Spring Cleaning Your Productivity Tools

Claire Burge image

April’s Guest Blogger, Productivity Expert Extraordinaire CLAIRE HAIDAR

Our guest blogger this month is the charismatic and dynamic entrepreneur – Claire Haidar – of WNDYR , who we are delighted to announce will be presenting at this year’s Executive PA, Secretary & Admin Forum! Claire is a ‘no-e-mail’ champion and helps individuals and organisations to be more productive and create happier work environments.

For this month’s blog, Claire gives advice on ‘Spring Cleaning Your Productivity Tools’…

While it isn’t really spring yet, we’re definitely riding the wave of momentum that a fresh new year brings. As part of the overall reviewing and planning activities that we do, it’s a great time to take a look at wherever you work, do a bit of cleaning up and try to make sure that you’re making the most of your productivity tools so that you can spend more energy on the work that brings you satisfaction and less on handling the administration of it all.

If you’re working out of your inbox, reviewing your email is a good place to start.

Are your emails:

  • Full of tasks?
  • Full of FYI information you may need to refer back to?
  • Full of attachments, of different versions?
  • Dealing with more than one subject at a time?
  • Of varying degrees of urgency with no way to differentiate?

I feel a bit queasy just thinking about all that. But I know it’s a huge step to move away from email.

If you’re not quite ready, there are a few things you can do to clean things up in the meantime:

  • Use folders or tagging & archiving to reduce the mental load of a full inbox.
  • Have you set up rules? Some quick ones that can reduce the number of emails you have to deal with manually and individually:
    • Emails that haven’t been sent directly to you – these belong in an FYI folder that you can scan when you’re ready.
    • Notifications from systems are better filed separately to allow you to review them when you’re ready.
  • Use a tool like Mailstrom or Unroll.Me to take care of subscriptions without having to manage them all individually, allowing you to stay subscribed but choose when you want to see newsletters instead of having them land in your inbox along with everything else.
  • Include a line in your outgoing email footer with a suggestion to reconsider emailing you if it’s something that can be handled with a quick call.

I believe that the single biggest thing you can do as a team to reduce everyone’s email burden is to get tasks and the discussion around them out of the inbox and into a platform where they can be handled better. This can be anything from a really simple task list to a full on project management solution, but I think that it’s the biggest step towards handling work efficiently that any team can take.

If you already use a task list app, this is also a good time to review the content and the app itself:

  • Are the outstanding tasks still relevant to existing work? If not, they shouldn’t still be there. Add a note to explain and mark them as complete, or just delete them.
  • Are there tasks that have been done and waiting for feedback? Assign a task to the person who needs to give the feedback, and mark them as complete. If the feedback means you need to do more work, you can create new tasks for that.
  • Are there tasks have mostly been done but the scope has changed? Rename them or create new tasks for the extended work and mark the old ones complete.
  • Are there tasks that are too big in scope and need to be broken down more? This can stop you from taking action, so break them down into subtasks if the app allows or create a new list, if you can’t.
  • Are there too many tasks in a flat list that make it difficult to prioritise? This could be a problem with your app if there’s no facility to group and you might need to consider using a different one, if it keeps holding you back from doing your work. There should be a way you can use projects, labels, tags or subtasks to group or arrange them in order to help you figure out how to attack the work.
  • Are there tasks that are waiting for other tasks to be completed first? If your task list manager doesn’t allow you to identify dependencies, you may need to consider a change or find a way to use tagging or linking to represent this – everyone in the team should know how their work fits in with the bigger picture.
  • Review whether your app or software allows you to easily:
    • Mark things as completed?
    • Review things that have been completed?
    • Group similar things together to give a bigger picture view?
    • Manage dependencies and status?
    • Share work with your team & discuss it?
    • Link to resources relevant to the task like files or notes?

If you can identify blockages in your work because your task manager isn’t allowing you to do these things, it’s time to consider a move.

If your work involves writing or developing work based on your ideas, do you have somewhere to capture and store them?

As well as your task lists, it’s worth reviewing the content and the functionality of your idea list and the platform you use to handle it.

  • Review your ideas:
    • Consider if they still fit your current strategy for the year ahead.
    • Are they based on context – is there related information that should be attached?
  • Does the app allow you to easily:
    • Note new items as you think of them?
    • Include details, links, attachments?
    • Group them together to form a bigger picture?

We all have our own ways of managing files, but to reduce the overhead and stress involved with sharing them efficiently you need to put some thought into what we do with them.

This is so huge I can’t even begin to get a handle on it here, but there are some good questions to ask that will indicate you need to sort out your files:

  • Do you, personally, have a system?
  • Does your team have a system? Does everyone know what it is? If a new person joined the team, how easily could you explain where to find things?
  • Do you differentiate between resources, working documents and ephemera – what should be easily accessed, and what can be archived or deleted?
  • Are there multiple versions of all your files floating around? Do you have any way to handle versioning – either using a tool or manually with a naming convention?

If you find lots of issues around this, it will probably need to be approached as a project. Consider the impact it has on your work and your team, and whether you think you can ignore it for much longer. If you have a shared area that’s fairly tidy you can probably still encourage the whole team to do a 15 minute sweep and zap their unnecessary files. It’s surprising how quickly you can clean up if everyone does a bit.

Thanks Claire for all this advice and we very much look forward to welcoming you to the Forum in May to hear more words of wisdom and practical advice!

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