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.
I’ve been in a productivity slump for the past few months. I could blame it on some sad things that have happened in my family, stress at work, or on the busyness of being a working mom, and I could feel bad about the things I didn’t do during that time - like not write any new blog posts...But I’m not here to make excuses, I’m here to get my productivity groove back and help you do the same!
Motivation, like a good habit, is very easy to lose and much harder to get back! Take a shortcut and learn from others. There are so many tools and suggestions available about productivity and organization (many available in previous posts on my blog!) Don’t try to do it alone - find a blog post, grab a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a YouTube video to learn something new or reinforce what you already know. I finally started reading the book I’ve been eyeing for months, Atomic Habits by James Clear. I am about halfway done, and I LOVE it! (Book review coming soon!) There are so many tidbits of great information that have provided me much needed motivation!
"Motivation, like a good habit, is very easy to lose and much harder to get back! Take a shortcut and learn from others."
Don’t try to do it all at once, or you’ll get overwhelmed and potentially do yourself more harm than good. Pick something that is fun and attainable or something that you have to do anyway. My motivation started returning when I had something to look forward to that required planning and organization - family vacation. Once I got started planning, I could start anticipating vacation, which I think is almost as fun as going! My planning paid off, and I felt really proud of all the effort I put into it.
After a successful vacation, I knew I could tackle more. I’m embarrassed to say I’d been doing the bare minimum for taking care of routine family finances and paperwork - for months. I’d do what was absolutely necessary and stash the rest for later. Later just never arrived until this past weekend. I spent a few hours and am now all caught up with processing and filing. (Click for tips on how to get caught up with your paperwork.) My appetite for productivity and organization is snowballing now!
Once one project is done, you immediately feel a weight lifted and create space in your brain that used to be taken up by worrying about that thing that was undone. Once one task is complete, you will crave the feeling of checking another project off of your list. For me, after paperwork was caught up, I decided to cancel a couple of unnecessary subscriptions and saved myself money in the process. Now I’m hooked and am shopping for a better price on insurance. Who knows, I may be cleaning out my craft area before I know it!
What I’m relearning is that getting any little thing organized propels you to the next, bigger step. After completing that step, you gain motivation to tackle even more daunting tasks. You stop feeling sorry for yourself or bad about yourself for not accomplishing tasks. I have a suspicion, I’m not the only one who has let their “productive self” go over the past year and a half, and I want to provide you encouragement that it’s not as hard as it seems to get your life in order!
Start your snowball of productivity in the next 15 minutes:
I predict that as you repeat steps 3-5, you will gain motivation and confidence. When that list is complete, you will have room in your head to really create productive systems to help you avoid having to write another list like that!
Thanks for reading my first post in several months - it’s good to be back! I hope you’ll stick with me as I strive to get and keep My Life In Order! If you'd like to get new posts and newsletters in your inbox, please join the email list!
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.
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!
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/.
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.
There have been many times throughout my career that I've thought, "If I didn't have kids, I'd be a rock star at my job," or "If my kids were older, I'd have more time to devote to my work," or "If I were single, I could be married to my job." And then I'd snap back to reality and realize I AM a wife, I AM a mom, and my kids ARE young - and I'm SO HAPPY about those facts! Those facts are what make me a whole person are the areas of my life that I love the most.
So why is it I feel like when I embrace my role as a wife and mom, that I can't be amazing in a professional role, too? The reason is simple - because I can't be incredible at everything at the same time - no one can. I can be laser focused at work, but them my home life suffers, or I can be all in all the time at home, and my work life suffers. It's a conundrum that I think all working parents face. It's a big source of what you often hear called "mommy guilt." Working moms tend to try to just DO more to make up for the fact they are away from their families at a job during many hours of the day, but this can lead to over-working and over-scheduling. In an interview with clinical psychologist, Nicole Grocki about this topic, the Mindful Return website explained, "Here we’re grappling with the mom’s belief that if a mom does more, and ignores the guilt, the better she will feel. But this behavior can lead to burnout and becoming physically unwell."
I, like many, turned to productivity to help me figure out the secret formula (spoiler alert - there isn't one!) I wanted to do all the things, be great in all areas, and appear like it was easy. When I dove in, I realized that one of the biggest secrets to productivity is not to do it all, but to do the right things. No matter how productive you are, you can not do it all. A productivity system can help you get more done in less time - that's true - but it cannot create more hours in the day, it cannot develop meaningful relationships with your kids, it cannot foster camaraderie with your co-workers, it cannot magically make you smarter or more knowledgeable. All of those things take time and dedication. If you are simply checking things of of a list - read the kids a bedtime story (check), read a business book (check), make a dinner reservation for date night (check) - you may not be fully experiencing the joys of life.
