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Boost productivity and stress less – introducing the Worker Bee Habits.

Worker Bee picSince 2006 I have been using something I’ve coined as the ‘Worker Bee Habits’.  The analogy allows me to explain to everyone – from individual contributors, to managers and owners / entrepreneurs – that these habits are something everyone in the company can adopt.

It’s not something that only individual contributors, or even just “senior people” should be working on – everyone should strive to not only increase their productivity, but also reduce their work stress.  These habits can help on both fronts.

The Habits have been formulated from much reading, practice and speaking with other professionals on how they work effectively, and reduce their work stress.  Some sources for these habits come from ‘The guaranteed secret to success’ Ivy Lee handed to one of the richest men in the US in the 1920, and David Allen’s great book ‘Getting things done.’

In the Worker Bee Habits the Queen Bee is the company.  Everyone, all the Worker Bees – no matter whether they started / own the company or are senior managers – have a responsibility to ensure they are efficant (effective and efficient).

The 5 Worker Bee Habits are:

  1. Have a top 4
  2. Plan your week
  3. Plan your day
  4. Review your day
  5. Only check email 3 times a day

The benefits of the habits include:

  • You feel more in control, and less stressed about your work
  • You work on the right things
  • The service you provide to others (doing what you say you will, and on time) increases
  • The quality of your work improves
  • You are able to tackle the human affliction of procrastination
  • Allows you to say ‘no’, ‘next week?’ or ‘what can I drop to make this fit?’ to your line manager and other stakeholders

OK, here they each are in a little more detail.

1) Have a top 4

Your company should have a top 4 objectives or big goals for the quarter.  If so, your focus and objectives will probably fall from these.  Have a top 4 objectives for the quarter, so weekly you can set your own top 4 – which feed in or support those quarter top 4.  Your top 4 should act as anchors for where you choose to place your time during the week.  You have a choice what you spend time on and by investing a little time at the start of the week intellectuality deciding what is important means you are more likely to work on the right things.

At the start of the week, sit down and write down the 4 most important (big, preferably strategic not tactical/operational) things you need to either complete or substantially move forward by the end of Friday. Order them in their importance, 1 to 4.

By having it written down you first get agreement with yourself that that is enough value for you to accomplish in the week, so you put less pressure on yourself.  Conversely, it gives you focus and drive.  You have specific goals to work on and towards throughout the week, as you fight through the jungle of daily tasks and the usual operational and tactical things you need to get done.

One hint – if you have a short week, due to holidays or abnormal out-of-the-office activities (e.g. conferences etc), reduce your top 4 to 3, 2 or even just 1.  And, if you have a huge top 1, don’t be afraid to only have 1 or 2 goals for the week.

2) Plan your week

Once you have your top 4 for the week, sprinkle time in for each of the 4 into your calendar.  As a good Worker Bee, you will already have meetings and recurring tactical tasks in your calendar, so you can see just how much time you have to work on these top 4, and when.  Time for your number 1 should be put in on the Monday and Tuesday, so you do as much on that for the week early.  If you have to put it into someone else’s court and you think it’ll come back into your court later in the week, plan some time to work on it again.  Remember, it is your most important goal for the week.

Then number 2 should be Tuesday and/or Wednesday, number 3 Wednesday and/or Thursday and number 4 Thursday and Friday.

Planning your week should take 30-60 minutes a week once you’ve mastered the Habits.

3) Plan your day

Once you’ve processed your inbox(es) first thing, look at your calendar and refine your plan for any genuine changes in your priorities.  But don’t let procrastination creep in – don’t make the plan follow things you feel like working on.  Keep the plan to what you know you should be working on.

This should take 10 minutes a day, and goes into your ~30 minutes of admin time at the start of the day.

4) Review your day

At the end of the day, bump forward any commitments you didn’t get to or complete, so you don’t miss them.  This control helps you ‘do what you say you will’.

5) Only check email 3 times a day

By far, this (for me) is the toughest habit to build.  You have to first break / unlearn something that has been growing even more prominent in our lives – the need to feel connected, in need or ‘loved’ as I like to say.  We constantly seek out more ways to distract ourselves, and social media is only making this worse.

If you use Microsoft Outlook, you can turn your email ‘offline’ easily so you can still see old emails, tasks and your calendar but any emails you  receive while offline will not drop in and distract you. See below:

Microsoft Outlook turning email offline

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