The Three Words of Organization

Time management organizedLet’s talk about time management organization for a second. Some people are naturally organized. Beautifully labeled file folders and neatly kept calendars come easily to them. The rest of us have to work hard to keep all of our deadlines and obligations from falling through the cracks. No matter where you fall on the organization spectrum, I’ve found there are three simple words that solve most organization problems…

Write. It. Down.

I know. Seems obvious right? But I like to keep things simple, and if we distill most time management organization problems down to the core of the issue, difficulties arise when we don’t have a good system for writing things down.

You might be asking, “Where?” and “How?” Then you’re developing a system, make sure it has the following three characteristics:

1. Easy

Writing down your tasks should be simple and only take a moment or two. If you use a paper calendar, that means keeping a pen clipped to it at all times. If you’re using an app or some sort of digital calendar, that means making sure it’s accessible at all times, and only requires one or two clicks to enter an event.

2. One place

Everything should be written down in one place. Writing things down does no good if you have to remember where you wrote it. I recommend having one list for short-term tasks and one calendar for long term tasks. The calendar is where you keep track of long-term obligations and deadlines. You use your calendar to make your daily list of tasks to complete. Remember, your list is not a collection of everything you have to do, it’s a collection of everything you plan to do today.

3. Consistent

Whatever system you use, make sure you use it consistently. Every appointment gets written down every time. The moment you start thinking, “I’ll just remember this one, it’s no big deal,” that’s when the system begins to break down and disorganization creeps in.

When I start to feel disorganized and out of control, sure enough, it’s because I stopped writing things down. Keep your organization simple for the best success!

Need help staying organized? Check out The Time Diet task planner! Or watch the instructional video below!

4 Tools You Need in Your Time Management Toolbox

Time Management ToolboxWe all know that we need some kind of list and some kind of calendar to have a well-organized time management system, but what else do we need? What else do we need in our time management toolbox? Make sure you keep these four essential tools close to you.

1. A Pen

How many times have you meant to write something down…and forgotten? We usually do this when we get a deadline and aren’t prepared to notate it in some way. Keep a pen clipped to your To-Do list so it doesn’t get lost among the jumble of other pens that disappear from your desk drawer. Keep a digital list? That’s great! Make sure to keep it with you at all times so you don’t fall victim to forgetting tasks either.

2. The Helpful Friend

Different friends fill different roles in our lives. Some are there to make sure we have fun. Some are there to cry on, others to support us, others to listen to our excuses, and others to tell us what we want to hear. Then there is the friend who doesn’t let you accept your own excuses and tells you to quit whining and get to work when you need to hear it most. Know who that friend is and let him or her help you.

3. Your Blinders

We all have our unique Time Killers- those little things that waste your time without your permission. You need to figure out how to put your “time management blinders” on so they don’t distract you while you’re working. Does that mean putting your smartphone out of sight? Does it mean closing your door occasionally? Figure out your blinder strategy in advance so you don’t lose your productivity to distracted work

4. Your “Why”

Why are you working so hard? Is it to support your family? Reach a personal goal? Reconnect with your “why” on a daily basis. It makes the “how” so much easier.

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You’re Doing it Wrong: Calendar Edition

Time Management Doing it WrongCalendars: We all have them, but we could probably all use them more effectively. They are the central component of our time management system, and yet we struggle to keep them organized. If you’re having a hard time taming your calendar, you might be doing it wrong! Check out these three common mistakes people make when it comes to calendars and how to fix them.

1. Not Using Start Dates

If you look at your calendar and see only due dates, it’s no wonder you’re stressed! Due dates tell us when something must be finished. Start dates determine when you plan to begin it! This week, challenge yourself to set a start date for every due date you put in your calendar. Start dates define when “later” is.

2. Paper vs Digital

When it comes to calendars, if it’s broke…fix it! Sometimes people struggle to keep using a certain kind of calendar even if it’s not working for them. If your paper calendar just isn’t cutting it, try out a new app on your phone. If a digital calendar is frustrating you, bust out the trusty paper pocket calendar (and don’t worry about being made fun of!)

3. Forgetting to set appointments for your Desserts

The enjoyable “Desserts” in your life deserve real estate on your calendar just like every other appointment in your life. If your root canal appointment makes it onto your calendar, but your weekend hike doesn’t…why is that? Putting your enjoyable tasks on equal footing with your work makes you more likely to actually give yourself the breaks you deserve.

