Merge's Blog

Category Archives: Productivity Tools

Use a “parking lot” to help you achieve objectives in your meetings

In our last edition of our video series on productivity tools for leaders, I talked about how the time-keeper is a very important role in a meeting in order to achieve objectives.   You might recall that the time-keeper’s job is to let participants know when the allotted time for an agenda item is over.  But sometimes, an agenda item crops up that really does require additional discussion beyond the time frame allotted in the agenda.  Which brings me to today’s tool to improve your productivity so that you can still achieve objectives.  Use a “parking lot” to make your meetings more effective.

Use a “parking lot” to achieve objectives

Let’s say you are chairing a meeting and you have a great time-keeper who is making sure your meeting agenda stays on track.  But now the allotted time has run out for something under discussion that still warrants further conversation.  When this happens, you, as the chair, needs to step in and offer two choices. Continue reading

Not getting things done in your meetings? Here’s a powerful way to change that

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been sharing specific ideas on the blog about getting things done, on improving your productivity.  As I have mentioned in earlier video posts, many leaders tell me that poor meeting management seriously hampers their ability in getting things done.  And in fact, my last two instalments in this video series (four-column agendas, “action minutes”) have focused specifically on ideas to overcome this.  So I thought I’d share another tip today on how you can make your meetings a powerful source of getting things done.  It is to assign three key roles in every meeting.

Assign three key roles in every meeting

There are three critical roles that are required for every successful meeting.  The three roles are chairperson, timekeeper, and minute taker.  Now, this is important, the three roles must be filled by three DIFFERENT people.  If you’ve been to the meeting from hell, you already know what happens when the same person plays all three roles – it doesn’t work out that well!  Continue reading

For amazingly productive meetings, switch to “public action minutes”

In our last video blog in our series on productivity tools for leaders, I gave you one idea on how to have useful and productive meetings.  Specifically, to issue an agenda using a four-column format.  Today, I’m continuing on that theme of productive meetings with another tip – always take and issue action minutes within 48 hours.

Always issue action minutes

Now I know what you’re thinking: 48 hours?  Yes I know, some of you are lucky if those minutes arrive the day before the next meeting!  But let’s just talk about this for a moment.  I have yet to meet one person who says to me “Oh Merge, I love taking minutes.”  In fact, almost everyone I know just hates it!  Some of you would much rather walk across hot coals than be volunteered as the minute taker for your next meeting!  We hate taking minutes … BECAUSE for most of us it’s a lot of work and it’s a pain in the neck!  Yet there is a way to get past this.

Are you ready?  This is a cool tool!  A very effective and painless approach to taking minutes is to focus only on recording action items.  Use a three-column format.  Take a sheet of blank paper and draw two vertical lines to create three columns.  Then title the columns as follows: Continue reading

One practical tip to eliminate loss of productivity in meetings

One of the biggest complaints I hear from leaders is about their loss of productivity due to the time they spend in meetings.  Most leaders attend more than 60 meetings a month.  Research shows that over 90% of meeting goers admit to daydreaming; over 70% do other work during meetings; and almost 40% say they have occasionally dozed off while in a meeting.  Clearly, loss of productivity due to meetings is happening every single day.  So for the next four video blog posts, I’m going to focus on specific ideas to stop the loss of productivity that is occurring for you due to those meetings.  Today’s tip: always, always issue a four-column agenda, distributed at least 48 hours in advance of your meeting.

Always issue a four-column agenda

The most common reason we don’t issue agendas is because it seems like a lot of hard work.  But it doesn’t have to be!  One of the best, easiest and most effective ways to develop an agenda is to use a table format using four columns.  Take a sheet of blank paper and draw three vertical lines to create four columns.  Then title the columns as follows: Continue reading

Here’s how to prioritize your endless to-do list

In my first strategy in our new series on productivity tools for leaders, I talked about the importance of writing things down.  One of the biggest advantages of making a to-do list is that you can now assess everything that needs to be done in totality, and determine how to prioritize.  And towards the end of the last tip, I promised that I would show you how to prioritize by giving you a simple two-by-two matrix.

Prioritize by using a simple two-by-two matrix

I call this matrix the impact-implementation window.  On a piece of paper, draw a two-by-two grid.  Along the vertical axis, from the bottom to the top, write “low impact” and “high impact”.  Along the horizontal axis, from left to right, write “easy to implement” and “hard to implement”.  You now have four boxes.  Then take everything in your to-do list and record it, as appropriate, in one of the four boxes. Continue reading

A liquid metaphor about achieving goals

At this time of the year, there’s a lot of thought and conversation about setting and achieving goals, and as a result, I often blog on this topic, often finding metaphors in unusual places.  Like the time my unexpected encounter with a sea otter offered some insights.  Today’s musings … about drinking water.

It’s a lot easier to drink water when you have a glass

glasswater3Potable water … absolutely essential to survival, but unless it is contained – within a glass, a bowl, or even a cupped hand – almost impossible to drink.  Sure you could kneel and lap at a running stream just like other members of the animal kingdom, but it’s a lot easier if it is in a vessel of some sort.  Even animals appreciate drinking from an enclosed source such as a pond or a puddle.

