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
We woke up early on the first day of the 2020-2021 school year only to learn that our home internet was out! Since we were all planning to spend the day learning and working online, we had a few moments of panic. Luckily the internet came back on before long and held steady the rest of the day!
I had planned every detail of virtual learning at our house, but there was still something out of my control. It's good to be reminded that no matter how well we plan, the unexpected still happens. I think this school year may teach us all that lesson many times over! Because there is so much in life that we cannot control, it is helpful to be organized because that gives us the capacity to handle the unexpected when it comes our way.
Whether your kids are doing virtual learning at home full-time or their school has a hybrid approach where just part of the week is e-learning, being a parent of a school-aged child this school year is going to be a challenge! I am trying to use organization to help make the experience as smooth as possible, and I thought I'd share some of my ideas with you.
Challenge # 1: Not enough workspace
We are excited to have my older son's best friend and his younger sister joining us for virtual learning. It gives our kids some socialization and makes their school day much more fun! But we had to get creative to fit everybody in our home and still keep distance between them.
We live in an 1800 square foot, nearly 150 year old house with no spare bedroom or office. On days when I work from home to help supervise the school day, there are six people to fit into the space! We decided that we wanted everyone on the same floor, so we are not using bedrooms as classrooms. Because of that, not every kid has enough room to have all of their books and supplies next to them at all times. We solved that problem with a set of plastic drawers labelled with each kid's name. The drawers are on wheels so if I want to get rid of the school look, I can roll them into the laundry room!
We decided that since most of the school day will be spent on Google Meets with headphones on, it didn't really matter if kids were in the same room because they rarely have to talk out loud during live class. We set the two older kids up in the kitchen and the younger two in the living room in a configuration so no one gets in anyone else's videos!
My husband works in our bedroom on a slim table that we set in front of a window, and when I'm working from home, I work in my craft area. Even though it's a little crowded, I made everyone their own nameplate for their space to define it as theirs. I got acrylic frames for photo booth pictures for less than a dollar, then used scrapbook paper and some markers to make every "desk" a little special. At the end of the day, the kitchen kids have to put everything in their drawer so my family can eat dinner at the same table, but it works!
Challenge #2: Confusing schedule
We have two different schedules with different break times for the elementary and the middle school, and then there are alternating days for certain classes - it gets confusing fast! I got two white boards and two inexpensive easels (check the photo frame section for these) to display the schedule. I used different colors to help the kids easily find their next class. For the schedules that alternate, there is a magnet that indicates what day it is. We have one white board in each room to keep kids on track.
I also created a printable daily schedule that lists each class time, class, and code for the live video session as well as check boxes for other daily requirements. These were great for the first week while everyone was getting used to their schedules. After the second week, we probably won't need these anymore and can just maintain a list of codes for the videos.
One thing I love about virtual learning is how much extra physical activity the kids are getting because they can go outside and play, go on a bike ride, or just get some sunshine during breaks. But it's important for them to stay on schedule, so setting timers is a great way to help kids manage their time and get back to their seats in time for the next session.
Challenge #3: Tech Issues
I work in IT for my day job, so I am used to tech issues! The biggest lesson here is to teach your child how to fix issues rather than fixing them all yourself. It's amazing how even young children can learn to troubleshoot an issue when you take the time to show them how. Before school starts, go through their device with them and explain the basics. Don't assume they know how to open a new tab on a web browser or even turn down the volume. Chances are you may have to show them a few times, but if you take the time at the beginning to teach them how to help themselves, you won't be needed as much later on.
We've already run into broken links, unknown passwords, and pictures and videos that wouldn't display. Teachers have been very honest that this is all new to everyone, so don't feel bad about asking them for help or letting them know when something isn't going quite right - but be nice!! Taking a photo of exactly what you are seeing on your kid's device may be more helpful than trying to explain it in words.
Slow or overloaded internet will surely be a problem at some point. If that happens, try limiting video to only when it's needed. Most teachers have a recording if something goes wrong and you can't participate live. You may have to roll with it!
"Chances are you may have to show them a few times, but if you take the time at the beginning to teach them how to help themselves, you won't be needed as much later on."
