Category Archives for "Productivity"

Wise Owl
May 15

Use your time wisely with these productivity tips

By Felicity Dwyer | Productivity , Small Business

WorkWise week is an initiative to encourage us to think about ways to work more productively. Whether you work for yourself or are employed, here are some tips to help you work more wisely.

Clarify what really matters

The foundation of working wisely is to be crystal clear about what’s really important. If you’re freelance or run your own business, make sure you take time out on a weekly basis to review your priorities.

If you are employed and feel continually overwhelmed, you may need to sit down with your managers, and make sure you understand what you are expected to prioritise and deliver. If you’re not clear about what’s expected of you, then ask rather than making assumptions about what’s wanted.

Overcome procrastination with radical chunking

Even if you know what’s important, you may find yourself procrastinating. We all do it, and my solution is radical chunking. If you find yourself resisting writing an important email for example, then chunk it down to the simplest possible action, such as opening a new email window, writing a subject line (even if it’s just DRAFT EMAIL TO…) and typing the first few words.

Challenge your processes

If you’ve ever worked with a coach, you know they will encourage you, and also challenge you. You can self-coach by taking a step back from time to time and challenging yourself. Ask: “How can I do this more efficiently?” and write down at least three ideas for improvements.

This is helpful if you regularly find yourself bogged down in a task. Taking time to redesign a system can be more effective in the longer term than making do with an outdated way of doing things.

Make wise use of tech tools

Technology is a double edge sword. It can distract, or assist. Set boundaries around unproductive time online, and welcome in helpful tech. A To Do list app like Wunderlist or project management systems like Asana can help bring all your tasks together in one place and access on the go. But tools will only help you if you use them consistently and refer to them regularly. A half hearted switch to an online system will just add to the clutter in your life.

Embrace online accounting

online accounting

If you’re self-employed or run a small business, make this the year you embrace online accounting software. This can massively speed up time you spend on invoicing and reconciling accounts. For example, you can quickly scan in receipts when you receive them and before they mount up.

The UK government has considered making changes to self-assessment reporting. It’s not happening in the short term, but in future they may require small businesses to do their accounting online.

Email discipline for a clear inbox

If looking at your email inbox gives you that sinking feeling, then it’s time to set yourself some guidelines. Discipline yourself not to open an email unless you do something with it. I regularly reach inbox zero since developing an email processing system that works for me – once I’ve read an email it’s either filed, acted upon, deleted or marked for future action.

And on the subject of wise email etiquette, if you find yourself writing something while you’re feeling irritated, under pressure or angry, then don’t send straight away. Save it as a draft, then take a break, return to it to review and re-phrase if necessary. And double-check the “to” field. (Hands up who’s ever written an email to a colleague and inadvertently sent it to a client!)

Set yourself deadlines

We’re usually pretty efficient when we’re up against the clock. But leaving everything to the last minute can be stressful and leaves no room for contingencies. Trying setting your own deadlines, and challenge yourself against the clock. The end of the week can be a good deadline – how much can you clear before the weekend? And how good will it feel when you’ve done it?

Know your values

Finally, wisdom comes from working to your values. It’s not just about efficient use of time; it’s about valuing time itself and freeing yourself up to do what matters. Try this values exercise to work out what really matters to you. And don’t be afraid to say “no” to requests that fit neither your work priorities, nor your personal values.

What tips do you have for working more wisely? Please share in the comments below.

Career Change Toolkit Report

Career Change Toolkit

Contemplating career change or job search can feel daunting. Download this free toolkit full of resources and tips to help you feel more confident about your next steps.

Balancing work and motherhood
Mar 24

Tips for balancing work and motherhood

By Felicity Dwyer | freelance , Productivity , Small Business


Balancing work and motherhood (or fatherhood) is quite an art, so I approached some successful working mums for tips on how they manage. I hope you enjoy the insightful and practical advice they came up with, and please add your own tips too.

