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The importance of punctuality

I read an article recently that claimed that people who are late are more successful, and live longer. Don’t believe it. Chronic lateness is stressful, unacceptable in business, and can be detrimental to your success – and even your job.

Most people don’t want to be late. They don’t do it intentionally. And they are more times than not embarrassed, frustrated and stressed – and probably have their longevity threatened, not lengthened, by chronic lateness. People are late for different reasons, including poor time management skills, disorganization, and even due to health problems such as depression, OCD or mild cognitive impairment. And poor time management, organizing skills, and procrastination and poor self-control – all could be a result of, or exacerbated by, weak executive functioning.

Executive functioning refers to those brain based self-regulating skills that we use every day to get things done. They take about twenty years to fully develop, and if weak, can play havoc with our ability to plan ahead, resist distractions, and arrive at our destination on time. At work it becomes most evident in missed deadlines or arriving late at meetings or forgetting appointments.

Lateness in most cases can be overcome with time management training; but different people require more time and effort in applying the recommendations than others. But even weak executive skills can be strengthened through effort. Strengthening these various brain-based skills is covered in detail in my eBook, Strengthening your brain’s executive skills, published by Bookboon.com. But in general you should get adequate sleep, avoid stress, eat properly, and exercise both your body and your brain. This is essential since your brain, which is only 2% of the body weight, consumes up to 25% of the energy nutrients distributed by the blood.

Most of the reasons for being late have little to do with weak executive skills, and can be remedied by common sense, etiquette and the application of sound time management and organizing principles.

  1. Make up your mind that you will be punctual from now on. In many cases lateness is caused by a lack of commitment to arrive on time. Have the right mindset.
  2. Record commitments in your planner, and also record the time you must leave the house or office in order to arrive on time. Plan to arrive 5 to 10 minutes early.
  3. Always allow more time to travel to the meeting or other commitment than you think it will take. This is the same as scheduling more time for a task than you think it will take. It will allow for interruption by people you meet on the way, traffic congestion, parking, and so on.
  4. To determine the time needed in item 3, visualize the trip in your mind, adding time for each segment, such as taking the elevator, walking to your car, driving to the other office building, finding the right room, and so on. Then add your safety factor.
  5. Don’t be trapped by the one last thing If you’re ready to leave and it’s still early, leave anyway. Utilize the time at the other end rather than trying to finish one more task before you leave.
  6. If you have a morning meeting or other commitment, get everything you will need for the event ready the night before. Always plan ahead.
  7. If you use an iPhone or other electronic device, set the alarm for the time you have to stop what you are doing and leave for your meeting.
  8. If something unplanned and unavoidable happens and you think you might be late, make a quick courtesy call so others won’t waste time waiting for you. When you arrive, apologize briefly but skip the excuses.

Punctuality is not just good etiquette, it’s essential. In business, it shows you are professional, respect other people’s time, manage your time well, and are on top of your job. It also lowers your stress level and provides a feeling of being in control. On the other hand, chronically late people are usually not high on the list for promotion.

In your personal life, it shows respect for your friends and acquaintances, an eagerness to participate, and a reputation for being dependable and trustworthy.

Arriving on time has its rewards.

 

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How to say no

A small word like “no” can have a huge negative impact on our mental and physical health, energy level and the accomplishment of meaningful personal goals.

Getting involved in business, community and social projects can be a great way to expand your personal relationships and your areas of competence; but it can also catapult you into a busy, busy life where you are so occupied with other people’s projects that you don’t realize you are neglecting your own ambitions and the needs of those closest to you.

There is a reason people say that if you want to get something done, you should ask a busy person. It’s usually because a busy person hasn’t learned to say no.

It’s so much easier to say yes to other people’s requests. We don’t hurt their feelings, it avoids conflict, it satisfies our need to be liked, and it actually feels good at the time. Every time we say yes, we are momentary heroes. But most often, what we agree to do at the moment torpedoes what we really want to do the most.