Challenge #4: I have to work!
Many of us are working parents, and work doesn't just stop when school starts. We are in unprecedented times, and employers are trying to make accommodations but still stay in business. There are some who can't work from home because of the nature of their job. This is where we have to stick together and help each other out! I'm fortunate because my husband works from home, but I am trying to be very aware that he has a full time job and as willing as he is to be a teacher as well, I need to pitch in where I can. I occasionally work from home to give him a break, and I also review schedules for the next day and make lists, monitor homework assignments, etc. the night before so the days are smoother.
No matter what kind of job you have or how high up you are in an organization, all employees are just people and many of them are parents dealing with virtual school. Even those who don't have kids themselves, have a child or teacher in their lives and can understand the challenges of juggling work and school responsibilities. Several times a week on conference calls, I hear someone's child in the background or someone on the call has to excuse themselves to help with a school issue. It doesn't bother me a bit - I get it! We are all trying to do our best, and no one can deny that our kids' education is important.
To help stay focused at work when you are at home with school-aged kids, set them up with everything they need before you start your workday. Designate your own workspace and clearly communicate when kids are allowed to enter that space and at what times they need to be quiet. You may consider a sign or visual reminder of these things for younger children. Schedule your breaks around the kids' breaks so you can check homework, answer questions, and enjoy seeing their faces in the middle of they day. You may need to talk to your boss about working an alternate schedule. If there are hours that you need to dedicate to school, is it possible you could work some in the early morning or late evening to make up for that time?
None of us know how long we will be dealing with virtual school, so I encourage you to identify your top challenges and come up with strategies to address them. Organize yourself in other areas of your life to give you more room in your day to deal with the challenges at hand.
Have a great school year!
Many of you may have begun working from home in the past couple of weeks and may be doing so for the foreseeable future. If you've never worked at home before, it can be a big change and a big challenge! I've heard from some of you that you are struggling in various ways — from staying focused on your work to not letting your working hours bleed into your personal time. I have worked from home on and off for years, so I wanted to share with you some tips that may help you be more productive at work, more comfortable when you are working, and give you the ability to separate work and home life.
1. Get ready for work
You may think working from home means you get to roll out of bed and go straight to your laptop in pajamas and bedhead, but I suggest you actually get ready for work similar to how you would if you were going into the office. Depending if you are required to video chat or not may determine how much time you spend on your appearance, but at least do the following:
Get up early enough to get these things done before you're supposed to be logged on and ready to work. Over the past couple of weeks, circumstances were extraordinary and there were days that I got woken up with issues at my day job that continued all day so that I never had the time to do these basic things. I felt out of sorts and out of control all day long! I'm a true believer that how you look impacts how you feel (so much that I wrote an entire post about it!) Set yourself up for success by being awake and ready to face the workday — even if you're just walking to another room in your house!
"Set yourself up for success by being awake and ready to face the workday - even if you're just walking to another room in your house!"
I wasn't running late.
Time and I haven't always gotten along...in fact I wrote about when I first started my blog because it's such an issue for me! That glorious morning, I had plenty of time - like EXTRA time - and I loved how it felt! I think part of the reason it happened that day was because my kids were well behaved and they were actually ready early as well. Because moms don't have the luxury of just getting themselves out the door on time, I realized that my focus should really be having the kids be ready at least 10 minutes before I wanted to walk out. I also decided to plan to leave the house a full 15 minutes before I would need to. This would give me a cushion for traffic and last minute emergencies - AND it may make me early to my destination, which always makes me feel kind of like a rock star! I’ve definitely improved overall, but the “I can squeeze one more thing in and not be late” fallacy trips me up more often than I’d like! Making lists the night before helps me stay on track.
I normally checked email and news first thing in the morning, and usually there was something negative in the headlines or something stressful in my inbox. That morning, I didn't let my device control me. I realized I didn't feel as down during the morning when I wasn't consumed by negative thoughts. New plan - no news til lunch time and no email until I've at least taken a shower! The only problem is sometimes I feel that I’m not keeping up on current events as much as I should. It’s a tough balance between being informed and staying positive!
I sent a message to a friend and received a reply.