"No matter how productive you are, you can not do it all."
I don't want you to feel discouraged though, because I have a few suggestions for you!
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.
A Hungary-based biologist PhD, currently working in the R&D field. In line with his burning enthusiasm for productivity, Csaba Vadadi-Fulop launched his blog www.productivity95.com where he blogs about productivity and personal development.
1. Limit morning decisions
Either prepare for the morning the night before by completing tasks before bed or by creating a few standard choices for your regular morning tasks. For example you could lay out your clothes before you go to sleep or you could pre-define a few pair of pants and a few tops that match so it's very easy to pick out an outfit in the morning. You could make your lunch at night or you could have several items that you know you like, don't take any preparation, you know fit in your lunch box, and are all located in the came general area in your kitchen that you can mix and match into a lunch bag in the morning. The fewer decisions in the morning, the more energy you'll have during the remainder of your day.
I used to be a serial snoozer. I could hit a traditional alarm clock's snooze button every 9 minutes for a good hour before finally rolling out of bed. I tried using my Fit Bit as an alternative and set multiple alarms that would vibrate until I turned them off. That worked better, but I soon learned, I can turn them off in my sleep! I think I may have found the best solution for me - I have been setting an alarm on my Google Mini and when it goes off it the morning, I have to actually speak to turn it off, "Hey Google, cancel alarm." Even if I don't get out of bed immediately, having to talk out loud seems to wake me up enough so I don't fall back asleep. I like setting backup alarms to make sure I'm out of bed in time. Additional alarms throughout the morning can also keep you on track - try an "it's time for breakfast" alarm, an "it's time to dry my hair alarm", or an "it's time to load the car" alarm. Remember all those little things you do in the morning that could be wasting time - like checking email or social media on your phone or watching the news. If you want to build those into your morning, give yourself a set time so you don't get carried away!
I'm a big proponent of timing everything you do so you know how long things really take. I used to think it took SO long to do my makeup that on most days, I'd just throw my makeup bag in my purse and do my makeup at work. Once I timed myself, I realized it takes me less roughly 5 minutes for my entire regimen and there's usually plenty of time for that in my morning! I also know how much time it takes me to take a shower with and without washing my hair (so I can sleep in a little on days I don't need to wash my hair.)
4. Do things in order (or at the same time!)
Think through everything you have to do in a morning, and figure out the most efficient order of tasks. It doesn't make sense to put moisturizer on first and then put in your contacts just like it doesn't make sense to fix your hair before putting on your pullover shirt. Also consider which things can be done at the same time. Multi-tasking isn't usually a great idea, but for some mindless tasks, it's great! For example, I get my jewelry out while I'm brushing my teeth and use my Turbie Twist towel to absorb the moisture from my wet hair while I'm doing my makeup. This is one of my favorite morning hacks because it significantly reduces the time it takes to blow dry my hair!
I try to only open a drawer or a door twice a morning - once to get out what I need and a second time to put those things away. I open my top bathroom vanity drawer to get out my contacts, my hairbrush, and my makeup bag. Then I close the drawer and don't open it again until I'm done with all of those items. I open the door under my vanity to get out my curling iron and/or hair dryer and hair products, and then I close it. I don't open it again until I'm ready to put those away and while I have it open I spritz myself with body spray before closing the door for the final time.
6. Put things away as you go
I like to wake up to a clear bathroom counter and leave for work with a clear bathroom counter. It allows me to start the day with a little control. When you do your makeup, try taking out all the items you will use out and set on the counter. As you use them, put them back in a makeup bag, so when you're done, everything is back in your bag and it's easy to just put it back in its place. Try a heat proof bag or container for curling irons or straighteners, so you can put them away as soon as you're done instead of leaving cords all over the place! Keep a wastebasket next to where you get ready so you can throw away cotton swabs, tissues, cotton balls, etc. as you go.
7. Empty your head
Whenever you think of something you need to do, either write it down in a place you will see before you walk out the door or set a reminder on your phone that will create a notification so you can feel confident you won't forget. If I need to take food for a carry in or return a library book or drop my car off at the repair shop, I set a reminder for early that morning so that when I look at my phone before I walk out the door, I'll see the notification. This helps me sleep better not trying to remember what I have to do in the morning. I also set reminders at times all throughout the day for things I need to buy, errands I need to run, phone calls I need to make, etc. It's nice to get them out of my head and into a system I trust.
Each chapter of the book is one of the 10 steps to ultimate productivity. For each step, you will be taught why it is important, learn from some real life examples, receive tips about how to put the step into practice in your own life. There are also bonus materials that you can access online to help with your own personal productivity system.
