Posts Tagged ‘time management’

Posted on: March 25th, 2013 by Kristi | No Comments

the non-planner datebook

What organizational product do I see the most of when I visit clients homes?  No, the answer is not calendars, planners and to-do lists.  The product I see the most of is organizing books.  The second most popular find is organizing bins.  The third is calendars, planners and to-do lists. 

Why do I find these items so frequently and in such high volume in clients homes?  The top two were no surprise to me and easy to diagnose.   

  • My clients have a stash of organizing books because they want to be organized.  They are intelligent people and sought out resources.  They eventually came to realize that they simply didn’t have the time to organize on their own, that some steps in the books were difficult to handle emotionally (if it was all about intelligence, I’d be out of a job) and that the steps in the books really weren’t made for their specific situations.  So, I get called in to plan, support and assist.   
  • My clients have a varied collection of organizing bins because they want to be organized.  They are intelligent people and sought out resources.  They eventually came to realize that without a plan, the bins simply displace the clutter.

The third was a little more difficult for me to analyze.  Why do they have so many calendars, planners and lists?  Some are blank, some are partially filled, some are new, some are years old, some are decorative, some are plain, some are small, some are large and some are even electronic.  What became clear was that none were working.  Once again, the products showed a desire to manage their time.  The products showed intelligent people that sought out solutions.  I have come to find that there is no area in which people try to fit into what is popular, current and usual more so than in the area of time management.  People tend to think that one planner or one calendar fits all.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Left-brainers may do well with a typical planner, but right-brainers are more creative and visual.  They need planners that reflect these traits.  What ever happened to writing on the back of your hand?  Well, maybe we don’t need to consider that one, but we do need to consider everything and anything until….it works!  This is one of the services I love to provide my clients.  You don’t have to use a thick planner!  You can use sticky notes, the wall, voice recorders, pictures, index cards, etc…  My August issue of Organization-411 will focus on these creative time management techniques (as well as back to school tips for the parents out there).  In the meantime, check out two of my favorite “planners” linked below.  Also, if this is an area you would like help in, time management is one of the services I provide.  We will work to find what works for YOU!

 

A Favorite Planner for the Creative 


Another Favorite

Getting On The Same Page

I spoke recently about the idea of setting up a “family calendar,” and I'd like to explain that concept in a little more detail — because it's really the only way to avoid scheduling conflicts and last minute scrambles. Start by setting up a wall calendarin a centralized place, so you can review the entire household's activities with one glance. You'll want to write each person's appointments, deadlines, and other responsibilities with a different colored marker — blue for mom, green for dad, red for Sally, and purple for Johnny. Keep this in a high-traffic area of the house (kitchen seems to work well, because everyone goes there daily) where everyone can see it.

However, hanging a calendar is less than half the battle — the most important step is to take the time to coordinate your schedules. Family members these days are often like ships passing in the night — you see each other for a few minutes at a time on the way from one activity to the next, and it's no wonder so many time-management conflicts occur! It helps if you have a “family planning session” at the start of each week. Ask each person what they have coming up in the near future — extracurricular activities, days that your kids need a ride somewhere (as well as days you have to work late and can't pick them up), school project due dates, parties, vacations, dentist appointments, meetings, social engagements, sporting events, you name it. Everything should go on the calendar. If you carry a personal planner or PDA, this is also the time to update your portable calendar with the current info (it doesn't do you much good to plan out the week if you can't see the schedule while you're out of the house!)

Then from that point forward, every time someone brings home a birthday invitation or permission slip for a field trip, write it down. Every time the school sends out a calendar of upcoming days off, transfer it to the family calendar. When your boss asks if you can work late or your child's piano teacher wants to switch from Tuesday to Wednesday, change the calendar. Add the week's chores to the calendar. Get in the habit of putting EVERYTHING related to your family's schedule in one place. You're trying to accomplish two main goals here — to address any conflicts and to avoid last-minute rushing around. So when you know that mom's got to work late and Jimmy needs a ride home from the game, you can instruct him to make plans to go with a friend, rather than having him sit around waiting 3 hours for mom, when she has no idea she's supposed to pick him up. When Susy agrees to bring cupcakes for the school party, dad knows that they've got to go grocery shopping at least a day or two before so there's time to do the baking. When Bobby (don't ask my why I've chosen such Brady Bunch sounding children's names) has to put a diorama together for history class, he's not popping up at the eleventh hour, asking for shoe boxes and paint after all the stores are closed. Your stress level will drop by a factor of ten, just having each person's to-do's and responsibilities written down in one visible place.