Remember, your calendar should help add organization to the chaos, not further stress you out!

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5 Questions to Ask Your Unfinished To-Do List

Time Management to-do listOh, the frustration of an unfinished to-do list! Those lingering tasks left without a satisfying check mark beside them. Before you simply roll your unfinished tasks onto tomorrow’s list, stop! Here are five questions to ask yourself when you end the day with uncompleted responsibilities.

1. Why?

What happened that left tasks lingering? Did unexpected situations pop up that took priority? Were you unfocussed? Were you working inefficiently? Taking a moment to analyze the why behind your unfinished list can help you correct the problem in the future.

2. Am I Being Realistic?

Perhaps your list remains habitually unfinished because your expectations are too high. You only have so many hours in the day and you can’t work at your peak efficiency non-stop. You’d never expect to write War and Peace in a day, but maybe that’s what you’re demanding of yourself.

3. Is Everything Necessary?
If the same tasks have lingered at the bottom of your list for weeks…and the world has kept on spinning, are they really necessary? If so, you need to make one of them a focus task for tomorrow and clear it from your plate. If not, get rid of it! Just because you’d like to do something or it might be helpful, doesn’t mean it’s necessary.

4. Have I Said No Recently?

If your list keeps piling up, are you saying “Yes” to too many tasks that don’t realistically fit in your schedule? When was the last time you said “No” to a task? Can’t think of when? Make it tomorrow.

5. What Can I Do Differently Tomorrow?

If you didn’t finish your list today, and you do everything exactly the same tomorrow…you probably won’t finish your list then either. What change will you make to produce a different result? Do you need to wake up earlier? Take an energizing walk over lunch so you’re more productive in the afternoon? Turn off Facebook so you’re more focused?

Come up with a game plan that will put you on the road to success.

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In Defense of the Paper Calendar

Time Management Paper CalendarGrocery store check-writers.
90 year old ladies who don’t use email.
That one person who isn’t on Facebook yet.

I have been compared to all of these people because of one simple fact: I carry a paper calendar in my purse everywhere I go. I use my smartphone to message my friends, purchase my lattes, tell me directions, and accept credit cards, but when it comes to my deadlines, I rely on good ‘ol fashioned paper and pen. When people discover this, they are shocked. “Emily,” they say. “You write a time management blog. Why on earth do you use a paper calendar?” Allow me to explain…

The short answer: It works for me.

As a time management speaker, my goal is not to tell you what I do and convince you it’s best. My goal is to help you find what works best for YOU and have the dedication to stick to that plan.

The long answer: I’ve chosen to stick with my paper calendar for three main reasons:

1. Flexibility

I like to be able to write some things big and some things small. Some things get stars, others don’t. Some repeated events just get a line through the whole week. My formatting options are limit-less.

2. Big Picture

Many of the phone calendar apps out there make it difficult to see your week at a glance due to the screen size. When I open my paper calendar, I can see all the week’s deadlines at once. It gives me a good “big picture” idea of what I have in store.

3. Retention

I find that I remember things more if I write them rather than type them. Perhaps it’s because I type pretty much everything else in my life and when I write something in pen, it stands out.

The biggest drawback:

Sharing. I’ve almost switched to a digital calendar many times because it is easier to share my schedule with others. To get around this, I keep a Google calendar with shared events that others need to see, and then transfer them to my paper version. Duplicated work? Yes. Inefficient? Possibly. But so far, the extra few seconds of transferring those deadlines has been worth it.

So, fellow paper fans, raise that pen high with pride! No longer should you be labeled a “technophobe” or “dinosaur.” You’re just doing what works for YOU and that is all that matters.

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3 Tips for Speedy Spring Cleaning

TIme Management Spring CleaningI hate spring cleaning, so when we begin that yearly chore, I want it done fast. Try these three tips to streamline your efforts and get rid of that dust and dirt as efficiently as possible.

1. Tackle Clutter First

It’s really hard to clean your counters and closets when there are piles of junk in the way. Your massive cleaning spree will go much faster if you get rid of the clutter first. Put two large bins in the middle of the room: one for trash and one for donations.

