Stop Running Late

RUNNING LATEDo you often run late? Do you constantly feel like you’re rushing to get places? If so, it may be because you’re trying to squeeze in “just one more thing” before you head out the door. Many people fall victim to this phrase, especially people with ADHD. Let’s explore this mindset and what you can do about it.

“Just one more thing” can take on many different forms:

  • Checking online for directions just before you head out the door to drive to a meeting.
  • Sending a “quick” email before you leave work to go your child’s band concert.
  • Stopping at the store to choose and buy the appetizer for the party you’re headed to.
  • Making a “quick” phone call while your family waits for you to join them for dinner.

Any one of these scenarios can be stressful on you and the people you impact. You’re rushing, you’re late, you’re reprimanded, and you’re feeling like a failure – again. What happened? You were sure that quick task would only take five minutes. Maybe you didn’t think things all the way through – the line at the grocery store was longer than you anticipated (if you anticipated a line at all!). Maybe you got distracted – once you were online or in your email, you started checking other things and lost track of time. Maybe you underestimated how long the task would take – that quick phone call took 15 minutes as you exchanged pleasantries, caught up on the latest news, and finally got to the reason for your call.

So how do you break this pattern? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Constantly ask yourself “What’s the most important thing I should be doing right now?” Should I be checking email, or should I be getting out the door so I’m not late to my son’s concert? Should I make this phone call now, or should I join my family for dinner and write a reminder to make the call later?
  • Plan ahead. Plan each day the day before, and even look two or three days ahead to see if there’s anything you need to do to prepare. Do I have directions to the meeting? Do I know what appetizer I’m going to bring, and have the ingredients for it?
  • Set a timer. If you absolutely have to squeeze in something, set a timer to make sure you’re only spending the anticipated amount of time on it. For example, if you have to get that email sent before you leave, set a timer for the five minutes you’ll allow yourself to spend on it, and let it go when the timer goes off. You may discover that trying to “beat the clock” will help you stay focused and efficient.

I’d love to hear what you do to prevent being late.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

5 Easy Tips to Maintain Your Organized Spaces

No matter whether you’re organizing your closet or your office, time management issues underlie most disorganization challenges. While there certainly needs to be a place in the closet for each item of clothing, and a place to file the papers that inundate most offices, establishing those places is only part of the solution. Once you find a place where everything belongs, you still need to create time in your day to maintain the organizing system. Here are 5 easy tips to help you keep things under control:

  1.  1. Block out time on your calendar for daily clean-up. Don’t skip a day; once you allow a little bit of mess to accumulate, it’s easy for things to drift out of control. I call this phenomenon clutter creep; one day you have a small pile, and before you know it, you’re back to the same chaos you had before. The only exception I might make to the daily clean-up rule is for filing – if you are diligent about honoring a once-a-week filing schedule, you can accumulate things to be filed in a single container, confident that within the next 7 days they’ll be where they belong. If you’re likely to shun the weekly ritual, file things daily and save yourself the anguish of not being able to find a document when you need it.

2. Take a photo of your organized spaces to remind yourself of what they should look like. Refer to these photos when you do your daily cleanup to make sure you’re getting everything put away. I know this may sound a bit excessive, but you’re less likely to overlook out-of-place items when you have a picture of what your space should look like. Don’t believe me? Just give it a try.

3. Get help maintaining your systems. Enlist a partner to encourage and remind you to maintain your daily clean-up routine until it becomes a habit. Your partner can be your spouse, a friend, a coach, a co-worker – anyone who will gently, non-judgmentally support you as you develop the habit of daily clean-up. I participate in a free service called Buddy Hive that helps people get things done – maybe you can request a buddy to keep you on track.

4. Make it fun. Cleaning and organizing doesn’t have to be drudgery – play some upbeat music, set a timer to play beat the clock, or do whatever makes the clean-up process energizing for you. 

5.  Reward yourself. Although enjoying the freedom of being organized can be its own incentive, reward yourself for sticking to your maintenance routine. After you’ve maintained your organized space for a few weeks, take a moment to pat yourself on the back, at least figuratively. I find ice cream is always a welcome reward. And if you have trouble maintaining your organized spaces, don’t give up. Revisit the steps I’ve laid out here and take it one day at a time.

