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Get maximum results with minimum effort.

Put your digital “To do” list in writing.


By minimum effort, I don’t mean you should not concentrate fully on the task at hand; but rather that you should complete the task with a minimum expenditure of energy. Being disorganized consumes energy, multitasking consumes energy, constantly being distracted consumes energy, and working solely from a digital “To do” list consumes energy.

A digital list of “things to do” on your computer or laptop can becomes long and unmanageable, with a mixture of priority and less important and trivial items – some of which must be done immediately and others later on, sometimes even months into the future.

This tends to increase your anxiety level, serves as a distraction, and wastes time as you constantly scan the items to decide which ones to work on each day. These situations consume energy that otherwise could be spent on priority tasks.

You can manage your “To do” list more effectively by separating it from your computer workstation as a handwritten list. Then you can choose a few of the most important items and record them in your planner or Daily Priority Pad, crossing them off your master list as you do so.

It’s important that you don’t choose too many items to get done in a day. Plan for only four or five hours of productive work each day, allowing up to 50% more time than you think the tasks will take. The balance of the work day will be filled by unplanned, yet important and urgent, tasks and activities that inevitably occur.

One advantage of a planning calendar over the Daily Priority Pad is that you can actually schedule a block of time for each task and have a visual view of the times that are still available for other work.

Writing down your “To do” list on paper frees up working memory, sensitizes your mind to the items to be done, allows time to evaluate their importance, and provides a motivational sense of accomplishment as you cross off each item.

Mikael Cho, cofounder of Crew, claimed that “the separation from the digital space (where I do most of my work) to the physical, helped me feel less overwhelmed.”

Physically writing things down also increases your focus on what you are doing at the time, avoids mental multitasking, and helps you to make better decisions when selecting the priorities for each day.

I personally use the “To Do” sections (referred to as “Weekly action items”) in my Taylor Planner since this allows me to assign items to specific weeks. The Daily Priority Pad (for those who don’t necessarily use a paper planner) allows you to assign them to specific days. I recommend you use whatever system works best for you.

If you’re unfamiliar with our Daily Priority Pad or Taylor Planner, you can get a description of each at

A weakness of all planning calendars, whether hard copy or electronic, is that they allow you to schedule and/or list more work than you can possibly get done. We probably all know that we should not attempt more than we can get done in any given day; because to do so causes anxiety and stress and makes us more vulnerable to distractions and inattentiveness. And when you have more to do in a week than you can possibly get done, priorities frequently take a back seat to quantity as you play catch-up.

One solution to the problem would be to take one day at a time, listing only those priorities and urgent items that could reasonably be done in a day. However it is difficult to know what comprises a day’s work.

When determining a day’s work, take into consideration the length of your working day, the interruptions that you anticipate, and the type of activities you will be involved in – and always allow up to 50% more time that you estimate your activities will take.

The Daily Priority Pad helps you to limit the essential priorities, important tasks and urgent activities to those that can be done in one day. This one-day-at-a-time approach allows greater focus, facilitates the changing priorities that occur during the week, helps you to quickly learn from experience what a day’s work really is, and frees your mind from those items that need only be addressed at a later date.

The Daily Priority Pad can be used either in conjunction with or independent of an annual planner. When used with an annual planner, such as the Taylor Planner with a week at a glance format, each page in the Daily Priority Pad is the day’s action plan distilled from the broader weekly plan outlined in your planner.

When used independently, normally by those individuals unable to realistically schedule activities as far as a week in advance, it replaces the annual planner. This short-range planning tool is needed in today’s working environment where the time between planning and action is becoming shorter each year, and in which the choices available to us are increasing exponentially.

The Daily Priority Pad retains the priority and “To do” sections of the Taylor Planner, while limiting scheduled activities to a few appointments – either with others or yourself, and a “Notes” section for additional information or journaling.

When scheduling your time, I recommend you work on 90-day goals, during 90-minute work sessions scheduled up to 90 hours in advance. I will explain this “triple 90” approach in my next blog article.

Next blog article: Using the “triple 90” method to get the important things done on time.


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Boosting performance in your home office


In past blogs I reviewed the impact of environmental factors such as noise level, lighting, office decor, colours and greenery on productivity and creativity. It’s also important to have an organized office to minimize distractions, boost efficiency, lower stress, conserve energy and increase personal comfort while working on your priority tasks.

Choose an adjustable chair that allows you to rest your feet on the floor while maintaining your eyes at about 30 inches from the computer screen with the top part of the monitor slightly below eye level. You may need a cushion to support your lower back as well.

Organize your desk and surrounding area so that frequently used materials and supplies and equipment are within reach. The less frequently you use materials, the farther away they should be stored. For example, your stapler, paper clips, writing materials might be on your desk. An organizer tray in your most accessible drawer could contain such items as elastic bands, sticky notes, scissors, tape, batteries and staples. Another drawer could contain envelopes, stamps, return address labels, forms, invoices, and so on.