If you are focusing on setting and achieving goals and targets for your professional and personal life, this liquid reality offers an apt metaphor.  Think of water as representing dreams and aspirations, the goals and objectives that you hope to accomplish over the next twelve months.  Just like a liquid takes less effort to drink when it is contained within a vessel, desired targets are easier to achieve when they are surrounded by a solid structure.  So what is this vessel that lets you move goals and aspirations from mere dreams to concrete reality?  The outer form of the vessel may differ from situation to situation, but it must always be constructed of three components – it must be specific, it must be measurable, and it must have a deadline.

Here is an example

Let’s say that one of your leadership objectives Continue reading

To improve your productivity, write things down!

Earlier this month, I promised that in 2020 I would specifically focus on a video series on productivity tools for leaders.  In each video blog, I plan to give you one practical and useful technique to reclaim control of your time, to improve your productivity, or to even get more done through others.  Today, I am excited to kick off this brand-new series with one specific suggestion that I hope you’ll take to heart and implement right away.  And of course, expect more productivity strategies to come in the weeks and months to follow.

Write things down!

Today’s tip: write things down.  It’s simple, but don’t let the simplicity fool you into thinking it is lightweight.  It’s not.  Writing things down is a very powerful to improve your productivity.  So get into the habit of making a to-do list.  Whenever you think about something that needs to be done, stop and make a note.  Right then, not later, because later often means never.  The benefits of writing things down to improve your productivity are many. Continue reading

Productivity tools for leaders

Brand-new video series for 2020

I’m so excited to kick-off another brand-new video series for 2020.  For the last few years, I’ve focused on a different subject each year.  Last year the topic was “How to develop and grow your people” – we did 25 videos.  And in 2018, we put out 33 specific tips on how to motivate your employees.  So this year, I’m going to focus on … drum roll please … Productivity tools for leaders.

In my leadership training and mentoring practice, a frequent refrain I hear from my clients is that they start their days with the best of intentions only to get to the end feeling like they’ve gotten nothing substantial accomplished.  So you tell me.  Have you ever felt that a full day has gone by, yet time seems to have escaped you?  Or that instead of checking things off your to-do list, it seems to be longer than it was at the beginning of the day?  If so, then I think that this year’s video series is tailor-made for you. Continue reading

Three things you can do right now to stay disciplined

say disciplinedDistractions are, unfortunately, a reality in our professional lives nowadays.  In fact, I’ve previously blogged about how often we lose focus at work by the well-known (and notorious) “squirrel” and I’ve subsequently asked you how you minimize distractions and stay disciplined.  Which is why I am thrilled to welcome our guest blogger today.  Mark Black is my professional colleague and my friend, but he was also only 24 when he found himself lying in a hospital bed clinging to life, praying for a life-saving heart and double-lung transplant. Three short years later, he was crossing the finish line of his first of four marathons.  So if anyone can give us practical advice on how to stay disciplined, manage distractions, and help us build resilience so that we can thrive in challenging times, it is Mark!

“Stay disciplined” may not be popular, but it works!

What do you think of when you read the word “discipline? If you are like many people, it probably brings up negative emotions. When most of us think of discipline, we think of experiences from our childhood where our parents “disciplined” us. It’s no wonder then, that most of us associate it with punishment and have a negative impression of it. That’s too bad.

Discipline is actually a very positive word. If you look at its origins, the word discipline comes from the Latin word “disciplina” which means: “”instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge”. To be disciplined then, means to be someone who accepts teaching and seeks learning and knowledge. Sounds good to me. Continue reading

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to overcome procrastination

procrastinationAre you guilty of procrastination?  If so, you’re not alone.  As a leader, you’re constantly juggling many priorities, and there are always a few items on the to-do list that seem to slip from one list to the next.  Usually, the procrastination is either because the task is so large that the even the thought of tackling it is overwhelming.  Or it’s because the task is just something that you don’t really want to do.  Either way, the end result of procrastination is that the task gets pushed further out into the future.  And sometimes it simply just doesn’t get done.

If you think it’s time for the procrastination to end, then consider how you can use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage.  So called because it was observed by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik Effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage

To better understand the connection between procrastination and the Zeigarnik Effect, some background information about Zeigarnik’s research is useful.  In a series of experiments, she asked individuals to do several simple tasks such as solving puzzles and stringing beads.  For some of the tasks, the participants were allowed to complete them, and for others, they were interrupted about half-way through.  Interestingly, she discovered that people were twice as likely to recall the tasks during which they’d been interrupted than those they completed.

So …. if you want to overcome procrastination, the best thing to do is to get started.  If you just initiate the task and get it underway, the Zeigarnik Effect will kick in.  Because the project will now be incomplete, you won’t be able to forget about it.  And you will seek to relieve the tension by bringing closure.  Ergo, getting the job done!  Item checked off the to-do list!

So … I’m curious to know.  Have you used the Zeigarnik Effect to your benefit?  Perhaps you’ve been using it all along, but you just didn’t know that it had a name!  Do share your experiences by commenting below.

P.S.  If you want even more insights into to how to overcome procrastination, then you may find this helpful: A 9-point plan for overcoming procrastination, which I wrote as one of my regular columns for ProfitGuide, the online portal for Profit Magazine.