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.

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.

“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.

MY TOP 5 REASONS EVERNOTE IS MY NOTE TAKING TOOL OF CHOICE

Evernote Implementation Plan
Evernote Implementation Plan

The last six weeks have been crazy for me.  I’ve attended conferences, workshops, board meetings, college orientations, coaching sessions, mastermind groups, held client intakes and more.  The result of which, of course, are tons of notes.  But the good news?  I have no piles of papers. NONE! How did I do it?  I used Evernote for EVERYTHING.

I’ve written about Evernote before but I’ve been observing you users out there and know that many of you still haven’t taken the step to make Evernote your note taking tool of choice.  Here is why it works for me:

EVERNOTE Is Always with Me – regardless if I have my phone, my iPad or my laptop I have my (cloud based) EVERNOTE.

EVERNOTE is Easy – regardless if you have a Mac or PC, Android or iPhone (or other), Tablet or iPad, you can download Evernote for free. If I run out of storage space I can buy more, but I understand that takes a really long time.  I’ve been using Evernote for years, have over 350 notes (and some are very long notes) and have 80% of the free storage still available.

EVERNOTE is searchable – any word, any phrase, any letter combination.  Imagine having 500 notes and to find something all you have to do is type a word or phrase and it pops up instantly.  That is what Evernote does.

EVERNOTE is organizable – when I make my notes I make them work for me.  I can highlight, bold, and make different words different sizes, fonts and colors.  However my most favorite is the action box  that I can drop into my document whenever I want.

evernote box uncheckedI use it at the top of each note for actions I must take.  That way when I get home I know what I need to do. And what is coolest?  When I’ve completed the action I can check it off like this:

Start using evernote today

EVERNOTE is quickly retrievable – I can keep ongoing lists and add to them is a split second.

And my top favorite reason:  I HAVE NO PAPER PILES!

If you haven’t tried EVERNOTE yet, you should.  If you want help, call or email me to schedule an Evernote session (either live or via phone/Skype) and I can get you up to speed quickly.

Top Tips for Taming Tax Day

tax drawer
tax drawer

Once again Tax Day has come and gone.  For me it’s about 8 focused hours.  I sit down to prep, our CPA Steve appears at our door, we work together for a couple hours, he leaves…we are done!  We’ve had this routine for years.  Steve always chuckles and tells me I’m his most organized clients.  The secret – it’s not what I do that day, it’s the little things I do all year long.  Here are my top tips for taming tax day:

  1. The Annual Check Register – I don’t know many people that keep check registers these days.  Most everyone just counts on their on-line balance.  But I still do.  And I start a new register on January 1st each year.  That way, when it’s tax time I have many answers all in one place, my auto-pays, donation checks I may have missed, household expenses, medical bills – most of the things I pay by check I need when I pay my taxes.  On Tax Day I go through my register and it helps me to prepare my Medical, Donation and Household expense totals.
  2. Dedicated ONE Place for Tax Receipts – As you walk in the backdoor of my home I’ve created a command center.  It is the designated spot for mail, and each family member has a cubby.  There are also a couple of shelves for general use.  On one of those shelves I have a 3 drawer bin.  One of those drawers is labeled taxes.  During the course of the year any and everything I need for taxes goes in that drawer.  Goodwill receipts, on-line donation receipts, medical bill receipts, prescription receipts, and anything else relevant.  On January 1st I empty it out and put it in an envelope for totaling on tax day.
  3. Pull Records on January 1 (or 2) – Each year I start my records fresh on January 1st.  That way last year and this year are never comingled.  I put all of the prior year’s records into a Bankers Box that gets stored under my desk.  After Tax Day the box goes into storage in my basement.  I most comfortable keeping 7 years of boxes (ask your tax advisor what’s best for you).  Steve left last night at 7pm.  My box went to the basement as he walked out the door.  I pulled the box that was 8 years old and it will go off to my towns next free shredding day.
  4. Dedicate One Spot for Year End Tax Statements – Regardless of what it is, if we need it to do our taxes it goes in one spot.  That way we have everything we need when we need it.
  5. Tell your Teenagers What a W-2 is – This is the 2nd year in a row that we couldn’t finish our taxes 100%.  We were missing one thing.  Last year it was our older son’s W-2.  This year, our younger sons W-2.  If we don’t tell them what it is and that they need to give it to us we don’t have it.  Bummer.

