Increased availability, are you handling it, or is it handling you? Solution!

Last week I wrote about some of the negative effects  of “always being available” ? This week let us look at some of the solutions.

Firstly, if you think this is challenging, know that there is hope. You can most likely do something about the situation by a few small steps. Though you should also know that the way you perform your work today has created a pattern and a way of working that actually has become a habit. This is your habit, and if you have read anything about changing habits, or as most people you have tried to change a habit, you might have realized that it can be quite hard. You need to force yourself to do (or not do) the thing you have decided upon quite a few times before it starts to feel natural. Psychologists say it takes 21 consistent days on the average to change a habit.  If you miss a day you must start over again.

Now back to what you can do about the increased availability. You need to be assertive and protect the time that you do have available for doing important high value work.

How do you to do this? One way is  to put in chunks of time in your calendar that belong only to you. We call them “appointments with myself”. These chunks of time should be respected by yourself and also others as if it was a client meeting. Unless something really urgent and important occurs of course. When you do this a couple of times per day, realize that you have actually organized yourself so that you can more easily follow your plan.

Another way is to turn off all your notifications announcing new emails arriving. Oh, you say “that is not possible for me! It could be something important…” I agree, then try to create agreements with your colleagues so that urgent and important tasks don’t arrive by email. These items are often better handled by phone or face to face. That way you will not be checking your mail every 5 minutes.

Improve your planning, and stick to what you have planned. Remember that when you once made the plan, it probably made perfect sense, so when it is time for the planned activity, it is time to act, and not start debating with yourself whether or not you should do it. Re-planning, reorganizing or reprioritizing should be done when  conditions change, but don’t go looking for it, because you will always find a reason for not doing something.

Good luck.

By Jojo B. Holst, PEPworldwide Norway

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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Increased availability, are you handling it, or is it handling you?

You may not think much about it today, but we have for many years strived to increase our availability. We got cellphones to be able to reach each other outside the office or home, but we still had to go to the office to access the client database or to send an email. This is for most really old fashion thinking in today’s business world. Our availability or accessibility has over the years increased so much that we now with a smartphone in our hands can do about anything anywhere.

What a great thing! We can do whatever we need to do wherever we want to do it and at any time during our 168 weekly hours. Amazing! Or is it? From different opinion leaders we are told that it has never been more difficult for us (in this lane on the information superhighway) to stay focused at the task, or subject, that an increasing amount of people are spending more and more time jumping (mentally) from one thing to another without being able to finish the first one.

The reasons for not finishing a task can be many, but one clear reason for this is because we have become more and more accessible: firstly always being available ourselves and secondly expecting that others should also always be available for us. Or maybe it feels like the other way around? And that is exactly the issue. We have become so available for everyone else that it can be hard to focus on our own priorities, our own tasks  and follow our own plans. If you don’t make and follow your own plans you will most likely be a part of someone else’s plan. Am I saying that this increased availability is not a positive contribution in our mission to do, or perform our daily tasks? No, and let me just be clear, I am not saying the problem is the increased availability itself, it’s what we do with it, and how we choose to handle it, or rather lack of doing so.

What are your thoughts about this? Please share your experiences with us.

By Jojo B. Holst, Man.dir. PEPworldwide Norway

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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Email Mess, solutions:


Like all situations the solution to this email mess is more complicated than identifying the problem.  For purposes of being concise in this blog, the steps needed to be taken are listed in bullet point order.  If you have question or wish a more detailed explanation please email us and we will reply to all questions in detail.

The solutions are divided between Organizational and Individual needs and action steps.


  1. Establish protocols as to who is responsible for keeping email communications.
  2. Establish how long information should be kept. (This may need legal counsel input.)
  3. Give clear permission to discard information.
  4. Advise how long emails will be kept on corporate server.
  5. Explain, in user terms, storage capacity limits as far as the Inbox and folder system.
  6. State all information in user-friendly terms.


