Saturday, May 19, 2018

Productivity Tips and Tricks for Every Personality

First and foremost, you need to figure out what your most important thing to do is.  In order to do this, you have to get in touch with what is most important to you. What are your values? What are your goals? To find your dream job? Lose weight? Find more balance in your life? Get promoted at work? Spend more time with your kids? Find a new house? Make more friends? What lights your fire right now? 

Once you have some of those ideas in mind you can employ these tips to make sure what you do lines up with what you say you want to do.  In other words, turn your wish list into an action list.

How to Make Sure Your Time is Spent on Achieving Your Most Important Goals

Sometimes we get confused as to what is truly important, and we let other's goals, wishes, and emergencies take over our time.  These tips will help you take back your time (and your life).   

Tip #1 Decide What is Important versus Urgent 

It helps to put things in these 4 categories:
  • Urgent and Important
  • Important, but not Urgent
  • Urgent, but not Important
  • Not Urgent, and not Important
Urgent and important items will obviously make it to the top of the list.  For instance, if your dishwasher is leaking all over your kitchen floor, this constitutes an urgent and important problem, and you will cancel meetings, and put everyone and everything else on hold to get this taken care of.

Important, but not urgent might be something like buying a baby gift for your best friend or finishing the family photo album (assuming these things line up with your values and goals).

Urgent, but not important is when your kid is frantic in the morning because he forgot to pack his lunch. Not important because buying lunch won't kill him (despite what he might say about it), or it's when someone else wants you to drop everything to deal with their urgent and important (or just urgent) task. Remember, just because something is urgent to someone else, doesn't mean that it needs to be urgent for you. I'm not totally unfeeling. If you want to be available for others emergencies, have "office hours" for that.  More abut that below.

Not Urgent and not important. These are the things we get sucked into doing like attending your mother's cousins' baby shower or dusting the back of the bookshelf (buy enough books to hide the dust). These are things, you can probably just let go and it will not be the end of the world.  These are the things you need to quit. For more info on how to quit click here: Be a Quitter

Tip #2 Write down the one thing you need to do today

I know, I know, so many things so little time. How can you pick just one? Imagine you only have enough energy to get one thing done today.  What would it be?

To do this, we need to soften our expectations of ourselves.  This sounds like slacking, I know, but bear with me. Do you have kids? A significant other? Are they important to you? Look at your to do list, and tell me if you have one thing on there that screams, "These people are my life". We have laundry and dinners to make, etc. on this list, and those are important, but if this were your last day, how would you spend it? I would stop by subway, or grab a box of cereal, and take my kids to the park and enjoy them. I would make time to go out with my girlfriends. When is the last time you did that stuff? If you doubt me, click what people who were dying regretted the most:

I get you can't do this everyday, but the thing is, we keep putting these things into the "not important, not urgent" pile, and not important, not urgent things eventually don't get done, and now you are sad because you have no friends.

Your one thing doesn't have to be the same thing everyday (we aren't one dimensional after all),  unless you are laser focused on getting something done, then by all means set aside time each day to complete that goal.

What is important to you, right now? Put that as your most important thing on your list.

Tip #3 Because I know you really won't put one thing on your list. Time line your day. 

Raise your hand if you always think you have more time than you actually do, and then kick yourself for not getting the stuff done that you feel like you should have gotten done.  Time blocking out your day will really help you, not only be more productive, but also realize you physically can't get it all done. It is not your failure, it is a failure of time.

Make a list of all the stuff you need to do this week. I make a dump list on Sunday of all the stuff I can think of that I need to do, then I prioritize it, and assign the most important items to certain days.  Some people make one big list, but I like to divide it up into categories, like housework, work, family stuff, projects, me time, etc.

The list is usually overwhelming, so divvying it up into the categories mentioned in Tip #1 is helpful, and finding that one thing a day to work on is powerful.  However, to get all that stuff done, I would need many lifetimes.  Here is one way to pare down your master list:  How to Get Sh*t Done

Step 2, after paring down your list is to Time Block.

Time Blocking

Time blocking works great for the over-scheduler because you can schedule out what you need to do and how long it will take.

Start by making a simple time line.  I just draw a vertical line in my planner and start when I get up and number down to when I am free of children.  Like this:

Nothing fancy at all.  However, very eye opening.  Once I put in the stuff that I have to do, like appointments, and school pick up, I quickly realize that I do not have a whole heck of a lot of time.  Don't forget you need to eat and shower at some point.