Prioritise Ruthlessly

Kara Stanford from KMS Marketing says: “Know what you absolutely must do for work and family, then do those things first. Know what are the “should do’s” and do them next. Finally, know what are the “nice to do’s” and fit them in when you can.”

Kara subdivides this into work, family and “staying sane”. Her work must do’s include paid client work as a top priority. Family must do’s are: never working when she is looking after the children. And her stay sane must do’s are having at least one day at the weekend where she does no work at all.

“When I stop ruthlessly prioritising, it all falls apart…! This week, as we are on day 15 of chickenpox, I have only been able to do my “must do’s” but once we’re through it all, I’ll be able to do everything I want to again. Until then, top priorities first!”

Don’t try to multi-task

Juggling timeBarbara Graham from jewellers Stella and Dot advises ring fencing your time – don’t fall for the multitasking myth

“We are far less efficient if we try to do more than one job at a time.  Your business and parenting will both suffer and you’ll be exhausted and stressed by the feeling you are constantly underperforming in all areas of your life.  Determine when your office work hours and when your mummy hours are.  Tell your team, tell your customers, and tell your friends and family!”

Helen Cousins, decluttering consultant at Fresh Spaces agrees: “Don’t try to multi-task. It actually stops you being present and scatters your thoughts making you less effective. If you are with you children – then ‘be with’ them. If you are working – then pick one item to prioritise and then only action that one. “

Get help when you need it

“If you need to pay for childcare to give yourself some free time – DO IT!” says Barbara. “I see a lot of women who are just starting their business and not earning huge amounts who feel they need to wait until they are earning more to justify the cost of childcare.  But how can they expect their business to grow if they aren’t giving themselves the time to work on it?  Time is the most crucial investment your business needs, so if you need it, do it, and reap the rewards in years to come.”

Be comfortable with “good enough” housework

“The world won’t stop spinning just because you didn’t empty the dishwasher’. I’ve recently learnt this one myself and so far we are all still surviving”, says Helen. And Kara agrees, her must dos when the pressure is on include “cleaning just enough so that I know we won’t get ill.”  And learning consultant Maggie Piazza emphasises that “being ‘good enough’ is good enough – both at home or at work.”

Time to recharge

WalkingDoctor Lucy Boyland emphasises how important it is to take time for yourself, and do something that is neither for work or parenting. And she counsels: “Don’t feel guilty about it! I know from my experience growing up that if you’re happy (or not) as a mother, it has a huge impact on your family.”  Membership administrator Nikki Halliwell agrees “It’s important to have some me time/time out. I really enjoy my running class.” Kara’s time out must-dos include walking every day, and seeing friends at least once a week.

Be organised

“Be very organised” is the top tip from Karen Guler, MD at Envision Financial Solutions. Nikki agrees “Being organised the night before, bags packed, lunch boxes on the side, clothes ironed…”

Find a work pattern that suits you

Nikki enjoys being self-employed: “…so I can work the hours that suit family life, and she has help from her parents who live locally. Lucy works part-time, which give her a good balance between a demanding job that she loves, and her family. And speaking recently with a group of women in technical industries, I heard examples of husbands working part-time or staying at home to care for young children.

Free up your headspace!

I love all the wise words above. A tip that has helped me to stay organised and escape the multi-tasking trap is to use a to-do list app properly, and capturing EVERYTHING I need to do in one place. From a quick phone call to a new project, it all goes in the Wunderlist app (other to-do list apps are available!)  It’s on my phone so if an idea comes into my brain when not working, I can make a quite note and forget about it. The app syncs to my desktop so I can take time to review, sort and prioritise my notes when I’m next at my desk.

This approach frees up so space in my head. We can only hold a few thoughts in our working memory (the part of our mind we have access to at any one time). So by writing things down, we can stop expending energy trying to remember them, thus freeing up energy for family and friends.

What tips do you have for balancing work and parenting? Please share in the comments below.

Career Change Toolkit Report

Career Change Toolkit

Contemplating career change or job search can feel daunting. Download this free toolkit full of resources and tips to help you feel more confident about your next steps.

