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.

Life Balance is so elusive…

Improving Life Balance

Why does LIFE BALANCE seem to be so elusive? Because it’s imaginary.  No one is ever in equal balance.  An admired colleague Krista Clive Smith once described it more like a symphony where different parts are louder than others at different times, but when listening to it as a whole it is harmonic and beautiful.

What would be possible if you gave yourself permission to live in harmony and not strive for perfect balance all the time?

I divide my “life pie” into 4 parts; business, family, service and self-care.  No day, week or month is ever the same.  If I lived in balance, my pie would look like this:finding life balance

Not only is this unrealistic, imagine how boring life would be if every day and every week were the same.  More realistically my life looks like this:Finding Life BalanceOne may say I’m never in balance, but that’s okay.  Collectively my pies makes sense.  By accepting that my life pie isn’t always going to look the same I find peace and harmony.  Understanding this makes me feel grounded, happy and successful.  How do you think a shift of perspective about life balance would effect you?

Simple Project Planning with Post-its

Post-it Planning
Post-it Planning

Do you have a project to do, but don’t know where to start?  Most of us don’t have access to complex project management software, nor do we want to make the time investment to learn to use it.  I’ve developed a simple project planning process that yields many of the same results without the learning curve.

1.  Get a stack of Post-its

2.  Write down each task associated with the project. Don’t worry about writing them in any order, just write as fast as the ideas come to you.  Be sure to use a new post it for each individual task.

3.  Put the post-its in order. Consider – what has to come before another step, what would be the most logical way to do the work, if there is any significant wait time, and what would be best for you?  During this process you may think of extra steps.  Create a post-it for those steps and insert them into the process.

4.  Assign a length of time it will take to complete that step to each post-it – it could be 15 minutes, an hour or a week.

5.  If you have a deadline, start with the last post-it and write the deadline on that post-it, then using the time projection, working from the last post-it forward, date each post-it with the day it is due. If you can’t make the deadline as projected, better to see that now and make adjustments from the beginning.  If there is no forced deadline, start on the first post-it and assign due dates accordingly.

6.  If there is more than one person working on the project identify whose responsibility each specific task is (note on post-it)

7.  Transfer the post-it information (in order) to a project planning grid:

Project: Blog Schedule
Task Time needed to complete Who is responsible Date Due
1. Identify frequency of blog posts, # of blog posts needed 1 hour EF 12/5/14
2. Brainstorm possible blog topics 1 week EF 12/12/14
3. Select the best 26 topics 2 hours EF 12/14/14
4. Group topics in logical flow 2 hours EF 12/16/14

Planning the project is critical to completion.  Try this for your next project and let us know how it goes.

 

A Full Plate

Rutabagas or Sweet Potatoes?
Rutabagas or Sweet Potatoes?

 

Most days we have too much to do, too much on our plate so to speak.  If we continually fill our lives with things to please others or only do those things we think we should do, our lives become unfulfilling and mundane.

Think of life like a Thanksgiving plate.  I’m confident that on Thursday you’ll be selective about what you put on your plate so that you’ll have room for all your favorite things.  If you fill up on rutabagas and parsnips just how much room will you have for sweet potatoes and pie?

Live your life like you fill your Thanksgiving plate – be selective about how you spend your time – and you’ll be more satisfied and fulfilled.

 

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.

How to Make an Effective List

TON
Ton of Shoulds

What I’m about to say is sacrilege.  It goes against every bit of advice today’s productivity experts lend.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot and am just going to put it out there…  Don’t write down every possible to-do or task you have to do.  I know, “if you don’t write it down then it is taking space in your head.”

The way I see it is that if you write everything down your endless lists become useless.  You have so much to do and so many possibilities.  To improve your quality of life I suggest you write down the to-dos that are important and just let the other stuff go.  Each time you think of something that could be done I want you to run it through the “Is this important” filter.

Deciding what’s important isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it’s not that hard either.  It just takes a bit of thought.

Getting clarity around your goals, dreams, values and needs makes it easier.  Read my blog post on 10 minute goal setting http://bit.ly/1vLUlOb or consider hiring a coach or doing some reading to help you determine what is “most important” for you.  Once you have some structure to “what is important” it will help you to cast off those time-sucking obligations and “shoulds” that weigh you down.

