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Sales Rep Time Management

Life Contained conducts ongoing time management training for a financial services principal charged with business development. They collaborate to build systems and habits to maintain momentum and increase productivity…all with an eye toward having more fun at work and adding life moments.  

Following are a few of the courageous decisions she has made:

  • Delegate research. Instead of spending precious call time researching who to call next, she decided delegating the task would not only free her up, but would enable someone else in the company to learn a valuable skill. (Implementation was a little rocky. She accidentally formed a habit of double checking fairly accurate work that she had to shake.)

  • Assign weekly themes. To give the conversations more continuity, she decided to dedicate each week to a particular prospect segment. This not only enables her to truly dig into the mindset of her prospects, but also offers the opportunity to plan weekly themes in advance.

  • Memorize SalesForce reports. To allow for tracking and single-click printing of information she frequently wanted, she decided to create and memorize new SalesForce reports.

  • Plan for tomorrow at end of today. To diminish moments at home spent thinking about work, she plans tomorrow at the end of today. Printing her call list, reviewing her project list and completing a custom form we created helps her to close and open work days with more control.

  • Ask for help. When she’s feeling unsure about her numbers, she asks that accountability measures kick into high gear. Sending me daily or weekly emails to report activity is just enough social pressure to keep her charging forward.

What time management techniques have you fearlessly added to your work day to increase efficiency?

Monday I participated in a tele-class with Michael Bungay of Box of Crayons. I was most interested in a Maestro confernce call demo (you can create private breakout sessions during the calls), but there were other juicy bits to learn from the session.

Michael’s mission is to cut down busy work so you can carve out more time for creating your best work. His manifesto spells out seven ways to get there. Here’s my favorite of the seven:

“Say Yes–Slowly

how to say no

“Much has been written about the importance of being able to say “no,” and it’s very true. Until you learn how to say no, stuff will keep rolling down the hill and end up on your plate.

“But, the truth is, it’s difficult to say no in most organizations. We’re all nice, polite people. We’ve got it into our heads that success lays in saying yes. (And, ideally, with enthusiasm!) Surely it’s a career-limiting move to get a reputation as being someone who says no?

“So, don’t say no. Rather, master the art of saying yes slowly.

“Rather than making yes your default response, ask some questions–I’d suggest at least three–before you make a decision. Here are some for a starter:

  • “Why are you asking me?
  • Who else have you considered for this?
  • What exactly would I need to do?
  • When you say “urgent,” what does that mean?
  • If I could only do part of this, what part would I do?
  • How does this fit with my current project load?
  • How does this fit with our weekly/monthly/annual goals?”

What questions can you ask to slow down your busy work? How can you use this advice to be a more productive you?


Time Management Attorney

An attorney in Chicago asked Life Contained to be his business organizer with the goals of increasing office productivity and moments of life. Following are a few of the brave decisions he made to streamline workflow, declutter the inbox, and to take less work home:

Make better use of administrative assistant via weekly meetings that she runs and deferring internal mail. She’s happier. He’s happier. Because they both feel more in control.

Use time management tools instead of brain. Create calendar appointments for project work. Schedule two hours of daily focus time (email off; IM off; door shut; phone screened). Use a combination of Outlook Calendar and Tasks to know what to do when.

Build upon things that work. Like most of our Chicago productivity clients, there were loads of things working. We found ways to squeeze even more from them. Continue to reap the rewards of email while lessening dependence on it by turning off notifications and batch processing. Increase the amount of time in Outlook’s Calendar View (instead of Email View!) by changing the default to open there and committing to flipping there when finished processing email.

His efforts to change work habits results in a lighter briefcase and clearer mind going home each night. Are there things you need to change to make similar gains?


Time Management System transition


As a productivity trainer part of my job is to demo different time management systems to gain intimate familiarity so I can lead clients to choose the one that’s best for them.

I’ve gone from paper to electronic to Franklin Planner to a tickler to Outlook to index cards to a combination of those. And now, I’m trying on GTD (that’s Getting Things Done for those of you not a part of the cult) for size.

Although each system has its merits and downfalls, the universal truth I’ve come to embrace: transitioning from one time management system to another is tough work.

Following are a few tips to make it easier: 

Tell people you’re under construction. Especially the people you connect to most frequently.They may be a bit more understanding if you seem uncharactertically discombobulated.

Dedicate several self appointments to make the change. Changing time management systems is time-consuming work. The rewards keep coming after the switch is made and the new habits are formed, but the upfront time commitment is critical.

Go easy on yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. The folks involved may or may not understand your situation and be tolerant. But you have the power to forgive yourself…use your power for good.

 Do you have a transition story to tell?

Shield To-Do List Overwhelm

When I recently attended the American Society for Training and Development 2010 International Conference and Exposition (ASTD ICE), I was privileged to attend a session and then to meet David Allen, productivity training thought leader and Getting Things Done (GTD) author.

I was eager to speak to David after the event. First to thank him for his contributions to my practice; second to inquire about becoming one of his Chicago productivity trainers.

