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Posts Tagged: time management

My Time Management Reboot: The Pros and Cons of Electronic Systems and Why I Created a Hybrid

FilofaxIt pains me to announce that my grand experiment with using electronic time management systems has officially come to an end (sort of).  You see, for the past several years, I’ve been using a variety of tech tools to help organize my life and work—appointments, tasks, projects and more. But now, I’m back to paper (sort of).

Don’t worry: I’ll explain what I mean by “sort of” in a bit. In fact, I’m going to give you a complete overview of my brand new time management system. I’m calling this a “reboot” since it’s really an opportunity to start over fresh (which I just love).

But before I get into all that, I want to share what I learned about the pros and cons of electronic time management systems since this is one of the most common questions I receive regarding organization. Hopefully I can help at least a few of my dear readers avoid the struggles I’ve encountered for years now.

Warning: This article is quite long and detailed. It’s intended for those who really love this kind of stuff (like me). If you’re not interested in the pros and cons but you DO want to know more about my newly rebooted organizational system, skip to the last section labeled My New “Hybrid” System.

The Pros

Safety in the cloud

I moved to electronic systems after I lost my paper planner on an airplane in 2010. It was an absolute nightmare to recreate my appointments and to-do list from memory, and I didn’t do a very good job as you might imagine. That’s when I said, “There’s got to be a better way!” And voila, my electronic adventure began.

It’s absolutely true that electronic systems provide an extra element of safety. Even if you lose your computer (TOTAL NIGHTMARE!), you can still access your online accounts from your iPad, your smartphone, and other computers. And anything stored on your hard drive can be retrieved from backup files (I use Carbonite for those who are interested).

So this is one pro with a pretty powerful benefit. When it comes to paper organizational methods, there’s always a risk of loss. It’s rare that I lose things, but when it’s something this important, it’s pretty devastating. So the safety offered from electronic systems is hard to overlook.

Always at your fingertips

In theory, electronic tools are always in your pocket or just a click away—whether on your phone, tablet, or laptop. This means you should be able to quickly and easily capture information no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Unfortunately, even for a tech-savvy person like me, this proved to be far less simple than I initially imagined. To access online systems, you have to (duh!) have Internet access. Sadly, that’s not always possible. And even when it is, the wonderful world wide web isn’t always as fast as you’d like it to be when you just want to jot down a quick note.

Plus, I experienced a variety of syncing issues between my devices. Things I had input on my phone wouldn’t show up on my computer and vice versa. I’d spend hours troubleshooting, and with many of these problems, I never found solutions.

Some online task and project management systems are more up to speed on this kind of thing and have apps for your phone to make capturing information easy even when you’re offline. They then sync up with the online system when you have Internet access again. Others are installed directly on your computer as software and are ONLY available from that one device.

I’m sure there are many great systems that work seamlessly together, sync immediately and perfectly every time, and have tons of tools to integrate with multiple devices. My point in sharing this with you is to simply illustrate the importance of doing your research ahead of time. Know which devices you’re going to use, how you like to use them, and what you’re going to use them for and make sure the time management tech tools you select are designed to play nicely.

Sophisticated methodology

Electronic time management tools come in all shapes and sizes, from super simple to massively complex. Most offer a variety of features you can use or not use as you see fit. What that means is that you have the ability to create a specific, customized and sophisticated system for yourself. Depending on the tool you choose, you can use color codes, set priority levels, track progress, establish deadlines and even ask your system to remind you (via text or email or pop-up usually) of appointments or to-do items or anything else you so desire. If you’re willing to invest the time and go through the process of really defining your system, the right technology can provide almost any organizational feature you can dream of.

