The Myth of Time Management

The Myth of Time Management

So many of us talk about time management. Countless articles have been written and tools have been created to help us manage our time. There are time management gurus, tutorials and classes. Half of our working day is spent juggling our calendars in a never-ending attempt to “manage our time.”

But, what if we cannot manage time? Consider that this may just be a completely useless exercise. If you think about it, no matter what we do, time will always continue to tick forward. We cannot rewind it and we cannot fast forward it. It just is and just continues according to the plan – each second, every minute, the next hour and then into the next day.

That said, it should be obvious that time itself cannot be managed. I would propose that instead we rethink what we’re trying to “manage” and reorient our focus to the things that we can and do control:  our priorities, energy and attention.

PRIORITIES

Each day we all have more to do than we can handle. We know what needs to get done and we constantly make choices about what’s most important and what needs to be prioritized. Setting clear and deliberate priorities is the single most critical factor driving our productivity and future success. We can and do control how we spend our time even if we cannot control time itself.

ENERGY

We can also decide how to spend our energy. Energy is finite and to optimize output, it’s imperative that we focus our efforts and our energy on the most important priorities. This is harder to do than it seems these days due to the countless distractions that get in our way. So often, we expend more of our energy on the things that are seemingly urgent but not all that important.

ATTENTION

Focus seems to be a lost art especially for me. With countless dings, pings, alerts and notifications, it’s virtually impossible to focus on any one thing for an extended period. I personally struggle with this constantly. Research has shown that multi-tasking is not possible and simply does not work. To be most productive it behooves us to focus our full and complete attention on one task at a time. I have found that the Pomodoro technique works best for me since it forces me to focus for a set amount of time and reward myself with a break.

TRY THIS OUT: Do you spend a lot of time trying to manage your time? Does it work for you? Do you spend any time managing your priorities, energy and attention? If not, pick one and try to focus on it for a day or two. Do you find that you’re more productive?

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.

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?

Your Life in Lists

Your Life in Lists

Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group and author, disclosed on his blog that the secret to success is to “write it down.” He shares, “Ever since I was a child I have made lists of all kinds, including short-term tasks, long-term goals and resolutions. It’s how I make sense of the world, bring order to the ideas in my head, and start turning them into action.”

I believe him. I have lists and lists for everything. It’s how I was able to keep everything in order and stay on top of everything for many years. The real key to success isn’t just about writing it down but also how you organize and manage your lists. Here are some ideas:

Shopping Lists

Keep lists of everything you need to buy. I organize my lists by store so when I’m in that store, I pull up my list and don’t forget to buy anything. A great app for this is AnyList which allows you to share your shopping lists.

Work Lists

If you are an individual contributor working on many projects, organize your lists by project. Include everything from tasks, to open questions and items you need to follow up on. If you are a manager, organize your lists by employee. Again, include all open items. I used a notebook that I always kept with me so I could write things down as soon as they came up.

Task Lists

The key here is to only have one to-do list and make sure you always have it with you. Most people I talk to have lists in all different places, their work notebook, their phone, Post-It Notes and in their head. When it comes down to it, items get forgotten or fall through the cracks. Most people always have their phones with them so I use the task management app, priorigami: the art of productivity, to store all my to-dos in one place.

Entertainment Lists

I keep lists of books I want to read, shows I want to watch, movies I want to see, restaurants I want to try, places I want to visit and people I want to catch up with so whenever I have some free time, I quickly scan through my lists and find something to do. I keep these in the Notes section of my phone so I can quickly access them.

Done Lists

I am a strong believer in documenting completed tasks and accomplishments because it makes you feel good and motivates you to do more. I have kept a Done list in various forms for over 20 years.

If you want to learn more about how lists can help you become more productive, check out Paula Rizzo’s book, Listful Thinking. It’s an easy read. If you want to have some fun with lists, try Listography: Your Life in Lists which is a series of journals of lists.

TRY THIS OUT: What lists do you currently maintain? Which work for you and which ones don’t? What lists might be helpful for you to have? What’s the best format for your list and where should you keep it to make sure it’s readily available when needed.