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Life’s Lessons

14 March 2012 Leave a comment

I Can’t Take the Stress!

After a particularly stressful and arduous 36 hours, I’m reminded of a quote:

When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.

Thank you Peter Marshall for keeping my life in perspective.

 

Siri-ous Affection

8 February 2012 2 comments

Disclaimer: This post is not an advertisement or endorsement for Apple products. This post is about productivity. Wait for it!

 
I am not traditionally an i-Fan. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Apple. It means that I’ve never been the type of person that follows the fad or the in-crowd. I was always just me–not always popular, or even noticed. Just me. Which means that sometimes I shied away from the “popular” stuff.

Then, 18 months ago I acquired my iPad. It has made me phenomenally productive. Every bit (pun intended) of information I need is right at my finger tips. And so the conversion to the Apple revolution began. I’ve carried Franklin Planners, Palm Pilots, smart phones; nothing compares to my iPad.

Until now! I have owned an iPhone 4S for six days. It is my iPad on a smaller scale. My iPad is affectionately called Padi. I considered naming my iPhone Son of Padi, but it sounded far too macabre. I opted for the more Scandinavian Padison.

My point? …. Oh, yes. I love Siri! Siri on my iPhone has taken productivity to a new level. I no longer have to fumble with tiny feedback-less keys. I simply hit the microphone button, speak naturally, and hit the done button. Texting, reminders, appointments, voice-activated calls, emails, notes….you name it. I can do all this in at least half the time it previously took me to do it by hand–literally. My voice and Siri are a great team.

No training required. Out of the box, Siri is at my beck and call. And she seems to have a personality at times. I wonder if there is a real person in there. My techno-background says, “No,” but it doesn’t stop me from wondering.

Get yours now. Not sold in all stores. Battery included.

Out of curiosity, how has your i-device and/or Siri made you more productive?

Are you insane?!?

30 January 2012 7 comments

What is the definition of insanity? Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I only have two brief things to say about that.

First
Repeating Excellence does not fall into this definition. We want to be doing the same thing over and over again, but we don’t expect different results. We expect to be excellent over and over again. We’re repeating the same thing expecting the same results. If we are not achieving excellence, then we should be doing something different expecting the same results–excellence.

Confused? Read on. I’ll explain.

Second
I have heard these same comments time and time again. “I’m going to lose weight,” but there is no diet or exercise. “I’m going to write a book,” but there is never any writing. “I’m going to get rich,” but spending habits don’t change. Results do not magically materialize from thin air. We have to DO something, usually by extending ourselves outside our comfort zone.

If you’re going to do something over and over, Repeat Excellence.

What rut are you stuck in? Post it for us in the comments and we’ll work through it together.

Time for Time

20 January 2012 Leave a comment

Courtesy of iStockPhotoTime. We have all been allotted the identical number of minutes in a day. The number is 1440. Depending on how much you sleep (360-480 minutes) you might end up with a few more or less than the person in the cubicle next to you.

Personally, I function very well on about 330 minutes of sleep. I’m usually in bed by 11:00 pm and sitting at the computer keyboard by 4:30 am. I attribute my sleep habits to a summer I worked two jobs for the same company. I worked as a custodian from 4-8 am and then clocked in on a different time card to do food prep from 8 – 2 pm. Some days, mostly weekends, I would do custodial in the morning, and then come back late-afternoon to work the dinner shift and close at 1 am.

I am a morning person for a number of reasons. Firstly, my mind truly does function better in the morning. When I was working on my Bachelor’s degree and then again on my MBA, I did all of my studying and homework in the morning before my family was up and moving. The house was quiet; the phone didn’t ring; no one was knocking on the door. There were no interruptions.

Secondly, I always feel guilty when I cheat my family out of time with her husband or their father. My evenings, for the most part are devoted to them. There is always a play or concert or recital or activity or meeting or function or gathering of some sort that demands my attendance. And I’m obliged to attend. I enjoy watching them perform or playing a game or just sitting on the couch watching a program on TV. I can’t do that, enjoy myself, if I’m worried about other stuff. I know that I will have about 120 minutes of morning minutes to devote to the other stuff. So my evenings are theirs.

So how do I do it? How do I keep my schedule organized and my life in some semblance of order? How do I manage my 1440 minutes?

I am a chronic list maker. Everything that needs to be done goes on a list. I spend about 10 minutes of my morning routine generating the list for the day. My list goes into a Microsoft Word document named DailyTaskList that is stored in my Dropbox folder. (How I use Dropbox is a discussion for another day.) The document has three columns: “Today (20 January 2012)”, “Tomorrow”, and a third column divided horizontally into “Short Term” on top and “Long Term” on the bottom. Short term task need to be done in the next week or two. Long term items need to be completed in the next month or year. In the morning, my “Tomorrow” tasks roll to “Today”. All of the completed “Today” tasks get deleted. I review my calendar for today and the week and add any tasks to “Today”, “Tomorrow” and “Short Term” that need, or will need, attention.

I don’t do a very good job at prioritizing my lists. But what it does do for me is give me an idea of how much I need to cram into my 1440 minutes–or about 1000 minutes after sleep, eating, and other personal essentials and unmentionables. I look at my list and think, “Wow! I have a lot to accomplish today.” I can see that I don’t have any room to take on unforeseen projects. If they occur, I know I have to put them on the list for tomorrow…or next week. It gives me fuel and courage to tell people, “No.” It give me the fortitude to control my own life.

