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Boosting Your Productivity: Tried and Tested Techniques for Busy Managers

ProductiveOne of the difficulties for managers is how to simultaneously meet their responsibilities to 1) manage others, 2) attend seemingly endless meetings, and 3) take care of the work they must also do for themselves. In my role as Executive Director of IT, I became a bottleneck for the organization in that decisions and/or tasks that don’t take more than minutes to complete were left unattended for weeks. The problem is that I was doing too many things all at the same time (time slicing), and I was distracted by technologies that should help me be more productive. I was checking my emails and, at times, social media every few minutes. I’m sure some of my staff were getting frustrated for having to wait on me, and I was also getting frustrated at myself for not being more productive. The frustration led me to finally try different ways to improve my productivity. For years, I resisted using productivity techniques I’ve encountered, thinking I didn’t need them. However, through a change in mindset, technology, and techniques, I’ve noticed noticeable improvements in my productivity. Below is a list of these proven ideas you could consider.

1) Mindset. Focus on one task at a time. I used to think I could “multitask,” but from multiple articles/books I’ve read, I was time-slicing, and the time to transition from doing one task to another is costly. Specifically, the cost of getting back to the original task once distracted is an average of 25 minutes.

2) Use time blocking. I mentioned above that managers must balance managing/delegating, attending meetings, and “creating,” which means taking care of their own tasks. In my case, “creating” means taking care of HR actions, budgeting, or thinking about strategies. Too often, the time for “creating” are short between meetings resulting in low quality and incomplete tasks. The solution to this problem is to block out times in your schedules so you can have continuous hours of time dedicated to “creating”. In my case, I’ve blocked my morning hours (8-12) for these times and the other parts of the day for other tasks. That’s impossible, you might say. I thought the same thing, but this technique has worked for me while it hasn’t been perfect. The key is to inform your staff and others you deal with of your intention so they don’t schedule these blocked-out times. There’s also a transition period to implement this. While these contiguous hours may not be available in the next few weeks for you since meetings have already been booked, you can schedule these time blocks starting two to three months from now.

3) Pomodoro technique. This time management technique aims to promote maximum focus and energy by concentrating on one task for 25 minutes. Using my iPhone, I set the timer for 25 minutes, and I aim to work on the one task I’ve defined to complete within that period. This means I don’t check my emails, browse social media, or tend to be distracted.

4) Manage your energy, not time. I’m a late-night and morning person. This means that my energy is highest at those times of the day. in the past, I had a habit of going through my emails and taking care of “little things” to start my day, but the problem is that I could have been using my peak energy during those times to tackle tasks requiring high energy and focus. Given that I’m a morning person, this is the reason why I’ve dedicated my “creating” time blocks from 8 am-noon. I then try to spend my afternoons meeting with my staff and other tasks.

The techniques mentioned above are fairly new to me, but I’ve found the results encouraging, which has led me to focus on other ways I can be more productive. It requires a different mindset and time management techniques that work for you.

Let me know other ways you’ve improved your productivity at work! If you’re to try the ideas I shared above, let me know if they worked for you.

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Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG)

dream_bigSetting big dreams is fun, isn’t it? My wife and I commute to work together, and there are days when we discuss all the possibilities ahead of us. We figure it doesn’t cost us anything, and if we’re going to dream anyway, we’ll dream big beyond our imaginations and realities as we see them now.

Personally, the last few months have proven to be fruitful so far. Some of what I consider Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) have come/or are in the process of becoming realities. BHAG is a term I came across from the book called “Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins. The idea behind BHAG in this book is that visionary companies used bold and daunting missions to stimulate progress. I just recently read the book, so I didn’t know this term even existed, but it seems the goals I had set for myself would qualify as BHAGs. They may not be audacious goals for other folks, but these goals certainly are for me.

These personal BHAGs may not have been in the form I originally envisioned them, but they’re close to what I had in mind. In addition, some of these goals are personally scary for me. I figured I would have to conquer my fears as I encountered them. Another important note – these goals needed the help of other folks to make them happen! They would have never happened without folks who believed in me and the ideas themselves.

