Tips for Easier Living
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Tips for Easier Living

With summer upon us many of us will be changing where we’re working from.  The following are things to consider regardless of where you’re working from.

Working Remotely

Working from home is not new. Many entrepreneurs have been doing it for years. Remote work has been knocking at the door of corporate America for some time. However, COVID brought it mainstream. The global pandemic and the high proportion of workers working out of the office have forced us to rethink how and where we work. 

Moving into the future, one thing we can be sure about is working away from the office, at least part of the time, will be routine. Knowing how to work effectively, regardless of location, is central to the success of today’s workers.

The biggest challenge about working remotely is lack of structure. When we no longer have to wake up at a specific time, commute, attend in–person meetings, network in person, and “go to work,” our time foundation shifts. Personal time and work time blend together. Many people are in work-mode all the time. 

When we leave home and “go to work,” natural guardrails form. By simple proximity, we are not doing home related duties or having personal conversations when we are at “work.”  Yes, we may take a call from a family member or spend a few minutes on a personal task, but we aren’t walking the dog, doing laundry, or letting the repair person in. 

When working from home we spend more time on “home” tasks than anticipated and that means it takes longer to get our work done. To avoid that work/life confusion, consider how to structure your time so there is separation between work and personal tasks.

Working Hybrid – Remote, From Home, and At Work

Productivity in the hybrid work environment focuses on mobility and flexibility. The goal is to work effectively regardless of location. Your office is often in your work bag.  

You already face the challenges of structuring your work time when you’re in the office. Hybrid work brings more complexities because now you also have to consider where you work and when. Building systems to support your productivity is helpful.

Going to work is helpful too. Humans are social animals and we are much healthier with human interaction. While not everyone looks to their work to fill their need for belonging, many do, at least to some degree. 

If we can structure our work and our time effectively, the hybrid model, working remotely or from home for Focus Work time AND going to the office to collaborate and connect, is the best of both worlds. But how do we manage our productivity on the move?

Remote and At Home

You now have much more control over your time. While your meetings are scheduled, everything else is fluid. No one sees your true start times or end times. There is no peer pressure about lunch breaks or coffee breaks. And no one is watching when you are actually producing.

  • You’ve gained time by not commuting. Does this allow you to exercise before you start working or sleep later if that’s what your body needs?
  • You have flexibility when you do your Focus Work. Quiet without interruption is ideal. Is it best to wake early and get a couple of hours in before family activities or regular work interruptions start or better to work in the evening when meetings and emails subside?
  • Can you walk the dog (or just take a walk) at midday for some fresh air and to reenergize?
  • Do you need to tag team with your partner, one working early and the other working late, to be sure there is coverage for the kids?
  • Do you need to plan start times and end times so you have enough structure to get results and know when to stop?

Hybrid

A hybrid situation, where you spend part of your time in the office and part of your time at home, has advantages as well. All the above holds true for your time working out of the office. When we add in a day, or two, or three in the office each week, good things can happen.

  • Time in the office can be energizing. Take advantage of the lift you get when you’re with others, understanding that effectiveness improves with a change of environment and social interaction (even for most introverts). 
  • Child care and family obligations shift. Going to work can provide a much-needed break. The flexibility enables you to be better in each situation.
  • Self-care continues to be important. Taking time for a walking meeting helps with your steps goal. Leaders are on the lookout for ideas to support the new normal. Tell them what you need.
  • Planning start and stop times in the office is helpful to creating routine. These time anchors provide benchmarks to keep you on task and effective.

With proper planning and consideration your summer work can be successfully executed regardless of where you’re working from. 


This is an excerpt from Chapter 13 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

does email suck the life out of you?

Does email suck the life from you? Do you worry about missing important emails? Do you wish email supported you better? Here are some new ideas that can help! 

Consider Your Email Style?

Different people seem to be fine with different amounts of emails in their inboxes. While there is a correlation between structure preference and email style, it probably has little bearing on what you’re doing now. Do you see yourself in any of these cases?

