Category Archives: Time Management

Pre-K: WTF?

Just when I finally get some semblance of a routine going with both an entirely new way of working and having to work at home – a wrench is thrown into the works. Homework. For Pre-K.

Damnit.

I was hoping to avoid this for another year, but yes I realize the value. Today, O inked excellent likenesses of several toys (I’ve gotten really good at Disney princess dresses) and a banana for a “yellow hunt” assignment – I was actually impressed by his artistic abilities (or maybe my warm feelings were stoked by the large glass of wine).

So – now I have to remake our evening routine dry-erase checklist (which, to my delight, O loves to fill out…). Squeezing in homework between dinner and bath time. Time to fire up InDesign again and put my production artist skillz to mummy crap. Joy.

Going downstairs to check off “second large glass of wine” from my evening checklist. Cheers, Belles!

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Stay Tuned!

Started my new job – totally new job – two weeks ago. So many things to learn! A completely different way of organizing my day is in order, and so I have a lot of work to do to streamline my workflow. Do excuse my pause in posting – I’ll be back in full force this week.

Yours in OCD.Image

20 MInutes to Asskicking Glory

I know in your world of multitasking, with browser windows open simultaneously, juggling your many iTems, etc, that setting aside twenty minutes to just THINK, uninterrupted, sounds like crazytalk. However, hear me out…

I came across this revolutionary concept in the Why People Fail book (previously reviewed) and it made total sense.

Put aside 20 minutes a day to just think. Plan things out before beginning them.

I’m not the type of person who can meditate. Yeah…yeah…I know, but I HAVE tried it. Doesn’t work for me. My brain cannot let go. However, I can totally get behind spending twenty minutes, alone, either eyes closed or with a pad and paper to harness the power of my bubbling thoughts.

The book suggests using the following structured brainstorming methods during your thinking time:

“Ridiculous Idea” – write everything down, no matter how “dumb” you think it is. These crazy concepts might lead you down a different path, where even more creative ideas can be conceived.

“Different Industry” – think of a successful business, service or product in a different industry from your own and brainstorm how you could emulate that idea in your business.

“Star Emulation” – emulate experts, celebrities and professionals who have great success. Put yourself in their shoes, examine what they have done. Are you facing a problem that someone else has already solved? Use the past as a tool.

“Dictionary/Word Association” – brainstorming lists of words and finding links between key words on each list. See this link for more details: http://creativebits.org/toolbox/solitary_brainstorming_pairing

If you aren’t into formal methods of brainstorming – and I’m really not – just sit with a pencil and paper and think through a particular project or problem you may be having and free-form jot all of your thoughts down. You may be surprised at what you emerge with.

The other “20 minute rule” comes via Clifford Nass, professor at Stanford University.

Heavy media multitaskers perform poorly at actually multitasking. Juggling causes your brain to constantly “switch” tasks, leaving us less effective at performing the task at hand. Nass’ solution to combat this is that every time you start a new task, to focus entirely on that task for at least 20 minutes. Force yourself to do this, avoid checking emails or talking to co-workers and just perform that focuses activity. If you do this for two weeks, in theory, you will learn where your time is best spent, which activies eat your time and you will become more productive. Go so far as to applying this rule to other aspects of your life: relationships, hobbies. This Braincanvas entry is a fantastic place to start if you’re looking to apply this rule to your world:

http://braincanvas.org/the-20-minute-rule

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Productivity: The Job Purpose Statement

I’ve explored the idea of a purpose statement before – specifically the “family” statement, which I think is a fantastic idea. Mission statements are such a great exercise because you can clarify your actions and discard the nonsense.

I lifted this particular “job purpose statement” concept from the “Why People Fail” book and performed further research on the trusty internets. A job purpose statement is a good way to think through and illuminate your objectives – both in your current position and long-term career.

It’s important to have a statement of purpose for every major aspect of your life – career, family, education. Subsequently, you can constantly review your activities and decisions against your purposes to make sure you’re moving in the right direction and not wasting time on extraneous crap.

The Job Purpose – from Why People Fail

Write down three most important tasks at work and put in order of priority.

