The Value of Being Organized

The Value of Being Organized

Over the years, many of my friends and colleagues have consistently commented that I am so organized. I take pride in this compliment since I do work very hard at being organized. I follow the Two Minute Rule. I make sure there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. I live by my lists to the point that everyone knows (and even jokes) about them. I even make my bed every day.

Lately I’ve been wondering if this obsession of mine is worthwhile. Does the time spent being organized help me be more productive or is it just a waste of my time? I consider whether the energy spent on organizing would be better spent on getting stuff done. So, I did some research and some soul-searching to dig deeper.

First, one definition of “organized” is: “having one’s affairs in order so as to deal with them efficiently” which implies that there’s an inherent benefit. Second, 1 of out 4 Americans would like to be more organized. Surely, this desire is not just about having everything in the right place but to get more done. Third, when I searched for the benefits of being organized, hundreds of articles popped up listing the countless benefits of being organized from health, to efficiency to style, brand and even your reputation. Finally, I came across this quote from the wise Benjamin Franklin:

“For every minute spent organizing,
an hour is earned.”

All that said, here’s the value I can attribute to the time and energy spent on being organized:

SAVES ME TIME

Because I have a home for everything and I put everything back in its place, I never waste time looking for anything. I also schedule my full day so I don’t wonder what I should do next. I start with my meetings and appointments and then fill in the top priority tasks for the day to make sure I have allocated time to get them done. Very little of my time is time wasted.

MAKES ME MORE RELIABLE

Thanks to my to-do list I very rarely forget things that need to be done. I know that my brain isn’t good for remembering things so I make sure I always write down my tasks. Because I block time on my calendar to complete tasks and to focus on deep work, I never miss a deadline. The combination of my to-do list and my calendar ensures that I meet my commitments and deliver on expectations.

REDUCES MY STRESS

By maintaining a clean house, I don’t have to rush around and clean up before someone comes over. I don’t stress about where things are what needs to get done. I don’t worry about what I might be forgetting or leaving things to the last minute. Because I have a plan in place for the day, when urgent issues arise, as they often do, I can easily adjust and re-set expectations as needed.

THINK ABOUT THIS: How organized are you now? Identify a specific area of your life that feels chaotic. Is there a simple system or routine you could apply to help you become more organized? What would the value be to you to become more organized in that specific area? Is that benefit enough to warrant spending the time being proactive?

Crafting the Perfect To-Do List

Crafting the Perfect To-Do List

While researching productivity practices and challenges, I found that approximately 80% of us use some sort of calendar to manage and keep track of our time. We diligently enter in meetings, appointments, birthdays and other reminders. However, surprisingly, I also found that 80% of us do not have any system or methodology for tracking our tasks.

Some of us jot tasks down on a piece of paper but don’t have the list with us when we remember something else that we need to do. So, this list ends up being incomplete. Some use a notebook or try to remember tasks by adding notes or reminders on our phones. Others just hope that somehow it will all just get done.

So, why aren’t we using some sort of system, process or list to manage our tasks? Because most of them just don’t really work and often it becomes more work to maintain the list than to do the tasks. Here’s what you need to do to create a to-do list that will actually help you get things done.

KEEP ONE CENTRAL LIST 

The most critical element in developing a system that will work is to create and maintain all your tasks in one single to-do list. It’s best to keep track of everything you need to do on your Smartphone using the Notes or a task management app so your list is always with you as tasks come up. This makes it much easier to review, prioritize and determine what to tackle when.

PRIORITIZE

Don’t try to get everything done all at once. Many people fail to use to-do lists because they find them to be too overwhelming. While the list should contain everything you need or want to get done, you must prioritize the top three things you need to do each day so it’s more manageable and achievable. Schedule time in your day to focus on completing your top three prioritized tasks.

CLEANSE YOUR LIST

Spend a few minutes each day reviewing your list and updating it. Don’t be afraid to change your priorities during the day as things come up and challenge yourself to delete tasks from your list as well. Often, when a task lingers on your list for several weeks, it’s an indicator that it may not be that important.

CREATE SMALLER TASKS

Make sure to enter tasks that are clear and actionable in a set amount of time. Frequently, people get frustrated with their lists because nothing ever gets done. Make sure your tasks are broken down into each step along the way. For example, instead of adding a to-do to “Plan the party” start with “Set Date for the Party.” Once that’s done, then add “Create Guest List” and “Draft Party Invitation.”

TRY THIS OUT: How are you currently keeping track of your tasks? Are they all listed in one place? If not, start a central list or download a task management app like priorigami? After you get in the habit of keeping all your to-do’s in one list, check back to see how your tasks match up to these recommendations.

