My Focus Increased With This Small Change

time management changeFocus. It’s the time management epitome of productivity we all seek to achieve. This week, I found a surprising way to achieve a greater level of focus, and it started with something I initially dreaded…

My “Big” Change

This week I moved my desk. I wasn’t looking forward to it, mostly because I have a ton of STUFF that needs to move along with it. After all the schlepping, and after my space was all set up, I realized that the placement of the power outlet meant it would be easier to put my computer monitor on the other side of the desk than it was before.

If you’re a detail-oriented person like me, you know that is HUGE! I’m now turned differently in my chair, looking a different direction, looking at different things, seeing a different part of my desk. But a funny thing happened as I began to work this week..

…I noticed that the move made my more focused.

A Change of Scenery

We know a change of scenery can be just what the brain needs sometimes to tune out distractions, but that change of scenery doesn’t need to be something as drastic as a trip to Maui. (Though my desk move didn’t come with a Mai Tai, and for that, I’m disappointed.)

This week, what small change can you make to your working space that will shift your environment? I bet your focus increases like mine did!

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A Golden Rule of Time Management

Time Management golden ruleThe ability to say no is a skill we all need, but knowing when to say no can be even more important. This week I was reminded of one of the golden rules of time management that keeps our schedules trim and our minds focused. Here is what happened..

Saying NO

At a board meeting last week, one of my friends informed everyone of a really cool business opportunity that came her way. We were all impressed and congratulated her, until she mentioned that she wasn’t going to take it because it didn’t fit in with the mission and focus of her business. If I was impressed before, I was amazed now.

Saying no is hard. We’re trained to say yes to everything because we never know where things will lead, and at the very least, it’s a good thing to add to the resume. But after casting a wide net of opportunity, we need to focus in on the things that are most important to us, and that means saying no to the things that aren’t.

Time is a valuable resource and every moment we spend on something beyond our focus is one moment we can’t spend on the essential activities that will propel us forward.

Think of It Like Shopping

If saying no is still difficult, think of it in terms of money and shopping. If you were out shopping and saw a pair of pants you loved, but they didn’t fit, would you still buy them? Probably not, because you’d rather use the money to buy something that does fit and that you’ll actually wear. Think of your time in the same way. You have limited time and need to save it for the things that best fit  your focus and priorities.

Remember this golden rule of time management: if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

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When the Malaysian Plane is Found, I Can Stop Watching The News

Malaysia.airlinesI usually have a fairly healthy relationship with current events. I read enough to stay informed, but not so much as to become entrenched in the 24-hour news cycle. However, every so often an event comes along that strikes a chord with me and I become obsessed. This week I found that concern and worry about a current event can quickly turn into a consuming problem that affects day-to-day work and peace of mind. I’d like to share the strategies I used to tune it out.

A Shocking Story

When news of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 first broke last weekend, I was shocked, worried, saddened and frustrated. As somebody who struggles with worrying, and had to overcome a dislike of flying to be a traveling speaker, I have spent countless hours convincing myself that air travel is not something to worry about. “It’s safer than driving a car. Planes are inspected every day. They are designed to keep gliding even after engine failure.”

Now that this plane had gone completely missing, I just couldn’t accept that there were no answers. “What happened to all those people? What about their families? Will they get answers? I have a computer that fits in my pocket, a car that senses rain water, but we can’t find a giant airplane?”

My New Obsession

I dealt with this frustration and sadness by reading news articles, EVERY news article that came out. I checked Twitter constantly, I read the USA Today blog updates every few hours. I even read conspiracy theories, wild hypotheses, and crazy speculation. I found myself interrupting my work to check these “updates.” Then I realized three things:

1. There is always something new to read

When our only source of news was newspapers, there was a finite end to the day’s current events. Now, we have the ability to keep reading forever. There will always be a new perspective, new article, or the same article with a new headline. At some point, you just have to stop.

2. Speculation hides as information

When there is no new news to report, people still have to write about something so they speculate. They write about facts that probably don’t really matter, but it fills up a page (er…screen). While I first felt more informed because of my news obsession, I quickly realized I had just spent more time on the internet.

3. News makes distraction seem OK

At first I didn’t feel guilty for allowing myself to be distracted by these stories. This is important! I told myself. Then, I realized that I was just making excuses for my lack of focus. The news had become my new Time Killer, and it needed to stop. I wasn’t doing anything to help and my worry was getting the best of me.

