Tag Archives: time management

Managing your productivity in a collaborative climate

By Elisabeth Goodman, 14th July 2018

Collaboration_HBR JulyAug2018

Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018, pp134-137

Collaborative working is on the rise – at the cost of individual productivity

Speaking from experience

This will not be news to people who are continuously wrestling against the demands of their e-mails, meetings, phone calls and interruptions from colleagues.

Matrix working, multi-tasking on projects and interacting with colleagues, customers and suppliers across time-zones is very much the model for many of the people that we work with at RiverRhee.

The consequence is that people struggle to find time for their ‘own work’: to focus single-mindedly on tasks that need to get done, to read and reflect, to make good decisions, to do their strategic thinking, to be at their most creative if they do this best on their own.

The statistics

Rob Cross et al in “Collaboration without burnout”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018 (pp.134-137) have some statistics for us.  According to the Connected Commons, the demand for collaborative interactions such as those described above has increased by 50% in the last 10 years; and most managers spend at least 85% of their time doing them.

It doesn’t have to be like this

“Collaborative overload” (as defined in a 2016 HBR article by one of the co-authors) is not inevitable.  We can readjust our individual mindsets, habits and the expectations that our colleagues have of us, so as to enable us to achieve a healthy approach towards collaborative working and individual productivity.

How mindsets affect “collaborative overload” vs collaborative efficiency

Not being able to, or not wanting to say “no”

We already know that some people find it harder to say “no” than others.  It can feel unhelpful or even selfish to refuse requests from others.

Another mindset that can make it difficult for us to say “no” is where doing more gives us a sense of achievement, of credibility, of being a top performer, or of being at the centre of things.

The consequences of not saying “no”

The consequences of all of this behaviour on ones workload, priorities, stress levels and ultimate productivity can be very damaging.

In fact, taking everything on that we are asked (or that we offer ) to do may not only be damaging ourselves, but could also damage others in terms of lost opportunities for their learning and development.

It could also be damaging the organisation in that the right people (ourselves included) may not in fact be doing the right jobs.

What’s different about efficient collaborators

According to Rob Cross et al, efficient collaborators make an informed choice about what they do and don’t do.  This is aligned to their areas of expertise, and to where they can add the most value in the organisation.

Efficient collaborators’ self-worth comes from their ability to focus on what matters, and from helping others to learn, develop and gain visibility and recognition for what they do.

Tips for achieving a healthy approach towards collaboration and individual productivity

Find your “north star” objectives

In our RiverRhee course and module on managing your time, we’ve taken Stephen R. Covey’s  second “habit” of “beginning with the end in mind”, and Brian Tracy’s recommendation (in Eat that Frog) to focus on the unique contribution that you can make.

If you can define the unique contribution that you can make to your organisation’s goals then, according to Rob Cross et al, this “north star” can guide you in your collaboration with others.

It will help you to have meaningful discussions with your managers and colleagues about where your areas of focus should be, and what would be best delegated or left to others.

Protect your productive time

Finding your “north star” will also help you to decide, and clarify to others which meetings, discussions and decisions you should be involved in, and which ones you are not the best use of your time and expertise.

You can also block out time in your calendar for your ‘own work’ and protect it in the same way that others would protect a meeting.

Influence collaborative working practices

Rob Cross et al remind us that we can encourage good working practices amongst our colleagues for the use of email such as:

  • clear and concise formats for communication
  • avoiding the use of “cc” and “reply to all”
  • using collaborative working tools (such as Google docs) for complex discussions or work
  • switching to face-to-face or phone conversations when the email thread is starting to get too complicated

And we can influence efficient use of time in the meetings that we do attend by such practices as ensuring that:

  • there is an agenda and that it is circulated in advance
  • the right people are in the meeting
  • decisions and actions are documented and circulated after the meeting

Use your network effectively

According to Rob Cross et al, focusing on the quality of interactions rather than on the quantity of relationships, will have a beneficial impact on collaborative working.

They suggest that in high quality interactions, there is a sense of purpose and energy in the discussion.  Both parties are aware of each other’s goals, there is trust, and a mutual desire to support each other, and a respect for each other’s time.

This approach can be applied to all discussions that take place with members of a manager’s network: peers, direct reports (in one-on-ones) and higher managers!