Learn How To Say “No”

Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn't want to do for your job — work late, take on a new project when your plate was already full, or attend a completely pointless meeting? You probably felt it would be disrespectful to say no — so you agreed, even though doing so caused you tremendous stress. Why are we so afraid of the word “no”?

“No” means that you understand and accept your own limits, and don't want to do a shoddy job by taking on too much. It's an indication that you recognize where your talents lie and want to put them to the best use. “No” is actually a good word! The trick is to say “no” without feeling guilty or making the other person think that you are unwilling to help out. Instead of seeing a situation in which you are being forced to disappoint another person, turn this into an opportunity to be of service. The best way to tactfully dodge a request while still making a contribution is to offer an alternative solution:

  • offer to help later — “I'm sorry, I don't have time right now. But I'll be free Friday afternoon, if you still need me.”
  • offer another resource — “I'm busy, but I have a colleague who has been wanting to get involved. Let me call her for you.”
  • offer to take on a different task — “That's not my strong suit. But I would be happy to help out with (drawing posters, setting up the meeting room, working out a budget, etc.)”

Stop Carrying The World On Your Shoulders

So much work-related stress is caused by the thought, “If I don't do it, it won't get done.” Yes it will, if it's really important. Somehow, somewhere, the company will find someone to take care of it. I promise that, no matter how fabulous you are at your job, you're not completely indispensable!

Ask yourself, “If I got hit in the head with a tree tomorrow, how would this job get done?” When the answer is, “So-and-so would help out,” you can  feel more comfortable asking “so-and-so” to help out now (before you end up in the hospital!) If the answer is, “It wouldn't get done — it's not that important,” then ask yourself if that task is worth your time in the first place. A life and death situation (imagined or real) sure gives you a sense of perspective! You just have to keep in mind that there are different degree degrees of “no,” and you should be able to find one that lets you maintain control over your time while still assisting the other person.

It's going to be hard for you to set these kinds of boundaries in your work life — especially if you've been accustomed to letting other people dictate how you use your time. As you reclaim your schedule, you will hear comments like, “You never had a problem working weekends before.” Your answer is simply, “My situation has changed. Sorry, but I can't do it this time.”

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!

Two Kinds Of Policies

At this establishment, no one has decided what business hours will be, so customers are never sure when the shop is open — it could be 10-2 one day and 6-6 another day. No one has determined what the store should sell, so customers don't know if they will get flowers or salami when they walk in the front door. And the owner has never bothered to set a policy about the type of payment the store accepts, so a customer who used a credit card on Monday might be told “cash only” on Tuesday. People have to guess how this shop is going to function from day to day, and no one ever knows what to expect. It won't take long for both employees and customers to get pretty frustrated and irritated at the situation.

It's the same way with your personal life — if you don't tell people how you operate, they won't be able to interact with you in a way that you both find mutually satisfying. Too often, we expect other people to read our minds, to automatically know how we need them to behave during every minute of the day. And when they act differently than what we had hoped, we get angry — when what we really should do is communicate our needs a little better. Unfortunately, we don't always exactly know what we need — we just know what we don't like, don't want, and are fed up with. But that's a great start!

What Are You Tired Of Tolerating?

Think about all of the times in your life when you've interacted with another person and felt invaded, violated, or disrespected by the experience. Maybe you thought that you were being insulted or taken advantage of. Perhaps you wished that you had stood up for yourself a bit more aggressively — demanded respect from someone who seemed to be belittling you. Or the other person might have unknowingly offended you, and you simply regretted not bringing it to their attention at the time.

Those incidents were uncomfortable and frustrating because you allowed someone to cross a very important line with you. Each of us has developed a set of unconscious rules about how we want to be treated — how we want our time, space, belongings, and personal qualities to be respected by others. And when you fail to defend your boundaries, your psyche lets you know — with feelings of guilt, anger, or sadness.

