To Do Lists and Schedules
• To figure out how long something takes, time yourself 3x doing it as you normally do to get an average, including any interruptions.
• Decide tonight what your most pressing task is tomorrow and do it first.
• A TO DO without a WHEN doesn’t get done.
• Consider — deleting (what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t do it?); delaying (rescheduling for a better time); delegating (is there someone who can do it better, faster, cheaper, or good enough?); diminishing (shortcuts or shaving down)
• One system in one place — don’t use a kitchen calendar + electronic calendars for you and your spouse + kid’s soccer schedule posted on the refrigerator. One calendar for everything.
Dots and Dashes
• Think of tasks as either quick dots or longer dashes
• Learn to concentrate for an hour
• A timer is your best friend
• Focus on completion
• Physical movement improves concentration
• Fuel yourself properly. Eat protein and carbs for breakfast. Drink plenty of water during the day. Move around and stretch every hour.
• Never check your email first thing in the morning. If you do, you’re letting other people manage your time.
• If you MUST check email first thing, give yourself a short time limit. Delete. Skim for emergencies. Don’t get sucked in.
• Respond immediately to emails that will take you less than 2 minutes. If it requires more time, then schedule it for later.
• If you are overwhelmed by your inbox, declare Email Bankruptcy and delete it all. If it was important you’ll see it again. If you don’t, then it wasn’t too important after all, eh?
• Set yahoo groups or google alerts to weekly digest
• Most email isn’t critical. Say it with me. Say it until you believe it.
• Never feel guilty about your email inbox. It’s a tool for you to use; not the other way around.
• Only check your phone messages at designated times and make sure your kids/spouse/parents/friends know when that is. If they have a phone, they have lots of people they can call in an emergency. It doesn’t always have to be you.
• Get rid of your call-waiting
• Unplug during mealtimes, in the car, when your kids are around, at the theater, when you’re with friends. Don’t be That Guy.
• Again, your phone is for you; not the other way around.
• Don’t play games
• Take shortcuts. Skim.
• Delete or hide boring people and/or people who post too much.
• Set timer
• Bribe yourself
• Focus on the task for 5 minutes. Then 5 more. It’s the same way we get on the treadmill.
• Keep a log for a week. Did you avoid all tasks or just some? See if you can find a pattern.
• Find something fun about the task
• Break job down into smaller bites
• When writing, make it easy to pick up where you left off — stop writing mid-sentence when you stop for the day/lunch
• Start anywhere. Lots of writers start with a scene or with the ending. Just start.
• If you don’t want to paint the bookcase, don’t. Either live with the old paint or get someone else to do it.
• Reframe your thinking about the task. Yes, it’s difficult to write a novel, but not TOO difficult; people do it every day.
• We’re grown ups – we do things we don’t want to
• Declutter everything — all the rooms of your house, all your drawers, car, desk, computer desktop, shelves, cabinets, closets
• Find a place for everything and keep everything in its place. Never waste time searching for stuff again.
• Declutter your brain too. Write things down instead of trying to remember it all. Keep a notebook with you.
• Don’t save stuff because you think it might be worth something someday. Visit eBay and find out.
• Go for a Trial Separation from your stuff. Box it up, tape it, write the date on the box. If it’s still taped shut in 6 months, toss it.
• Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, and … Refuse. As in refuse to buy any more stuff. Like Grandma said, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
• Ask these questions: Do I want this? Do I need this? Do I have room for this? Do I want to pay to store it?
• Don’t focus on your stuff … focus on your space.
• Keep only clothing that fits, makes you look fabulous, and that people compliment you on. Don’t keep outfits that mock you.
• Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you need to fill it.
• Determine your top priority for the day – the one thing you’d sacrifice everything else to achieve. Then do it.
• Tackle your hardest job first and save your favorite tasks till the end so you look forward to them. Helps with procrastination too.
• Prioritize like they do in business — which task makes you money?
• If the tasks seem equal, ask: How long will it take? What’s the return on my time investment? When’s the deadline?
• Learn selective perspective. Which things really need to be perfect (query, manuscript, math) and which can be good enough (housecleaning, store-bought cupcakes for bake sale)?