I have decided that I’m no longer going to check on this story every hour. What is your Time Killer you need to let go of this week?

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Must Focus, Must Focus…Oh Look, Something Shiny!

Time Management Excited PuppyDo you manage your time like a hyper puppy? You know the feeling. You have a great idea, a sudden surge of inspiration and throw yourself full throttle into a task…until you get distracted by something shiny in a different direction and abruptly change course. Then it happens again. And again. Pretty soon your week is over and you have a bunch of half-completed projects, you’re exhausted, and feel you’ve achieved nothing. Let’s examine this phenomenon…

First of all, don’t be so hard on yourself. There are some definite up sides to the “shiny object” approach.

The Upside: You get things started. Sometimes half the time management battle is finding the motivation to begin a task. If you find a sudden surge of inspiration to begin, you definitely don’t have that problem! You’ve gotten further than the people who let a task linger on their, list making excuses about why they simply must wait for “later” or “someday.”

The Downside: You never finish. When we jump quickly from one task to the next with no focus, we lose all the benefits we gained with our quick and motivated beginning. Instead of capitalizing on that motivation and pushing through to the finish, we let it go.

I’ll admit that starting a project is exponentially more exciting than finishing one. (The three half-written book projects I have on my hard drive right now are proof positive of that statement, though I think I’ve finally settled on one I like.) The trick is to keep in touch with that initial excitement as you drive toward the finish line.

Defining your focus can help keep you on track. Too much planning in the beginning can restrict a great idea, or cause a bad case of “analysis paralysis” which means you never really start. However, as you get further into your project, it’s important to start narrowing down where you see it going and define some goals.

Finishing a project becomes much easier once you can define where a finish line actually is.

Graduation is coming up! Do you have a present for your niece? nephew? neighbor? friend? Why not take care of it now?

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This Frog is a Multitasker. Are you?

time management multitaskerThis week I read an article explaining how a certain breed of frog looks for multitasking when selecting its mate. Oh how similar we are to our amphibian friends in our obsession with doing more than one thing at a time!

The truth is, while multitasking sounds important and necessary, we need to separate what is possible and productive from what is eroding the quality of our work. Try these tips to “toad-ally” revamp your approach to multitasking (Ouch. That pun hurt. You’re welcome.)

1. Don’t kid yourself

I can hold a coffee and my computer, conduct a conference call, eat a sandwich, and roll a suitcase through the airport…for about 5 seconds before I fall flat on my face in a puddle of nonfat double shot mocha. Multitasking might be possible, at least for a little bit, but eventually it produces lower quality, distracted work, which can lead to oversight and disaster. Don’t convince yourself that your constant multitasking is producing the same results as focused work.

2. Do many things, but let them take their turn

Just because you fill many different roles and responsibilities, doesn’t mean you have to attend to them all at one time. Sometimes people say, “I have to multitask, I’m constantly juggling multiple projects at once.” Great! But that doesn’t mean you have to jump haphazardly from one to the next and attempt multiple different tasks at once. You can still maintain the appearance of a multitasker by hyper-focusing on one project at a time, even if it means tackling several projects in the same day.

3. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

With the rise of smartphones, people essentially have a small computer in their pockets constantly, which makes multitasking seem much more feasible. Just because you can do two things at once, doesn’t mean it’s the most efficient, productive, and focused use of your time. Before you split your attention, ask yourself: “Am I doing two things because I must or because I can?”

In our on-the-go society, occasional multitasking is inevitable, but the more we strive for singular focus rather than split distraction, the better.

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And The Oscar Goes To…Time Management?

Time Management OscarOh, The Oscars. That yearly tradition when many of us sit down to see our favorite movie stars, then collectively look at our watches around 9:30pm, realize we’re 3 hours into the show, the “good” awards haven’t even started, and we all have to work in the morning. We may groan at the lengthy Oscar telecast, but don’t we all have tasks in our lives that seem to go on far too long? Follow these three tips to keep your lengthy tasks in check.

Give Yourself Deadlines

Many people contribute to the success of a film, and the directors of the Academy Awards know, if given the time, actors will thank each and every one of them. Just like award winners have time limits on their acceptance speeches, you must give yourself deadlines for your tasks.  According to Parkinson’s Law, work expands to fill the time we give it. If you give yourself a week to finish something, it will take a week. If you give yourself a day, it will take a day. There will always be “one more thing” that can be done, just like there will always be one more person to thank, but at some point, it just needs to be finished.

