Tools You Can Use to Achieve Balance

Tools You Can Use to Achieve Balance

We all seem to constantly seek work-life balance. We often talk about ways of achieving it. We pursue the perfect alignment of work, family, and personal goals but we still struggle with how to achieve it given the set number of hours we have each day. So, is this desire even achievable with the increasing number of things we are trying to get done?

I certainly have not mastered the art of balancing it all – or more accurately, juggling it all. At times, I’ve been so overwhelmed I haven’t even tried to achieve any balance in my life. As I’ve gotten older though I am realizing that not making time for myself and my health and well-being for the long-term to focus on short-term to-dos really isn’t in my best interests. Or, for that matter, for any of the people around me.

YOUR TO-DO LIST

So, this past year, I adopted a few techniques to help me prioritize family and personal tasks above all the work tasks. To begin with, in my task management app, I have categorized my tasks by Work, Family and Personal and I now try to make sure there are always a few things in the Personal section. On the weekends, I prioritize the Personal items over the Work items to make sure I’m spending time on me.

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YOUR CALENDAR

Also, in my calendar, I color-code all my meetings and appointments so I can visually see where I am spending my time. I have assigned specific colors for work meetings, family activities, exercise and fun social activities. Of course, there are weeks when one or two colors seem to dominate but, when I have the flexibility, I schedule in more time for family and personal activities. The more colorful my calendar is, the more I know I am doing a better job of balancing my time.

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YOUR FRIENDS

When work tasks get overwhelming, it’s easy to skip some of the personal or family activities. To avoid doing this, I make a habit of scheduling these activities with a friend. It’s much harder to cancel when you’ve coordinated doing something with someone else. This is especially true for me when it comes to walking or exercising or going out for lunch or dinner. Not only do I make sure I’m making time for relaxing and enjoyable activities for myself, but I get the bonus of connecting and catching up with a friend.

Now, I think I just need to schedule in some down time. What color should that be?

TRY THIS OUT: Look over your to-do list or calendar to assess if you’re able to balance all the different demands on your time. Is there something that’s taking up a lot of your time? Are there things you wish you were doing but don’t show up anywhere? Which of these techniques might be able to help you achieve a little more balance in your life?

 

Just Say NO!

Just Say NO!

Almost every productivity expert agrees that one critical way to improve your productivity and focus is to stop taking on every new task and learn how to say, “No.” For me this has been a huge struggle and continues to be a challenge.

I am a people-pleaser and I enjoy helping others. I like to be asked to do things and I thrive on getting things done. I was always happy to take the notes in all our meetings. I would plan the holiday parties and company volunteer events. I would always stop what I was working on whenever anyone asked if I had a minute. But, I also found that I became the “go-to person” whenever anything needed to get done.

I soon realized that I was so busy doing tasks for other people that my most important tasks weren’t getting done or were slowly falling to the bottom of my list. Then, I would end up staying at work longer or staying up late to take care of the things that I needed to get done.

Finding myself in this situation a few too many times made me realize that I would have to get comfortable with saying, “No” to some of the tasks that came my way. I thoughtfully considered how I could confidently decline some tasks.

Now, before just saying, “Yes,” here are the questions I ask myself to decide which tasks I should take on and which ones I should pass on.

IS IT JUST BUSY WORK?

When asked to help with a task, I assess how I will benefit from doing it. If I find that I won’t learn anything or gain some value from doing it, I feel better about turning it down. Knowing that the task will take up my time but won’t add anything certainly makes it a bit easier.

CAN SOMEONE ELSE DO IT?

If someone else can easily handle the requested task or may even benefit from the challenge of taking it on, it’s easier for me to decline and suggest delegating that task to that person. Often, if someone can learn or gain a new skill or experience from doing a task, they will probably be happy to do it.

DOES IT EVEN NEED TO BE DONE?

Many times, we just do things, to do them. I find that if you think critically about how important the task is, you may find that it really doesn’t even need to be done. Is this a must-have or a nice-to-have? What happens if the task doesn’t get done? Or, maybe there’s just one important piece that needs attention but the rest of it can be ignored. Try to only work on the things that matter most.

