Tips for Easier Living
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Productivity Coach, Productivity Consultant, Leadership Coach, Time Management Coach, Business Consulting, personal productivity, time management, nonprofit, board coach, collaboration, strategic planning, facilitation, change management, leading productive teams, project planning, board development, volunteer engagement, association management, workplace productivity, executive director.
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Tips for Easier Living

 

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.

 

In my last blog post I explained the importance of setting your goals and intentions, and we discussed why adding intentions was so important. In my book Productivity for How You’re Wired, I share 3 different models you can use to set goals and intentions based on your structure preference. You can create your own plan by following the steps below.  Definitely do the first 3 steps. Steps 4 and 5 are optional based on “how you’re wired.”

Step 1: Identify Focus Areas

Focus areas are the spaces in which you want to spend the time of your life. In a financial budget you’d have areas such as home expenses, utilities, clothing, food, and entertainment. For your life’s Focus Areas these may be business/work, professional development, personal growth, self–care, family, spirituality, friends/social, volunteerism, service, activism/advocacy.

Step 2: Set Goals and/or Intentions
A few people can state their goals or intentions off the top of their heads. Most can’t.

If the answers don’t come easily to you start by developing your priorities (Step 3). Then use your priorities to back into your goals and intentions. While it goes against every rigid business planner’s process, completing your priorities first can help you see exactly what matters. Ask “what is the purpose of doing these things” (the priorities.) The answer will bring the goal or intention into focus. Keep your goals and intentions concise and clear. They cue you to remember. They do not need to include ALL the details.

Step 3: Determine Strategic Priorities
The next step is to figure out the three most important things you want to accomplish in each focus area. Your priorities should be actionable within the established time frame of your plan. The priority should identify what you will do.

  • Start with an action word such as plan, complete, strategize, or implement.
  • Be concise – provide enough detail so you understand what want to do, but not so much you can’t easily grasp the action.
  • When identifying your priorities, it is often helpful to prime the pump by ask yourself questions such as these:
    • What project, task or action is critical to my success/my organization’s success?
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • What would I be disappointed with if I didn’t achieve?
    • What do I need to do to be who I want to be? 

Step 4: Create your Mission/Purpose/Success Statement

This is your WHY, your driver, what motivates you in work and/or life. If you know your WHY, add it now. If not, it often comes into focus as you complete the rest of the map. This step is optional. Add it if it supports you. Your statement should inspire you:

  • Use words that will reinforce what is important to you.
  • Define what success means to you.

Step 5: Plan your Quarterly Tactics

If you thrive in high structure and you’re excited about having a full–blown, step–by–step quarterly plan, this last section is for you. However, if the thought of doing this last step sounds dreadful, you’re best to skip it.

  1. Think the project through.
  2. Now put the project elements in order. Consider what steps must come before the others. You’ll probably identify a couple of things you are missing. Add those in.
  3. Estimate the time you’ll expect to spend on this element. A good rule of thumb is to double your time estimate.
  4. Now plug the elements into your quarterly plan.

Start thinking about what matters to you.  Use a template from the book or design your own. What’s most important is that you take a bit of time to identify how you want to “spend” your time.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 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 post I introduced you to the Productivity Flow Framework featured in section 2 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired. Today we move to Chapter 7 where we explore the first concept of the framework – setting your goals and intentions.  Remember, the reason we do this is to clarify and commit to priorities – those things that take time yet YOU deem as most important.  

Many of my clients struggle to set priorities. When asked they simply aren’t sure about what is and isn’t important. Setting goals and intentions helps you clarify what is important – namely those things you want to achieve. Goals have a specific outcome. Intentions are more general and reflect how you wish to live. We look at how and why to integrate both into your plan.

Why Intentions and Not Just Goals?

Goals are useful in some cases. They just aren’t applicable for everything. Considering intentions (how you want to live) expands the value of this exercise.

Goals

A goal has a specific outcome: 

  • Make profits over six figures this year.
  • Complete the team on–boarding program by June.
  • Lose four pounds a month each month this year

The business world embraces the acronym SMART to define the best practices of goal setting. 

  • SPECIFIC
  • MEASURABLE
  • ATTAINABLE
  • REALISTIC  
  • TIME–BOUND

A benefit of measurable goals is that they help define achievement. If you know you want to make $100K for a period of time, then you also know when you have attained that benchmark. This takes a bit of pressure off the workaholic, type A, never-enough driver. It helps them to know it’s actually okay to slow down. Goals are great for certain aspects of your work and life. They’re just not the complete picture. 

Intentions

An intention clarifies how you wish to live. 

