Atomic Habits Book Review
I recently finished one of my new favorite books, Atomic Habits by James Clear. I love personal development books - especially ones about habits or productivity! Sometimes I find authors of these types of books difficult to relate to, though, because some are too academic and others a bit pretentious. In my opinion, James Clear was just the right type of author to write this type of book - he was relatable yet knowledgeable and wrote in layman's terms with just enough science thrown in!
The book focused on how to start and continue good habits and how to stop and avoid bad habits. Atomic Habits is laid out in a very organized fashion with a summary and actionable items listed at the end of each chapter. His suggestions were backed up with examples and were small enough to realistically implement.
My biggest takeaways from the book were that people who are most successful about forming and maintaining good habits consider not the outcome of the habit (losing weight) so much as the system for achieving that outcome (daily exercise), and those who were most successful focused on the identity displayed (being a healthy person.) Just this one simple point helped me form some new habits almost immediately! I've been asking myself "What would a healthy person do?" when a choice is presented to me. I've taken the stairs more often, chosen the healthier food option, and exercised more since I read this part of the book!
Another important bit of wisdom I gleaned from Atomic Habits, was that habits can be super duper small, and actually the smaller the better and the easier to stick with. For example, my morning habit is putting on my workout clothes. That's it. I tell myself all I have to do is put on the workout clothes and then if I don't want to exercise, I don't have to. Well, you know what happens, right? I'm out of bed and have the workout clothes on, so I might as well exercise.
If you couple super duper small habits with what James Clear calls habit stacking, you are set up for habit success! Clear explains the idea, "No behavior happens in isolation. Each action becomes a cue that triggers the next behavior. The habit stacking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].” Habit stacking increases the likelihood that you'll stick with a habit by stacking your new behavior on top of an old one."
Habit Identity: Being a healthy person
The book suggests making good habits easy and convenient and making bad habits difficult and inconvenient is a kind of shortcut to living the kind of life you want to. If you want to get up and exercise everyday, storing your workout clothes in an easy to reach location makes it more likely you'll actually exercise, because it's convenient. If you want to eat more veggies, cleaning and cutting a variety of fresh vegetables at the betting of the week will make it easy for you to grab them for a snack. On the flip side, if sweets are your nemesis, ridding them from your pantry or at least putting them way up high in the back of a hard to reach cabinet will make it difficult and inconvenient to have as a snack. It's been kind of fun thinking about how to make good habits more convenient and bad habits more difficult!
There's so much more good stuff in this book, you've got to read it yourself! I'll be giving away one copy to a lucky reader. There are several ways to get entered to win (do all for more entries!)
If you'd like to just buy your own copy now, Amazon delivers!
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.
If you have even the tiniest productive bone in your body, you're probably interested in how to keep better track of all of your to do's. I've tried many tools over the years from digital apps to cute to do lists to a digital/analog combo, and what I've realized is that, for me, simple is best! That's why I use a bullet journal which combines my love of office supplies, my desire to be a little artistic, and my need to feel in control!
You may have read about bullet journaling or watched videos of some really elaborate ways to use a bullet journal and gotten scared because it looked too hard. I'm here to tell you that you don't have to be an artist or a productivity genius to make a bullet journal work for you.
What is a Bullet Journal?
The Bullet Journal method was designed by Ryder Carroll, a former web, app, and game designer with ADD who needed a way to stay organized. He knew that study after study had shown that writing things down by hand cemented them in our memories and provided a sense of order, so he developed a way to quickly log notes, to do's, ideas, and appointments quickly and easily in a bulleted list. In addition to capturing your thoughts and tasks, you can create all sorts of collections of related information from a food log to vacation planning. The heart of the bullet journal is reviewing your information regularly and migrating incomplete but still relevant tasks so that they stay top of mind.
What Supplies are Needed?