Only when you can focus your time, energy and financial resources on the things that help you live in the way you want to live will you truly be productive.  So this week, instead of putting everything on your list, ask yourself “what can I leaving off?”  A list of 5 important items is much more effective than an endless list of stuff.  Go ahead – defy the experts and leave I off.  I can’t wait to hear what will happen.

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.

Reduce Stress With Routine

routine
Routine

With the summer coming to a close it’s good to remember that vacations are exciting – but getting back to routine reduces stress. Part of being organized and productive is having routines. They enable us to enjoy the doing more – to be more creative and effective – with less effort. When routines becomes “routine” life is just easier.

Are there things you do regularly in life that would be easier if you made them part of your routine?  I know there are in my life.  When I have a routine I don’t spend time worrying when I’m going to do something, or if I’ve missed opportunities or deadlines.  The task is on autopilot.  It takes care of itself until it’s time to do it again.

What can you autopilot?  Here are some ideas:

  • Bill Paying – set up a system to check bills on a regular basis.  Even if you do most of your bill paying on line, it still takes a degree of supervision.  I pay my bills on the 10th and 25th of each month.  I don’t worry about it in between.  Other people like to pick one day of the week (each Sunday night or Monday morning), or do it three times a month – the 1st, 10th and 20th.  What works for you?  Put it on your calendar with follow up reminders until it becomes routine.
  • Blogging – My blog posts are written on Tuesday morning between 7:30 and 9:30 am.  If I have a meeting or client or am out of town, I move it to Wednesday morning.  I know I won’t do it Monday night – so I build in a more realistic option.
  • Processing Email – I check each morning for anything that is urgent and address it.  I handle those and leave the rest for non-prime time.  I build time into my schedule to review and process the remainder.
  • Processing Regular Mail – Each day I look at my mail.  If someone sends something I didn’t ask for or need and takes my time and space to review I recycle right off the bat.  I put my bills where they belong, I put my coupons where they belong, and I put other things that need action where they belong.  It is in the system and then I don’t have stacks of unaddressed things that become overwhelming.

What do you do regularly that would benefit from routine?  Contacting clients, grocery shopping, making phone calls, doing laundry?

Now here is a secret!  A routine is nothing more than a system or a process.  Creating a system for doing what you do all the time is the secret to having less stress in your life.  Put the things you have control over on autopilot and free up your better self for the more challenging important things.

Vacations + Boundaries + Time off = > Productivity

August Calendar

It’s August and it’s been one heck of a year, not just for me but for so many friends, colleagues, and clients. Yet Tuesday morning beckons and I know that means it is time to write my blog post for the week.  Most of the time the words just pour onto the page.  Unlike some bloggers I don’t pre-write, my posts are inspired by my clients, my week, and my life.

Except today I’m stuck.  Maybe it’s how sad I am about the loss of Robin Williams.  Maybe it is because both my children are leaving for college on Saturday (sad, excited and super busy all at the same time), maybe it is because I need a vacation. I think that’s it. I have been reading all these great articles about how productivity improves with down time. This is what I’ve picked up:

  • Take true vacations: “If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations – true vacations without work – and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s biggest problems. (New York Times article on creative thought: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/opinion/sunday/hit-the-reset-button-in-your-brain.html?smid=fb-share)
  • Create and respect boundaries. “You cannot achieve your balance if you don’t respect the boundaries you have put in place. It will be hard in the beginning but you need to stick with it so you develop a routine and drive a culture and lifestyle of predictability. You will find that there is also something else you can do. There is always another email to reply to or a problem to work, but you need to PERSONALLY respect your boundaries. If you don’t then you can’t expect others to respect them.” (Entrepreneur Magazine article on Work-Life Balance: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/235427)
  • Time off improves productivity: “The Greeks are some of the most hardworking in the OECD, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But German productivity is about 70% higher.”  (Economist Magazine article: http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/09/working-hours)

So, my productivity tip for the week is to take some down time.  Happy August, vacation, and napping.  Talk to you next week – then it’s VACATION TIME!

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.

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