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Archive for August 2009

Time to ACT

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Time to ACT. What does that say to you? Time to do what you need to do? Now’s the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country? You get the idea. It means time to do what needs to be done. Ok, Let’s take it to another dimension. What if it means having “time enough” to get things done. Hm. Peaked your interest? Good. That’s the topic of this blog.

We are busy people. It’s a busy world. How often do you hear people say “if only I had 2 more hours in the day.” Often. Well, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. That means we have to take control of our own time destinies to keep them in check. There are tons of time management seminars and tools and I’ve probably taken them all. Their purpose is to help you understand what are YOUR time drains.

Types of time drains are interruptions, emergencies, answering email, reading blogs (just had to say that), answering phones, opening paper mail, responding to people coming into your office, searching for information missing from a project, not having a work process in place and working on your calendar. I bet you spend a lot more time on these processes than you imagine. Many many years ago, I was part of a project that was working on winning a Demming Award. A Demming award is for superlative process management. One of the things we had to do was record everything we did, by hour, by day, for two weeks. We did this on a spreadsheet. We were even given watches to keep track of the time. This was an eye-opening exercise. And this was before email, Facebook, Twitter and the internet. It is extraordinary how you can flitter away time on the littlest things.

You should try this exercise as noted above, and then figure out how can you fix some of the issues. What I am going to show you here in this blog is how you can do that with a contact manager. My contact manager of choice is ACT!. Not all of them do what ACT! can do, so if I talk about something here that your contact manager (if you have one) doesn’t do, then consider moving to ACT!.

Ok, here we go. I’m going to list some common time drains and show you how ACT! can help you manage the time drain demons.

Interruptions.
This one is easy. You need to go into your calendar and put in an activity that says “Busy” or “Door closed” or whatever makes sense to you. If you are more productive in the morning, put it in this timeslot then. The idea is your calendar is flagged as not available so you can work on things that need your utmost concentration. We can’t avoid all interruptions, but we can sure try.

Delegation.
Ever get a project that is missing information? You need to send that project detail right back where it came from to get that data. Open a Todo in ACT!, call it “gather missing data”. Put a timeframe for a week or so and set it so it alarms. Send an email to the person who hasn’t sent you the data. Your Todo will pop up reminding you that you are waiting on information. The good news you should have put that project into the “waiting on details” pile and can now go find it. The better news was by setting the alarm, and “delegating” it back to the person who has the details removed from your work pile. In essence, you moved the “work monkey” back to where it belonged. You can also use Activity Series in ACT! to assign steps to someone else, there by delegating to another and off of your desk.

Work processes.
When you work on a process, you typically go through a standard set of steps. Do you call people asking for detail? Do you send emails asking for more information? Do you do the same steps all the time. Then you have an activity series. In ACT!, you can design an Activity series to remind you of events that need to happen at a set period of time. You can even “delegate” them to other people (one of the best ways to get things off your plate.) You can even design more than one type of activity series. These are very powerful.

Keeping on track:
Your calendar is your most valuable tool in keeping on top of your time. If you earmark times for “busy” or “working on mail” or add an entry that says “follow up on pipeline” you have alarms popping up that tell you where you need to be and when or what you have to do. Someone walks in your door – you get tied up talking to them. You forget you have an appointment. An audible alarm from a calendar entry can get your attention and help you shoo that person out the door. Use this tool to your best advantage. Alarms are an excellent way to keep you on track. One of the things you can do in ACT! is set the priority of your calendar items. Use this – and use it wisely. Make critical appointments High priority. If the entry is a low item, make it a low priority and don’t bother with setting an alarm. ALL HIGH PRIORITY ITEMS SHOULD HAVE AN ALARM. Period.

ACT! is more than just a contact manager. It’s a way to keep track of the who, what, when, where and why of things (but that’s another blog.) It can help you keep on top of your day. Time management doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Use tools to help you. After all, it’s all about having “time to act.”

Written by pregen

August 21, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Google and you shall find

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A leaky truck tire is the impetus for my post today. Last night, while once again using Google to find an answer, it hit me just how vital Google has become to my every day world. I paraphrased a biblical reference, “seek and ye shall find” for the title of this post because, using Google, it’s becoming quite true. Seek and you will find.

My road down the search engine path has been a long one. Doing genealogy research is what first triggered my overwhelming need to travel down the corridors of the web world. I started out with Yahoo as my first search engine tool and it and I spent many many hours going down website ratholes. I remember the first time I delved into some research I was stunned to realize I had spent 5 solid hours reaching deeply into all kinds of links. I was hooked line and sinker. From then on, it was simply a matter of honing in on my searching skills.