  • I work smart and give great service.
  • I live a healthy, happy life.
  • I give my best self to my family.
  • I continue to learn so I can help other leaders grow.

Intentions speak to your inner-self and bring meaning to the things you do. They can be aspirational, motivating you without the pressure of measurement. Intentions help you find success as defined by you.

Consider SMART intentions:

  • SOUL–FOCUSED
  • MEANINGFUL
  • ASPIRATIONAL
  • REASONABLE  
  • TRANSFORMATIVE

Goals AND Intentions 

Most people have both goals and intentions. To focus on one and not the other is addressing just a portion of what is important.

My clients tell me they need help figuring out how to get all their work done. In reality, work is only part of the challenge. Many say they would like to take time off without worry, spend more quality time with their families, and even have a bit of time for themselves. As you work through identifying your own goals and intentions, you may want to consider more than work. Remember, a key reason to improve productivity is to have a full and better life.

Success On Your Own Terms

When people think of success, most think dollars. However, when they clarify what success means to them, they typically find they are seeking something more holistic. The money part is more the vehicle to get to the life they want. 

Do you want to have time to take care of the kids or an aging family member and still have a career? What if you want to travel and still have your work? What if your success is defined by having time to give back to your community?

Success is not always about the money. Being intentional about what matters in the big picture of life helps keep you from falling into the trap of letting others define success for you.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 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.

Today’s post summarizes Section 2 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired. I will provide more detail in future posts but we’ll start here –  with  the 30,000 foot view.  

The Productivity Flow Framework provides you with tools and context to help you achieve your goals and intentions and become your most productive, successful, fulfilled self. 

  • It is strategic. You are creating your process to work more effectively. 
  • It is a framework. It provides you context to work within. 
  • It flows from tool to tool. Everything impacts everything else, and helps you find flow in work and life.
  • It is customizable to your structure preference and productivity style. It reflects you.

Think of it as a picture frame. It holds the picture. The picture is you.

Goals and Intention Setting

We identify goals and intentions to clarify what is truly important. If you aren’t clear, or if too many things matter, you end up spreading yourself so thin that you are on that proverbial treadmill and it is only with luck the right work gets done.

By taking the time to clarify and create your own strategic plan, you are laying the foundation for doing the work that improves your quality of work and your quality of life. 

Time Mapping  

A time map helps you create a vision of how you want to spend your time. Think of this like a vision board where you are creating a picture of something you aspire to, or a budget for how you want to use your time. 

  • It helps paint a vision of what you want your life to look like. 
  • It helps you take the time to think through, and plug in, the various priorities you’ve identified in your goal and intention setting exercise.
  • It helps you see if your expectations are realistic.

Essential Structures

Boundaries come to life as Essential Structures; what you need to say YES to and what you need to say NO to to be your best self. The Time Map gives us clues and from it we are able to create a concrete list of

  • Winning Conditions – the nonnegotiable choices you make that you want to become habits
  • Guardrails – the things you must say no to in order to do the kind of work you want to do and be the person you want to be.

Task Prioritization

This tool is more tactical and directly impacts your day-to-day work. The central concept to take away from this section is the importance of sequentially prioritizing your work based on your goals, intentions, and essential structures. Most to-do list tools organize tasks by day or date. This is different. Organizing tasks by priority ensures you are doing the right things at the right time.

Weekly and Daily Planning 

Weekly and Daily planning makes being productive much easier. You can function without planning; however, without a plan, you can’t maximize your time or be focused and strategic, and you won’t ever be sure you are successful. 

  • Planning helps you use your time for the things that have the greatest payoff — your high-value work.
  • Planning ensures you are set up to use your time to act on the things you’ve deemed most important.
  • Planning gives you benchmarks to reach so when you aren’t working you can actually relax. 

The Productivity Flow Framework helps you build a solid foundation. And with this foundation you can delve into the tactics that will help bring your current situation into alignment with your vision for work success and a better life. 

Think of the framework as you would a border of a puzzle, the frame that links everything together. Just like a puzzle, with perseverance, you’ll get the full picture. Taking responsibility for your productivity is something only you can do.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 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.

Counteract Burnout

Excessive busyness is no longer looked upon as a badge of honor. More and more companies are moving towards eliminating the frenzied activity and psychologically unsafe conditions that cause burnout. What can be done?

From an Organizational Perspective:

  • Shift from the quarterly results mentality to sustained positive performance
  • Support work cultures that value members of the team
  • Dismiss managers who create and promote dysfunction.

