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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how Productivity Coaching can help you overcome overwhelm, get clear, and reach your goals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The 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.
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:
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.
Set all your clocks ahead by different times. It’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.
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.
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 thoughtfulagenda. 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 than 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 Do for 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 as The 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.
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.
Finally 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…
It’s 9:32am, and you are in your office. You just got off the phone with a client and have notes to deal with, you have a staff meeting at 10:00, you have 2 phone messages, the board meeting you are in charge of is in 3 days, your manager asked when the report she is waiting on will be done, and you need to make an appointment to get your oil changed. What do you work on right now?
How many times a day do you find yourself in a situation similar to this? Without clear priorities and a defined plan, we often find ourselves doing the wrong things or wasting time that could be spent on productive tasks. Email….Facebook…internet rabbit trails…urgent but low priority tasks…sound familiar?
Following are 3 important steps to take to be sure you are making the right choices with your time.
Step 1: Know your values and set clear goals and priorities.
Are you clear on your business and life goals and priorities? Without this basis, it is impossible to know whether you’re spending time on the “right” things? Set aside 20-30 minutes with a blank sheet of paper. Divide the paper into 5-7 categories, specific to your life and career, and determine 1-3 annual goals or priorities within each category. Keep this paper handy to refer to weekly, or even daily, as you plan your time.
Step 2: Schedule in weekly planning and daily review.
I recommend doing your weekly planning on Sunday evening or Monday morning. Based on the high-level categories and goals developed above, determine what your priority tasks are for the week. Use this time as a “brain dump” to get everything off your mind on paper (or in electronic form). Once you have a list of prioritized tasks for the week, that tie to your goals and values, determine where they fit into your calendar. In other words, what day will you work on the task? Is there a deadline you are working towards? Will it require time-blocking in your calendar? Drilling down to this daily task list will help you to determine if you will be able to reasonably accomplish your tasks within that week. You may decide to push a task into the future based on this. A tool that I like for this step is The Planner Pad, a planner created to work as a funnel for your tasks as described here.
At the beginning of each day, take a few moments to review your plan and make any needed changes.
Step 3: Determine “What will I work on right now?”
At every moment, you have three options for what to spend your time on:
Predefined work from your planning time above. In other words, tasks from your Step 2 planning. If you’ve done some time-blocking, you may already have an activity scheduled. Otherwise, take a quick look through your task list for the day and choose the one that makes the most sense at that point in time. Take into account the length of time you have – will you choose a short task to fill the 15 minutes before a meeting or will you choose a more focus-intensive task with an hour or more of available time. Evaluate your environment. Tasks in a quiet office or other location may differ from those in a noisy coffee shop.
Work as it shows up. Any new work that shows up should be evaluated for priority and placed into your system as appropriate.
Defining/processing work. This includes managing email, returning phone calls, filing or scanning, and your weekly and daily planning. It is important to schedule time in your day for these tasks.
When making the decision as to what to work on at any given point in time, a question you can ask is,” What will give me the highest payoff?” Sometimes it comes down to intuition based on the work and planning done in the three steps above. As an example, I knew via my weekly planning that I had a goal to work on my newsletter today. When I came to a time in my day in which I had one hour, in a quiet location, I decided to use that time to focus on writing this article.
While your days and weeks will not always go completely as planned, your preplanning via collection and processing should give you the comfort to make the right decisions at each point in time and trust in your actions. As David Allen, productivity expert and author of Getting Things Done, says, “You have more to do than you can possibly do. You just have to feel good about your choices.”