The past several weeks with the coronavirus pandemic have been unprecedented. We are in an environment of fear, stress, uneasiness, and unknowns. While it will take time for us to work through these emotions, it is important that we also try to continue as normal in ways that we can control. Productivity expert Barbara Hemphill said, “Control the things you can, so you can cope with the things you can’t.” I think this is true now more than ever.
19 Productive Actions You Can Control
One byproduct of social distancing is that many of us have found ourselves with unexpected time on our hands – closings, canceled events and appointments, reduction in travel time on planes, trains, and cars, and for some, an unfortunate reduction in customers or client work. Why not utilize this time for tasks or projects you have been putting off or just haven’t had the time to address? Take some control by working on things that will strengthen and grow your business, your career, and/or yourself, and create a solid base for “after the virus.”
Below I share a list of 19 productive actions you can take now, along with tips, resources, and recommended tools to assist with the task. Don’t be overwhelmed by the length of the list. Instead, choose a few of the highest priority items for you and/or your business and focus on taking action on those first.
At the end of the article, I provide a free download that will allow you to more easily prioritize each item and track your progress.
Disclaimer: Life Made Simple sometimes partners or affiliates with companies providing products, applications, or services that we feel would benefit our clients. In these cases, we may receive a small commission on sales through our affiliate links.
Organize Your Office Space and Information
1. Organize your office space
Whether you have a room devoted to work or space within another room, a clear, organized area can help improve focus and productivity. Clear off your floor, desk, and other surface areas. Toss, recycle, shred, or donate any unneeded items. Leave out only those items that add to your productivity, peace, or joy.
2. Clean out and organize your paper files
Divide your files into action (items you are working on now) and reference (items you are keeping for tax/legal reasons or future reference). Label files alphabetically (e.g. client files) or topically. If you have more than one file drawer full of paper, consider numerical labels and an online inventory of your paper files using the Paper Tiger filing system.
3. Set up a daily and/or monthly action file system
An action file system such as this one by Smead allows you to file papers or cards by day and/or month as reminders to complete a task or to be easy accessible when you need them. Keep the file system in a desktop file along with a few hanging files to hold quick reference papers.
4. Declutter and organize your digital files
Depending on your current structure and content, decluttering and organizing digital files can mean something different for everyone. Start with this checklist of things to think about when attacking your digital world and then develop your unique plan.
5. Set up your email for productivity
Like digital file management, email management can differ depending on the application you use (e.g. Outlook or Gmail), how much email you receive daily, and whether you use your email app for other productivity tasks such as calendar, tasks, and contacts. Check out this past blog post to help you get started with The Only 5 Email Folders You Really Need.
6. Go paperless
Moving towards a paperless environment requires a good scanner. My favorite scanner for moving those piles of paper, notes, and business cards to digital form is the Fujitsu ScanSnap. It is the most expensive tool of all of the resources mentioned here, but well worth the cost if you work with a lot of paper, want to be more digital, and/or often work remotely.
|ScanSnap ix500||ScanSnap S1300i Portable
7. Manage your contacts
Whether this means scanning or entering business card information, cleaning out old contacts and updating current ones (I use the Duplicate Contacts app for Android and Apple phones – there are many others!), or setting up a full-blown CRM (customer relationship management) system, contact management is a great way to spend some unexpected downtime.
Get Clear on Your Goals
8. Determine your rocks (what is most important)
If it has been a while since you really stepped back to evaluate what is important to you in business and life, this is a great time to get re-centered and focused on what matters most. I am happy to share an exercise I use with individuals and groups for this reason, Big Rocks and Little Rocks: Priority Management Exercise.
9. Develop your 2020 goals
Once you know your “rocks,” you can work to develop your goals for the remainder of the year. I am confident life will get back to normal and when it does, what will you focus on for the remainder of the year? It’s okay if your goals aren’t perfect right now. Just get something on paper and then reevaluate once the pandemic has passed.