The Time Paradox

The Time Paradox

We’ve all heard it and said it ourselves many times: “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.” And, through my analysis over the past year, I have found that this is indeed the case. Not having enough time is not just a feeling, but an actual reality that we all face every day.

In my research on productivity, I consistently find that the most productive people don’t just work hard but they take care of themselves as well. So, I decided to experiment with my time each day to try to find the optimal use of every hour but, I haven’t been able to figure it out. Why not? Because there simply are not enough hours in the day.

It’s a basic and very simple math problem. Let’s start by looking at the two “big rocks” which basically account for two thirds of your day right off the bat.

  • 8 hours for a good night’s sleep
  • 8 hours at work

Next, let’s add in the necessary things that we just must do every day:

  • 5 hours to prepare and eat three meals
  • 1 hour to get ready
  • 1 hour to commute
  • 30 minutes for household activities

That leaves us with less than 4 hours to take care of everything else that we should be doing to be healthy and productive including the following:

  • 1 hour to exercise
  • 1 hour to spend with family
  • 1 hour to read
  • 30 minutes for mindfulness (meditation, yoga or journaling, etc.)

But now there’s no time left for the following fun activities which we would rather and often do spend our time doing including:

  • Watching TV
  • Checking Social Media
  • Entertaining
  • Shopping
  • Playing Games or Sports

So, to get it all done, we skimp on the amount of sleep we get, we avoid taking mental breaks and limit exercising to just a few times a week. To make time for the things we like to do, we neglect the things we should be doing simply because there are not enough hours in the day.

Here’s a visual breakdown of how we should ideally spend our time compared to how we end up spending our time:

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 2.04.44 PM

One of my favorite TV shows is “24” and each season they save the world in 24 hours because they don’t sleep, eat, rest, socialize or even go to the bathroom! How’s that for being productive?

TRY THIS OUT: For the next few days track how you spend each hour of your day. How does it compare to the ideal breakdown of time? What are you spending more time on than you should and what are you not doing that you need to find time to do? Are there ways to adjust your schedule to find that optimal balance?

Feedback is a Gift

Feedback is a Gift

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything about everything. I can’t solve every problem alone and I certainly don’t have all the very best ideas in my mind. The way I have gotten through life is through soliciting feedback, collaborating with others and sharing ideas. Every great idea has come from putting together a variety of good ones together.

It’s easy to give and receive positive feedback which is a great motivator, however, it doesn’t help you get to a better result. By far, the most productive feedback is the constructive feedback which helps improve your deliverable. The fastest way to get to a great result is to put something out there and get real people to share their thoughts on what they love, what doesn’t work well or what may be missing.

How you present your feedback will determine how it is received. There’s no need to be mean or condescending but simply offer alternative ideas or suggestions as additional thoughts or ideas. You could use some of the following to start the conversation:

  • Have you considered…
  • What if you…
  • How about…
  • I wonder if consumers would…
  • This is interesting, how did you come up with…

If you are the one receiving the feedback, the first thing to do is to keep an open mind and listen. No need to get defensive even if they are calling your baby ugly. Seek to understand their ideas and perspectives. Often, I let it sink in for a day or two before I respond. There’s no reason to react immediately. The best response is to thank them for their feedback and that you’ll take some time to thoroughly consider their input.

So, now it’s my turn. I’ve been writing this blog for about a year and I would love to get some feedback. Please email me at monishalongacre@productivity101.biz and let me know your thoughts about this post, the blog, my app or just about anything else that’s on your mind. Let me know about your productivity challenges or tips and tricks. Anything you share will help me get a better understanding of my audience. So, please give me this gift.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you are writing a report or memo and you just keep reviewing it and re-writing portions, ask someone else to proofread and edit it. It’s putting yourself out there, but you will get to a better result much faster. Stuck on solving a problem? Gather a few people with different experiences or perspectives and hold a brainstorming session. You’ll be amazed at the number of ideas you can gather in less than an hour.

The First Thing Everyday

The First Thing Everyday

I have always made my bed first thing in the morning. I don’t think about it. I just do it and have done so every single day for years. It’s just a natural part of my daily routine. I don’t see it as a chore or a waste of time, but a great way to start the day on a positive note by getting something simple done. I even make my half of the bed if my husband is still sleeping in it.

However, no matter how hard I try, I cannot convince my kids to make their beds, ever! They don’t see any value in it. To them, making the bed is just a waste of time since they’ll get back in it and it’ll just get messed up again. So, why bother?

Well, research reported in Psychology Today shows that “bed makers are happier and more successful than those who don’t.” In 2014, Naval SEAL Admiral McRaven included the following remarks in his commencement address at The University of Texas at Austin:

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

In my completely informal, unscientific Facebook survey, 66% of my Facebook friends make their beds every morning for exactly these reason. It makes them feel good and gets their day started in the right direction. Many also commented on how it feels good to end the day getting into a made bed.

