Time Management Strategies that Work

timers

Time management is such a funny phrase.  We all banter it about like we understand it, but really what does it mean?  My definition of Time Management is getting done what you have to do so there is time to do what you want to do. There is such a wealth of information and tools to help manage your time – but as with everything I espouse IF IT’S NOT EASY, IT’S TOO HARD.

What works?  Here are some simple strategies you can implement starting now:

  • Set meetings with start and end times:  When setting appointments, meetings and networking don’t just set a start time SET AN END TIME.  If I’ve budgeted an hour for a coffee meeting and the person I’m meeting budgets two than one of us is going to be disappointed.  When setting meetings make it clear: “I’ve got us down from 1 pm to 2 pm”
  • Stay in control of interruptions: You don’t have to answer the phone when it rings – but if it is someone you want to talk to there are techniques that you can use that will keep you from getting off course.  State up front how much time you have (or want to invest): “I’ve got 20 minutes” 
  • Give your work a time budget.  Just like you know how much money you’ll spend for an item ($18 entrée – okay …$38 entrée – too much) think about how much time is reasonable to spend on a specific task (1 hour ok…3 hours too much).  If I have deemed a project to be worth one hours’ worth of time not only will I set a timer for an hour to cue me to stop, but I’ll set another for 45 minutes, so I know when I have 15 minutes left.  Always ask yourself “how much time is this task worth?”

When determining your time commitment keep in mind Pareto’s Principal (the 80/20 guy I talk about all the time.) You will accomplish 80% of your work in 20% of the time.  That means if you meet someone for coffee/lunch/networking you’ll have held the most important parts of the conversation in the first hour, anything additional contributes minimally.

Getting Daunting Tasks Done

Getting Things Done

Most people rely on their internal compass to get their important tasks done. But what happens when that internal compass doesn’t motivate you ENOUGH for you to get started?

Sometimes deadlines or bosses exert enough external pressure to complete the task, but other times even that isn’t enough. Add to this, that the more time passes, the worse the incomplete tasks make you feel, and the task becomes even more daunting.

How can you get those daunting tasks done?

Understanding which tasks are hard for you to complete and which aren’t is a good first step.  When planning your daily work break your tasks into two columns “hard to complete” and “fun, easy or not so hard.”

  1. Start with an easy task to stimulate your brain. Take advantage of the “pleasure seeking” chemicals and as soon as you finish the easy/fun task move to one of the “harder to complete tasks.” The hardest part of getting these tasks done is getting started, so alternate the hard tasks with the easy/fun tasks and take advantage of the “high” you get from the easy/fun tasks.
  2. Don’t go it alone – Meet a friend at Panera or at the Library and work on your “hard” project alone – together. (Officially, this is called body-doubling.)
  3. Break the “hard” project down into small little parts. Commit to doing the first two parts.  You may find once started you’ll happily complete the task.
  4. Chose a “Zen” environment – sometimes clearing space and removing distractions is very helpful as is playing soothing music or changing locations. Weather permitting try working outside.
  5. Think about how good it will feel to not have the pressure of the project weighing on your mind. Consider that it feels worse to not do it than it feels to do it.

Making Change Stick

Making Change Stick

I recently attended a workshop with Alan Weiss, The Million Dollar Consultant. He discussed how to successfully change habits.  He stated that if you change one thing at a time you have a 92% chance of success.  If you change two things at once your chance of success declines to 53%.

What does that mean for your productivity?  It means take it one step at a time. Take the time to integrate each change before adding something new.  Don’t rush.  Be kind to yourself.

Instead of changing your calendar, your task system, your schedule, and your paper systems all at once, change one thing at a time.  Integrate it, be comfortable with it, get it right.  Only when it has become a part of your routine should you make another change. It’s a slow process, but better slow and steady than back where you started.

SMART Intentions for a NEW Year

Happy New Year loyal weekly tip readers:

I know I’ve been gone a while. I’ll be honest and tell you I didn’t write much last year because I didn’t feel I had much new to say.  I’m tired of all the content clutter out there…the same stuff over and over again.  I will not waste your time with that.  I will write this year when I have new thoughts that I think you would find valuable.  I hope that will be often.

Many of you signed up to receive my weekly tip years ago when I wrote exclusively about organizing. I have evolved and so has what I’ll share. I will be writing this year about organizing, productivity, and leadership as they relate to quality of life and making life easier.

