Enjoy Happier Holidays with Lists

Enjoy Happier Holidays with Lists

So, we survived Thanksgiving and now the rest of the holiday season looms before us. While this is a time for joy, togetherness and happiness, it’s also a source of immense stress. The expectations of the holiday season have become so overwhelming and there’s a limited amount of time to get it all done. No wonder it seems to start earlier each year. So, how do you survive the season?

Not surprisingly, I try to keep up with it all with a whole bunch of lists that I keep year after year to help me stay on top of it all. Santa makes his list and checks it twice so why not give it a try? Here’s the list of lists that I use to get through the season.

Holiday Card List

For years, I have maintained a holiday card list of all friends and family members I want to keep in touch with. It includes their mailing addresses for easy reference along with a record of cards that we have sent or received. As cards come in, I update names of new family members or new addresses for those who have moved. Throughout the year, I reference this list whenever I need a mailing address.

Christmas Gift List

I create a gift list organized by person listing the gifts I would like to buy for them. I try to note where I can purchase them and any other details such as size or color. It’s been nice to go back and see what gifts I have gotten for them in years past so I don’t keep buying the same types of things. It also helps me make sure I haven’t missed anyone.

Christmas Wish List

I have been told repeatedly that I’m hard to shop for. For the most part, I have more than I need and don’t really have a long list of wants. Recently I realized that by creating my wish list I could make it easier for my family members and reduce the number of returns to deal with after the fact.

Holiday Open House Invite List

The holidays are a great time to get everyone together and I am a big fan of the holiday open house. I start from last year’s invite list and then over a week or so, add names as I think of people or run into them. This process helps me make sure I don’t overlook anyone and invite other new friends as well.

Holiday Menu Shopping List

Two weeks out, I plan the full menu for all the holiday meals. I list all the meals, number of guests and which dishes I plan to make. Then, I use this list for creating the grocery list and the meal prep timeline. Doing this ahead of time allows me to determine which items can be bought from Costco or the farmer’s market versus just the grocery store. Also, I can figure out which items can be prepared ahead of time versus just in time.

Finally, if you are travelling over the holidays, use this handy packing checklist to help you pack productively.

TRY THIS OUT: What stresses you out most about the holidays? Take time to create a list to help you plan and get organized. How do you feel? Does it help relieve some of the stress? You may even consider starting with a list of lists that might be helpful!

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.

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?

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.

5 Productivity Pitfalls

5 Productivity Pitfalls

At the start of a new year, a new job or a new project, we set clear goals, develop a workable plan and we are motivated, but then what happens? Somewhere along the way, we inevitably get derailed and find ourselves without clear direction, off our plan or distracted by other things that are clamoring for our time and attention.

Here are five pitfalls that can directly impact your productivity. First, be aware of them and then learn how to steer clear of them.

1. Digital Distractions

The number one deterrent to your productivity is the amount of time you spend checking your email and browsing social media or playing games. Turn off all your notifications and alerts and set aside specific periods of time each day for these activities. Better yet, schedule time for these digital distractions as your reward for completing a very important task or project.

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2. Meetings

We spend 35-50% of our working time in meetings and most of them are a total waste of time. Before blindly accepting meeting invites, think critically about whether attending the meeting is a good use of your time. If you must attend or hold a meeting, make the most of the time by following these guidelines for conducting effective meetings. Also, Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death by Meeting is another great resource.

3. Procrastinating

There’s always that one task that lingers on your to-do list and you will do a million other things instead of tackling it. Consider why you are avoiding it.  Is it not that important? Is it too daunting? Or, are you just not motivated? Understanding the importance of why you should do the task will help you find the motivation to attack the task head on. I also find that rewarding myself with something fun once the task is complete is another good motivator.

4. Multi-Tasking

This is my biggest weakness. When we have too much to do we just keep trying to do it all and sometimes all at once. However, the research and science has proven that it’s technically impossible for us to truly multi-task and the costs of constantly switching between tasks has such an impact that it’s just not worth doing. Instead schedule focused time to work on the most important things you need to get done.

5. Your Phone

Research shows that we are 26% more productive without our smartphones. On average we reach for our phones more than 85 times a day! Stop letting your phones control your time and your habits and start using it to increase your productivity instead of negatively impacting it. When you need to focus, try putting your phone in a drawer or in another room. Just try it and see what happens.