Just because someone asks you to or three times doesn’t mean you have to change your answer to a yes. A polite no is a complete sentence; but you might want to add a comment that doesn’t leave the door open for a change of heart later, such as “but I’m flattered that you asked me.”

Definitely don’t say “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you later.” They will have false hopes, and you will have an even harder time saying no as they continually press you for your decision. And giving an excuse such as, “I’m too busy right now; perhaps in the future” would leave the door open for negotiation. You may get, “That would work out okay; the project doesn’t start until the spring.” Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Holding a definite “No” in abeyance is both stressful and energy draining.

If you feel you must give a reason for saying no, mention how saying yes would impact other people. Few people would argue against spending adequate time with your family or fulfilling ongoing obligations, for instance.

It’s important to have your personal goals as well as your personal policies in writing and in your mind. Focusing on your goals insures that you have a good reason for refusal always on the tip of your tongue. For example, I can readily respond with sorry, “I’d love to help you out; but I have a commitment to get 10 more e-books to the publisher in the next couple of years and I just don’t have the time to spare.”

Saying no at work tends to be more of a struggle for women than for men, according to studies done by Katherine O’Brien at Baylor School of medicine in 2014. Age is also a factor. Seniors find it easier to say no – probably due to experience and because they have less need. The majority of people are somewhere in between, with the less assertive people being more likely to say yes.

Practice should help everyone. Thinking how you would word a refusal, and actually speaking it out loud a few times, will at least make it more familiar and a little easier. And the more you say no, and discover that people don’t resent it half as much as you had imagined, it won’t be such an ordeal.

 

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Measuring the results of time & organization training

Getting Organized Action Plan - Personal Organization Quiz

The closest instrument that I have developed to a quantifiable measurement of results obtained from a time management and personal organization workshop is the Personal Organization Self-Analysis Quiz. It attempts to evaluate the individual’s current state of organization (or disorganization) by applying point values to each component. For instance, under the area of Procrastination, it makes the statement, “I feel pressured because of all the things I have to do.” If the individual feels this is true, she or he gives it 2 points, if only partially true, 1 point, and if not true, 0 points. After completing the entire quiz and calculating the total point value, the clients have a quantifiable indication of their current degree of personal organization.

The higher the number of points, the more disorganized they are. Then I issue a companion instrument, the Getting Organized Action Plan, which provides 15 suggestions in each of the same eight key areas being measured – for a total 120 suggestions. A month or so after putting into practice the ideas that workshop participants feel will help them, they can take the quiz again and see whether their total score has dropped. Just seeing a measurable improvement motivates them to continue to make further changes.

I recall one attendee coming into my office a few years after attending my workshop and excitedly telling me that he initially had a score of over 300 and that it had dropped to close to 200 a few months later after he had introduced some changes into his life. His goal was to get it below 100. Another client told me she repeated the test every few months, after applying a few more ideas from the Getting Organized Action Plan, and saw an improvement each time. This is the type of feedback that is rewarding.

The eight areas measured by the Personal Organization Self-Analysis Quiz are setting goals and prioritizing, planning and scheduling, writing things down, procrastination, packrat tendencies, environmental organization, work habits, and the tyranny of the urgent.

The companion Getting Organized Action Plan is simply a listing of 120 suggestions broken down into 15 suggestions for each of the eight key areas being measured. Many of my clients have used only the Action Plan to issue to their employees so they can put it into use immediately.

Everyone wants to be able to measure the results of training. Corporations are reluctant to spend thousands of dollars on training without knowing whether they are getting an adequate return on investment. They want to be assured that the new skills are being applied on the job with resulting increases in productivity.

Individuals in a home environment also want to get their money’s worth, but they are less concerned with return on investment than they are with realizing an improvement in their current situation. If one of your recommendations results in more free time or less stress or a greater feeling of control—or anything positive—they will be motivated to try more of the suggestions and to stick with them.