Analyze and Manage Your Time
10. Analyze your time management habits
When it comes to time management, have you ever wondered where you excel? And where you could improve? My favorite tool for surveying and analyzing time management habits is the Time Mastery Profile. After completing the Time Mastery Questionnaire, you are provided with a report showing your strengths and challenges. In addition, you receive a workbook providing tips and an action plan to improve your time management habits. The retail price of the profile and workbook is $48.00 but as an affiliate, I am offering it to you at a $10 discount for the next 3 months. Click below to receive the discount with payment via Paypal or credit card. The profile questionnaire will be sent to you within 24 hours of payment receipt.
Purchase Time Mastery Profile – $38.00
11. Start using a daily time management tool
Now may also be the perfect time to review a few different time management tools to see what might work best once we get back to our hectic lives. I have tried many different paper planners, and the one I always come back to is The Planner Pad due to its funnel system and ability to brain dump tasks by category. A recent Today Show article shared 11 additional planners for your review.
Practice Risk Management
12. Back up your files
You have many options for backing up files, photos, email, and other digital information:
13. Evaluate your financial position
For businesses, utilize your current financial tool to review your actual results versus goals to date in 2020. How will this downtime impact your goals, if at all? If you are not using a financial tool, consider implementing one. Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero are popular options. (Before introducing a tool such as these, be sure to do a technology needs assessment to ensure you are choosing the right tool for your needs. Last month’s blog shares a list of things to consider when analyzing a new or improved technology tool.)
Individuals should also review the impact of the pandemic on their financial position and develop a resulting budget and plan for the rest of the year.
Work on Yourself
14. Learn or fine-tune a skill
Skillshare, is a great resource for videos and training resources for a variety of skills. And, the first 2 months are free! A quick search on YouTube or Google will provide many more options.
15. Read a book
While I’m sure you have your own list of “must-read books,” a few non-fiction books I recommend (depending on your need and interests) are:
Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Unstoppable: A 90-Day Plan to Biohack Your Mind and Body for Success
I have a long list of recommended fiction books as well. Let me know if you are interested, or share your favorites in the comments below.
16. Get/stay healthy (exercise, meditation, healthy eating)
Getting and/or staying healthy when stuck at home takes a little bit of work. Since my normal workout location is closed, I joined an on-demand site with videos of the classes I normally take and purchased an inexpensive weight set on Amazon.com. Many workout locations and online exercise sites are providing free challenges, workouts, and videos. In addition, you can find several meditation, yoga, and recipe or meal apps in your phone’s app store.
17. Spring clean your home
Okay, I know this isn’t really “working on yourself” but It is a great way to feel better about yourself and your environment, and a clean, clutter-free home can help you feel more productive in your home office. Here are a few Spring Cleaning Checklists to track your progress. I chose to use the third as I felt it was the most inclusive and I liked that it gave me space to add my own tasks.
The Happier Homemaker
Freebie Finding Mom
18. Send cards, texts, or emails
Make someone feel a little less lonely or just make someone smile with a note of thanks or encouragement.
19. Help others
Giving can be financial, but doesn’t have to be. Drop off needed supplies or other physical donations, safely volunteer your time if you are healthy and able, or donate blood. You might also share your expertise or knowledge to help others in areas of need during this time, as is my hope with this blog. Buzzfeed and PBS share lists of other ways to help during the pandemic. And this article from Bankrate provides a unique idea – giving back utilizing your credit card rewards points.
Free Downloadable Checklist
I realize this is a long list! Not every item will apply or be important to every reader. In order to prioritize and track your unique action list, I am providing a free, downloadable checklist below. Be sure to refer back to this blog for the supporting resource links.
If you are in need of assistance, coaching, or support related to any of these tasks, please reach out via my contact page or by scheduling your free 30 minute productivity assessment. All of my work can be done virtually via phone or video call.
I wish all of you health, safety, love, and peace over the coming weeks and months. Spend time with family, call your friends, give back, focus on you, and control what you can.