For me, it’s hard to motivate myself to take a trip down to the thrift store to donate one or two items, but if I have a whole car full of stuff, that’s a different story! Have a hard time parting with things? Rather than asking yourself, “Will I ever use this again?” ask yourself, “Is it worth taking up space in my house on the off chance I will need this in 5 years?

2. Pack Your “Toolbox”

Once you begin your cleaning adventure, it’s most efficient to methodically tackle one room at a time. Instead of cleaning all the mirrors in the house, then all the doors, then all the sinks, pack all of your cleaning materials in a cleaning caddy and carry it with you from room to room.  Once you finish a room, close the door and move on to the next. Seeing that one room is done is motivation to start the next one.

3. Start With the Most Noticeable Room

Results inspire us to keep working. Start with the room you use the most so you’ll see the most dramatic and immediate impact from your efforts. For us, that means tackling the kitchen. Once the kitchen is clean, the whole house feels more organized and I feel motivated to keep going. There is nothing worse than spending the whole afternoon cleaning, and then looking around to see  that it didn’t seem to make much difference!

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No, You Won’t Just Remember

The Time Diet Writing“I don’t have to write it down, I’ll just remember it.”  We’ve all heard someone repeat this famous line as an excuse for not keeping a calendar or written list of tasks. Sometimes, we need a reminder that no matter how good our memory is, we can always use a little help remembering it all. I definitely got that reminder this week. Check out my story, and the three excuses we tell ourselves to avoid putting pen to paper.

My Mistake

On Saturday, my husband and I hosted our annual holiday party. We had everything in place – appetizers, dinner, dessert – except one thing: a list to keep track of it all. We host a party every year and I never write down a menu, so I didn’t think it was important.

After the last guest went home, and I went up stairs feeling satisfied with our gathering, it hit me. I went to the fridge to be sure, and my suspicion was confirmed. We forgot to put out one of the side dishes. The vegetable salad with the tri-colored peppers my husband had meticulously chopped into tiny pieces sat untouched in its Tupperware.

The anger I felt was perhaps unjustified given the situation, but this was not about the salad. In my Time Diet workshops, I reinforce the importance of writing things down, and here I had not taken my own advice. A simple written menu would have ensured we remembered to put out all the food in the hustle-bustle of hosting a party. I’m reminded of the three reasons to write things down:

1) You always forget just when you “know” you’ll remember

I keep a detailed calendar and pride myself on staying on top of my deadlines. This party was not something I was worried about. It’s six different food items, how hard could it possibly be? I “knew” I’d remember everything, but that is exactly when things started to slip my mind. In the heat of the moment, even the simplest things become easy to forget. It’s important to take a few seconds to write down your tasks so you’re sure you meet your deadlines.

2) Just because it’s worked in the past, doesn’t mean it’ll work forever

Each time you don’t write down a deadline, but manage to remember it anyway, you train yourself that it’s OK. You build a false confidence that you don’t need to write anything down because your memory is excellent. Inevitably, you reach a point where you don’t remember it anymore, and now you haven’t trained yourself to be organized. I had myself convinced that I could throw a party for 50 of our friends without writing anything down. That was silly.

3) Writing things down doesn’t take a ton of time

We have all seen those people who make immaculate to-do lists that look like works of art. We’re convinced that it took longer to make the list than accomplish anything on it and we tell ourselves that list-making is a waste of time and it’s better to just start doing than to waste time organizing. If you set out to waste time making a list, you certainly can, but it doesn’t need to be like that. Organization only takes a few seconds. It doesn’t need to be fancy or elaborate. It just has to be consistent.

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How Many Hats Have You Worn Today?

If you feel as though you’re expected to be multiple different people during the day and fill many different roles, you’re not alone. Most of us wear many different hats in our lives and it is a real challenge to our time management. Learning to wear only one at a time can greatly increase our efficiency and decrease our stress in three ways.

1. Easier to Focus

When people become overwhelmed with work, they commonly report feeling pulled in many different directions at once. When you try to be too many things at once, you can’t focus on any of them. You can be an accountant, and a salesperson, and a trainer, and a webmaster, and a student, and an athlete BUT you can’t be all of those things at the same time.  When you put on one hat at the beginning of the day, try to finish as many of those responsibilities at once before removing that hat and putting on another one. This isn’t always feasible in a fast-paced work environment, but the more you can try to organize your time based on the roles you play, the less scattered and more focused you’ll feel.

