Productivity Tools Alone Can’t Save You

computerThere are loads of electronic gadgets and online tools to help track your to-dos and appointments (Outlook, Google Calendar, Wunderlist, etc.), capture information (Evernote, OneNote, etc.), manage your grocery list (e.g., GroceryIQ), and help with a myriad of other things that are part of surviving modern life. However, whether you use the latest electronic gadget or go old school and use paper and pencil, it’s important to have good productivity habits in place in order to make the most of your productivity tools.

For example, I’ve worked with plenty of folks who use an electronic task list to capture to-dos and break down projects into individual tasks. However, some of these people failed to identify when they were actually going to do each task, so deadlines got missed and opportunities were lost. The productivity habit I helped them establish was to move their intentions (the to-dos) into a commitments by scheduling them on their calendar. The electronic task list was certainly helpful for them to get to-dos out of their head and into a place they trusted they’d be able to find them again, but it didn’t help them actually get the tasks completed. Whether using an electronic device or a simple paper list, the habit of assigning a “when” to tasks will improve your productivity.

As another example, some of my clients use Evernote to capture and organize information and ideas, including notes from meetings. However, sometimes the meeting notes include action items for which the person is responsible. Without a system for moving these action items into their task or calendar system, they would miss key assignments that others were relying on them to complete. Make sure your system of capturing information includes the habit of reviewing that information and identifying when action is required.

Keep in mind that although tools and technology can help refine your productivity skills, good productivity habits are the key to being most successful.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

So Much Media, So Little Time

Movie TicketsI was interviewed in the Chicago Tribune by a journalist who was grappling with his desire to enjoy more leisure time by watching more movies & television and reading more books. He was concerned that his lists of must-watch TV, books to read, and movies to experience kept growing, but his available media consumption time was not keeping pace. You can read the full article by finding the link in my newsletter, but I’ve summarized it here in the interest of giving you more leisure time. You’re welcome!

Adding new items to your media consumption wish list without removing anything, comes at a cost. It might be sleep; it might be time with friends; whatever it is, be sure you’re willing to pay the price of adding more. Otherwise, use the four Ds to help you pare down:

  • Delete – Wouldn’t it feel great to reduce your guilt by getting rid of something from your queue of obligations? Can you live with the outcome of not watching or reading everything? Rather than hope that illness or injury will give you a reason to spend a month on the couch catching up on the shows you’ve recorded, give yourself permission to enjoy the best of what’s there guilt-free, and let the rest go.
  • Diminish – Fast forward on TiVo. Accept that you already have a good foundation of knowledge on a subject from other sources. For example, do you have to watch the entire six-hour Ken Burns cancer documentary, or is your current knowledge good enough? Can you just watch the final hour to hear a summary of the latest findings?
  • Delay – If you don’t get to it now, it will still be out there when you have more time to take it in. Put it on a list for future enjoyment.
  • Delegate – Do you have to watch it or read it, or would reading a review or synopsis be good enough?

Go with the flow. Setting a pattern, like reading one old book after reading two new ones, may be helpful. But it can also be confining. If you’re in the mood to read another new book after already reading two new ones, by golly, read another new book. This is for your enjoyment, right?

Be true to yourself. Enjoy the media because you want to, not because you think you should. So what if you haven’t seen the latest movie everyone’s talking about – welcome to my life! Even if I’m not always part of the cultural conversation, I’m ok with it and I still find plenty of things to talk about with friends and colleagues.

Here’s to more enjoyable leisure time and less guilt.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

“Busy” is Not a Badge of Honor

busy badgeI’m surprised that I’m still surprised how often people answer “busy” when I ask them how they are. Sometimes it seems as though people view being busy as a badge of honor to be respected, and maybe even worthy of sympathy.

Well I’m proudly taking off my busy badge and doing all I can to resist putting it on, even when others insist. The chaos, urgency and difficulty of being in the moment caused by being busy are just not what I want my life to be about. Sure, there are unforeseen events, like a friend’s hospitalization, that require life to be more hectic, but I resolve not to make that my normal state of being.

Part of my ability to achieve success in this arena is making the state of being un-busy a comfortable place to be. Rather than thinking about all the things on my to-do list, I focus on what I’m doing right now. There’s peace in knowing that whether I’m buying groceries, working with a client, or talking on the phone to a family member, that’s all I need to focus on now. I’m where I need to be doing what I need to do in this moment. And when I finish doing this thing, I’ll move on to the next thing. No need to panic or feel frazzled – just face what’s before me now and focus on that one thing until I need to do something else. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t try to squeeze in just one more phone call before I need to head out the door; don’t try squeeze in an errand before hopping on the often traffic-clogged expressway to get to an appointment; don’t add one more thing to this weekend’s activities that will leave me feeling exhausted rather than replenished.