(In New Jersey where I live the % deductible for medical is substantially less than the Federal %.  Ask your tax preparer about your states limit.  It is definitely worth it for me to track this.  It may or may not be or you.)

The Process Process

step by step
Step-by-Step

Developing a habit is an important part of creating change, but an equally important aspect is creating a process.  And not just any process, a SIMPLE process.  For if I’ve learned anything working with my clients, I’ve learned “if it’s not simple, it’s too hard.”  Creating a simple process is perhaps the most crucial aspect of driving change.

What does creating a process look like?  If I asked you to write down the steps to do something you do every day you could.  Let’s take getting dressed each morning.  My system looks like this:  1. Take shower 2. Brush teeth 3. Put in contacts….. etc.  I do the same thing each morning.  I don’t need to think about it, I’ve done it so many times that it has become rote.

Everything that is done routinely needs a clearly thought out process.  Let’s apply this concept to staying on top of the papers in your office.  We start by breaking this into WHAT, HOW and WHEN.

WHAT is the goal: “round up the piles, papers and notes into a clearly prioritized task list in order to be able to focus on my most important work.”

HOW is the process:

  1. Gather all papers and notes that are laying around into one big pile
  2. Pick up the top item in the pile – ask: what needs to be done?
    1. If I need to put it away – put it away
    2. If I don’t need it – put it in the trash, recycle or shred zone
    3. If I need to give it to someone else – put it in a pile with their name on it
    4. If I need to take action on it – prioritize the action (critical, hot, sooner, later) on my task list and decide if I still need the paper (put it in the take action zone or throw away if I can)
  3. Pick up the next item and process
  4. Continue until I’ve cleared the pile
  5. Distribute sorted papers to their proper places
  6. Review my task list to ensure proper prioritization

WHEN is the frequency: “I will schedule 2 hours each week.”  Put it on your calendar.  If something comes up and you have to move it, that’s fine as long as you spend the 2 hours each week.  (Realistically, when you get started this can take 2 hours.  As time goes on it may take less than 1).

While this process may seem daunting, the more you work it, the easier it becomes.  By having the process written down in black and white it helps you to keep on track and on task until it becomes rote.

Set Yourself Up for a Smooth 2014

2013 Records
2013 Records

There is no better time than this week to set up your paper systems for 2014. Here is what I do:

  • I start with an empty Bankers Box
  • I pull out all my household financials (bills paid, bank statements, etc.) for 2013 and put them on one side of the box
  • I pull all my (personal) receipts from 2013 and put them in a gallon zip lock bag marking it with Personal Receipts 2013 with a black sharpie and toss those in the box
  • I take out my 2013 business records and put them on the other side of the box.
  • I take all the papers out of my 2013 taxes bin and put them in a 10 x 13 envelope, marking it “For 2013 tax prep” – I lay this envelope on top of the other stuff in the box
  • I put the lid on the box marking it “2013 Financial Records – shred in 2020” (7 years plus one for good measure)
  • The box then goes under my desk until my 2013 taxes are filed.
  • After my taxes are filed, the box goes to the basement for storage, pulling the “Shred in 2014” box.

This simple perpetual process keeps everything in order with minimal effort. If I drop the ball and don’t pull 2013 out now then I end up mixing 2013 with 2014 and I’ve just made myself a lot more work. If I take the time to do this now, my systems are in place and I’ve set myself up for a smooth 2014.

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