Unless you completely avoid politics and social media, you have no doubt heard about the “caucus chaos” that recently occurred right outside my door in Iowa. Much of the media has blamed the chaos on a new smartphone app the Iowa Democratic Party implemented to help get results more quickly. Because I have a large interest in the successful selection and implementation of technology, I thought I’d dig into it a bit further. What happened in Iowa is just one very publicized example of what happens daily in companies and organizations that do not take the time to properly analyze their vision and needs when choosing a new technology tool, or to carefully plan for a successful implementation of the chosen system. How could this have been avoided?
What Went Wrong with the Iowa Caucus?
It is true that much of the cause for reporting delays and questions about count accuracy was due to a “coding error” in the Shadow smartphone application that was used by the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) to report caucus voting results. The error resulted in only partial results being reported. But if you look just a little deeper, there were more underlying issues that can’t be blamed solely on the creator of the application.
Following are additional factors leading to the issues with the Iowa Caucus:
- State campaign finance records show the IDP paid Shadow, the tech company that created the app used in Iowa, more than $60,000 for “website development” towards the end of 2019. Shadow (or what I’ve also seen called the Iowa Reporter App) was a new app, reported to be just 5 months old, and created specifically for reporting of caucus results. This is not enough time to have been developed and fully tested before being rolled out for such a large and public endeavor.
- Once the IDP had the app, there was not enough time for users to learn and test it themselves. In fact, some users weren’t even able to get past the log-in screen.
- This year, a new set of reporting requirements was put in place by the Democratic National Committee. Historically, precincts would only announce the outcome in terms of state delegate equivalents (S.D.E.s). In 2020, precincts were required to report three numbers per candidate: (1) raw vote totals, (the initial alignment), (2) the totals after the shifts of participants from non-viable candidates (the second alignment) and (3) the estimated delegate count for each candidate. While this may be confusing for those not involved with caucus procedure, it isn’t difficult to reason that this increase in requirements, along with the use of a new application, and short time frame for development, training and testing, was the start of “the perfect storm.”
- In addition to the Shadow app, it was reported that there were training issues with other programs needed for efficient reporting of results, including Google Sheets, and problems with 2-factor authorization needed to access those programs.
- The back-up process for reporting results when the app did not work was to call headquarters and manually report results (which is the way it had been done in past years). But, there were not enough lines and/or people to answer these calls and volunteers were left waiting for hours. It was quite obvious the back-up plan hadn’t been fully thought through.
It is my guess that there were more issues involved in the selection and implementation of caucus reporting systems and processes this year. Iowa Democratic Party Chairman, Troy Price, has called for an independent forensic review of the decisions and processes (or lack of processes) that led to the failure. I look forward to learning more from that review.
2020 Iowa Caucus Consequences
What we do know is that there has been some pretty large consequences of the lack of proper analysis, testing, and implementation.
- Chairman Price has resigned as chair of the party after 2.5 years of service, effective as soon as a replacement is elected.
- The Nevada Democratic Party, who had planned to use Shadow, has now dropped the vendor.
- The Democratic National Committee Chair, Tom Perez, along with the Bernie Sanders campaign, have asked for a “recanvassing” check of votes.
- Thousands of extra volunteer and paid hours were needed to report the initial results and will be needed to assist with the recanvassing as well as the independent forensic review.
- The negative PR for the Iowa Democratic Party and the state of Iowa will likely result in Iowa losing its status as the first caucus state in the country, with a large impact to hotels, restaurants and other local vendors that benefited from the event. It is not unreasonable to assume this misstep has costed the IDP and the State of Iowa hundreds of thousands of dollars.
How the Caucus Chaos Could Have Been Prevented
The chaos that occurred in Iowa could have been fairly easily prevented. Following are the key components of successful technology assessment and implementation, and what may have been missing from the Iowa Caucus process:
Understand Your Need and Create a Vision for Success
What is driving the desire or need for the new system or tool? Are you solving an issue, creating efficiencies, or enhancing a process in another way? What will success look like? What will you be able to do that you cannot do now?
What was missing? While we won’t know for sure until after the independent review, I have to wonder if the IDP did what I see many other companies do…they go for the newest shiny object without truly analyzing the need and how the tool might fulfill it. Was it necessary to change the current system for caucus counting and reporting? What was the specific issue that needed to be addressed? If there was a challenge in the current process, or the IDP wanted to save time and create efficiencies by using an automated app, was a vision defined? How did they see a new tool working and what would success look like? They could then choose a tool to best fit that vision for success. Perhaps the IDP did spend some time on this component and was clear in their need and vision but faltered in a later step.
