time management

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You know you need to work on your productivity if …

Monday, April 30th, 2012


Today I thought I’d come with a list of attributes and behaviour that are commonly found in people who still need to work on their productivity. If some of these apply to you, that doesn’t mean that you never get anything done, but the more times you nod when you read the following list or mentally say “oh yes”, “yup, that’s me” or “oops, did that” the more likely you could do with a bit of tweaking of habits and improving of techniques that could help you get more done and spend less time treading the hamster wheel.

So, do any of these describe you?

  • being late to meetings
  • forgetting items
  • having more than a screen’s worth of emails once you’re finished dealing with them
  • not being able to find things on your desk
  • not being able to lay your hand on important documents
  • double booking appointments
  • regularly exceeding deadlines
  • being unable to delegate
  • being unable to say no to more work
  • being a master procrastinator
  • working regularly on evenings and/or weekends
  • insisting on working on holiday (if holidays are even taken)
  • forgetting to do to-dos
  • paying late fees
  • finding yourself constantly apologising
  • having no inbox on your desk
  • having an overflowing inbox on your desk
  • winging it instead of preparing
  • being constantly stressed out

I’m not going to give a number here, saying if you agree with these statements x many times, you need to do y. You know yourself, whether you’re in need of improving your productivity. There are many ways you can achieve this, but all result in the same 3 steps:

  1. Deciding that you have a an issue
  2. Getting help (this can be anything from a book to attending a seminar or personal productivity training)
  3. Implementing what you have learned, step by step

The third step is probably the most important. The best productivity coach, the most amazingly written book won’t be able to help you if you don’t put into action what you have learned. It’s about changing habits and sticking to the new regime. That’s the same as if you were trying to give up smoking or losing weight.

And the first step needs to come from the person needing the help. It’s no good to identify that your partner/co-worker/friend needs to get their act together and get organised. They need to realise it and want it for themselves, otherwise it won’t work, no matter how well meaning the advice is.


10 Reasons why you should use Wunderlist

Friday, April 27th, 2012


I have recently decided to join the mobile world and give my beloved legal pad a bit of a break by using Wunderlist, a to-do list app that is really good. And it’s also free, which kind of makes it extra good. I was about to come up with all the reasons why Wunderlist is worth recommending on here when I came across Craig Jarrow, of Time Management Ninja fame who had already done the job in one of his blog posts. So here are his 10 reasons, which I have adopted also:

10 Reason Why I Use Wunderlist

Here are the 10 top reasons that I use Wunderlist as my todo app:

  1. Everywhere – If your todo list is not accessible you won’t use it. No matter where I turn, my Wunderlist is there. I can access it on the Web, on Mac OS X, on all my mobile devices (see below), on Linux, and even Windows.
  2. Simple – Ever use a todo app that looks like the control panel to the Space Shuttle? So many options, buttons, and fields that it is a burden to use? Wunderlist presents a simple interface. In fact, some may find it too simple. Yet, behind that simple appearance is quite a bit of power. Most of the options stay out-of-the-way until you need them. (BTW, do you really need to set the “context” for each todo and the “color” of each task?)
  3. PushReminders – On my iPhone, I can set reminders for tasks that I want to recall at specific times. They can be either email notifications or push notifications. I prefer the push notifications because they appear in my iPhone’s notification center.
  4. Share – Want to share a list with someone else? Wunderlist can do that in one click. You can share via email and let a family member or friend edit the list too. You can also share lists via email or via the CloudApp.
  5. Sync – Wunderlist syncs magically via the cloud. There is no effort required to keep your lists in sync across all your platforms and devices. More apps are finally getting sync, but Wunderlist has had this right from the start.
  6. Priorities – Wunderlist has a simple priority system. You won’t find A, B, C’s or 1, 2, 3′s, but rather a simple Star system. When you “star” an item, it shows up in your Starred list (as well as its original list). I use this “hit list” prioritization to make my Today List of my highest priority tasks that must be done today.
  7. Multiple Lists – Wunderlist allows you to have as many lists are you would like. For those that like to sub-sort tasks into many different buckets, you can do this. I tend to minimize the number of lists of I have. However, I can quickly create a list if I have need to capture something. Of course, all these lists are tied together by the “Starred Priority.”
  8. Notes – Need to add more detail or important info to a todo? You can add a note to any todo. I will sometimes “paste” supporting information or even a URL into the notes field.
  9. Mobile – It doesn’t matter what mobile device you are on, Wunderlist presents a great user experience. Unlike apps that are limited to one mobile device, Wunderlist is available on: iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android, and even Windows Phone. Not that you would ever need all of those.
  10. Quick – I like to be able to capture ideas and tasks quickly. Otherwise, they can be lost. With Wunderlist, I can open the app, type a todo and hit return. Done. There is no setting of 17 fields just to record a todo. (See #2) I don’t even have to go to the app. I can email myself a todo at me@wunderlist.com and the task is added to my inbox.

