Best Practices


Almost half of 2018 has gone by, and it is a good time to take stock of your accomplishments for the year and your progress toward your annual goals. If you are not satisfied with your progress, it is perhaps because you have been sidetracked by too many distractions and time wasters. Lets identify some of the more common activities that detract from your ability to focus on your most important objectives. (You may also review my column in the March 2016 issue of LubesnGreases, where I discussed some ideas for improving productivity related to email management, training, document complexity and length, new initiatives and checking up.)

Travel and meetings are a major area of distraction and time consumption. There is the arranging of the meeting, the development of agendas, assembly of materials, time spent at the meeting, and travel to and from the venue. Multiply all of this by the number of attendees, and you have taken up a lot of organizational time! Of course meetings are often important and can propel you and your team forward on critical projects. Just be sure you keep the number of meetings and attendees limited to what is absolutely necessary.

I suggest quarterly team meetings and one large division or company-wide meeting per year. Also consider the meetings that you personally attend. Of course you need to be at those meetings where your presence is requested by your supervisor, but think carefully about going to meetings where you are somewhat ancillary or just an interested observer. If you need to do international travel, ponder taking fewer international trips and offset the impact by spending more days at the location each time. It can be powerful to work from another location and open your door to those who may have limited interaction with you.

Another area to examine in your work life is what I would call dead-end projects. These are projects that seem to take on a life of their own and go on forever despite low returns, high degree of difficulty or low chances of success. (I am not talking about a moonshot project, which may be difficult and require significant resources and time but if successful is hugely profitable or game-changing.) Try to keep an objective eye on the project portfolio and avoid expending too many resources for too long on dead-end projects. Some of the signs of such projects are difficulty staffing them up, low organizational enthusiasm, clearly unrealistic economic outlooks, long periods of little progress, lots of disappointing technical data and the like. Your project gate process, if you have one, should help you weed these projects out but only if the gatekeepers are sufficiently knowledgeable, objective and curious.

Be sure to manage your own daily schedule to minimize distractions. You dont need to take every phone call or respond to every email right away. If you let your schedule be chopped up into small periods of time between phone calls and meetings, you may have trouble focusing on bigger-picture issues requiring more and deeper thought.

Ensure that the reports that you receive are well constructed, user friendly and deliver the information you need to run your business area. You simply cannot afford to spend your time poring over confusing or overly detailed reports to get the data you need. Be cognizant, too, of how much work you may be driving in your own organization with questions and data requests.

Crisis management is another area of potentially huge distraction, and of course a crisis has to be managed! Assemble a crisis management team with a capable leader who has clear decision-making authority and meets communication requirements. If you are facing numerous crises of similar sorts during the year, consider setting up a team to evaluate why this is happening. Perhaps you need to rethink your organization and decision-making structure, your tools and processes, and your resource allocation. An investment to improve your supply chain, plant safety or product quality may have excellent financial returns, improve your reputation and free up your organization to work in more strategic areas.

If you find yourself doing administrative tasks, ask why and try to find a better way. Delegate tasks to the proper level in the organization, or eliminate low-value-added tasks completely. I recognize it may be easier to just do it and move on, but your entire organization will appreciate if you pay attention to making their jobs easier and more satisfying.

Hopefully some of the above tips will free up your time, reduce stress and allow you to focus on more important activities. What kinds of activities should you devote more time and attention to? Here are some that could have longer-term impact on your career or on your company success:

Spend more time understanding and addressing your supervisors agenda. Are you on the same page? Could you be of more assistance in achieving his or her objectives?

Critically assess your own annual goals. What steps can you take now to accelerate the pace of achievement?

Spend more time communicating with your direct reports. Provide more feedback and encouragement.

Inspire your organization with visible leadership in new ways.

Spend more time with customers and suppliers. Get more in touch with industry trends. You may gain some new insights into unmet needs, or at a minimum strengthen relationships and be better able to communicate customer needs or supply-side issues in a more knowledgeable and authentic way.

Work with your team to update the strategic plan or the staffing plan.

Mentor promising colleagues in your company.

We can all get easily distracted by the latest bright, shiny object that may show up in the form of an email or a request. We can find ourselves plowing much time and energy into dead-end projects or too many meetings. Do the necessary spring cleaning of distractions and time wasters in your company!

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Email her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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Best Practices    Business    Management