He welcomed my accolades and warmly signed my book. How exciting! His reaction to my inquiry, however, stung a little. Without being rude, he dismissed my question practically before I finished asking it. I was a touch hurt at first.

As I reflect on the experience, I find a powerful, yet subtle message. David was not rejecting me, the individual. He was deleting a commitment he didn’t really want to make before it was even added to his to-do list. As if he were wearing a protective shield.

From his book:

“…once you really understand what it means, you’ll probably make fewer agreements. I know I did. I used to make a lot of them, just to win people’s approval. When I realized the price I was paying on the back end for not keeping those agreements, I became a lot more conscious about the ones I made.”

So thanks, David, for not agreeing to win my approval when we were face to face…only to disappoint me and you when we were not.

What defenses do or can you use to prevent to-do list overwhelm and regret?

Personality Mismatches


Although more difficult to align than physical complements, matching personality and responsibility can increase your chances of success for creating order in your organizations and in your life.

Personality assessment tools like DiSC and Myers Briggs measure varying dimensions, plotting the analyzed within a defined spectrum. People often conclude one end of the spectrum is “better” than the other. While this may be true for a specific task, it is not a universal truth. As Getting Organized author, Chris Crouch, put it, “Certain personality traits may have a significant influence on your ability to become more focused, organized and productive. It is not a matter of any particular trait being good or bad, it is more a matter of whether or not the traits are a good match or a bad match for what you are trying to do.”

While the incongruities may not surface immediately, they will eventually emerge in decreased work functioning indirectly (personal matters impede) or directly.

Self awareness breeds change, so it’s important to be aware of your prominent personality traits and of how the characteristics of the folks on your team may impact you. When you notice you need to complete something that requires going against the grain of your personality, see if you can delegate the task. If not, take frequent breaks or ask someone to support you through the task.

Are you matched well in your job?

email exhale

I’m working with an engineer in Chicago to help with an overflowing email inbox. Following are a few of the brave decisions he made to streamline and declutter:

  • Subscribe to a one-folder archive system instead of organizing into email folders (I’ll post more on this conceptin the coming weeks)
  • Install X1 to find anything in the “dump” within seconds (I’ll post more on X1 in the coming weeks)
  • Check email fewer times per day–moving from 15-20 to roughly 5–so he can increase his email processing time and decrease interruptions
  • Reduce the number of emails in his inbox–from a couple thousand to roughly 50 (or to only those from the last rolling seven days)
    • He went through steps on his own similar to the ones posted here and got his number under a thousand with great determination, but relatively little time
    • We’ll work together to get him closer to his goal by establishing a task tracking system he can use to defer work & delegated tasks; he’s considering paper planners as a possible solution
  • Reduce the number of years of information sitting in Outlook by archiving a .pst file.
  • Customize Outlook to perform routine tasks to his liking

What kinds of things are you doing to streamline email?

 Eat Frogs for Breakfast

We all struggle with prioritization from time to time. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we already know what’s more important and what needs to get finished today. We know what we need to do in order to meet our deadlines. And when we’re engaged in reaching our goals, we know what needs to be done next to push them along. We’re just not slowing down enough to listen.

If you want to consistently spend time in a committed and purposeful manner, consider adopting this new daily habit:

At the end of each day, review your tasks to make a plan for the next working day. Pick three-a frog, a dream and a wild card.

Start by identifying the biggest, most important task you need to complete-the frog. (There’s an old adage, if you have to eat a frog, don’t spend a lot of time looking at it first. And if you have to eat two of them, start with the ugliest.) Maybe it’s strategic work that requires focused think time, or perhaps it’s something you have a burning desire to procrastinate for untold emotional reasons. No matter, eating your largest, ugliest frog first will give you the boost to help the rest of the day seem lighter.

Next, pick a dream. The daily grind is rich with externally-driven tasks and rarely prompts you to insert assignments related to your personal, inwardly-driven goals. To move yourself toward your ambitions, consciously include taking one step toward your dreams. You’ll see, over time they will develop into reality.

Lastly, select one critical task of your choice-the wild card.

Put the three items you picked on top of your to do list. Will you accomplish more than three things the following day? Maybe, but no matter what else happens, you’ll focus on the three most important things first. (And you’ll sleep easier knowing what’s ahead of you the next day.)

It’s going to be tough, but stick to the plan you outlined. Eat the frog. Reach for the dream. But do not initiate other tasks before completing the three you selected. One easy way to make this practice a reality: don’t check your email until you’ve eaten the frog, legs and all.

The sleek design from this Iceland-headquartered company is one of the reasons the aesthetically-minded might prefer the Action Day Planner sold at Staples. The functionality of the system is likely why they will use it to get them and keep them organized.

It features:

  • Diary section
  • Super cool 2-page year calendar
  • Two-page spread for each week with room for tasks to execute, goals and projects, and projects delegated
  • 35 pages for meeting notes

action day planner image 1describe the image

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