I’d love to hear what helps you maintain your organized spaces.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Use Your Planner to Simplify Your Life

Happy New Year! I hope the year is off to a great start for you. Are you among the approximately 45% of Americans who make at least one New Year’s resolution? Getting organized was the second most popular New Year’s resolution in 2012, and I’m guessing it’s near the top again this year. Unfortunately, only about 8% of people who make resolutions actually achieve them. What will you do differently this year to help you be successful? To help you get started on achieving your organizational goals, let’s talk about how to set up and use your planner (as a reminder, last month I gave you tips on how to choose your planning tool).

Fill in recurring events. Make a note of birthdays, anniversaries, school and work holidays, and any other events you know about now. You may want to keep a master list of birthdays and anniversaries and use this list to fill in the dates on the calendar. Copying from this list can be a lot easier than flipping through last year’s calendar to find those important dates. You might also want to use a highlighter or colored pen to accentuate any dates that require a card, gift, phone call, or some other form of acknowledgement and advanced preparation.

Review next month’s important dates towards the middle of the prior month. This will allow you plenty of time to buy cards or gifts. You can review your planner and look for the accentuated dates mentioned above, or you can refer to your master list. For those of you who use a paper rather than electronic planner, you can use a removable sticky note to remind you to do this review each month. For example, I put a sticky note that says “Review Birthdays” on the calendar page for the 20th of the month to remind me to check the next month’s important dates. I simply move this note from month to month. As you review those dates, you might also jot down a reminder to mail the cards or deliver the gifts. For example, if someone’s birthday is on the 15th, you can make a note in your planner on the 7th to mail his or her card.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about the how to choose the right planning tool for you. I’d love to hear what you end up using.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Choose the Right Planning Tool to Organize Your Day

As a new year approaches, it’s time to purchase your calendar or planner to keep track of next year’s important dates, appointments and things to do. But with so many scheduling products from which to choose, how can you make sure you select the one that’s right for you? Here are some things to consider when making that decision:

Use only one tool. While it may seem logical to have one calendar or planner for work and another one for home, it’s typically more efficient and less confusing to use just one that captures all of the activities related to your multifaceted life. After all, we often have to address personal issues while away from home (e.g., scheduling a dental appointment while at work) or consider work-related issues while at home (e.g., deciding for what time to make a dinner reservation based on your work schedule). Using a single scheduling tool will allow you to efficiently integrate all areas of your life.

Consider your sensory preference. Think about whether you prefer the physical process of entering and viewing information on paper to entering and viewing it on an electronic device. If you are more comfortable with paper, then you can limit your search to paper-based planners (e.g., Day Runner, Day Timer, or Franklin-Covey). Two less conventional paper planners that I really like are the Circa Balanced Life System from Levenger (the unique binding system lets you easily customize your planner) and Planner Pad (lets you see all of your to-dos for the week and funnel them onto the day you’ll do each of them). For students, I like a teacher’s-type planner that clearly shows what you have to do in each class. If you prefer an electronic tool, smart phone-based calendars or electronic calendars you can access from your phone or computer, like Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar, might be right for you.

Consider how much effort you’re willing to devote to learning to use the tool.  Paper-based planners are rather intuitive to use. You just write down the necessary information in the appropriate place, and then turn to that place to retrieve the information. Electronic tools, including hand-held devices and computer-based scheduling software, require an investment of your time to learn to use them properly. 

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about the how to choose the right planning tool for you. I’d love to hear what you end up using. 

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Small Steps Can Lead to Big Accomplishments

We all have a few pesky projects lurking on our to-do list (or at least taking up valuable space in our brain) that we just never seem to get around to finishing (or even starting). Maybe yours is finishing the needlepoint Christmas stocking you started 13 years ago, or updating the photo album with last year’s photos, or giving copies of your estate documents to your executor – oh wait, those are my unfinished projects! Well, no matter what’s on your list, how can you keep yourself moving forward on these bothersome undertakings?

