To Resolve or Not to Resolve?

To Resolve or Not to Resolve?

Another new year is upon us and we all get another fresh start. This time of year, 45% of us set New Year’s Resolutions to help us achieve our goals in the year ahead. So, does this tradition actually work?

While only 8% of those who made resolutions succeed in fully achieving them, people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t make any resolutions at all. So, why not give it a try this year?

The biggest reasons for failure are having too many goals, setting unrealistic goals, not keeping track of progress and forgetting about the goal or losing interest. Every one of these obstacles can be easily overcome if you are truly committed to making a change. So, how should you set your resolution this year?

First, select only one goal. It’s better to identify one thing and focus on achieving it versus picking several and not accomplishing any of them. Change is hard no matter what it is, so just tackle one thing at a time.

The top five resolutions people made in 2015 were to:

  1. Lose Weight
  2. Get Organized
  3. Spend Less/Save More
  4. Enjoy Life
  5. Say Fit and Healthy

One common theme each of these goals shares is that they are grand, over-arching and ambiguous. You will be a lot more successful if you set SMART goals. When setting a SMART goal, simply make sure it is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

So, instead of “Lose Weight,” set a goal to “Walk 10,000 steps a day and limit your caloric intake to 2,000 calories a day.” If that’s too over-whelming, start with one and then add in the other when you’re ready.

Instead of “Get Organized,” set a goal to “Download priorigami and use it to track tasks and set and complete your top three priorities each day.”

Instead of “Spend Less/Save More,” set a goal to “Limit weekly spending to $200 and save $500 a month.”

In 2016, I wanted to focus on fitness but I was very overwhelmed facing a big huge commitment to exercise so I started by dedicating at least 5 minutes every day to fitness. I wrote down “Five 4 Fit” and hung it up on my bathroom mirror to serve as a daily reminder of my goal. I am happy to say that by starting out small I was able to commit to my goal and now I’m exercising daily as part of my routine.

TRY THIS OUT: If you were to set one resolution for 2017, what would it be? How can you turn that into a SMART goal? Are you up for the challenge? How will you track your progress and reward yourself along the way?

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.

So Many Inboxes, So Much Time

So Many Inboxes, So Much Time

My phone buzzes. My instinct is to instantly grab it to see what someone needs. But wait, what do I check first? There are just so many incoming messages coming into so many different inboxes. So, how do we keep up? It’s no wonder we waste so much time checking and responding to messages without realizing how ineffectively we are using these tools to actually communicate.

So, back to my phone. I read a few text messages and respond to one. Move on to email. I have my personal email box and my business one. Too many messages. I’ll come back to that later. I have 10 messages on my Slack channel, something must be going on. My LinkedIn app is showing a new unread message so I go there next to see who might want to connect. Then Facebook Messenger is indicating a few more incoming messages. While I’m here, I might as well check to see if I have any Twitter Likes, Retweets and DMs and Instagram Likes and DMs as well.

An hour later, what have I actually accomplished? Absolutely nothing. And quite honestly I’m not sure what I’ve learned and what I should do next. It’s like flipping through 200 channels without watching a thing.

Here are some communication best practices you might want to consider before sending your next message:

TEXT MESSAGES

 Unless you’re communicating with close friends or family, reserve texting for short, urgent messages that can be addressed with a quick, short response back. Try to avoid sending group text messages since every response goes to all recipients. Don’t use text messages to connect with someone for the first time.

EMAIL

Use email for most communications to share information, coordinate meetings and events or collaborate on ideas. Email is also great for communicating with groups of people. Use email if you’re asking the recipient to do something for you. This way your message will also serve as a reminder to them.

FACEBOOK

Facebook is a personal, social network and should be used to communicate primarily with friends and family. Be thoughtful about reaching out to co-workers, bosses or employees since they may not be comfortable connecting on a personal level. Also, try to avoid pushing your products or services too aggressively.

LINKEDIN

Think of LinkedIn as your extended professional network. This is where you can connect comfortably with work associates and partners. Be sure to limit posts, messages and updates to professional topics and articles.

TWITTER

Limit Twitter use to sharing breaking news, articles and updates. Sports scores, headlines, quotes and updates with immediate relevance all make the most sense for Twitter.

INSTAGRAM

People look at Instagram, they don’t read it. The photo or image you post should be the message and should stand alone. People shouldn’t have to read the caption and comments to understand the message.

