There is no question this is a busy time of year. But as we near the end of 2023, there are still a few things you can do to close out the year and prepare for a successful 2024.
1. Spend time on office “maintenance. Schedule a few days to catch up on filing, update your contact database, organize your receipts for the year (send them to Shoeboxed and let them take care of it for you!), empty your email inbox, and/or scan in those piles of paper (I recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1600 for PC or Mac for this task.) I like to use the last week of the year for these maintenance items. Spending some time to maintain your office productivity systems will help you feel you can start the New Year fresh and accomplish your goals.
2. Fill a bag for donation. Get a trash bag (or box depending on the type of items) and take 10-15 minutes to fill it with items to donate. Drop them off at a shelter, church, Goodwill, Salvation Army, or the charitable organization of your choice before the end of the year to receive your 2023 tax deduction. Help others that may not be as blessed during the holidays and clear out your space at the same time.
3. Crush what’s left of 2023. Plan the remainder of your year to help you prioritize and be intentional about how you want to spend this busy time. Brainstorm a list of personal and work tasks you want to accomplish before yearend. Be sure to review your 2023 goals to determine what is left to accomplish and determine if and how you will do so. Once you have a list of tasks, schedule them. With about 6 weeks remaining in the year, when will you focus on each task? Check out the ProAction Planner as a helpful tool for planning and scheduling.
4. Reflect on the year. Review the good and bad from 2023. What went well? Where did you find challenges? What will you continue doing, start doing, and/or stop doing in 2024? Download and complete our Year in Review Template, using the button below, to help you through the process.
5. Create your 2024 goals. Determine three to five goals for 2024. Why are these goals important? What strategies will you use to reach your goals? What tools or resources do you need to accomplish them? Check out our past blog, Goal Setting is Hard, for more goal-setting tips.
While each of these takes some time and focus, the value received is well worth it. Be sure to schedule them in before your end-of-year calendar is full.
“I’ve tried time blocking in the past and it’s never worked for me.”
This was a recent statement from a client who I was helping with time management. Once we dug in more, we found it wasn’t that time blocking was an ineffective method, but that it wasn’t being applied in the most ideal way for him. This isn’t an uncommon complaint. In fact, even David Allen, productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, used to argue against time blocking. He preferred a simple calendar with only the necessary appointments and deadlines. But eventually, he realized time blocking can work well for many people and even began practicing it himself.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what time blocking is, who can benefit (*hint* – everyone!), and how it might work best for you. I also share tips, tools, and resources to support your time-blocking habits.
Wikipedia defines Time Blocking as:
“A productivity technique for personal time management where a period of time—typically a day or week—is divided into smaller segments or blocks for specific tasks or to-dos. It integrates the function of a calendar with that of a to-do list. It is a kind of scheduling.”
While I agree with this definition of time blocking, there is much more to it than this.
Who should use a time-blocking technique?
Time blocking is best used for people who:
- Have a busy schedule and need to be very intentional about how they use their time,
- Have a fairly open schedule that can be wasted away if time is not blocked to work on specific tasks and projects (aka Parkinson’s Law),
- Reach the end of a day or week feeling stressed and unaccomplished, wondering where the time went,
- Juggle multiple areas of work and life,
- Struggle to find time for focus and big-picture thinking,
- Deal with constant interruptions, or
- Spend too much time “reacting” to the day’s urgencies.
If we are honest, isn’t this all of us at one point or another? I believe that some form of time blocking can work for almost everyone. The key is finding the method, or combination of methods, that works best for you.
Types of Time Blockers
While there are many different ways to apply time blocking to your calendar, we can simplify it by looking at three key methodologies.
1. The Serious Blocker divides their day into specific blocks of time, each dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks. They start each day, or week, with a concrete schedule that lays out what they will work on and when. A serious blocker will work to bunch related tasks (i.e. “task batching”) such as email processing, social media creation, or phone calls, into one block.