The most helpful thing I do when I’m facing an overwhelming endeavor is to break it down. I’m not talking about taking it from a “finish the Christmas stocking” kind of task to “finish needlepointing the snowman” sub-task. I’m talking about teeny, tiny steps such as: “locate the bag with the stocking,” “put the canvas on the needlepoint ring,” “thread the needle.” Yes, it may sound utterly ridiculous and unnecessary to describe what’s to be done in such infinitesimal detail, but there’s great power in making tasks so short and quickly achievable that even the biggest procrastinators among us won’t be able to resist the simplicity and ease of quickly knocking off a few steps here and there. You can read more about this tiny steps concept in my previous blog on kaizen.

If identifying and writing down those tiny steps seems cumbersome, just break your project down to  whatever level of detail you need to move you past your procrastination and sense of overwhelm. However, keep in mind that it’s very empowering and energizing to be able to check something off your to-do list, so the smaller the steps, the more psychic rewards you’ll have the potential to achieve. Just be sure to start each task with a verb – this  seemingly insignificant technique can help make sure you’ve clearly identified exactly what you need to do, and can inspire you to take action.

Once you’ve identified the steps, be sure to capture them in your planner, on a piece of paper, or with some other tool that you trust yourself to refer to. Here’s my prior blog on this concept. Try to assign a target date to each task so you can motivate yourself to chip away at what needs to be done. Target dates can also serve as great mileposts along your journey towards completing your project.

So what unfinished projects have been bugging you? Let me know if breaking them down into small steps helps move you from frustrated and overwhelmed to confident and productive. Meanwhile, wish me luck on finishing that Christmas stocking!

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

When is Your Peak Mental Energy Time?

Do you find yourself charged up and ready to go first thing in the morning, or do you stumble through the morning and hit your stride right after lunch? Taking advantage of your peak mental energy time can do wonders for your productivity as well as your self-esteem.

Many of my clients have never formally identified their peak mental energy time – they just know there’s a time of day when they seem to be highly motivated and productive, and other times that they spend spinning their wheels. If you haven’t identified your peak mental energy time, start paying attention to when you’re most able to take on difficult or unpleasant tasks – that’s most likely your peak time.

Once you’ve identified this key time, use it for tasks that require a lot of mental calories – those difficult and unpleasant things that are hard to wrap your brain around. You’ll need to muster all the mental horsepower you can for these tasks, so make it easy for yourself by scheduling them for the right time of day. Conversely, do fun and easy things during your slump time – don’t waste your peak mental energy time on things you’ll be able to do no matter how well your brain is functioning.

When I’m working in my office, I don’t even have to look at my watch to know when it’s around 3:00 in the afternoon. My yawning, distractibility, and restlessness tell me it’s time to get up from my desk and do something physical because my brain needs a break. Conversely, from 7 to 9 in the morning is a great time for me to concentrate and stay focused on desk or computer work. Fortunately for me (and my clients), if I’m doing something physical like organizing, I’m able to stay focused and energized no matter what time of day it is.

Sometimes you may not be able to work in accordance with your peak mental energy time – meetings, appointments, and other external demands may make it impossible to claim that time as your own. In those instances, taking a break will help energize you – I’ve previously written about the power of breaks. You may have to shorten each work session to allow for breaks, but in the long run, you’ll probably be more productive.

What if you can’t identify your peak mental energy time? I’ve never worked with anyone who doesn’t have some time of day that is best for them, but until you determine your peak time, you may be best off doing difficult and unpleasant things at the beginning of the day. That way, if your day gets derailed by other demands, at least you’ll have gotten something important accomplished.

So when is your peak mental energy time? What tasks will you target doing during that time?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Choose the Planner That’s Right for You

You may have seen the television commercial in which a group of people are assembling in a conference room for a meeting. They make fun of the fact that one of their co-workers uses a paper and pen rather than an electronic tablet for taking notes. The shamed employee tells his colleagues to ease up on their attack because he’s just gone online and purchased a tablet so he can be just like them.