Implement a Needs Analysis
A formal Needs Analysis takes the component above – understanding need and vision – several steps further in that it provides a process for decision makers to gather information needed to select the optimal technology. The Needs Analysis will address:
- resources available and new resources needed to implement and maintain the tool, including human and financial resources, and timeline;
- any obstacles that could get in the way of implementation or maintenance of the tools;
- level of comfort with technology, leading to a better understanding of training needs;
- features needed, which can be gathered in a format such as “must have”, “nice to have”, and “not needed.”
What was missing? Did the IDP take the time to evaluate all of these steps prior to asking Shadow to develop the app for them? They may have been clear on their budget and the needed features, but it is clear that not enough time was spent discussing obstacles that could prevent effective implementation (such as the app not working when it is needed most!), training needs due to many users not having a high level of comfort with technology, and the impact of an unreasonable timeline for development, testing, and training. This could have all been addressed with an appropriate Needs Analysis.
Match the Need with the Technology
Once the Needs Analysis has been completed, it becomes much easier to match the appropriate technology tool with the need. There are many great resources to find and evaluate applications but what is most important is to find the tool that best matches the results of the Needs Analysis and to evaluate the strength, security, and longevity of the application’s creator and/or owner.
What was missing? Without the appropriate Needs Analysis, it was impossible for the IDP to know whether they were choosing the most optimal system. Based on a February 4, 2020 article from The Atlantic, there is evidence that this was a situation in which leaders in the IDP knew some of the leaders in Shadow’s company and that appeared to be enough to move forward with their application.
Develop the Project Plan
Once the optimal technology is chosen, it is time to develop a plan for successful implementation. There is too much involved with project planning to cover here (refer to Get Unstuck With a Simple Project Plan for project planning tips), but the importance of creating and following a technology implementation plan cannot be stressed enough.
What was missing? What wasn’t missing? I believe that due to the tight time frame involved, the IDP had no time to develop or carry out a successful project plan. Just a few of the pieces missing were: (1) time for testing the application, (2) training of all users, and (3) creation of backup plans for multiple situations.
Take a Holistic View of Technology
A holistic view of technology means looking at all of the systems currently used by an organization and determining how new technology will coordinate and compliment those systems. This is important for an efficient implementation of the new technology as well as continued effective use and maintenance.
What was missing? While I am not aware of all of the systems utilized by the IDP, one main obstacle that was not addressed was how to coordinate the use of the new application with those precincts that desired or needed to continue to use the old, manual method of reporting. It has been reported that the IDP assumed all volunteers would download the app with no issues, even though some did not receive instructions to do so until 2 days before the caucus. Staffing and technology needed to take the manual calls was not sufficient. Additionally, there was the issue with 2-factor authorization that was discussed earlier. Cell phones were not allowed in counting rooms, but 2-factor authorization within the technology required volunteers to have their cell phones to receive the security code. Understanding how the technology would need to coordinate with the use of cell phones was vital here.
What Have We Learned from the Iowa Caucus Chaos?
While the Iowa Caucus gaffe was certainly unfortunate and impactful, how many can say they have never been involved with an organization that has not made a similar mistake – rushing through decisions, not completing a thorough needs analysis, or not developing and following a project plan? In my work as a productivity consultant, I often find during new client discovery sessions that some of their productivity challenges are caused by the mistakes made in technology selection and/or implementation. Organizations ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to very small businesses struggle every day with the results of poor planning and decision-making resulting in thousands of hours and millions of dollars lost and frustrated management and employees. Additional time and money are then spent to clean up the mess and redo the process the right way.
Hopefully some good can come from the Iowa Democratic Party’s mistake, that is a larger awareness of the importance of following the steps for successful technology implementation. While it will take more time and effort upfront, we have learned that the consequences of not doing so can be much greater.