In addition, the serious blocker lumps meetings together. That way, they can spend larger chunks of time on focused projects and tasks versus shorter amounts of time spread between meetings throughout the day. This type of time blocking requires more work upfront, and potential cooperation from others, to reschedule meetings that will better fit your ideal schedule.
2. The Flexible Blocker applies time blocking in a broader way, with more general blocks that are flexible depending on what comes up throughout the day. This works well when your days are less predictable and require a more “reactive” approach (e.g. a customer service specialist). Some argue that these types of schedules aren’t compatible with time blocking, but when your workday is often run by outside forces, it’s easy to lose sight of your own goals. Even a simple version of time blocking can help you gain a greater sense of control over unpredictable schedules. You can still block off time for your “reactive work,” and then be more intentional about time during the day that allows for some planning and control (regardless of how little).
3. The Time Themer chooses themes for work they will do during certain time blocks. This is the most open-ended version of time blocking. “Day theming” is the most popular example where you choose a theme for each day of the week. For example:
Any open time is spent on that day’s area of focus. Day theming minimizes the choices you need to make about what to work on throughout the day. You look to your theme and choose tasks based on that theme.
You can also use time theming to break up your day by assigning themes to blocks of time throughout the day. An example of this would be:The schedule may be the same every day or may differ throughout the week. In the example above, Tuesday and Thursday have the same “themed schedule” while the other days look different. In the resources section below I share a template called My Productive Week that can be of great assistance in defining your daily “theme blocks.”
Most people do not fit perfectly into one time theming option but instead use a combination. For example, having a schedule of daily themes can make it easier to determine what tasks to put into working time blocks when using the “serious” or “flexible” blocking methods.
The Benefits of Time Blocking
While it takes some work, and potentially a change in mindset, the following benefits of time blocking show the value of this time management methodology.
- Your need to make decisions at every point in time throughout the day is minimized because your schedule is pre-defined. This saves time and energy throughout your week.
- If you get easily distracted or off-track, a time-blocked calendar will help to pull you back into focus. In addition, time blocking helps to fight multi-tasking allowing you to focus all of your energy on one thing at a time.
- You will get more realistic about how long things take. We often underestimate the time tasks and activities take, and this is a concrete way to see that. This will get better over time.
- When you see your priorities laid out in your finite calendar, you can more easily say “no” to those things that don’t fit.
- You are more likely to accomplish your goals if you schedule specific, intentional time to work on them.
- It will be easier to relax during your leisure time as you know you have a plan to get everything done.
“A 40 hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”
– Cal Newport, Author of Deep Work –
Tips for Effective Time Blocking
Below are key things to consider when working to design and maintain your own time-blocking routine.
- Build your time-blocking methodology into regular weekly planning. Look at your upcoming schedule, deadlines, and tasks and fit it all together to create a week that takes into account your goals, priorities, and commitments.
- Review your schedule daily and reset your week as necessary.
- Your routines and habits should be incorporated into your time blocks.
- Leave a time block for an overflow of tasks that take longer than expected or for unexpected appointments or to-dos that come up during the week.
- Once your week is planned, make intentional choices when straying from that plan.
- Leave space between, or within, blocks for transition, travel, time, and necessary breaks.
- Bunch your urgent but less important work together and dedicate a pre-determined amount of time to it. This allows for longer, uninterrupted time for focused work.
- Consider your daily rhythms in your schedule. When are you most energetic, productive, or focused?
- Evaluate your time-blocking schedule regularly and make needed changes.
- When scheduling time blocks for focused work, find a quiet location free of interruptions and/or block notifications on your computer and phone.
- Consider whether you want to block time on weekends (or other non-working days). You may want to leave these times open to allow freedom and flexibility with leisure time.
Most importantly, remember your time-blocked schedule is a guide to assist you with creating your most productive week. If you try to stick to it perfectly, especially at first, you will get overwhelmed when things come up that cause needed changes to your schedule. Review, reset with intentional decisions, and move forward. You might look at time blocking as a game or a puzzle. How can I fit it all in the most optimal way? But as with any game, you will make mistakes, learn along the way, and get better with practice.