I did this for my current contracting job, just to get some clarity and cut out some of the bullsh!t that comes along with a new position in a start-up. It’s not for my “ideal” position, it’s for what I’m dealing with right now:

(1) Produce compelling projects on time, in brief and within budget

(2) Make the client successful and satisfied; simplify her life as much as possible.

(3) Make improvements to process/workflow that allow us to get additional/new business and grow the company

The other method to draft a job purpose statement is a more involved three-step method outlined below and in the following links. This is particularly helpful if you are looking for a new position or looking to pinpoint and resolve possible dissatisfaction with your current position. I gave this a whirl as well….

This is tough in a down economy, I think, where employees just don’t seem to have the bargaining power that we did, say, 6 years ago. It’s hard to demand a bunch of stuff from an employer who flat-out tells you that you should be “happy to have a job.” But, it’s a worthwhile exercise, just to remind yourself that you still have values! And prep yourself for the possibility of better things to come….

Step 1: List your expectations: wants, needs, fears

I want to be able to take my 16+ years of ad agency project management experience and leverage that into a career change that allows me to focus on people rather than projects.

I want to work in a company that allows for flexibility – I can work in the office, work remotely, work from home, and handle my business as needed; secure in the fact that the company acknowledges that I’m a responsible adult.

I need to make at least $X per year in salary.

I need a job with a generous benefits package.

I fear starting something that is very different from my past experience, but – at the same time – I’m thrilled by the possibility

I fear getting stuck in another PM job where I’m doing the same thing forever – I’ve proven over and over that a fantastic PM, but I’m ready to move on and grow.

Step 2: Write a long, “from the gut” job purpose statement using the list from Step 1

Purpose statement: The purpose of my new job is to make a career change that leverages my advertising experience and soft skills with a company who values flexibility and work-life integration making at least $X per year salary with a generous benefits package.

Step 3: Write “I will” statements for your job purpose.

Return to the expectations (wants, needs and fears) and to the right of them, write down an “I will” statement. Try to make each “I will” statement specific, actionable and measurable. See below:

I want to work in a company that allows for flexibility – I will make sure to focus on employers who treat their employees like adults and will who value work-life balance. I will research Working Mother’s “Best Companies” list to get an idea of what types of organizations operate with this attitude. I will state this requirement to every prospective employer I meet with.

I need to make at least $X per year in salary – I will mention my salary requirement to potential employers and I will not consider any less, as I am more than worth that amount.

I need a job with a generous benefits package – I will get a full and complete picture of all benefits offered – from health and dental to educational expenses and the little perks and will weigh packages carefully against our family’s needs before deciding.

I fear starting something that is very different from my past experience – I will focus on the wealth soft skills that I gained from over 16 years as an advertising PM, and leverage those in a new position.

I fear getting stuck in another PM job where I’m doing the same thing forever – I will commit to looking only at non-PM jobs and will not settle for another such position. I will network with people from the other industry(ies) that I am interested in, to get a better picture of possible career choices.

I feel like the last couple of “I wills” aren’t super actionable – so I’m going to keep plugging on them. But you get the idea…. Go forth and create the opportunity you deserve!

http://robdkelly.com/blog/getting-things-done/how-to-write-a-purpose-statement/

http://ongig.com/blog/career-development/statement-of-purpose-for-job

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Getting Things Done: The Five Phases of Project Planning

David Allen posits that the key ingredients of “relaxed control” are:

clearly defined outcomes – PROJECTS

next actions required to move them toward closure and  reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly. He calls this “horizontal focus” and it’s all you need in MOST situations.

However, if you need more focus to get a specific project under control and moving forward, this will require “vertical focus” which should take place within the framework of his “natural planning model.” This sounds like some sort of fertility exercise to me, but I bear with it…

Your brain is already an amazingly accomplished project planner (who knew), automatically dividing a complex task into the following steps:

(1)  defining purpose and principles – why are you doing this thing?

(2)  outcome visioning – what would success look and feel like

(3)  brainstorming – capture all of your ideas, big and small, in an easily relatable format like mindmapping

(4)  organizing – identify components, sequences and events….what are the things that must occur to create the final result and in what order?

(5)  identifying next actions – activate the “moving parts”

For example, I’m really considering writing a book. It’s a biography about a figure I admire, but I’m not going to share because if it doesn’t happen, I’ll feel like an asshole for bringing it up. So, neh.