  • Inbox 10,000+ – If I need something, I will search for it. If I miss something it’s ok. If it’s really important it will come up again.
  • Inbox 500 to 1500 – It’s unmanageable. I don’t kid myself. I know I miss important things and it does cause stress.
  • Inbox 25/100/250 – I can get it under control. Identifying a number I don’t want to get above cues me to spend an hour cleaning up my inbox. Still, there has to be an easier way.
  • Inbox one page – As long as I can see everything in my inbox, I’m good. Once it goes to a second page, it’s time to pause and clean it up.
  • Inbox Zero – All emails are moved into folders for future action. Nothing stays in the inbox. (Use with caution. For most, since there is no automatic cue once an email is moved from the inbox, it is never thought of again.)

Manage Your Inbox Contents

What belongs in your inbox? Some clients prefer to keep everything in their inbox. However, there is a high risk of losing important emails. Some clients are fine with the philosophy “if it’s important, I’ll get it again,” though most prefer a more proactive solution.

Keeping everything in your inbox is like keeping all your trash on your desk. Unlike paper, however, the problem isn’t finding it when you go to look for it — the robust search function helps with that. The problem is that you won’t know to look for something you don’t know you have.

To have confidence in your email system, the only items that should be kept in your inbox are the to-do actionable items. Those emails you MUST do something with. 

If you have read your inbox shouldn’t be a to-do list, I disagree. It’s inefficient to use it any other way. However, this only works if you move everything except actionable emails out of your inbox.

To have control over your inbox, you need to judiciously decide the fate of each email. There are three options: File, Delete, and Action:

  • FILE emails to keep for possible future reference 
  • DELETE emails you don’t need 
  • ACTION emails remain in your inbox

Clear Out Your Inbox

  1. Create a folder/label called Reference Emails or Past Emails or something that resonates with you that will indicate to you where your older emails will reside. 
    1. You will move all emails over two months old into this file.
    2. You’ll want to move over a few hundred at a time. If you move too many at once, you may overload your computer’s resources and lock them up. 
    3. In order to keep this information current, I’m not going to give you specific keystrokes to identify and move a range of emails. Instead, do an internet search on “batch move emails” and include your computer (PC/Mac) and email platform (Outlook/Gmail).
    4. Some clients are more comfortable moving the old emails into files labeled by year. This gives them more of a direction as to where to look when trying to locate something. On the other hand, it gives more places to search.

  2. You now have two months of email remaining in your inbox. The next step is to process these and remove additional non-actionable email. 
    1. Do a sort by subject —  This will allow you to batch delete or batch file large groups of emails that are not actionable. Look for: 
      1. Projects that have been completed.
      2. Events that have passed. 
    2. Do a search by sender — This will allow you to continue the batch deleting or batch moving process. Look for:
      1. Newsletters you’ll never read.
      2. Ads that are no longer relevant.
      3. Multiple emails of a string and you only need to keep the last one or the ones with attachments.
    3. Set up rules/filters — As you are going through these remaining emails, look for opportunities for similar grouping of emails to bypass your inbox. 
      1. You can tell your email program to route specific emails to specific files without stopping in your inbox. This is helpful for items you don’t need to look at regularly. 
      2. Some use rules or filters for newsletters, forum posts, or the like. Others use them for confirmation emails that don’t need to be looked at yet need to be kept for possible future reference.
      3. To keep things simple, create a file called RULES and direct all emails that you have created a rule for there. It makes searching, scanning, and purging simple. There is no need to overcomplicate this — remember, if it’s not easy, it’s too hard. 
      4. To learn how to use the rules function with your email system, search “how to use rules in Outlook/Gmail.”
  3. You will be left with far fewer emails than you started with. These emails can then be processed into FILE, DELETE, or left in the inbox as an ACTION item.

It is important you do this process in a short period of time. This is a great task to do in one or two chunks this week. To get your inbox under control, you need to reduce the number of emails so when future emails come in, you can process those and maintain the integrity of YOUR system.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

5 Concepts To Set Yourself Up For Productivity Success

Sometimes a good task list just isn’t enough. Which of these hacks can you use to move from to–do to done. 

Plan Today’s Work

The simplest technique is to take a sticky note and write down the top three tasks you want to accomplish for the day. Place it where you’ll see it, such as on the lower edge of your monitor or on your cleared-off desk. 

When it’s time to work, look at the note and move into action. You’ll stop wasting time on inconsequential tasks and get to your important work without hesitation.