As a trainer, you obviously want to be able to measure results because that’s your job—to get results. You want to know that you are truly helping people to gain control of their time and their lives. It also results in more enthusiastic testimonials, referrals, higher ratings on evaluation sheets, and ultimately more business. And there’s nothing more rewarding than having someone tell you that your presentation saved their marriage or prompted a change to a more rewarding vocation or helped them discover their true passion.

It is not easy to quantify the results of time-management training. But you should do everything in your power to do so. It will set you head and shoulders above those who deliver a workshop or spend a half-day with a client and then disappear.

Effective 2018, I am offering organizations and individuals the rights to reproduce both instruments in unlimited quantities for a one-time fee of $149. They are available for immediate download at our website, taylorintime.com in the “Shop” area of our drop down menu items.

 

 

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Planning the rest of your life

Life begins at _____. Fill in the blank with your actual age. Because at this moment, regardless of your age, life really does begin now. This is the beginning of the rest of your life. Anything you ever wanted to do should be started now, and anything you started but never finished, assuming it is something you really want, should be finished now.

It’s great to think young; but don’t live in the past. You have already been there and done that. Live now for the future. If you think you have made mistakes in the past, forgive yourself and move on. Never feel sorry for yourself or envy others. Don’t make yourself a victim. Combine your teenage spirit with the wisdom of age, and you have a recipe for a successful future.

Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, and author of a book describing the regrets of people who were dying, The top five regrets of the dying, lists the following as their most frequent regrets. If you have similar regrets, you still have a plenty of time to correct them – or at least make peace with yourself and others that you actually have them. Few of us are totally without regrets. But we did the best that we could with what we knew, felt or thought at the time.

Here are the most common regrets heard over and over again by Bonnie Ware. People wished that they:

Had lived a life true to themselves rather than the life others had expected of them.

Hadn’t worked so hard.

Had had the courage to express their feelings.

Had stayed in touch with their friends.

Had let themselves be happier.

You are still able to rectify such regrets; but don’t dwell on them. When you focus on what you could have done or been in the past, you reduce the odds of achieving what you are able to do or become in the future.

There’s a website that will calculate how many days have gone by since you were born. If you pick the day you got your first job instead, you could get the number of days you have had at your disposal since the day you got your full-time job. That might be shocker – especially if you can’t remember many really exciting activities or accomplishments since that time. It could be rather depressing. I can’t believe the number of days I must have wasted.

I find it more useful and motivating as you get older, however, to choose today’s date as your birth date, and estimate how many years you have left. For example, if you are 55 now and assume you will live another 30 years until 85, you have approximately 10,950 days at your disposal. You can accomplish a lot in that many days if you manage your time well.

A version of this has been used as an exercise in workshops to determine your priorities. The workshop facilitator would ask everyone to quickly jot down things they would do if they only had one day to live. People would invariably jot down administrative things such as revise their will, choose an executor, and decide who should receive your coin collection, return the overdue books to the library, and determine which hymns they wanted played at their funeral and so on.

Other things would include telling those nearest and dearest to them how much they loved and appreciated them, visit briefly with each grandchild, contact those they may have offended or failed to thank, buy that special gift for their spouse, ad infinitum.

The point is, we could never possibly do them all in one day. And besides, the exercise is only theoretical. You will probably continue to procrastinate on many of the important things anyway. After all, we’ve got more than one day to live – or so we think.

The older we get, the more conscious we are of our own mortality and using the latest statistics, could probably count the years we have left with a certain degree of accuracy. We might also have less tendency to put off what we really would like to do. Certainly by starting now we can do a lot more in years than we could in one day.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life regardless of your age. You have time, not only to look after those things mentioned above, but to make an impact on the people in your life – and leave the world just a little better than you found it.

There are countless ways you can do this. You don’t have to invent time travel in order to make an impact. You make an impact when you volunteer, make a donation to a needy family, counsel people, become active in your local church, spend time with a child, become active in an association, teach someone how to knit, play the piano or plant a flower garden and so on.

And you don’t need a website to determine how many days since you were born or graduated or retired or might have remaining; simply multiply 365 by the number of years and you’ll be close enough.