One of the great things about bullet journaling is that you only really have to have two things to get started: a journal of some sort and a writing utensil. Other optional supplies are additional writing utensils in multiple colors, a ruler, stencils or stickers.
With the amount of options available for journals, it can get a little confusing, so let me break it down for you. The features to consider are size, cover and binding type, paper weight, paper design, book marks, closures, and pockets. Your first decision is how big do you want your journal? There are codes that indicate the size. Common sizes are labelled A5, A6, B5, and B6 that correspond to measurements.
Covers are really a preference - do you like a hard cover or a soft cover and what material? Some come with designs or quotes on the front while others are just a plain color. There are four main types of bindings: spiral bound, saddle stitch binding, perfect binding, and case binding. Spiral bindings can have plastic or metal coils threaded through holes in the pages. Saddle stitch binding is the technique when all pages are printed and then folded in half and secured with staples. Perfect binding uses a soft cover and pages are glued to the cover. Case binding is also called hardcover binding. Pages are stitched together in sections, and the sections are glued to the cover. This type of binding allows the book to lay flat on every page.
Paper weight is another important feature to consider so the ink you use doesn't bleed through. Paper weights are measured in pounds (how much a ream of 500 sheets of paper weighs) or GSM (grams per square meter.) The higher the number, the thicker the paper. The conversion between pounds and GSM is 1 pound = 1.48 gsm. For example regular printer paper is around 20 lbs or around 30 gsm, and cardstock is around 65 lb or 96 gsm. In addition to weight, paper can be lined, have grid dots, or be blank.
Some journals have other great features like built in bookmarks (sometimes up to 3), pockets for storing loose paper, elastic or magnetic closures, pen holders, and even included rulers or stencils.
I've tried several journals over the years of different styles and now have a list of must have features in a journal. I want my journal to lay flat when it's open, have prenumbered pages, have an elastic closure, a pen holder, and multiple built in ribbon book marks. This year's journal had two new features that I think will make my list - grid dots instead of lines on the pages and a pocket for a small ruler with stencils!
Writing utensils can be pens, markers, pencils, colored pencils or a combination. I prefer pens or markers and enjoy using multiple colors to create visual separation and include some artistic flair! It's important to have paper thick enough to prevent bleeding. My current journal has paper that is 160 gsm. There are many utensils that are bleed-proof. My favorite are Sharpie felt tip fine point pens that come in assorted colors. Or if you prefer a gel pen, one of my favorites is the Sharpie S-Gel fine point.
What's the BuJo Lingo?
Whenever you try something new, the lingo can be intimidating. Here are what the basic words related to bullet journaling mean:
How to Get Started
Once you have selected your journal and writing utensils, you can quickly get started! Make sure your pages are numbered, or add in page numbers yourself before you begin.
How to Maintain Your Bullet Journal
The bullet journal is only as good as what you put in it, and just like any productivity system, it requires regular maintenance. There are only three main things to remember:
1. Use it!
At first, it may be hard to remember to have your journal with you at all times. I work in an office setting, so I keep my journal on my desk for easy access. I take it with me to meetings, and though sometimes I may take notes digitally I always transfer any to do's to my bullet journal so I have a master list of to do's with me at all times.
I often take my journal to my bedroom in the evening to review the day and mark off things I've completed or delegated, and get a jump start on tomorrow. Even if you don't do this daily, it's critical to do at least weekly. Some people do a weekly spread to force themselves to do this review. I did a weekly spread for the first few months, but found that reviewing daily worked better for me.
Migration is the thread that holds the bullet journal system together. You could do this weekly if you choose to do a weekly spread or monthly if that's enough for you. Use the symbol that you decided on (most common is >) to indicate the task is not complete but it has been moved forward to a new section so that it won't be forgotten. I also look back at any delegated tasks to determine if they are completed or not. If they are not I will move them forward with the migrated symbol and the initial of the person I delegated it to. When the migrated task is complete, I will mark it as such.