What do you want to change image
Dec 28

The small secret to making a big change

By Felicity Dwyer | Motivation , Productivity

Have you ever set a goal or resolved to make positive change in your life, and then found it hard to keep up. Here is a simple idea which can help.

Take small consistent action

Don’t underestimate the value of small actions, repeated daily. In his book, The Slight Edge, author Jeff Olson makes this point very clearly. Just as compound interest can turn modest savings into a sizeable pot over time, the compounding principle works in all aspects of our lives.

An easy way to get fitter

An easy to understand example is in the area of keeping fit. It’s common to go into a new year with ambitious plans to exercise. Gyms make a fortune out of memberships taken out in a flurry of good intentions.

But an easier way to get fit is just to add in a brisk 20 minute walk to your daily routine. After a day, or a week, this won’t make a huge difference. But if we do it every day over the course of a year, that will add up to over 120 hours of exercise and will have a noticeable impact on your fitness level.

So why don’t we all do it? As Olson points out, these small changes are easy to do, but just as easy not to do. We need to make an effort to start with, but as we go along it becomes easier as we build new habits. The secret is to keep it going, day after day.

Start your working day with a planning habit

And of course this applies to work as well. Can you make a habit of taking five minutes every morning to plan your day, and then focus on getting your most important task done first. You will achieve more this way than if you start the day by looking at emails or social media. Making the choice to plan and prioritise can also become a habit.

There is a saying from the Buddhist tradition which shows this approach has ancient roots: “Sow a thought; reap an action. Sow an action; reap a habit. Sow a habit; reap a character. Sow a character; reap a destiny.”

Woman meditating at her desk

Cultivate a mind altering habit

The habit that made the biggest different to my life last year was starting a regular morning meditation. I made a commitment to do ten minutes a day, just before starting work. Again, one day’s meditation doesn’t change you significantly, but over time a short regular practice trains your mind so that you find it easier to focus and stay calm in the midst of challenges.

Practicing a simple meditation develops the part of the mind that is able to step back and observe, and then make choices. A good meditation practice is one that simply focuses on the breath. You can do this both as a formal and informal meditation practice.

A daily meditation

For a formal meditation, find a time where you will be undisturbed (even a seat on your commuter train is better than nothing), and sit with your spine straight, and your feet on the floor. Close your eyes and allow your mind to focus on your breath. Don’t try to change it, just notice your breathing. Notice how it feels as the air comes in and out. Notice the rise and fall of your belly and chest. When your attention wanders (as it will), then as soon as you notice, gently bring your focus back to your breath.

It is helpful to set a timer so that you know when your time is up. Ten minutes (or even five minutes) a day is enough to be helpful, and 20 minutes is ideal. To keep a formal practice going, commit to making it a priority, and do it at the same time each day so it starts to become a habit.

Stop and pause

Informal meditation is something that you can practice throughout the day. Just take a moment now and again to pause, and notice your breathing. This can help you to remain calm and mindful throughout the day.

What small new habit could make a big difference over time in your life? Please share in the comments below.

Career Change Toolkit Report

Career Change Toolkit

Contemplating career change or job search can feel daunting. Download this free toolkit full of resources and tips to help you feel more confident about your next steps.

Enjoying the beach having planned your work
Aug 26

Schedule yourself some free time

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change , Productivity

What is your approach to writing something for publication, or to meet a deadline? Do you plan and complete the piece of writing well in advance? Or do you tend to wait until the deadline is almost upon you, to prompt you into writing?

I confess to the latter. When I started this blog in June 2014 I made a commitment to publish at least one post a month. And I have kept to this for over a year. But sometimes, it was only at the end of the month that the blog was actually written and published. The month-end deadline galvanised me into action!

This time I am writing this blog in July, to be published in August. This is so that I can prioritise time with my family over the summer school holidays.