If you frequently refer to hardcopy files, house them in hanging folders in your desk’s filing drawer or a freestanding filing cabinet within reach. Action files such as next week’s meeting material, invoices to be paid, information for an article being written or items to be reviewed can be held in a vertical step file device on your desk. But otherwise keep your desk as clear as possible to accommodate your current project.

Whenever possible, store your supplies where they are used – printer paper, ink cartridges etc. near the printer, copier supplies near the copier and so on.

These organizing principles apply to your digital files and forms as well. Have frequently used documents such as your weekly blog articles, tweets, monthly reports etc. in a folder on your desktop. Avoid having to click through five or six levels of document folders every day or week to reach the materials you need.

Less frequently used files can be several levels down in your main “Documents” folder. For instance, you might have to click through Associations, NAPO, Conferences, and Exhibits each year to reach the Product List file.

Don’t allow your computer desktop to be cluttered with folders and individual documents. File newly created documents in the proper folder as you create them. Temporary storage easily becomes more permanent and slows the retrieval process.

Have a bookcase within reach for more current books that you refer to frequently for research while writing articles, writing proposals for clients or developing training programs. Once they are referred to less frequently and replaced by more current books, move them to your larger bookcases farther from your immediate working area.

Try to keep books on the same or similar topics together. Choose categories that suits your particular situation. I have categories such as general management, time management and organization, brain, ADHD, etc. I affix a coloured self-adhesive label to the lower part of the spine – a different colour for each category. If you do this at the time you buy the book, it takes only a few seconds. This allows you to place the book on the correct shelf to keep the topics together. You can also quickly spot a book that has been misfiled or moved.

Remove all clutter and other potential distractions from your immediate work area – including the in-basket if you have one on your desk. Hopefully you have already decided what you will be working on each day and don’t need additional distractions. Any in-basket should be outside your office or at least as close as possible to the doorway. If it’s a crisis, it won’t need an in-basket anyway.

Don’t have family photos or memorabilia in your line of sight. These could initiate the brain’s impromptu trip down memory lane. A window view is okay as long as it’s a view of nature and not a school playground.

Although it seems I am trying to glue you to your desk for the day in the name of efficiency, read this in context with my previous blog articles. Remember the standing desk, 90-minute works sessions, frequent breaks, walking sessions and stand-up meetings. You don’t want to remain sitting; but you do want to remain productive during those 90-minute work sessions.

In the next article I will suggest how you might increase your productivity even more by managing the way you work.

Next blog article: Get maximum results with minimum effort.

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Find an office away from the office


If you find it difficult to focus on certain tasks in your current environment, try changing your environment. It is possible that simply being in your office, where you may have built a habit of checking email, staring out the window or twisting paper clips, prompts these distracting habits to recur. That’s why it’s easier to start a new behavior in a new location, as reported in the March/April, 2012 issue of Scientific American Mind.

Two things experienced together will become associated with each other in our mind.  This is known as the law of contiguity, and is used to advantage when memorizing something.  Things or events that occur close to each other in space or time tend to get linked together in the mind.  If you think of a cup, you may think of a saucer; if you hear a song, you may recall events that happened when that song was popular. When you see again the house that you were born and raised in, you are flooded with memories of things that happened at that time. When you see the ocean, it may remind you of a time you almost drowned there. And so on. This can work against you as well. Your office may become associated with procrastination or anxiety or daydreaming just as your bed becomes associated with sleep.

More and more people seem to be using their local coffee shop as an effective place to work. Although loud noises are distracting, the steady hum of a busy coffee shop with its mixture of espresso machines running and customer conversation seems to provide just the right level of “white noise” to stimulate creativity and concentration. (Researchers also found that adding white noise to a classroom can be as effective as drugs and eating learning among ADHD pupils.)

Entrepreneurs are even beginning to capitalize on this trend by turning coffee shops or restaurants into co-working spaces. Susan Johnston, writing for, mentioned that CoworkCafé and other entrepreneurial companies are renting out after-hours space in coffee shops, complete with desks, lockers, Wi-Fi and food vouchers.

The majority of my articles, segments of my books, and countless newsletters were written in coffee shops. I find I am alone while not alone, with complete anonymity, yet able to feed off the energy of others. It’s an excellent time to silence your iPhone or other devices and work undisturbed. Wi-Fi is available, lighting is normally good, and any inefficient work habits seem to remain back at the office. If you need to make the odd call, your voice is muted by the ambient noises. And as an added bonus, a cup of coffee stimulates creativity as well. I write longhand since it further increases my concentration and allows me to edit as I go along. Using voice activated software, I can quickly dictate the results to my laptop when I get back to my home office.

