Get Unstuck with a Simple Project Plan

Get Unstuck with a Simple Project Plan

Have you ever read a book that changed your life? At the recommendation of several friends in the business world, I recently completed Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. Donald promises that after reading his book you will be able to “use the 7 elements of great storytelling to grow your business.” Before reading Building a Story Brand, I had never been excited about marketing. It does not come naturally to me, I am not good at it, and it is not fun for me….at least these have been my excuses for when I don’t put in the time and effort needed as a business owner.

The content of Building a Story Brand really struck a chord with me and provided me with a way to view “marketing” like I haven’t before, but this isn’t a book review. The truly eye-opening result of the book was that I was reminded of the importance of two things for any successful endeavor:

  1. A clear vision that resonates and
  2. a simple project plan.

While I had hired marketing experts in the past to assist me with specific pieces of my branding and marketing, I did not have an overriding plan that resonated with me. This book provided that for me. For someone who helps clients clarify their goals and develop customized productivity plans for a living, I’m embarrassed to admit it took this long to realize what I was missing!

Building a Plan for Productivity

What have you been procrastinating, or avoiding, in work or life? What projects have been slow-moving or “stuck” within your office or business? What reasons have you, or your team, used for not taking action? Could it be that you also need a clear, concise plan that resonates? Project plans not only provide the step-by-step tasks needed to reach your goals but can also help you “get unstuck” and motivate you and your team. (For more tips on tackling procrastination, check out “Reduce Procrastination with 3 Powerful Steps”.)

Parts of a Successful Project Plan

When creating or revising a plan, be sure to include the following important aspects:

Create a Vision for Success

What will the final result look like? How will success feel? What will you be able to do that you can’t do now? What drives you and your team towards this vision?

Determine Your Goals and Actions

Define the high-level goals that are needed to reach your end vision and put specific action steps behind them. Don’t make it too difficult at first – you can fine tune as you go.

Evaluate Your Resources

What human, technology, budgetary and other resources are needed to reach your goals?  What do you have now and what additional resources are needed?

Schedule Your Actions

Once you have your actions and resources defined, you can determine a schedule for completion. Consider choosing an end-date and working backwards. Or, choose intermediate deadlines for the high-level goals and then schedule your action steps to meet those dates.

Celebrate and Maintain Your Success

Celebration is a great bridge between project completion and maintenance. You will also need to determine how you will maintain your success.

Consider Your Risks and Obstacles

For most projects or goals, it’s also important to consider and discuss any risks and obstacles you might encounter along the way and how they’ll be addressed.

Just Get Started

The most important thing is to get started, or “just do it” as Nike® would say. If you don’t have a complete, detailed vision or if you aren’t yet sure of the resources needed for each goal or task, that’s okay. You can start with a good framework and add to it – or even change direction if needed – as you go. Start small to gain momentum. Don’t waste another day before tackling that project, writing your book, or getting healthier. Whatever your end goal, just jot down your vision, goals and tasks and take action!

P.S. If plan development isn’t your thing, I’d love to help. I’ll listen to your needs, help you fine-tune your vision and goals, and document the action steps needed to reach your vision. I can also remain by your side to provide support and accountability as you walk through your customized plan. Schedule your free 30 minute productivity assessment to see if productivity coaching is right for you.

Create Your Top 10, and Bottom 10, List

Create Your Top 10, and Bottom 10, List

One of the most successful exercises I have done related to time management is to create two written lists which help me focus, set priorities and ensure I am working on the right things. The first list states “10 Things I Want to Be Doing That I am Not Currently Doing” and the second list states “10 Things I am Doing that I Would Rather Not Be “.

The lists cover not only career related items, but personal items as well – anything that I feel will bring the appropriate balance, direction and focus to my life. Just the act of forcing myself to think through these lists, and write them down, taught me more about myself and my priorities then any prior exercise.

Gain Focus and Accountability

I then shared my lists with an accountability partner, who did the same. We talked through our lists and discussed how we might change our current situation to address the items on the lists. We then chose an item from each of our individual lists that we felt were not only high priority, but that could reasonably be achieved in the time we set for ourselves.

We continued to speak on a scheduled basis. We discussed our progress and when we were ready, choose another item from our lists to focus on until we spoke again. Forcing myself to write down BOTH lists gave me more focus and direction than I’d had in a long time. Knowing that I had a partner that was interested in my actions and goals kept me motivated. If I felt myself distracted or not sure what I should be working on, I could go back to my lists and conversation notes and once again become focused on what is most important.