The Benefits of the BuJo
I like the bullet journal system because it allows me to slow down and write things down legibly so I will be able to read them later! This sounds silly, but sometimes I feel like I have so much to do that writing something down takes too much time. Rushing is what leads to forgetting what I need to do and in turn getting overwhelmed. Writing things down helps my brain process and remember things.
I enjoy the opportunity to be a little artistic in a non-judgement zone! It's fun to use stencils and sometimes even stickers to decorate my pages. I enjoy hand lettering, and it's an opportunity to use and improve those skills. I also love that if I mess up, no one will see it, and I can just start a new page.
The biggest benefit of BuJo, is the sense of control it gives me knowing that all my tasks are captured and won't get forgotten. I have the ability to look back at the history of my notes and tasks. With the custom collections, I have the ability to track progress in many different areas of my life all at once.
So, do you think you're ready to give it a shot? Please reach out if you have any questions or need some more guidance to get started. If you want a deeper dive into the philosophy and process of bullet journaling, I recommend Ryder Carroll's book, The Bullet Journal Method
Carroll, Ryder. “Bullet Journal.” Bullet Journal, 2021, bulletjournal.com/.
Carrol, Ryder. The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future. FOURTH ESTATE LTD, 2020.
“Commercial Printing Company in Florida: Solo Printing.” Commercial Printing Company in Florida | Solo Printing, 8 June 2021, soloprinting.com/.
“A Comprehensive Guide to Notebook Sizes.” Galen Leather, 2021, www.galenleather.com/blogs/news/notebook-sizes.
“What Does Gsm Mean When Buying Paper and Card?” Papermill Direct, 20 July 2021, www.papermilldirect.co.uk/inspire/what-does-gsm-mean-when-buying-paper-and-card.
Philipson, Samantha. “What's in a Bind? 4 Types of Book Binding – Pros and Cons.” Ironmark Blog, 2021, blog.ironmarkusa.com/4-types-book-binding.
Are you in the "honeymoon period" with your New Year's resolution? It's early enough in January that most are still enjoying that feeling of accomplishment and haven't fallen off the wagon yet. Unfortunately statistics say that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.
I want you to be in the 20% that succeed, and the best way to do that is through a little accountability! Your first step to success is to announce your goal to at least one person. That simple action will increase your chances of achieving your goal by 65%! It makes sense because when your goal is only in your head, it's so easy to procrastinate even starting your journey. It's impossible to meet your goal if you never start, so I encourage you to take that tiny little step outside of your comfort zone and tell someone else what you want to achieve.
Now to really up your game, commit to check in regularly with someone or a group of people to report on your progress. By doing this, you automatically up your chances of succeeding by a whopping 95%! You can choose a trusted friend as your accountability partner, or you may want to consider a group of like-minded people you don't know personally. Sometimes losing the fear of what a close friend may think of your progress (or lack thereof) takes some of the pressure off and allows you to move toward your goals more quickly.
Accountability may sound scary, but it actually takes the burden off of your shoulders to keep yourself moving in the right direction. When you find the right person or people to help steer you toward your goal, you will fell empowered and gain momentum - and what makes it even sweeter is when you can help others in your group achieve their goals at the same time!
I'm passionate about helping others achieve their goals, so about a year ago, I started leading the encouragement and accountability group called Achieve! A small group of women meet for six weeks for an hour a week on video conference to discuss goals, strategies to meet them, progress, and challenges. Each group has its own private Facebook group to stay connected and share resources. I facilitate the sessions and document milestones and check in with members each week to help keep them on track. It's exciting to see what amazing progress can be made and relationships built in just six weeks' time! If you are interested in participating this session (January/February 2021) or a future session, please click below for more info or to register.
Luciani, Joseph. “Why 80 Percent of New Year's Resolutions Fail.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 15 Dec. 2015, health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail.
Wissman, Barrett. “An Accountability Partner Makes You Vastly More Likely to Succeed.” Entrepreneur, 20 Mar. 2018, www.entrepreneur.com/article/310062.
Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash
Home Projects Room by Room
Do you have a million ideas swirling around your head at any given time? Do you tell yourself you'll remember that thing you need to do, but then forget before the day is even over? Do you see that same little imperfection or incomplete project every time you walk into the room but never seem to find the time to get it taken care of? If you answered yes to even one of these questions, I'm here with a simple idea to help!
Track your home projects room by room. It's so simple it's hard to believe it would work, but just give it a try.
If you go the Evernote route like I did, create a notebook titled Home Projects and then create a note for each room/area. Insert a checklist so that when you are done, you can simply click to check the item off!
Once you have all of the to do's out of your head and into your notebook, you will waste less of your time trying to remember what you wanted to do and can spend more time getting things done! (Getting things out of your head is great for more than just home projects - read a Brain Dump How -To for more info!)
This time next week will be a brand new year, so this is a great time to gather up all of the tasks and projects you want to get done around the house so you can be productive in 2021!
Photo by Roselyn Tirado on Unsplash
Keep Your Hobbies Fun
The definition of a hobby is, "an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation." Hobbies can range from photography to gardening to playing an instrument to needlepoint to starting a blog. Most of us have at least one, and if you don't - well, you should!
You probably fill several roles - employee, parent, child, volunteer and the list goes on and on. In a previous post I wrote about the busy badge many people have awarded themselves that sometimes provides an excuse not to engage in a hobby. In the last twenty years, there has been a decline in adult participation in hobbies, and I don't think it's any coincidence that in that time frame the popularity of social media has increased exponentially. Today, we waste much more time scrolling than it would take to learn a new skill.
You may think that being engaged with your career is more important than a hobby, but science suggests the two are not mutually exclusive. A study in the Journal of Occupational Health and Organizational Psychology studied hundreds of employees and found those with a hobby outside of work were more creative in work-related projects, had a better attitude, and were less likely to suffer from burnout.
What about the time and attention your kids deserve? Not to worry, your hobbies don't need to wait - just involve the kids in some of them. Licensed and Independent Clinical Social Worker, Alison Ratner Mayer, explains that hobbies are a wonderful way to bond with your child. "There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. "
Hobbies can actually improve productivity! In 1955, Cyril Northcote Parksinson, a British historian wrote an article in The Economist that began with the sentence, "It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Today we refer to this as Parkinson's Law. The more time you have available to get something done, the longer it takes to complete. Having a hobby gives you something to do at either a set time (like get to your bowling league) or something to look forward to (like getting out your sewing machine.) You still have other responsibilities, but because you have a hobby to get to, you aren't as likely to stretch those tasks out.
"...work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."
A Psychology Today article explains that in addition to all of the benefits we've already talked about, hobbies can help you create new social connections, make you more interesting and help you cope with stress. Research has shown that those who spent leisure time engaging in a hobby displayed lower blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference, and body mass index. They also had lower levels of depression. An article from Verywell Mind, a mental health resource partner of the Cleveland Clinic, states that part of the reason for this may be that "hobbies provide a slice of work-free and responsibility-free time in your schedule. This can be especially welcome for people who feel overwhelmed by all that they have to do and need to recharge their batteries by doing something they enjoy."
After all of the reasons I've shared so far, I think you probably agree hobbies are a good thing, but what I have struggled with is how to keep them fun so they provide all of the great benefits we've discussed. One reason I have failed to carve out time for hobbies in the past is when they were inconvenient. I like to sew, but I had all of my sewing stuff in a hard to reach spot, and anytime I wanted to sew, I'd have to nearly do a back-bend to get everything out. I recently up-cycled an old metal cart that I've had since I got married in 2002! It used to hold laundry supplies between an old washer and dryer, and then spent years in the garage holding spray paint. After some scrubbing, it became eligible for my new sewing supplies cart. It tucks nicely under my counter in my craft area and is light weight so I can move it around easily. Now because I don't dread getting everything set up to sew, I'm much more likely to do it!