I sent a Facebook message to a friend because they were on my mind, and they messaged me right back. Having that connection made me smile. I decided that everyday, I'm going to reach out to at least one friend- it could be in person, on the phone or via a message on Facebook, Snapchat, etc. I’ve been doing this faithfully, and I love this so much! It’s fun to let my friends know they are on my mind and even better to hear back from them!
I spent time doing my hair, makeup and picked out a cute outfit.
That morning, I had the time (and took the time) to fix myself up a bit. It made me feel confident, put together, and in control. I realized that too often, I sported the "I didn't have time nor do I care" look, especially during the work week. I vowed to put on a little makeup and make an effort with my hair every morning. Time was my biggest barrier, so I tried washing my hair at night and using dry shampoo every other day. I also planned to do what I knew worked for me - picking out my outfit the night before. Last week's blog post explored this phenomenon in a little more detail - how we look impacts how we feel. I still enjoy a good no makeup (or shower) day, but that’s more of the exception than the rule these days.
Because I had extra time and some of that extra time was spent alone, I read a book - for fun! I know that reading has many positive effects, and I wanted to read more. I decided to schedule in reading time into my day. My oldest son and husband read together nightly after the youngest goes to bed. This was the perfect time for me to read, and all I'd be sacrificing was some social media time! I have been reading a lot more recently, I think partly because I track what I read in Goodreads. I have also started reading right before bed which helps with my sleep as well.
1. Motivation - What do I want to be known for?
2. Mentors - Whom can I learn from?
3. Milestones - What are three subprojects I can complete?
4. Monitor - What positive things are happening that I can acknowledge?
5. Modify - What one change can I make to keep moving forward?
This is heavy stuff! Thankfully, there were more exercises in the book to help me work through all of this. One of the activities that helped me the most was figuring out how I spent my time. As I've mentioned before, time is one of my weaknesses, so I needed to figure out if I was proving what I wanted to be known for by how I was spending my time.
- Was I being present with my kids?
- How much time was I working on staying "on top of things" at home and at work?
- How often was I actually helping someone else achieve a goal?
The real difference maker was when I answered the next couple of questions in the exercise. The first was: "What do I wish were different?" You may have heard the saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." Insane may be a bit of an overstatement, but if I want things to be different, I'm going to have to change. I think we could all make a long list of what we'd like to be different in our lives, but what are we doing to make that happen? If you're like me, I've gotten to this point before - I know what I want things to be like and then make a giant plan of all the things I'm going to change to make it happen. And then I fail because that amount of change all at once is overwhelming.
That's why the second question this section asked was really valuable to me: "Do I really need to make changes now? Should and can I wait?" Yes, I definitely need to make some changes, but which of them are critical or should be done first? It takes time to form new habits - longer than you'd think. Gretchen Rubin, author of many books including Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, wrote about this in her blog post, "Stop Expecting to Change Your Habit in 21 Days." Give yourself time and space to make a change and really master it before adding more change.
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."
I will add some more changes soon - once the family time on weeknights is a real habit. In the meantime, I'm trying to keep my short list of what I want to be known for front of mind as I make decisions or even speak - is what I'm about to do or say going to cause others to "know me" for being kind or helping them achieve their goals; is how I'm choosing to spend my time helping me stay on top of my responsibilities? If the answer is no, I need to rethink my actions!
How about you - have you thought about what you want to be known for and what that really means in your daily life? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. If Get Momentum sounds like a book you'd like to read, you can earn entries for the giveaway by visiting the Facebook page and/or simply like and comment on this post below before Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 9 p.m. to get an entry!
- I enjoy making lists more than I like doing the stuff on the lists.
- I've written things on a list after I've already done them just so I could check them off.
- I sometimes crumple up a list and throw it in the trash if I've made a mistake or put things in the wrong order and then start over so the list looks nice and neat.
- Lists seem to taunt me when there are unchecked items, and I feel inadequate if I don't complete my unrealistic list.
- Lists make me feel in control even when I'm not.