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Tips for getting organized at home

Time management in any environment, whether in an office or at home, involves working both efficiently and effectively. You are working efficiently when you complete tasks in the best possible way. You are working effectively when you concentrate your efforts on the best possible tasks. What you do is considered more important than how you do it. When you get organized and work both efficiently and effectively, you are approaching excellence. Organization is our passport to productivity and time management is the vehicle that takes us there.

Here are several quick tips for keeping organized and saving time in the home. Check any that might be of interest.

  • Utilize space under beds by storing infrequently used items in low, long boxes on casters – or simply use cardboard boxes. (But if you never retrieve any of it within a year, consider getting rid of it.) When storing infrequently used items number the cartons and keep index cards listing the items in each carton. Store frequently used items where they are used. Keep a separate set of cleaning supplies in each bathroom to save steps.
  • In your refrigerator, keep similar types of foods in certain areas, such as all vegetables in crisper, all cheeses on the top shelf, sauces in the door compartments etc. so it’s easy to locate everything. Set up TV trays next to the refrigerator when cleaning it so you can keep the items close by as you empty the refrigerator.
  • Twenty percent of your possessions get 80 percent of the use, so store those frequently used items where they’re easy to reach. Stash the remaining 80 percent somewhere out of the way. This applies to files, clothes, tools, supplies and books, among other things.
  • Phone the doctor’s office before leaving for your appointment to see whether he/she is on schedule. You could probably utilize the waiting time more profitably at home. Do this before making a trip to stores for specific items as well to make sure they are in stock.
  • Put a follow-up note in your planner at a specific date each year as a reminder to change all the batteries in your clocks, TV and VCR remotes, travel alarms, flashlights etc. Do the same for daylight saving time.
  • Keep a record of family members’ clothing sizes and a list of loaned items and other personal information in a section of a home organizer book or 3-ring binder. Include other information that needs to be accessed on a regular basis such as babysitter instructions, medication information, emergency numbers and first aid etc. Include checklists for recurring activities, such as vacation, trips to the cottage, etc., so nothing will be overlooked. Include a form to record loaned items (date, to whom loaned) and check them off when returned. Record borrowed items as well to avoid embarrassment later.
  • Make the bed when you get up, tidy up the room before you leave it. The do it now habit saves time later! To simplify bed making, pull up the sheets and covers before you get out of bed.  This saves a lot of time running from one side of the bed to the other to get everything lined up. Consider switching from bedspreads to duvets to speed up bed making.
  • To keep socks together through the washing and drying process, use plastic discs or safety pins or a mesh bag that you can use for this purpose. Have laundry baskets for both light and dark clothes so you won’t have to separate them later.
  • Throw out those part bottles of sprays, ointments and medicines that have expired or that you can no longer identify – and do this on a regular basis. Photograph any bulky items that you have been keeping for nostalgic reasons before getting rid of them.
  • When cleaning out closets or storage rooms, label three cartons “Scrap”, “Give away”, and “Keep” for sorting as you go along. Keep it simple. Later you can break them down further by separating “Scrap” into “Recycle” and “Garbage” and “Give away” into “Church” and “Thrift shop” and “Friends & Relatives.”
  • Maintain a message centre and a perpetual shopping list – either magnetic on the refrigerator or corkboard on the wall. If you live alone, the messages are for yourself. Never rely on your memory. In fact, writing it down improves your memory. Reduce refrigerator surface clutter by laminating your grandchildren’s favourite art projects and using them as place mats.
  • If you clip coupons, highlight the expiration dates and keep them in an envelope marked “Coupons.” Keep them with things you use when you go shopping, such as a cloth shopping bag, bundle buggy or car keys.
  • Rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher directly from the table before the food dries on them. Similarly unpack groceries directly into the cupboards instead of unpacking them onto the cupboard.
  • Make up a spare set of keys, everything from car key and house key to locker, office and cottage and leave them with a close friend–one you don’t mind calling in the middle of the night. Photocopy or photograph birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, etc., and keep them in your files. You may also need to use the copies in an urgent situation.
  • Prepare for the next morning before you retire for the night by setting the breakfast table, selecting clothes to wear, packing your computer bag, etc. Near the front door, post a checklist of items to be purchased and errands to be completed the next day.
  • If you have different sized sheets, buy them in different colours or distinctive patterns for easy sorting. To prevent having to dig through the linen closet to retrieve matching sheets and pillowcases, store the folded flat sheet, fitted sheet and pillowcase inside the second pillowcase.
  • If you have a habit of misplacing frequently used items such as eyeglasses or keys, establish a home base for each of them, and get in the habit of returning each item to its home base when not in use. For example, a key rack on the wall, a holder for eyeglasses on the coffee table, etc.  It would also be a good idea to have spares of these items “just in case.” If you have a home with different keys for the front door, side door, storage shed etc. consider having a locksmith make them all uniform, then one key is all you need.
  • Have one junk drawer only. Use organizing trays in the other drawers to house specific items. Have a place for everything. Set up a home filing system. Keep one file for income tax receipts and other files on major categories, such as Family, Bank Accounts, Investments, Legal, Repairs, etc. Don’t put letters, bills etc. back in the envelopes once you have read them. Keep them unfolded, staple the pages together, and place them in an action tray.
  • Store empty clothes hangers to one side of the closet and use them as required. Don’t let them mix with used ones. Always have the season’s clothes dry cleaned before you store them away for the next season. Use cup hooks or picture hangers to hang necklaces and chains at the side of the closet. Use a pocket shoe rack that hangs from a door to store small items that you use frequently.
  • When cleaning house, tackle those important, high-traffic areas first. Attach an extension cord to your vacuum cleaner so you don’t have to continually change outlets. Keep several garbage bags at the bottom of your garbage can so you don’t have to look for fresh bags when you take out the garbage. Keep a radio in the bathroom or kitchen to catch up on the news while you’re cleaning or preparing for the day ahead. Buy a radio that is safe for the bathroom.
  • Remove clothes from the dryer as soon as it stops and hang or fold them to prevent wrinkling. (If you forget, throw a damp towel into the dryer and turn it on for another five minutes.) When you wash the bed sheets, return them to the same bed, rather than wash, fold and put them away. You also give the bed a chance to air out.