I struggled to continue with some hobbies when they turned into more of a requirement than an outlet. This blog is a great example. I started this as a hobby and for fun. I like to write, I like to organize and become more productive, so this made sense. Soon, I felt like it was taking too much of my time, and it started to feel like work because my standards were to high. I finally gave myself permission not to be the absolute best blogger or side-hustler and reminded myself that it was a hobby and hobbies are supposed to be FUN! Once I started looking at it through that lens, it again became enjoyable.
Lastly, I used to feel like hobbies were selfish. A couple years ago, I changed my mind about that when my husband and I joined a bowling league. Now we have a shared hobby (complete with our own bowling balls and shoes!) We even go on bowling dates (as my kids call them) to practice. It's only a few hours every other week, but it's a shared experience and guaranteed time together. I also like to play the piano, and this is one that I've been able to share with my kids through teaching them to play. It gives me a lot of joy to be able to share something I enjoy with them.
What about you - do you have a hobby that you want to make more fun? Try making it more convenient, lowering your standards a bit, or sharing it with someone in your family! Hobbies are an important outlet and you owe it to yourself to have one - and to enjoy it!
“Definition of Hobby.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, 2020, www.dictionary.com/browse/hobby?s=t.
Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash
Kurtz, Jaime. “Six Reasons to Get a Hobby.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 15 Sept. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happy-trails/201509/six-reasons-get-hobby.
Eschleman, Kevin J., et al. “Benefiting from Creative Activity: The Positive Relationships between Creative Activity, Recovery Experiences, and Performance‐Related Outcomes.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 17 Apr. 2014, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/joop.12064.
Parkinson, C Northcorte. “Parkinson's Law.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 1955, www.economist.com/news/1955/11/19/parkinsons-law.
Elizabeth Scott, MS. “The Importance of Hobbies for Stress Relief.” Verywell Mind, 14 Sept. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/the-importance-of-hobbies-for-stress-relief-3144574.
Mayer, Alison Ratner. “The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child.” Child Therapy Boston, 16 July 2017, childtherapyinboston.com/2017/07/16/the-benefits-of-sharing-a-hobby-with-your-child/.
Photo by Darling Arias on Unsplash
First Things First
Last week was Labor Day which meant a day off of work for many of us. Long weekends are exciting, but short weeks tend to overwhelm me. There is just as much to do, with one less day to get it done. When time is short, choosing the right thing to work on first is even more important.
"There's so much to do that I don't even know where to start!" How many times have you said that? I'm here to help! Not because I'm the expert, but because I've faltered and failed enough times to find a better way.
Gary Keller suggests in his book The One Thing that we ask ourselves this question over and over, "What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” In the past, I thought that checking several things off of my to do list was better than completing one task - even if that one task was more important or urgent.
In fact, doing less, can help us accomplish more in the long run. Keller says, “Until my ONE Thing is done — everything else is a distraction.” Distractions are everywhere - email anyone?? Read the last post about the No Email Hour to help avoid that trap! Once you figure out what that ONE thing is, focus on it, and accomplish it, you repeat the process over and over! The hard part is determining what that ONE thing is.
Experts often point to the Eisenhower Matrix of urgent and important tasks. This matrix is named after the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was experienced at prioritizing while he was a general in the US Army and the Allied Forces Supreme Commander in World War II. He suggested identifying the urgency and importance of a task to determine what to do first. An urgent task is one that is compelling or requires immediate action or attention. An important task is one that is of great significance or value. If a task is both important and urgent, that puts it in the "do first" quadrant. A task that is important, but not urgent should be scheduled for a later time while a task that is urgent but less important can be delegated to someone else. Finally, if a task is not urgent and not important, this is something that likely not even do at all!
