Nag Me, Please

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Nagging is just another form of reminding, isn’t it? How you feel about the subject dictates whether you think of a reminder as a nag or as a helpful productivity tool.

There are lots of ways to nag yourself; put books by the door that you have to kick out of the way if you’re not going to pick them up (and return them to the library), stick Post-Its on the mirror where they block your view, leave things out where they’ll visually bug you till you do something about them.

And now there’s HassleMe. This service lets you compose your own nagging emails and then sends them to you on an irregular schedule. Since you won’t be expecting them, you can’t tune them out quite as well as your own homegrown nags.

I could also see using this service for non-nagging purposes, such as sending myself encouraging notes. Or to remind myself  of things I actually want to do, but tend to forget about.

Thanks to this Mashable post for enlightening me about HassleMe and 99 other nifty productivity tools.

Packing List for Holiday Travel

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Holiday travel season is coming up! If you’re going somewhere, use a packing list. It will ease your travel considerably.

I use checklists a lot, all kinds of them. They’re very helpful for making sure nothing falls through the cracks, and I get the satisfaction of checking off items as I do them. I put everything on my checklists because I find that the most common things I forget are the ones that seem most obvious (my toothbrush, for example). When my checklist is as complete as I can make it, I can stop worrying about forgetting things and focus on worrying about missing the plane (!)

There are many generic packing lists on the Internet, such as this one on a travel website. It includes tasks to take care of before leaving home; a great addition. I recommend cobbling together several lists and then editing them to suit your own travel style and to comply with current security regulations.

Again, it’s important to add in everything you can thing of and be specific. For example, the entry for arranging for pet care might also include: make sure this person has a key to get into your home! On the other hand, a checklist is great because it helps you avoid packing unnecessary items; you’ve already decided what you need to take. As this site points out, a packing list

"…defends against last-minute attacks of "I might need this." The worst possible time to be considering what to take on a trip is while you are packing for the trip!"

Hindsight, of course, is 20-20. You can refine your list by making notes while you’re on your trip. Was there something important you forgot? Did you bring some clothes you never wore? Did you have the right shoes? Would it be great next time to have a book light so you can read in bed (I’m always amazed at how poor hotel room lighting can be)? If you’re traveling domestically, what about bringing stamps with you so you can actually mail those postcards from your destination?

Happy trails!

How Can I Help You Get Organized?

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I'm glad you asked! Time for a little shameless self promotion here. In the left column you'll see some new links to information about my new organizing sessions, Office Oasis and Office Options.

What's Different?
These sessions are mini customized organizing workshops. You can pick specific trouble spots so that you'll get exactly the help you need get and stay organized. They're designed specifically for your home or business office; having a narrower focus means you'll get specific and detailed strategies.

I Don't Have an Office!
Sure you do. You've got a desk and a phone, you make appointments and pay bills. That's an office. when it's organized, you'll be:

  • clear about your priorities
  • confident about how you spend your time
  • relieved that you've finally done it!

I Live Far Away!
I can still help you over the phone, email or Skype.

Oasis palm from batega's photostream.

Making Notes on the Go

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Well, my love affair with Jott is pretty much over. Jott is still a very clever and wonderful system for capturing to do's and other info via cell phone. And in true Web 2.0 fashion, its now offering links to Twitter and Facebook and a ton of other features.Microphone

But the free account does not send my Jotts to my email anymore and that's a drag. I don't blame them for making money from their service; it's very worthwhile. But it's not what I need anymore.

The other problem I've run into is the new California law prohibiting handheld cell phone use. It's too much of a production for me to put in the Bluetooth device every timeI get in the car so I don't do it. When I get an inspiration I don't want to forget, I can't just pick up the phone anymore and Jott it.

So, I'm back to my first love, the digital voice recorder. I had to get new batteries for it, but it works great and I'm relieving our initial romance all over again. These devices are still easy to find in many variations so it helps to know what you want before you shop.

Mine records memos of a few minutes apiece. I think there's room for about 20 minutes of recording (sorry, it's in the car now, where it lives, so I can't check). Some record much shorter messages; great for remembering phone numbers and mini shopping lists, and they fit on a keychain. Others are almost like dictation machines.

I like to be able to record ruminations and ideas, so I need a minute or so of time. I do carry it around sometimes, so it has to be small. And it's only got a few physical buttons so I can easily use it in the car without looking at it. My phone records memos, but there's more button pushing involved.