The Cons

Extra steps

For me, one of the biggest frustrations with electronic systems is that jotting down a quick note on a tech tool will never be as fast as grabbing a piece of paper and writing. Even if it’s just a click or two away, it still requires a different kind of thinking. If I’m in the zone working on something (as I am now, in a Word document) and I’m suddenly reminded of a task I need to add to my to-do list, I’d have to click out of my current application, click into my task management system, determine the right place to log this item, perhaps complete some other unnecessary parameters (like due date, etc.) and then click back over to my Word document. Compare that to my new system—a running paper list in my planner (more on that later). I can grab a pen, jot my to-do item down, and keep going with my current task.

To circumvent this problem in the past (when I was using electronic tools), I collected post-it notes throughout the day and then went into my task management system at the end of the day to log all the items at once. While this worked for a while, it really just added an extra step and extra clutter. Plus, too often I got distracted and ended up with piles of post-it notes that hadn’t been entered.

Learning a new system

Any electronic system is going to have a learning curve. It takes time to train yourself on something new, no matter how simple or “intuitive” it may be. Plus, you have to learn how to make the system work for your needs. Some of the features won’t apply to you while others will sound good in theory but in practice you’ll find them to be overkill. So you need a good 30 days of use to figure it out and really get in a flow with it. Only at that point will you be able to determine for certain if it’s something that really suits your needs or whether you should try a different system (at which point, you start all over). I went through this at least four or five times in the span of just a few years. I tried Omnifocus, Basecamp, Remember the Milk, Google Tasks, Evernote, and even a good old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet.

Talk about wasting time to manage time!!

More clicking

I don’t know about you, but I get a little sick of technology. Sometimes, I just want to disconnect. It’s so easy to say, “I’m just gonna jump into my calendar really quick and update a few things,” and the next thing you know, you’re watching cat videos on YouTube.

Aesthetics

Personally, I like paper. I like colorful pens. I like pretty organizers and stickers and notepads. Online systems just don’t have the same visual appeal. For me, I’m motivated to use something when I like looking at it. And no system will work if you don’t use it. In my opinion, even the electronic systems that are really well designed don’t compare to a pretty, well-organized paper planner. (For those who are interested, I think Basecamp is the best visually speaking, though still a distant second to paper).

Sometimes it’s TOO much

Look, my needs (and the needs of most people) are pretty basic. I need a place to put my appointments so I don’t miss them and a place to capture and track things I have to do. All the other stuff is gravy on top, but not really necessary. If I stay reasonably on top of things (by utilizing a few of the tools listed below), I don’t need all that other mumbo jumbo offered in electronic systems. In reality, those systems just inspire procrastination—they give me more opportunities to fiddle around with my organizational systems rather than actually get things done. The key to a good system for me is simplicity, and electronic tools are always more complicated than paper.

My New “Hybrid” System

So here’s where I’ve landed on all this: I’m now using a hybrid model that is mainly paper with a few electronic elements thrown in for good measure. To make this easy, I’ll just outline the key characteristics of my new system as simply as possible below:

Paper Planner

I’m using a paper planner again (hooray!). It’s a Franklin Covey binder with the following elements:

  • Month-at-a-glance calendar sheets (on 2 pages). This is where I mark travel and other significant events throughout the month. I don’t bother with daily appointments here.
  • 2-page-per-day sheets. This is where I put appointments and to-do items for each day. This is also where I track my various daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly “trackable” activities, which I mark with colorful smiley face stickers when they’re done (totally motivating even though it feels like I’m a first grader). These items are currently:
    • Working out
    • Completing my morning routine
    • Completing my weekly review
    • Payroll
    • Bookkeeping
    • Career Academy maintenance
    • Various other private personal and professional activities

Why I love the paper planner approach:

Everything is in one place. If there’s ever an opportunity to jot something down on a post-it, I can stick it to a page inside the book and know it’s safe. I have plenty of space for notes each day. The colors are fun, the pages are pretty and it’s so, so nice to just flip from page to page (even when I’m away far away from my computer and other tech devices) and see what’s going on and coming up (as well as what’s passed if I’m interested).