Can I do better? Could my lists be more efficient? Yes and yes. But this is what works for me now. I’ve tried other canned packages (Covey’s prioritizing and Allen’s GTD and others). Though the desire was there to do better and be more organized and efficient with the use of my time, I wasn’t committed to their systems. THIS is my system and it works for me.

Find out what works for you and do it. Trust me. I’ve read countless HowTo books about time management and organization and productivity and efficiency. You, too, can read them all year long. But the thing that will make the difference in YOUR life is YOUR system. Find it. Apply it. Stick to it.

If you’ve got a system of task organization that works for your 1440 minutes, let us know. Post a comment and share your ideas. I might even consider a guest posting to the blog so you can give us all more detail.

Categories: Time Management

The $5 Lawn

29 December 2011 5 comments

Many many years ago I heard the story of the $5 lawn. I found this reference as told by Vaughn J. Featherstone and this one. Both cite Richard Thurman as the original author (Reader’s Digest, June 1958).

The story is told of a young teenage boy hired by a countess to care for her lawn. Each day the lad works in the yard and then reports to the countess the value of his work. “A $5 lawn is impossible” and “A $4 lawn is rare,” she would say. With things in perspective he repeatedly finished a $3 or $3.50 lawn each day, continually falling short of the $4 mark. Until one day he realized it was not the $4 he really wanted, but the $5 was truly his goal. He set about thinking what he needed to do to be worthy of the $5. On the appointed day, he arrived early and labored late into the evening. He worked for short bursts and napped periodically in the shade of the tree. His work was meticulous and each completed task spurred him on to his $5 goal. The countess was shocked when he asked for the $5. But after a careful inspection, she agreed that he had done the impossible.

I found some interesting parallels with modern day excellence, particularly my recent post, Seven Things Highly Productive People Do. There seems to be some credibility in working for 60-90 minutes and then resting.

Also, this idea of “impossible” . . . The word was invented by someone who never tried. I really like this quote by Audrey Hepburn:  “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m Possible!'”  We can accomplish what we set our mind to.

Write it down. Break it down. Finish it up.

 

What “I’m possible” things have you accomplished?

Categories: General, Time Management

Pozin’s Seven Things Highly Productive People Do

28 December 2011 1 comment

Ilya Pozin recently posted “7Things Highly Productive People Do“. I don’t think there is any rocket science here; I’ve seen similar lists in Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership and in that [insert lazy guy’s book].

1. Work backwards from goals to milestones.

You cannot write “Rebuild the company website” at the top of your ToDo list and expect it to happen. You’ve got to break it down into smaller and smaller steps. How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time. Rebuild your website (or whatever) the same way. Break the goal into 5-10 smaller milestones with a deadline date. Then break the milestones into 5-10 smaller tasks. Depending on the goal, you should now have a much more manageable list of items to add to your ToDo list.

2. Stop multi-tasking

In 2005, the British conducted a survey and concluded that switching tasks frequently lowers your IQ by 10 points. Actually, 10 is the average. It was -15 points for men and -5 for women. Women’s brains are wired differently than men’s (duh!). They are far better at multi-tasking.

3. Eliminate distractions

Close your office door and post a sign: “Single-Tasking: Please do not disturb!” People will get the message and a little chuckle. And you’ll get the 60 minutes you need to focus. See below.

4. Schedule your email

This is not a new concept. I was taught this principle at a productivity seminar at Educause 2009. Make email the second or third thing on your daily task list. Generally, people are more productive first thing in the morning. But what is the first thing you did this morning when you arrived at the office (or even before breakfast)? You got “caught up” on your email. If you read your email first, you are allowing other people to manage your time. Email was designed to be non-invasive, but we’ve turned it into our own personal bull whip. I was taught to read and respond to email 2.5 times a day: at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. Then do a quick scan at about 4:30 to ensure there are no truly urgent matters that need attention today.

5. Use the phone

Email is also not a good medium for long conversations. If you’re getting ready to respond for the third time in a thread, STOP. Pick up the phone and finish the conversation verbally. According to Six Sigma, waiting is one of the biggest harms to productivity. If you’re only responding to email twice a day, the person on the other end has waited at least 24 hours to get to the end of the conversation. Pick up the phone and finish it.

6. Work on your own agenda

This is the culmination of everything above. Create a prioritized task list and stick to it.

7. Work in 60-90 minute intervals

Your mind is one of the largest consumers of glucose. It needs periodic breaks to recharge. Focus on one task for an hour and then take a break. In an eight  hour day you end up actually working about 6.5 to 7 hours, but they will be far more productive and rewarding hours than if you continue to flit around like a butterfly from task to task every 5 minutes.

I tried working for 90 minutes straight on a single task. Couldn’t do it! My mind wondered pitifully. I’m working up to it. I’m currently at 60 minute intervals and it seems to be the right time frame for me. It was kind of like starting a new exercise program: You don’t drop on day 1 and pump out 100 push-ups. You have to condition the body to do that. I started with 15 minutes. I set the timer on my iPad and did one thing for 15 minutes. I was amazed at how long 15 minutes really is. I was also amazed at how much of the task I completed. When the timer went off, I walked down the hall, got a drink, read a Dilbert hanging outside a co-workers office, and then began another interval. I did 15 minute intervals for a few days and then bumped it to 30 minutes and then to 60.

Our mind and bodies have been trained by the television networks to focus for 15 minute intervals. 15 minutes of program and 3 minutes of commercial. And repeat over and over again. I’ve been doing that for 44 years. I would expect it to take a little time to overcome that conditioning!

Categories: Time Management