Racing Against Time

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Newspaper "Try as you will, you get behind in the race, in spite of yourself. It's an incessant strain to keep pace… And still you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment… Everything is high pressure. Human nature can't endure much more."

A quotation from last week's newspaper? No. This ran in the Atlantic Journal on June 16, 1833.

The moral of the story is that the speed of life constantly accelerates. Always has. There were no "good old days." Whatever systems and coping mechanisms you have in place now may not work in five years, or even next year.

Expect change. Embrace it. You can't predict what the change will be, but you can certainly predict that change will occur. Keep your systems simple and flexible. Check in to make sure they're still sufficient and don't be afraid to revamp them. That's how you stay ahead in the race.

Antique newspaper from pareerica's photostream.

Time Management is You Management

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Here are some helpful hints from Jan Hayner for managing your time, courtesy of the Clutter Control Freak Blog (sponsored by Stacks and Stacks, which has some fab organizing products).
Time mgmt pie

These hints are especially helpful for those of you who have a hard time saying no. This means scheduling things during lunch so that you have no break time (not to mention no lunch) and otherwise feeling compelled to fill up your entire schedule with requests from others.

Remind yourself that others need not be in charge of your schedule. Even if it seems that they do, it never hurts to ask, “Can we meet at 10 instead of 3 pm? That would work better for me.” Or “I’ve got 45 minutes Tuesday afternoon. If that’s not enough time, can we schedule it for later in the week?” Controlling your time doesn’t mean being self-centered and rigid.

Are you Doing Important Stuff, or Just Urgent Stuff?

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Urgent sounds important, but it’s really not. It may be important to someone else, but your involvement is often just a waste of time. Tasks that are urgent require you to act quickly and that means you don’t spend time thinking about whether you should do them. They’re also often the result of poor planning (or no planning) and bad time management.

Slide1 The words urgent and important are borrowed from Stephen Covey’s four-quadrant division of work. As you might guess, people often find themselves stuck doing mostly Quadrant 1 and 3 tasks, just because they have a deadline and someone else is waiting for them.

You can’t completely avoid these, but at least make sure you minimize Quadrant 3 tasks, which are things like pointless meetings, requests for information, most email, many phone calls.

As for Quadrant 4, obvy, stay away from time wasters. A certain amount of brain shut-down time can help you be more productive; just don’t get carried away.

The most important area to spend time in is Quadrant 2. Why is this so hard? One reason is that sometimes these projects are only important to you. That means no one is waiting for it; there’s no outside accountability.

To make progress on important projects, you need to value them enough to carve out time in your schedule to work on them. You are not going to find spare time to devote to them.

Look for time in your week that’s not quite as busy as the rest of the week and block it out for personal project work. That means actually write or type it into your datebook at a specific time on a specific day.

Ultimately, these are the projects that will bring you the most satisfaction and pride of accomplishment. Not all the fire drills and all-nighters that seemed important at the time. Start today on honoring the commitments you make to yourself.

Fighting a Hidden Distraction at Work

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Assembly line Many a blog post has been written about turning off your phone and closing your email program and browser so you can get some work done. Tips about deflecting office visitors and avoiding meetings can combat those in-person distractions. But there's another subtle way that you get off track, and that's by doing other people's work.

The thing is, it's usually easier to solve someone else's problems than your own. When you give advice to a friend, you have no difficulty thinking up ideas to get her out of her predicament. And we all appreciate the more objective point of view of our friends in addressing our own challenges. 

If you do this at work, though, you're usually short changing your own projects. Every time you get sucked into an office crisis or even just volunteer to look up information to respond to a casual request, you're doing a task that someone else should be doing.

I'm not saying you should become a hermit and never offer to help. Just be mindful about whether you are also honoring your own commitments. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Schedule work appointments with yourself and keep them. Putting them on a shared calendar is helpful to let others know you're busy
  • Create an email auto-responder that you can easily activate for the times that you need to be distraction-free. Let correspondents know when you'll be back on line
  • Have office hours. Put a sign on your door that says you're open from 1-4 pm
  • Don't respond to casual requests that are sent to a group. Let someone else respond
  • If necessary, set an hourly timer so you can check in with yourself and make sure you're on track
Cream puff assembly line from misocrazy's photostream

Managing Time in Your Home Office

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Here’s an interview that one of my coaches, Ann Ronan, did with me about the special problems people who work at home face.

I talk about:

  • How to avoid working all the time (!)
  • How to control distractions like friends calling because you’re not “at work”
  • Why your home office isn’t working for you
  • How to be your own boss

You can listen right here, or download it for later.

[cincopa AILAa-KNrvId]

What I Learned at Burning Man about Time

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Hammock I was at Burning Man for about three months. Okay, not really, but it felt that way. I'd talk with my camp mates about something that had happened a few days before and we'd joke that it was six weeks ago.

And it was a good thing! How did it happen? Because I was in the present. Pretty much the whole time.

I did get pretty overstimulated initially by the weather, the constant music, all the new people and not being able to sleep enough. At that point, I really wanted time to speed up, for it to be over.

But I adjusted, with the help of some fantastic camp mates. And then I got into the flow. Time went away. There was day and night still, but nothing had to happen at a particular time. Only a few things had to happen at all: eating, drinking water, putting on sunblock, sleeping (not optional for me ;)).