Leave A Buffer

If you plan for everything in your day to go perfectly, well, you’re likely to be disappointed! Sometimes things take longer than they should. Mistakes happen, we hit a wall, we have a technology mishap, etc…Setting your own deadline a few days before the real one creates a valuable “buffer zone” to plan for these things. After all, when Ben Affleck gets snubbed for best director, and then ends up on stage anyway, you just let him talk. As long as he wants to. Make up the time somewhere else.

Focus

One of the easiest ways to instantly make your work take longer is to lose your focus. Constantly checking your email, sneaking a peak at Facebook, looking at all the other tasks still waiting on your to-do list –– all these things distract us from our primary objective: finish the task at hand as efficiently as possible. We lose all hope that the Oscars will be anywhere close to three hours when they start showing seemingly un-related musical numbers and the presenters start deviating from the script. Focus, people, focus!

By forcing yourself to focus and get your work done efficiently, you’ll find that some of your most dreaded tasks really don’t take as long as you once  thought. You’ll spend that extra time thanking yourself for having the discipline to stick to your schedule…and of course, thanking The Academy.

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Fear of a Blank Page: Conquering Writer’s Block

Scorpions, heights, blank Microsoft Word screens. Those three things terrify me about equally as much.

We’ve all suffered from writer’s block at some point or another. Whether it is a paper for a class, a report for a boss, or an awkward email, we’ve all suffered the frustration of wasting time while struggling to find the right words. Writer’s block happens to the best of us, but it doesn’t have to stretch on indefinitely. The following strategies can help lessen the time spent staring at that blinking cursor.

1. Speak It

If you can’t find the perfect way to write something, say it out loud. Don’t think about it in advance, just start talking. Then, write down what you said, even if it was rambling and included a lot of “sortas” and “likes.” Once you see the basic structure of the point you’re trying to make, it’s easier to adjust your words to be more coherent.

2. Start in the Middle

Sometimes the first sentence is the most difficult to write. Don’t let crafting your introductory words hold up your whole composition. Just write them last. There is no rule that states you must write your words in the order they will appear. Come back to the beginning later. Often, the beginning is easier to write once you’ve finished your thoughts anyway.

3. Do Something Else

If your ideas just aren’t flowing, sometimes it’s best to step away from the project for a while and complete another task. Our best ideas often come to us while our minds are busy doing something else. Just don’t put off the task too long. You can spend a lifetime waiting for the “perfect” set of words to come to you.

Formulating complex ideas into clear, concise sentences isn’t always easy, but the more you practice, the less of a drain writer’s block will be on your time management.

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Worry is the Thief of…Time Management?

When we are stressed about something, we try not to think about it. However, there is a difference between avoiding a worry that is stealing our focus, and putting off a dreaded task indefinitely. One is a healthy way to avoid stress. The other can lead to a time management disaster.

It’ll Get Done!

In college, I had a friend who functioned as sort of a “stress police” for me. Whenever she caught me stressing out about an assignment, she would say, “Don’t worry about it! It’ll get done!”

I think about those words frequently. I want so badly to believe they are sage advice. How nice it must be to simply not worry about the work we have to do and trust that it will just…happen. As I add more roles and responsibilities to my life, I want even more to believe that the “It’ll all get done” attitude is the way to go. I’ve come to the conclusion that the attitude itself isn’t so bad. It’s just missing a step. It’s missing the plan.

Hiding Your Worries

When we are staring down a big, difficult task that stresses us out, we will sometimes try to put it out of our heads and think about other things. This relieves the stress in the short term, but just delays the inevitable. It’s like throwing a sheet over the dishes in the sink. You can no longer see them, but the mess is still there. This isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes you have to throw a sheet over your mess so it doesn’t stress you out while you’re working on other things. However, you need a plan for when to take the sheet off. Otherwise, you have just created a nasty procrastination habit that is going to cause more problems for you later.

When you find yourself worrying about a dreaded task, stop. Either:

1. Start the task now or

2. Create a written plan for when the task will begin

The Plan is Key

Once you have a realistic plan, then you can allow yourself to say, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll get done!” Now, you’re not relying on things to just “happen,” you have a concrete plan for how they are going to happen. Of course, something can always go wrong, but you have little control over that, and we all know how useless it is to worry about something we can’t control. So go ahead! Allow yourself to stop worrying about that upcoming task! As long as you have a plan for its completion.

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