Are there more list makers out there? Considering the massive amount of options available for both digital and analog list making tools, I don't think I'm alone! Several months ago I did a poll on Facebook about digital vs. paper tools, and I was surprised by how many people preferred paper! There are many advantages to paper: it's accessible and affordable, and there's research that writing things down actually helps us process and remember written material better than digital. In a study done by researchers at Princeton University and UCLA Los Angeles, it was discovered that students who took handwritten notes remembered facts and comprehended subject matter better than students who typed their notes. Now, making a to-do list isn't the same as listening to a lecture, but when you write something down, you do process it differently. On the flip side, there are many advantages to digital tools including the ability to edit and reorder tasks without having to start from scratch. Many digital tools also allow you to categorize tasks, assign due dates, set reminders, and even share or delegate tasks. So, what's the best answer? I think it's a little bit of both! I like to start and finish with paper with a digital solution sandwiched in between. Here's my current process:
A brain dump is a great way to keep your mind clear and your thoughts organized. Just write everything in your head down on a piece of paper without thinking about order or dependencies or prerequisites - you can connect and organize your thoughts later. One option for a brain dump that I tried just this week is putting each idea on a sticky note. When your brain is emptied, you can then organize your sticky notes on your wall into categories or chronological order. This idea is explained by blogger, podcaster, and entrepreneur, Pat Flynn, as it relates to writing a book, but it can easily be used for list making or project planning. Don't do a brain dump once and think you're done - this needs to be done regularly. I like to do it every Sunday so I can start the week with a clear mind.
Now that I have everything I know I need to do or remember either written down or stuck to the wall, I add it to my digital system. If it's an actual to-do item, I add it to the task management program I use, Nozbe. (If you missed it, check out the recent post where I interviewed the founder and CEO of Nozbe!) The key is to categorize the tasks in a way that make sense to you. It could be by project, by due date, by the tool you need to do the task, etc. Though I think it's easier to do this in a digital system, you could do it on paper if you don't mind rewriting your list often. Tasks that have defined time frames, like an appointment, should go on a calendar. Again, my preference is digital so I can access it on the go, but you could go old school and use a paper calendar if you prefer. If it's something that I just need for reference later, I either file it in physical files or add it to a digital system like Evernote. A great example of this is when I wrote down in a brain dump that I needed new makeup but I couldn't remember the brand or shade I liked. I added "buy makeup" to my digital to-do list, but I also added a picture of the front and back of each type of makeup I use to a note in Evernote, so when I am at the store, I can pull up my app and be sure to get exactly what I know I like! Regardless if you go digital or stay analog, it is necessary to maintain your system with regular reviews so you can trust your process includes everything you need to remember and nothing you don't!
Finally, we come full circle to pen and paper! Each day, I physically make a list of the items from my digital tools that I need to do that day. You might think, "why not skip the whole digital middle section?" If I don't go through that process, I end up with one giant list that includes tasks from all sorts of different projects and with various due dates. My digital system makes it easy for me to filter through my tasks so I can choose appropriate ones for the day.
There are three keys to making a daily written list:
- Make it the night before.
- Make it time-bound.
- Make it realistic.
Making your list the night before gets things out of your head so you can sleep better, which will help you be more productive the next day. Making your list time-bound helps you to stay on track throughout the day. There are certain markers in your day that HAVE to happen at a certain time or before or after another task. Put those in, and then you know how much time you have to work on your other to-do list items. Making it realistic is probably the most important part! Overestimate how long it takes to do things so you can actually accomplish your daily goals. Limit the number of big tasks to around three. Nobody ever got mad at themselves for getting everything on their list done!
I try to make my daily list right before I go to bed - sometimes in bed with my nightlight. I look at my digital calendar first and then my digital task manager. I fill in everything I'm going to need to do the next day from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. I only put times next to the things that are on the calendar or relate to a goal I have about how long I'll spend on a certain task, and I also specify what time I'll get up or go to bed. Throughout the day, I reference my list to keep myself on track. If I can't get something completed, I just highlight it; if something gets cancelled, I draw a wavy line through it. When I make my list for the next day, I look back at my highlighted items to make sure they don't get forgotten. I also make sure to continue to add and mark off items in my digital tools on a daily basis.
