Posts Tagged ‘goals’

Knowing What's Really Important

We often focus too much on the daily grind (paying bills, keeping the house clean, writing reports, etc.) and too little on our real priorities. Those many details may seem urgent at the time — but if you look at the bigger picture, that they really aren't all that pressing. And it's sad when we end up missing out on the important things in life (experiences and relationships) because we're so caught up in the minutiae. Do you really need to be organizing the garage, or spending time with your kids at the park? Is it a higher priority that you decide how to arrange the chairs at the upcoming sales meeting, or that you develop a strong agenda and provide guidance during the group discussion? Will you benefit more from zoning out in front of the television, or taking a walk around the neighborhood with your spouse? Ask yourself where you will get the biggest bang for your buck. That should be where you focus your attention, and let someone else handle the rest. A not-to-do list helps identify those chores, errands, and daily responsibilities that can (and should) be delegated.

Keep a notepad handy, and record your activities for a week. You don't have to log every second of your day (“8:00 — got up / 8:05 — used bathroom / 8:15 — had breakfast” isn't going to help you be more effective and efficient!) But if you can start tracking your work responsibilities (a paid job, housework, or whatever fills your day), travel time to and from activities, and any other external responsibilities (committee meetings, carpools, volunteering), you will begin to see places where you can trim and tighten your schedule through delegation. Make a note of what you are doing — such as “checking e-mails” or “cleaning oven” or “buying groceries.” Then, estimate how much time you have spent on that particular chore (don't forget travel and prep time). Later we'll look at whether this action needs to be done at all (!!) and whether it needs to be done by you. But for now, that's the start of your “not-to-do” list.

Once you've made a list of items that you would love to delegate — who do you hand them off to? You have so many options! Just remember, you aren't in it alone. You simply have to decide whatyou want to delegate and then be willing to ask for help. At home, you can get your family involved in the act (see my dear hubby doing dishes?) Kids and spouses are just as capable of handling those daily chores as you are! At the office, don't be afraid to ask a co-worker for some assistance — and offer to help out the next time he or she needs a little bit of a break. Also make use of your support staff (administrative clerks, assistants, and other assorted minions) — that's what they are there for. If you don't have these sorts of support networks to call upon, hire an independent contractor or freelancer to help with household and business tasks that you don't have time for. You might also think about developing a local co-op for sharing those time-consuming domestic (trading off on cooking, cleaning, errand-running, or child care) — or set up an informal swap with a neighbor.

Learning How To Quantify

When you were a kid, you probably didn't think much about what it took to earn money — you just asked for what you wanted and somehow, mommy and daddy made it happen. You didn't worry about what stuff cost, and you didn't understand when someone told you it was too “expensive.” Then you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance — and I'll bet you became a lot more discriminating about what you did with hard-earned cash!

It's the same with time.  Very few people really know what their time is worth, in concrete financial terms. They just go through their day on autopilot, wondering where the hours go. Until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your effort is best spent.  Here's a general guide illustrating how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day (spent poorly or wisely) adds up over a year's time:

YOUR
ANNUAL INCOME
WHAT ONE HOUR
IS WORTH
ONE HOUR PER DAY
FOR A YEAR
$25,000 $12.61 $3,125
$40,000 $20.49 $5,000
$50,000 $25.61 $6,205
$75,000 $38.42 $9,375
$100,000 $51.23 $12,500
$125,000 $65.10 $15,884
$150,000 $76.84 $18.750
$175,000 $89.65 $21,875
$200,000 $102.46 $25,000
$250,000 $128.07 $31,250
$300,000 $153.69 $37,500

** Based on 244 working days per year

You can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list — and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 — I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 hours to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities — things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive — without worrying that the work isn't being done.

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink

Have A Plan Of Attack

Begin working in the area that is the biggest thorn in your side — the part of your home or office that causes you the most agony. Even if every area of your life feels cluttered, it's not hard to pinpoint your MOST frustrating organizing challenge. When you find yourself saying, day after day, “Man, I wish I could get my (bedroom, desk, storage closet whatever) straightened out. This mess is driving me crazy!” — you know that's where you want to begin. Where is your greatest pain?

As you dig in, you're guaranteed to notice a few other spots that could use some organizing help too — that's fine. Create a list of the areas you want to work on, in order of priority. Be sure to include a deadline for completing each project. This will help you focus on the big picture as you work your way through your home or office. It's much easier to stay on track if you have a specific timetable within which to work. Crossing tasks off of your “to-do list” as you finish them also reminds you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  Don't feel overwhelmed — you will get to all of your problem areas, in due time.

One Baby Step After Another

It's tempting to want to organize everything at the same time, but that's a surefire way to sabotage your efforts. Instead, start by tackling just one small area at a time — a drawer, a cabinet, a shelf, a closet. Don't attempt to clean out the whole place at once. If you overdo it, chances are you will become frustrated and give up on the entire project. Set aside some time each week to work on a different area — once you get started, you'll be surprised at how quickly the job goes.

Do your best to move systematically, finishing one area before you begin another. There is nothing more draining than finding yourself surrounded by a bunch of half-finished projects — and it's even harder to find things if you have only organized part of your closet or cleaned out half of your filing system, while the other half is still a wreck.

Once you discover your own particular organizing style, you'll really be able to make some progress. Some people work best if they empty an entire storage area before organizing it. Others find that too overwhelming, and choose to tackle their clutter one item at a time. You need to decide for yourself which of these methods suits your personality best. But there is no “right” way — only what's right for you.  Remember, there are as many different ways to organize as there are people on the planet!

