Best practices for your workday!
June 16, 2014 7:52 AM   Subscribe

What are some best practices that you use on a regular basis as part of your workday?

I am looking for practical best practices to make my workday a little more efficient and standardized.

For example - Here is a link to an IBM paper describing Spreadsheet Modeling Best Practices.

Another example is the Standards and Naming Conventions for Electronic Records and Files

What best practices do you employ during your work-day - formalized or not?

Feel free to also suggest checklists if you use any.
posted by rippersid to Work & Money (19 answers total) 116 users marked this as a favorite
A book you might be interested in: Business Without Bullshit
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:58 AM on June 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

At the end of each day, closeout and prepare (CAP) for the next day. Finish anything that needs to be done, review what you did vs. what you wanted to do, and figure out what you want to do the next day. Figure out your schedule, write a checklist, email yourself a paragraph, whatever works for you.

Bonus feature: If you get sick and someone else has to fill in, you can tell that person, "Check the clipboard next to my monitor -- it has all my appointments and my to-do list for the day. You can ignore the one about calling the vet."

Bonus feature 2: If you keep all your schedules/checklists/emailed-paragraphs, then your annual review (or the equivalent) will be that much easier, because you'll have a comprehensive list of everything you did.
posted by Etrigan at 8:08 AM on June 16, 2014 [18 favorites]

I use Trello to put my tasks into buckets, GTD style. My biggest change in the past year as I've had a ramp up of to-dos and responsibilities is to write everything down, no matter how trifling it seems, so I don't forget it, and I don't have to think about it when I'm in meetings/at home/etc. There's a million kanban/task boards out there. It doesn't take too long to find the right one.

I stick to deadlines, even if I can't actually complete the task in the timeline I've estimated. I get back to people and say "This snag came up, and I will keep you posted on my progress." It increases the impression you're reliable and you care, even if you can't finish something. Also that you expect similar accountability and respect from others.

I try to help anyone within reason, but I go the extra mile to help people who have skillsets outside of my own. They may prioritize my ask when I come to them next time.

Scrum--helps people stay on task if they have something to report in about weekly, instead of just working in a vacuum. Also prevents duplication of efforts and an insight into what other team members are doing. This also focuses people who are competitive when they hear about how much their colleagues are getting done, or how they stack up to their own numbers weekly.

Documentation--workflows, tool instructions, etc. This can help people know what their role is, so there is not confusion about who does what. Also, if three people quit at once, there is onboarding instructions for the next people. Plus, at least in the US, people are often leaving/being laid off and not being backfilled, so this helps people who have to work "smarter, not harder" now.
posted by Lardmitten at 8:08 AM on June 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

End of day, have a ritual. Close down my computer, put away my paperwork, clean desk, make it neat, clean and nice to see first thing tomorrow morning, rater than a depressing, inhospitable rats nest.

Right before turning out the light, write down the three most important things I need to accomplish tomorrow. Smartphone note, index card, crayon on napkin, it doesn't matter.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 9:16 AM on June 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

End the day with clear inbox - read it, resolve it, delegate it.

Book out some time to do personal organizing and staff organizing (if you manage others). Getting yourself organized is a separate task from preparing your staff. If you don't think of those as separate activities it's easier to ignore one or the other.

If you travel for business, be ruthless about how you organize it. Find the perfect travel bag. Order a second set of power and connection cords and a small bag to hold them. Figure out a solution to have all your data available in other locations. Pick a hotel chain/car rental/airline and use it consistently so you know the drill. Set up an account with UBER or another national car service.

Get your workspace correctly configured. Both my home office and work office have standing desks that are ergonomically correct.
posted by 26.2 at 9:28 AM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might get a lot of GTD-flavoured stuff here - apologies for adding another to the pile but here goes:

When recording to-dos (in whatever medium or system you prefer), try sticking to a format starting with the key action verb related to the to-do. This may take just one or two more words, but can be helpful later because it's more information-rich and can keep you focused on what you actually need to do rather than just the subject of the task.

For example, instead of quickly scribbling "Jim re: book order", try "Call Jim to place book order".

Useful action verbs for this approach might include:
  • Talk to / call / email / write (be specific! Pick a specific contact medium when you write it down, even if you could use several - it's easier to act later when it's already "decided")
  • Review / check / evaluate
  • Find / locate / search for
  • Draft
  • Complete
  • Buy
Anyway, the point is to get the core of the task captured rather than a nebulous blob of meh that you can more easily put off or not-quite-grasp next time you check your list instead of just doing it. The less cognitive friction the better.

Finally, don't presume everyone who contributes tips here actually sticks to them all (or even most) of the time. Doing these these even sometimes can still help you be more productive.
posted by onshi at 9:31 AM on June 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Every morning after I check my email, walk around the shop floor, talk with the dept leads, etc and get a general sense of how the day is going to go, I stop by my manager's office and relay pertinent information. I'll ask for his help if I need it, or tell him good news; some days it's not more than a "Good Morning boss, everything's going well.". Its a good little daily check-in.
posted by Fig at 10:23 AM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Remember and schedule transition time.