So that’s it, 10 great reasons if you ask me and here is also a link to the whole of Craig’s blog post. His blog is worth checking out in general. Amazing content, great advice and he is really ninja when it comes to time managment. :)

Have you got a favourite to-do app? Please share in a comment below.

Tasks – allow time to do them

Thursday, April 19th, 2012


When diarising tasks make sure that you not only enter the date they are due into your diary but almost more importantly, when you need to start to get them done on time. This way you can be sure that you are reminded of the task when you still have enought time to get the task done and can do something about it. If the task is complex break it down into smaller chunks and mark in your diary the projected start and end date/time of each chunk. This way you can always check whether you’re on track and avoid last minute panic.

Be realistic about how long a task will take. We often underestimate the time it takes to perform a task and then run out of time. Add about 20 – 30 % of time. This will cover you for unforseen delays and will also give you a chance to check things over before they are due.

How good are you at estimating tasks? Please comment.

I know I always think I’ll be much quicker than I actually am; wishful thinking I guess. So adding a buffer at the end is extremely useful for me.

How to set up a tickler file or bring forward system

Friday, April 13th, 2012

A tickler file or bring forward system is one of the most useful productivity tools I have encountered. It is a system of 43 folders, entitled 1 – 31 for the days of the months, and January to December, in which you put items that are due in the next month (1-31) and over the next 12 months (Jan-Dec).

This video by Chrissy Scivicque, the Managing Editor of OfficeArrow.com shows a very neat and simply way how to set up such a system and work with it on a daily basis. Nicely done, Chrissy!

And yes, at first glance this system seems a bit convoluted and over the top especially if you’ve never encountered it before. But trust me when I say, it is easy to set up, simple and straightforward to use and you’ll wonder very quickly how you’ve ever coped without it.

Please comment and let me know about experiences you’ve had using a tickler file.

Top Tips to Reduce Your To-Read Pile

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

I have been receiving the newsletter from a company called Day-Timer who make really good planners and diaries. Every month I get useful tips and articles about time management, which are just up my street. So today I thought I’d share one of those tips with you.

A question was posed to Jeff Doubek, one of the company’s experts:

I am a very organised and time-efficient person but one thing I find that gets out of control is reading of emailed articles, mailed magazines and brochures that come my way everyday. At the moment all I do is print them out and file them into a tray labelled “READING” but never seem to get around to reading anything! Please help.

And here is Jeff’s Response:

Throughout history, as long as the printed word has existed I am certain there has also been an overflowing inbox. It’s just a fact – there is too much information for us to handle on a daily basis. Here are some tips for finding time to read:

  • Decide: minimise your pile through two types of decisions: 1) skim and recycle; or 2) file and follow-up
  • Prioritise: decide how important each content piece is to your big picture, and
  • Sacrifice: you may need to let go of some things you want to read, remember that your brain only has so much capacity
  • Discuss: your co-workers may have already read something in your inbox, ask them to summarise it for you over lunch
  • Schedule: follow-up on paperwork by creating a dated task in your planner, or by adding it to your master task list
  • Postpone: create a “Read Later” file, and keep it handy for downtime moments like waiting lines, airline travel, and breaks
  • Minimise: limit incoming paper by encouraging a digital workflow amongst your work team, and by opting out of direct mail and catalogue lists

Now this is definitely some very good advice that I would back 100%. I particularly liked the bit about getting coworkers to summarise read material over lunch. Genius!