The Eisenhower matrix is a great framework to help sort out your tasks, but I would suggest a little twist to increase productivity even more using this simple order.
A busy day at home is the perfect opportunity to apply these steps. Let's say you have a sink full of dirty dishes, 2 loads of laundry to do, a doctor appointment to schedule, and uncomfortable email to send, cookies to bake for an event, kids to take to and from sports practice, and a few things to pick up at the store. Here's how the 4 steps above can help you be productive.
"It's super easy to check something off your list when you don't even have to do it!"
First you should look for an opportunity to delegate. If you can completely delegate a task, that's an easy win, but even if you can delegate only a step in the process, that can free you up to work on something else at the same time. If you have kids, there are plenty of ways they can help like unloading the clean dishes from the dishwasher, sorting laundry or even starting a load.
"Do one or more steps of a task, and the rest happens automatically!"
You have several automations already created for you in your day. In our busy day example, your dishwasher and clothes washer and dryer automate some of your tasks. Automations do require prep work. You have to empty the dishwasher of clean dishes and load it with dirty dishes before you can start it. You have to gather and sort your laundry, put a load in the washer with detergent before you can start the washer. Once you get your machines working for you, you can complete other tasks while your dishes and clothes are getting clean - in this example, scheduling that doctor appointment.
It is important to get automated tasks going before you do other tasks. If you waited until late in the day to start the laundry, the automation doesn't buy you as much time as if you start it early in the day. You may need to revisit your automated processes from time to time (like switching the clothes from the washer to the dryer in order to start a new load)
"A big, scary task looming over you will hinder your productivity the rest of the day - just do it!"
Now that you've got others working for you (delegation) and your machines working for you (automation), it's time to remove the stress. There may be one task on your list that has been causing you anxiety or stress. If you put it off, you may be focusing on it instead of other tasks throughout the day. By getting it out of the way, you will better be able to focus later. In our example, that uncomfortable email may be a source of stress. While your machines are working for you, take the time to just do it!
"Be aware of cause and effect, and think downstream."
Finally consider dependencies in tasks. You still need to take kids to and from sports practices, make cookies, and go to the store. The kids' practice is dependent on a specific time. It's scheduled, so you can't do it before the time it occurs. Since you'll be away from home during the drive to and from practice, and you probably shouldn't leave the house with your oven on, you either have to get the cookies finished before you leave, have enough time to bake the batches while practice is in session, or not start until you return home from pickup. You don't have any chocolate chips, so you can't make chocolate chip cookies until you've been to the store. Now that you've thought through all of your to-do's, you can determine the best order to complete your tasks in.
By using these 4 steps along with the principles of the Eisenhower matrix, you will be able to choose to put first things first and become the most productive version of yourself!
Keller, Gary. The One Thing: the Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. John Murray Press, 2019.
“The Eisenhower Matrix: Introduction & 3-Minute Video Tutorial.” Eisenhower, 2017, www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/.
The No Email Hour
When you are overwhelmed, it is all too easy to focus on busywork like reading and answering emails instead of the tasks that really matter. You probably have your email program open all day long, and you may even have pop-ups or audible notifications set up to alert you when a new message comes in. Email can contain important information, but it is likely the single biggest distraction of your workday!
You may think you can check or compose emails while you are doing other things throughout the day, but Gary Keller says in his popular book, The One Thing, "Multi-tasking is a lie." What he means is that we cannot truly do more than one thing at a time. Productivity psychologist, Dr. Melissa Gratias explains it well, "Our brain does not perform tasks simultaneously. It performs them in sequence, one after another. So, when we are multitasking we are switching back and forth between the things we are doing." The price we pay for attempting to multi-task is called switching cost.
"Switching cost is the disruption in performance that we experience when we switch our attention from one task to another," explains James Clear, author of the New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits. Just think of how many times a day you check your email! A study published in the International Journal of Information Management in 2003 reports that a typical employee checks email nearly every 5 minutes and it takes over a minute to get back to what they were doing before the email interruption. Do the math - that's a waste of 10 minutes every hour which equates to an hour and 20 minutes out of an eight hour workday just getting our brains reset back to what we were concentrating on before we stopped to check email.