Try It

Why not take 15 minutes and try this exercise for yourself. Create your two lists and find a partner to keep you focused and hold you accountable. I’m confident your productivity will increase as well. Let me know how it goes by coming back and commenting below.

Need an accountability partner? Shoot me an email at lori@alifemadesimple.com to learn more about how Productivity Coaching can help you overcome overwhelm, get clear, and reach your goals.

Decision-Making Made Simple

Decision-Making Made Simple

Clutter is delayed decisions – whether it be paper clutter, email clutter, mind clutter or any other type of clutter in your home or office. Piles start because you are postponing making a decision on an item…then another… then another… So how can we simplify the choices that we need to make each day?

Following are 5 tips to help simplify your decision-making and reduce your piles.

Delegate

What could be better done, or used, by someone else?  Choose those things that you love to do or love to look at and find someone else to take care of the rest.  If you need help determining what to handle yourself and what to delegate, or donate, don’t be afraid to call in a professional or an unbiased friend to assist.

Gain Perspective

Try to step back and see yourself as others see you in your situation.  This can serve as a reality check and open your eyes to things you have been avoiding.  If you are having trouble with this exercise, find someone you trust and ask for his or her opinion — but be ready for the answers and keep an open mind.

Use a Timer

When a task seems overwhelming, or when you find yourself spending all day researching a decision on the internet or clearing out your email inbox, a timer is a wonderful tool.  Set it for 10 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on the task.  Work diligently during this time to make the appropriate decision(s).  The task will seem less overwhelming and take much less energy.

Have a System

Having the appropriate systems and tools in place is very important in simplifying your decision-making.  For example, the ART System™ works wonderfully for addressing your paper and electronic “piles.” Every item should either be acted on (or delegated to someone else to act upon), filed away for future reference, or tossed. With effective tools in place that work for your needs and personality, these decisions become much simpler.

Let Go of Perfectionism

You might be surprised at how many of my clients are perfectionists. They say they are cluttered and disorganized because if something can’t be perfect, they don’t want to do it at all. Sound familiar?  As a recovering perfectionist myself, I completely understand this feeling. But sometimes you need to determine that ‘good is good enough’ and move on.  One way I have found to address this issue within my home is to hire a cleaning lady (see #1 – Delegate).  If I clean my own home, I would spend far too much time on the picky details, while she is not only much more efficient at cleaning my home, but she knows when good is good enough.

Another tip for addressing perfectionism is to repeat to yourself a phrase I learned from a mentor, Barbara Hemphill.  Barbara often says “Doing something is better than doing nothing at all.”  If I didn’t believe and live by this phrase every day, you might not be reading this article right now. Is it perfect? No. Is it good enough. I hope so.

5 Day-Changing Tips To Help You Arrive On Time

5 Day-Changing Tips To Help You Arrive On Time

Being late is rarely about just being late. Oftentimes, it’s related to fear of downtime and/or a lack of time management skills. We’re all given the same 24 hours in a day. Yet some of us have that polished capacity to arrive with enough time before morning meetings to brew a fresh coffee. While others’ scrambled entrance is flustered and chaotic.

Not that tardiness is always negative. In fact, according to Quartz, there’s an upside to being that person who’s always late: It means you’re incredibly optimistic. But wouldn’t it be considerably less stressful to see the glass half full while arriving on time? According to these five time-management tips from MakeSpace (a convenient alternative to self-storage units in Chicago, NYC, LA, and Washington, DC), it’s possible:

1. Plan your week before you’re in it

It’s all too often that we find ourselves at 2 PM on a Thursday, rushing to meet deadlines that seemed eons away on Monday morning. It’s this last-minute, “must-get-done-now” feeling that often leaks into our personal lives, and causes us to be late to other places. Combat that pressure by planning out your week on a Sunday night or Monday morning. Use a “brain-dump” to determine your high priorities, then figure out where they’ll fit into your calendar. This will make it easier to check off your weekly assignments, leaving space for any last-minute tasks that pop up. Which brings us to the second tip …

2.  Prioritize and schedule your most important tasks

The problem: You have a million things that came up last minute, all of which you know you need to complete by tomorrow. You also have a dinner party after work that your significant other begged you not to be late for (again).

