Guest Blogger: Jessica Jacob, Senior Project & Events Manager at Jelly
Throughout my working life I came to realise very quickly that, much like people, every role is different. A one-size-fits-all or fixed process mentality is often restrictive and counterintuitive; and for someone who lives for processes and procedures, that wasn’t easy to come to accept.
My career has been varied: from financial data-input clerk to Institute of Legal Executives (ILEx) qualified legal secretary, and from personal assistant to quality manager in the NHS. All my roles have taught me (or forced me to learn) tips, tools, strategies, methodologies and shortcuts that have saved time, money and – more importantly – stress. In the fast-paced digital business landscape we find ourselves in, keeping your shit together is essential. The following post is a summary of the key sanity-saving habits I adopted over the years which other professionals may find useful.
When we talk about productivity in business terms – and I’m getting my quality manager hat on here – we throw around words like “work-rate”, “output”, “yield” and “efficiency”, etc. However, if we were to attribute a practical meaning to the term, productivity is ensuring efforts or resources that are invested in something are not wasted. NOW we’re getting to the sexy part; finding out how you can increase your productivity.
In simple terms, to be more productive, you have to reduce waste to nil (or as near as, dammit!). Wasting your time, energy, resources, and/or passion is not productive. There are loads of theories and methodologies out there – such as the Lean Six Sigma or the ALPEN method – but, when it comes down to it, they all say the same thing: “sort your shit out” (but in a nicer, less aggressive way).
Lean Six Sigma
The Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that originated from Motorola in Japan which is now adopted internationally and across multiple industries including production, health care, and manufacturing. It is a very in depth concept but, at its core, the Lean Six Sigma is a set of techniques/tools that relies on team efforts to improve performance by reducing waste.
There’s so much you can learn about the Lean Six Sigma now that we’d have to dedicate multiple blog posts to it but a good starting point would be its Wikipedia page. Because it is such a complicated but effective methodology, companies dedicate whole jobs dedicated to making sure it’s implemented and running efficiently. It’s a rinse and repeat process that should be continuous. One of the key components of the Lean Six Sigma that can easily be applied across many work spaces is 5S: a practice used to keep workspace orderly and the workforce committed to maintaining that order.
Invented by German economist, Lothar J Seiwert, ALPEN (not the cereal) aims to organise your day with minimal effort. As a general rule of thumb, this should only take 10 to 15 minutes a day to do.
• A – de Aufgaben – To Do List
• L – de Lange Schatzen – Estimate the length of activities
• P – de Pufferzeiten Einplanen – Plan buffer time and breaks
• E – de Entscheidungen treffen – Establishing priorities and delegating
• N – de Nachkotrolle – Noting (not to be confused with “nothing” as I keep accidentally saying)
Anyway, let’s move away from the dull theory and get into the real juicy flesh of the matter. The real-life tips and tricks I live by. CUE THEME MUSIC!
Tidy Desk, tidy mind.
The Princeton University Neuroscience Institute research department found that when your environment is cluttered the chaos restricts your ability to focus, limiting your brain’s ability to process information. This could lead to you being easily distracted and unable to process information as well as you could if your environment was uncluttered and organised. Seriously, it’ll make you feel better. When I was in high-intensity and stressful roles, I had a routine:
• Clear desk policy
• Weekly clear out of drawers and immediate environment (including bookcases)
• Tidy desktop, laptop or mobile home screen
• Zero email inbox (file it!)
That way, you know exactly what’s outstanding, incoming and complete… won’t that make you feel better?
To-do or not to-do…
I love how everyone has their own way of doing things. My Event Manager, for instance, uses a series of colour-coded post-it notes for varying urgencies (don’t ever touch her pink stack… I learnt the hard way…she bites). I live with my Moleskin notebook that stores every scribble, note, and action I will definitely forget if I don’t write it down there and then.
Until recently, I used to consider to-do lists stress-inducing catalogues of failings. That was until I found articles on Bullet Journaling. You may have heard of this but disregarded it as being more for the recording of your inner thoughts, feelings, and love hearts round Kevin Bacon’s name as I originally had. But then I realised, bullet lists can be adapted into one hell of a sexy to-do list that’s useful, informative, and easy to keep. I came up with my own key and the methodology is very similar from the romantic ponderings of teenagers and young people; but you can make your own up.
A variation or adaptation would be “Bill’s method”, he includes a handy day-tracker which I adore (but will never work for me… ever).
Keep your good habits
You know how you spent all that time sorting and decluttering? To keep it that way, you need to put things in logical places AND in order but in a way that makes sense. There’s no point coming up with crazy routines that you’re never going to stick to or that other people won’t understand. Future proof for yourself.
I use a multitude of tools every day that make my life 100% better. For instance:
• I use Outlook by choice – yeah, it’s not the best email client, but it has one specific function I cannot live without. Quick Steps. Seriously, set that bad boy up, keep it useful, and file those pesky emails with a click of a button. I have my key projects and standard filing prompts, including “move to folder xx” or “forward to Katie”. Poor Katie.
• I also use a paid for service with my emails that helps filter out the spam. Worth investing in, especially as I’m often in a constant clutches of emails. Here’s a useful list of potential email systems that might help you. I use SaneBox and it de-clutters my inbox like a dream!
• If you’re “old skool” and use a lot of paper, follow this process and set up your physical files.
The Best Tip You’ll Ever get
And finally, the most ground-breaking, life-altering, revolutionary tip I’ve ever received ever. I learnt it when I was undergoing a “Productivity for Executive Assistants” course back in my NHS days before I became a Project Manager. But it’s so simple…
Learn to say “No”.
With that, however, comes learning that saying “no” isn’t always well-received and can occasionally get you into trouble. So tactfulness is essential, pick your battles; suggest another more appropriate person to take on the task; recommend alternative way to complete the task. Basically, becoming the advice guru you know you are will help you avoid taking on unnecessary tasks when you’re already inundated with work.
I could go on. I would go on, but I’ll get shouted at. Therefore, I’ll sign off with a cute little presentation to really get your organising juices flowing.
I love me a good presentation.
We’d like to say a BIG thank you to our guest blogger, Jessica Jacob for these wonderful productivity tips. Jessica is a highly skilled and incredibly organised senior projects and events manager who helps our clients achieve and exceed their objectives as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Do YOU want streamlined project management delivered by a team of creative innovators for your next project? Get in touch today!