The Top 17 Best Business and Personal Productivity Tips

Charts

Last week’s newsletter contained the Top 25 Excel Dashboard Tips by page views from the last 15 months of Critical to Success. This week’s list has the 17 Most Popular Personal Productivity and Business Performance Tips from the last 15 months. A few of these productivity and performance tips are in both lists, because they use Excel charting, like the Steven Covey time management matrix, to improve personal productivity.

My Personal Productivity Favorites

Where a tip ranks in this list may not be the same as its value to you, your career or your productivity. For example, the four that I find useful and use in my own life and work are,

13.  Get More Work Done – Focus with the Pomodoro Technique
I use the Pomodoro Technique two or three times a week when I need to push through deadlines and break through a work barrier. Good stuff!

8.   How to Build a Gantt Chart (Project and Task Management) in Excel
This simple scrolling Gantt Chart is easy to use and excellent for keeping track of where you and colleagues are on a list of tasks.

5.   How to Create a SWOT Action Plan
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are only good if you do something about them. The Action Plan guides you through how to use your SWOT to make change happen.

14. Driving Your Career with a Personal SWOT Analysis
Don’t use SWOT just for business! Use it to help you break through barriers and plot a course for your career.

As you scan through this list of productivity and business improvement tips remember to keep a Beginner’s Mind.

Explore with the eagerness and openness to new ideas of a beginner.
Don’t explore with the narrow view and prejudice of an expert.

The Top 17 Business and Personal Productivity Tips for 2015

1. How to Create a Static Four Quadrant – Matrix Model in an Excel Chart

Static Four Quadrant Matrices keep equal sized quadrants and are used by many models.

Static Four Quadrant Matrices keep equal sized quadrants and are used by many models.

The Four Quadrant – Matrix Model is a valuable decision making tool. This article will show you how to create a Four Quadrant – Matrix Model in an Excel chart, add multi-line data labels to each data point, add a graphic background to a chart, and more. Another article shows you how to create a dynamic Four Quadrant – Matrix Model in Excel that has dynamic quadrants that change size. Dynamic matrix charts are great when quadrants need to show distributions that are above or below averages.

2. Creating Dynamic Excel Timelines that Scroll

The dynamic Excel timeline chart allows you to scroll backwards or forwards through time.

The dynamic Excel timeline chart allows you to scroll backwards or forwards through time.

Last week’s newsletter described how to create a static event timeline in an Excel chart. In this article you’ll learn how to a dynamic timeline dynamic you can scroll across time. It displays a events or project due dates you have in an Excel list or database. This is GREAT for copying out of Excel and using in a PowerPoint to illustrate when events or tasks will happen. (I just switch from PowerPoint to Excel with Alt+Tab during the presentation, scroll through the timeline, then Alt+Tab back.)

3. Excel’s Four Quadrant – Matrix Model Chart : Don’t Make a Decision without It!

Static Four Quadrant Matrices keep equal sized quadrants and are used by many models.

Static Four Quadrant Matrices keep equal sized quadrants and are used by many models.

The Four Quadrant or Matrix Model is one the most valuable and widely used tools for decision making. This article has short descriptions of a few famous Four Quadrant – Matrix Model charts. The related articles show you how to create static and dynamic four quadrant matrix models using Excel charts.

You can’t be a successful consultant or product/marketing manager without a four quadrant matrix in the top drawer of your toolkit.

4. Create an Excel Timeline Chart to Manage Your Projects and Events

Adding a dynamic title that concatenates text and date makes this a more usable scrolling timeline.

Adding a dynamic title that concatenates text and date makes this a more usable scrolling timeline.

This is the static timeline chart of the dynamic scrolling chart described in tip 2. Download the tutorial files for these two and you can immediately start using the finished (static or dynamic) timeline.

5. How to Create a SWOT Action Plan

Use the SWOT Action Plan to identify actions that are Critical to Success.

Use the SWOT Action Plan to identify actions that are Critical to Success.

All strategic planners and most business pros have used a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis to analyze a new business, a product’s competitive position, or a marketing plan. I’m afraid to say that I’ve sat in the back of a couple of meetings where the group did a SWOT, then put away the findings and never looked at them again.

The purpose of a SWOT is to make informed decisions and make changes to improve the chance of success. If the SWOT analysis just produces a lot of discussion and then gets put away it’s not of much value.