 

 

 

 

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Work never killed anyone

“Work never killed anyone,” my mother used to tell me. No doubt her motivation was to get me to clean my room and finish the household chores; but basically she was right.

Oh sure, overwork is harmful, and dangerous work might cut your life short, and distasteful work that you passionately detest could very well reduce your life span. But work, in general, is anything but harmful. Work keeps you active physically and mentally, provides purpose and meaning to your life – and yes, can even extend your life – especially if you really love what you do.

As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

When you are doing work or engaged in activities that you love, you are not cynical, irritable, and impatient. People will want to be around you because of your positive attitude and happy disposition. When you are unhappy in your work, it will spill over into your relationships with your spouse, family and friends.

Enjoy what you are doing, and you will recover from sickness quicker and are at less risk of long term illness and incapacity. You may also take less medication and use fewer medical services. You will have more energy. You may even increase your longevity.

The most common time for a heart attack is on a Monday morning so if you are retired from full-time employment, in effect you have eliminated Monday mornings, and the concomitant stress of commitments, deadlines and busyness have been reduced if not eliminated. And if you didn’t find your job or career fulfilling, you are no longer in danger of stress-related illnesses, both physical and emotional, that might have occurred while doing work you did not enjoy. Your immune system is compromised if you are not happy, and you are more susceptible to physical illnesses.

On the other hand, working part-time after official retirement, whether paid or unpaid, is good for our health and well-being, and helps us to build confidence and self-esteem. It provides a challenge and gives us a way to continue to develop and learn. It gives us a sense of purpose, pride, identity and personal achievement, enables us to socialise, build contacts, and in many cases provides us with additional money to support ourselves and explore other interests. People who continue to work tend to enjoy happier and healthier lives than those who retire completely.

