good at planning their days, creating a to-do list, and outlining priorities. But when you get to work, everything, including Your plan, blows up in the first ten minutes because others need you to do "very important" things. By the end of the day. you're frustrated by your inability to accomplish anything important.

    Whose crisis is this?

    There is a difference between an emergency and a crisis that occurs because of something that wasn't done. It you delay something long enough, you are contributing to a future crisis. By procrastinating, you often create the next crisis. The first time it happens, it's an emergency. The second time, you're an accomplice. Here's what you can do after every "tire."

    Create a backup plan. How have you responded to recurring problems in the past: What contingency plans have you put into place to make sure the crisis doesn't happen again": If your computer crashed and you lost all your data, I would assume that you now have a literal "backup" plan to ensure this doesn't happen again, l or example, a reader told me. "Part of my job involves scheduling other people. When one of these people cancels, it becomes a crisis, requiring me to place many telephone calls, send emails, and endure lots of stress! This never fails to happen when I am up against a project deadline, or preparing to put on an event in the immediate future." This is the type of repeated situation that should always include a Plan B, scheduling a backup person in the event that Plan A fails. When the same thing is guaranteed to happen over and over, put a plan into place that will help you handle it better.

    Be proactive. Another reader said. "My problem is that much of my time is spent on the telephone with my members who call with questions, so I'm putting out tires or directing them to resources." This comment begs the question: What systems have you put in place to proactively answer the questions people are asking? How can you help them easily find the information they need (through your website, newsletter, email updates, etc.)? Sometimes we are so busy putting out the fires, we never step back and evaluate what's lighting the flame.

    Look in the mirror. What part did you play in creating this fire? To reduce time spent on crisis management, spend time doing long-term, proactive, important activities, rather than always responding to the urgent. Don't facilitate crisis at work by procrastinating until tasks become urgent. Spending thirty minutes more per day working on items that are high in importance but low in urgency would significantly reduce the amount of time you spend responding to crisis. Ask yourself, "What ideas, projects, and programs-it implemented now or in the near future-would significantly impact the profitability or productivity of my staff or my organization?"

    When a true crisis cannot be avoided because of changing priorities, unrealistic deadlines, or mistakes:

    • Take a deep breath, ask yourself what needs to be done, and handle it in an orderly fashion. Stay calm and think clearly.

    • How major is the crisis": Step back and look at the whole picture. Narrow the scope of the project if you must or eliminate some non-essential elements.

    • Offer incentives. Get someone you know who will put forth additional effort. Offer a reward for on-time completion.

    • Ask yourself, "Whose crisis is this, anyway?" Seek alternative sources or switch suppliers or players ii someone isn't delivering on promises. Can you delegate the crisis to someone else? Don't be afraid to ask for help if needed.

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