You need a SWOT analysis that drives action. That system is the SWOT Action Plan described here. Don’t just do a SWOT and put it away. Use the SWOT Action Plan to drive change.

6. How to Combine Bubble and Column Excel Charts – Creating a Dynamic Four Quadrant – Matrix Model

Dynamic Four Quadrant Matrices use quadrants that change size to reflect a changing mid-point such as an average of the data points. They are valuable in seeing relationships.

Dynamic Four Quadrant Matrices use quadrants that change size to reflect a changing mid-point such as an average of the data points. They are valuable in seeing relationships.

static Four Quadrant – Matrix Model is fine if you’re working with something like the Steven Covey – Eisenhower time-management matrix or a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) matrix that just contain lists and there is no difference between item weightings. But, there are many cases in business where you want to use a four quadrant matrix model and the center-lines change position, for example to show the horizontal and vertical average lines.

Excel documentation says that bubble and scatter charts cannot be combined with other charts. But there are ways to work around it. This trick and the template you can start using immediately will give you a tool to,

  • Decide which projects take priority by charting projects by cost and time and seeing which are in quadrants above or below the average line.
  • Decide between which actions assigned weighted levels according to their Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threat in SWOT charts.
  • Decide which marketing campaigns are in the Hero quadrant (top right), which are in an improvable quadrant, and which should be killed (lower left).
  • Decide between which products should have more development funds and which should be used as cash cows.

7. Create a For-Profit Strategy Map in PowerPoint with this Template

Strategy Maps are excellent for showing the relationship between objectives in your strategy.

Strategy Maps are excellent for showing the relationship between objectives in your strategy.

Strategy Maps are visual diagrams of the relationships between objectives in your strategy. You can modify this Strategy Map template in PowerPoint so everyone in your organization understands the most important objectives and their relationships. You can use it in PowerPoint presentations, PDFs to download, and in print.

8. How to Build a Gantt Chart (Project and Task Management) in Excel

Basic Excel Gantt Chart

The completed scrolling Gantt chart works well for small projects and is ready for more enhancements.

The completed scrolling Gantt chart works well for small projects and is ready for more enhancements.

This basic Gantt chart and its tutorials show you how to create a scrolling Gantt chart in Excel. The tutorial starts with a simple Gantt chart using conditional formatting and a few functions. It is a good tool for simple projects and task management.

Advanced Excel Gantt Chart

Project management Gantt Chart in Excel with custom weekends and holidays.

Project management Gantt Chart in Excel with custom weekends and holidays.

This tutorial shows you how to take the basic scrolling Excel Gantt Chart and add conditional formatting so the Gantt chart shows today’s date, custom holidays, and custom weekends. Changing the WORKDAYS.INTL function will also adjust the end date to account for non-working custom weekends and holidays.

This template comes with a multi-cultural/religious calendar that spans from July 2015 to June 2018. Add or delete dates to fit you and your company schedule and you have a scrolling Gantt chart that includes holidays. Also, custom weekends on this calendar are easy to adjust for people or teams that don’t work the usual Monday through Friday schedule.

An Even More Advanced Gantt Chart in Excel

The more advanced Gantt Chart in Excel includes alerts, sorting, and filters.

The more advanced Gantt Chart in Excel includes alerts, sorting, and filters.

This advanced Gantt Chart in Excel has the basic scrolling Gantt Chart and custom weekends and holidays, but it also includes alerts for percent complete, email links to task leads, Work Breakdown Structure numbering (WBS), and filters to show only the tasks and date ranges you want. Don’t worry, you can hide the columns you don’t need and still works great.

If you are managing big personal tasks or small team projects with assigned responsibilities, this is a more useable tool than a large tool like Microsoft Project.

9. Create a Non-Profit, Government, or Healthcare Strategy Map with this PowerPoint Template

Non-profit strategy maps must be different than for profit strategy maps.

Non-profit strategy maps must be different than for profit strategy maps.

This Strategy Map template in PowerPoint can be a powerful tool for success in non-profits, government agencies, municipalities, or healthcare organizations. Because these organizations are mission driven they need a different strategy map than those used by for-profit organizations. In the figure below you can see one form of non-profit strategy map.