2. Maximize “The Zone”

“In the Zone,” “In the Groove,” “In Flow”…No matter what you call it, being on a productivity streak feels really good. We’re so engaged and focused, we hardly notice that time is even passing at all. This state of focus is great for motivation and productivity, but it’s hard to achieve when we’re jumping back and forth between tasks haphazardly. Sticking with one role as long as you can before switching to another helps maximize your chances of getting into a productivity zone and fending off Time Killers.

 3. Remove the Blur

Wearing one hat at a time can be particularly helpful in removing the blur between your work life and your personal life. Separating those two worlds can be difficult, especially if you frequently work from home. However, this can quickly lead to a feeling of burnout when your work invades every corner of your life and you have no place to escape. When you take your work hat off and put your “family and friends” hat on, leave it that way.  Enjoy a meal without griping about your schedule. Enjoy a Saturday afternoon without worrying about the stack of work awaiting you on Monday. If you don’t own a “relaxation” hat, get one.

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The Big Picture Plan

A huge part of having good time management skills is getting things done in an efficient manner, however, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day planning and lose sight of your overarching goals. Having a big picture plan can help refine your focus and give you the peace of mind that you are on track.

This week I started to get antsy. I’m juggling multiple projects right now and I was starting to feel increasingly worried that I didn’t have a handle on how everything was going to be finished. I was being productive each day, but my days felt disjointed and haphazard. (Sound familiar?)

I knew I needed a clear, big picture plan. I sat down with a calendar and mapped out which projects I was going to be focused on each week. I sketched out my plan all the way through August. Now, I must say, I feel far less anxious about my workload.

Rules for a Big Picture Plan

1) Use a New Sheet of Paper

Your big picture plan can’t be on the same calendar you use to keep track of normal deadlines. That is far too cluttered.

2) Don’t Write Down Every Single Obligation

The purpose of the big picture plan is to show you broad projects to focus on. This is not the place to script out exactly which hours you’ll devote to which project.

3) Try to Pick 1-2 Focus Tasks

No doubt you will still need to juggle multiple tasks at once, but choosing one or two tasks that will be your priority during a set time period really helps to rein in your focus. This doesn’t mean you can’t work on other things. It just means you’ll know what your priorities are.

Here is an example of the tasks I put in my big picture plan for May.

May 1st-5th: Prep Time Diet Workshop

May 6th-14th: School concerts

May 15th– 25th: Record online class videos

May 26th-31st: Work on summer class

What tasks will you add to your big picture plan?

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Technorati Keywords Time Management, Efficiency,

Photo Credit: Chanpipat

The Rule of Three

Do you have more than three big things on your plate at any given time? If so, you might be overloading yourself.

This weekend, I stumbled across an article in a parenting magazine that I found surprisingly relevant to time management. (It should be noted that I am not a parent, however, when you’re on an airplane and forget to bring a book, you’re at the mercy of whatever reading material the person before you left in the seat-back pocket.)

The article was about how to make sure your child is engaged in enough activities with out being overloaded with too many things. The author referenced something called “The Rule of Three.”

The Rule of Three comes from the chain of command in the U.S. Marine Corps. Apparently, Marines are given no more than three things to worry about at any given time. There are three people assigned to a fire team with the fourth being their leader. Three teams are assigned to one squad and three squads are assigned to one platoon. The number “3” wasn’t just chosen at random either. The Marines experimented with a “Rule of Four,” and a “Rule of Two,” neither of which was as effective and efficient.

The point of the parenting article was to say that if you have your child involved in more than three activities (including school) you are asking them to keep track of more than a Marine, and that just isn’t fair!

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think that this is good advice for everyone, not just for parents of stressed-out children. Do we have the luxury of being able to limit ourselves to three things at a time? Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Often, if we want to go to school, or have a job, or make time for our families and friends, we will end up with far more than three things to keep track of.

Therefore, I think The Rule of Three applies to focus almost more than involvement. You may be involved with countless responsibilities, but recognize that you’ll have to scale back your focus on some while you increase your involvement in others. This type of balance is what The Time Diet is all about.

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Time Management, Efficiency,

Photo Credit: Teerapun