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How Are You Spending Your Most Valuable Currency

The Passage of Time
Image by ToniVC via Flickr

Are you neglecting the things that matter?

Do you think you’re somehow different than the rest of us? That you have more hours in the day or can get more done miraculously if you just get organized enough?

Let me tell you right now, FORGET IT! There is only so much any one person can accomplish at one time. We’re told we can have and do it all, but that is a bold faced lie, a sales pitch of productivity system marketing.

Be honest. Where are you falling short?

Full disclosure: I am a chronic over-scheduler, over-committer and plate-overflower ( I just made that term up.) I know I am not alone in the disease to “DO MORE.” But when we try to squeeze in more we tend to neglect the things that matter most, health, family, enjoyment of life.

In some unfathomable twist of brain logic we tend to spend time on those things that don’t really matter in the long-term picture of our lives. Why do we do this? I don’t know. It’s a puzzle of the human psyche. Perhaps someone wiser than I can figure out that puzzle eventually.

Mini: Mission: My marching orders are to figure out what really matters, place a premium priority and focus on those aspects of my life and cut back or delete those that don’t.  I invite you, no; I implore you to join me.

Time is our most valuable currency, yet most of us squander it so easily. (Feel free to tweet that.)

What are the things that really matter to you?

Are you spending enough time on those things?

What are the things that really won’t matter 20 years from now?

Are you spending too much time on the things that really don’t matter that much?

Do you check your email first thing in the morning instead of taking time to exercise or eating breakfast with your family? I’m sure you’ll be glad of that when your health fails and your kids are gone.

Do you spend too much time on social media and information intake? Unless that’s your job, (and sometimes even if it is your job,) you’ll get better results if you spend your time actually producing “work.” Those things are tools.

And while we’re talking about social media…is Facebook really more important than reading with your kids or having an actual conversation with your husband?

We don’t like to think that we’re squandering our time; I know I sure don’t.

But our schedule and habits tell the real story… Take a look…if you dare.

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18 Minutes That Can Save You Hours

It’s so easy to get off track…and sometimes we need a reminder. I was just listening to an interview by one of my favorite podcasters, Accidental Creativewhere he was discussing time management, or maybe more accurately ‘priority management,’ with Peter Bregman. I love Peter Bregman’s philosophy and process and am a fan of his book “18 Minutes.” In fact it has a prominent place on the bookshelf in my office…but I had sort of forgotten it was there. It was a good reminder that had me reaching for the book once again.

While I don’t follow Peter’s plan precisely, I do think he lays out a simple solution to a problem that plagues most of us; too much to do, a never-ending task list, and the overwhelming struggle to master the issue of time management.

To be fair, his 18 minutes a day process alone is not the entire solution. He goes beyond daily task management, to address the larger issues that overwhelm us, not being happy and fulfilled with what we’re doing, feeling like we’re beating our heads against the wall and becoming more clear about where we want to go with our lives.

With strategies like using the Four Elements of Focus, hourly reminders and learning to pause.

“A brief pause will help you make a smarter move. Know what outcome you want before you respond.”

- Peter Bregman

Here’s a quick summary of the “18 Minutes” process…Read the book for the full explanation…

STEP 1 (5 Minutes) Set Plan for Day. Before turning on your computer, sit down with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. What can you realistically accomplish that will further your goals and allow you to leave at the end of the day feeling like you’ve been productive and successful? Write those things down.

Now, most importantly, take your calendar and schedule those things into time slots, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email. If your entire list does not fit into your calendar, reprioritize your list. There is tremendous power in deciding when and where you are going to do something.

STEP 2 (1 minute every hour) Refocus. Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour. When it rings, take a deep breath, look at your list and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don’t let the hours manage you.

STEP 3 (5 minutes) Review. Shut off your computer and review your day. What worked? Where did you focus? Where did you get distracted? What did you learn that will help you be more productive tomorrow?

The power of rituals is their predictability. You do the same thing in the same way over and over again. And so the outcome of a ritual is predictable too. If you choose your focus deliberately and wisely and consistently remind yourself of that focus, you will stay focused. It’s simple. This particular ritual may not help you swim the English Channel while towing a cruise ship with your hands tied together. But it may just help you leave the office feeling productive and successful.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that a higher priority?

Let me know your thoughts on this book?

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10 Things I Need to Do to Wrap Up My Week and Ease Into the Weekend

How do you close out your week and move into the weekend?

Jeff Goins (one of my favorite bloggers,) did a post on this, 10 Steps I Take to Begin Every Weekend, and it made me think about how I usually wind down my week.

I’d love to say that I do it well…and sometimes I do, but some weeks it’s more like…jump into task mode…rush to get everything done…stress about what how much I can’t get done… work through lunch… rush some more… remember that I forgot to plan dinner…then plan how much I have to catch up on over the weekend… Not a good plan to enjoy your weekend.

I though back to the weeks when I have been able to wrap up my week on a good note and really ease into the weekend and came up with my own version of my Friday wrap-up list.

10 things I need to do to wrap up my week and ease into the weekend

1. Task triage – Look over my task list (I use Pocket Informant.) What items are critical to complete this week? Defer the remainder to next week. (Get out the red pen – figuratively or literally.)

2. Hunker down – Yes, that’s my technical term for Focus, shut out the outside world (at least an hour, longer is better) and blast through as much as possible.

3. Inbox zero baby – It’s not a myth…it is possible. Process all my email, Do, Defer, Delete (I have no one to delegate to.)

4. Schedule weekend social media posts – Tweets, Facebook page posts, etc. (I use HootSuite.)

5. Prepare for next week – Look at next week’s calendar (home & work,) set tentative task/project goals & priorities (fluid – things will come up…life happens.)

