Whether productivity drives new business.
Clients use and refer professionals they know will be the most responsive, effective, and efficient – all components of productivity. This is especially true during business slow downs.
Productivity drives new business because it increases your responsiveness, effectiveness, and efficiency in the following ways.
Clients use and refer professionals who are responsive. Responsiveness is something more than, ”I’ll take a look at it A.S.A.P.” It’s a substantive communication that informs the recipient, e.g., ”I’ve reviewed the materials you sent and advise you to…” To be more responsive you must increase your focus by reducing distractions and interruptions. This allows you to spend more time producing meaningful responses for your clients. Here are several specific suggestions that will reduce your distractions and interruptions:
1. Turn New E-mail Notifications Off. E-mail is the boon and bane of modern productivity. It’s a vital communication channel, but it never stops coming! Allowing yourself to be constantly interrupted and distracted every time a new e-mail arrives in your Inbox is the equivalent of having the mail person enter your office every two minutes to drop things on your desk. It’s killing your productivity. Turning off the new email notice allows you to remain focused on the matter in front of you. Here are the steps:
- In Outlook*, click on Tools, then Options.
- On the Preferences Tab, select E-mail Options.
- Click on Advanced E-mail Options.
- Under “When new items arrive in my Inbox,” uncheck:
- Play a sound.
- Briefly change the mouse cursor.
- Display a new e-mail desktop alert.
- Click on OK, OK, OK.
* Other e-mail programs have similar steps to turn off the new e-mail notification.
Check your Inbox several times an hour to stay abreast of what’s arriving and needs your attention.
2. Face Away From the Door. Most office configurations have the desk chair facing the door. Given today’s open door policies, this is hugely distracting because your attention is constantly directed towards any motion passing in the hallway. Re-arrange your office so you are not facing the door. By doing so, you will reduce those unnecessary interruptions. This works in two ways. Your eye doesn’t catch the movement and the people passing by see you are working.
3. Silence Your Handheld Device. We have become enslaved to our PDAs. One of the greatest self-imposed distractions we create is having the various notification sounds and vibrations set to the “on” position. There is nothing worse than having one of those notifications erupting right in the middle of a conversation or during a concentrated work moment. Do yourself and others a favor, turn most, if not all, of those notifications off and check the device at regular intervals – to see what needs attending.
Clients use and refer professionals who get things done. Effectiveness is the measure of that ability. You can increase your effectiveness by developing a workflow system that helps you better manage and act on your e-mail and other tasks. Suggestions include:
1. Disciplined Triaging. The way you triage your incoming stuff, electronic and physical, is a terrific place to increase productivity. Most people handle things in a fairly ad hoc manner, dealing with them as they arrive. Ad hoc triaging is very ineffective and distracting. Instead, place the newly arrived items in a predetermined location a designated inbox. That way you can periodically work through what’s there in a concerted manner. Your e-mail Inbox already does that for you with e-mail. Now, you can do the same with a physical inbox. The corollary for this tip is to make decisions when triaging instead of deferring them. This applies to items in both your physical and electronic inboxes. The vast majority of people defer decisions while looking through their workload; i.e., “I’ll deal with that later” or “I’ll handle that later.” That’s activity without productivity; nothing is being accomplished, but time is being spent cycling through the work. The better behavior is to decide specifically what needs to be done, who owns the next action item, and when you need to be reminded about it again. Then you can move that matter to a staging area (away from your designated work area) to be reviewed when the “reminder” date you set for it arrives.
2. Schedule Small Blocks of Open Time Just Before and Just After Meetings. You or your assistant can take better control of your schedule. Start and end times in calendaring software can generally be changed incrementally, so don’t schedule things back to back. Leave 5 to 15 minutes before and after meetings open so you can debrief on the prior meeting and prepare for the upcoming one. By jotting down some final notes about the meeting you just left, you not only memorialize the details about that meeting, you also enter the next meeting with a clear mind ready to focus on the subject at hand.
3. CC Yourself on Every E-mail You Send. There are two benefits here. First, you are announcing to the recipient that you are actively tracking this item on your end. You will be surprised at how many people you work with rely on you to remind them of the work you have given them. By copying yourself on the original e-mail, they will take note of your new tracking system and will likely respond in kind by doing the work without the need for an additional reminder.
Second, and more importantly, by copying yourself on e-mails you send to others, you can triage them properly when they arrive back in your e-mail inbox. This works better than periodically searching through your Sent folder because the Sent folder contains numerous e-mails that don’t require further attention, which makes doing so unnecessarily time-consuming.
Clients use and refer professionals who produce results in an efficient manner. When you control your workflow, instead of being controlled by it, you are more efficient. Not only does more get done, it gets done at a reduced cost to your client. Look for small ways to increase your efficiency so the aggregate effect is high. For example:
1. Open Next/Previous Item in E-mail. Most Outlook* users use their Inbox as a collection spot through which they rummage for important items. Many leave the Reading Pane on to assist in this methodology. The result is a ping-pong type of activity with the user bouncing from one e-mail to the next searching for the next action item. As noted above, this results in a lot of activity without much productivity and a lot of deferred decision making. By turning off the Reading Pane (View, Reading Pane, Off) and replacing it with an Open the Next Item or Open the Previous Item setting, you can work through each e-mail as you first open it. The result is you are deciding what to do with each e-mail as you go, deleting the trash, filing away the archival and reference materials, and leaving just the work in the Inbox. Here are the settings:
- Click on Tools, then Options, and select the E-mail Options button in the first tab (Preferences) area.
- At the top right of that box is a drop-down menu; click on the down-arrow and select either Open Next Item or Open Previous Item depending on whether you (a) read your e-mail from the top down (Open Next Item) or (b) read your e-mail from the bottom up (Open Previous Item).
- Select OK and OK.
* Other e-mail programs have similar steps.
2. Physical Inbox/Outbox Placement. If you have a designated inbox and outbox, chances are you have them placed right on the corner of your desk or somewhere very nearby. If you don’t have a designated inbox and/or outbox, chances are your desk top or chair serves those functions. Either way, the result is that people coming in to place things in or take things out of them are causing you a fair amount of unnecessary interruption and distraction.
First, make sure you have specifically designated areas for things coming in (the inbox) and things going out (the outbox). Second, place them at the end of the credenza/bookcase nearest your door or somewhere similar. It will make access to them easy for everyone and greatly reduce the level of interruption/distraction you suffer when someone is using them. Moreover, you can spot-check it on your way in and out of your workspace.
3. One Subject Per E-mail. One of the mistakes we make with e-mail is trying to cram too much into each one. Since they’re free to send and receive, place just one subject into each e-mail. That allows the recipient(s) to focus on one thing at a time. Moreover, details about one matter won’t get confused with details about another matter. Part of effective communication is clarity. Adopting the one subject per e-mail rule communicates much more clearly and will enhance efficiency.
During economic downturns, productivity is an especially valuable tool in retaining existing clients, in producing new work from them, and in securing highly valuable referrals. Implementing the suggestions above will help you increase productivity and develop more business.