The problem is that on a conscious level, we are unwilling to assert these demands. And this happens for many reasons — we don't want to cause an imposition for someone else, we've convinced ourselves that we are wrong, we've fallen into a habit of disregarding our feelings, or we think that this is just how life is supposed to work. So we continue to tolerate unacceptable behavior — usually because it just seems like too much work to try and change things. Take a few minutes to make a list of all the situations and circumstances that you are tired of tolerating. The following are some examples from my clients' lists. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • I'm tired of my kids leaving their stuff all over the house, expecting me to pick it up.
  • I'm tired of my boss throwing an “urgent” project on my desk at 5 PM on Friday.
  • I'm tired of my mother always criticizing the way that I keep my house.
  • I'm tired of feeling like I'll lose my clients if I'm not at their beck and call 24 hours a day.
  • I'm tired of spending all day Saturday running errands for everyone else in my family.
  • I'm tired of never seeing my kids because I have to work all weekend.
  • I'm tired of husband scheduling a social engagement for us and not telling me until the last minute.
  • I'm tired of my co-workers interrupting me while I'm trying to get some work done.
  • I'm tired of staying at the office late every night while everyone else goes home on time.

It All Starts With You

If you will look closely at each of these complaints, they all have to do with the way that one person allows another person to treat him or her. Notice that I didn't say “it has to do with how other people treat you.” It's your responsibility to let people know exactly what you expect from them — what is considered acceptable behavior and what is not. When someone crosses a line the first time, it's their fault. When it happens again, it's your fault. And while you can't change other people's behavior, you absolutely can change what you are willing to put up with!

A quick warning before you start laying down ground rules — you have to back them up with action. If you decide not to work past 5 PM anymore and the big cheese insists that you stay late, can you stand up to your boss and be true to your convictions? If it becomes a chronic problem, are you willing to look for another job? If your hubby doesn't put his clothes in the laundry basket like you agreed upon, will you let him walk around in dirty underwear? How committed are you to your own needs and desires? This is not an exercise for the faint-hearted!

Laying Down The Ground Rules

Once you decide that you are really ready to dig in, the first step is to think about the kinds of rules you would need to set up to keep each of those “tolerations” from ever happening to you again. Go ahead and write them down — they will seem more concrete and easier to implement if they are on paper. Your list can also serve as a daily reminder of your boundaries (lest you forget where you drew that line!)

For example, if you are tired of having to put your own plans aside at the last minute because someone in your family neglected to tell you that they had a ballgame or a party or a field trip, you might decide to lay down the following rules:

  • We will have a family meeting once a week on Sunday evenings.
  • During that meeting, each family member will discuss any upcoming plans they have for the week.
  • We will write each member's activities on a centralized family calendar.
  • If you need a ride, supplies, or anything else for an activity, bring it up at the meeting.
  • If you don't mention it and then need something at the last minute, it's your responsibility.

This might sound harsh and rigid and fascist, but if you look at the chaotic way that some people operate, a little fascism might be in order! You don't have to be incredibly hard-nosed with your rules, but it's important for people to know what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do — up front.  That way, when little Johnny decides that he needs cupcakes for the school party at 10:00 the night before, you can explain to him why you aren't going to make them. And the next time, he'll be motivated to plan ahead a little better. You are actually helping the people around you to learn valuable time management skills — while you create a touch more sanity in your own life.

My Own Story

When I first started my Professional Organizing business, I most assuredly did not practice what I preached! I felt like I had to give every spare minute of my time to my clients, or I wouldn't be successful. So I worked weekends and evenings — I essentially allowed my clients to dictate my schedule. I finally decided that if I wanted to have a healthy life and a healthy business, I needed to set some policies and procedures around how I used my time. I thought about what I wanted and what I didn't want. I didn't want to work more than 8 hours a day — including travel time to and from clients. So I decided that divided my day into two blocks — a three-hour organizing session in the morning and another in the afternoon. I would no longer schedule appointments for evenings and weekends — but I lined up a number of other organizers who could take those clients that I wasn't able to service (for a small referral fee, of course!) I would be happy to run extra errands for clients (shop for supplies, take their discards for donation, etc.) but I increased my hourly rate to cover the extra time I would spend. And I would leave one day free EVERY week for administrative work.

I put sticky notes on my desk to remind me of the rules I set for myself. I blocked off my admin days in my calendar, and I even highlighted the times of day that I had committed for client sessions (so that I wouldn't accidentally mis-schedule someone). I stopped asking clients, “When do you want to get together?” and started saying, “I'm free Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings — which of those is best for you?” I regained control over my schedule. My clients were happy to work within whatever framework I offered them, and I never got one complaint about these new policies. In fact, people respected my choice to have a life again, and asked me to help them do the same thing. Over time, these “policies” became second-nature to me. And all it took was making up my mind that I didn't want to live that way anymore. Imagine that! I can do it, you can too!”