In theory, this is one of the joys of self-employment: to have more freedom to schedule our time as we see fit. In practice, it’s easy to let work creep into our precious family and leisure time. It can be hard to resist temptation to check our email, or social media accounts. But most of the time, it would do our businesses no harm to take some time away from the screen.

Here are three of my favourite tools, to help you with scheduling. And they are all easy to get to grips with.

Mailchimp and other mailing systems allow you to set up and schedule emails to go out at a time to suit you. This is a brilliant tool and one that I use a lot for group emails. But be careful if you plan an email campaign in advance. You need to be sure you are around to deal in a timely manner with any responses or queries that arise from it.

Buffer is my favourite scheduling tool for Twitter. It’s easy to use, and allows you to stagger publication of tweets, or to plan and schedule tweets in advance. You might still like to check your notifications now and again so that you can respond to any replies or re-tweets. And my advice is not to over-schedule. I tend to switch off now from tweeters who just churn out stuff day and day out without engaging. Social media is much more rewarding if you use it to be social, not just to broadcast your own stuff.

Pocket.  This tool is your friend if you have a tendency to find interesting articles on the internet, and then get distracted from what you’re supposed to be doing. Install the bookmarklet on your browser, or set it up on your phone. You can quickly bookmark articles for later reading, at a time that suits you. Pocket does one thing, and does it well.

What tools do you use to manage your online life? Please share below (that’s if you’re not too busy having a holiday – and if so, good for you!)

Overwhelmed at Work
Feb 04

6 ways to use your time more effectively at work

By Felicity Dwyer | Career development , Motivation , Productivity

It is common to feel overstretched or even overwhelmed at work. Our culture often seems to value busyness and expects us to be always switched on. If this affects you, there are steps that you can take to regain control of your time.

It is vital to keep your values and priorities in mind, and either find space for them in your life as it is, or find a way to change jobs or careers so that you can do more of what you love everyday.

Here are six strategies that I have used successfully to overcome overwhelm and be more effective at work.

One main focus

Try to keep to one main focus or objective each day – decide on the most important thing to get done, and fit other tasks around that. If this seems unrealistic, choose a focus for the morning and one for the afternoon. This doesn’t mean you throw away your to-do list. But if you give absolute priority to one objective each day, you’ll go home with a sense of achievement, and probably find you get a lot of other things done too.

Group similar tasks together

I try to allow a solid hour or two at a time for more complex tasks such as writing blogs or proposals, because it takes less energy doing it that way that picking up on odd bits here and there. This works well for phone calls too. Experiment with different patterns. If you have a blog or report to write, does it work better for you to spend a solid two hours on it. Or does it suit you better to start with a rough draft and then come back to it later in the day or week or work on it in small bursts.

Follow your energy as much as you can

If your energy levels are low, then it can make sense to switch to basic admin tasks, if you are feeling energised and creative then tap into that as much as you can. But don’t let low energy be an excuse for delaying an important piece of work. If you are struggling to get started then…

Chunk it down

If you have a big and possibly daunting task, then break it down into a series of small ones. Keep breaking down a task until you have an action that you can do now. Even if it’s the first action is just looking up a phone number, or a quick piece of internet research, or sending an email, or even just scheduling the next step into your diary – DO something to make a start.

Sorting your emailsHave a system for emails

Keep on top of emails. Once I’ve opened an email I either delete it, move it to a suitable folder for future reference, action it now, or flag it for future action.

If you get a lot of email newsletters you can use software like to collate and organise them for you. If you find yourself regularly deleting the same newsletters before opening them, it’s time to unsubscribe.

Tidy up to get unstuck

When I feel stuck or unmotivated at work, I tidy my office. I find it easier to think with a tidy space, and it provides a sense of satisfaction that can then motivate me to tackle my other tasks. Nigel Risner has said that space management is even more important than time management. This makes sense as working in a mess slows you down and brings your energy levels down. But one person’s idea of tidy is another person’s clutter – you will know what works for you. For me, it’s about having a clear desk, and organising my project work in tidy piles or magazine folders.

I’d love to hear your tips, please share in the comments box below.