This week I want to share with you my alternative to New Year’s resolutions and goals.  This year I want to ask you to consider writing down your intentions.  For many years people wrote about SMART Goals with the SMART meaning Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.  I’m asking you to throw that out the window and write your SMART Intentions.  Here’s a graphic I made to help you:

SMART Intentions
SMART Intentions for a NEW Year

Consider what you want for 2016.  Set your intentions today and I am sure you will indeed have a happy NEW year.

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Traveling for the Holidays? How Can You Get Away Without The Stress?

It’s surprising to see how many of my clients are traveling at this time of year. So much is going on that sometimes people tell me they wonder if it is even worth the effort to get out of town.  Add to that the stress of re-entry and it’s no wonder our vacations don’t do such a good job of sustaining us.  Of course I have a solution – and it is in that old fashioned form of a list.

I’m all about lists supporting you in getting the right things done, and we do that by creating zones in the list.  For travel the list I suggest looks like this:

Get Out of Town with Peace
Get Out of Town with Peace

 

To make it work for you do as follows:

  • Find a note pad
  • Divide it into 4 sections and label them as follows:
    • Must Do Before – put tasks here that MUST be done or you can’t get on the plane
    • Like To Do Before – put tasks here that would help you enjoy your trip more if you were to get them done before you leave
    • Do ASAP When Home – put tasks here that really need to be done when you get home
    • Do When Home – put the other stuff you think of here
  • Focus on the “Must Do Befores.” If you get those done move to the “Like To Do Befores”

Like everything else, when you are clear about what’s most important then doing it is easier.  And when you get on the plane you will feel peace.  Hope you have a great trip.

Drive Your Important Work with a Good Delegation System and Evernote

Done with Evernote
Done with Evernote

Delegation is sharing some of your responsibilities with the people that work with you.  The leader who is not delegating is trying to do it all, and we know how well that works out… There is only one of you and your job isn’t to do everything, it’s to drive the important work.

Just as setting priorities for ourselves is critical to goal achievement, helping our team learn to set priorities is critical too (this works at work, at home and in volunteer settings.)

Delegating priority tasks is great, but without follow up and accountability it almost seems that delegating is more trouble than it’s worth.  However, when done well it’s a game changer. All of a sudden you are free to drive forward.

A good delegation system has the following components:

  1. Delegate clearly – specifically identify the what, the how and the when
  2. Confirm understanding – ask the assignee to repeat back the assignment to ensure that you’ve been as clear as you need to be
  3. Be available – your job is now to mentor and support.  If there are questions, the assignee needs to feel safe coming to you for direction
  4. Follow up – if you don’t hold the assignee and YOURSELF accountable the assignment will not make it to the top of anyone’s priority list.

My accountability partner of choice for delegating is Evernote.  Evernote has some great features that makes it an ideal follow-up tool:

  • Working from your computer you can add a table to an Evernote.
  • The check box helps you keep current on completion status
  • You can add to and change your list from your computer, tablet or smartphone
  • You can add new tasks to the top or insert rows and columns as needed
  • You can create a completed tasks table or simply delete them.
  • You can create multiple notes for different people on your team and use this as your guide each time you meet with them.

evernote task list

Nothing beats follow-up for motivating completion of a delegated task.  Let Evernote help.

How to Increase Productivity and Keep Your Email from Taking Over Your Life

email
email

We seem to live in a world of 2 email camps:

  • NEVER look at your email first thing in the morning
  • ALWAYS look at your email first thing in the morning

The “NEVERS” believe that if you get caught up in email minutia you will not get your most important work.

The “ALWAYS” believe that if you don’t know what’s lurking and clear up the “must-dos” than you may miss something important.

I suspect that some of this has to do with the type of work you do and the kind of responsibilities you have.  For those that work globally, email may in fact be your primary means of communication.  For those of us in the service business we communicate with our clients via email and I personally, could NEVER not be an “ALWAYS.”