  1. Develop and Implement PEP subject based filing system focused on the retrieval of information: 1-Working, 2-Reference, 3-Archive, 4-Personal.
  2. Develop “5-Old Email” Folders for temporary storage of old emails.
  3. Establish what emails have lost all value & delete them.  (in the 80% range)
  4. Identify what emails have “probably” lost value to be placed in the temporary ”5-Old Emails Folders” (in the 15% range)
  5. Determine if several 5-Old Email folders needed to reflect date-aging groupings?
  6. Use electronic calendar to established PEP maintenance schedule and review/discard of 5-Old Email folder/s if used.
  7. Begin moving emails into created email folder system.  Allocate some sufficient time to begin movement of remaining emails to newly created folder system.
  8. Establish how much more time is needed to complete this project.
  9. Set scheduled appointments on electronic calendar to complete project.
  10. Long airplane trips are ideal time to work on this type of project.
  11. New Inbox emails must be addressed daily basis even if older emails are still in Inbox.
  12. Use “Rules” to automatically move Incoming emails into the correct folders.
  13. Embrace rule that there will be “no scroll bar showing in the Inbox at the end of the work day.”
  14. Set “reset times” after vacations or other events which do not allow addressing Inbox routinely.
  15. Use “Out of Office” or other notifications to reduce email follow-ups and give decision making information to others.
  16. Set quarterly system maintenance/update appointments on electronic calendar.


After conscientious implementation efforts, supported by several follow-up meetings with their PEP coach, this person commented that “This was hard to do but worth the effort.  I do not see a scroll bar in my Inbox and will never go back to my ineffective way of handling my emails.”

Bary Sherman, PEPworldwide US

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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Email Mess

Current Situation

We were hires to conduct a one-on-one Executive PEP® Program for the senior regional leader of a professional services organization in a major US city.  This leader was very intelligent, professionally competent and respected by both his staff and clients.

Before our first visit we emailed ahead our PRE PEP® questionnaire to learn more about the way this executive worked.  The PRE PEP® questionnaire included such issues as what did he do well, what did he wished he could better, what actions he wanted to stop doing,  how he worked with his executive assistant and how he spent his time.

Reviewing his answers on the PRE PEP® questionnaire was the first order of business as we began his first day of PEP®.

However, it became immediately evident that this person was overwhelmed by the number of emails he received each day. Like most people he had figured out how to work Notes over the years but his organization never offered any structured formal training.  He had over 82,000 messages in his In Box and he “could not find a damned thing.”

A quick check of his use of the various modes of Notes such as Calendar, Email, Contacts and   To Dos indicated a very low level of competency or proactive usage.

We made a decision that we had to address this email crises area before any other issue in order help this person improve his personal productivity and effectiveness.

See us next week, same place, same time for the solution.

Bary Sherman, PEPworldwide US

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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What do you tell a multi-tasker when they’re busy? Solutions:

We mentioned last time that expert time-managers advise people against multi-tasking.

Along with it’s inevitable interruptions, multi-tasking causes adverse psychological and physiological effects, according to the
research we mentioned. So why do we do it? Probably, on the surface at least, multi-tasking seems to be a solution to the everyday problems of unclear objectives and confused priorities.

What has also come to light in recent years is that the brain actually uses up a huge amount of energy (glucose) just in the act of trying to prioritize. It’s part of the reason most of us find prioritizing one of the toughest things to do.

How many people do you know who come into work first thing in the morning and immediately open their e-mail – and spend the rest of their day with e-mail open, reading every e-mail that comes in – no matter what else they’re in the middle of?

When we ask people ‘how many of the e-mails you receive are to do with your own priorities?’, we’ve had answers as low as 20%. Yet people sit, awaiting they’re next e-mail interruption which they’re 80% certain is not a priority they should immediately attend to. (Did you know 39% of e-mail is sent to people sitting less than 100 metres away?). When we ask ‘why do you do it?’ the answer is often simply ‘habit’.

We’ve noticed that two activities can have an amazing effect on people’s energy, focus and ability to prioritize.

1. One is to NOT open e-mail for the first hour of the morning. (Whether you believe you should or shouldn’t do it, it’s helpful to know that reading e-mail uses up a lot of your available ‘prioritizing’ energy. Energy that you have a limited daily supply of). Simply work on your existing priority items as the first thing you do.

2. The second is to only do your e-mail in batches of a half-hour or so per sitting. Decide to open, receive and process your e-mail only at these set times during a day. Your type of job would dictate whether it’s twice or three or four ‘batches’ (or more) a day. But the point is to close your e-mail and then focus on completing what you have decided are your key priorities. Only process e-mails during the set batch times you’ve chosen.

In both cases we’ve found peoples’ completion rate soars, along with the good feeling of a more rewarding day.

We’ve mentioned only two activities. We’d be pleased to hear of others that work as well.

Ron Hopkins PEPworldwide UK

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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What do you tell a multi-tasker when they’re busy?

Fascinating to see what a core of professional time-management coaches gave you as their top tip to improve your efficiency in 2013.