Discussions about time and productivity management traditionally focus on what the individual can do to better manage their time.

Rob Cross et al’s article provides a useful perspective on how the context for that is so inter-twined with the current culture of collaborative working.

Their suggestions are valuable additions and reinforcements of concepts that other authors such as Stephen R. Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), Brian Tracy  (Eat that Frog) and Graham Allcott (Productivity Ninja) have to offer us.


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.


The frog, the ninja and you – time and productivity

By Elisabeth Goodman, 23rd January, 2018

Drawing inspired by Brian Tracy’s “Eat that Frog” – illustration by Isabelle Spain

I would not endorse eating this frog, but it’s a powerful metaphor adopted by Brian Tracy in “Eat that Frog!” for tackling the most difficult and least attractive tasks first, and for just getting on with it.

The “21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time” suggested by the subtitle of his book certainly stand up to scrutiny.

We’ve been referencing Graham Alcott’s “Productivity Ninja” in RiverRhee’s Introduction to Management, and also Time and Meeting Management courses, and have our own illustration for that too.  (See also an earlier blog: There will never be enough time!)

The Productivity Ninja, based on Graham Alcott

Brian Tracy’s list of 21 rules adds a little something extra to Graham Alcott’s list and also to information we’ve gleaned from some of our other sources.

So, in this blog, I’ve picked out a sub-set of Brian Tracy’s list that particularly resonates for me, either because the items are different from or because they reinforce some of the messages we have been using so far.

1. Get clarity on what is expected of you – your unique contribution

I like this as a starting point for planning how we use our time at work.  What is it that we have to offer that perhaps no-one else does?

Having a conversation with our boss about this, or with ourselves if we are self-employed, provides clarity on expectations and also, in essence, our own personal mission or purpose at work.

It lays the foundation for the next topic, and also resonates for me with one of Stephen R. Covey’s “habits” of “begin with the end in mind”.

2. Prioritise your top 3 goals

Whether at work, at home, in the community, or in our own personal fitness / health programmes, Brian Tracy suggests that 10% of what we do creates the 90% of value that we contribute in each of these spheres.

If we focus on that top 10% that will deliver our personal mission we will be more productive.

3. Do this long-term, weekly, daily

I’m not too keen on keeping long lists of tasks.  They’re fine as a starting point but are then more effective if triaged into your diary or calendar.  That’s also what Graham Alcott advocates.

However, you do need to begin with a list, and reviewing / updating what you are planning to do weekly and daily will also help you to keep on top of everything.

And of course this applies to projects as well as individual tasks.  Break the projects into tasks and schedule those too.

4. De-prioritise everything else

We use The Mind Gyms’ “5 Ds”….

The 5 Ds for managing time – adapted from The Mind Gym’s “Give me Time”

…. and they are not dissimilar from Brian Tracy’s ABCDE list.  He uses the word “posteriorise” to emphasise the importance of differentiating between what should be done now, and what should be done later…

(Stephen R. Covey’s “Urgent and Important” matrix is invaluable in this space too)

5. Create gaps in your schedule for getting things done

This is at the heart of every guide to making the most of your time and being at your most productive.  Carving out chunks of time when we will not be disturbed by other people or by other tasks  will enable us to “get into the flow” or “in the zone” and so produce our best work.

We advocate scheduling these chunks of time into your calendar, and protecting them as you would protect attending an important meeting.

6. Don’t make technology your master

Again, we know this.  Turn off e-mail, turn off your phone, turn off any other messaging system.  Access this technology in a way that won’t interrupt your productive work.  Find other ways to manage those “urgent” or “priority” communications.  Figures for how long it typically takes for us to refocus on a task once we’ve been interrupted range around the 20 minute mark..

7. Make technology your slave

We and Graham Allcott are unanimous on this too.  There are lots of tools out there to help us manage our time and tasks – use them!  Brian Tracy also suggests using social media to publicly declare what we are committing to achieve – and thereby reinforce that commitment.

8. Develop your knowledge and skills

This has an echo of Stephen R. Covey’s “sharpen the saw”.  Brian Tracy suggests that we identify what capabilities we need to deliver on our top goals, and make sure we are continuously learning to so as to better support those goals.  This will also better equip us for removing any constraints to achieving our goals.

