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

You Have To Move A Pile Off A Chair So Someone Can Sit Down

Having a closet where you hide it all away is one thing (not good, but certainly a bit more tolerable). However, when your “junk” starts spilling out into your active living and working spaces, it's time to re-evaluate the situation. I have seen clients who couldn't turn on the stove because it was piled three feet high with unopened mail, used their shower as “storage” for  boxes of who-knows-what that they hadn't opened in 10 years, and never slept in their bed because it was covered with “stuff” they hadn't gotten around to putting away yet. If you are unable to use portions of your home or office because of clutter, it's time for the hard hat and shovel!

You Know You Own A Pair Of Scissors, But You Can Never Find It

Not being able to find things when you need them is a sign — your belongings are homeless and crying out to you for a place to live! Don't let them suffer any longer! If you want to stay organized, you need to have an assigned storage area for each and every thing you own. And not just any old place, but a logical, rational, and defensible spot nearest the point where you use that item. It's really pretty simple. Ask yourself where you would look for scissors when you needed them — that's where they should be stored. And if you use scissors in several different places around your home or office, buy 3 or 4 pairs and give each its own unique home.

It Takes You Three Tries To Get Out Of The House In The Morning

Let me guess — you walk out the door without your briefcase. You go back for your briefcase, then head out again sans keys. You return for the keys and get all the way to your car before you realize that your lunch is still sitting on the counter. No, you're probably not suffering from Alzheimer's at the tender age of 37. This is nothing more than poor planning. Take a minute the night before to gather up everything that you need to take with you in the morning. Put it in a designated holding area near the door so you won't forget it — a “launching pad,” if you will. You can even put a sticky note on the door to remind yourself to get your lunch from the fridge!

You Pay At Least One Late Fee Or Interest Charge Each Month

If you had a standard way of dealing with financial paperwork as it came in, you wouldn't get behind. Set up a small filing rack where you put all of your bills — lined up in the order in which they should be paid — and write the due date on the envelope. Then, schedule time on your calendar twice a month to pay the bills that are due in the next two weeks. Treat your bill-paying time like an appointment — block it off in your planner and don't let anything get in the way of completing that chore. Of course, if you find that your bills are late because you simply don't have enough money to pay them, then it's time to re-evaluate your spending patterns and plug those money leaks!

You Regularly Request An Extension On Your Tax Returns

For some people, tax day isn't April 15th — it's August 15th! Most folks who file extensions do so because they can't get all of their paperwork together on time (but if you're an organized small business person like me who has been advised that an extension is the best way to skirt the first-come-first-served rule regarding audits, you can ignore this section!) Otherwise, set up a filing box just for tax documents. Break your receipts down into basic categories — office supplies, charitable donations, medical expenses, travel, etc. — and file any new ones as soon as you get them. Then, you can hand the entire box over to your CPA at the end of the year. Better yet, set yourself up on a computerized accounting program (your accountant will love you!)

You've Never Seen The Bottom Of Your In-Box

If you have a hard time staying on top of “to-do's,” I would first ask if you are setting aside time each week to deal with incoming paper. You should sort through all the new stuff — mail, faxes, memos, etc. — once a day. That means doing more than just putting it in a pile on your desk How on earth will you know what you need to do if you don't at least open the envelopes? When you pick up a piece of paper, make a decision about what action you need to take (put a sticky note on it to remind you, if you need). Then, schedule that action into your calendar. You should set aside regular time each week for making phone calls, writing letters, filing, data entry — whatever “to-do's” you normally do.

Your Typical Workday Ends Three Hours After Everyone Else's

Workaholism has become a serious problem in our society — but not everyone who works late does it out of a compulsion. Some people have to put in longer hours to make up for the fact that they are less productive during the regular work day. Do you get a lot done while other people are around — or are you constantly being interrupted and distracted? Make a list of all the things that draw your attention away from work during the day — drop-in visitors, clutter in your office, time spent surfing the web — and start tackling these “time wasters” one-by-one. Once you get organized, you'll find that you can go home on time every night of the week.

You Can't See Your Desk Under All The Stacks And Piles Of Paper

People who pile instead of file tend to do so because they have never set up a really useful filing system. Some are afraid that sticking an item away where they can't see it is a recipe for disaster — not if your files are working for you. Look at your folders — do the categories make sense? Are they grouped into logical clusters of information (all of your insurance paperwork together, utility bills in the same place, computer manuals in one home)? Do you have multiple files with the same information in it (a “car” file, a “Toyota” file, and a “vehicle” file)? Are your drawers cluttered with ancient paperwork that you really don't need? It might be time to re-vamp, re-organize, and clean out!

You Are Always Running Someone Else's Errands

Have you learned how to say “no” yet? I have never understood why people think that “no” is such a bad word — as though they are being disrespectful to the other person by turning them down. What you are actually doing when you say “no” is being respectful of yourself — understanding and accepting the limits of what you can reasonably accomplish in a day. You aren't doing anyone a favor by overloading your day with responsibilities. In fact, you are doing others a disservice by rushing from one activity to the next without giving any of them your full attention. And you are certainly causing yourself a lot of unnecessary stress. Stop it!

Your Life Feels Out Of Control

Many signs of clutter are tangible — you can see and feel them. But that vague sense of overwhelm can be ten times more damaging than a stack of unopened mail or a pile of junk in your closet. Do you feel that you are terminally behind and will never get caught up, no matter how hard you try? Or that you are losing your mind because you can't deal with the mess anymore? The first step to curbing these anxieties is to take that first step — tackle a cluttered drawer or a today's mail or a shelf in the garage. Just putting a dent in your mess will take a great weight off your shoulders — and often give you the motivation you need to dig in deeper.

Your Schedule

Take a look at your calendar and your “to-do” list — how much of what you have written down is critical to your survival on this planet? Very little, I'm sure. How many of your appointments involve something that you dearly love to do. A great deal, I hope — but if you're like most people, probably not. What eats up most of your time during the day?

Unfortunately, most folks' schedules are filled with external obligations — things that you have promised other people. “I have to pick up my kids from soccer practice.” “I have to attend committee meeting.” “I have to clean the house.” “I have to, I have to, I have to.” Guess what — you don't have to! If you don't want to do it, say “no.”

I'm not suggesting that you turn completely selfish — compromise is an important part of maintaining civil relations with those around you! I'm merely suggesting that you be very judicious about what you put in your schedule. Get rid of that knee-jerk reaction of saying “yes” everytime someone asks you to volunteer. It's all a matter of training the people around you not to automatically expect you to participate.

Your Finances

Didn't realize you could have clutter in your finances, did you? Take a look at your spending patterns — do you see any money leaks? These are places where your hard-earned dollars simply slip away without you even realizing it. Your danger zones could be buying snacks at work — or late fees and interest charges that accumulate when you forget to pay your bills — or groceries that go bad before you get a chance to eat them. But you need to be especially aware of these types of “unconscious” spending (asking you to be aware of something unconscious — a bit of a contradiction, I know!)

Try keeping track of every penny you spend for the next month — that includes personal items, business expenses, magazines, coffee, whatever. This may sound hard, but it's not bad if you get into the habit of carrying a small notebook with you. Every time you pull out your wallet or credit card or checkbook, make a note (even if you're only paying a quarter for a stick of gum!) At the end of the month, take a look at your expenses — you'll be surprised to see where your money goes. Once you say, “My gosh, I had no idea I spent so much on ______!” you know how to curb your money leaks.

Your Relationships

People feel trapped in relationships that are “less than fulfilling” for many reasons — low self-esteem, fear of change, habit, obligation, or because it's easier than leaving. But most folks tolerate difficult people for one simple reason — because they never stopped to think that they had another choice. Of course this includes seriously dysfunctional relationships, but also that friend who does nothing but complain every time you're together, or the family member who borrows money and never pays you back. You're not getting a positive return out of the arrangement and something has to change.

Let's sort your relationships the way we would any other clutter. “Keep's” are those near and dear to you. “Get Rid Of's” might be a harder — but you need to learn when to call it quits. If you can't think of anything good about the relationship, ask yourself why you really need that person in your life. The “Not Sure's” are mixed — some things are good and some are bad. Your job is to present your concerns to the other person, set some rules (this certain thing has to happen more/less often for the relationship to work), and see if you can reach a mutually satisfying agreement. If not, toss 'em out!

Your Job

Employment has become an institutionalized form of slavery. How many folks do you know that feel trapped by their jobs? If you are  putting up with a crappy work situation because you're are afraid of losing that steady paycheck, it's time to regain control over your environment, responsibilities, and schedule! What would you like to do differently at your job? Cut down on unnecessary meetings? Go home on time each day and refuse to work evenings or weekends? Hand a few menial duties off to an administrative assistant? What would happen if you approached your employer with a list of ideas (in a pleasant and professional way, of course?) Would you get fired — or would he consider your needs? Honestly, if your boss would can you for making a suggestion, maybe you don't need that job! It's worth a try, anyway. And if you're self-employed, you have no excuse for not drawing some boundaries. Would you look at your job duties any differently if you worked for someone else? Why don't you treat yourself at least as well as you would treat an employee?

Your Own Head

We saved the most challenging area for last! How much “junk” do you have floating around in your head, littering your thoughts? People don't think about emotions as clutter, because they aren't tangible — but guilt, jealousy, anger, and unreasonable expectations of what we can accomplish in a day eat up as much of our time and energy.

Think about the last time you had something heavy on your mind — did you get much work done that day? I'll bet that every time you set out to accomplish a task, you were distracted by your thoughts. It's like a gang of incredibly annoying adolescents, making noise and causing a ruckus in your cerebellum. Too bad you can't just slap them! The only way to make these bad boys go away is to become conscious of them. Pay attention when your mind strays to some unproductive and negative emotion — and make a concerted effort to let it go. This will take some practice — awareness of your mental state doesn't happen in a day — but it will pay off in the end.

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.”