HOWEVER, it isn’t this cut and dry.  It isn’t about ALWAYS or NEVER.  Like everything, the answer lies in the grey zone.  The question is: What systems can be put in place to ensure that email doesn’t take over your life?  I’ve tried a lot of different things, and I’ve worked with my clients to try different things.  As with ALL organizing, there is no such thing as one size fits all, and no one system ALWAYS works for the same person ALL the time.  Different circumstances require different systems.  Here are a few you may want to consider:

  • Set the Timer: Commit one hour to email at the start of each day.  After the hour, shut down your email until later. (Perhaps 30 minutes before lunch, 30 minutes after lunch and another chunk of time at the end of the day).
  • 3 and Done: Review your emails deleting irrelevant emails as you read.  Select the 3 most important emails to respond to and process them.  Then turn off your email and go to work.
  • Plan first – review 2nd: The very first thing you do when you get to your desk is review your priorities and select the 3 most important things you must accomplish that day.  Perhaps processing your email is one of those 3 most important things.  It may be strategically appropriate to spend an entire morning processing email.
  • Plan your email around your calendar: If you take the train to work, train time can be great email processing time (hope you have a connection on your train), if you have a lot of phone calls with gaps in between those are great email processing time. Email doesn’t take ramp up time – project work does, fit email in the nooks and crannies.
  • Organize by Priorities: Just like your work has critical tasks so does your email.  By organizing them you will know what is most important. (http://www.ellenfaye.com/blog/2013/01/22/reducing-email-stress/#more-48).

Other tips:

  • turn off the notifications that pops up telling you you have an email each and every second.  No matter how un-ADD you are, this is bound to take you off task.
  • Google has an amazing timer built into their web search bar.  Type Timer 1 hour or Timer 30 minutes (or however much or little you want) and you’ll get a great notification pop up after that amount of time (try it now with a minute – you’ll love it).

Understand that you have way too much email and that if you try to make it black and white, you will NEVER get it right and ALWAYS feel stressed.

“Work Before Play” Just Doesn’t Work Anymore

work play
work before play???

I don’t know if you were raised like I was, but when was little I was taught to finish my work before I played.  It made sense in to finish my homework before I went out to play.  It made sense to study for a test or clean my room before my friends came over.  It made sense then.

But does it make sense now?  Will we EVER be done with our work?  I don’t think so.  As a business professional, homeowner, and mom I could work 72 hours a day and still not be done.  In this day and age of information overload and cutting budgets we are all trying to fit the work of 3 or 4 people into one.  It’s time for a shift.

It’s hard to up your game when you’re burned out and overwhelmed. It’s hard to think clearly and productively when you don’t have the bandwidth.  Our short term memories are finite and sometimes there is just no more room.  If you don’t take time to care for yourself it will take longer to get your important work done.  As Abe Lincoln said “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.”

So now in the middle of summer, when things are a little slower, it maybe the perfect time for you to set some “self-care” boundaries and make new habits.  How can you build enjoyment and downtime in to your life:

  • Find a class you like, sign up and go regularly
  • Schedule technology vacations – pick a day or two every month and turn it off
  • Schedule fun time out with friends, family and/or just yourself
  • Close up shop at a scheduled time each evening

But most importantly, think differently.  Balance work and play.  Know that work before play is obsolete.  Know that if you don’t take care of yourself your work will suffer.

The One Most Important Thing to Do to Get Your Most Important Work Done

Weekly Focus Session
Weekly Focus Session

 

If there was one thing you could do to get your most important work done will you do it?  It will take an hour or two every week and it will drive your productivity levels through the roof.  It’s what I call my Weekly Focus Session.  By looking at the work you have to do, comparing it to your goals and prioritizing what’s most important, you are setting yourself up for a most effective week.  In a nut shell here is the process:

1. Block out time each week.  Start with 2 hours.  As time goes on and you get into the rhythm it will probably take only an hour – sometimes less.  Put the two hours on your calendar.  If something comes up in that time slot simply move the Focus session to another open two hour slot.  I like scheduling my Focus session late Friday afternoon.  It helps me relax over the weekend, though some clients like to do it on Saturday morning, Monday morning, or mid-week.

2. Take EVERYTHING that is laying around and put it into ONE BIG PILE.

3. Review your goals – both long term and short term.  I like to keep them posted nearby so that it’s easy to reference.

4. Process the pile – picking up one item at a time  and decide:

  • Do I need to do it?  Does it help me reach my goals?  If no, let it go (recycle, shred or file for future reference).
  • If Yes, ask yourself: how important is it that it gets done?  Put the task associated with the paper on your to do list sectioned by level of priority (Critical, Hot, Sooner or Later.)   Put the paper in an appropriate file or pile so you can find it when you need it.
  • Pick up the next item and repeat.

5. When you are at the end of the ONE BIG PILE you are done.  And you will have a very clear picture of what you need to focus on for the upcoming week.

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