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How Not to Impose Productivity Systems On Others

How Not to Impose Productivity Systems On Others
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    My baby sister visited me this weekend and brought along a stack of homework that I thought was unbelievable: she’s a junior in high school and her task list had something for every class — and projects in most of them. She keeps track of it in a planner that has such small spaces for recording appointments or tasks that I thought my eyes would fall out of my head from squinting so hard.

    So I did what any good big sister interested in productivity would do: I offered to set her up with something a little easier to use. Nothing fancy, of course: I was thinking of introducing her to Remember the Milk. I like RTM for a lot of reasons, although I know a lot of other people have their preferences — the fact that I can use plugins to integrate RTM with both Google Calendar and GMail do a lot for my productivity.

    My sister’s response? An immediate no. She relies on paper, not some fancy online gizmo. She proceeded to explain that she only goes online every couple of days, mostly to check her Hotmail email account. It was like an arrow straight into my Web 2.0-loving heart. Somehow, I survived and suggested that maybe a new planner — a bigger one — might be in order. I even offered a trip to the bookstore. I was again shot down, with a whole list of counter-arguments: she’d have to transfer everything over, she’s used to this particular planner and this planner was free, whereas a new one would cost money.

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    I don’t consider myself some sort of productivity evangelizer; I just think that her system could be improved upon, if only to protect her eyesight. It’s her schoolwork: she’s more than welcome to organize it however she wishes. I managed to keep my advice down to a short suggested reading list and making her promise to consider this whole newfangled internet thing.

    I did start thinking, though, about other situations where a person can be forced to adopt a productivity system that just flat out doesn’t work for her, and how to maybe work around it. It’s happened to me before, and I certainly didn’t like it. One of my past employers required us cubicle-dwellers to use a custom system based on Excel spreadsheets accessible across the network to track not only our ongoing tasks but our time cards, accomplishments and a host of other information. I was the employee who constantly forgot to update the spreadsheets and had to be reminded where to check for a given piece of information on a regular basis. It wasn’t a case of my not having the necessary data — I had everything my manager wanted at any given time — but I didn’t translate it into the company’s system very well. We finally managed to slip into an arrangement where I used my own methods to track my work and then filled out my spreadsheets once a week or so.

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    I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about calendars, task lists and other imposed time tracking and productivity systems (a surprising number of them include required use of Outlook, often in ways it wasn’t intended to be used). Most seem to boil down to the fact that a worker views the ‘productivity’ system as creating hours more work than he otherwise might face. A bad time-tracking system can quickly become as much of an aggravation as a payroll screw up.

    I’ve heard plenty of work-arounds, as well: there was the guy who wrote himself a little piece of software to translate between his employer’s task management system and his own, the girl who just refused to play along at a system that didn’t work for her and the guy who convinced his manager to change the whole company to suit his needs. There were varying degrees of success — the girl who wouldn’t knuckle under to her task manager wound up in a new workplace very quickly.

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    It seems like the best most of us can do with an imposed productivity system is to try our best to make it work for us — and often we can’t do much better than pretending to find it useful. My personal experience shows that most people have to find their own way of implementing time management — whether by adapting GTD to their lives or writing their own handbook. It’s a matter of knowing what solution works for your specific situation. Nobody else will face the exact same time management issues that you do, making your personal touch a necessity when implementing some sort of productivity system.

    For companies or organizations looking to create some sort of time management system, however, there is still hope. Bringing the people who will be using the system in on its planning can avoid a whole list of common problems: micromanagement interfering with work, requirements for recording minutia into the system taking up time that could be better spent on projects or poorly integrated systems that require time to shift between. Whether you’re tracking productivity, or just trying to make it easier for employees to get their work done, the employees will be the only people able to tell you if your system will help or hurt them.

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    And my sister? I managed to convince her to try out GMail since we both agreed that her 2cute4words Hotmail address might not impress college admissions offices.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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