Project Notebook

I also use a separate paper notebook for project notes. I consider a project anything that has multiple to-do items. Basically, it’s something that I wouldn’t put on my daily to-do list because it’s too big to complete all at once. These items have to be broken up into pieces and then those pieces can be distributed onto appropriate daily lists. This separate notebook is where I brainstorm and organize and ensure that these projects aren’t forgotten. I’ve created specific project goals for the next 6 months as well as the next year to help keep this focused. Anything that’s not a part of those goals gets put at the very back of this notebook for safekeeping and future reference.

Routines

The morning routine and weekly review mentioned in the “trackable activities” above are two critical elements that make this system work. These are the times when I get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on and what’s coming up so I know I’m staying on top of everything. This is when tasks and priorities are established, shifted, etc. If something wasn’t completed yesterday, I highlight it, and transfer it to today’s list (or somewhere else). If something new has come up, I add it to the appropriate list on the appropriate day. A variety of things take place during the morning routine and weekly review process (I have a checklist for each to make sure I don’t forget anything). If you want to hear more about this, leave a comment and I’ll make a note to write a blog post on it in the future.

Electronic Calendar

Because I’ve had the experience of losing my paper planner in the past, I’m not taking any chances. I use Google Calendar as a back up for all my important dates, travel, appointments, etc. Yes, it’s an extra step but it’s fast and the peace of mind it offers is invaluable. Plus, if something is absolutely critically important and I’m afraid of forgetting it, I can add an email reminder. (I try not to do this too often as I got a little obsessed with it in the past and found the emails stacking up quickly, which defeats the purpose.)

Electronic Contact Info

I use Gmail and my phone for managing contact information including email addresses, phone numbers and physical/mailing addresses. I also have a Word document that includes emergency contact information (i.e., parents, travel companies, credit card companies, etc.) in case I ever lose my phone, computer and/or wallet. I keep a copy of this in my online Dropbox and a physical printed copy in my planner.

So that’s my new system. You can see that I haven’t completely abandoned technology, but I certainly am not looking for it to be the end-all-be-all solution. Paper helps me simplify. In my opinion, it just feels easier and more natural for daily task and appointment management.

I keep my planner open on my desk throughout the day and keep it with me as much as possible when I’m away from my desk. Like anything, you have to really use it to make it work.

I encourage you to take a look at your own organizational systems and see if they need a reboot. I didn’t do it until I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Now that I’ve got this new system in place, I feel better and I’m getting more done. Don’t wait until you’ve reached a breaking point. Start today and enjoy the benefits now.

Photo Credit: Heudu (Flickr)

Free Webinar: 10 Simple Strategies for Effective Time Management

How would you feel if you had enough time to get everything done AND you still had time to relax and enjoy the company of friends and family? 

You’d feel AWESOME, right? 

What would you do with that extra time? Take a long, hot bath? Go hiking? Sit down and read to your kids?

What if I could snap my fingers and give you an extra hour in your day? Or maybe a FEW extra hours? In a way, I can. Because I can give you the tools to be more efficient and, ultimately, it will FEEL like several extra hours have been added to your day—hours that don’t have to be spent catching up on work, racing from one task to the next, or worrying about how to get it all done.

You’re invited to join me for an exclusive FREE webinar where I’ll be sharing 10 simple but POWERFUL strategies for managing time effectively.

In this session, you’ll get tangible, real solutions you can put into place immediately to gain a better sense of control over your life and work.

Limited to 100 participants so register TODAY!

Even if you’re unable to attend the live session, register anyway. I’ll send you a link to watch the recorded version online when it’s ready.

Those who attend live will be given the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session. Only 100 participants can join the live session so please come early so secure your spot.

