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.

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.

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.

Dealing with Perfectionism

A+

The goal of getting organized and improving productivity is not to be perfect.  It is to make life easier and more enjoyable and fulfilling.  Complex systems are rarely the answer.  The best solutions are often the simplest.  Over complicated systems most often cannot be maintained.  More often than not, well done is good enough.

There are times that being “perfect” is important; in a client proposal, or on a resume, or in a white paper for your boss.  But equally, there are times that you don’t have to be so perfect – I’m not talking about spelling errors, or typos – I’m talking about thoroughness and precision.
When you strive for perfection your time investment is maxed out.  Where can you step back and save a bit of time and energy?  Here are my favorites:

  • Email – ask yourself, do I have to include that piece of information.  The briefer and more to the point your email is the faster it takes to write it and the easier it will be for the person receiving it to send you a prompt response
  • Planning your day – write out the top 5 things (or 3, or 7) you wish to accomplish.  Prioritize them by writing numbers next to each task – 1 for the most important, etc.  Just do it – but don’t spend a lot of time on this task – it will change anyway because you’ll never be able to anticipate the nuances of each day.  It’s the act of  planning that keeps you focused, not the exact plan itself
  • Drop the Penny – round up, it always balances out and it saves such silliness.  Imagine how many payroll dollars would be saved if employees didn’t have to count pennies.  Their impact is insignificant (unless of course you have a million of them – but that’s not the point!)

If you’re a perfectionist, try an experiment.  Pick one thing today and try to be a little less perfect.

Get a Handle on Mail and Beat Mail Obligation

Magazines That Matter
Magazines That Matter

As I was sorting through 5 days of mail yesterday (I was out of town) I exclaimed “I’m never subscribing to another magazine again.”  For years when I’ve spoken to groups we’ve discussed why we feel so obligated to read things we didn’t ask for.  And last night I realized I’ve been doing the same thing.  My Harvard Business Review and Cooking Light barely get open, yet I read the local magazines that are sent, and I read the grocery store flyers, and I look at the catalogs that come.  YES – My casual reading time is being spent on the things that don’t matter, and the things that do matter aren’t getting any attention.

I need a new system!  Here it is:

  • Instead of putting my favorite reading aside (nightstand, reading nook) where I never really read, I’ll move it to the places that I’m likely to pick up a magazine (kitchen table, family room, etc.)
  • Instead of keeping the reading that doesn’t matter I’ll toss that in recycling right away
  • Instead of spending 15 minutes reading the mail I didn’t ask for, I’ll spend that same 15 minutes reading what I’ve chosen is important

The truth is I do most of my reading on my computer.  My Facebook and LinkedIn feed seems to bring me relevant and interesting articles daily.  That seems manageable and digestible.  I really don’t want to give up all my magazines, but if I want to be sure the ones I value can be looked at, then I best be ruthless with the ones I don’t.

 

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