Make Space 2The solution: Take advantage of some free time in the evening before, and jot down a to-do list.

Sounds like a no brainer, right? But here’s the kicker:

Give each task on that to-do list a sub-deadline. Break down each big, important task (your “Most Important Tasks,” or M.I.T.) into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then, give those smaller tasks a time limit. HubSpot uses the typical M.I.T. example of creating a slideshow presentation. Breaking it down into sub-deadlines would look like this:

“9:00 – 10:00 am: outline the presentation

10:00 – 11:30 am: write copy for the presentation

11:30 – 12:30 pm: create all images for the presentation

12:30 pm: lunch w/ Jack”

Keep your sub-deadline schedule nearby, or in a web-based app like 42goals. Or set a timer for each task to keep you alert and attentive. Studies have shown the Pomodoro technique to be highly effective for this. It works like this:

  • Work for 25 minutes, known as one “pomodoro.” Rest for five minutes. After you finish four pomodori, take a longer break to recharge.
  • You can alter the time according to your own personal attention span. Test the technique out on yourself with Moosti.

These small but powerful swaps will hold you accountable to yourself, and keep your personal timing in check.

3. Hope for the best — but expect the worst

Remember what we said about the overlap between optimism and chronic tardiness? Here’s where it’s helpful to keep that idealism in check: Elite Daily notes that people who are optimistic are often late because they believe they can do more things with the time they have.

Let’s say Tom Tardy has 45 minutes for his 40-minute commute. As an optimist, he truly believes those extra five minutes can be used to pop into his favorite coffee shop. And while we don’t want to rain on Tom’s parade – there’s plenty of upsides to being an optimist, like a significantly high health score – there are some tweaks he can make to be more attentive. He could take into account that the coffee shop might have a longer line than usual, for example. Or that traffic is heavy today. Or that he’s running low on gas. And given that he’s on a time crunch, Tom would be better off without trying to squeeze any extra tasks in. By leaving early enough to “plan for trouble,” Tom staves off any potential issues that could stand in between him and arriving on time.

Make Space 34. Embrace a daily routine

What do Anna WintorOprah, and the German public transportation system have in common? They all have a routine they stick to, which allows them to always be on time. Getting into the swing of a routine that works for your lifestyle will allow for structure that fosters punctuality.

5. Try these four life hacks for an extra productivity boost

If all else fails and you’re still struggling to arrive on time, try some of these simple hacks:

  1. Clutter hurts your productivity. So, declutter your entryway. Then designate a spot by the door to hold all your daily must-haves like keys, your wallet, a backup umbrella, and reading materials for the commute. You can grab stuff without wasting any time searching, or making sure you have everything. That extra 30 seconds could be the difference between missing and making your train.
  1. Set all your clocks ahead by different timesIt’s the age-old procrastinator trick, with a twist. Set your oven’s clock five minutes ahead, your microwave three, your living room clock seven, etc. You’ll trick yourself into leaving on time, since you won’t be certain which clock actually has the right time.
  1. Use a special alarm so you never miss a morning meeting again. You can use an alarm that tracks your sleep and wakes you up when you’re in your sleep cycle’s prime. Or use “the world’s most annoying alarm app” that won’t stop ringing until you’ve taken a photo … outside of your bedroom.
  1. Schedule built-in overflow time. Just as you should give yourself plenty of time to arrive somewhere, schedule plenty of time on your calendar for tasks. This simple tweak just might be your superpower secret to solving any mid-morning crises that threaten to overtake your day. Like your monthly expense report that was due yesterday.

Life Made Simple would like to thank MakeSpace for this excellent guest blog post. I will definitely be taking some of these tips to heart!  Check out the MakeSpace website for a simple and innovative way to move and store your furniture and other items.

Tips for Effective Meetings

Tips for Effective Meetings

A recent survey by management software developer AtTask and market research firm Harris Interactive asked 2000 office workers how they spend their time each day. Results showed that 7% of our time at work is spent in wasteful meetings. In fact, 45% of those surveyed feel time spent in wasteful meetings is the largest contributor to lost productivity. Meetings are necessary for communication and collaboration, but how do we ensure that the time spent is not wasted?

Before the Meeting: Never schedule a meeting without a thoughtful agenda. In fact, businesses and teams should have an agenda template that is used for all meetings. The template should obviously include logistics like date, start and end time, and location. The agenda should also assign a meeting leader and list others invited. Attendees should include only those that will benefit from or provide value to the meeting. The agenda should state an objective for the meeting to ensure the meeting has a clear purpose and expected outcome.

