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?

 

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 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.

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.

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.