6. Clean and back up my computer. (I use Glary Utilities for cleaning up digital files and an external hard drive for back-up.) If I do this every week, it doesn’t take too long.

7. Look over weekend schedule – Personal commitments, projects that need to be worked on, family activities, meals, etc. How do I want to spend my weekend?

8. Shut down the computer. (I am rarely able to completely disconnect, but if I can keep it to my iPad over the weekend, I’m doing well.)

9. Transition – Sometimes personal errands, sometimes hot cocoa with my youngest, sometimes just a cup of tea.

10. Move into family night – Pizza (non-dairy for me,) a glass of wine, and a movie with the family (Bonus points if I can stay up past 9 without falling asleep.)

How do you wrap-up and move into your weekend?

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How Do We Trim Our To-Do List When Everything on It is Necessary?

I don’t know about you, but it is a constant struggle for me to trim, cut, streamline my to-do list. Being an expert on figuring out ways to do things better doesn’t mean I’m immune to the challenge of the never-ending to-do list…it just means that I flog myself a bit more than the average person. However, flogging aside, here’s the rub…

We find it difficult to pare down to the necessary, because everything we do feels necessary…

Can I get an amen!

How can I possibly make an argument that it’s not necessary to feed my family, do laundry, clean the house, pay the bills, do errands, research and write current book, write blog posts, do social media marketing, product development, writing, editing and consulting for clients, invoicing, look for ways to generate income, have face time with my husband, connect with children (both here and away,) check homework and read with youngest, Skype/call my grandson, connect with my mother, sister, friends on a semi-regular basis, SLEEP, bathe, eat…

The answer, plain and simple… I can’t.

So, as I see it the only there are only two solutions.

  1. Make one last determined attempt to condense and adjust our responsibilities.
  2. Resign ourselves to the inevitable ball-dropping.

Let’s be clear, both routes are valid. If you can go right to accepting the occasional ball-dropping as a reasonable and natural consequence of our time constructs, then you have my respect and admiration (along with a smidgen of envy for your level of enlightenment.) But since ball-dropping perpetually tweaks some nerve of inadequacy in me, I’ll try the last-ditch slashing effort first. The key here I think, is to look at our responsibilities with an eye on adequate, instead of optimal. Not what we want to do, but what we can live with not doing.

It sounds like giving in to failure, but really, we need to re-frame it as succeeding at protecting our well-being. Constantly feeling behind, overwhelmed and stressed is killing us…literally.

4 Strategies to pare the necessary:

Delegate –This is always a strategy, but honestly, sometimes there’s not much latitude here. If you’re an employee or a solo freelancer/consultant like I am, there may be no one to delegate to and often there’s no money to hire work out. On the home front, our partners work as much as we do and have their own set of responsibilities, and our children have more commitments some days than we do. However, that said, there may be some wiggle room if we look very carefully with an eye toward adequate. This may mean releasing a bit of control over when and how things are done, which we’re often loathe to do, but it’s a fair trade-off for sanity.

Loosen standards – We may need to revisit our concept of what’s adequate, necessary, or good enough. In my case, that might mean, writing fewer posts or making them shorter, posting less often on social media, limiting the amount of research before making a decision, limiting the amount of planning before action, and adopting “pretty darn good” instead of impeccable as the standard wherever possible.

Increase efficiency – This is where most of us go first, but there’s always room for improvement or innovation. I really like to write my posts throughout the week as ideas come to me, but it would be more efficient to write the entire batch at once. Can we plan meals and shop for the entire week or budget our money and automate our bills so that we only have to check in once a month with our finances? Can we create a checklist for repetitive responsibilities and decision-making? Is there a tool, technical, or tangible that can help us? Weigh the cost carefully. For example, some tools that have paid off; Quicken to automate and manage finances, an over-sized washer that can handle bigger loads, a HootSuite subscription to manage social media, Pocket Informant to manage task scheduling, a timer app to enforce time constraints.

Eliminate – This is the most obvious, but also the hardest to do. When all else fails, ask yourself, what can you give up or refuse? What balls can you live with dropping? Something else to consider…If you find yourself repeatedly dropping the same ball, not completing the same tasks, ask if you really need to do them… or if you really want to do them.

And when you’ve done all that is humanly possible; accept that you can do no more…

Time is limited, balls will be dropped, tomorrow is another day, and life will go on.

What can you live with not doing?

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Want to be More Productive? You Need a Work Routine

Illustration depicting thought.

Image via Wikipedia

Develop a work routine

In keeping with our simplifying theme this month, one great strategy to simplify your day and improve your productivity at the same time is to develop a work routine. Routines work well for all aspects of our lives. The most successful people I have coached use routines to help them achieve their goals, balance their lives, stay healthy and all around get things done.

It’s actually very simple. Once you cultivate a set of habitual actions that work best for you, you have a routine. No extra planning, decisions or thought process necessary. It’s far more productive than having to stop and decide what comes next.

An example routine might consist of:

Choose 3 top tasks for the day

Spend 20 minutes doing an email check and sort

Take 20 minutes to check and return voicemails

Spend 20 minutes on social media marketing

Use 60 minutes to work on top priority

Take 15 minute break

30 minutes to make phone calls

Spend 90 minutes with team or individually to work on project

Lunch break

And so on…

People tend to get more done both at work and at home when they have routines to support them. So, your challenge this week is to develop a work routine that will enable you to get more done with less stress.

*Bonus – Try using routines in the morning, evening and weekends too! It’ll be easier to fit in exercise and remember to take your vitamins and whatever else you have packed into your days.

Do you have a work routine?

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