This commercial bothers me for a number of reasons, but mostly because it perpetuates the erroneous sentiment that one must use the most current technology to be successful. Never mind that pen and paper probably worked just fine for this perceived luddite – his associates couldn’t fathom that anything but the latest and greatest technology was acceptable.

Let’s consider the world of planning tools – paper planners, cell phones, tablets, computer-based programs, etc. Many of my clients are surprised to learn that I, a time management expert and coach, use a paper planner – and not one of those convenient, portable, purse-sized planners. I use a big 8-1/2 by 11 inch planner with a page per day – it’s big, it’s bulky, and it works great for me. And that’s the phrase that pays – “it works great for me.” It’s big enough for me to capture all of my appointments and to-dos, it allows me to easily plan my day and subsequently view everything I have to do on a particular day, and it allows me to carry with me any supplemental documents that I might need during the day.

When choosing your time management tool, don’t feel compelled to use any one format just because everyone else is using it. First and foremost, consider how easy it is to enter information into it. Are you ok with typing your appointments into an electronic device, or would you prefer to hand write them directly on the appropriate date? Do you want something that’s small and easily transported, or can your planner be stationary because you typically work from one place all the time? Do you need a lot of space to write lists, appointments and other information, or is a small space for each day adequate? Are you comfortable with having all of your information in one  place, that, if lost, is probably not retrievable, or do you prefer an electronic device that can be backed up?

Don’t be pressured to conform to anyone else’s perception of the best planning tool. Find the one that’s right for you and enjoy getting things done when they need to be done. And feel free to kid me about my big, bulky planner.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Top 10 Time Taming Tips

November is definitely a month in which we pay attention to time: we enjoy less sunshine each day, and the end of Daylight Saving Time makes the diminished sunshine even more obvious. As we do our best to cope with seemingly shorter days, it’s a good time to work on making the most of our time. What’s your favorite way to tame time? Here are some of mine:

  1. Plan each day. Invest 15 to 30 minutes planning and preparing for the next day. You’ll save yourself time you might have otherwise spent rushing to do things at the last minute or hunting for things you need to get out the door. You may even save yourself from forgetting an important appointment or task.
  2. Keep a master to-do list. Carry something with you (a small notebook, your planner, your phone) to jot down ideas and things to do as you think of them. Rather than being tempted to do something right away because you may forget (or worse, actually forgetting) you can confidently record the item and do it at a more convenient time. Review this list during your daily planning time and schedule items as appropriate.
  3. Create a realistic daily to-do list. If you end each day with a frustratingly long list of things you didn’t have time for, you may need to adjust your expectations. You might want to pare you list down to no more than five items and see if focus on and commitment to just those few items improves your productivity.
  4. Prioritize your tasks. Ask yourself, “If I can only get one thing done today, what must it be?” and then get rolling. Work on the most important thing and take it as far as you can before starting on the next task. Throughout the day, ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing I should be doing right now?” to make sure you’re on track.
  5. Learn to say “no.” Take control of your life instead of letting others control it –identify what’s important to you and live your life around those things. If you agree to take on obligations you resent or for which you don’t have time, you’re not going to be of help to anyone, and you’ll take away room for the things that enrich your life.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you’ll find more of my favorite time taming tips.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

 

Time Management Through the Ages

There are many basic time management skills that are helpful throughout one’s life: setting goals, prioritizing tasks, and planning your day, just to name a few. While the benefit of using these skills is ageless, our time management challenges change as we age. The college graduate trying to juggle a full-time job while keeping up with an active social life needs a different approach to time management than retirees who may have fewer external demands on their time.

Here are some time management tips, broken down by the age group for which they may be most relevant (although some may be relevant for any age group):

College graduate to age 30

  • Just because you no longer have to track homework assignments doesn’t mean you don’t need a planning tool. Whether it’s your phone, a web-based calendar or a paper planner, use something to keep track of appointments and remind you of things you need to get done.
  • Establish a recurring time to manage your finances (e.g., Sunday evening). Use this time to balance your checkbook, review your credit card statement, and pay your bills.
  • Be on time – your friends may have been willing to wait, but the work world is less forgiving. Calling or texting to say you’ll be late doesn’t absolve you from your obligation to be on time.