Call In The Troops

Don't be afraid to enlist a little help. If you can recruit some organizing “assistants” — do it! This is a big job, and it will go a lot faster if you aren't all by your lonesome. Consider drafting your friends, family members, or co-workers — put on some music, serve them pizza, and turn cleaning out into a party. Who said organizing has to be a chore?

You might even consider hiring a Professional Organizer to help you out — sometimes it's good to have someone around who has no vested interest your “stuff” and can offer expert advice when you get stuck. Just be judicious about who you bring on board. If you what you need most is an objective opinion, your nosy mother-in-law may not be the best choice!

Organizing is hard work — and it's going to take a minute. So don't get frustrated with yourself if you can't tackle every pile of clutter in one weekend! And don't drive yourself until you drop — cleaning out does not have to be painful. Just go at your own pace and cut yourself some slack if you aren't moving forward as quickly as you had hoped.  Most importantly, be sure to reward yourself every time you finish a particularly challenging task — even adults need “gold stars” (or a cappuccino or a movie or a soak in the tub) every now and then!

Finding Balance

Let's start by determining exactly what “multi-tasking” is. Merriam Webster defines this as “the carrying out of two or more tasks at the same time by one person.” This kind of multi-tasking occurs, for example, when you're talking to someone on the phone while writing an article — or when you're adding up a column of numbers and also watching TV. I call this “consecutive multi-tasking,” and it's the sort of fractured mental activity that sets you up for guaranteed failure. Aside from “low load” behaviors that require very little attention and occur almost automatically, at a sub-conscious level without you thinking about them (like walking, talking, breathing, or chewing) — the human brain just wasn't built to do more than one thing at once (or at least do them well!)

The brain only has so much mental RAM to go around — so throughout the day, your capacity to focus is constantly being divvied up and re-apportioned among all the activities in which you are currently engaged at that moment. When you ask your mind to perform two or more activities that require a high level of conscious concentration (like reading, writing, listening, hands-on mechanical tasks, mathematics, or logistical analysis) at the same time, it's likely that you're trying to use more computing power than you actually have available — and your brain is going to end up overloading. Whenever you attempt to simultaneously engage in multiple “high load” behaviors like this, one of two things will happen. Either the brain will shut one activity out in favor of completing the other (this happens when you're trying to carry on a conversation while doing something else, and you find that you can't remember a word the other person has said!) Or if it does actually manage to struggle through both tasks, your brain is going to accomplish each more slowly than it would if allowed to focus fully on just one activity at a time. It's the same thing that happens with your computer — if you  tell it to run a search AND back up your documents AND perform a complex calculation at the same time, every task slows down to a crawl. And, as with your computer, concurrent multi-tasking is more likely to bring up an error message (or more likely, the “blue screen of death”) — you will find yourself making stupid mistakes, forgetting important information, and failing to fully complete a task when your mind is occupied with more than one thing at a time.

Stop Banging Your Head

But the dictionary also includes a definition of multi-tasking that is more in line with my way of thinking — “the interleaved execution of two or more jobs.” Interleaved — ooh, I like that word! This means “to perform two or more actions or functions in an ALTERNATING fashion” — working first on one, than switching to another, then switching back to the first again. I call this “consecutive multi-tasking,” and it's a great way to make progress on multiple goals while avoiding becoming bored, stuck, or blocked a project.

However, I'm not talking about the kind of mindless and unplanned bopping back and forth between activities that causes you to waste 3 hours surfing the web when you should be doing your bookkeeping. Wink Allowing your brain to become interrupted in the middle of a project, letting it lead you away from the task at hand toward another (usually less important) activity is “distraction,” not “multi-tasking.” It then takes time and mental energy for your brain to make the shift back into gear, to remember where you left off, and what you need to do next — that's when “multi-tasking” becomes unproductive.

But a planned shift from one activity to another (which occurs at a natural “stopping point” in your work and is accompanied by a few notes as a “memory jogger” to help you dive back in quickly when you return to that task) can often be the best possible thing for boosting your productivity and increasing your energy levels. Have you ever tried to force yourself to plow ahead with a project when you really just didn't have it in you to continue? Your brain is fried, you can't concentrate, and you're essentially banging your head against a wall — but dammit, you're going to “make” yourself get it done! Then you look up several hours later, only to find that you're still right where you started, and haven't made even one step forward during all that time.The better choice would be to walk away and do something completely different, giving your brain a chance to rest and re-charge. For example, let's say you're stuck trying to put together a proposal for a new client, and your thoughts just keep going in circles. So you quit what you're doing and devote a half hour to that pile of papers you've been needing to file. You're crossing an important to-do off your list, but using an entirely different part of your brain (giving the lobe that was starting to hurt a rest.) Of course, your mind will subconsciously continue to work on your proposal, while on a conscious level, you're busy accomplishing something else. Then when you finish that task and return to writing, you're seeing things with fresh eyes, and the words just slide out of your pen (or clack out of your keyboard, as the case may be.)

I use this technique myself all the time in order to stay productive throughout the day. If I try to spend 8 straight hours on any one type of task, I burn out much more quickly than if I mix things up — so I actively plan my day to include these sorts of shifts. I'll spend an hour writing a blog, then move on to some phone calls, then switch to color-correcting photos or even washing dishes, and back to writing again — but I'm still only ever doing ONE of these activities at a time. Consecutive, not concurrent — that's the key to success with multi-tasking!