To combat this distraction, start by choosing one hour of your workday to NOT check email. Trust me, I know this is hard! I picked a hour in the morning because that allows me to get important tasks done without distraction early in the day. Select an hour in the portion of your day where you feel the sharpest and most awake so that you can leverage that energy and get meaningful work done when you are at your best. It would would be a shame to waste the best part of your day on your inbox!
To really make this hour productive, make sure you have a task list in order of priority handy so that you can jump right in doing the thing that matters the most. Next week's post will be about how to do first things first (I'm pretty excited about this one!)
If you get really good at a "no email hour" in your workday, you may want to try increasing that time. Depending on the type of work you do, it may be detrimental to be 'off the grid' for too long. Some experts suggest only checking email a couple of times a day, but in my day job, that would just not be acceptable. If I do need to be away from email longer than an hour or so, I sometimes set a temporary automated out of office message to set the expectation that my response will be delayed. The message can be very simple like, "I'm working on a high priority project and will not be checking email until 2 p.m. If you have an urgent need, please text me at ###-###-####."
One caveat that makes the "no email hour" tricky is that many tasks may require sending emails, so be careful not to get sucked in to your inbox when composing a new message. To avoid the temptation, try these shortcuts to open just a blank message instead of your entire inbox.
Outlook - When you want to send a message, simply right click on the Outlook icon on your taskbar, and choose new message. You could also create a desktop shortcut to compose a new message (instructions here.)
Gmail - There is a handy dandy Chrome Extension called Quick Compose for Gmail that allows you to open up a blank message withOUT going to your inbox. Once you've installed the extension, there's even a keyboard shortcut!
iPhone Mail App - Use 3D or haptic touch (which basically means that you tap and hold) on the mail icon until a menu appears, and then select new message. This brings up a blank message without taking you into your inbox. NOTE: if you have multiple email accounts set up on your phone, the message will be automatically from your default account, but you can easily change that by tapping on the from address and choosing the proper account.
These are the three mail apps I use most often, but if you use others, I'm sure a quick Google search of "how to compose a message without opening my (insert mail app) inbox" will bring up tips to help you.
Try the "no email hour" for a week and let me know how amazing it feels to get an entire hour's worth of work down without email interruptions!
Clear, James. ATOMIC HABITS: an Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. RANDOM House BUSINESS, 2019.
Clear, James. “The Myth of Multitasking: Why Fewer Priorities Leads to Better Work.” James Clear, 4 Feb. 2020, jamesclear.com/multitasking-myth.
Hoyt, Alia. “How Multitasking Works.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 27 Jan. 2020, science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/multitasking.html.
Jackson, T., Dawson, R. and Wilson, D., 2003. Reducing the effect of email interuption on employees. International Journal of Information Management, 23(1), pp.55-65
Keller, Gary. The One Thing: the Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. John Murray Press, 2019.
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
I am not a morning person! I like to BE up early, but I don't particularly like to GET up early! Because of that, my mornings go much more smoothly when everything is ready the night before. Getting into a habit of preparing for the next day the night before was one of the single biggest boosts to my productivity!
When I was primarily working from home this spring, evening prep was pretty simple - a list of my most important tasks for the next day and sometimes I laid out a letter that needed to go to the mailbox. Since it didn't really matter what I wore and I didn't need to pack a lunch, there really wasn't that much to it. Don't get me wrong, doing that little bit of prep for the next day still went a long way, but it wasn't as critical as I knew it would be when I was back to working in my office most of the time. To set myself up for a successful transition, I really embraced evening prep - almost too much because soon it felt like my evenings were focused around tomorrow.