It can take time to travel to/from external meetings as well as ramp up/down from internal sessions, so plan accordingly if you like some breathing room. Google Calendar has a built-in "speedy meetings" function that can help with this.

There's also a lot to like about The Modern Meeting Standard.
posted by suprenant at 10:55 AM on June 16, 2014

supernant has an excellent point. The best admin I ever had was an expert at leaving time for transition. She always scheduled meetings so that all the participants had time to transition between locations. She might book 15 minutes of transportation time to allow us to both get to the same building, hit the bio, grab a fresh cup of coffee and reach the conference room.

When she managed my schedule, my meetings started on time with every participant ready to begin. She saved us so much time because the meetings were much more productive.

She was an organizational goddess and I miss her every day.
posted by 26.2 at 11:10 AM on June 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

There used to be a post it note feature on Outlook.. not sure if it's still there? I found it really handy and you could colour code stuff simply.

What I always meant to do but actually did occasionally was:
Note down and read up on whatever I didn't know... like that thing that comes up in a meeting or whatever
Write shit up a report etc asap while you can still remember the things you can't read. Get it done and out the way/out your hair.
posted by tanktop at 11:11 AM on June 16, 2014

I recently saw this post describing the Noguchi filing system, which seemed like a good way to make my desk more organized/efficient/etc. but I have yet to be bothered to implement it.
posted by peacebone at 11:21 AM on June 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Email management. I make it so that I'm unaware of the arrival of new emails, and then set aside specific times each day to deal with them en masse.

To make sure I'm not inadvertently distracted by new emails:
  • Turn off email notifications
  • Set new emails to be automatically marked as read
That way, I'm not aware of their arrival (as long as I stay out of the inbox).

  • Check the inbox two or three times a day
  • Read new emails and add any actions to my to do list

posted by paleyellowwithorange at 12:56 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fresh air and exercise. These are important, especially in mostly-sedentary employment.

I'm allowed paid morning tea and afternoon tea breaks, as well as a mandatory unpaid (minimum 30 mins) lunch break. I ensure I take all my breaks, no matter how busy I am; I schedule them into my daily calendar. And I ensure that I go outside and walk somewhere during each break, no matter the weather.

Many of my colleagues skip their breaks, or take their breaks in the break room, skipping fresh air, sunlight and physical exercise for the eight sunniest hours of the day, despite the evidence provided by workplace health and safety info sources.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 1:05 AM on June 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Perspective and keeping calm. I've found that Ruthless Bunny's advice has been very useful to re-read from time to time.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 1:16 AM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Arrive early enough to sit in the employee lounge or wherever and have a leisurely coffee while checking the news or whatever. Much better than going straight to work at the desk the moment you walk in.
posted by K.P. at 4:56 AM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our department wrote down our expectations for general office protocol (e.g., call a colleague if you're running more than X minutes late; every meeting should have an agenda) and it was very helpful.
posted by typecloud at 2:08 PM on June 17, 2014

I travel a lot for my job. So I have a rucksack which is basically a mobile office. It has a bunch of stuff that lives in it, chargers for everything, a pencil case (including things like flipchart markers for those times none of the ones in the meeting room work), and a bag of useful cables and other things (including a network cable for those times the WiFi is down in that meeting room and a wireless mouse). I just need to grab my laptop, notepad and mobile and I can work anywhere.

I also have an overnight bag which is prepacked with everything but my clothes. It also has another bag of cables, including a hdmi cable so I can watch dvds on the hotel TV via my laptop, and a selection of teabags so I'm not stuck with hotel tea.

Basically, I duplicate everything so preparing for work trips is as simple as possible, and I no longer forget my toothpaste, or have to beg someone for a phone charger. And no more crappy dried out flipchart markers.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:41 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Non-formalized: I spend the first hour of my day on the beach with my dog. I realize not everyone can do this but for me it is incredibly centralizing and shapes the tone of the rest of my day.

Non-traditional: I'm going to give you a completely different perspective on this:

End the day with clear inbox - read it, resolve it, delegate it.

Quit trying to manage email. Spend exactly zero more time folderizing, categorizing, eliminating, whatever. My current employer places no size limit on your email database and that's thinking in the right direction. Everything is searchable, everything is archive-able. Use your filters, reduce the administrative time you spend managing communication.

Free yourself.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:49 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

My counterpoint to "don't bother archiving email" is that it's OK to have a non-empty inbox if you don't use it as your to do list.

I, and I find many others, tend to look at our inbox as the to-do list, leaving emails there to "action on". That leads to a bloated inbox as you don't have clear due dates or tasks, just a mix of emails that you need to read OR do OR remember and it's not neat.

This means that things will fall through, and you will not feel at peace, as your (non zero) inbox won't clearly indicate to you what you need to do today. Or tomorrow.

I wrote previously on best practices in email management.

There's a theme amongst all of us: the best thing you can do for your workday is find a way to have a central place for your *actions*, and a *separate* place for your information/communication. When you are clear on what you need to do, everything becomes much easier.

... that doesn't mean you shouldn't just "archive" things in vague categories and leverage search to actually find stuff. That's what I do. 7 high level categories meet most my needs.
posted by olya at 12:57 PM on June 20, 2014

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