Sure being un-busy can be easier said than done, but to me, it’s a way of being that’s worth pursuing. We certainly can’t control everything, but if we look hard, we have control over more situations than we may realize. Saying “no” in the right moments can help you say “yes” to a life you love. Read my prior blog post to give you some ideas on how to say “no”. I’d love to hear that you’ve been able to take off that busy badge.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Get Unstuck and Be Productive

stuck carSome days, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to get anything worthwhile accomplished. And to make things more frustrating, new tasks keep coming our way. Although it might be tempting to just go back to bed, a better solution might be to hit the reset button on your day.

You’ll want to examine what’s causing your lack of productivity: Are you just not in the mood to do what you should be? Are you unsure of what to do next? Are you overwhelmed by how much there is to do? The first thing I suggest you do after making this examination is to take a short break and recharge your mental batteries.

Next, re-examine the items on your to-do list and evaluate their importance and urgency. Apply the 4 Ds to distill things down to what’s essential to be working on right now. Then break your commitments into individual tasks that you can complete in a single step. Look for the top three priority tasks you can accomplish today, get focused, and dig in.

This process of starting over when you’re feeling stuck helps you get an accurate view of what’s causing your frustration and allows you to realistically identify what you can do today. Breaking things down into their simplest form makes it easy to identify tasks that will fit into the time you have available and that match your energy level.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Taking a Break Can Improve Productivity

As you zoom through your day, you may be so focused on crossing everything off your to-do list that you fail to enjoy the benefits of taking periodic breaks. In case you haven’t already taken the advice I’ve offered previously on this subject, here’s a video that offers some perspective on the paradox of taking a break for improved productivity:

I encourage you to periodically give your mind and body a chance to rest and refresh to help refocus your attention, boost your energy, relieve stress, and sharpen your brain power.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Make Space for the New Year

New Year ToastHere are some tips are about de-cluttering various areas of your life so you can create physical and mental space for something new and exciting in the year ahead. I hope they inspire you to make this your best year yet.

If you want to eat more healthily, de-clutter your kitchen. Clear out food items that don’t align with your new eating habits. Let go of small appliances, utensils, etc. that aren’t in sync with your new healthy lifestyle. For example, say goodbye to the deep fryer or cookbooks that the new, healthier you won’t need. You can donate unopened foods that are still within the freshness date to your local food pantry, and find charitable organizations who will appreciate your other unneeded items. When you let go of items that represent or enable unhealthy eating habits, you create space for new, healthier eating practices to come into your home and life.

If you want to lose weight, de-clutter your closet. To help you keep your eye on your goal, create space in your closet for the size you intend to become. Let go of a few items in the size you are right now, as well as larger sizes, to create space for the new, slimmer you. Of course you won’t want to let go of everything in your current size, but if you clear out a few items, your closet will remind you that you intend to lose weight and fill it with items in a smaller size.

If you want to spend more time with your family, de-clutter your calendar. It’s hard to spend meaningful time with family if your calendar is packed with commitments that have you constantly on the go. Scrutinize your current commitments and let go of activities that no longer energize or inspire you. Say “no” to volunteer responsibilities that leave you drained and resentful of the time they require. Consider replacing these obligations with family-centered activities or free time that can be used for family events.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about making space in your life.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

De-clutter Your Calendar and Commitments

stuffed plannerIs your calendar as cluttered as other areas of your home? Is every day loaded with appointments, obligations and tasks? As we move towards the holiday season, it’s common for the demands on our time to become even more overwhelming than normal. Here are some ideas to help you de-clutter and organize your day and feel more in control, no matter what the season:

Identify your goals. Goals help us define the direction we want to head in life. Maybe it’s to be a nurturing parent, or to be a top-notch employee, or to be of service to a particular cause. Goals can help us determine how we want to spend our time – without them, there’s no way to prioritize the options of what to do with our time. It doesn’t matter if we’re sitting on the couch eating bonbons or spending time with a loved one who’s sick – without goals no one activity is more important than any other.

Make a list of all your commitments and to-dos for the next few weeks. Include appointments, social events, things you’ve promised to do for others, things you have to do to support your commitments (e.g., shop for the ingredients to make cookies for the bake sale, buy and wrap gifts for the gift exchange, etc.). When you have a complete picture of everything you have to do, you’ll be in a better position to choose what’s important.

Estimate how long each of the items you listed in the prior step will take. Although it may seem extraneous, determining how much time is required to tackle your obligations is an important component of de-cluttering. It will allow you to see just how full your plate is and whether “magical thinking” is causing you to believe you have more time than you actually do to get everything done.

Apply the 4Ds. Once you’ve identified your goals, your obligations and your time requirements, you can apply the 4Ds to help match the time available to the time needed. The 4 Ds are:

  • Delete – Eliminate anything not in alignment with your goals (or delegate it per the next D) or anything you can live with the outcome of not doing. Sure, it might be nice to make homemade holiday decorations, but if it will take away time from your family, and your goal is to spend more time with family, reconsider how important this task may be.
  • Delegate – Can someone else do one of your tasks faster or better than you? Would someone else derive joy from doing it, and all that matters to you is that it gets done? Consider delegating things that don’t have to be done directly by you.
  • Diminish – Is there a more efficient way to do one of your tasks? Can you streamline the process or minimize the end result so it won’t take so much time?
  • Delay – Can you move things that don’t have to be done now into the future? This isn’t saying you should procrastinate, but rather, find a better time to do things that don’t fit into your life right now.