Here are some of my BHAGs that have become realities:

SA_Exec_TeamA seat at the Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO) table in my role as IT Director.  I became a member of my campus’ Student Affairs Executive Team in December. In this blog post, Case for Technology Leadership at the SSAO Table, I wrote about the value of having someone in a senior technology management role at the table who can bring technical expertise and perspective as strategic decisions are made.

A campus-wide IT leadership/management professional development program. With the support of our new CIO, Matt Hall, we have begun planning for a campus-wide program to promote community-building, leadership/mgmt, and technical training for IT professionals. Along with our CIO, we have a team consisting of IT Directors as well as HR managers that’s in the process of formulating our goals and program activities. This is an idea I proposed in this blog post – Cohort-Based IT Leadership Program for Higher Education.

NASPA Technology Knowledge Community (TKC) Chair. This is a position that seemed out of reach for me and one that I may not be qualified for, given the significance and scope of the TKC. However, as mentioned in this post (Sharing Our Vision at #NASPA16: Updates from the TKC Chair), I think I can contribute to advancing technology in student affairs by broadening the scope of conversation and those involved in the discussions through the chair position.  With the help of an amazing team, the community members, and the current chair, Lisa Endersby, I can’t wait to see what we’ll do in the next couple of years!

A webcast on student affairs and technology. A couple of weeks ago, the opportunity to do a webcast finally happened with the webcast “What AVPS and Mid-Level Professionals Need to Know About Technology” with Eric Stoller and Stephanie Gordon. It was a challenge for me, given that I am not always sure of how much I know about the topic and how I may come across on a live discussion when folks are watching from all places.

joe_before_afterLose 45 pounds in 10 months. Never in my wildest dream would I ever think I’d accomplish this. After all, I’ve tried in the past to lose weight, but for various reasons, I just couldn’t make it happen. Here is a blog post, How I lost 20 Pounds in 3 Months, of what I found to work (written three months after I started the weight loss attempt).

As I had mentioned, my wife and I have a list of BHAGs, and those shall remain a secret to us, and who knows if they’ll ever come to fruition. It is fun, though, to work towards them and to think about the possibilities. Professionally, I see the next three years as potentially significant for me. With a mixture of luck, preparation, and the help of many folks, I hope they’ll happen.

What are your BHAGs?

Photo of goldfish with shark fin courtesy of:

My Professional Reading List 2015

thumbAnother year of professional growth and learning. A significant amount of my time went to my MBA (IT Mgmt Specialization) course work in 2015; I could not devote as many hours to reading about other topics I enjoy, such as higher education and student affairs. Nevertheless, I still managed to enjoy reading the books below. As it was with my professional reading lists for 2013  and 2014, most of the books below are kindle books I read through my iPhone and iPad. The beauty of mobile learning. Please feel free to ask me for any recommendations.

Business & Productivity

Change and Innovation

Higher Education / Student Affairs

Information Technology



Technology Responsibilities & Qualifications for Senior Student Affairs Officers

Suppose technology is an essential component of today’s student affairs organizations. How is it that out of the 21 Chief Student Affairs Officers (CSAO) and Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO) positions posted on I reviewed today (11/29/2015),  only 1 job posting has the word “technology” in the areas of responsibilities and qualifications?

I reviewed the job postings because of my curiosity about how technology is perceived by student affairs organizations today. I think about student affairs and technology daily because of my role as an executive director for a student affairs IT organization. My curiosity is further driven as I think about my recommendations for a recent external program review of a student affairs and academic affairs IT department and as I think about how the recent inclusion of technology as a professional competency as part of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators by ACPA and NASPA could shape the future of technology in student affairs. In addition, I’ve been thinking about developing a framework for student affairs organizations to adopt, implement, assess and evaluate the technology.

Technology in student affairs can be viewed from many perspectives. For one, technology should be treated as a set of investments that can enable organizations to be more efficient and effective and transform how they do business. As an investment, technology also needs to be managed holistically from an enterprise level and not as disconnected and silo-ed systems. From this perspective, technology management and leadership require senior student managers to consider sustainable funding, governance structures and processes, and staffing. Technology as a set of resources to be managed is an idea I discussed in the article “CSAO as Information Technology Manager.”