It’s also a win-win situation with the company when you work on tasks that suit your skills and interests. As Pierce Ivory, Marketing Director at Advance Systems Inc. indicated in the article, “How to improve employee performance with time psychology, “not only will this keep them engaged and develop their skills, but it will more effectively apply hidden talent toward organizational objectives.”

You don’t have to do the same kind of work. You can choose to be self-employed or work at your garden or expand on a current hobby or even take up golf or become a full-time student – if you can stretch the word “work” to cover those activities. The important thing is to retire to something, not just from something. Otherwise you may spend your days watching TV or hunched over your computer or wandering around the house wondering what to do with yourself. Being out of “work” can have a negative impact on your health and well-being.

Volunteering is even better. In 1999, for instance, scientists tracked 2025 Californians aged 55 and older, for five years and found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 63% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer. And those who volunteered for only one organization lowered their mortality rate by 26%.

There appears to be a definite link between giving and volunteering and happiness, and another link between happiness and health and longevity. Dr. Lissa Rankin, in her 2013 book, Mind over medicine, agrees that unhappy people are less likely to eat well, exercise, and enjoy healthy sleep patterns, but insists there is more to it than that.

She goes on to describe the “nun study”, which gave the opportunity to follow nuns in a controlled environment for the balance of their lives. 90% of the most cheerful nuns were still alive at age 84, compared to only 34% of the least cheerful.

Work itself never killed anyone. But if your heart isn’t in it, it could lead to serious problems. Enjoy your job or get one you really love. And when you retire, don’t scrap work completely. It can be a life saver – especially in the form of volunteering.

 

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A second look at multitasking

There are three types of multitasking. By multitasking, I mean the apparent simultaneous performance of two or more tasks. And since research has confirmed that it is impossible for the brain to fully focus on two things at the same time, all multitasking is not the same.

Let’s look at the three types or degrees of multitasking in reducing order of efficiency.

The first and most obviously inefficient, and potentially dangerous, form of multitasking involves physically performing two tasks at the same time – both requiring cognitive involvement – such as talking on a cell phone while driving through city traffic, or text messaging while listening to a lecture on safety procedures.

The second type involves working on only one task physically, while thinking about something else, such as planning your day while taking a shower or mentally rehearsing a speech as you collate reports or planning a dinner party while driving or worrying about finances as you iron clothes.

The third type involves what we used to refer to as a “utilizing idle time” — checking e-mail while a report is being printed or making a phone call while clothes are being dried or listening to information on your iPod while getting your hair done in a salon.

Only the first two are true multitasking, while the third one is simply making efficient use of time that might otherwise be wasted. This is not really multitasking and the worst that might happen is to forget to retrieve the printed page from the printer or forget to remove your clothes from the dryer.

Further, the seriousness of the second type of multitasking depends on the tasks involved. Daydreaming, while operating a machine or crossing in traffic is dangerous; but listening to the radio while taking a shower is not usually a problem. After all what’s the big deal if you miss the temperature report or forget to shampoo your hair.

In other words all multitasking is not the same, and much of it can be performed without serious consequences. But if you’re ever in doubt, the safest and most efficient thing to do is to err on the side of not multitasking. You can always use the idle time for rest, and relaxation, which most people don’t seem to have enough time for anyway.

The fact is, you generally do get more accomplished in terms of quantity when you multitask, regardless of the type. But the quality is not there. And there could be time-consuming – or even disastrous results.

Take a look at the diagram below. This diagram on the performance of simultaneous tasks was developed by Michael Posner back in 1978. Most of us come down pretty hard on multitasking, but the diagram does illustrate that even though the brain cannot actually perform two tasks at the same time, it can switch back and forth very rapidly between one task and the other – giving the appearance of simultaneous performance.

But in doing so we always have to sacrifice a certain degree of efficiency in the performance of each of the tasks.