• Figure out who belongs to that voice in your head telling you stuff isn’t good enough. Then get them to shut up.
• Back away if you’ve worked on it too long. There’s a law of diminishing returns.
• Impose deadlines on yourself. Something done imperfectly on time is usually better than something late.
• Allow yourself the opportunity to do it poorly. Just do it.
• Recognize degrees of excellence. On a scale of 1-10, a 7 doesn’t look much different from a 10 to most people.
• What’s the worst that can happen? If you fail, you never have to do it again and/or you learn something that helps you succeed.
• Multi-tasking is a myth; nobody can do it.
• Don’t confuse multi-tasking with doing a lot of stuff. Multi-tasking is trying to do all those things at the same time.
• Your brain simply can’t focus on two separate things unless one of them is completely mindless. Like breathing. Or pumping blood.
• People multi-task because they’re worried. Seems better to work on everything so 100% of your tasks are 50% done. But you’d feel much more in control if 50% of your tasks were 100% done and you know you have a plan to finish the other 50%.
• Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment
• Focus on one job till it’s done or your time is up. Then focus on another one.
• Identify your problem areas – Desktop? Filing system? Emails? Reading material? Piles of stuff?
• Then prioritize – which is the biggest problem? Which is costing you the most money?
• Every day put things away, write that debit transaction in your check register, add that contact to your database, file that receipt.
• Don’t let your filing pile up. It makes it that much harder to find stuff.
• If you don’t have a file cabinet, go buy one. But set a limit on how many files you’ll keep. When you go over, one has to go. Same with paperwork within each file. Weed those files regularly. When you file this month’s water bill, shred last month’s.
• Put all your papers in one pile then sort into categories. Which category is most important? Put it on your To Do list then tackle the next most important pile.
• Insourcing and Outsourcing. It might be more cost-effective to hire someone to do certain tasks.
• Make a list of stuff you hate to do. Can anyone do those things better? What is your time worth?
• Enlist your kids and spouse
• Remember to monitor and mentor; don’t nag and micromanage. Set expectations/parameters then let it go.
• Celebrate their success to breed more success
• Don’t fall for the old trick of pretending a crappy job is the best they can do. Make them do it over as many times as necessary until they hit the mark of the expectations you agreed on previously. Stand firm.
Just Say No
• Decide if a project makes your heart SING or SINK. Even if it makes you sing, say no if it will crack your full loaded plate.
• Acknowledge their request by not laughing in their face; address your own limitations; offer an alternative.
• Thank you so much for asking, but I’m unavailable then.
• It sounds like a terrific opportunity that I’m going to miss.
• I know it will be a wonderful party. I’m disappointed to miss out on the fun but I have a conflict on that date.
• First defense is education. If my door is closed, I’m working.
• Set aside time when people have unconditional access to you, but be consistent and firm. Set timer.
• Give them a head’s up —”I’m going to shut my door and start writing in 10 minutes. Do you need anything?”
• Practice your catchphrases: I’m in the middle of something. How’s 2:00? …This week is impossible, but next Tuesday works.
• Ask how much time they need from you. If you can spare it, set your timer. Otherwise make appointment.
• Keep a log over the next week. Jot down who interrupted, how they interrupted, how long the interruption was, and how important it was. Then, schedule an intervention for them.
• Making yourself unavailable teaches others to think for themselves, solve problems, and make decisions. Empower your loved ones.
• Don’t interrupt yourself either. When writing, never stop to look something up. Don’t give up momentum. Insert a placeholder.
• Cousins to interruptions, but instead of being caused by other people, we create our own distractions.
• Focus and prioritize. What’s the one thing you need to get done this month/week/day/hour?
• Keep a log for a week. Note all the times you caved in to the siren call of your distractions, whatever they are. (I don’t use this but it might be helpful to download and try out for a few weeks to track where your time goes … https://www.rescuetime.com/tour_new )
• Then make a plan. If you can’t work because your desk is messy, clean it the night before. If your computer pings every time you get an email, shut it off. If you find yourself listening to your background music, shut it off. You get the idea. Take control.