If you would also receive tips like this, then here is the Day-timer page where you can sign up to their newsletter eTalk: http://www.daytimer.co.uk/resources/etalk/subscribe.aspx

Unfortunately I don’t receive any benefit from Day-Timer for sharing this with you other than the warm fuzzy feeling that I’m sharing good information with people who are interested and who might gain from this.

Deadlines – stick to them or you’ll get shot!

Monday, February 20th, 2012

This sounds drastic, but the origin of the word deadline is related to this headline. According to Lossing’s History of the Civil War (1868): “Seventeen feet from the inner stockade was the ‘dead-line’, over which no man could pass and live.” (Source:  Random House)This referred to the line around a military prison beyond which soldiers were authorized to shoot escaping prisoners. Not a nice thought but it gives the word deadline a bit more severity than it has nowadays.

We are used to move deadlines, extend them, argue over them or simply ignore them. But does that actually help with the day-to-day running of our affairs? Not really. Moving a deadline simply means that you still have to do the work, you just eat into the time of when you were already meant to do something else. You will not get the gratification of feeling proud of yourself for finishing on time. You will not get the praise of others that you are reliable and trustworthy. You are letting yourself and others down by asking for yet another extension. You have to spend more time picking up from where you left of and you have no idea what the time landscape will look like around the new deadline, it might even be more hectic!

So what can you do? How about seeing the deadline as exactly that – cross it and you’re in trouble. Stick to it.

Here are 3 strategies to do exactly that, and in the process become proud of yourself for being reliable and a real team player.

  1. Set yourself partial deadlines along the way with the final deadline due before the actual deadline. Let’s say the project is due in 4 weeks time. Set yourself weekly deadlines for what you will have achieved by the end of each week and set the final deadline 2 days before the 4 weeks are up. You then have a couple of days to make sure all the I’s are dotted and the Ts are crossed and you can deliver an amazing project on time.
  2. If you are the one setting yourself a deadline, make sure it’s realistic. Take into consideration how long each step of the project is really going to take, build in a buffer for things going wrong and don’t forget to add time for travelling, delivery periods and other extras that are out of your control. With a realistic deadline you are less likely to move it and will start to respect it. And if you don’t need the buffer for things going wrong, you will even be able to finish early, giving you extra gratification.
  3. Decide to adhere to deadlines and make it a new habit. Just like being on time, eating healthy and working out, it is often simply a matter of will power and determination whether you stick to your deadlines. And if you keep in mind what happened to those poor prisoners who overstepped their dead-line in the olden days, you might just stay on track from now on.

Bonus Tip: Post the deadline in a visible place to remind you that you haven’t got all day and to keep procrastination at bay.

Don’t check your email – process it

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

What does checking your email actually mean? Do you have a look how many emails have come in since you last “checked”? Do you want to know whether a particular email has arrived, ignoring the rest and letting them pile up? How often do you check? And what do you actually do?

Checking emails means different things to different people, but in most cases it does not mean making a decision on every email when you first lay eyes on it. The “touch it once” philosophy we are encouraged to use when dealing with paper also applies to email – our virtual post.

Ideally you access your email 2 – 3 times per day and process it. This means that you make a quick decision on everything that comes in, dividing the “post” into 4 categories: delete, delegate, do  and defer.

Delete: pretty obvious, be generous with the delete button.

Delegate: if you are not the best person to deal with the email, forward with a short note to a more suitable person. Move the email into a “to follow up” folder, so that you remember to check whether the matter has been dealt with.

Do: if the email requires a very quick action (less than 2 minutes) do it straight away. If you have to deal with lots of emails (100 or more per day) you might want to take that down to 30 seconds.