That first week back to the office exhausted me. Between working the same full day, commuting, wearing office appropriate attire, showering EVERY DAY, fixing my hair and makeup, packing up my breakfast, snacks and lunch, preparing my work supplies, not to mention trying to spend quality time with my family - it was exhausting! I was trying extra hard to make everything run smoothly, so I was spending 30-60 minutes preparing every detail of my morning the night before. I felt robbed of my evenings and the time with my family, so I decided something had to change!
There were two key areas I identified as time suckers, and I made a plan to fix them!
I am on a mission to get healthier and slimmer by the time I turn 40, so I take my breakfast, snacks and lunch with me everyday. For breakfast I make a protein shake, snacks are usually fruit, nuts, cheese, and lunch may be leftovers or a salad. Previously, I was spending a good 30 minutes an evening preparing food. I analyzed my evening food prep routing, and found the areas that were taking the longest and came up with ideas to streamline the process:
I now pack my lunchbox immediately after I empty it. I make my shake the night before as well and just shake it up before I drink it the next day. I've gone from 30 minute lunch prep to less than 10
I lay my entire outfit the night before - complete with jewelry, shoes - everything. I used to do it right before bed. First I would have to look at my calendar to see what was going on the next day so I dressed appropriately. Then I'd pick something out, find all the coordinating accessories, and a good 15-20 minutes later, get to bed. I wanted to get more sleep, so I decided to try to win back those few minutes before bed.
Now I pick out my clothes for the next day as soon as I change out of my work clothes, which is usually very soon after I walk in the door. Since I'm already in my closet hanging up clothes or putting them in the hamper, it makes sense to just grab an outfit for tomorrow right then. Because I always look at my calendar for the next day before I finish my workday, I can skip that step since it's fresh in my mind. By the time I'm in my comfy walking clothes, I am done preparing for the next day!
Your pain points may not be the same as mine, but take some time to think through your routine and identify what is taking you the longest or what frustrates you about your morning or evening routine. Think about the problem and how you would tell someone else to solve it. Track your time savings and celebrate the extra time in your evening - and spend it well!
Quick and Easy Protein Shake
Puree all the fruit you will need for the week ahead of time and store in airtight container in the refrigerator.
The night before combine almond milk, fruit puree, protein powder, and chia seeds in a shaker cup, put in the shaker ball, and SHAKE! Store in the refrigerator and shake well before drinking.
To be truly productive, it is almost imperative to have a master to-do list where you record everything you need to do and use it to prioritize your actions as you work toward completing tasks that will ultimately help you accomplish your goals. Though I believe this is true, today I want to introduce a different concept that I think is almost as important to your personal productivity - a done list!
A done list is just what it sounds like, a list of things you’ve completed. There are a couple of options on how to create a done list, but before I tell you HOW, let me tell you WHY.
Why a Done List?
1. Develops Positive Emotions
Sometimes in the midst of all the items left undone on our to do list, it’s easy to forget all that was accomplished in a day. At the end of the work day, the emotions we feel are directly related to the progress we made (or didn’t make.)
Dr. Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of The Progress Principle found that when people recognized their small accomplishments, they experienced more positive emotions which in turn, encouraged future accomplishment. In a Harvard Business Review article, she explained a study which analyzed 12,000 employees on a daily basis. ”On days when they made progress, our participants reported more positive emotions. They not only were in a more upbeat mood in general but also expressed more joy, warmth, and pride.”
2. Creates Momentum
We tend to focus more on our failures than our successes, so keeping track of what we’ve accomplished can remind us of what we are capable of. Organizational psychologist, Karl Weick says “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. When a solution is put in place, the next solvable problem often becomes more visible.”
Completing a task feels so much better than starting 10 tasks and not quite finishing any of them! Every time you record something you’ve finished, you get a little hit of dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter in your body’s nervous system that plays a role in feeling pleasure. It actually helps us focus and improves motivation. So completing one item literally can increase our chances of completing the next one.