Most importantly, don’t use send out the same message through all of these channels. Pick the most appropriate communication channel for your message and send it!

Gotta go.  My phone just buzzed. It must be something urgent.

TRY THIS OUT: Try to set aside a few times a day to check your various inboxes during breaks in between work times and meetings. Also, it really helps to turn off all of your notifications, alerts and badges. Before you shoot off your next message, think about the list of best practices above and make sure you’re using the best channel for the message.

Smarter Uses of Your Smartphone

Smarter Uses of Your Smartphone

We all carry around our smart phones as if they were a part of our body and check them an average of 85 times a day. Not only do they serve as phones, they have replaced calendars, cameras, alarm clocks and radios. For some they have even taken the place of our computers. Here are some additional features of your smart phone that you may not be taking advantage of that can help you increase your productivity.

DON’T ANSWER TO A NUMBER

This one is very basic but hard to do. With contacts, you can see who is calling you. If you don’t recognize the phone number of the person calling you, DO NOT answer it. Let them leave a message and then you can determine if and how to respond. Nine times out of ten, they won’t even leave a message. Also, if someone you know calls but you’re in the middle of something, stay focused and give them a call back later.

KEEP TRACK OF TASKS

You always have your phone with you so it’s the best place to keep track of your tasks. Whenever something pops into your mind to get done, enter it into an app on your phone and then you don’t have to remember to remember to do it later. Free your mind and use your phone store your tasks. Plus, when you have time, all of your tasks will be in one single place making it much easier to prioritize.

USE YOUR TIMER

Being productive requires focus which is becoming more and more challenging given the large number of distractions competing for our attention. Try using the timer on your phone to set aside 20-30 minute blocks of time for focused, uninterrupted deep work. You will be amazed at how much you can get done in that amount of time as well as how quickly time flies by. When the timer goes off, reward yourself with a quick 5-10 minute break and then repeat.

SET REMINDERS

If you have to do something at a particular time or by a specific time, set a reminder. Reminders will alert you with a buzz and a quick message so you don’t forget something critically important. In this case, this type of alert or notification can actually save you.

TRY THIS OUT: Think about how you currently use your phone. It is just for phone calls, emails and text messages? What other features can you utilize to help you stay focused and become more productive. Pick one of the suggestions from above and try it out for a week to see how it feels and if it is helpful or not.

Get More From Your Calendar

Get More From Your Calendar

Last month, my daughter I went on a college tour in New England. In six days, we visited five different schools in seven states. We stayed in four different hotels and attended schedule college information sessions, campus tours and met with coaches. And, I used my calendar to keep track of it all.

Most of us consistently use Outlook, Google or iCal to schedule and keep track of our business meetings. These tools are great for checking schedules, finding meeting rooms and getting group meetings on calendars. But, they can also be very effective in helping you manage your own time and if used properly can actually help you be more efficient and productive.

Here are some ways you can get more value out of your calendaring tool:

INCLUDE THE WHERE

Most calendaring tools have a field for “Where.” Most often this is the conference room. However, for off-site meetings or conference calls, use this field to include the full address of the meeting location for quick access to driving directions or conference call dial-in information so you don’t have to hunt for it.

ENTER CONTACT INFORMATION

Take an extra minute to add in phone numbers and email addresses of meeting attendees in the notes section in case you are running late and need to inform someone. This is especially helpful when you’re stuck in traffic and are unable to dig to find contact information. This also comes in handy if you are waiting for someone and want to find out where they are.

ACCOUNT FOR TRAVEL TIME

If the meeting is off-site at another location, block time before and after the meeting for travel. This will ensure that you or someone else doesn’t book something else at the same time you need to get to the meeting. Allow for more time than you think you need. If you get there early, you can use the extra time to reply to a text, quickly check emails, or browse your social networks.

ATTACH AN AGENDA

Most tools allow you to include attachments. Use this feature to attach the agenda so you’ll know what will be discussed. You can also attach any related notes or a list of questions so you can easily access them during the meeting and make the most of the meeting time.

TRY THIS OUT: Take a look at your calendar for the week ahead. What additional information can be added to your meeting appointments now to make your life easier later? Have you accounted for travel times? Check to see what might be missing from your calendar that you can go ahead and schedule in to make sure it gets done.