 Age 30 to 40

  • You may be juggling work and caring for young children. As exhausting as that may be, make time for friends and family, including a regular date night with your spouse. It will help keep your marriage and relationships strong.
  • Prioritize and schedule tasks so you get important things done while the kids are napping.
  • Don’t underestimate what help your kids are able to provide around the house – choose age- and skill-appropriate chores for them.

Age 40 to 50

  • Be mindful of how many activities you allow your children to participate in. If they’re overscheduled and you spend all your free time chauffeuring them to activities, nobody will be happy.
  • Schedule time for your family to eat together – there are lots of benefits. If you can’t eat dinner together as often as you’d like, try a family breakfast or lunch on the weekend.
  • If you don’t participate in them already, explore hobbies, recreation or volunteer activities that will be of interest once your kids leave home (yes, that day will come!). It will help reduce your anxiety about transitioning into the empty nest phase.

Here’s a  link to my newsletter where you’ll find time management tips for additional age groups.

I’d love to hear about your favorite time management tips – and if you’re willing to share, what age group you fall into.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

When Just a To-Do List Isn’t Enough

I’ve written previously about the benefits of keeping a to-do list http://www.pilestosmiles.com/blog/?p=951. The process of writing down everything you have to do (either on paper or electronically), prioritizing the list, and scheduling when to do each task can be an efficient and powerful way to get things done. That is, of course, if you honor your commitments and do things when you’ve scheduled them.

Sometimes even my well-planned day can fall apart for the simple reason that I just don’t feel like doing the things I’ve set out to do. This happens a lot in the summer, when I’d much rather be doing something outdoors than sitting at my desk. Here are some techniques I use to pump up my motivation and get things done:

I make the most of my peak mental energy time. I’m definitely a morning person, so right after I exercise, I sit down at my desk and knock out the most challenging thing on my list for that day. I find writing to be difficult, so my morning task is usually writing an article, preparing a presentation, or writing a letter (yes, some of us still do that!). When is your peak mental energy time, and what kinds of tasks can help you make the most of that time?

I tell others about my commitments. I have a group of colleagues with whom I meet monthly by phone to discuss my achievements for the past month and my commitments for the upcoming month. Knowing I’m going to be reporting back to them is a great motivator because I’d hate to disappoint them. Is there someone who can help you with accountability?

I evaluate my list regularly. Every few months, I take a look at my to-do list to identify which things I keep ignoring, and try to determine why. Often times it’s because the task just doesn’t seem important or relevant, in which case I typically just cross it off the list with no regrets. I recently worked with a client who was having a hard time completing her homework for grad school. No matter which time slot she assigned it to, she’d find something else to do instead. We discussed her reasons for entering the program and realized they didn’t align with her goals. She now faces the tough decision of determining whether or not she should stay in the program, but at least she understands the reason for her homework challenge. What items never seem to come off your to-do list? Is it time to remove or delegate them?

I break things down. I identify each of the baby steps needed to complete projects so that everything on my to-do list feels manageable and fits easily into the small blocks of time I usually have available to work on things. What overwhelming to-dos can you break down into smaller steps?

I change the scenery. Rather than wish I could be outside when I have to do desk work or make phone calls, I work on my porch or in my dining room that has three large windows. With a cordless phone and a wirelessly connected laptop computer, I can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature while I work, which makes for a happier and more productive me. If your productivity is impacted by your surroundings, what can you do to remedy that?

I turn my to-do list into a “to choose” list. Sometimes none of my productivity tactics work – I’m just not in the mood to do anything I’d scheduled for a particular day. In those instances I just go with the flow: I choose an item that looks appealing on my to-do list, no matter how low a priority it may be, and do that. Or I choose a physical activity (e.g., clean out a closet) over a brain-based activity.  At least something gets accomplished, and sometimes it’s enough to propel me to do one of the items I’d originally scheduled for the day. If not, I know tomorrow will be a better day. What techniques do you use to power through your tasks when you’re not in the mood?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,