The ten steps are:
- Clear Your Mind
- From Tasks to Projects
- Focus on What's Most Important
- Be Productive Anytime and Anywhere
- Delegate Tasks to Achieve More - Work in a Team
- Group Your Tasks and Shift Gears
- Take Control Over Your Documents
- Check Your System Regularly
- Master Your Emails
- What Else Can You Improve?
Planning saves time and helps us feel in control. There are many options for planning tools from a simple notebook to a pretty planner to slick digital apps. There is no perfect method for planning your days, but there several questions that you can answer to help you choose the right planner for you!
- Do you prefer digital, paper or both?
- Do you want to keep personal and professional plans separate or do you prefer one overarching system?
- What do you want to include in your planner? Appointments, tasks, ideas, and/or notes?
- Where will you need to access your planner? Will you carry it with you or leave it in one location?
Once you've answered these basic questions, you can move on to the more detailed options based on your paper vs. digital preference.
- How big? do you want to be able to fit it in your pocket or your purse, or do you carry a work bag or backpack?
- Does color matter?
- Do you like pages to lay flat? Do you prefer spiral bound planners?
- Do you want the pages of your planner to be pre-printed or would you rather draw/write everything more like a bullet journal?
- Do you want calendar pages to have the dates filled in for you, or do you want to add your own dates?
- Do you want to have space for monthly, weekly and/or daily planning? Is it important to have your days broken into timed increments?
- Do you want a to-do list on a separate page from your calendar or all in one area?
- What weight do you want your paper to be?
- Do you want a hard or soft cover? So you want the cover to be wipeable?
- How much do you want to spend on your planner?
- Do you want a calendar only or do you need a task manager as well?
- Do you want to be able to share the contents of your planning system either for others to view or to delegate?
- Do you want a free tool or a subscription based tool? How much are you willing to spend?
- Do you want to be able to use your digital tool on a computer, a tablet, and/or a smartphone?
- Is it important to you to link to other apps? For example, do you want to integrate a task manager with your calendar or note taking apps?
- Do you want the ability to import and export information?
- Does the tool have the ability to categorize and color code items?
I like a hybrid approach and use a digital calendar, digital task manager with digital reminders, as well as a paper planner. I prefer to keep personal and professional somewhat separate, but do combine them in one view. For example, on my iPhone's calendar app, I have my personal Google Calendar, my "side hustle" Google Calendar, and my work Outlook calendar overlaid on one another so I can see everything at once. For me, I want to capture time bound meetings and appointments, deadlines, and special dates like birthdays and anniversaries on a calendar and to-dos in a task list. I need a place to jot down notes and ideas, and a place to store a piece of notepaper as well. It may seem redundant to have tasks in both a digital and written format, but the physical act of writing things down helps me process and remember them better. When I transfer items from my digital task list to my physical planner during a regular planning time, it helps to cement in my mind what is truly a priority.
Buy a special writing utensil to use with your planner. A mechanical pencil may be your best option - it's erasable, the tip will always be sharp and it won't bleed through the pages. But there's something fun about using a special pen that writes so smoothly... Just make sure to test pens on a small section of paper to make sure it doesn't bleed or smudge. Different types of paper react differently to different types of ink. Consider a couple of colors of pens/highlighters to use and make a system of what each color means. For example, if you decide to add both work and personal obligations, you may want to use one color for work and one color for personal.
Create a way to keep your place. Find a reliable bookmark, fun binder clip, or reusuable sticky note tab to mark your place in your paper planner. My planner comes with tabs for each month, but I will still want to mark which date I'm on to make it that much quicker to do my planning.
Decide how far out you will plan. Most people do well to put in the big events for the whole year on the calendar and then plan around those on a monthly or weekly basis. A quick review of your calendar and digital tools before bed allow you to write down your appointments and must dos the night before in your paper planner. This will allow you to rest easier knowing you haven't forgotten anything and that you have a solid plan for the next day.
Set a regular planning meeting with yourself and your family. My husband and I both work full time and have a significant commute, plus have some volunteer commitments, lots of parenting commitments and also appreciate some downtime. We have to have at least a weekly check in to figure out who's going to pick up the kids, what we will have for dinner, etc. This doesn't have to be a formal meeting - ours is usually after a meal and we both whip out our phones and check who has to go in early, who has to stay late, and what kid's activities are coming up that week. This allows us to plan our grocery shopping list and arrange childcare for the week ahead. We invite each other to events using our digital calendars so know what is expected of us.
I hope you can find your ideal planner in the next couple of weeks so you can start off your 2019 feeling like a planning rockstar! If you have another planner you love, please share with us in the comments.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!
My Life In Laughter