Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May 8,
2002 edition of
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Drain Your Brain, and Other Tips For Office Efficiency
<d>Deb Cullerton spent seven years following UPS
guys and gals around. No, she wasn’t a Big Brown groupie. An
engineer, it was her job to make sure that UPS’s field workers were
completing their rounds with the maximum efficiency that breeds
"UPS has delivery methods down to a T," she says. "For
example, drivers have to keep their keys around their little fingers
at all times." It may seem like a small thing, but "think
about it," she says. "If every driver is fishing around for
keys, it eats up time. In an environment as fast-paced as UPS, you
have to have all your ducks in a row."
So Cullerton walked around behind drivers, stop watch in hand,
for time-wasting behavior, and devising methods to eliminate
delays. Then, she went back to her office. And it was there —
in the executive suites — that she found a much bigger efficiency
"At the front end, people were wasting seconds," she says.
"Back at the office people were wasting hours. There are much
bigger problems in white collar productivity. I thought maybe I was
working the wrong end."
Now northeast regional manager with PargasVenuto, an HR training and
development firm based in Mt. Laurel, Cullerton specializes in helping
desk jockeys cut stress, save time, and achieve work/life balance
through better organization. She speaks on "Organize or
on Thursday, May 9, at 6 p.m. at Mercer NJAWBO’s dinner meeting at
the Metro Grill in Ewing. Cost: $33. Call 609-924-7975.
Cullerton studied industrial engineering at the University of Rhode
Island, where she discovered she "wasn’t nerdy enough to be an
engineer," and shifted to management. Passionate about the
of getting organized, she says "no more than 20 percent" of
office workers are optimally organized.
"Some may look organized," she says, "but they’re not.
They’re just neat. There’s a difference between putting things away,
and finding them when you need them." The effects of this
not only hurt productivity at work, but also keep the disorganized
from enjoying time away from the office. "It lands on people’s
ability to achieve work/life balance," says Cullerton.
There are studies, she says, that indicate the average office worker
wastes 72 minutes a day. It is not uncommon for executives to spend
three hours a week just looking for papers. Getting those papers in
order is important, but it is only one-third of the solution.
says, "we look at organization from three sides."
says Cullerton. "Things start slipping through the cracks."
What’s more, a brain stuffed with phone numbers, E-mail addresses,
project deadlines, and appointments is a brain that is not free to
work on more important tasks. "How can you use it for creative
thinking, for strategizing?" asks Cullerton.
Empty the brain of all the minutia, and — obviously wise to all
the tricks office workers employ — she adds, "don’t empty
it onto stickies." Putting phone messages, meeting reminders,
and business lunch dates on Post-It notes does little to create an
organized work life. Scribbling on the back of reports doesn’t do
Instead, get a personal organizer, a Palm Pilot, Pocket PC or similar
device. Let it be your auxiliary brain. People worry, Cullerton
that this brain annex could be lost. At her seminars, this concern
always surfaces. "I ask how many people in the audience have lost
their Palm Pilots," she says. Rarely does a hand go up. And even
when the devices go missing, she says there is an excellent chance
that someone will find and return them.
"I found one on the sidewalk," she recounts. "I thought
`Oh my God! This person must be having a heart attack.’" She found
the owner by pressing the automatic dial phone number labeled
Dialing, she said, "one of your kids has lost his Palm Pilot,"
and got contact information. Another defense against loss is backing
up the pocket organizer on the office PC or laptop. This is easy to
do now. "I keep mine in a cradle right next to my laptop,"
says Cullerton. Backing up the data is now a nearly-unconscious part
of her day.
most think only of getting paper under control. Far more important,
in her view, is getting each day under control. For all white collar
workers, and especially for entrepreneurs, this is the biggest
"They let details consume them," she says. "They lose
sight of priorities."
Before leaving the office at night — every single night —
she suggests spending 10 minutes writing down (in an electronic
— not on the back of an envelope) the schedule for the next day.
"People," she says, "are very unrealistic about how much
time they will spend on their to do lists." A business day is
full of interruptions that eat up time earmarked for writing a report
or planning a campaign.
But at the end of each day, "suddenly everyone becomes an
Cullerton finds. In planning the next day, there is a tendency to
think "tomorrow I’ll have four hours to work on the project."
Chances are, says Cullerton, it won’t happen. "The computer goes
down. All those pesky customers are calling again," she gives
as examples of why this is so. "You have to be realistic,"
she says. "Maybe you’ll only have two hours."
Armed with this knowledge, top priority projects become
more urgent. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea to put them off until
Friday after all. With a realistic idea of how much time really will
be available tomorrow, it is also easier to say no to extra work.
You don’t have eight hours at your disposal tomorrow — not if
you factor in necessary interruptions. You really have only six, or
four, or two. If a high-priority task is going to take up that much
time, there is nothing left for the additional work.
Planning a work day means there is some control over family life,
too. If Cullerton needs to be home at 5:30 p.m., she says, "I
draw a big black line under 5 p.m."
to be clean before employees left for the day. That’s a good start,
but Cullerton goes much further. "There are three `Ds’ for the
desk," she says. "The first is `dump,’ and that is the most
preferable." Delete junk E-mail and toss all non-essential papers.
Having trouble deciding what is non-essential? Cullerton has a test.
"Ask a question," she suggests, "If I keep this, will
I even know I have it? If not, throw it away now."
The second two "Ds" are the twins, "delegate" and
"deliver." If you are not going to do anything with the paper,
but someone should, get it into that person’s hands pronto.
The last paper "D" is "decide when." Here are the
criteria. "If it is going to take less than three minutes,"
says Cullerton, "do it." Immediately. She puts filing into
that category, and urges anyone without a good filing system to waste
no time in setting one up. If the task represented by the piece of
paper is going to take more than three minutes, decide when it will
be done, enter the task and the time allotted to complete it into
the electronic organizer, and toss the paper.
"I’m not naturally organized," she says. "I fight the
good fight on a daily basis." Things pile up on her too. The
"I can get rid of them faster than almost anyone."
This efficiency spills over to her home life as well. "I drive
my family nuts," she admits. Among the habits that tend to annoy
is one she picked up at UPS. "I search until I find a parking
spot I can back into," she says. "That way I’m always pulling
away. It’s a safety issue." At vacation time, her training
again. "I’m a monster packing for vacation," she laughs.
can pack the car as tight as a UPS truck."
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