Less is More

Less is More

Often when considering productivity, we think about how much we have to do and how to get it all done. The volume of how much we have to do seems overwhelming. So, what if we limited the number of tasks on our to-do list? Sounds a little backwards but one easy and smart way to become more productive is to reduce the number of things we are trying to do.

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In his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” Greg Mckeown explains “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.” He continues, “Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”

This concept is not just limited to tasks. Think about how many things you have as well. We all have way too much stuff. I was fascinated by the story of Rob Greenfield, a 29 year old entrepreneur, environmental activist and minimalist who has limited his possessions to just 111 items that fit in his backpack. He shares, “Through my years of downsizing, I’ve found that material possessions don’t create long term happiness or fulfillment for me. I’ve found that an overabundance of possessions hinders my purpose and passion rather than facilitates it.”

Recent research and experiments have proven that working fewer hours results in increased productivity as well. In fact, in 2000 the French government mandated a 35-hour work week and has also since eliminated checking email after hours. Several companies in Sweden have experimented with a 6-hour work day and found that they were doing just as much if not more than they accomplished in 8 hours just by working more efficiently.

So, which of your tasks are hindering your purpose and which ones are helping you reach your goals. Think critically and deliberately about focusing on the Most Important Things from your long list of tasks and you’ll begin to see your productivity increase. The old adage, “Less is More” supposes that by doing fewer things, you are directing more time, energy and attention to the things that really matter thus resulting in a better end product.

TRY THIS OUT: You, too, can become an essentialist: simply ask yourself, “Is this the most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?” Challenge yourself to focus on the few versus the many by eliminating distractions and time wasters.

The Importance of Why

The Importance of Why

In the newly released and highly acclaimed productivity book “Smarter, Better, Faster,” Charles Duhigg opens with a chapter about motivation. He asserts that those who have control and understand the big picture are more motivated. He writes, “If you can link something hard to a choice you care about, it makes the task easier.” He adds, “Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”

So many of us spend a lot of time and energy making lists, tracking tasks and keeping up with all of the things that we need to get done. But, how many of us are asking, “Why?” Why should I do this task? Why is this task important? Why should I spend any time on this task? Why is this beneficial?

Early in my career, someone shared a great story that stuck with me and have since shared with many of my team members and colleagues over the years. A man is walking by a construction site and comes across three workers doing the same job. He stops and asks the first one, “What are you doing?” The man quickly replied, “I am laying bricks.” He then asked the second guy the same question but he responded, “I am building a wall.” The man then turned to the third guy and when he asked him the same question, the guy stood up, paused and smiled and looked to the sky and then shared, “I am constructing a cathedral.”

While each of them were doing the same task, they thought of their work completely differently. There’s a big difference in terms of thinking that you’re just laying bricks versus constructing a cathedral. Through their descriptions of their work, you can tell which of the three workers would be most motivated, driven and productive.

So, next time you’re about to start a new task begin by asking yourself, “Why?” If you can’t come up with a strong answer, it’s fine to just remove that task from your list and move on to the things that have greater meaning and significance. You will find that’s motivation enough.

TRY THIS OUT: Think about the things that you rush to complete and love to do. What motivates you to do them? What drives you to get them done? Then, think about some of the things that linger on your list. Why don’t they get done? Think about how you can attach a greater meaning or calling to those tasks to increase your motivation to tackle and complete them.

The Lingering Task

The Lingering Task

When talking to people about how they manage their tasks and whether or not they keep a to-do list, inevitably the conversation turns to how their lists get too long and overwhelming. When that happens, many people get frustrated and just give up on the list.

The most troubling aspect of maintaining a to-do list is the annoyance of the lingering task that just stays on the list and never gets done. When you break it down, there are really only a few reasons why certain tasks linger longer than others. Here’s how you can get rid of those lingering tasks.

JUST DO IT

Some tasks are important but for whatever reason, we just don’t want to do it. We just keep procrastinating and avoid the task altogether. In “Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time,” Brian Tracy popularizes the old adage that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. He suggests that you should take your most important but dreaded task and just attack it, get it done and move on.

DELETE IT

Successfully maintaining a to-do list is not just about completing items but making decisions about what’s most important and also what should be removed from the list. Sometimes you add a task to your list with all good intentions of getting it done, but over time it lingers on the list because it’s just not that important. In that case, it’s OK and should just be deleted from your list. If it’s important enough, you can always add it back to your list later.