Date: Thursday, July 14, 2011
Time: 2:00 pm EST / 11:00 am PST This session is FULL! New Session Added: 4:00 pm EST
Length of time: Approximately 1 hour
Register: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/435149670

This webinar is celebrating a special promotion I’m running. If you’d like to pick up a copy of my Career Success Combo Kit, which includes my two most popular e-workbooks (on the topics of Time Management & Stress Management) you don’t want to miss this 50% off sale. It’s the LAST TIME these e-workbooks will be offered together at this low price. Learn more here >>

What James Franco Can Teach Us About Productivity

Admittedly, this post is a little late. The Oscars were several weeks ago now but, for those of us who love movies, fashion, and snarky commentary from Joan Rivers, this year’s ceremony won’t quickly be forgotten.

In case you missed it, the show was widely panned by critics who placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the two young hosts: Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Franco, in particular, received a brunt of the criticism because of his lazy demeanor. Some people went so far as to suggest he was stoned during the telecast—an accusation I think is probably unfounded, considering what we know of this man. In truth, it’s probably much more likely that he was just the victim of his own overly ambitious schedule. Those who still think multi-tasking is legitimate productivity technique, pay close attention. This is what it looks like when the quest for productivity goes wildly out of control.

Who Is James Franco?

First off, here’s a little background for those of you who don’t really know who James Franco is or why we should care: He’s a 32 year-old actor with a pretty stellar list of credentials including a Golden Globe for his performance as James Dean and mainstream pop culture cred for playing Harry Osborn in the Spider Man trilogy and for his role as a loveable pot dealer in Pineapple Express. This year, he was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in 127 Hours, making his hosting gig even more unprecedented.

However, the most impressive thing about James Franco isn’t his acting resume; it’s his extra curricular activities. The list is pretty incredible…and very odd. A few of the most notable things he has done include a guest role on General Hospital (which he called “performance art”) that mirrored his actual life, a generally well-received book of disturbing short stories called Palo Alto, and various multimedia art projects that have been on display at Sundance and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

On top of all this, he’s an almost compulsive student. After earning his Bachelor’s Degree in English from UCLA, where he took 62 credits per quarter (the normal max is 19), he then simultaneously attended graduate school at Columbia University for creative writing, NYU for filmmaking, Brooklyn College for fiction writing and North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College for poetry. Now, he’s a Ph.D. student studying English at Yale and also attends the Rhode Island School of Design.

Yes. Seriously.

I’m pretty sure he’s not a pothead. That kind of schedule doesn’t exactly align with the typical stoner mentality.

But keep all of this in mind as we explore the Oscars debacle and how this uber-productive person got in over his head.

Watch Out for Diminishing Returns

Now, James Franco is kind of known for that squinty eye thing. It’s actually pretty adorable. But during the Oscars ceremony, he looked downright out-of-it. At one point, he even stumbled over his words so badly, I don’t blame people for thinking drugs could have been involved. But that’s what happens when you’re exhausted. Running around the globe—from graduate classes to film sets and back again—must cause an unbelievable strain on the body and mind.

In a recent interview, Danny McBride, Franco’s costar in an upcoming movie, said the following:

“There was a teacher that he had at school in New York, and James (Franco) had missed a class or two because of filming, and (the teacher) basically said if he didn’t come to this class, he would be dropped from the class. So for the last half of the production, James (Franco) would finish shooting Monday night, get on an airplane in Belfast (Northern Ireland), fly to New York, go to the class, get back on a plane, fly back to Belfast and come back to work every week.”

If this is any indication of how this guy manages his crazy schedule, it’s no wonder he was out of it.

There’s a limit to how much stuff one person can do before exhaustion sets in. If you want to be productive, you have to recognize when you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns—when you’re so exhausted that you’re actually working against yourself. I think that’s what happened the night of the Oscars.

Multi-Tasking Doesn’t Work

Franco actually started off the evening with his cell phone in hand, taking pictures of the Oscars audience to post on Twitter. Um…kind of a bad idea. In fact, the night of the ceremony, he posted dozens of tweets, complete with photos and videos. This is the very definition of multi-tasking and the resulting unfocused, disinterested, and distracted performance the audience saw is exactly why we should all avoid it.