Defer: if the email requires an action that takes more than 2 minutes (30 seconds) move the email to an action folder such as “read”, “reply”, “call”, etc. Deal with the emails in bulk when you deal with the relevant actions.

Processing your emails this way a couple of times per day will ensure that you are always up to date, but you decide when actions are completed and you are not “run” by your email.

Use Waiting Time Wisely

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Now and again we find ourselves waiting. Waiting for the kettle to boil, being on hold on the phone, standing in a queue at the photocopier or waiting for the computer to boot up. Generally we view these short pockets of time as wasted but have you ever thought of using them productively?

You can use those time pockets to get small jobs done. There are dozens of little mini tasks that always need doing, such as filing a couple of papers, deleting some emails that clutter up your inbox, reading an article or blog post, tweeting, etc. Maybe some of those jobs have been hanging around for a while because you have been procrastinating.

Create a list of those tiny, (sometimes pesky) jobs that need doing but don’t need much time. And whenever you find yourself waiting, do one of those 1 or 2 minute tasks. Keeping on top of those little jobs by using your time pockets will save you a lot of time in the long run.

Never Late Again for Meetings – A Diary Tip

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Most of us are using a diary and have been doing so for years. But have you ever wondered whether you could do something differently? Could you be using your diary more efficiently? Something along the lines of – use your diary so that you’re never late again. Today I have a tip for you that could achieve just that, if applied regularly.

When you add an appointment to your diary, don’t just add the start and finish time of the event/meeting/etc. but also how long it takes you to get there and back. This will give you the time you from actually leaving your office to getting back and will be a much clearer indicator of your availability at the office. Even if your meeting is only down the corridor or around the corner, add a few extra minutes of “travel”. This allows you a time buffer for getting there and back without having to stress about not being able to make the next meeting if you booked them back to back. With travel time built in you will be less likely to be constantly chasing your tail if your days are filled with meetings.

If most of your meetings are at your office, make sure to build 5-10 minute gaps in between them especially if your meetings usually run back to back. These gaps can be used for comfort breaks, as well as for gathering materials for the next meeting and changing your mindset from one topic to the next. This means that you have enough time to prepare and you won’t have to keep anyone waiting for you until you’re ready. You’ll be calmer and more able to concentrate straight from the beginning of the meeting.

By applying these two tips your busy days will still be busy but a lot less stressed and a lot more productive.

How do you know when you’re productive?

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Everyone talks about productivity. But what does it mean? The dictionary definition is: producing or able to produce large amounts of goods, crops, or other commodities; or achieving a significant amount or result. So in simple terms: lots of stuff being created. But is it just lots of stuff or is it the right stuff? Could you consider yourself productive if you create a lot of the wrong things? Or what about if you create lots of the right things, but in a wrong way? Lots of questions, I know. Let’s see if we can answer them.

I came across a great graphic the other day on the “Life Live Well” blog that I would like to share with you. It looks like this:

productive vs ineffective vs inefficient

I adapted the look of it slightly since the image didn’t copy well, but the message stays the same. You can do all the right things, but if you do them wrongly you won’t be effective. Also, you can do things really well, but if they aren’t the right things, you will never be efficient. Only when you do the right things in the right way, only then will you be productive.

To do the right things, you need to align your activities with your goals. Are the tasks and projects you are setting yourself in line with what you are trying to achieve long term? If not, you need to consider whether you are doing the right things.

To do things right you need to know how to best do those things. This could mean outsource, but this could also mean that you need to improve your skills or it could mean that you need some tools you haven’t yet at your disposal. These tools include time management skills and other productivity tools.

Consider a goal setting session with a coach to get yourself on the right track of doing the right things. And have a think about whether you might need some time management tools or strategies to improve your workflow. Here at Well Organised that is something we can help with. Why not drop me a line or give me a call for an informal chat. I would love to talk to you and see how we can work together so that you can become as productive as you would like to be.

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