As I progressed, I learned about meta crawlers, search engines that used more than one search engine. Soon, my newest best friends were Dogpile and Metacrawler.com. I stayed with them for quite a while until this shiny newcomer called Google came along. It has now become my search engine of choice. I go back to the metacrawlers periodically, but I find them filled with pay for click sessions that I need to wade through to find the real meat.

So, moving on, let me explain about the leaky tire. Once a long time ago, I was driving a car where the back left rear tire came totally off while I was doing around 55 miles an hour. Luck is the only reason my car didn’t flip over. The tire had been improperly mounted after replacing recalled brakes. What this has produced in me is a major case of paranoia when it comes to wheels and tires. OK, you get the picture. Recently, actually for the last several months, one of our Explorer truck tires has had a slow leak. The Sears store could find no holes in the tires they had installed and sent us on our way. That meant Don had to periodically fill it up with air before a long drive or when we were going to put a load on the vehicle. I asked him if there was any way to fix it – it was his comment of “it’s probably a cracked wheel” that sent me into a tizzy. Remember the paranoia statement from before. Alarm, alarm, alarm, claxsons sounding – that was me.

So, I did my normal approach when honey-dos don’t, and said, ok, fine, I’m not driving that vehicle anymore. Period. Then, I decided to go to my computer and do what I find myself doing anytime a business, personal, or house issue comes up – I look for solutions on Google. And I mean I do it all the time. I do at least one Google search a day – always. Even on Sunday.

Here’s where knowing how and what to search for is one of the best tools you can have in your information arsenal. I knew I had a leaky tire. It was a 1995 Explorer. The suspected culprit was a cracked wheel. So, I formulated the following search phrase – “Explorer leaky tire cracked wheel.”

Now, when you do your first search, it’s key to understand you probably won’t find a hit on the first page. If you do, then you’ve entered enough information into your search words to give Google a chance to quickly find what you are looking for. As it turned out, I hit pay dirt with my very first search phrase. It turns out some faulty tire valves were being recalled because an unlucky soul driving an Explorer had died in a crash caused by a overly-low tire. The tire had the faulty valves and a recent court case confirmed this and the valves were recalled. I found the website, saw what I needed to check on the tires, and headed into the garage armed with a flashlight and magnifying glass. Voila, the valves on our tires matched the recalled numbers exactly. Problem found – now it was simply a case of taking them to Sears and saying “see – fix.”

This is just a onetime example of the power of searching on the web. I can’t imagine running my business without this tool. Yes, we’re computer consultants but anyone can exploit this tool. Market research, product comparisons, demographics, business solutions – you name it – the sky is the limit. And now that Google trolls through social networking sites, you can really find some interesting and current information.

As you go down your searching trails, remember you can’t always believe everything you read on the internet. However, what you do find can point you in the right directions when you otherwise were headed nowhere. The secret is typing in as many words as possible to narrow down your hits. Don’t use words like “and”, “or”, etc because Google will just strip them out anyway. If you do need to include these words, enclose them in double quotes – like “Jack and Jill ran up the hill.”

The Google site has all kinds of tutorials on how to use advanced searching techniques. However, I’m typically in a hurry – well, always in a hurry – and I don’t want to bother clicking on the Advanced button. So, I found out there are some cool search operators that can help you zero in on details. You use them directly in the search box. Here’s some of my favorite with examples: note – you need a colon after the operator name. I put the search words in quotes.

– “Pat Egen search engine site:act.com” – this looks for Pat Egen only on the act.com website
– “Excel samples site:.edu” – finds Excel samples only on university domains (usually a wealth of free stuff)
– “related:www.egenconsulting.com” – find similar or related pages to http://www.egenconsulting.com
– “link:pregen.wordpress.com” – which pages link to a specific site – in this case, my blog
– “Excel tips filetype:pdf” – find only pdf files that have Excel tips

There are some other neat things you can do when searching Google. If you type in a phone number that is not unlisted, you’ll see the phone listings at the top of your search results. A really fun trick is to find out a local time – simply type in “what time is it in Bermuda.” You get back something that looks like this – “5:49pm Tuesday (ADT) – Time in Bermuda.”

I fly a lot and one of my favorite search tricks is typing in the number of a flight – for example DL10. This will show you current tracking details for that flight number. Just enter the right airline code and number. After trolling around for some more ideas for this blog post, I found you can even use search terms like “better than” or “reminds me of” and then add your keywords. This really works. How cool is that. Remember said Explorer referenced earlier in my post here? Since it’s starting to be more problematic that we’d like, and I was showing my hubbie these cool new search terms, he suggested typing in “better than Toyota Tacoma” and lo and behold a “top ten truck” review came up and the Toyota listed number 1. Now that’s nifty.

The moral of this story is to reach for your favorite browser and head to Google.com to search for stuff you need, whether it’s recipes, leaky tire symptoms and simply how to stay sane in an insane world. Really, try that search string.

Ciao for now.

Written by pregen

August 4, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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