Franco’s attention was literally split in (at least) two different directions from the get-go. While one side of his brain was thinking, “Focus on your lines, be charming, smile big, make ‘em laugh, blah, blah, blah,” the other side was thinking, “Get a good shot so the Twitter fans will be happy, gotta upload this as soon as I get backstage, wonder if that pic was blurry, blah, blah, blah.”

Doing two things at once might sound easy enough. It might physically even BE easy enough. But mentally, you’re straining your resources. And, when something really matters, you want to be playing with 100% capacity. Divided attention is usually fairly obvious to everyone involved, and most people find it insulting. This is one of the reasons I think people were so outraged by his lackluster performance. It was like a smack in the face for those of us who were expecting more.

Jack of All Trades = Master of None

Poor James Franco turned in a really bad performance as host of the Oscars. And, as it turns out, his peers at Yale also raked him over the coals for his lame Twitter stream. So, apparently, he failed at both things that night. This is pretty typical for multi-tasking. When you try to be a “Jack of all trades” you end up “master of none.”

Who’s to say if the rest of his life will play out the same way? From this perspective, it certainly doesn’t look good.

When I think of James Franco, I remember my number one rule for productivity: If you’re trying to do too much, there’s no system in the world that can help you. Dividing your attention and packing your schedule full to the point of exhaustion is a sure-fire way to end up with a bunch of mediocre performances.

Clearly, a person like James Franco doesn’t want to be mediocre. And when he has his head in the game, he’s insanely talented. But the same productivity rules that apply to everyone else, also apply to him. Multi-tasking doesn’t work any better for famous people than it does for the rest of us. Trying to pack every conceivable goal into the span of a few years might sound great in theory, but I’m guessing that, in practice, it’s a big pain in the ass.

So take heed. Give your full, undivided attention to the one, important task at hand before moving on to the next. No matter how rich and talented and smart you are, human productivity has its limits.

Even an adorable smile can’t change that.

Fulfillment Can’t Wait: Take Action Today

This past weekend, I attended a coaching course on the topic of Fulfillment. While I gained so much from the information presented, one of the most important things I learned was that fulfillment can’t wait. It’s the single most important thing we are all searching for. It’s the essence of LIFE.

And yet, so many of us put it off. Life, you might say, gets in the way of LIFE. We want to be “responsible” and “rational” and the end result is that we put our own fulfillment at the bottom of the priority list.

Now, let me clear: There’s nothing wrong with being responsible and rational. These are great qualities for any adult. But it’s easy to use them as excuses for not taking action.

And, when it comes to fulfillment, action can’t wait.

There’s another great excuse for not taking action that’s all around us this time of year. It’s called PLANNING. Yep. That responsible, rational side of your brain is convinced that making a New Year’s resolution is a real step towards achieving fulfillment.

Let’s be clear: TAKING action is not the same as PLANNING action.

Does this mean you shouldn’t plan? Absolutely not. Establish goals, create your to-do lists, dive into planning mode as much as your heart desires. But don’t get it confused with action. Realize that planning can, at times, be a hindrance to action.

(Yes, as a self-proclaimed productivity junkie, this statement gives me the hives. But there comes a time when we all must confront the things that are holding us back.)

Action is the key component to creating fulfillment. There’s nothing stopping any of us from taking action today. Really. I know it’s scary. I know it’s easier to just pull out the calendar and mark a day in the future as “The Day I Will Take Action.” But things come up. Life throws unexpected circumstances at us. That responsible, rational part of you will always find a way to jump in and say that today’s not the day, no matter how long you’ve been planning it.

I believe, with all of my heart, that you can take action today.  It doesn’t have to be a giant leap of faith; just one tiny step is all it takes. LIFE is waiting for you to do this.

So today, instead of putting “run a marathon” on your New Year’s resolution list, go register for one. Instead of saying, “Next year I’ll start my own business,” go out and get a new client. Just go do it. There’s nothing stopping you.

What action will you take today to get closer to fulfillment?