If you aren’t familiar with the difference in strategic objectives and mapping between for-profit and non-profit you need to read this.

10. Best Practice Brainstorming

Sitting through a “worst practices” brainstorming is frustrating and pointless. This article gives you a step-by-step process for best practice brainstorming. This process works. It’s fun. And it produces results.

11. How to Create a SWOT Analysis

Prepare for projects, organization changes, or career moves with a SWOT Analysis.

Prepare for projects, organization changes, or career moves with a SWOT Analysis.

A SWOT analysis can help you discover the best direction to move, strengths you can take advantage of, and weaknesses you need to avoid or shore up. Making a SWOT analysis worthwhile takes brainstorming, discussion, arguing, prioritizing, and finally, executing an action plan. It should break new ground and create new insights into developing a project, changing an organization, or building your career.

If you are doing a SWOT analysis, then you should definitely read tip 5, How to Create a SWOT Action Plan.

12. Where SWOT Analysis Goes Wrong

If you’ve done a SWOT analysis before don’t stop reading here. Most SWOTs could be done better. (Perhaps since I’m from California I should be less judgmental and say “They don’t reach their full potential.” You should not do a SWOT the way most are done. And you should definitely not do the average SWOT analysis for your personal life and career.

13. Get More Work Done – Focus with the Pomodoro Technique

 A kitchen timer shaped like a tomato gave the Pomodoro Technique it's nameA kitchen timer shaped like a tomato gave the Pomodoro Technique it’s name  The Pomodoro Timer app for iPhone and iPad is an excellent toolThe Pomodoro Timer app for iPhone and iPad is an excellent tool

The age of being a proud multi-tasker has come and gone! Functional MRI scans of the brain as well as real world task analysis shows that multi-tasking and interruptions seriously reduce productivity and work quality. For effective professional productivity you need to focus.

Personally, I’ve found my brain distracts itself by continually thinking of new ideas and additional tasks. Then I learned about the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is simple to apply and helps you focus on a single task so you work better and faster. Newsweek listed it as one of the best ways to “Get Smarter in 2012.” The Lifehacker community voted it as the “Most Popular Productivity Method.”

Some people, me included, find it a big help. Others find it unnecessary. My recommendation is to give it a try and check the variations I’ve listed in this article. By the way, I was using it when I wrote the blog on Pomodoro Technique.

14. Driving Your Career with a Personal SWOT Analysis

At work we often go to great lengths to analyze, plan, do, and review. Then we get home, relax, and coast. We all need time to renew, rebuild and connect with friends and loved ones. But, what if we took some of our analytic ability and business tools and applied it to our own careers and personal life? Using a few best practices from work to analyze your personal life could make great things happen.

15. The Trapeze Theory of Change –  Great Dashboards Don’t Help if Nothing Changes

As readers of Critical to Success I’m going to assume you are interested in improving your own performance and productivity and that of your organization. To do that you usually have to help people and cultures change. CHANGE IS DIFFICULT. Thankfully, there are some Leadership Tools that help. This one helps with individuals, teams, organizations, and even families. This Leadership Tool is the Trapeze Theory of Change.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a CEO, manager, team lead, individual, or parent with kids. The TRAPEZE THEORY OF CHANGE can help you help yourself and help others make change happen.

16. Post-It ®Notes – Power Tools for the Brain

Post-It ®Notes - Power Tools for the Brain

Large Post-It notes are power tools for a team’s brains.

3M Post-It® notes are like power tools for the brain. Actually, a better metaphor is that they are power tools for multiple brains working together. They are great tools for generating ideas, developing project management work flows, mapping processes, developing tasks lists, and more. If you’re working with a group you will want to use the large half-sheet sized Post-It notes that can be seen from across a meeting room.

If you are working with a group (or even yourself) to do a SWOT, project management task and time list (WBS), workflow, or objectives map, then don’t start your brain(s) in gear until you have a large stack of large Post-It notes.

17. Analyzing Business with SWOT Analysis

Getting started with a SWOT analysis is easier if you start with a list of pertinent topics. These lists will give you topics to consider when analyzing. You may want to limit each SWOT quadrant to the most impactful three to five issues.

In future Critical to Success blogs I will continue to include Excel tips and tools as I have in the past, but watch for a lot more on personal and professional productivity as well as business performance improvement.

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