I don't need it to record video, be USB compatible or hold 68 hours of recording (yes, there's one that does that!). Simplicity is key for me. My basic need is not to forget ideas that come to me while I'm driving and can't write them down. I should probably get another one for the shower; the other inconvenient idea-getting spot. I'm sure someone makes a waterproof one…

Microphone from hiddedevries' photostream

Use Your Laptop at the Beach (!?)

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I’m buying a laptop soon. One of the big reasons I want one is that I’m itchingLaptop_cover
to do my computer work out in the garden, now that warm weather is here. I’m already wondering how I’m going to see the screen when I’m sitting out in the sun.

So I surfed around and came upon this wacky product on Lifehacker that shades the laptop screen. Some commenters point out that you could make one of these yourself with a cardboard box or a couple of file folders. This one does fold up neatly and attach to the lid of the computer, and that’s kind of nice. Don’t think it’s designed to keep out sand though…

Tips for To-Do Lists

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I’m giving a talk tonight in San Francisco about optimizing your to-do list. There’s still time to sign up here: Biznik meeting.

To do list tattoo I’ll summarize my talk here, in case you can’t make it. First, there are a bunch of reasons to make daily to-do lists if you don’t already. They help you focus in on the small number of things you need to get done and actually can get done. Everyone is busy and gets distracted by myriad things daily. Put 3-5 tasks on your list.

Writing down those tasks clarifies them. When they’re in your head, they’re a little vague. If you have to write them or tell them to someone, you fill in lots of important details that your mental version overlooks. It’s important to write down projects that only you are responsible for. If you’re not accountable to anyone for them, you’ll often relegate them to your free time, and we all know that “free time” doesn’t really exist.

Make sure your list items are really to do’s and not entire projects. You can’t “do” a project. Projects have multiple steps. If “redecorate the guest room” or “design the new brochure” are on your list, you’ll feel lazy and incompetent for not doing them. Instead, put “look at curtains for the guest room,” or “draft the Services section text for the new brochure” on your list.

If there are undone tasks hanging around on your list, make a “not to do” list. This is where you write down those tasks that you feel guilty that you haven’t done, but you honestly know that you’ll never do them. Things that others want you do to, or that you feel you “should” do. Even when these aren’t written down, they nag at you. Put them on this list and then burn the list! Let go of those tasks forever.

When are you going to do the things on your list? Make sure you know where your time is going, if you find yourself running out. Track your time by setting an alarm to go off every hour. Stop and make brief notes about what you did since the last alarm. Don’t judge yourself, but get curious; when do you get most distracted? By what? How long does it take to do routine tasks? We often underestimate that time because we do them automatically and the time seems short. Until you know where your time is going now, you can’t make effective decisions about changing what you do.

Keep losing your list? Have it tattooed on your arm. Courtesy of robstephaustralia.

Checklists for Smart People

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Smart, capable people have a thing about checklists. Checklists are for dummies. They’re for people who’s grasp of the task at hand isn’t strong enough to get the job done without one. They’re for people without the wits, expertise and inventiveness just to wing it and succeed. Does that sound like you?

In a recent New Yorker article, physician Atul Gawande shows that being too smart, capable, inventive, etc. and disdaining anything as simplistic as a checklist costs lives in the hospital. Aunt Liz died not because she was too far gone for the operation to save her. She died because no one checked to make sure her IV drip line wasn’t infected.

Okay, maybe in your daily life following a checklist won’t save lives, but it can insure that your project doesn’t go belly up because you forgot one small detail. People often lament that life is getting too fast and too complicated, but they also take pride in keeping on top of it by wits alone. It’s not just doctors who are guilty of this.

Think of it this way: the best use of your smarts is to come up with great ideas, to devise better ways of doing things, to think outside the box. A checklist is just a tool to take care of the boring, everyday details that must be taken care of, but that don’t need to be thought about. Smart people use tools.

Checklists can be used for any sequence of repeated steps. Here’s a sample checklist for leaving the house, based on one in the book ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. (This is a great book, by the way; you don’t need to be ADD to get a lot out of it.)

  • Find keys, cell phone, day planner and glasses and put in purse or pocket
  • Pack briefcase with files or paperwork
  • Turn off stove, TV, iron, etc.
  • Lock doors, turn on alarm
  • Stop and think: Did I forget anything?

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

Seven Steps to Successful Organizing has arrived!

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Livingroom-furniture Today I'm officially launching my free ecourse! I originally wrote it for people who attended a talk I gave last fall and then I realized I could expand it and offer it to everyone.

I love helping people succeed with their organizing projects. If I can do it by laying out a seven step program that they can run with, that's great news. Not everyone needs me there in person or on the phone to make a plan, get motivated and stay focused.

So, check it out at this link. See how it works for you. I'd love to hear about your results!