BREAK IT DOWN

Other tasks stay on your list because they are just too big and overwhelming to tackle. In this case, break it down and create a task just for the first step. Once that’s complete, you can then create a task for the next step. For example, if you added a task to “Plan the Party” I bet it never gets done. Instead, start with some of the following:

  • Set Date for the Party
  • Create Guest List
  • Draft Party Invitation
  • Select Menu

You’ll find that you will have much more success tackling and completing the smaller, quicker and easier tasks. Similarly, instead of creating a task to “Read a Book,” you can break it down into specific chapters.

Keep in mind, the magic of a to-do list is in checking things off the list and not letting tasks linger.

TRY THIS OUT:  Look at your to-do list and review the tasks that have been on your list for over two weeks. First, decide which ones you can just delete. Then, start to break down the tasks that are too big. Finally, if it’s important make it your top priority for tomorrow and just get it done.

A Perfectly Productive Day

A Perfectly Productive Day

One no-brainer way to increase your productivity and sanity is to perfectly plan out your day to ensure you’re doing the most important things when you are most focused and energetic.

To get started, spend a week assessing your focus and energy levels throughout the day so you can identify your finest hours for deep work. During this time, keep a notebook handy and log when you are able to focus and be productive versus the times when you are restless, unfocused or lack energy.

According to my focus and energy levels, this is how my typical day unfolds. First, I need some “me” time in the morning and then my most focused and productive time of the day is between 8 and 10:30 a.m. After that I quickly lose my focus. By noon, I need some social interaction, movement and external stimulation. The afternoons are my most unfocused and low energy times and then I get my second wind in the early afternoon to evening. After that spurt, I really need time to wind down.

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It doesn’t really matter how your energy levels rise and fall through the day, it’s just helpful to recognize your natural highs and lows.

Once I understood how my energy levels ebb and flow throughout the day, I was then able to clearly determine the best times for certain activities or tasks that would result in optimal efficiency. I must admit that as a result of this exercise, I decided to change my schedule around to focus on deep work versus checking email first thing in the morning. For many years, I started my day pouring through and responding to emails and then I realized I was wasting my most productive hours doing mindless work.

So, based on my findings, here’s what my perfectly productive day would look like:

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While this presents an ideal case, inevitably things will come up that will prevent you from sticking to your optimal schedule but having a solid starting framework will still help you structure your day when you do have flexibility.

Watch this entertaining video to inspire you to plan out your own perfectly productive day.

TRY THIS OUT:

  • When scheduling meetings, proactively propose times that best suit your schedule.
  • Block your calendar during your most productive times to focus on deep work.
  • Turn off email and social media notifications during focused work times to eliminate unnecessary distractions.
  • Proactively reach out to your network to schedule lunch meetings, walks or outings in different and new places to get motivated and energized.

 

Not Enough Time

Not Enough Time

I hear this sentiment too often these days: “I’m super busy and I just don’t have enough time.” When asked how we are doing, we often just instantly and thoughtlessly respond: “I’m busy.”

It appears that being busy, overbooked and frazzled is seen as a sign of success. Perhaps it shows that we are wanted and needed. It could be that it makes us feel important. Or, maybe it’s our way of projecting our productivity. But being too busy and being productive are not necessarily one in the same.

Time is one of our greatest treasures and how we use our time is critical to improving productivity. Are you spending your time on the most important things? Do you find time slipping away without getting anything done? Are you running around all day but not accomplishing anything meaningful?

The best way to make the most of your time is making sure you’re spending time on the most important things first, foremost and at the times during the day that you are most focused and productive.

So, what’s most important? When considering taking on or starting a new task think about these questions to determine if it’s a good use of your time:

  • How does doing this task benefit you?
  • Does it fit within your current goals?
  • Are there any dependencies or deadlines?
  • Can it be done later?
  • Could someone else do it?
  • What is the impact of deciding not to do it?
  • If you do it, what won’t get done?

Based on your answers to these questions, pick your top three tasks for the day and then plan when you’ll get them done. By going through this process, you may still be busy but you’ll also be more productive in terms of accomplishing the things that matter most.

Keep in mind that it’s not about not having enough time, it’s just a matter of how you decide to spend your time.

TRY THIS OUT:  As a next step, review your calendar for last week and assess which things were a waste of your time and figure out how to eliminate them going forward. Then, look to the week and ahead and plan how you’re going to spend your time on the tasks and appointments that really matter.