The tip was basically to ‘stop multi-tasking’. If we believe all the surveys, most of us who sit in open plan offices get interrupted every 11 minutes (and take double that time to re-focus), spend half our days going through the inbox, respond to a new e-mail within an hour of receiving it, all done in between responding to instant messaging media and phone calls and meetings.

Most of us believe we need to multi-task just to stay afloat. But we don’t always feel good about it. In fact Dr. Glenn Wilson of King’s College in London tested 1,100 office workers and found that many of them – after experiencing the regime described above lost 10 points off their I.Q at the end of a day. And the feeling you’re left with is that you’ve missed a night’s sleep.

Sadly,  the time-managers got it right. In recent years many independent psychologists have discovered that the great art of multi-tasking is actually bad for us.

It’s a difficult one because multi-taskers believe they’re getting better at what they do. (They simply get better at ‘switching’ between things. Their ability to concentrate and to produce a quality output really suffers).

The multi-taskers themselves believe their biggest problem is – ‘ a lack of team communication and unclear objectives’ (Microsoft Office Productivity Challenge).

The time-managers who set out to fix them advise them to stop-multi-tasking.

There seems to be a gap in perception – but is there? And is there anything we can
suggest as a remedy?

Multi-tasking references:

Next week we will explore some solutions.

Ron Hopkins, PEPworldwide UK

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norge, Redaktør

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It’s piling up! Solution:

In last week’s blog I named some key reasons why a lot of people have a problem with getting rid of their backlogs and an email InBox that keeps on growing. This causes a lot of stress since you are continually looking at the huge amount of work that still needs to be done and additionally you see new tasks and assignments that also have to be taken care of.

With our PEP Efficiency Survey we have tabulated the results from 4000 thousand  PEP Program participants and can now conclude without a doubt that backlogs are a major cause of stress.

The method of dealing with these backlogs are: planning, discipline and creating a routine.  As you also do not want the backlog to grow
further you need to develop efficient work habits.

Basically you need to approach this twofold:

  1. Routinely schedule time for working through (finish) the backlog and
  2. Develop efficient working habits and routines so that you do not create a new backlog.

Now for tackling the backlog. If you have the opportunity to work from home one day a week, then Just Do  It.  Actually plan a block of time in your calendar,  preferably  first thing in the morning. Make sure to not first open and look for any newly arrived email!

Start with the oldest item and don’t go on to the next until you’ve finished it!  Now make a clear decision using the 4 D’s:

  1. If you can finish it within 10 minutes then DO IT NOW!
  2. When it will take longer than 10 minutes, DESIGNATE  IT!  Plan a specific time for it in your calendar.
  3. If you don’t need it or know where you can find it, DELETE IT!
  4. When someone elsecan or should do it then DELEGATE IT NOW!

In this way you systematically get rid of the work that has been waiting to be done for a long time and your InBox will be clean and manageable again!

Keep this planning alive, making sure the documents, mails and to-do tasks don’t start to pile up again. Make the discipline a routine and keep it organized!

Remco Visser, PEPworldwide Nederland

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norge, Redaktør

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It’s piling up!

“I can’t see the forest, from the trees!” is a phrase we as PEP consultants often hear when starting a Day 1 with a new PEP Group.

As we see in our line of work,  many participants of the PEP Course are somewhat drowning in backlogs and unfinished work. When we ask them where we as PEP consultants are most likely to help them to improve their efficiency, this is a key-subject named. They regularly complain about not being able to sort the old mail in the inbox, thoroughly read or finish the sometimes long overdue tasks which follow with these mails. This, of course, causes a lot of stress for the participants and usually is one of the main reasons for this stress and leads them into almost instant procrastination.

Not only in the electronic inbox (Outlook, Groupwise, etc.) tasks and mails are piling up for these participants. Even their physical inbox (hereby I mean their To-Do- shelf or in-tray) is often stuffed to the brim with unfinished work, which should have been handled for some time ago, or may even have been laying there for months. Imagine a desk filled with piles of paper and loose notes. Not a pretty sight and certainly distracting!

The before-named related stress these backlogs create can be generally problematic for the participant, because the person will always be looking at these piles (whether they are physical or electronic) and not really having a plan for squashing these. But there are ways to improve this!

Next week we will give you some useful tips on how to gradually reduce your backlog and keep the inbox/in-tray clean and in control!