This lack of time is why you put in your most important thing.  The thing that will have the biggest impact to your goals, be it career, family or otherwise.  My current project is scheduled at 1:00 PM. For an hour I will work on that project.

Now that your biggest impact thing is scheduled, you can write in the stuff that is your second and third most important.  When I say "schedule", I mean write it in your planner in ink or put it on your calendar and set an alarm.

I work mostly from home part time, so I dedicate one block of time to that each day, then a house item each day, and then some time to catch up on random stuff that pops up.

Recently I have been devoting a bigger block of time one day a week for projects (Monday, I spent 6 hours on the laundry room, and it was so worth it), but that is for a special projects, and definitely not something I can do every week. I am planning a road trip so I blocked out 2 hours one day this week and an hour on another day to focus on planning that.

Set the length of the time blocks that works best for you.  Some swear by the Pomodora technique of 25 minutes focused, 5 minute break. If you are really procrastinating, set a timer for 15 minutes and race against the clock (make it a game, especially helpful for mundane household tasks). For stuff I want to do, I can focus for long periods of time, and I don't like being interrupted once I am in the zone, so for certain tasks, I go for 90 minutes. If it's stuff I don't enjoy, but must get done, then I race against a short timer. Experiment and see what works for you.

Speaking of the no fun mundane tasks that are part of life. Use "Buffer Blocks"

These are blocks of time to do those recurring routine tasks like email, regular mail, paperwork, or other random time-suck tasks (Facebook, Pinterest, cleaning the house house may fall into this category).

Set aside a couple blocks of time each day to tackle those. Do not devote time to them outside of their block. How does this help? "Oh, you sent me an urgent email that needed answering right away? I'm sorry, I only check my email at 9:00 AM and at 3:00 PM."

If you are afraid you will forget something, take 10 seconds to jot it down on your to do list. If you want to look at Instagram, but find yourself getting lost there, set your phone timer.  A mom I know grabs her mail on the way to her kids ballet class and sorts through it there. An excellent use of down time twice a week.

Do you find it hard to say "no" to people? 

Set yourself up so you don't have to say no. Blocking out time proactively trains people when you will (or won't) be available, and you don't have to say "no", and they are happier too. Instead of telling people what you can't do (which no one likes), you get to say what you can do. (Win-win).

For example, I volunteer as a treasurer at my kids' school. I have scheduled two days a week where I will work on that. Previously, the position would just do it when anyone had a need (or didn't plan and waited until the last minute.) At the beginning of the year, I shared my schedule for when I would be working with all my "customers", so now they know what to expect and I don't have to answer requests or give status updates constantly. I have only had two "emergencies" all year.

Time blocking is not only a useful tool for you, but it also is helpful for others because they know what to expect from you and when. This leads me to the concept of batching.


Batching is grouping similar tasks together.  Like running errands, grocery shopping, and it can aslo apply to work tasks. Maybe you call all your clients on one day, review proposals on another.  Some people batch housework, dusting, even cooking, packing lunches or snacks for the week or laundry (I'm trying this batching laundry thing today, but I think I prefer one load a day. What works for one person might not work for another.)

The point is, start looking for similar things and see if you can't batch them together in one of your time blocks.

What About Multitasking? 

Some advice says to never do this.  It takes a long time to for your brain to switch back and forth between tasks. I say, never say never, but know your limits.

Some of us just can't multitask well.  My husband is one of them (women do multitask better than men, in general). He will stop talking to me in the car to put on his turn signal and turn, then resume the conversation. That's where we are.

However, if you are doing a mundane task that does not require you to pay close attention, then I say multitask away.  I think you can handle folding laundry and watching TV or prepping veggies and listening to a Podcast, music, or an audiobook.

I will say, though, that practicing mindfulness on mundane tasks can put you into a meditative state, and give you the same benefits as meditation.  Consider that multitasking, for example, meditating and washing dishes.

When you really focus on what you are doing, it does give your brain a rest.  Sort of like a brain nap, and who couldn't use more of those? (Plus, I notice the kitchen is strangely empty when I am in there washing up, so it's also very peaceful.)