From an Individual Perspective:

Knowing that your work culture may be contributing to your burnout is validating; however, it’s probably not enough to effect change. We, as individuals, need to learn how to protect ourselves from chronic stress and burnout.

The emotional component must also be considered. Finding balance between your passion for contributing to a project’s success and caring for yourself is much easier said than done. 

In monitoring your relationship with burnout, consider the following:

  • Selfvalue — Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can do it better than anyone else still doesn’t mean you should. 
  • Connectedness Do you feel connected to your work colleagues? Do you fit in?
  • Contribution Are you part of something bigger than yourself? Are you empowered to do the work you were hired to do? Does your work matter?
  • Work Fit Are you working to your strengths? If not, this in itself is exhausting.
  • Support If you have a problem, is there someone you can go to for direction or to help you sort things out?
  • Balance Can you slow down enough to relax or are you always seeking your next big rush?
  • Interests Do you have interests outside of work? What else matters?
  • Fun and Joy Do you know how to have fun? Do you know what gives you joy? 
  • Happiness Have you lost yourself? Are there things that make you happy that come from inside you and not from external validation? 

What does relax mean to you? Another exercise class? Reading more? Cooking more? If these activities help you decompress, then great. But for many, they are simply personal to-dos, done for outcome and not pleasure. What makes you happy? What helps you enjoy life? We are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings. Can you identify one act of “be-ing” that helps you relax? 

Take a few moments this week and self-coach yourself around some of these questions.  You could journal, take a contemplative walk, or simply sit and “be” with a question or two.  Setting intentions about how you wish to live and creating structures that support your personal self are positive actions you can take.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 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.

Causes of Burnout

Burnout is trending. For many years, it didn’t seem to be a topic of much interest. It was almost like it was okay. IT IS NOT OKAY! 

Burnout can use up our physical and mental resources over time. Yes, USE UP, as in never be able to regain full capacity, full processing ability, full memory access. GONE! That is scary. 

Unfortunately, many employers see their employees as commodities. Commodities to use up and replace with other hard-working suckers who want to fast-track or prove themselves. The employees end up working endless hours, often suffering chronic stress and sometimes burnout.

If you are worried about chronic stress, I hope you find a place to work that values you and a way to live that fulfills you. In the event you can’t, it’s important to educate yourself about stress and burnout and how to take care of yourself. Don’t hold your breath waiting for someone to tell you to work less. This one is up to you.

What is Burnout?

Burnout doesn’t just happen. It is a process that occurs over time. The World Health Organization  defines burnout as chronic work–induced stress that has not been successfully managed. New science has also recognized burnout in non–work conditions such as parenting, caring for elderly parents, and unemployment. Whatever the source, all agree burnout results from long periods of ongoing stress.

When stress persists, it’s called chronic stress. When chronic stress impacts emotional health, physical health, and work efficacy it becomes burnout.

Causes of Burnout

Work Culture – Burnout is often driven by working conditions. In her seminal article, “Burnout from an Organizational Perspective”, Stanford Business School Professor Dr. Leah Weiss shares research showing that much burnout comes from toxic work cultures. 

Conditions that cause chronic stress include feelings of not belonging, being unappreciated, having little or no support, being micromanaged, and not knowing what is expected. These ongoing conditions move the brain into an always–on stress response.

Toxic Team Members – An organization’s tolerance for toxic team members contributes to burnout. It isn’t unusual for leadership to overlook abusive treatment of others when the harasser is a rainmaker or makes great promises about impacting profitability. 

Abusers are clever and they know who they can con. They also know who is smart enough to see through them. Their reaction is to smear and lie about those that can disclose their charade. Being a victim of that type of abuse is especially stressful. Continued work in this kind of situation is rarely sustainable without support.

Level of Job Stress – Certain jobs carry with them greater stress. Helping professionals, health care workers, and civil servants in harm’s way have stress baked in. The slightest negative change in working conditions can tip the scales toward compassion fatigue and eventual burnout.

Family of origin scripts – Mental scripts around work often reflect upbringing and family dynamics. These messages can contribute to chronic stress and burnout.

  • Was working extremely long hours modeled for you growing up?
  • Were you taught that anything less than 100% was not okay?
  • Do you worry about disappointing others if you don’t produce?

How you’re wired – Your own needs and values can also affect your relationship with work.

  • Does being busy make you feel good about yourself?
  • Is your identity tied to your work?
  • Are you addicted to the adrenaline rush of collaboration and results?

What doesn’t cause burnout Oversensitivity or “taking things too personally” are excuses used to blame workers for something someone else is doing wrong. One’s reaction does affect how the stress is processed; it is a symptom and not the cause. 


This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 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.