Why a post-it and not an app? Every time you pick up your phone it’s an opportunity to get distracted and lose productive work time. The sticky note on your monitor takes NO TIME to glance at.

Batch Tasks

Task batching is the act of grouping related tasks together to create an economy of scale. Large operations do it all the time – think production lines or accounting systems. 

You probably do it often without thinking. Do you put one dish in the dishwasher at a time? Do you run one errand at a time? Do you do laundry every day? For most people, it’s more efficient to do tasks like these all at once. Batching work-related tasks is equally efficient.

When we spend our time thinking about what we have to do, remembering where we were in the project, and then building up momentum to get results, we are ramping up. Nothing is more frustrating than going through the ramp up process to get to the meat of a project and then having to stop. 

By batching tasks, you only have to ramp up once. You gather information, assess the situation, make a plan, and move into action once.  

Multitasking vs. Task Switching 

Multitasking isn’t a thing. It doesn’t exist. The brain can only process one thought at a time. What have you been doing? You’ve been task–switching, moving from one mentally demanding activity to another mentally demanding activity. 

You may be a fast “task–switcher,” which means you can quickly move from task to task. But you are simply shifting your focus from one activity to the next and back. In the long run, this takes longer to complete each task. Because, as we’ve just discussed, it takes time to ramp up, remember where we were, and move into productive action.

Sticking with a task through completion is the only way to get it done.

Note: There is a difference between multi-tasking and low cognitive load white-noise activity. Some people need to doodle, color, play phone games, etc. to stay engaged and focused. That is not multi-tasking or task-switching. The white-noise activities don’t challenge your brain, so you are able to focus on the task at hand. This is why you can listen to a book on tape while you are taking a walk. Walking is rote — you do it without thinking. But cross a busy intersection safely and you will have to go back and listen to the part of the book you missed while your brain was keeping you from getting hit by a car. 

Do It Now

Sometimes, during planning, it takes less time to do a task than to plan to do a task. Additionally, if you have an open time slot that wouldn’t be useful for Focus Work, use that time and get those 5-, 10-, or 15-minute tasks done.

If something has been on your task list for weeks and you still haven’t done it, think about how much mental and emotional energy you’ve put into worrying or thinking about the task. Think about how much time you’ve wasted NOT doing the task. Sometimes it’s best just to do it and get it off your list and off your mind.

And sometimes it feels fabulous to spend a few hours clearing out all the little annoying few-minute tasks, getting them off your plate. Clearing out makes room for more important things.

Create Follow-Up Cues

The brain is not wired to arbitrarily remember new things. Neuroscientists say our working memory can hold between five to nine pieces of new information at a time. To remember everything that needs to be done, we need to create cues to help ourselves move into action.

Have you ever put something in front of the door to take with you? As in – you can’t open the door unless you pick up the bag in front of it? If you have something you absolutely MUST NOT forget to bring with you the next day, have you ever put it in the car the night before? These are examples of creating a cue to remember. 

The more we create cues the less we have to remember. We are setting ourselves up for success and freeing up our valuable working memory for more important things.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

to do list pro secrets

We’ve been talking about your to-do/task list the last few posts. Here are my favorite pro tips for an effective to do list.  With the new year upon us, it’s a good time to tune up your processes.

Capture Your Thoughts

  • Use your list as a capturing device. If you think you’re going to remember everything without writing it down, you simply won’t remember what you’ve forgotten. And if you really can remember EVERYTHING, this probably won’t be the case as you get more and more responsibilities, in and outside of your work.
  • Get in the habit of capturing thoughts as you think of them. Capture new to-dos directly on your list, make a note and put it in a specified place that you check when updating your list, or send an email or message to yourself to cue you to add the task to your list.

Be Concise 

  • Your task list will serve you best with fewer words. The more words, the more visual clutter and the more difficult it will be to see what you really need to do. The purpose of your list is to cue you into action. The brain works off of cues; it doesn’t need full explanations.

Projects Don’t Belong on Your CRITICAL or HOT List

  • A frequent stumbling block in task management is that people put projects on their task list. This is where project planning will serve you. What steps do you need to take to create the workshop? 
    • Brainstorm the steps onto either an electronic document or on individual sticky notes. Taking time to think through the steps makes everything easier.
    • Once you have the individual steps, then you can more easily put them in order and see if anything is missing. 
    • Now that you have the steps of your plan, you can decide when you will execute on them, adding them to your to do list in individual steps.