Anyway, to apply this model to my potential project would look like:

(1) I want to write a book about Person X because she is amazing and relevant with a life story worth telling, and she has not been the subject of a previously released biography

(2) This book will be interesting, engaging, timely, and will honor the subject. This book will be published, successful and read by a wide variety of people.

(3) I need to do a great deal of background research. I need to determine if her previously published written content can be included as part of this book by the people who currently own the rights. I need to sit down and really dive into her life story, her writing, her process and figure out the most interesting and relevant way to present this information in book form.

(4) Write up a plan: start researching, put an outline together, start writing, shop the book around.

(5) Immediate action item would be to start the basic background research

ImagePhew. There. I put it out there – out of my head and onto the internets. I’m making it real – and I’ll do it using these techniques I’ve been working on this year and report back on my progress. I’ve been mulling this for months and I just really need to get off my ass and at least get started – even if it takes me a decade to finish.

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Getting Things Done – Reference Files

What is your general reference filing system like? Do you have two, big-ass metal file cabinets, meticulously organized and lovingly labeled? Do you have big canvas-covered hanging file boxes (as I do) and keep only the bare minimum? Do you have hoarder-esque stacks of crap lining the walls of your office? Or are you all digital, scanning receipts and tossing them later?

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According to David Allen, in “Getting Things Done,” your filing system must be “fast, functional and fun, or you’ll resist the whole process.”

Allen recommends an “alpha system” organized entirely by A-Z as opposed to multiple systems. One simple alpha system files everything by topic, project, person or company so that it can only be in 3-4 places if you forgot where you put it. I’m not sure I’m down with this, as I like to keep my reference files according to subject (i.e. – vacation ideas, childcare articles, etc). He also recommends using the heavy-duty metal filing cabinets, having sh!t-tons of fresh file folders available, and labeling every damn thing with a label maker. OK, I agree with all of that. Also, files should be purged at least once a year – for sure…

 OCD: End of month gut check

OK so this month, I put routines in place for morning and night, started writing up and accomplishing two weekly goals every Sunday, instituted the grocery list template, the menu planner, the wipe-off chore list, a petty cash system and clipboards galore… I think I’ve really taken February by the balls here. Doing my best to get into some better habits – maybe acting like more of a grown up (now that I’m pushing 40)… All that good shit…

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Getting Things Done: The Calendar

The Getting Things Done method also places a great deal of importance on the calendar. It’s the “bucket” in which only three types of information should go:
– time specific actions (meetings, appointments)
– day specific actions (tasks and to-dos that must be completed on a certain day but not at a specific time that day)
– day specific information (things you want to know about on certain days such as directions to appointments, events of interest)

Evidently only these three types of information and nothing else can go onto your calendar – be it digital or analog. This is to prevent the jam-ups that occur on your daily to-do checklist because of constant new input and shifting priorities. Additionally if there is something on the list that doesn’t really need to be done it dilutes the importance of the tasks which must be accomplished that day.

To that end, actions that are not day-specific and reminders should go on a “next actions” list. So your daily tasks revolve around two separate sources of information: your calendar and your next actions list. This seems needlessly complicated to me and is why I love my Moleskine daily planner, it’s the best of both worlds. I can put in events by time and list what I have to do that day – as well as a general time (morning, afternoon) in which I have to get stuff done. The only drawback is that if I don’t get something done on one day, I have to transfer it to the following day…which would be painful except I have a fetish for my own handwriting and adore making lists. Just sayin’…

How do you keep track of daily tasks – do you have a system with which you are similarly obsessed?

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Friday Bites: #3 Establish Your Morning Routine

In this week’s installment of Tsh Oxenreider’s “52 Bites,” I’m hitting week 3, “Establishing Your Morning Routine.” With a 3.5 year old, a 2 month old and a telecommuting spouse who opens up shop anywhere between 4-8am daily, “routine” is a stretch… Mornings are typically chaotic, hectic, and fraught with anxiety. I expect this state can oh be heightened when I go back to work. So, I’m fully on board with this week’s bite!

Oxenreider stresses that you do the essentials first, before beginning your day. Choose five tasks and do them first thing in the morning, in the same order every day. Your list of five tasks should be written down and hung prominently until it becomes a habit.