Everything else was extra, a wonderful bonus. Time never ran out. It didn't feel slow, it just was always plentiful. Conversations flowed. Great ideas for excursions bubbled up. Everywhere we went was just the right place, until we went somewhere else. It was a magical feeling.

Wouldn't it be great to feel that way now, at home (in the "default world")? Here are some ways you can:

  • Keep your to do list short and do-able. Yes, you have too much to do, but putting it all on today's list isn't going to get it done. It will just make you crazy.
  • Do things well enough. Forget about making hospital corners on your bed in the morning when just pulling up the duvet will suffice. Overdoing it is usually not about making it better anyway. It's about being afraid of doing it wrong. Well enough is not wrong.
  • Let things be. Most of the time, you don't have any control over how things play out. You've done your part well (see above). Now stop.

Welcome to the present. Pull up a chair and stay awhile.

Hammock swinging from Meagan's photostream.

Tricks to Motivate You

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Magician I answered a question on Linked In today about whether it’s possible to become more disciplined. My answer wasn’t really about discipline though, because that word turns me off. It makes me think of following rules, being punished if I don’t, rigidity and fear. Ick.

So my answer was about motivation instead. And tricks. Fun ways to get yourself to do stuff.

 

If the end result of your work is something you really, really want, it’s not hard to get motivated. If you don’t want the result, why bother? Whatever project you’re putting off, trace it back and find out what the original motivation was and whether it’s still valid.

 

If it’s valid and you still don’t want to do it, pay someone else to do it! Or, try some of these tricks.
  • Work on your project for just two minutes. Use a timer. If you get inspired, keep going. If not, you got two minutes worth done, more than you had before.
  • Imagine the day is over and you’re looking back over what you got done. What will make you feel like you got something really worthwhile accomplished? Then, do that thing.
  • Make a “Not To Do” list. Put anything that you’re not getting around to and that can go undone without the planet exploding. Keep the list somewhere safe. This tells your brain that it can forget about those things and relieves you of that mental clutter.

What tricks do you use to get yourself going and stay on task?

 

Rabbit out of a Hat from laneesque’s photostream.

Brain Dump: Your Turn

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Woo hoo! I’ve already got a couple of overfilled brains interested in my free consultation! There’s room for more; I’ll be doing this all month long (maybe longer if we’re still having fun!).

What is it?
I made an offer at the end of my previous post, about a client’s brain dump. You can use it for your own brain dump. Other juicy topics are:

  • not being able to work at your desk because there’s too much stuff on it
  • going in a million directions without much to show for it except being tired
  • confusion about and/or resistance to standard organizing techniques
  • running out of time for the important stuff
  • getting rid of what’s distracting you from the important stuff

These are just some ways to use the session. What they have in common is setting things up so you can do your best work with ease and fun. You’ll get made-to-order solutions and suggestions on how to make the solutions stick. You’ll also get a new perspective of your habits and behavior that will let you create your own wild schemes for getting things done.

The Customer Love tribe is full of amazing people who have fantastic ideas that need to burst into reality. My little part of helping with that is making sure you use your time and set up your space to support that fabulous work.

The Details

UPDATE, July 12, 2011:
My beta test of this service went fabulously well. My “guinea pigs” walked away feeling clearer and lighter and more focused, and gave me some great reviews. The result is, I now have a Mind Decluttering service.

Get a taste of it with a free, 20 minute, mini brain dump. You can sign up using the link at the bottom.

I’ve decided to make the sessions an hour long so we can get into the specifics. I’m also going to offer a 20 minute follow-up session for troubleshooting and cheering you on.

What I ask from you: willingness to put the ideas into practice. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not magic either. Some persistence and elbow grease will be required. I also ask that if I do help you, you spread the word far and wide so I can help more people. Agreed?

Here’s the link to schedule your session (just do the first one for now): I’m in!

Laughing woman by Έλενα Λαγαρία

Why You Shouldn't Read This Blog

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Action figure We know it's important to limit our time online when it involves pointless web surfing. But a lot of what we read and discover online is really interesting, helpful stuff (like this blog!). You could easily spend all day finding treasures on the Internet.

This goes for interviews and videos you download too. Those are more insidious because once they're downloaded, out of sight, out of mind. You think you learned something valuable today because you have the thing, but you haven't actually listened/watched yet.

The problem with doing that is that you don't spend any time incorporating that reading into your life by practicing the new skill, trying out the new idea or using that important thought in your thinking. That's the grunt work of change.

I am guilty of this as much as anyone and it takes willpower for me not to read something that could be interesting. I need to remind myself (out loud, if necessary) that I don't have time to take in this new information because I'm busy with the projects on my whiteboard. I've got time to read it, but not to do anything useful with it.

That's not to say that all reading must be purely practical. There's value to reading for pleasure or intellectual curiosity. It's a good idea to be conscious of your purpose though, so you know how you're spending your time.

If you're reading to develop a new habit or learn a new marketing strategy, you'll need to act on that reading, or else it's a pointless as the aforementioned surfing. Be aware of why you're reading and decide on one thing you'll do to take action.

My aim with this blog is to express one simple idea with each post and suggest a way to put it into action. So here it is. The next time you find yourself knee deep in some fascinating article on the web, ask yourself "what action will I take to make this part of my life?"

Action figure from Fuyoh!'s photostream.