Time Blocking Resources
The following resources can help you create your own time-blocked schedule.
- My Productive Week Template
I have created this tool as a template to build your “puzzle” for your time-blocked weekly calendar. It is to be used as a guide – along with your weekly schedule, goals, and tasks – for your weekly planning. The template can be completed digitally or printed.
- The ProAction Planner:
If you prefer to do your weekly planning with a paper planner, which allows for better mental processing and decision-making, the ProAction Planner is a tool to support all of the important areas of planning and time management. A paper planner provides an easy visual that stays in front of you throughout your day. If using a paper planner, I recommend using a writing instrument that allows for change throughout the week. My tool of choice is the Frixion Clicker Erasable Gel Pen, in multiple colors.
- Online Calendar (Outlook, Google, Other)
Whether or not you use a paper planner for weekly planning, the majority of us use an online calendar to keep track of our meetings and appointments. If you choose to use an online calendar for time-blocking, consider color-coding the blocks of time you wish to be flexible. I like to color my movable time blocks with yellow and mark them as “free.” Also consider those time blocks that you want to protect, mark them as busy, and consider them a meeting with yourself.
- Pomodoro Technique and Tools
The Pomodoro Technique is a method in which you focus for timed periods with short breaks between blocks. Learn more about this technique on their website and search for apps like this one to support the technique.
If you are interested in some assistance in determining and implementing the right time-blocking solution for you, please reach out. I’d love to help.
Do you like to listen to podcasts or audio books when you travel? Are you an audio learner and would rather listen to a book than read it? I often get requests from clients for recommendations of what to listen to related to productivity and time management. While I have a handful of these I typically recommend, I decided to reach out to my colleagues, fellow Productivity Consultants and Coaches, to see what they enjoy listening to and recommend to others.
The following list, available as a download, provides links to 18 podcasts and 10 audiobook recommendations. All relate to areas of productivity in work and life such as time management, habits, leadership principles, business growth, efficiency, focus, prioritization, and more. Some you may have heard of but I think others will surprise you.
Let us know if we are missing any of your favorites!
Maybe you’ve wondered if the fancy stand-up desk your company purchased for your colleague is a waste of money and just the latest “shiny object.” Or perhaps you’ve considered one for your home office but aren’t really sure if the claims of increased health and productivity are true. A study from Texas A&M University found that employees who used sit-stand desks were 46% more productive than those at traditional desks. In addition, numerous research studies show that too much sitting can cause a decrease in overall health and productivity. Apparently this latest “shiny object” is here to stay. A team at ConsumersAdvocate.org recently researched the most popular standing desk models and found which ones lead the market based on features, affordability, and customer experience. In addition, they offer some helpful tips when looking for standing desks, outlining the important features, warranty options, and how to properly use them.
Tips for Choosing a Desk
- Test the theory. See if you like standing while you work. Use your kitchen counter, your washing machine, or any other surface that’s ergonomically correct for your body. Chances are, you may even have a friend who uses a standing desk; see if you can use it for a couple hours before spending the money to invest in your own.
- Check out maximum height. Desks should accommodate a wide variety of body types, so make sure they can reach at least 48 inches, with a 20-inch sit-to-stand range, which is ergonomically okay for anyone up to 6 feet 7 inches.
- Look for great warranties. A standing desk can be a major expense, especially for companies looking to furnish their offices — one desk can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to $4,000. For those more expensive desks, be sure it offers a frame and electronics warranty of at least five years.
- Make sure the desks are easy to assemble. How will the desk arrive? In how many boxes? How quick and easy will it be to assemble?
