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!

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?

 

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.

Arrive on Time Every Time

Arrive on Time Every Time

This time of year, the kids are heading back to school and everyone’s anxiety seems to increase as the pressure to deal with the madness of the morning rush and arriving to school or work on time returns. How many of us start our mornings with, “Hurry up! We’re going to be late.” With the same morning routine and commute, why is it so hard to be on time?

With all the tools and technologies, we now have, from fancy alarm clocks to GPS apps telling us exactly how long it will take to get to our destination, we really don’t have any excuses to be late. Here are some of the techniques I use to help me be on time.

GRAB AND GO

Make sure you have everything you need to take with you ready to go before it’s time to leave. It’s critical to make sure there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place so you are not hunting for your car keys or looking for lost shoes when it’s time to leave. Find a set place for your keys and create a “mud room” space somewhere for shoes, coats, hats and backpacks. With the kids, I encourage them to gather all of their stuff the night before so they aren’t running around in the morning.

BUFFER TIME

Before you leave, check your map app to see how long it will take to get there and ensure you’re taking the best route. These apps will alert you to traffic issues and will route you around any unforeseen trouble spots. Take the time that is projected and add 20%. For example, if it says it’ll take 10 minutes, give yourself at least 12 minutes to get there. For a 20-minute drive, leave 25 minutes ahead of time.

For meetings, don’t leave your office when the meeting is supposed to begin. Make sure you leave your office with enough time to get to the conference room when the meeting is scheduled to start. If necessary, leave enough time to stop by the restroom or check-in with a co-worker on the way to the meeting.

HAVE A PLAN

If you are going somewhere you haven’t been before, do some research. First, check and review the directions. Find out where to park and how long it may take to walk to your destination from there. Keep the phone number on hand in case you get lost or need more detailed directions.

Don’t worry about being too early. Take the extra few minutes to check email or social media, make a quick phone call or, even better, review and update your to-do list. It’s a great to have some extra time to get something done.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you are late, think about whether any of these tactics would have helped get you there on time. Next time you’re headed out, give it a try and see if it helps. Better yet, keep at it and when it becomes a routine, you’ll quickly find you’re always there on time!

Productive Packing for Your Next Trip

Productive Packing for Your Next Trip

How many times have you gone on vacation and forgotten something? Happens to my husband all the time. He has forgotten his belt, sunglasses, swimsuit, medications and even his wallet. At this point it’s a family joke and we all try to guess what he might forget on his next trip.

Here are some simple tricks you can use to make sure you remember everything you need so you can enjoy your trip without the worry of forgetting something you will need. For starters, try to begin packing early and don’t wait until the very last minute.

KEEP THE ESSENTIALS

Keep the essentials that you need for every trip in a bag that’s ready to go at any time. Include the necessities including a sewing kit, first aid kit, basic medicines and toiletries. Then it’s a no brainer to quickly grab and pack it whenever you’re heading out on a trip.

VISUALIZE YOUR TRIP

Think through and visualize your trip. Imagine yourself going through each day. What are you doing? What will the weather be like? How many times will you need to change clothes? What gear or accessories will you need? How many nice or casual outfits will you need? Try to picture yourself there and walk through the entire trip in your mind to clearly see what you will need to bring along with you.

MAKE A LIST

About a week before your trip, start making a list of all the things that you will need to take, focusing mostly on the one-off items that you don’t use every day. Good examples are chargers, reading materials, travel documents and loyalty cards and accessories depending on your destination. Also, remember all travel documents and access to travel and reservation confirmations and addresses. Reference this list as you begin packing.

DO A DRY RUN

The day before your trip, pack your toiletries in your travel case and then use it the morning of your trip. Make sure everything you need comes out of your travel bag. By doing this, you will quickly realize if you’ve forgotten something and you can immediately add it to your bag and then you’re good to go. You can extend this practice to include everything you do for your morning routine. If you don’t have the luxury of time for doing this, as you get ready in the morning make sure everything you touch goes directly into your travel bag. 

TRY THIS OUT:  What have you forgotten to pack on previous trips? Would any of these practices have helped you remember that item? Before your next vacation visualize your trip, make a list of the must-haves and make sure you do a dry run the morning of your trip.

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 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?