Overcoming Time Management Obstacles

I hate to admit this, but I’m a bit overextended. I know, I know. I wrote an entire workbook on Time Management and yet sometimes, I still have trouble with it myself. I think it’s just one of those things that can never be entirely mastered. We all go through phases where we feel mentally and physically overwhelmed. At that point, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

As I’ve said before, I’m a productivity junkie. And, in reality, I think this harms my productivity. It sounds counterintuitive but, when you spend a huge amount of time thinking about how to better use your time, you eventually stop looking adorably neurotic and start looking mildly disturbed.

I’m facing a few time management obstacles and, as I’ve started to recognize them, I’ve realized that others may be dealing with the same issues. So I’ll share my thoughts here and (hopefully) help those of you experiencing similar challenges:

Overemphasis on Tools

I’m a sucker for organizational tools. I love them to the point of obsession. Boxes, books, binders, notepads, folders, pens, planners, techno-gadgets, you-name-it. I can’t walk into a stationery store without getting giddy. The other day, I had just sat down to do some work on my upcoming Reinvent Your Career workbook when, all of the sudden, it dawned on me that I needed a whiteboard.

“Yes, a whiteboard will make the brainstorming process much more productive,” I thought. “I simply can’t work without a whiteboard!!”

I got so wrapped up in the stupid whiteboard idea that I finally had to stop what I was doing, drive over to OfficeDepot and buy one—just to regain my focus.

Why do these kinds of tools matter? They don’t. They give us the feeling that we’re being productive but, ultimately, they’re just soaking up time, energy and money. Sure, some of this stuff is useful. But most of us put too great an emphasis on tools that, in all honesty, we never end up using to the degree we think we will. That whiteboard was really helpful for about a day, but I haven’t touched it since. Like most of my fabulous productivity paraphernalia, it’ll probably end up collecting dust in a corner somewhere. *SIGH*

These kinds of tools can easily become excuses. We convince ourselves that everything will be different once we have that new computer or filing cabinet or day planner. But really, there’s nothing stopping us from being productive right now, this second, with or without the tools.

“I Have Too Much To Do”

Sometimes I find myself repeating this mantra over and over. It’s been burned into my brain and, like any limiting belief—once it’s in there—it has a way of manifesting itself and becoming true. Do I really have too much to do? What is too much? Maybe it just feels like too much but, in reality, I have the perfect amount. The more I tell myself I’m overwhelmed, the more I feel it and the less action I take. Instead, I focus on being frustrated and complaining. I spend all of my energy managing time rather than using it wisely.

I think, in the workplace, we’ve all been trained that being busy (or looking that way) makes us more valuable. The more we have to do, the more secure and important we feel. So, it becomes second nature to emphasize our heavy workload and overflowing calendar. But all too often, we frame it in a negative light. We think, “I don’t have enough time to do it all!” We need to reframe this belief into, “I have enough time to do what matters most.”

What matters most.

This is the crux of the issue: knowing your priorities and understanding the difference between time-wasting fluff and the truly important work. If we honestly assess our situation and whittle our task list down to what really matters, we almost certainly have all the time we need.

Losing the Forest in the Trees

Why do I want to manage my time effectively? In truth, it’s so I can have more time to do things I love with people I love. But I often forget that. When I’m especially productive and end up finishing a project earlier than expected, I just grab another task and keep working. What’s the point in that?

We all have to remember our bigger values and the reasons we treasure time so much. We need to reward our efforts by doing those things we dream of doing with our time—going on vacation, relaxing with our kids, just doing nothing! What makes time so precious to you? Probably not work. And yet, when we work effectively and find ourselves with extra time, we often fill it with more of the same!

I’m trying hard not to lose the forest in the trees. I’m making every effort to reward myself when I hit my time management goals. I take long walks with my dog, spend evenings out with friends, and, every once in a while, I let myself visit a stationery store. After all, once a productivity junkie, always a productivity junkie.

Photo Credit: elycefeliz (Flickr)

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