Other Tips I Came Across for Increasing Productivity that You Can Experiment with:

  • Stick to a schedule
  • Become an early riser
  • Make a drink before you start (I mean coffee or tea, but hey, whatever works for you)
  • Clean your desk off or your workspace
  • Set yourself up for success by making it easy for you to do what you have been putting off. Lately, I have been decluttering. So, I have a box in a couple of rooms, and as I pass through I put something in the box. Baby steps. Set yourself up for success. If you want to eat breakfast int he morning, get as much as you can ready the night before. Work out, set your shoes where you will trip over them on the morning (not really, but you get the idea). Keep cleaner in every bathroom or room.
  • Snacks, chewing gum, sunshine, smelling lemon and/or peppermint, having a plant in your workspace all help boost productivity.
  • Silence your phone
  • Get dressed in the morning and ready for your day even if you aren't leaving your house.
  • Know when you are at your peak and do your most important tasks then (morning or afternoon?)
  • Get enough rest.  I've talked about the value of sleep before, but if you need some incentive, click here: THIS ONE THING CAN CAUSE SADNESS, HEADACHES, FORGETFULNESS AND OTHER WOES
  • Use one tool. Admittedly, I use two, the iCalendar and a bullet journal, but you shouldn't  have sticky notes strewn about and call it a system. 
The most important tip I can offer under the happiness banner, is make time for friends and family. People often regret working too much, and always wish for more time with loved ones.  At the end of the day, it's all about balance.

If I missed a great tip you use, share it with the rest of us in the comments below!!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Be a Quitter to Get More Done

I've read A LOT of productivity articles in the past month to find the best ones out there, and there are many different tips, tricks, and opinions to help you get more done.

Advice ranging from how to multitask to get more done to the dangers of multitasking. What should be on your To Do list, and how to prioritize your to do list? Should that list be a mile long "Dump" list or should it only have one thing, the most important thing, on it? What is the perfect planning system for keeping track of your progress (or lack thereof).

Also, what is the proper order to tackle your list?  Should you eat the figurative frog first (your most dreaded task), or knock out some easy wins to gain momentum? Not to mention tons of advice on how to prioritize your list (categories, urgency, etc.) What is the perfect planner and what's the best way to use it.

Then there is advice on how to best get you ready to be productive. Is coffee, exercise, and a clean desk essential to get started? Should you use the Batch system, Pomodora technique or the Time Block system? All of this to help you work smarter, not harder so that you can even get more done.

I kind of take offense to this notion. I am smart, and I do work hard. Could a little productivity hack here and there help? Could I stand to spend less time on my phone? Would avoiding people help me get more done? Sure. Does the answer to all my problems lie in re-organizing, re-categorizing, re-prioritizing, multitasking or throwing away my task lis? Should I clean my shower while I am in the shower to save time (actual suggestion)? I don't think so.

The truth is, you can do whatever you want, but you can't do everything you want.  No matter what these systems are selling, you cannot make more time, and you can't predict when it will run out.

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it."  
 - Henry David Thoreau 

You are exchanging your life, giving a bit of your soul away if you will, for time spent doing whatever it is you fill your minutes up with.

Life is full of tradeoffs. There is a price to be paid for what you choose to do, and you can't make an informed decision on that cost until you embrace this notion of limited time.

But we don't. Instead we are bound and determined to fit it all in.  I will be ├╝ber successful at work. I will be Supermom and be there for everything my child does. I will be a great spouse. I will volunteer in my community. I will pursue my secret dream of writing the great American novel (or whatever it is you dream of doing). I will take care of my aging parents all by myself because I am the perfect daughter.  I will exercise, eat right, and get regular facials, and have "me time". I will do it all.

Honestly, I am stressed just writing all of this. My shoulders are tense, and I feel a little anxious. Anxious because I know deep down inside, this is an impossible scenario to maintain, so I end up faking it. Stressing about being found out that I am not a Mom with her shit all together (spoiler alert, I'm not), and EVERYONE gets short changed. My family, my friends, my career, my volunteer work, ME,........everyone.

There is an economic term called Opportunity Cost. Opportunity cost describes the relationship between scarcity and choice. It refers to the benefit you could have received, but gave up to take another course of action.  No choice is still a choice.  Often we spread ourselves so thin that we don't reap the benefits of any of your choices. So what's the answer?

Be a quitter.

That's right. Quit.

Don't double down, reach down, or show more grit.


The answer isn't add more items to your list. The answer is to get rid of items on your list.

Quit unproductive things so you don't miss opportunities to do more of what matters to you. Maybe you don't know what is important to you right now. Well, you damn sure know what doesn't work, so quit those things, so you can start finding what might work.