I’d love to hear how you’ve de-cluttered your calendar and commitments.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Stop Interruptions before They Stop You

2013 11 InterruptPhone calls, hallway conversations, people stopping by your workspace – all of these interruptions can be frustrating and disruptive to an otherwise productive day. Not to say there can’t be value in any of the conversations resulting from these situations – it’s just that they often don’t come at an opportune time for us. However, not all interruptions stem from external sources – we can sometimes be our own worst enemy. Let’s explore how to prevent (or at least mitigate the negative impact of) interruptions, no matter what the cause, from derailing your day.

Establish a time and place to focus. It can be helpful to establish a regular time for tasks that require focused concentration. Maybe you can set aside an hour a week for such tasks, or even an hour a day. Let colleagues or family members know what that time is so they can get out of the habit of trying to find you during that time. See if you can hide away in a conference room, or at least behind a closed door, to reduce the temptation for others to interrupt. I had a client who would sit in her car to read work-related materials away from the interruptions of her colleagues – now that’s being creative (and desperate)!

Choose the right time to work on tasks. Sometimes we interrupt ourselves by looking for diversions from whatever unpleasant or difficult task we should otherwise be working on. It’s best to work on such tasks when you have the most mental energy. My blog post on this subject can give you ideas on how to work around this challenge.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about minimizing interruptions.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue

 

 

It’s Only Natural to Plan Ahead

squirrel eating a nutWatching the squirrels gather and hide their food for the winter offers a great reminder for all of us that planning ahead can prevent disasters down the road. The squirrels know that whether or not they’re ready, winter will arrive soon and present plenty of survival challenges. They wisely (albeit instinctively) are doing what they can now to plan and prepare for their future.

Do you regularly plan and prepare for your future? Whether it’s something big like planning for your retirement, or something smaller like planning dinners for the week, planning ahead can save a lot of time and aggravation. Creating a daily and weekly planning ritual is the key to success in this area. Here’s a peek into my daily and weekly planning routines that might offer you some inspiration:

Daily planning time. I prefer planning towards the end of the day – it’s a good time for me to wrap up loose ends from today and prepare myself for tomorrow. My peak mental energy time is in the morning, so by planning the night before, I can hit the ground running in the morning and work on a difficult or unpleasant task when I have the most mental horsepower. Otherwise I’d have to squander some of that key time figuring out what I should do next. Some people, however, do better planning in the morning so they can ease into their day by reflecting on what needs to be done within the next 8 or 12 hours. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or at the end of your day, finding a regular time to pause and reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what you still have to get done will help you make sure you’re moving towards your goals.

Weekly planning time. I prefer to do my weekly planning on Sunday evenings as I look forward to the week ahead. My tasks include planning meals for the week (and creating the corresponding grocery list for when I go shopping on Monday evenings); discussing my (and his) calendar with my husband to make sure there are no surprises; reviewing the week’s appointments to make sure I’m prepared for my work with each of my upcoming clients; and preparing information my administrative assistant will need to do my bookkeeping and weekly administrative tasks.

What tasks need to become part of your daily and weekly planning routines?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue

Organization for Effective Co-Parenting

parents and daughterParenting requires organization systems and communication skills – family calendars, dinner conversations, and homework rules provide structure for kids and reduce stress on parents. If parents divorce, new structures need to be put in place to keep everyone on the same page. Communication becomes even more important although circumstances can make it more difficult. I’ve invited Theresa Beran Kulat, Esq. to share some helpful organizational suggestions for parents whether they are divorced or still married.

Continue to have (or start) regular family meetings. At least once a year, get everyone in the same room to talk. Decide as a group which extra-curricular activities each child will pursue. Parents can work out driving arrangements and other logistics. Depending on the ages of the children, include them in working out the details. An older child can ride his bike to soccer practice. Another can save babysitting money to pay for a trip to camp. I personally find family meetings most helpful in late summer to prepare for school and in the early spring plan for summer. Camps, summer school, jobs for kids present a different routine than during the school year.

Maintain a Master Calendar. Find a place in the family “hub” and put up a giant calendar on the wall.  Use different color markers for each person to provide a visual reminder of what is coming up.  Two-home families need to be more creative. In addition to a physical calendar, you can set up a shared online calendar to connect the two homes. Outlook, Google, and Yahoo have free options.  Parents can update the calendar with pick-up and drop-off times, kids’ practices, games, concerts, parent-teacher conferences and school holidays. Make sure kids know how to access the information and, when appropriate, allow them to enter events and activities. In addition to these free options, several companies offer online calendar sharing for a fee. Check out OurFamilyWizard.com, JointParents.com and ParentingTime.com.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about organization for effective co-parenting.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog