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At work we are continually confronted with many conflicting commitments in time, effort, and energy. To make the most of the areas we can participate in, we need to step up and be purposeful; likewise, when we must deny a task, we must be confident. Therefore, we need to be cognizant of our self talk. Rather than “I can’t,” we can employ the more powerful self language of “I don’t.”

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Do you find yourself going in a thousand directions? Is your mind a whirlwind of responsibilities? Is stress building in you like a volcano? If yes, then now is time to take control–as many of us have authority we forget to use when we’re in response mode.

May these reminders on how to take control give you reprieve:

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As I look around my office, home, or inbox, I consider small items such as conference material to sort, dishes to wash, or calendar entries to approve, as broken windows. They clutter my space and manifest uneasy feelings.

The comparison stems from the criminological Broken Windows Theory which suggests if windows are broken and not cared for promptly, then they are a symbolize that no one is in charge. Eventually more windows are broken, and the damage, as well as the type of crime, escalates.

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I admit it may not be the norm, but I am very excited about to do lists and organizing information. Therefore, I was very interested in learning about Evernote’s new Reminder feature and would like to share what I’ve found.

Reminders take Evernote from an organized to do list and information storage utility to a one-stop shop for action items and prioritizing. 

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What percentage of the tasks you complete are first documented in a to-do system? What threshold do you think you should aspire to capture? We think it should be nearly 100%.

“…if you’re already in a mess, you’re not free to make one.” David Allen

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If you’re known as the Post-It(r) queen or king of your office, consider the dry erase Sticky-Note Planning System by PlanetSafe Calendars as you select your action system for 2013. These are unique calendars with a focus on helping you organize your task completion via sticky notes–yet in a more dignified way than framing your monitor or decorating your phone with them.

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office library resized 600

At Chicago Ideas Week, we had the fortune of hearing Jason Fried, President of Chicago-based web application company, 37signals, author, and signal vs. noise blogger. Jason is a bit of a celebrity in the project and time management arena and has recently inspired us with his view on a summer four-day work week.

A little research into Jason’s various articles on this topic uncovers that since 2008, from May – October, all 35 people in his company execute all their normal job tasks, within a four-day week without extending their daily hours. The idea is to work harder, not to work longer as “working longer hours doesn’t translate to better results.” They accomplish this by squeezing out the inefficiencies and looking at the workplace from a different perspective, one similar to a library. 

If you think of a library as a place to learn, study and get stuff done, then this is the environment Jason desires for his employees. Although they work in an open cubicle space, work is done with minimal noise and distractions and a focus on learning. They aim to displace excess “meetings, interruptions, web surfing, office politics, and personal business that permeates typical work day.” This enables an even longer weekend, where employees come back refreshed as well as being happy with their workplace.

“So don’t think four days means cramming the same amount of time into a shorter week.  Longer days isn’t the goal. Think four days means a shorter week with less time to get things done. And that’s what you actually want.” We all tend to be more efficient with our time if we have less of it to begin with.

Would a three-day weekend inspire you to work more efficiently?

task tracking

I am currently feeling the pressure my clients must typically feel after they make the bold decision to transition from one to do system to another.

Here’s the back story…

Because experiencing different task tracking systems from a fully-entrenched perspective helps when guiding clients through selection and implementation, I like to change my systems periodically. Over the years I’ve worked from a Franklin Planner, a paper tickler file, Action Method Online, Workflowy, Outlook Tasks, and most recently via Nozbe, a cloud-based and desktop solution designed for GTDers. (More on Nozbe in subsequent posts.)

Though feature-rich Nozbe is a fabulous system, I came to the conclusion with my organizing coach it’s not the right system for me. Ugh!

Switching from one task management system to another typically takes me a full day to implement. Knowing the time frame gives me personal power. Having devoted a full day only a couple months ago; however, the time frame also fills me with dread.

Not having eight hours in a row to devote to the switch, I’m living between the two systems at the moment. Thusly, I’m experiencing a low level of nervousness at all times. (I’m not joking around here.)

For those of you who I’ve put in task management limbo, I’m so very sorry. I’m also grateful you trusted me and plowed through the challenges of those moments.

For those of you without a task management system, let’s talk. Because nobody should have to walk around feeling unkept all the time. It’s just not fun…and probably not good for your health.