Removing Things from You List Is Good Too

  • Guess what! Just because something is on your task list doesn’t mean it needs to stay there. Life changes. Priorities shift. What seemed like a great idea three weeks ago may not sound like a good idea today, or next week, or the week after. 
  • Before leaving a task on your list ask yourself:
    • Is this task still important?
    • Is there someone you should check in with and discuss if the task is still a priority?
    • If this task has been on your list for a long time and you still haven’t done it, how important can it really be?
  • Removing unimportant things from your task list ensures you are focusing on your high-value work. 

Update Regularly 

  • Doing the right tasks at the right time supports your goals, intentions, and priorities. To execute on your tasks, you need to keep them top of mind. 
  • For a task list to keep you focused and directed, it needs to be maintained. Without proper maintenance, it quickly becomes obsolete. Your investment of time and energy to set it up is wasted. 
  • Planning puts you on the path to better productivity. If you want to be more effective and less stressed, a properly maintained task list is an indispensable asset. 

This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

In my last blog post I introduced you to the Priorities Planning Method. My method helps you identify which tasks to address NOW. When your task list is used and maintained following this methodology, important tasks won’t get lost, and you will feel confident and under control.  

The key is to organize each task into categories:

The CRITICAL Category – These are tasks that you must do now, today, or perhaps tomorrow. If there is no option to delay, it goes here.

  • Must be done today (or tomorrow at the latest)
  • Must be done or you can’t stop working for the day
  • There is NO OPTION; you must do it

The HOT Category – Tasks that are bubbling up to CRITICAL go here. These are the things that need to be done this week or in the next few days or there is a consequence:

  • You will miss a deadline
  • It will cost you money
  • You will be embarrassed
  • You will let someone down who is important to you
  • You will let yourself down
  • You won’t ever get to your high-value work

Filter questions, questions that help you see the situation more clearly, help you determine which tasks are HOT.

  • Does this task help me meet a goal or intention?
  • What are the consequences if I don’t do this task on time? 
  • If I don’t do this task in the next few days, will I miss an opportunity or will it cost me money?
  • If I don’t do this task, who suffers?
  • If this task doesn’t get done, will I let myself down?

Don’t skip over letting yourself down. Your work performance and satisfaction are affected by your ability to prioritize some of the things that are meaningful to you. It is easy to put everyone’s tasks in front of those that will inspire and motivate you. This is a great opportunity to start prioritizing yourself. 

The SOONER Category – Needs to be done soon, but not this week.

The LATER Category – If it can wait until LATER or if it is something you’re just thinking about doing, it goes in the LATER column.

Other Categories That May Be Helpful

The benefit of limiting yourself to four categories is that it’s easy to manage. If you are keeping a paper system, you can easily fit the four categories on one piece of paper. If you are managing your tasks in an app or spreadsheet program, you may want to add more.

Waiting: The WAITING category is for those items you’ve taken action on and are waiting for someone else’s action before you can proceed. The value of the waiting list is it keeps your CRITICAL and HOT lists clean and filled with actionable tasks.

Completed: The COMPLETED category is like checking off a task. Moving an item to COMPLETED feels great. Additionally, you can use this to verify the status of a task, or simply to have a running list of work you’ve completed.

Projects: A PROJECT category can be created if you would like to have a dedicated column for projects you are working on. Alternatively, the online template tool provides space for project work to be planned out and assigned into CRITICAL – HOT – SOONER – LATER categories.

Ideas: Sometimes ideas come to mind that aren’t ready to go on your list, but you don’t want to forget them. You can add an ideas category to your priorities planner or keep a running list on a notes app. 

Other Categories: Sometimes something will pop up that can be its own category; things to pack for vacation, things to discuss with your team or boss, ideas to capture relating to a specific project. When creating another list makes sense, please do so. Just remember to delete it when it is no longer relevant. 

Taking the time to organize your tasks may seem wasteful, but it helps you become proactive in your work. The only way you’ll know if this can work for you is to try it!


This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

 

In my last blog post I introduced you to Time Mapping. This week we move on my personal favorite step of The Productivity Flow Framework: The Priorities Task List. 