TRY THIS OUT:  Look over your to-do list. Are there tasks on your list that you really don’t need to be doing? How can you comfortably say, “No?” Try pushing back on the tasks that prevent you from focusing on completing your most important tasks.

The Productivity Workout

The Productivity Workout

Want to lose weight? Is your goal to eat healthier? Trying to exercise more regularly? Many of us have goals and desires to live a healthier lifestyle but it’s hard because it doesn’t just happen. In fact, it takes a lot of planning, discipline and time. Becoming more productive isn’t any different.

I often hear people say that they want to get more done. They would like to be more organized and efficient. But they don’t do anything differently. It’s almost as if they feel or hope these things will just somehow miraculously just happen. If only.

Living a healthy lifestyle requires exercising 3-5 times a week, walking 10,000 steps a day, limiting calories to less than 2,000 a day of healthy foods. None of this happens without proactive planning and dedicated time and effort. Similarly, to increase your productivity and efficiency, you need to develop and follow your own productivity workout.

SET GOALS

To get started, you first need to clearly establish your goals. It’s not enough to just say you want to be more organized or productive. You need to be able to openly articulate goals that can be easily tracked and measured. As Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

TOOLS

To improve your fitness, you may need an exercise coach, workout equipment, healthy recipes, a fitness tracker app and other tools to help you achieve your goals. Without these tools, achieving your goal will be a lot more challenging.

Similarly, you will need certain tools to help you become more productive. First, make sure you have one single calendar you use to schedule your time, including work and personal meetings, appointments and reminders. Also, make sure you establish and maintain a single to-do list to track your tasks. Finally, obtain a journal to keep your notes in one place for easy reference when needed.

DISCIPLINE

Now, you just need a plan to put your workout in action. Begin by scheduling an hour each week in your calendar for planning. During this time, review and confirm your appointments and meetings for the week ahead. Identify big items that need to be done and schedule them into your calendar to ensure they get done. For critically important items, schedule it twice. Be sure to update your to-do list.

Each day, either the night before or at the start of the day, review your list and select your top three priorities for the day. It’s fine for them to change as the day progresses because things come up and you can adjust. Also, feel free to eliminate tasks that don’t necessarily need to be done.

TRY THIS OUT: Find an hour this week and block it off to develop your own productivity workout. First, identify your goals and determine what tools you will need to establish to help you. Schedule time each week for planning and for setting your daily priorities just as you would set aside time to exercise.

The Three R’s of Productivity

The Three R’s of Productivity

One of the little understood clues to increasing your productivity is to do fewer things. Seems somewhat paradoxical but when you think about it, you can focus on doing the most important things well when you aren’t trying to do everything all at once.

Reference the three “R’s” of productivity to identify and eliminate the unimportant distractions that eat up your time and energy.

REDUCE

You don’t have to do everything that’s on your to-do list. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of reviewing your list daily to prioritize the most important tasks but also to determine if there are things on your list that aren’t important or no longer need attention. Keep in mind that it’s OK to remove items from your list. If they truly are important, they will come back around. If there’s a task that’s been lingering on your list for over two weeks, that’s a sign that perhaps it really isn’t that important and can be removed.

REUSE

Before you begin a task, see if there’s something you have already created that you can leverage. For example, a proposal or press release that you’ve already written can often be repurposed. Also, before you create a new document or presentation look for templates to help you get started. Microsoft has a large library of templates available for their products. Also, you’ll be surprised how many free templates are available online so do a quick search to see what you can find and use. There’s no point in trying to re-invent the wheel if the heavy lifting has already been done and is readily available.

REASSIGN

Just because you can get something done, doesn’t mean that you should always be the one to do it. Think critically about the tasks that can easily be handled by someone else to free up your own time. Often it feels like it is just easier to just do ahead and complete tasks by yourself to ensure that they are complete and done correctly. However, we don’t think about the opportunity cost of what doesn’t get done during that time. Could your time be better spent? Keep in mind John C. Maxwell’s advice:

“If something can be done 80% as well by someone else, delegate.”

TRY THIS OUT:  Look at your to-do list. Which things on your list don’t need to be done? Think about which items can be removed or reassigned? See what already exists that you can leverage that might reduce the amount of time you need to spend on it. Cleansing and curating your list is just as important as creating one.

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 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.