Another view of technology in student affairs is the effective adoption and utilization by student professionals towards their duties as educators responsible for student learning, engagement, development, and career success. The description of the technology competency is the following:

“The Technology competency area focuses on the use of digital tools, resources, and technologies for the advancement of student learning, development, and success as well as the improved performance of student affairs professionals. This area includes knowledge, skills, and dispositions that lead to the generation of digital literacy and digital citizenship within communities of students, student affairs professionals, faculty members, and colleges and universities.” (Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs, 2015, p. 33)

The description above and the outcomes stated for the technology competency area acknowledge the essential role technology plays in student affairs.

In addition, I was reading a book called Designing for Learning: Creating Campus Environments for Student Success which also highlights the impact of technology on student communities. One of the chapters discusses “digital forms of human environments as they apply to the post-secondary educational setting and focuses on the design and potential of these new technologies to effect the inclusion, security, engagement, and experience of community among students.” (Strange & Banning, 2015, p. xii)

Given the significance of technology in student affairs based on what I shared above, it is then puzzling to me as to why all of the job postings for senior student affairs officers positions I reviewed today, except for one, had no mention of technology as part of the responsibility and/or requirements.

Technology leadership must be present at the highest level of student affairs organizations. At the minimum, CSAOs cannot abdicate their roles as information technology managers, and they must either develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions as described in the new technology competency area and/or include a position that can provide leadership to lead effective adoption, utilization, and assessment/evaluation of technology in student affairs. Here are two ideas to consider:

What roles and responsibilities should CSAOs/SSAOs have concerning technology?

Note on the cursory review process of the job postings:

I searched using “Vice President Student Affairs,” and the results returned 606 records, but I reviewed the job postings that contained what could be considered SSAO and CSAO positions (Vice President, Associate Vice President).  Some postings provided a link to the institutions’ job boards, but I limited my review to the description/requirements posted on the website itself.

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Be Mindful About “Conventional” Career Advice

I was speaking with a recent graduate who, after two years in the workforce, is exploring the possibility of going back to pursuing a Masters in Student Affairs and Higher Education. She was very concerned about the idea that because she didn’t go straight from an undergraduate to a Master’s program, the conventional path would reflect negatively on her when she did apply. As she told me this, I just had to smile because I was reminded of how, early in my career, several well-intended folks offered me advice about staying put in one place. After all, going from one job to another will not be seen positively when I apply for jobs. I wasn’t following the conventional career path. In retrospect, my experiences in start-up, corporate, and higher education have provided me with varied perspectives that have helped me appreciate and assess the realities of my job. I am glad I chose to listen to my instinct and not be pressured into pursuing the conventional path I was advised to take.

Just as I believe industry best practices have value in improving organizations, one must be cognizant that local contexts must be considered when applying best practices. Local factors like tradition, politics, personalities and other organizational constraints cannot be ignored. I liken best practices to the conventional career paths I was advised to pursue early in my career. Like best practices, advice about conventional career paths must be taken cautiously. I realized that early on in my career. Hence, while I politely listened to the conventional career advice I was given, I knew I had to consider my unique experience, background, skill set, and aspirations. The folks giving me advice were successful in their ways, but there were challenges I faced and strengths I possessed as a first-generation immigrant Filipino-American. My personal attributes and circumstances are analogous to the local contexts I mentioned above. Even beyond my personal attributes and background, today’s economy and job skills have significantly changed from decades ago.

In this world of every so dynamic workplace, how much of what’s considered conventional career paths are applicable? In the past, folks stayed in one job their entire lives, but I’ve read many articles, including this one, that job hopping is the “New Normal” for Millennials. I wonder how many younger professionals and students still receive career advice from well-intended senior professionals based on their experience a couple or more decades ago.

Personally, the prospect of where I may be in my career ten years from now is exciting. I don’t know what careers will be available for me in our field of student affairs in the future. I suppose the best advice I will cautiously provide to anyone asking for career advice is to continue learning, be open to possibilities, and study trends that may provide clues on where we may be heading. In other words, prepare for a career yet to be invented.

What are your thoughts on this topic? What conventional and so unconventional career advice have you received in your career?

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