Tasks without sequence are like an unordered list of directions. What if I told you that you could have a to-do list that delivers the right tasks in the right order at the right time, like a conveyer belt delivers the next item to build a product? Using my Priorities Task List methodology  gives you the ability to adapt your list to any tool or situation you wish. And it can serve you the rest of your life, because once you learn it you won’t have to figure this out ever again. 

You can have this kind of productive list. There are two conditions for this system to work: 

  • YOU have to trust the system.
  • YOU have to use the system. 

That’s it. Like many of the things I share with you, you’ll find it reasonably simple. Too simple to work? No, not at all.

How about so simple it can’t not work. It’s time to reengineer your list! Your task list should support you, not stress you out or overwhelm you. It should manage your actionable tasks for you. We start by dispelling some common list mistakes: I call them List Land Mines.

Land Mine 1: Projects not tasks

What I See: A huge reason people get stuck getting through their lists is they include multi–step projects. To be effective, lists should consist of simple actionable steps. 

Diagnosis: Project paralysis 

    • When the project is too large, it becomes overwhelming and gets skipped until it’s almost too late. 
    • When the project isn’t planned, it is unclear where to start and what to do next.

Instead: Projects are easier to address and complete when they are broken down into actionable tasks. Key steps should be integrated into your list. When you are clear on the steps, it’s easier to know what to do next.

Land Mine 2: The big, long list

What I See: Many people keep their tasks on one big, long running list. Often a notebook or phone note of page after page of actions. They spend the majority of their time trying to figure out what to do next.  Then, when they are checking the list, they start by looking for something that might be important. On the paper list, asterisks and codes go in the margins, and completed things are crossed off. On the phone list, maybe things get deleted. Or maybe not. Alternately, there is the multiple-lists method. Every time you think of something else to do, you start a new list, or add it to the closest napkin or envelope back you can find. 

Diagnosis: The big, long lists are simply a bunch of words. It doesn’t help you determine what is important, nor does it organize the tasks in a way that helps you identify what needs to happen next. Multiple notes of actions are equally problematic. You end up writing the same task down over and over, which makes you feel like you have more to do than you actually do. Or you can’t find your list so you start a new one. However, you’re not sure what’s on the list you can’t find, and that nagging feeling of missing something important persists.

Instead: You are going to compartmentalize things on your task list by priority. And you will sort and group at the same time. When you unload the dishwasher, do you take all the silverware out and put it on the counter, then sort the forks from the spoons and knives, then put them in the silverware drawer? Or do you spread the utensils all over the counter and leave them there? No, you go from the dishwasher and sort the silverware directly into the correct compartments in the utensil tray. You are going to do the same thing with your tasks. Just like you need compartments for the spoons and forks, and just like you know where to find the knives in your kitchen, you are going to create compartments for your tasks. That way you will know exactly where to put what you need to do and where to find what you need to do next.

Land Mine 3: Rewriting over and over again  

What I See: Time spent copying over big, long lists onto new big, long lists.

Diagnosis: What do you have to show for that hour or two spent copying your endless list? Just a new endless list and more frustration. You are not advancing your productivity.

Instead: You will learn how to create a self–maintaining system. Regardless of tool, you will learn how to keep your list current. It’s a better use of your time to review, prioritize, and move into action than to rewrite.

Land Mine 4: Leaving updates to chance 

What I see: You occasionally update your list when you feel like it or when you’ve missed something important. There is no process.

Diagnosis: Updating after you’ve dropped the ball is too little too late. You add to your stress and are being reactive rather than proactive. 

Instead: It’s important to build a routine around managing your tasks. A good list is one of your most powerful productivity tools. Remember, however, it only works if you maintain it.

Land Mine 5: Expecting the Tool to Fix the Problem

What I see: You’ve bought countless planners. You’ve downloaded innumerable apps. You keep looking for the magic tool. Up until now, every attempt you’ve made to integrate a new task list has involved buying a tool. That’s like buying books before you know how to read or pads of college ruled paper before you know how to form letters. 

Diagnosis: The tool is secondary. It is not the solution. That’s why all those apps and systems you’ve purchased haven’t worked. Until you have a good methodology, you’ll continue to be frustrated.

Instead: Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll tell you all about the Priorities Planning Method.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.