9. Just start…

The Mind Gym’s “Give me time” has a whole chapter on procrastination. It’s a big topic! Just starting a task, a chunk at a time, will often help to overcome our self-imposed barriers.  Brian Tracy uses analogies of tackling all the tasks involved sequentially: “a salami slice” at a time.  Alternatively, he suggests doing so randomly, simply “a swiss cheese punch” at a time.

He also stresses that working in this way, getting things done, brings its own rewards. We feel good about what we have achieved: our self-esteem, our confidence increase, along with the results.

10. Balance work and life all of the time!

This was a wonderful message to read in a book of this type.  We should not expect to work longer hours, in the evenings, at the week-ends, in order to be successful at work.

Instead your goal, whether by the frog, ninja or your own method, should be to work as efficiently and effectively as possible, so as to free up valuable time for your other priorities outside of work…


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

There will never be enough time!

Red Balloon

Last week, Janet Burton and I had the pleasure of working with several of the Coordinators and other staff from the Red Balloon at their headquarters in Cambridge.

These talented and caring individuals work with often deeply troubled young people at the Red Balloon’s centres around the UK who have experienced bullying and other traumas that have interfered with their education. In the words of Ruth Loshak, Consultant Coordinator with the group, the teachers and other staff help the students “to come to terms with what has happened to them, learn coping strategies, get back on an academic track and move on with ‘the rest of their lives’.”

RiverRhee Consulting’s Introduction to Management training

Janet’s and my task, and challenge, was to condense our three-day RiverRhee Consulting Introduction to Management course into an effective one-day session. Needless to say, we were very much aware that our delegates had as much if not more to teach us and each other as we might be able to teach them! We also knew, from previous experience, that they enjoy and benefit from opportunities to share what they know and how they go about things.

So we did two things: we planned a minimum of presentation, and a maximum of discussion and interactive exercises, and we solicited their input in advance to make sure that we focused the day around their areas of greatest challenge.

Managing performance and developing people

Many of the participants had had very little previous formal management training, and so it was no surprise that “Managing performance and developing people” was one of the two main areas of challenge to emerge. They are also very used to working in counselling mode with their students, and so they particularly liked the contrast with the GROW model of coaching for personal development, and enjoyed trying it out amongst themselves.

Managing time and priorities, and delegation

The second main area of challenge was “Managing time and priorities, and delegation”. The staff of Red Balloon are enormously committed to what they do. They love their work, care deeply about the well-being and development of the students, and seldom observe a strict 9-to-5, five day working week. And of course there is always admin and paperwork to do too.

One of the main advantages of taking a day out for training is having the opportunity to pause and reflect about what we are doing. So the delegates did just that. We shared Stephen R. Covey’s urgent vs. important matrix (from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”), and the “five Ds” for time management from The Mind Gym’s “Give me time”.  (Do now, Defer, Delegate, Diminish, Delete).

We then had the delegates reflect about their own use of time with the help of these tools. Some of them also had a go at “Joe’s dilemma” – a case study based exercise about delegation.

A positive outcome

This is how one of our delegates described how she felt by the end of the day!

A ninja warrior!

“This is me after today’s management training.  Thanks to Janet and Elisabeth for giving us all the necessary tips.”                              (Illustration by Isabelle Spain.)

As The Mind Gym taught me many years ago: there will never be enough time. What matters is finding a way to be happy with how we are using our time. Hopefully Janet and I will have helped the Coordinators and staff at Red Balloon Learner Centre to do just that.


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), APM (Association for Project Management) and is also registered as a Growth Coach and Leadership & Management trainer with the GrowthAccelerator.

Tackling procrastination – making “mañana” today

Why am I writing about procrastination?

This is a topic that lots of people will have written about, and it’s not quite in my usual line of work but…

On a fairly regular basis, I help someone close to me, who has asked not to be named, with her paperwork.  I will call her Sue.  It’s the bane of her life and piles up days and weeks at a time (we usually tackle it before a month is up!).  It’s a perpetual worry to her.  She knows she wants to get it sorted, but somehow can’t get around to doing it.

Sometimes Sue surprises both of us, and gets a lot of the paperwork done before I visit.  Other times we tackle it together and get through it in just 20-30 minutes and are then left saying “it wasn’t that bad after all”.