We regret more of what we miss out on than what we stuck it out on.

The relationship we knew in our heart wasn't for us, but we stuck it out waay too long anyway. The job that wasn't a fit for us, but we stayed because we were afraid to go out and find a better job (by the way, people who change jobs a lot and early in their career end up making more money than their counterparts that stayed with the same company).

We tell ourselves that "it isn't that bad" DO you want to settle for "not that bad"? That stinks of future regret.

Quit trying to achieve unattainable goals, whether it be jobs, obligations or people.

Yeah, I get you can't just dump everything. You can't walk out on your job. Well, make it a priority on your 'To Do' list to find your dream job. How much of your sacred time are you spending on that?

I get you want to exercise more so you can improve your health, and have the energy to pursue your goals.  What are you sacrificing to make it a priority?

When you stay late at work to finish that project to impress your boss or clients or find a cure for cancer, then you are not spending time with your kids.  That's not a judgment call. That's reality.

Things get sticky when we assign value or more accurately what we believe other people will value to our choices. I'm a terrible mother if I make this choice. I'm a terrible employee if I don't. My parents dreamed of me becoming a lawyer so I'll stick it out, so we try to do it all.

Before you can be more productive, you need to decide where your values or needs lie right now, so you can make intelligent proactive choices for your situation.

Maybe your it's your career, writing that book and self-publishing, becoming a yoga teacher, or starting your own business, or your family, or redecorating your house that's important to you, or a combination of two or three things, so design your days to do those things.  Make sure that most of what you do supports achieving those goals.

If you are really giving your all to those two things because you say those two things are the most important to you, then you won't have time to bake, volunteer, clean, take care of other people's emergencies, etc., all by yourself.  Not to say that stuff isn't important, but again...Time + Scarcity = Choices.  Remember, choices will be made with or without you, so you might as make them.

Where do you start / How Do you Decide? 

Steve Jobs said, "If today were the last day of your life, would you want to be doing what your doing?" 

If he answered "no" more than a few days in a row, then he changed what he was doing.  

There will be times when you choose to do something else.  There will be needs that need to be met that exist outside of your wants and needs because you don't live in your own little universe.  

There are trade-offs to every decision. Some you will manage, and some you just have to live with because that is the price of your dreams or values or your situation right now.

I chose to quit my job when my youngest started kindergarten. I left a promising and mostly fulfilling career with a killer commute to do so. I traded putting my graduate degree to work, and moving up in my career because I couldn't manage to that and be the Mom I wanted to be the way I wanted to.  

Yet, when I find myself cleaning, and then yelling about them messing things up, and checking off my never ending list of household chores, then I am not "being" with my kids. I am trading unimportant stuff for what I said was important.  Now there will be moments when I will need to do laundry and clean the house, and I will not be able to answer Steve Job's question in the affirmative, because the need for clean underwear and all, and that's okay as long as it doesn't become my choice day in and day out.  

Some people pick their top one or two goals in life and go all out. Michale Phelps gave up a lot of other stuff to become the champion that he became. He gave up partying with friends for 5 AM practices as a teen. Sheryl Sandberg put in a lot of time and effort to get where she is. She had to quit and delegate a whole hell of a lot in her personal domain to make it where she is today. They both made choices.  

I choose to strive for balance in my life right now. Some might even go so far as to say mediocrity, and that is okay. Maybe that isn't for them, but I define success as peaceful, low stress, enjoyable, simple balance between my children, my family, my friends, and my hobbies. That is where I am right now. 

So I won't be VP of HR at a Fortune 500 Company like I once thought I would (maybe later), and I do sometimes look enviously at those sharp dressed working moms getting it done like a boss. 

On the other hand, I started a new career that I can build at my own pace. I have built friendships with some awesome moms I wouldn't have even have met had I still been working, and let go of some treasured work ones I just couldn't keep up. Trade-offs. One day my choices will change again, but won't change, is that I will choose what those priorities are rather than letting others have more say than they should or by default.

Really successful people quit most other things. You need to decide how you define success for you and your lifestyle right now, then quit the other things.  

Once you do that, you can apply all the tips, tools and tricks that work for you, and you will find much more success with them.

Other articles you might like:

Is Comparing Yourself to Others Always a Bad Thing?

Redefining Failure

The Power of Living Intentionally

Join the 85% Club

I've Had Enough

How to Live a Life with No Regrets

Three Types of Happiness

How to Get Shit Done