To see the previous two posts in this series go to “Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Organizing Stuff” and “Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Time Management”
As I mentioned in the last post, taking classes and reading every book, article, and yes, blog post, etc. on the subject(s) will help, but they take precious time. My goal in this series of posts is to “think out-loud” about the journey I’ve been on. With any luck, some of it will prove helpful and you may be able to get a few nuggets or helpful tips on your Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – before you reach retirement. In the meantime, I guess (for me) better late than never, sigh…
The are as many methods for being more productive as there are people who have tried to figure out how to be. That’s because it is largely an individual kind of thing. We are all wired differently and different things work for us. We have many different times of day when our productive mojo is at its peak. We have many different work styles. We all have different demands on our time, schedules and energy. The list goes on and if you do the math, it turns out to be about a bazillion variations on the theme.
For me, organizing and time management are only two-thirds of the formula for being productive. You have to be organized to be productive but being organized won’t make you productive. You have to be able to manage your time – but being able to manage your time won’t make you productive if you don’t have your ducks – all happily quacking – in a row (my eyes are crossing). They set the stage, but don’t give lines and actions to the actors. Some direction is needed. Then some action.
When I take the time to plan, my actions are more effective. Planning is part of setting up routines and systems. I heard that collective groan. It’s not all that bad, they can be as flexible as you need them to be, so can a plan. Here is what is working for me (this time around).
Yes, I’ve gone through many years of trials and tribulations, just plain ignoring it all, tweaking and testing. I have a bad habit of giving up on a system when it starts to fall apart for what ever reason. In desperation, I eventually try again. This time things seem to be sticking – so why couldn’t I have figured all this out before now? I blame The Lord of the Cosmic Jest.
Know what you want/need to get done. Set up your routine so that you have wiggle room. My morning routine consists of things I need to get done before I start my “work” day. I tried setting up a schedule that had me doing certain things at certain times (i.e. 7am to 8am – walk dog, 8am to 9am – breakfast and plan dinner, 9am to 9:30 am…). Reality check! I could never stick to the schedule, even when I gave myself more time for each chore. I just get too distracted! I would get off schedule and get frustrated and give up on the whole routine. Chaos would return and things went back to hit ‘n miss because I forgot to take into account my working style. I’m a deep dweller and the most important thing in the world to me at any given moment is what is in my field of vision.
Know your working style. I have learned the hard way that starting out in the studio or office means NOTHING else will get done all day. I simply won’t stop what I’m working on to do mundane (muggle?) chores. I want to spend my precious time on what matters: making buttons, creating stuff, running my business – not on stuff that won’t matter in a hundred years (or less). But, some boring things still need to be done: fixing dinner, doing laundry, scheduling the house keeper (someone has to do it!). Fix: I’m getting in the habit of doing them first.
So, the recent tweak that is working? I have a set amount of time in the morning to do the domestic chores. I have a cut-off time to be at “work” (in my office or studio). I make it late enough in the morning so that I can reasonably get the things done I need to do first (assuming I stay on task). Anything that isn’t finished (by cut-off time) has to wait until that night or the next morning. Period. Instead of a time based schedule to do certain activities in certain time slots, I have a check list of things that have to get done (not too detailed). There is just something very satisfying about ticking boxes on a check list, and knowing exactly what I have to do makes it easy to take action. 😉
☐ walk the dog
☐ update task list
☐ start dinner
☐ start laundry
☐ next chore
You get the picture. Since I couldn’t seem to stick to doing things in the same order every day, this eliminated the frustration and feelings of failure that the time-table method brought on. The important part is the cut-off time, it’s not negotiable. My next strategy was to learn from my working style that office work can suck me in and never end. Apparently there is a part of me that is unbelievably anal when it comes to book-keeping and computer stuff – and we won’t even mention the black-hole that’s the Internet. Fix: I go to the studio first, then the office chores in the late afternoon. Again, there is a cut-off time when I stop and go finish fixing dinner. The rest of the night is to relax with DH (maybe fit in a few chores not finished in the morning) and work on my personal knitting, weaving or handwork project.
This approach has helped me stick with a schedule that actually gets things done. It’s loose enough, and flexible enough, that I can live with it long-term. It also takes into account my peak creative time and my working style; blocks of time that allow the deep immersion into a project that I like, mid-day for about 2-½ to 3 hours – my attentions starts to wane at that point – then it’s a good time to move to office work.
Now that I have a working (and flexible enough) schedule, what else makes for being productive? Habits and systems. For all the small things that have to be repeated everyday, I do it the same way every time until it becomes habit. It is totally amazing how much faster and more efficiently you can get a chore done if you do it on auto-pilot. Seriously! I used to dread the huge chore of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Years ago I figured out how to make it a system, which became a habit: After dinner (with DH’s willing help) I immediately clear the table and rinse the dishes, put them in the dishwasher, wipe the stove and counter. It takes 5 to 10 minutes max and I never have to face dirty dishes piled up later. It is a habit to never leave a dish in the sink. It gets rinsed and put in the dishwasher; auto-pilot, habit, never becomes a piled up problem. Build your habits one at a time – most people fail with these small things because they try to do more than one, giving themselves overwhelm. Pick the one thing you hate most and causes you the most grief. Make it a routine, a system, and do it – the same way, at the same trigger (e.g. finishing dinner), every time, until it’s a habit. It takes about 30 days of diligence to create a habit. Then, keep it going. Eventually you couldn’t break it if you tried! My current habit I’m working on is to limit my e-mail time by checking it on my phone (it’s harder to follow links that way) in the morning for orders or other important business messages – with a time limit (my timer is my friend). Then I don’t look at it again until office hours and I can use the computer and chase a link or two that is important enough – again, with a time limit! This is a tough one but I’m making progress. I have also turned off all alerts on my phone for e-mail, Facebook and Twitter – I look at them on my schedule, not theirs.
I design systems which eventually become habits. Do you have important tasks that need to be done the same way every time and in the same order so things don’t get forgotten? Create a system or work-flow. I have one for when I receive an order. I used a Mind Mapping App like Scapple (for the Mac) or Simple Mind (for anybody) that creates things that look like Org Charts (but more robust) and actually make a chart for what I do when I get an e-mail notice of an order. The first step is to print it out, then I have to interact with the customer, get it into my bookkeeping system, inventory system, set up the schedule for getting it filled and shipped… If I don’t have each of the 14 steps written down, something gets forgotten and I have to explain to the customer why I dropped the ball. Not good. Systems and work flows make it all happen efficiently.
Rewards help too. My morning habit is to walk the dog. I used to putz around until I eventually put it off entirely (she does have a fenced, big back yard). But the walk was good for both of us and I really wanted to get into the habit. I made a routine; get up, brush teeth, dress, put on walking shoes, put dog on leash, go out-door. Same way, same order every morning for a month (yes, a great deal of discipline was needed). When I got back I could have my first cup of coffee, not before (reward!). Now it’s auto-pilot stuff. It does help that the dog expects it and won’t give me any peace if I try to fob it off.
Did I mention that systems and habits get things done? What repeating tasks do you have that can be made into a system, then a habit?
What about stuff that is different, like your big, one-time project to take over the world and create a zombie sanctuary? My Secret Sauce for making progress on projects and goals is project planning, management and task lists; what needs to be done and in what order. Look at your long-term goals, which one can you start working on now? What project would be a good first step? What tasks need to get done and in what order to do that project? What’s next?
So, this was a long post. What are the big take-aways here?
Know what you want to do.
Make a system or habit out it.
Sometimes my project for the day is just to plan my upcoming projects. I have a system for that too. All about Project Management in the next post of the series.