Let’s face it. While passwords serve the needed purpose of protecting our digital information, most times they can just be a pain. To be effective, passwords must be changed often, be unique to each application, and contain a good mix of letters, numbers and characters. And, they shouldn’t be written down! If done the right way, remembering all of our passwords and coming up with new, unique combinations is almost impossible. Below I share two simple strategies for making this mundane task easier and perhaps even inspiring.
1. Use a Password Manager such as LastPass, RoboForm, Dashlane, or Keeper. Password Managers store your log-in information for all the websites you use and allow you to log into them automatically. The master log-in for the secure and encrypted password database is the only one you have to remember. Password Managers not only store your log-ins in a secure environment, but can generate strong passwords for you or provide a strength score for your manually created passwords. PCMag has a great review of some of these managers.
2. An article from the website Medium.com suggests using passwords to inspire and motivate you towards a certain goal.
The author shares his story, “So there it was…This input field with a pulsating cursor, waiting for me to type a password that I’d have to reenter – many times – for the next 30 days. Then, letting all the frustration go…I thought, ‘I’m gonna to use a password to change my life.’
…My password became the indicator. My password reminded me that I shouldn’t let myself be a victim of my recent divorce and that I’m strong enough to do something about it.
My password became: “Forgive@h3r”
I had to type this statement several times a day. Each time my computer would lock. Each time my screen saver with her photo would appear. Each time I would come back from eating lunch alone. In my mind, I wrote Forgive her every day.
The simple action changed the way I look at my ex-wife. That constant reminder that I should forgive her, led me to accept the way things happened at the end of my marriage, and embrace a new way of dealing with the depression that I was drowning into. In the following days, my mood improved drastically.
One month later, my dear exchange server asked me again to renew my password. I thought about the next thing I had to get done. My password became: “Quit@smoking4ever.” And guess what happened. I’m not kidding you. I quit smoking overnight.
This is how I learned that I can truly change my life, if I play it right. I kept doing this repeatedly month after month, with great results…”
Source: Maurico Estrella. Medium (May 15, 2014), Medium.com.
What goals can you write into your passwords? I’d love to hear how your life is changed.
Recently, my Project Digital Sanity colleagues and I had the great opportunity to present to our peers at the NAPO conference in Phoenix. As part of this, we created a checklist for tackling the endless amount of digital information we receive daily. When we are overwhelmed by our digital information, it’s often difficult to know how and where to start to address the related challenges. Step back, take a deep breath, and visualize what digital sanity looks like for you. Then, walk through the checklist below to reach your vision step by step.
The Prodigitivity Approach™
- I have identified target areas for digital purging.
- I have set clear criteria for what to purge.
- I have a strategy for decluttering my digital desktop.
- I have a strategy for decluttering my email inbox.
- I have a strategy for purging my digital folders.
2. Develop Structure
- I have selected a context for my digital filing structure
- I have identified 5-7 top-level information buckets.
- I have a structure for current work on my digital desktop.
- I have determined standards for naming my folders.
- I have a plan to migrate files to my new structure.
- I know all of my points of entry to reduce/consolidate.
- I have criteria/tools to capture content in email.
- I have criteria/tools to capture web-based content.
- I have tools/processes to capture thoughts & notes.
- I have a strategy to convert paper assets to digital form.
- I have evaluated my digital documents’ life cycle.
- I have a mapping strategy for examining my workflow.
- I use a triage method for processing my email.
- I am investigating ways to automate my processes.
- I use a standard format for my task statements.
- I have naming standards for my documents and files.
- I am building proficiency in my search skills.
- My desktop is arranged for finding my current work.
- I use metadata, keywords and tags to find documents.
- I am aggregating information into accessible portals.
If you are interested in some assistance, accountability and motivation as you work through these steps, schedule time time today for your free phone assessment.
In the realm of digital information management, the storage and organization of photos may be one of the most difficult things to master. With digital cameras, we can now shoot an unlimited number of photos easily, and editing programs allow us to customize the look of photos in just about any way imaginable. In addition, the options for storing and organizing photos, and the features available within these programs, can make your head swim. To make the process more manageable, you should first answer some important questions.