Here is what I’ll be tackling in the morning:
1. Shower and fully primp – hair, makeup, and non-yoga pant outfit (gotta keep up with these Texan girls)
2. Make and pack kids’ meals for daycare
3. Prepare our grown up breakfasts and lunches (we’re on a diet plan…starting next week…I mean it…)
4. Create and review my to do list for the day
5. Check, respond to, and clear personal email, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc messages

Phew. Mind you, this all must be accomplished by 7am when O wakes up and may possibly have to be done one-handed, while holding H in the other.
Setting the alarm now for 5:30am, ugh…

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Friday Bites: Tiny Baby Steps

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Even though I’m tackling all of these OCD projects together in 2012, I still believe in making small, gradual improvements and making these improvements a habit by daily inclusion in my ubiquitous to-do Moleskine. Part of my organization/time-management reading list (full list under “About”) is “One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler” by Tsh Oxenreider. This has more of a home organization vibe, but I’m always looking to make strides in that area – two kids, two pets and a home office can equal chaos if not properly obsessed over. I’ll be making one of these improvements per week, and since we’re already two weeks into January, I’m taking on #1 and #2 together. Here’s what’s on deck for this weekend:

#1. Eat Your Frog.

Oxenreider suggests that you do the worst thing on your plate first thing in the morning. Create your daily to-do list, choose the three most important tasks, pick the worst of the three and that is your frog. Typically this would be my daily checkbook balancing, but since I’m home with H all day, my frog is getting showered and dressed. Seriously, it’s all I can do to not wander around in yoga pants all day, filthy and bleary-eyed. I mean, what’s the point if I’m going to be couch-bound and covered in baby spew all day, right? This problem will clearly take care of itself when I start working and will be forced to look and smell presentable. But, for now, this is my “frog.” Time to suck it up and put on some mascara and gloss.

#2. Make a Debt-Free Plan

52 Bites recommends the snowball method of listing balances smallest to largest – paying them off in that order and then once a bill is paid, putting that monthly payment towards the next in line. Makes sense, F and I will be sitting down to do this today. A weekly marital budget meeting is also in order – I’m thinking Sundays, preferably over mimosas and bloodies.. I can’t talk about money without a cocktail. Right now we just talk finances when things are confused or dire – I’m thinking this commitment to a weekly chat will get us on the same page. OK – money meeting is now in the family calendar.

 

For more information by Tsh Oxenreider, visit www.52bites.com and www.simplemom.net

The Tickler

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Sounds like an item for sale at Babes in Toyland….

However, one of the big take-aways from Getting Things Done, is the importance of establishing a “Tickler File” as an adjunct to your usual filing system. The idea is that anything that you may need to be reminded of at a later date goes into this file. Copies of interesting articles, ideas for future globe hopping vacations, restaurant reviews, etc. Every day (or at least weekly) you are supposed to put the folder in your inbox and go through it – adding any time sensitive information to your daily action item list. It should be kept in your line sight, so it’s not forgotten.

I’m looking at my tickler folder now. So far I’ve added a Rolling Stone article to remind me to buy tix to the RHCP show in Austin if I ever have any spare cash, research regarding putting together a will and getting a health savings account, and a blog posting about how 3.5 year olds are the worst people on the planet (which is absolutely true, by the way) that I plan to pass along to other unfortunate parents of such.

Now there is some controversy in the lifehacking/time management community – over whether the Getting Things Done or the more complicated and time-sensitive “43 Folders” method (1 folder per day of the month = 31 + 1 folder per month of the year = 43 folders) is preferable. At this stage in my game, I’m sticking with the simpler Getting Things Done plan, as I’m not back at work yet and the amount of really time-sensitive information I need to keep on top of mind is limited to home-management type of stuff. I’ve also set up a virtual “tickler file” in my gmail to accomplish the same. I think I’ll migrate to the 43 folders method as I progress through the steps in the book, just because my OCD-ness is drooling over the possibility of having daily and monthly folders in which to file, and check meticulously. Excellent.

Now – the trick is – will I remember to check both my paper and electronic tickler files daily? I guess I’ll have to add this as a recurring item in my “action list.” Sigh. Complicated.

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