It’s not the only task that Sue finds hard to get on with, but she’s developed tactics for tackling some of them and I thought there might be some clues there to help her.  So I’ve decided to put my mind to the subject, hence my revisiting of a wonderful chapter entitled “Mañana” in the Mind Gym book “Give me Time”1, and writing about it in this blog2.

Procrastination is all about underlying beliefs

The essence of the Mind Gym’s approach is based on reprogramming our underlying beliefs – what it is that we are telling ourselves, often unconsciously, that is getting in the way of getting things done.  The chapter itemises the different types of beliefs, then helps us to ‘soften them’ and add a ‘get out clause’ so that they no longer stop us doing things.  But apparently this approach takes practice, so the authors also give us some quick fixes to be getting on with.

Here is a summary of the various misleading self-beliefs, using my own framework of ‘Can’t and won’t’.  I’ve added a third main category of ‘I don’t have time’, which although not in the “Mañana” chapter, is a theme of the book as a whole!

I haven’t discovered yet which of these beliefs is at the root of Sue’s procrastination with her paperwork but if she’s willing I’m looking forward to having an interesting conversation with her to find out.

Some quick fixes for procrastination

The authors very helpfully give us 10 short-term alternatives to use whilst we are practicing to adjust our self-beliefs.  I’ve used a number of these myself but also have a couple of others, which I’ve added to make 12.

  1. Adjust the level of challenge -so it’s stimulating enough without being de-motivating.
  2. Choose a reward to fit the challenge – a way to celebrate getting the wretched task done!
  3. Commit to a penalty or forfeit – if you don’t get the task done then pay up to your favourite charity!
  4. Double your estimate e.g. if it might take twice as long as you thought you had better get started!
  5. Dive in – do the hard part first – after that it’ll be easy
  6. Do something to change your mood or your view of things – stand-up, get a cup of tea or go for a walk around the garden (but don’t take too long about it!)
  7. Tap into positive peer influence – mix with people who get things done and perhaps it will rub off
  8. Tackle it in bite-size pieces – how do you eat an elephant (metaphorically speaking of course)?  A bite at a time.
  9. Break it down into short stretches of time
  10. Make a 5-minute start – and then see if that gives you the incentive to continue!
  11. Make a public commitment – which is what I did about writing this blog.  I also use this approach at the end of my training courses / workshops when people tell each other what they will do, how, by when.
  12. Ask a friend or work buddy to give you moral support – which is what I do with Sue, and she also helps other friends in this way

When is it OK to procrastinate?

I came across a variation of this question in my copy of a new book “ And the next question is…” personally autographed by one of the authors, Rachel Alexander3.

I was wondering what this question was about when Sheila Thomas (@Speranda), from TWI, answered my tweet request for issues and solutions around procrastination.  Her example was: “we do postponed things in the first week following the monthly Weldasearch database update as getting enough in for that has priority.  [Procrastination is] planned in that we always do this, although [the] specific tasks put off [are] not always predictable.”

I realised then that we can and should apply this principle at work by regularly reviewing and reprioritising what we do, but in a planned way so that the reprioritised items, if they are important, still have an allocated time.

We should of course also give ourselves scope to do this at home, for example when a friend drops in unexpectedly, or to catch those last warm sunny days in our English Indian summer.  However it’s a grey day today, so I’m off to the gym just after I get this finished and posted!

Concluding thoughts

I hope you’ve found reading this as helpful as I’ve found writing it.  If I’ve missed your particular procrastination issues, causes or any solutions you’ve found to address them – don’t delay, post a comment against this blog so we can share these extra insights with others!


1. They Mind Gym.  Give me time.  Time Warner Books, 2006.  ISBN 0 316 72992 2

2.  I can have my own issues with procrastination.  Writing this blog has got me re-reading the chapter, and just to make doubly certain that I would both read the chapter and write the blog I put out a note via LinkedIn and Twitter saying that I would be writing the blog in September and inviting input – a public commitment which resulted in some humorous responses: “I’ll think about it…;o)” (thanks Richard!), but also an insightful work-related approach to procrastination from Sheila Thomas at TWI which I’ve shared at the end of the blog.

3. Rachel A. Alexander and Julia M.L. Russell. And the next question is… powerful questions for sticky moments. MX Publishing, 2012 ISBN 9781780922881.  The question is number 342 in there list of 364 questions: “When would be the best time to procrastinate about this?”