Eck, Allison. “For More Effective Studying, Take Notes With Pen and Paper.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 3 June 2014, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/taking-notes-by-hand-could-improve-memory-wt/.
SmartPassiveIncome. “How to Write a Book - The Secret to a Super Fast First Draft.”YouTube, YouTube, 6 Feb. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWoYHAwzcpY.
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Photo by bonneval sebastien on Unsplash
The idea, if you’re curious, was to split up the house cleaning chores among family members so we would all agree on who does what and make a chart of the chores. Sarah’s family and my family had the same cleaning lady who recently had to take some time off. Instead of trying to find another cleaner who would most certainly not meet the expectations set by Miss Sherri (as my kids call her), we decided to try it ourselves for a while.
We did split up the chores, and after I printed out a nice little chart, I presented it to my family angrily, “Here’s your chart -JUST LIKE SARAH'S!” It got me thinking, though...this could be a stroke of genius...what if Sarah and I colluded and had each other tell the other’s family our “ideas?” Would we both suddenly get what we want? Or is it possible that Sarah’s family wouldn’t hold me in such high esteem, and she’d still have trouble convincing her family? Or does Sarah have a magic ability as a wife and mother that I don’t possess, and her family already thinks her ideas are amazing even when they come straight from her mouth??
So, in the end, I guess Sarah’s fantastic ideas are just one more thing I envy, but I made it work for me by teaching my 11 year old to clean toilets and my 6 year old to dust!
I read and listen to a ton of productivity content, so I was certain I had the secret sauce, the Pomodoro Technique. Basically this is where you set a timer for a certain amount of time (suggested 25 minutes) and plow through your deep work until the timer goes off. Then you force yourself to take a small break (suggested 5 minutes) when you get up, move and do something you like, and then repeat over and over until you’re done. It works, but it still doesn’t make it fun…. Here’s how my Pomodoro-assisted day went, and what I learned.
I was ready to slay this thing and arranged for my family to be away for a few hours so I had the house to myself. I got everything situated to give myself every opportunity to succeed - and hopefully succeed quickly. I got out my laptop, my lap desk, my document for review and sat in the most comfortable place in my house - the recliner in the living room. I set my iPhone’s timer for 25 minutes - now I don’t call it cheating that I set the timer before I logged into my computer - I call that smart because that eased me into that first 25 minutes of reading and editing this document. I worked diligently, but AS soon as that timer went off, I jumped up with a little “Woohoo” escaping my mouth. I set the timer for 5 minutes and did something I wanted to do. Wait for it….organized my coupons. The 5 minute break went so fast, but I did obey the rules and go back to my work for another 25 minutes. I did this three times, and by that third, 5 minute break, my coupons were organized which was pretty cool. By this time I was really hating the Pomodoro Technique. Doing the review of my document was so boring, and there were all sorts of other things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday - especially a Saturday at home ALONE - that never happens!
So by this time I was fizzling out a little so I decided it wouldn't hurt, and I’d still be following the spirit of the Pomodoro Technique, if I set the time for 20 minutes instead of 25 (right?). Then I was like, “maybe I’ll have a snack during my break.” I chose Death By Chocolate ice cream, so I rationalized that my break would have to last just a little longer than 5 minutes because I didn’t want the ice cream to melt and then get my hands all sticky and in turn ruin my computer’s keyboard. Then I was back at it, but I was B-O-R-E-D with this process - I mean I had done over an hour and a half’s worth of work, so I decided maybe it would be ok to just do 15 minutes of work this session. This 166 page document was just SO long, and I was only halfway through. I started watching the clock, and time crawled until it was finally break time. I decided with this break, I should take a shower (I did have that sticky ice cream after all…). Honestly, it was longer than a 5 minute break. But the important thing is I went back to work, and I kept going til I was done.
I think by the end, my break time was longer than my work time, but the moral of the story is - - even with a boring task you may dislike - be it reviewing a document or organizing your closet, the Pomodoro Technique DOES work, but you don’t have to do it exactly as advertised. If you need a longer break, take a longer break, and don’t make yourself feel guilty for needing to! Productivity is individual, so a one-size-fits-all approach will not work and may actually produce the opposite results if you get discouraged. Give yourself permission to “cheat” at being productive as long as you get to the finish line.