For example, if you are fully concentrating on “Task A”, depicted by the horizontal line, and ignoring “Task B”, depicted by the vertical line, you would achieve 100% performance on “Task A, and zero performance on “Task B”. But if you start to work on “Task B” as well, performance on “Task A” will decrease, following the curved line upwards and backwards.

As an illustration, assume at this moment that you are getting bored with my explanation of multitasking because you have heard so much about multitasking in the past, so you decide to check your email as you read. You immediately start moving along the curved line from the point where it meets the horizontal “Task A line towards the point where it meets the “Task B“ line.

As you become more and more interested and involved in checking and then responding to email, you hear and absorb less and less of what I am writing. Let’s assume you are about one-third of the way along the curved line. You can determine your degree of concentration on both tasks and your total performance, by drawing a vertical line from that point on the curve to the horizontal “Task A“ line, (which would probably show at about 85% if there were gradations on the line), and then drawing a horizontal line from the same point on the curve to the vertical “Task B“ line (which would indicate about 45%.)

So at that point you would be concentrating or performing about 85% on the reading task, and about 45% on the email task.

The good news is that by the time I finish this chapter you will have completed your email, and if you add the 85% performance on one task to the 45% on the other task, you would have actually performed at 130% by your attempt at doing two tasks simultaneously.

The bad news is that you may have made some glaring errors, beyond typos, when replying to your email messages. You may even have missed something important in this article on multitasking that could affect your own performance or that you could have passed on to your staff or others.

You have to be the judge as to whether any multitasking is beneficial or harmful, and that’s why I emphasized that there are different degrees of multitasking. Missing or misunderstanding what I write, or failing to provide a complete answer to an e-mailer’s question might not be important. But I don’t suggest you mentally rehearse a speech while strapping a child into a car seat.

The impact of irresponsible multitasking is now so obvious that it cannot be ignored. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society estimates that 2600 deaths and 330,000 injuries are caused each year in the U.S. by motorists speaking on their cell phones while driving. Daniel J Levinson, in his book The organized mind, claims that multitasking also disrupts the kind of sustained thought usually required for problem-solving and creativity.

So if you decide to conserve time by working on two tasks at the same time, be sure to consider the impact of making a mistake or missing something. On the other hand, don`t be paranoid and sit idly by while a 50-page document is being printed. There could be a paper jam, but hardly as costly as wasting your valuable time.

 

 

 

 

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Are paper planners making a comeback?

Don’t toss out your paper planner just yet. It appears that using both a smartphone and a paper planner is gaining in popularity.

Michael Grothaus, a novelist, freelance journalist, wrote an article for the April 4, 2017 issue of Fast Company titled “What happened when I ditched my smartphone for a paper planner.” Of course he didn’t really ditch his smartphone, but he used a paper planner for recording his tasks and mapping out his intentions and reminders.

He discovered that a trend was beginning to develop (among younger people no less) to revert to paper planners – probably reinforced by research that backs up what we paper planner advocates experienced over the years – that writing things down improves memory and recall of the items. It also creates order in your mind and you can recall the sequence of things you must do, and the relative importance and urgency of the items. Flipping back and forth through the pages keeps you on track and the cursive note-taking is tonic for the brain.

The writer of the above article quotes Anjali Khosla, editor of Fast Company Digital, as  saying, “I switched back to my paper-based notebook system after a year of going all-digital. “I prefer my paper system for a number of reasons. It gives me a break from staring at screens. It also causes me to stay in the moment and plan my days with intent. I feel satisfaction when I physically check an item off my list.”

Michael Grothaus did find it difficult to remember to bring his paper planner with him when he left for the office since he had built the habit of simply slipping his iPhone into his pocket. He also said he missed the audible reminder of an appointment 30 minutes in advance; bur soon noticed that by physically writing down the appointment he seldom needed a reminder.

I have written many articles indicating various advantages of a paper planner, such as the journaling aspect, the ability to review what you have accomplished in the past and the importance of being able to budget your time without overwhelming yourself with a list of “To Do”s. But every time I did so, some people interpreted it as an attack on smartphones.

