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Taking back your day [infographic)

Wasted time during the dayI think we all know that our working day is nowhere near as productive as it should be. That’s not to say we should jam our noses to the grindstone for 8 hours solid but a better understanding of where our day goes can go a long way to improving productivity. How you use that improvement is up to you; some will use the time for creative thinking, some might better balance work and home life and other will grab the opportunity to deliver more.

Over the last 3 years or so, Connected have been striving to improvement productivity, reduce the working week and be more creative and I’m proud to see we’ve made major strides. So much so that when I get the opportunity to look under the skin of a business I see a stark reflection of how we were last decade; overwhelmed with email, toxic meetings or just plain stuck in traffic on the way to the office.

I recently found a great infographic (which I cannot trace the source) that relates to a survey carried out by a time-tracking company called OfficeTime. Ok, I might not agree with the principle of time recording but the infographic itself is worth a look at – even if you just want to silently nod your head and realise where the day goes to.

Having identified some of the problems I thought I’d share some of the solutions we came up. Hopefully it might help a little.

Email

This is the big killer, especially in the digital space as you can easily spend 2hrs a day processing email, much of which is wasted dealing with crap, poorly threaded communication and spam. The simple answer is to rid yourself of email but that’s not practical so lets start with basics. Adopt an Inbox-Zero policy, nothing is to be left in your inbox – this helps by avoiding you re-reading email (and then still not actioning it).

Secondly, move internal, non-critical, communications to an enterprise social network – we use Podio but you could as easily use Yammer or a whole raft of other applications. Thirdly, get your projects off email and into a collaborative project workspace such as Basecamp or Strikebase. We, again, use Podio for this but very successfully used Basecamp for almost 5 years.

Finally, keep a firm grip on email subscriptions. This can be done manually by rigorously unsubscribing or letting an application such as Unroll.me take the strain.

Meetings

Must be short, documented and be SMART. This does exclude hacks, brain-storms and the like but normal business meetings must have a clear purpose and should be time-boxed to preferably less than 30 mins. Meetings feel useful because you discuss important stuff but the focus needs to be on decisions and outcomes (delivery) rather then argument and procrastination. The other great failing of meetings is a lack of documentation, this then sees the value of the meeting drop over time. 1 day later an undocumented meeting will have lost over half of it’s value due to memory failing and difference of perception.

Recording the meeting is the simple answer, preferably with video so the body-language element is retained and then someone needs to summarise what was agreed and by who and for whom.

Travelling

Face to face is key to business relationship but not every element of communication and work actually requires physical presence. Look at good alternatives to the office such as tele-commuting, location-independent working and co-working. Explore technologies such as Skype and other video conference applications to provide a medium to communicate and collaborate without a tedious rush-hour commute.

We cut the office strings at the end of 2012 and here is a summary on progress.

Process and red-tape

As businesses grow they acquire process-focussed baggage and this eventually becomes red tape as many processes are concatenated into Bibles of Knowledge. This, whilst maintaining a semblance of quality, is bad because modern business must be agile and bibles are pretty poor at adapting to outside changes.

Any procedure must bring measurable value to a business and this needs to be evaluated for all businesses and their processes. Some processes can be more draconian than other and even invisible. A great example of this is the expenses claim. No-one like this process as it’s fraught with paperwork and is just a pain. Finance typically dislike it because they won’t give access to staff to their precious accounting system so much of the work has to be duplicated onto the system. The staff don’t like it as it seems as if every purchase decision they make is being scrutinised (this is true in a lot of cases) and they have the additional hassle of collecting receipts, filling in paperwork etc.

There are solutions and they tend to be very task and process specific. Take Expensify, for example, this uses some neat technology to heavily automate the process of collecting, filing and reconciling expenses.

So, take back your day and get rid of a lot of the grind – it’s liberating and makes work so much more fun. This in turn increases morale and work output. Everyone wins.

ps: Taking back 2hrs a day shortens the real working week to well under 30hrs – that’s gotta be appealing.

by Martin Dower