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.

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?

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.

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.

 

Save Time with Ellen’s Top Ten Easy Google Search Tips

Search bar
search bar

Sometimes just the smallest thing makes a difference.  We spend a lot of time on computers and if we could do what we needed to do faster than there would be more time to do the things we want to do.  Here are my Top Ten Google Search Tricks that help me save time.

Tip Issue Type in Results
1. Spell Don’t know how to spell a word? Type in the word spell and your closest guess. As long as your guess is reasonably close, Google returns the correct spelling Spell infintesimal Infinitesimal
2. Google Images When looking for a product, type in product description and select “images” for your search tool (grey options across the top – 3rd one) Desk top file and select “search images” Pages of desk top files pictures that you can shop from
 3. Define Need a definition?  You don’t need to go to a dictionary website.  Type in “define” and the word. Define Complementary Full dictionary definition
4. Minus Sign If you want to find something but leave out certain results use the minus sign Caterpillar – tractor Insect options not machinery company options
5. Date Range To identify a range of years use two periods. I use it often to get the most current technology results iPhone updates 2013..2014 Only listings posted during that range of dates
 6. Timer Let your computer alert you after a certain amount of time?  Type in “timer” and the length of time. Timer 10 minutes A countdown timer that dings when you are out of time
7. Math Don’t have a calculator handy?  Google does equations. Type in the equation and you’ll get the answer 365 * 24 8760
8. Weather What’s the temperature outside weather and zip code 10 day forecast
9. Answers questions Google is just like your smart phone’s assistant (Siri) When is daylight savings 2014 Starts March 9, Ends Nov 2
10. Exact Words When searching for exact words use quotes to delineate the exact words you are looking for  “Michael C. Jones” Only searches that have the words Michael C. Jones, in that order.

 

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.

CLEAR YOUR SPACE…BE MORE PRODUCTIVE

mystery box
mystery box

A friend shared a blog posted with some quick easy organizing tips this morning and that got me thinking about productivity and organizing.  I try to keep a productivity voice to my blog – it’s what I do and who I am.  But, sometimes good old fashion SPACE CLEARING is the one thing you need to do to be most productive.  Everything I talk about is a cross between getting organized and being more productive – they are not separate, getting organized is what you do to make yourself more productive.  So in honor of Jodi’s post, here are a few tips to help you clear some space.

A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING: The greatest benefit of having a place for everything is NOT that you know where to find something when you need it (though that is lovely), it’s so you have a place to put things so they are not sitting around cluttering up your physical or emotional space.  I always think more clearly when my space is clear and it only takes a moment to put things in their place.  Having THE place is the secret.  Here’s an example:

  • Unattached or Unidentified Cords and Wires – everyone has them.  My solution is to create a MYSTERY CORDS and WIRES BOX.  When I’m looking for a cord or wire I know exactly where to go look.  But the best part is that cords don’t clutter my surfaces, if I have one I toss it in the box.

LESS IS MORE: Seriously it is.  When you have too much stuff you can’t see what’s important.  If you leave everything out so you can find it you won’t really be able to find anything.  The #1 tip for keeping stuff under control is to have less.  It’s less to take care of, less to manage, less to clean.  And the reality is you don’t NEED everything you think you need.  We keep stuff to make ourselves feel better and it actually makes us feel worse.

  • I challenge you to an experiment. Pick one thing today (pens, Tupperware, magazines, business cards) and do a purge.  Divide them into 3 piles – love, don’t need and not sure.  Donate the “don’t needs”, put back the “loves,” and tuck the “not-sures” out of the way for access later just in case.  Let me know if it’s not easier.

START WITH A CLEAN SLATE: When you start fresh it’s so much easier to make good choices.  Start planning your week with a fresh to-do list, start working for the day with a clear desk surface, start cooking dinner with a clean kitchen, start figuring out what you need for your fall wardrobe by organizing your closet.  Leaving old stuff just clutters everything up.  Clear your space and you WILL be more productive.

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.

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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