Remco Visser, PEPworldwide Nederland

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Skråblikk på arbeidslivet, av daglig leder, etter ett år ved roret


Våre PEPrådgivere har en utrolig variert arbeidsdag og vi er svært privilegerte som får anledning til å bli kjent med så mange mennesker i mange forskjellige avdelinger og virksomheter. Jeg finner det fascinerende å komme utenfra og få lov til å observere hvordan ulike mennesker selv opplever at de gjør så godt de kan for å få gjort den jobben de skal, med de verktøy de har og med de forutsetninger og omstendigheter de har. Mange er også overbevist om at deres måte er den beste måten å gjøre det på. Mang en gang har du sikkert opplevd at ved å løfte blikket, og gjerne ta et skritt til siden for å vurdere ditt arbeid eller resultat, så slår det deg, at dette kunne jeg løst på en mye enklere eller smartere måte. De fleste av oss gjør dette de første gangene vi gjør noe nytt. Etter noen ganger slutter mange å evaluere seg selv, det er blitt en rutine, og da er arbeidsvanen eller mønsteret ofte etablert. Det er da det er godt, selv om det ikke alltid føles godt, å kunne få hjelp utenfra eller fra en venn eller kollega.

Det er interessant for oss å observere hvordan arbeidstakere i ulik grad mestrer sin arbeidsmengde og hvilke ferdigheter som de benytter for å håndtere det de opplever som sin arbeidshverdag. Her finner vi mange ulike metoder, noen mer originale enn andre, spesielt finner vi mye kreative løsninger for å unngå å glemme oppgaver som skal og må gjøres. Felles for de ulike metodene er at de innen en virksomhet er preget av kun å gjelde den enkelte medarbeider. Det er ingen felles eller enhetlig måte å jobbe på i avdelingen. Det er ofte et tydelig personlig preg på måten hver enkelt velger å organisere, planlegge og gjennomføre sitt arbeide på.

Mange har mye å gjøre, andre har mindre å gjøre. Det utfordrende er når de jobber i samme avdeling, og begge opplever at de tar unna oppgaver for avdelingen og fellesskapet, begge opplever de at de må skyve sine egne oppgaver nedover på listen for å få unna andres ting. Begge opplever dette som frustrerende og begge føler at de bidrar og står på for andre, og at det kanskje går ubemerket hen. Samtidig kan det være vanskelig å be om hjelp. I vår verden handler dette om kommunikasjon, samspill og respekt. Vi erfarer at vi får medarbeidere i en avdeling eller bedrift til å kommunisere bedre og  derved øke deres grad av forståelse for hverandres oppgaver og prioriteringer. Samtidig er det ofte enklere å ta over en oppgave eller å gi den fra seg når man har en større forståelse for hverandres arbeidsmetodikk. Derfor jobber vi i PEP med hele avdelinger som ønsker å jobbe bedre sammen. 1 av 3 medarbeidere peker på at det er kollegaene som er årsaken til at de ikke får gjort det de hadde planlagt.  Med PEPs utprøvde arbeidsmetodikk hjelper vi medarbeidere i  virksomheter til å bli bevisstgjort sine arbeidsvaner og iverksette sine forbedringstiltak. Våre deltakere rapporterer om økt grad av planlegging, redusert stressfølelse, bedre oversikt, og ca 1 time frigjort tid hver dag pr. person.

Jojo Bough Holst, daglig leder, IBT Norge as og PEPworldwide Norge

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Møter igjen. De færreste har lært hvordan møter forberedes og gjennomføres for å kunne bidra til forventet verdiskapning i virksomheten.

Kjære PEPdeltakere, kunder, kollegaer og venner.

Først et lite bakteppe for denne bloggen. I Aftenposten, 27. november 2009 skrev den svært skriveføre programleder og forfatter Christine Koht en artikkel om møter med bakgrunn og research fra norsk næringsliv. Artikkelen har en humoristisk vinkling, men med en alvorlig brodd: Den gjennomsnittlige ansatte deltar i 61 møter i måneden. Hvis hvert møte varer 1 time tilsvarer dette nesten halve arbeidstiden. Men det er forskjell på møter og møter. To som møtes på kafé over to kopper latte kan utrette mirakler på kort tid i forhold til grupper av alle størrelser som møtes for å ta beslutninger (kanskje) på temaer og utfordringer som er viktige for møteleder å få gjennomført.

Vi i PEPww har antenner for dette temaet og vi har funnet verdifullt materiale av høy leseverdighet på på nettet. Vi anbefaler å ta en titt her. Denne siden inneholder mye godt stoff og det kommer stadig flere nye temaer.

Tilbake til hjemmesiden:                                         Johan Chr. Holst