1. How much space do you need to store digital photos? The size of a photo file can range from as low as .1 Mb to over 100 Mb depending on quality and use. Determine your average photo size and number of photos to determine the storage space you need now and in the future. Or if you have your photos currently stored in a folder, check the storage size of that particular folder to get a feel for your current needs. How might this grow over time?
2. Do you need to access your photos online? Will you be storing and accessing your photos from one computer, or would you like to be able to access them from any computer or mobile device? One construction client I worked with wanted to be able to view photos of projects while on the job-site. You may also want to use an online program as a way to back up or archive your photos. There are many good cloud-based programs for storing and organizing photos with varying features and price.
One example is a Google application called Picasa. One great feature of Picasa is the ability to store your photos on your computer’s hard drive for organization, renaming, tagging, face recognition, location information and basic editing. An automatic sync will then upload the photos to Google+ so that you can access them at photos.google.com using your Google account. Any changes you make to the photos in Picasa will continue to sync with your online albums. You can then also share your photos within your Google+ Circles. An added benefit is the ability to use a mobile app on your phone or tablet to upload any photos from these devices. Apps are available with both the Android and iOS systems. Of course, iPhoto is a similar program available on Apple devices with the ability to upload to the iCloud.
3. How often, if ever, do you need to order prints of your photos? If you order prints of your photos often, an online program such as Snapfish or Shutterfly may be a good solution. With these programs, you can store and organize your photos as well as perform basic editing features. But if you don’t continue to order prints, your photos will not be stored beyond a certain amount of time (typically one year).
4. Will you be doing professional editing of your photos? The programs mentioned so far allow editing features that are typically sufficient for the novice photographer. If your editing needs are more advanced, you can look at a program such as Adobe Photoshop Elements 12.
5. What is your budget? As mentioned, there are a wide range of solutions available and some are free. Price will increase with storage size, features available and the availability of advanced editing.
Note that many digital cameras come with their own organization and editing software. If you have basic needs for photo storage and organization, this may be a good solution.
I’d love to hear what you use for your photo organization and storage. Please share your comments on our Facebook page.
According to a 2012 infographic from Go-Golf.com, Americans spend 32 hours per month on the internet. Do you know that when you shop, research, surf and socialize online you may have several third-parties watching your every move? There are ways you can reduce the ability of these “stalkers” to follow you. Most importantly, be sure your firewall and anti-spam software is up to date and the internet privacy settings are appropriate for your needs.
An article in this month’s Money magazine* offers a few additional tips to cut down on internet stalking:
1. Cut the cookies. In your browser’s privacy settings, block third-party cookies to make it tougher for marketers to keep tabs on you. While there, check the “do not track” request, the online equivalent of a do-not-call list, says Joseph Lorenzo Hall of the Center for Democracy & Technology.
Here is a picture of my settings in the Mozilla Firefox browser after choosing Tools>Options>Privacy:
You may also set it to “never save your history” and remove cookies often.
Following are the steps for other browsers, from Business Insider:
Chrome: Chrome> Preferences> Settings> Advanced Settings> Privacy> Content Settings> Click, “Block Third Party Cookies and Site Data.”
Safari: Safari> Preferences> Security> Accept Cookies> select “never.” You might also want to consider browsing privately so your history and passwords are not stored, and thus accessible.
Internet Explorer 10: Microsoft’s latest version of Internet Explorer 10 will default to a “Do Not Track” position. The browser will send a signal to advertisers altering them that users do not want to be tracked.
2. See who’s watching. Visit a single site and you might pick up dozens of tracking tags that tail you on the web. The free browser extension Ghostery lets you see them and decide which to nix. For shutting out third-party ads, Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation suggest the free AdBlock Plus extension.
3. Get an email alias. Finding you online via your email address – obtained from your loyalty card, perhaps – marketers can link your online and offline behavior and solicit you accordingly. To prevent this, Stefen Smith of information security firm SecureForce advises setting up an email account solely for commercial transactions.
* “Shop Online, Unobserved” by Sarah Max, Money, July 2013, p. 22.