Using Your New Desk
Once you’ve chosen and assembled your standing desk, it’s important you are using it properly. Did you know there is a right way and a wrong way to use a standing desk? Ergonomics are key. The top of your monitor should be at or just below eye level (make sure your head isn’t angled down), and your eyes should be 20 to 28 inches from the screen. Keep your upper arms close to your body, your wrists straight, and your hands at or below wrist level. The table height of a standing desk should be at or slightly below elbow height — basically make a 90-degree angle with your elbow. Your head, neck, and torso should be in line, and your keyboard and mouse should be at the same level. Got that? If not, here’s a graphic that sums it all up, courtesy of CustomMade.
Remember to Move
There are downsides to sitting too long and also to standing too long. Purchasing a standing desk won’t solve these problems unless you remember to change your posture. From the words of Dr. Lucas Carr, an expert in physical activity promotion and sedentary behaviors, “Our bodies were designed to move periodically throughout the day. I advise people to stand up, stretch, and take a short walk (if possible) if you feel you’ve been sitting for too long.”
If you would like to learn more about which standing desks ConsumersAdvocate.org chose as their top picks check out the rest of their guide here.
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.
Recently I decided it was about time to clean the crumbs from my computer keyboard and couldn’t believe the amount of dust and particles that shot out from under the keys. While carrying out this small task, I noticed my screen was embarrassingly spotted and smudged as well. This spurred me to do a little research into the appropriate cleaning and maintenance of these valuable tools we use for many hours on a daily basis. Follow this checklist to ensure your desktop computer and laptop are clean, allowing for a more sanitary work environment as well as a longer-lasting system.
What you need:
- Lint-free or microfiber cloths
- Isopropyl rubbing alcohol
- Distilled water
- Labels and zip-ties for cords
- Compressed air
1. Cord management. Before cleaning, all affected cords should be unplugged. As you unplug each one, dust or wipe it down with a microfiber cloth dampened with isopropyl rubbing alcohol if needed. Then, label the cord with label each cord with a labeler or peel-and stick-labels. Group labels together by location (e.g. all peripherals together) and use zip-ties to hold them together and keep them from getting tangled with others. Don’t group power cables with speaker wire. After the remaining steps are complete, you can then plug everything back in. Note: If you are not using a surge protector, this is a good time to purchase one. If lighting strikes it can cause an excess amount of electricity to reach your computer resulting in severe damage.
2. Clean your keyboard. First, hold the keyboard upside down over a sink or trash can and lightly hit the bottom to knock out larger crumbs and particles. Then, spray between the keys with a can of compressed air to get the remaining dust, crumbs and hairs. Finally, use a small amount of rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip to clean grease off the surfaces and in between each key. (I even read that you can put your keyboard in the top rack of the dishwasher with any cords wrapped in a plastic bag, but I am not recommending this – try at your own risk.)
3. Clean your mouse. While you can dampen a lint-free cloth with rubbing alcohol to clean the outside of the mouse, be sure that cleaning solutions never come in contact with the optical sensor at the bottom of the mouse or the battery case (for wireless peripherals).
4. Clean your monitor. Wipe your screen gently with a microfiber cloth. If that doesn’t do enough, you can mix a solution using one-half 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and one-half distilled water. Or, you can purchase a screen cleaning spray or electronic cleaning wipes from any computer store or office supply retailer. DO NOT USE Windex or paper towels to clean LCD screens.
5. Keep it cool. A heated computer will run slower. There are two ways to keep a computer from overheating. First, make sure any vents are located away from objects that may block the flow of air. Second, keep the inner components free of dust, hair, carpet fibers and other materials. Regularly clean them with compressed air or a very lightly-powered vacuum (about the power of a leaf blower). You can even use something like the Metro Vacuum ED500 DataVac 500-Watt 0.75-HP Electric Duster 120-Volt, specially designed for electronic equipment. Be sure to hold the fan blades with your finger or a pencil so that it doesn’t spin while cleaning. Also, never use cleaners or other liquids on your computer components. (To open your computer’s hard-drive for cleaning, refer to the owner’s manual or online instructions).
Now that the outside of your computer is in tip-top shape, spend a little time cleaning the internal operational systems for even better performance.