How many times have I used the word "actually" as if it described something that was unrealistic and unattainable?
- If there was actually time for a date night with my husband.
- If only I could actually publish my blog.
- I should actually make that photo book from 2016....and 2017.
- If I could actually stop eating so much sugar, I’d lose that weight.
- Actually having time for a date night with my husband requires the action of comparing calendars, choosing a date and time, planning how to complete or reschedule what work or personal projects would have been done in that time frame, arranging a babysitter, selecting what we want to do, making reservations, and showing up!
- Actually publishing my blog requires the action of writing, editing, asking for feedback, researching platforms, purchasing a domain name, getting a logo designed, designing the website, finding photos, creating links and the biggest one - - clicking the giant button that says PUBLISH!
- Actually making that photo book from last year requires the action of setting aside several hours in my schedule and then gathering all photos from my phone, camera, and social media, and requesting ones from family and friends that I don’t already have. Then I have to sit at my computer and select the layout, choose the pictures, write the captions and order the book.
- Actually reducing my sugar intake requires the action of putting only healthier options in my mouth, going to the store to purchase healthy food, planning ahead so I know what I’m going to eat, and making snacks ahead of time so eating sugary snacks is not easier than eating healthy snacks.
"Balance your thoughts with ACTION. If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done." -Bruce Lee
Competing priorities is something I think every woman has in her life. Remembering that we are in charge of our own lives ( “Who’s in Charge?” ) and owning that our choices to do what we want to do may not make everyone else happy is a way to really put what is most important at the top. In order to give those items time in your schedule, you must remove the unnecessary to align with your long term goals.
Finally there is fear. I have lots of different types of fears: fear of failure, fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of disappointing others, fear of not being happy, fear of regret, fear of hurting someone else. One thing I’ve learned is that letting any of those fears keep you from doing something you want to try only fuels the fear of being unfulfilled. If you’re reading this, I must have overcome some of my fears and actually published my blog! What will you actually do today?
It really bothers me that I struggle with time awareness - especially since I pride myself in being organized and a planner. For the past couple of years, I have chosen a word or two to focus on for the year. This year, I chose “time.” After contemplating what I wanted to improve on and how I could do that, I realized something. My natural inability to be aware of or estimate time has actually been what has improved my organizational, planning and time management skills. I think because I crave control over time, and can’t do it naturally, I’ve had to come up with systems to do so. This allows me to complete a project by a deadline, fit a lot of tasks into one day, develop plans to assure all bases are covered when I have multiple projects going on at once.
One way I’ve started improving on time awareness is so simple - just a little mantra I’ve started saying to myself. When I see something that needs done, instead of storing it in my head, I say to myself, “take the time” and just do it right then. This clears my head, gives me a feeling of accomplishment, and helps me to be aware of how much (or little) time that task actually takes. I do this for picking up a piece of paper off the floor, putting away my jewelry as I take it off, writing down something I need from the store right when I think of it, cutting out a coupon and putting it away instead of stacking the entire ad somewhere for later, and the list goes on and on.
"Take the time."
I now use a timer to help me stay on task and not get so consumed in one task that I forget to work on other priorities. I also use the Pomodoro technique for intense projects that might not be my favorites. That is where you set a timer and work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break and repeat until the task or project is completed. There will be a whole post about how this has worked for me coming up soon.
I used to sometimes lose track of time and be late for a meeting. It wasn’t that I was spacey, it was that I was getting some deep work done! I started setting an alarm that makes some sort of funny noise that I couldn’t ignore. The typical 15 minutes before a meeting alarm was too far in advance. I’d see that I had a FULL quarter of an hour left and would try to get just one more thing done - then I’d end up being late anyway. Now I do 10 minutes which is enough time to finish whatever thought I was on, gather my materials, go to the restroom and walk to the meeting, but not long enough to start any new tasks.
I’m still not “good” at time, but I’m becoming more aware of it and using tools to make time work for me instead of against me. I think getting a handle on our time automatically helps us feel in control of our lives and equates to a sense of order. Have you used any of these tips or have others that you could share with us?
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!