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?

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.

 

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.

The Need for Order Continuum

Ever wonder why some people notice clutter and others don’t?  Have you been curious about why some people are comfortable going down a list while others prefer to hop around?  The answer is related to who they are, not to what they chose.

In the Coaching world, we look at needs and values to help our clients create environments in which they can be most successful.  Needs can include things such as Adventure, Fame, Fellowship, Freedom, Happiness, Health, Love, Power and ORDER.  Just like some people NEED adventure, others NEED order.

Another powerful Coaching tool is self-observation.  Have you ever observed yourself in terms of NEED FOR ORDER?  Awareness around its importance can be a wonderful clue to creating the environment in which you are most at ease.  With the degree of stress that most people feel, whatever can be done to create a less stressful/more productive environment should be prioritized.  Where do you fall on the Need for Order Continuum?

Need for Order
THE NEED FOR ORDER CONTINUUM

The first step is awareness.  The second step is thinking about what you can do to change your environment.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.  Please leave a reply on my blog at http://www.ellenfaye.com/blog/.

 

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.

Organized Enough? Time – Energy – Peace of Mind

Organized Enough?
Organized Enough?

The only reason to get organized is to get something you want but don’t have.  I’m sure you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but have you ever thought about this from an organizational perspective.  Getting organized and being more productive is a direct way to satisfy a basic human need.

But how do you motivate yourself to GET ORGANIZED?

Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want:

  • Don’t say: I can never find anything
  • Do say: I want to be able to find what I need it when I need it

Understand the benefits of getting organized:

  • Your most important work gets done
  • You waste less time looking for things you know you have but can’t find
  • You spend less money buying things you know you already have
  • You have peace of mind and are able to enjoy life more

Define “organized” on your own terms:

  • Organized doesn’t mean pristine or perfect
  • Organized means you can find what you need when you need it
  • Let go of perfection and go for “organized enough”

My motivation to be organized is Peace of Mind What’s yours?

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.

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