The Smallest Step

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I’ve posted before about the difference between goals and tasks. It’s similar to the difference between projects and to do’s. Goals and projects are not one-shot deals. They need to be broken down into do-able steps.

Sometimes even the next do-able step doesn’t seem to be getting done. In her Success Circle tip today, Ann Ronan pointed out that if you feel resistance to doing something, well, you probably will avoid doing it. She suggests taking the smallest possible step that won’t activate resistance. Say, put on your jogging shoes, but don’t actually jog around the block.

Ann takes this a step further by saying that you shouldn’t do any more than that one small action. If you do, you’re setting an expectation for yourself do keep doing more each day instead of celebrating the success you’ve had. If you persist at taking small steps, however, your resistance will begin to slip away and you’ll soon see real progress.

Sometimes I’ve counseled people to keep going if they’re on a roll, but I can see how this could backfire if you start thinking you’ve got to up the ante each time to sit down to organize. Today, I’ll suggest that if it’s a pile of paper you’re confronted with, take the first sheet off the top (or one from the bottom of the pile; that’s often easier), make a decision on it and act on the decision. Then you’re done. Pat yourself on the back!

Snail from Mr.Bones’ photostream

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

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.

Can You Be Too Organized?

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The keys to my dreams. You're too organized if doing the work of organizing starts taking up half your day. The organizing you do should be at the service of the rest of your life and your work, not the other way around.

People shy away from organizing because they think it's a huge project or it will be enormously time consuming. Now, if they want to organize their entire homes top to bottom and they've been collecting stuff since the dawn of time, this is a realistic fear. For everyone else, it's not.

Organizing can be a few simple things you do to make your life run more smoothly. Things like putting your bag in a place where you can find it again or jotting an event onto your calendar so you don't rely on (cursed) memory.

To find your perfect organizing level, observe what's working and what's not. What bothers you and what's fine the way it is. If what's not working is being able to get out of the house on time in the mornings, figure out what the specific obstacles are. Can't find the keys? Forgot some important information? Trying to squish too many tasks into the morning?

Now you've got something to work with. If you're really bugged by running around the house searching for keys, you'll be motivated to find a special place to stash them when you come in the door. You might not do it every time. Even if you do it half the time, you're ahead of the game.

Analyze what is working for you. Maybe you've got a "don't forget" list on the wall right next to the front door that you see when you leave the house. You always look at it and it helps. How can you use that technique in other ways? You might make a list of morning routine tasks and attach it to the fridge or the bathroom mirror.

It's the little things, people. Small things that help your life work better.

Found keys from Otacon_85's photostream

Multitasking: Not

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The word has been going around for years now that multitasking does not make you work faster or more effectively. Still, the myth persists, maybe because people have so much to do that they can’t imagine getting it done unless they do many things at once.Goddess multitasking

I wrote about this a few years ago in my previous blog, with a link to some of the scientific research. A new book is coming out on the subject this month called The Myth of Multitasking by Dave Crenshaw. There’s a link to it in my Amazon store in the left sidebar.

According to the video on his website, the book goes over all that evidence that multitasking doesn’t work. He then adds a new wrinkle, which is that people can always tell if you’re doing something else while talking to them (that includes driving). This is bad for your personal relationships and for your business relationships. If your relationships suffer, your business and your life suffer too.

The Goddess of Multitasking from jurvetson’s photostream.

Organizing and Creativity

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organizing paintbrushesCreative people often shun organizing. Putting their supplies away and having a clear desktop are for accountants, not artists. Inspiration can strike anytime and materials must be out and ready (all of them).

Many creatives don’t produce a whole lot, though, and that’s because they are focussing all their attention on the muse and the flow of ideas, and not enough on how to get those ideas into the world.

Supply chain management is how companies get their products into the world. It includes inventory management and other dull sounding tasks. In the book Making Ideas Happen, I learned that Apple Computer has been in the top five of global supply chain leaders since 2007. Apple, a company known for its gorgeous product design and commitment to thinking outside the box.

In other words, a company known for creativity.

This creativity is followed up by an organizing system to making it happen. So the question is, do you want to simply enjoy the flow of ideas, or do you want to seize one and give it life? Remember Thomas Edison’s quotation: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Try thinking of having an organized work space as a tool for enhancing your imagination. Your supplies are always ready for you and you know exactly where they are. You have plenty of room to work without pushing things out of the way.

This doesn’t mean you have to hide things away.

It’s quite possible to organize your stuff and still have it out where you can see it. It just requires more horizontal space. Piles are allowed. Using the wall and the floor is also allowed.

Creatives can get bogged down in designing systems instead of doing their work so be careful not to fall into that trap. Keep your system simple. Don’t overthink piles.

How Do You Spend Your Time?

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For clients with time management troubles, I have recommended occasionally that they keep track of what they do all day. It may be startling to find out exactly how much time you spend cruising around the internet or caught up in cross currents of email, but the idea isn't to make you feel bad. The idea is to find out what you're actually doing with your time so that you can change it effectively.