Please share your transition story. I’m eager for your compassionate wisdom.

multitasking is a myth

We’ve written about the costs of mulitasking before. How it slows you down, increases your error rate, and heightens your stress level.

With help from Overloaded Circuits by Harvard Business Review, following are three methods to improve focus–the antithesis of multitasking:

  • Move. A quick burst of aerobic exercise relieves stress and improves concentration by bathing the brain with oxygen and activating brain chemicals such as dopamine.

  • Socialize. To promote positive feelings, especially during highly stressful times, interact directly with someone you like at least every four to six hours.

  • Sleep. A good night’s sleep is like pushing the reset button in your brain. You should strive to get the amount of sleep required for you to wake up without an alarm.

Interested in sharing and adding more habits of focus to your workday? Join us for Multitasking 2.0: Insert More Focus into Your Day. Sponsored by Woman’s Network in Electronic Transactions (W-Net) and held at Chase Towers in Chicago on May 3 from 6-8 pm. Visit the W-Net website for more information and a registration link. This will be a fun event for both networking and learning new productivity tips.

This is Life Contained newcomer, Holly McDermott’s first post. As you take in her hierarchical process for staying organized, you’ll understand why we hired her.  

using abc to prioritize tasksI can envision the Hawaiian vacation I’d be off to if I had a nickel for every time someone said, “I just don’t know how you get it all done!”  Although I certainly never have ALL my desired tasks done, I have found a peaceful rhythm for completing my important action items using these steps–an adaptation of Steven Covey’s priorities teachings:

1. Select a home base and consolidate. Set aside at least an hour to complete this process. Whether you prefer a paper planner, a draft email, a word processing/spreadsheet document, or another variation, pick one. Within this single location, create a laundry list with all of your action items. (I currently keep a To Do list in the native Notes app on my phone.)

2. Sort by importance. Following your initial gut instinct, quickly label all tasks as follows:

A – Important and Urgent

B – Important, but Not Urgent

C – Less or Not Important

3. Conduct initial sort and add in the white space. Sort your list by the letter of importance (A, B, C). Leave several blank lines between the A and B and C tasks. This will allow for adding new items and to create the visual separation from the most crucial actions and all others.

4. Prioritize your A Tasks. Review the items on your A list and for any tasks that will take longer than can be completed in one sitting, pull out the first step and add this specific step to that task’s line.

For example, if I have a task to “write a new platform business case,” then I would change this to “write new platform business case – research option 1.”

Then, scan through your A list items and rank them in order of importance starting with number 1 as the most important. Your tasks are now further labeled, A1, A2, A3, etc. For example, a task list may read…

Next Actions:  

A1 Respond to customer emails received in last 24 hours 

A2 Set and communicate venue for April training classes 

A3 Order supplies for next week’s training class 

5. Work the list, top down! Your list is now organized by order of importance. Begin at the top and work your way down the list. After items are completed, delete (or strikethrough on paper). If new tasks are needed, add them in the section of the ABC letter that represents their importance. If inserting an A task, also add a rank (perhaps you now have tasks ranked A2i. and A2ii.).  For B and C tasks, simply drop onto the list in the corresponding section. If A task are completed, then begin the B tasks, and if B tasks are completed, move onto C.  

6. Maintain your list.  At the end of each week, review your calendar and add new tasks. Determine if any B tasks should be As, and review your rankings for all A tasks. Make adjustments as needed.  

As you gain experience working through your ABC list, customize into a fun process that best works for you. Here are some suggestions:  

  • Add target dates after each A task. Underline hard dates.  

  • Schedule time on your calendar: label a calendar meeting as A1 to ensure time is carved into your day for addressing your A1 task.

  • If using a spreadsheet application, utilize the columns and sorting.  

  • If using paper, try dividing the paper into 3 sections by drawing a ‘Y’ and work your way around the paper. (And don’t give up…only incomplete A tasks will be recopied weekly going forward.)

  • Create a single task for addressing your paper inbox and quick reminder tasks to avoid the time of listing each of these items. (The theory is that it is silly to take more time to record, label and delete a task than it does to complete the task. However, if you do not record these quick tasks somehow, then they can add up and steal valuable time for your day, thus the importance of scheduling time to take care of the “quick” important tasks in bulk.)

  • What other ways have you customized your to do list?

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