Productivity taking a hit lately? Give OMG a try.
App Dev Manager Wesam Darwish shares some personal productivity tips to help you take back control of your day.
Have you started your week with a plan, or a list of tasks that need to be done, only to end the week with a much bigger list? With all the interruptions that are common in a day (email, IM, phone call, meeting action items) and the constant shifting of priorities, it’s easy to start to feel like things are out of your control. A day or week might pass by without accomplishing much. This is when being very intentional about time management becomes critical. For this you need the OMG steps: get Organized, Manage your work, and Gain insights.
The right productivity software tools can make life much easier. I use Microsoft 365: Outlook for PC for calendar and email, Planner to track work, and MyAnalytics to gain insights. Here are some tips to get organized.
Color-coding calendar entries provides information at one’s fingertips without having to double-click. I use colors to denote categories, and shades to further filter each category. Just by looking at my calendar, I know what needs to be prioritized, or rescheduled, or what takes priority during the day if there are conflicts. Here is an example:
Red for “Customer”:
- A darker shade: customer facing events, meetings, deliveries, and so on.
- A lighter shade: internal meetings to ensure the success of customer facing events
Orange for “Personal”:
- A darker shade: personal events or appointments that I must tend to, or time set aside for learning and growth
- A lighter shade: personal events or appointments that I could potentially get someone to help with (delegate)
Green for “Internal”:
- A darker shade: these are internal meetings or events that I must attend
- A lighter shade: these are internal meetings or events that I could potentially watch the recording of, or schedule time later to catch up on
Default calendar color for everything else that drops in the calendar, which hasn’t yet been prioritized for the week.
Displaying different time zones in the calendar is very helpful when working with customers or teams in different time zones. Sure, figuring out different time zones could be a simple addition or subtraction, but having an instant view that is built into the calendar makes life much easier. Make sure you display different time zones in your calendar.
Read email. First of all, never read an email, then mark it as “unread” as a way to get your attention to address an action item in that email or to come back to it later. Action items should be noted and prioritized. When an email is read, it should no longer be in the inbox. I have a custom Quick Step that marks an email as read and moves it to a common single folder. I found no use of archiving read emails into different folders, with having the Outlook Search feature available.
Filtering rules. I categorize distribution lists (DLs) I am part of into:
- DLs that are great to stay up to date with or contribute to, but I can afford to miss an email. For those, I have rules that move emails as they come in into different folders to be read later
- DLs that I cannot miss, and those land into my inbox and do not have any rules associated with them
All other emails land into my inbox.
Prioritization of work. For tasks and prioritization of work, Planner does a good job. My Kanban board has 5 buckets:
- To Do: captured, un-prioritized tasks and action items from emails, phone calls, IMs, and other sources
- This Week: tasks moved from the To Do bucket and prioritized for the current week
- Today: tasks moved from the This Week bucket and prioritized for today
- Waiting: tasks moved from the Today bucket and still being worked on, but awaiting input from another person before the task could proceed. This could be a task to follow up on an email awaiting a response from someone, for example. Tasks in this bucket typically require an event, out of one’s control, that must occur for the task to proceed
- Done: tasks moved from other buckets
[M]anage Work (and Personal Life)
To make the following approach work, two things are essential:
- All tasks must be captured in one place (Kanban board)
- Time must be scheduled into the calendar to go through prioritization. For example, beginning of the week to prioritize To Do into This Week. Beginning of each day to prioritize This Week to Today.
Here are some tips to manage work and personal life tasks:
- As tasks surface, through emails, IMs, phone calls, meetings, family conversations, and so on, put them in the following buckets:
- To Do: if this needs to be done at some point, but not the current week
- This Week: if this needs to be done by the end of the current week
- Today: if this becomes a priority for today
- When processing emails, these are generally the types of emails one will run into:
- Has information with no action required. Processing: read then move out of inbox
- Requires a reply, and the reply is quick. Processing: read, reply, then move out of inbox
- Requires a reply, but the reply needs time, or clarification is required. Processing: read, acknowledge, add a task with proper description and notes to the proper Kanban bucket (To Do, This Week, Today, or Waiting), then move out of inbox
- Make sure to schedule focus time, whether automatically with the help of MyAnalytics, or manually using the Pomodoro Technique, or any other technique, to get work done
It is essential to explore work patterns and learn ways to help one work smarter, improve focus and wellbeing, network, and effectively collaborate. MyAnalytics is a great tool for this. MyAnalytics is an extension of the Microsoft Office 365 client experience that helps one find opportunities to build better habits and get back in control of their time. It uses everyday data from Microsoft Office 365 to provide insights into how time is being spent. It then provides insights and tips that help one work smarter. With MyAnalytics you will receive AI-powered suggestions in Outlook to help you set aside focus time before your week fills up with meetings, stay on top of tasks and emails, and follow up with important people. Here is a sample dashboard:
Focus: MyAnalytics automatically schedules up to two hours of focus time for you every day
Wellbeing: helps you develop healthy work and technology habits
Network: helps you cultivate and nurture better working relationships with coworkers and others.
Collaboration: helps you manage time spent collaborating more efficiently. Here is an example where you can gain insights from communication habits and working patterns, and adjust accordingly:
When insights are available, one can build a plan to improve.
This has been working for me; cherry-pick what you think will work for you and incorporate into your routine. Happy productive day!