If you can’t make it to a coffee shop, you can always go to and bring the sounds of a coffee shop to your computer while you work. Back in 2013, Coffitivity was launched when its founder realized the benefits of re-creating the ambient sounds of a coffee shop to boost people’s creativity and help them increase their performance.

It seems that a moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity. It doesn’t distract us as loud noises tend to do. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is in the form of ocean waves, chatter or music. In the case of music, there is a link between music and executive function. Sylvain Marino, a scientist with the Rotman Research Institute, was able to produce a 14-point increase in IQ in preschoolers by exposing them to a computerized music program for 20 days. If you like to work with music in the background, choose a genre such as classical or blues that works best for you. You can do this by having music from playing on your computer in the background as you work.

Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, believes that a blue background screen on your computer also improves performance when working on a creative tasks, while a red background is better with more detail-oriented tasks.

What is most important, in my opinion, is having a “high performance area” where you work your best, regardless of where that might be. But if you are restricted to do all your work in a corporate or home office, there is much more you can do to aid your performance, which I will discuss in the next blog article.

Next blog article: Boosting performance in your home office.

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Is your office killing you?

Luxury office

Most Canadians spend at least half there waking hours sitting – and for business people most of this takes place in their office. According to research, spending this much time sitting can increase the risk of health issues. Tom Rath, in his book Eat Move Sleep, claims that sitting more than six hours a day greatly increases the risk of an early death.

An article aptly titled Killer chairs, which appeared in the November, 2014 issue of Scientific American, provides statistics based on 18 studies reported during the past 16 years, covering 800,000 people. Among the findings:

  • Those sitting for over four hours a day watching TV had a 46% increase in deaths from any cause than those spending less than two hours a day.
  • Sitting for more than half the day doubles the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
  • Obese people sat 2.25 hours longer than their lean counterparts every day, and expended 350 fewer calories.

If you think your self-discipline in keeping your bottom glued to a chair and focusing on work for six hours a day’s increases your productivity, think again. For years it has been known that standing up can improve performance. Research at the University of California long ago showed that people digest complex facts better and make quicker decisions when standing. Some actually absorbed information 40% faster.

A study reported by CNN suggested that standing desks could boost productivity for some employees by 46%. Researchers studied the productivity of employees at a call centre for a pharmaceutical company over a six month period. Within one month of getting standing desks, employees were 23% more productive than those using traditional desks. Within five months productivity had increased 53%.

More recent studies reported in the August 27, 2016 issue of Toronto Star show that giving kids standing desks in school helps them burn more calories and improves behavioural classroom engagement.

So it’s not simply health benefits that should prompt you to get out of your chair more often. I wouldn’t expect you to improve productivity by 50% – but even a 10% boost would be a bonus, considering the health aspects of standing up.

Sitting at a desk five days a week could compress your spine, degenerate your muscles, and according to at least a few reports, even cause depression or cancer. One 2013 Australian survey of 63,048 middle-aged men found that those who sat for more than four hours a day were more likely to have a chronic disease like high blood pressure and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

What can you do about it?

The surprising thing is that neither Tom Rath nor the other authors and researchers seem to be suggesting jogging or marathon walks to remedy the problem, but rather to simply get out of your chair. Get up and move around, as we were created to do, rather than lead a sedentary life. Walk around while you talk on the phone, work at a stand-up desk, have stand-up meetings, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the local mall instead of taking the car — are the type of recommendations these authors seem to be supporting.

Tom Rath claims that as soon as you sit down, electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts off, the number of calories you burn drops to one per minute, and enzyme production, which helps to break down fat, drops by 90%. And after sitting for two hours your good cholesterol drops by 20%.

Simply standing increases your energy, and walking increases energy levels by about 150%. Take the stairs and you could increase energy by more than 200%. Stand, stretch, move, walk — anything that will get you out of that killer chair.

Dr. Mark Benton, creator of the Stand 2 Learn school desks, claimed his studies showed that all moving, even if it’s just squirming, is actually having an effect on health.

John Griffin, a professor of the Fitness and Health Promotion Program at George Brown College in Toronto, claims that by integrating physical activity (sitting less) into our daily lives we can overcome the detrimental health effects of sitting.

In the office you might consider alternating between a stationary desk and a standing desk. Experiment to see what type of work is best done sitting, standing or while walking around the office. Working on your desktop or laptop, as well as work involving physical skills such as art work or drafting is probably done best while sitting, problem solving, planning, decision-making and other mental tasks might be done best while standing or walking.

And don’t forget the advantage of spending time in another location altogether, such as at a picnic bench or in a coffee shop. This will be discussed in my next blog.

Next blog article: Find an office away from the office.