How to Get Time Back!

I was reading an older issue of the Harvard Business Review and found this article titled “Stop Wasting Valuable Time”.

It had a great list of things we can do to be more efficient at work and make better use of the most limiting resource we have: time. I spend a lot of time in meetings, managing a fair amount of them, and I thought this was a good refresher on things to keep in mind:

  1. Deal with operations separately from strategy
  2. Focus on decisions, not on discussions
  3. Measure the real value of every item on the agenda
  4. Get issues off the agenda as quickly as possible
  5. Put real choices on the table
  6. Adopt common decision-making processes and standards
  7. Make decisions stick

This list addresses a common issue with meetings, where agenda setting is unfocused and undisciplined, often being a hodge-podge of items that different participants wanted to bring up. When we stop and think about it, I think we can all realize that meeting agendas need to be thought though, and prioritized accordingly. Some items simply don’t need the full team’s attention, while others may be urgent.

This leads me to the next point – urgency often seems to set the agenda, which may be good for an operations focused meeting, but this may come at a cost to planning and strategic decision making. If we are always focused on the hot potatoe, we may not leave enough meeting time to preventing the future issues from occuring. Allocating time among these is key.

Another issue I’ve noticed has to do with making sure everyone in the room agrees on what was agreed on. At times, this may be due to the team simply going off-course in the discussion, and never formally giving thumbs-up or down to a proposal, even though everybody agrees on what the decision oughta be. At other times, no decision was ever actually made. Or, as I’ve often seen, as the meeting time expires and people start getting up to leave, somebody we’ll make a statement “ok, so we have decided that.. “.

While it may not be always easy to manage a meeting room, it’s important to leave enough time on the agenda for the actual decision making, and ensure the final decisions are clear and documented. I believe that managing the meeting time effectively, can both reduce the time we spend in conference rooms, and improve a company’s information sharing and decision making processes.

Save on Auto Insurance: Pay in Full!

I have noticed that many folks I know pay their auto insurance on a monthly basis. This seems as a convenient option, allowing for budgeting and spreading out your cost accross the year. They can also auto-deduct the amount from your account, so there are no bills to think about, checks to send or stamps to buy – as long as you have the available balance in your account, you’re good to go.

The question though is, does this make financial sense? While the terms may change from insurer to insurer, my auto policy is as follows: I can pay in full upfront, or get billed monthly for my premium plus a 16% APR interest charge. It’s this last piece that changes things – it’s a ridiculously high interest rate for anyone with a decent credit.  If you have the cash to pay for this upfront, do it. It’s unlikely that you can get a better after-tax return on you rmoney somewhere else.

If you don’t have the money to pay in full upfront, pay what you can as early as possible. You can consider getting a balance transfer, and pay much less in interest. For example, if your insurance premium is $1800, you can end up paying about $145 in interest.  A recent balance transfer offer I got was 0% APR for almost a year with a 4% balance transfer fee, resulting in an effective finance charge of $72. This is a quick way to save about $70 – by simply paying off your insurance bill with a balance transfer check, and then making the monthly payments to your credit card.

My advice is simple: pay off your highest interest debt first. Monthly insurance bills carrying a finance charge are no different than credit card bills, even though you’re technically paying as you go.

Safety Around Power Lines

I just did some safety training and would like to share a few highlights. This has to do with safety around power lines.

If you see a downed power line:

  1. Stay Clear of the area! Don’t touch anything, assume the line and anything touching it is energized. 
  2. Call 9-1-1! The dispatchers will alert appropriate authorities.
  3. Do not try a rescue! By coming in contact with a person or animal that is energized, you can get hurt as well!

I would say that # 1 & 2 are common sense. While the curiousity can often can get the best of us, I assume most folks have the right instinct to stay away. (Of course, assuming that they realize there is a downed line.). The hard one is the # 3, especially when we see a loved one in trouble. It is a natural instinct to jump in and try and save them, however this can turn tragic: a few months ago 3 members of a family died in their backyard, two of them trying to save the first one.

It is really important to not try a rescue unless we are qualified to do so. While we may have best intentions in mind, we can easily get in trouble ourselves, and not do anything to help.

My recommendation is to do a walk-around your residence, and identify any potential hazards on a clear sunny day when everything is visible. Take note on where the power and gas lines are, and anything else that could turn into a hazard. Then, if there is a wind storm, earthquake or a similar event, you’ll know what areas to avoid until they can be safely inspected.

For more info, check with your local utility.

Gas Prices

I’ve been keeping track of my gas mileage for a while, and as part of that I’ve been noting the gas price paid as well. I figured it would be interesting to plot this data, and see what the pump gas price has been over the past few years.

What I’m showing is the price I paid at the pump on a given day. There is some “noise” in the data, as I didn’t keep the gas station constant, but the difference in markup among the stations I normally use shouldn’t be more than 10-20 cents, so the overall trend can still be observed.

It is tempting to draw a straight line through the last 40 months or so, and assume that prices will keep rising at about 50 cents per year. Of course, this is ignoring that significant dip you see in second half of 2008…

While most of us dread high gas prices, there is some silver lining to it. Back in 2008, the relatively sudden spike actually resulted in reduced traffic congestion on the LA freeways! Less traffic and less resulting emissions are a good thing.