To make it easier to make your bed each day, you can get rid of the extra pillows and cushions, remove the middle flat sheet or just use a duvet and simply pull it up. Believe it or not there’s now a SMARTduvet that comes with a phone app that will automatically make the bed for you. Not sure that this counts as making your bed, but maybe I should order it for my kids since they would simply push a “Make Bed” button on their smartphone to get their day started on the right foot.

TRY THIS OUT: If you don’t normally make your bed, try it for a few days in a row and see how it impacts your day and how you feel. If you do normally make your bed, try not to for a few days, does it even make a difference?

The Biggest Productivity Problem

The Biggest Productivity Problem

We all do it. We are all guilty no matter how good our intentions. And this one single thing has the biggest negative impact to our productivity every single day. So, what is it?

Not following through or following up.

It’s so easy to say, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Or, “Let’s meet for lunch.” Sometimes we say, “I’ll send you that article as soon as I get back to my desk.”  Or, “I’ll have that report done by the end of the week.” These promises easily stream from our mouths and then quickly vanish into the air. However, the recipient takes them and holds on to them setting an expectation in their minds.

So, why don’t we follow through on the commitments we make?

First, we just simply forget what we said.

Our brains are full, our bodies are active and our days are busy and sometimes these little promises just fall by the wayside. The smartest thing to do to ensure that you follow up is to write it down. As soon as you make a commitment, no matter how big or small, add it to your to-do list. That way it’ll serve as a little reminder whenever you check your lists.

Second, we don’t mean it.

Too often we just say things, to say things. Some of these statements have become a way of ending a conversation or just a figure of speech. Some of my favorites are:

 “See you tomorrow.” (Well, will you really?)

“Let’s get together.” (Then, set a date and time)

“I’ll be right there.” (Like, now or in 30 mins?)

“I’m almost done.” (Again, tell me how much longer)

Third, we overestimate our ability to deliver.

Sometimes we have all good intentions but we’re unable to keep a commitment. The report took longer than expected. Something may have come up preventing you from finishing it or it just didn’t get done. As soon as you know that you aren’t going to be able to meet a stated commitment, let that person know and re-set their expectations so they can then adjust accordingly. Don’t wait for the day to come and go and for them to have to reach back out to you to find out what’s going on.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you hear yourself making a commitment, stop, write it down and then come up with a plan to make sure you meet that expectation. Next time someone has to follow up with you on a commitment you made, think through how it got dropped and determine how you can close that gap the next time.

The Two Minute Rule

The Two Minute Rule

This rule is so simple in theory but harder to put into practice. Yet, if you can get in the habit of doing it, I promise you will save yourself so much time. The concept was first introduced by David Allen in “Getting Things Done” and many productivity experts and gurus continue to promote it including Daniel Pink in a recent Pinkcast episode.

Here’s how it works:  If you can complete a task in less than two minutes, you should just do it. Don’t put it off, don’t try to remember to do it later, don’t even write it down. Just do it and get it done. See, very simple.

So, how do you actually make that happen? Like I said, it’s much easier said than done but here are some examples that might help. When you bring in the mail, stand by the recycling bin and go through it. Immediately throw out any junk mail or flyers. Sort the bills into a pile to batch pay later. File anything that you might need to keep or reference later. Create a “follow up” pile for anything left over. You will never again have piles of mail laying around your house.

Similarly, you can use rule this for going through your email. This methodology called Inbox Zero is rooted in the same principle. Set aside time specific times throughout your day to check email and then follow these steps:

    1. Delete junk immediately.
    2. Archive or file emails that you may need to keep and refer to later.
    3. Forward emails that can be delegated.
    4. If a response or action can be done in under two minutes, just do it.
    5. The rest require further action and should be managed as tasks.

Some other opportunities to save time including putting your clothes away when you change, washing your dishes as soon as you finish eating, making your bed as soon as you get up in the morning. Imagine never having to find and devote time to doing a whole pile of dishes or cleaning up your room or closet. You also won’t ever have to spend time looking for your favorite sweater.

You can also use this rule for positive results. Take two minutes to call your Mom, text a friend or thank someone who did something nice for you. These are the types of things we think about doing but never get around to. How often do you say, “I was going to call you, but I’ve been so busy”? Instead of putting it off, just do it as soon as you think of it. Not only does it get done, but you feel good and so does the recipient of your kind thought.

TRY THIS OUT: As you go through the rest of your day, think critically about tasks that you need to do and how long they will take. Challenge yourself to immediately tackle anything that can be completed in less than two minutes. At the end of the day, assess how it went and how you feel. Did you get more done?