TRY THIS OUT: What are the pitfalls that are impacting your productivity? What are three things you can do to eliminate or avoid those pitfalls. How are you going to hold yourself accountable to steering clear of those pitfalls?

 

Five Habits of Highly Productive People

Five Habits of Highly Productive People

Last summer when I was heads down working my corporate job, one of my male colleagues stopped me one day and asked, “How do you do it?  How do you get it all done?” We set up some time and I started talking through how I managed my life – all of it, from work, to home to school and sports and throw on a few non-profit Boards.

What I found through our conversation was that over the past 25 years in the working world trying to juggle life, I had developed a methodology for getting things done. This system includes lots of little tips and tricks that I’m sharing with you on my blog, but in the bigger picture it all comes down to perfecting and instituting these five habits.

  1. Clearly Know Your Goals

If you ask productive people about their goals, they will be able to rattle them off to you without any hesitation. They know what they want and they can clearly articulate what they are trying to achieve. Also make sure you periodically review your goals and adjust if needed because things do change.

  1. Break Down Goals into Achievable Tasks

You cannot achieve your goals without a plan. To build a realistic plan, break down your goals into tasks that you can manage and use to measure progress. For example, if your goal is to plan a party, start with the first few steps: create the invitation, generate the guest list, plan the menu, etc.

  1. Keep a Prioritized To-Do List

Store all your tasks in one central place like a simple task management app like priorigami. By having a home for all your tasks, you don’t have to depend on your brain to remember things or check several different places to figure out what you need to do next. This also makes it easy to review your tasks and select your top three daily priorities.

  1. Schedule Focused Time to Complete Tasks

Once you have identified your top three tasks, look at your calendar and block calendar time to get them done around other scheduled events, appointments and meetings. This step will ensure you dedicate focused time to completing your prioritized tasks. If something urgent arises, as if often does, then adjust your priorities and then reschedule your time to accommodate the disruption.

  1. Reward Yourself

To help you stay motivated and focused when you are working on a task, reward yourself upon completing a task. Perhaps it’s 15 minutes on social media or talking to a friend or a night out for dinner. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as you enjoy and look forward to it. This coupled with the self-satisfaction of completing your tasks and getting one step closer to your ultimate goals will keep you going.

TRY THIS OUT: What are your top three goals right now? If you can’t clearly answer that question, then start there. If you can, break down your goals into tasks and select the top three to start on tomorrow. Schedule time in your calendar to complete those three tasks, then take it from there.

Double or Nothing

Double or Nothing

I was trying to schedule a meeting with a very busy working mother who was very concerned about and reluctant to commit to a meeting time. After digging in further, I found out that her career often required last minute requests with quick turnarounds and as a result, she didn’t feel like she had control of her schedule. She shared that often she would avoid scheduling meetings or appointments for fear of letting someone down if she couldn’t make it or had to cancel at the last meeting. This extended into her social life as well.

More often than not for most of us, life happens and things get in the way of our plans and impact our scheduled plans. While it’s critical to plan and schedule your time to maximize productivity, the reality is that things change and schedules have to be adjusted. In fact, sometimes we need to plan for that.

One handy trick that I’ve used for years and has saved me many times is to “double book.” It’s so simple. If something needs to get done, schedule it into your day. And, if it’s really important, schedule it again at another time. Yes, just go ahead and book two times to ensure that if something comes up and disrupts the first window, you already have a backup plan in place.

This works for exercising as well. If you really want to make sure that you get out to the gym or for a run, schedule time to do it. And then find a second time to make sure if you miss the first window, you still have time to get it done.

It’s a bit more challenging but you can do this for meetings as well. First, set expectations with the meeting participant that your schedule often gets disrupted with urgent, last-minute requests but meeting with him/her is really important to you so you would like to book two meeting times in case the first one falls through. Nobody has ever turned this down or questioned it. In fact, most are pretty open to it and think it’s a pretty smart idea.

And there’s also an added bonus benefit. When you do get your task done or meeting in during the first scheduled spot, then your second one opens up some valuable time on your calendar to do something else or have some fun. It’s always nice to delete an appointment and see some unexpected time open up in my day.

TRY THIS OUT: Pick something that you really need to get done this week. Schedule time for it and then schedule another time later in the week to make sure it gets done. You win either by having a backup plan or by opening up extra time on your calendar.