Keeping track can be as simple as having a pad ready to jot down notes at timed intervals. David Seah has an elegant, easy to use version that shows time graphically since you fill in a bubble for each time increment. You can see it immediately; the more bubbles, the more time spent. His tool, the Emergent Task Timer, is available as a free PDF download on his site (which has tons of great productivity information, too).

Benefits of time tracking:

  • Find out what you're doing when you're wasting time
  • Find out how long you spend working on specific tasks; makes it easier to plan for them in the future
  • Get an idea of when your high and low productivity times are during the day
  • Discern patterns to tasks that you can use to your advantage. Email flurries at certain times of day can mean that others are most easily contacted then, for example
  • Find patterns of work time followed by down time. You may find that some aspects of your work need more downtown to recover from
  • Make sure you're taking productive, refreshing downtime; don't count more email checking as an actual break

A key to getting the most out of tracking your time is to do it now, or starting tomorrow morning. Don't wait for a less stressful week, or one with more interesting things going on. Print out enough sheets for the rest of the week and just get started. There won't be a better time.

"Time Disappears" from jtravism's photostream

Multitasking Revisited

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One man band
My previous, multitasking-bashing post may have given the impression that I'm against multitasking. I'm not. I'm for anything that helps you get your work done. Multitasking, or the illusion thereof, is appropriate when:

  1. You have a short attention span
  2. You crave novelty
  3. You're easily bored
  4. You're energized when there's a lot going on at once
  5. Deadlines motivate and thrill you

The caveats here are that:

  1. You need to be actually accomplishing things, not just spinning your wheels (however fast they go)
  2. You don't create crises for others and hinder their work
  3. You do not alienate people by giving them only half your attention
  4. You're aware that you're not getting things done faster or even more effectively, you're just using a work style that suits you

I'm a firm believer in finding ways to be organized and efficient that work with the way you are now, not the person you think you should be. Change your environment to suit you, not the other way around.

Personally, I hate multitasking. When I do it, I find that I can remember the primary task I did, but the secondary focus ones get forgotten. That means I have to go back and check to see if I did them, which is a waste of time and annoying to boot.

There's very little on the Internet in support of multitasking! This article is one of the few. Vos Savant makes some very good points, such as why talking on the phone while driving is completely different from talking to your passenger.

One Man Band from Jaroslaw Pocztarski's photostream.

A Million Ways to Organize Your Stuff

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Feed the babiesEverybody loves top ten lists. Or any kind of numbered list. Five Ways to Pamper Your Siamese Cat. Top 50 Favorite Bagel Toppings. 100 Best Tips for Losing Weight by Eating Pineapples.

Ideas galore!

Throw them out. You don’t need them. I’m not saying they aren’t good ideas. I’m just saying you don’t need them. And I’m saying that you already know this. What you need is to do something with the good ideas you already have.

I’m guilty of this myself. I look for inspiration, for motivation, for something new, dammit. What I notice, though, is that I look more obsessively for a new idea when I’m stuck on an old one.

I was on a conference call this morning and got two good ideas. I am committed to working on one of them today. I know that if I don’t, its luster will fade a bit. It won’t seem as exciting or promising. My infatuation for it will be over and I may callously discard it.

The second idea I will keep safe and at hand, because I can only work on one at a time. I’m already mentally preparing myself for not loving it quite so much when I’m ready to act on it. I’m making notes about why I think it’s a good idea, in case I look at it later and scratch my head.

Maybe it’s not the best idea in the world. But I have it now. I spent time finding it. I don’t want to waste that time by not using it. If I decide not to use it, I want to be sure it’s not because I feel intimidated or worried or discouraged about whether I can use it effectively.

It’s that, not just the distraction of the new, that gets me out searching again.

What if it doesn’t work?

What if I waste a lot of time?

What if people don’t like it?

What if I’m horribly embarrassed by it?

It’s not easy to get through that swamp of worries, but I need to.

If I don’t, I’m caught in an endless quest for the perfect idea. And I never find out what would happen if I actually did something.

Does this happen to you? How do you handle it?

Birdies by novemberwolf

Top 10 Reasons to Hire an Organizer

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Is getting organized on your to-do list? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, for most folks, it just stays on the to-do list, year after year.

See if any of these scenarios sounds familiar. If they do, I can help.

  1. You want to have guests over without stashing things in the bathtub and praying no one looks behind the shower curtain
  2. You moved in two months ago and are sick and tired of pawing through those unpacked boxes to find your stuff
  3. You want to know what’s inside a drawer, before you even open it! What a concept
  4. Your child is a tireless art-making machine and the refrigerator door is getting saggy under the weight of it
  5. You started a home business and your desk is being taken over by folded laundry, stuffed animals and stacks of magazines
  6. You’re getting ready to move and the enormity (and expense) of packing up ten years worth of stuff you haven’t gotten around to getting rid of yet is beginning to sink in
  7. You can’t use your dining table because it’s the official mail sorting center
  8. You’re frustrated by continually paying late fees for bills that got lost in a pile somewhere
  9. Your guests sleep on the pull-out couch in the living room because the guest room is your storage unit
  10. You’re embarrassed by being late to appointments because you couldn’t find your keys

All these situations are painful and stressful. They’re also totally fixable! Find out how you can get relief by clicking here.