Finally, the agenda should list the topics for presentation, review and/or discussion. Times for each meeting topic should also be determined and shared to allow attendees to prepare based on the amount of time devoted to each. If an attendee needs more time for a certain topic, this can be adjusted prior to the meeting.@JamiePrip suggests limiting the number of items on your agenda to big picture topics for the organization. In addition, he warns meetings that are open ended tend to go longer then they need to.

Agenda templates can be built in a document program such as Microsoft Word, in your email/calendar program, or use a pre-built agenda in an application such as Dofor Apple products or cloud-based tools Worklife and Minute.  Agendas should be shared with meeting attendees several days prior to the meeting to allow for sufficient preparation (jamieprip.com).

During the Meeting: The meeting leader’s responsibilities are to ensure the meeting starts and ends on time and to keep the meeting on track. If a topic is going longer than planned, table it for a future meeting in order to get through your agenda on time.  If a topic is going off-track, pull it back to focus. A timer, such asThe Time Timer, can provide a visual reminder.  Have someone assigned to take notes during the meeting, including top points of resolution or non-resolution and any future action items. The applications mentioned above (Do, Worklife and Minute) include features to assign and track tasks resulting from the meeting.  Before adjourning, summarize results and next steps. Time for this should be built into the agenda.

As an attendee,  you may also take notes during the meeting. These notes are likely more personal to your responsibilities and actions. Circle, highlight or star actionable items so that they are easy to pull from your notes after the meeting.

After the Meeting: Meeting notes and next actions should be stored in a central location and shared with attendees and others as appropriate. Any “next steps” should be clear and include target dates and names. Individual tasks from the full meeting notes, as well as any highlighted in personal notes, should immediately be added to your project and/or task management system.

In summary, there are 5 key steps to an effective meeting:
1. Have a Clear Objective
2. Create a Thoughtful Agenda
3. Assign a Meeting Leader
4. Assign a Note Taker / Task Manager
5. Summarize Results and Next Steps

If you are missing even one of these steps, your meeting can quickly turn from productive to wasteful.

The Superman: Goal Achieved

The Superman: Goal Achieved

A couple months ago, my two daughters and I had the chance to do something I never thought I’d do. Typically, my fear of heights and “mother instinct” would have prevented me and my girls (ages 9 and 12) from experiencing one of the best adventures of our lives. But thanks to Vallarta Adventures, I overcame my fear and accomplished The Superman, the longest and fastest zipline in Mexico. What did Vallarta Adventures do? To answer simply, they started small.

After the one hour journey into the jungle, our guides suited us up with our helmets, harnesses and gloves and provided general instructions for the day’s adventures. We then headed out for our first zipline. While I was a bit nervous, I also knew that children over the age of 8 were able to partake in this Extreme Adventure experience, so how bad could it be? The first zipline was pretty low-stress for most as we started on a platform overlooking a gradual decline, not a straight drop-off as I had imagined. As the day went on, the ziplines gradually became longer and higher. Additional adventures such as climbing a steep rope wall, repelling from a tree branch, walking a tightrope between two trees, and jumping from a platform attached only to a “bungee swing” provided the group with increased bravery and trust as the day progressed.

Goal AchievedFinally we came upon our last zipline, The Superman. By this time, I had complete trust in our guides, the equipment, and my own judgment that my children and I would be safe. If we would have been asked to do the Superman first, or even earlier in the day, I likely would have told the guides they were crazy. But because they started small and gradually built us up, even though the course was still a little scary, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we would all ride the longest and fastest zipline in Mexico. Their process resulted in an end goal that was achievable, low stress and fun.

What adventures or goals are you missing out on because of fear, anxiety, stress or overwhelm? How can you apply Vallarta Adventure’s process to your work or your life? Maybe you would like to be more organized or productive, but have obstacles keeping you from getting started. Perhaps you have a career or business goal that seems out of reach. What is one small action you can take towards reaching your vision? Perhaps it is making that first phone call to set up a meeting, tackling a pile of papers on your desktop or signing up for a class related to your goal. After that one action is complete, what is your next action, and the next? Step by step, you will start to gain confidence and trust, and your vision will become clearer. Soon, you will be flying…