Invariably I would receive comments listing all the things that smartphones can do that paper planners can’t do – such as handling email and sending text messages and taking photographs. As one person said, “My smartphone will allow me to record audio messages, and set alarms. Let’s see a paper planner do that!” To which I might reply, “I have a microwave that will boil water in 8 seconds; let’s see a smartphone do that!”

In other words, I’m not suggesting everyone should toss away their smartphone when they start using a paper planner any more than I suggest people throw away their kitchen sink when they purchase a dishwasher. They each have their uses.

I can no longer be accused of promoting paper planners simply because I sell one of my own. The Taylor Planner has gone the way of the Dodo bird. But I still maintain that for the activity of planning and scheduling, you can’t beat the paper planner.

And I will continue to use one – even though the ones currently available may not serve me as well as the one I had tailored to my own needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“To do” list or “Wish” list? Planning is the key.

“To do” lists can be frustrating if not the stressful. They keep in mind those things you know you should be doing but don’t have time for. It would be less stressful to call them “Wish” lists. At least that way you wouldn’t feel guilty or suffer anxiety when they are postponed and you are not getting done those things you know should be done. Frustrated expectations cause anxiety and stress.

The “To do” list or “Wish” list should be accompanies by a plan to get specific things done each day. Plans are frequently disrupted; but good plans are disrupted less frequently. Good plans involve prioritizing. Select only those items that are both important and urgent and schedule time in your planner to get them done. It’s important to allow more time than you think they will take. Even then, these items should consume less than a day. If you have more items that are both important and urgent than you can do in a day, you are either exaggerating their importance or their urgency.

“Important” means they have such innate value that you would suffer a significant loss of some kind or another if they were never done. “Urgent” means you cannot delay them more than a day before that loss occurs.

If they are important only, you could allow as little as 15 minutes or half hour a day until they are done. If they are both important and urgent, and you cannot get them done in a day, you can minimize your losses by ignoring those of least importance. By ignoring, I mean deciding never to do them, removing them from your “Wish” list, and getting on with the things that you are actually able to do.

Most of the important items will still offer some benefit if done at any time – usually less benefit the longer they are delayed. That’s why the habit of scheduling a little time each day until they are completed is usually an effective practice.

The important thing is to work from a planner, not just a list. I still maintain that a paper planner is the most effective tool to use for this purpose. (Even though I was forced out of the paper planner part of my business this year by those who maintain they can do everything just as effectively using a smart phone.)

If you can do it all with a smart phone, more power to you. I offer the following suggestions to my fellow hard-core paper planner users as well as the more gifted smart phone planner users.

Don’t underestimate the time it will take for a task. Allow up to 50% more time than you think you will need. For example, if you think it will take an hour, block off an hour and a half. If you think it will take two hours, block off three hours; but break it into two timeslots of 90 minutes each. Working longer than 90 minutes without a break depletes energy and makes you more vulnerable to interruptions.

Don’t record items in your planner and then forget about them. Refer to your planner and its scheduled activities and “Wish” list throughout the day. Make it a habit to refer to your planner after every completed task or activity. You wouldn’t drive through a strange country without constantly checking the map – so don’t drive through life without constantly checking your plan.

Schedule items several days to a week in advance. Planning one day at a time is impossible since others will be asking for tomorrow’s time while you are working on today. With the rate at which priorities change, I would plan in detail only three or four days ahead. The farther into the future you plan, the fewer things you should enter into the planning section of your planning calendar. And only the really critical things are to be entered beyond a week ahead – in addition to those essential repetitive obligations, that is. The balance of any items remain on your “Wish” list, waiting to be scheduled, worked on during any spare time or abandoned.

I find I find that scheduling at least three days ahead prevents me from making unnecessary commitments for those days when asked to do so. It’s easier to say “no” when you already have something scheduled at the requested time.

It’s important to say no more often and reduce interruptions to a minimum as well; but that will be covered in a future blog article.

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Can I interrupt you for a minute?

In his book, the Age of speed, Vince Poscente mentioned a study of office workers that found on average they spent only 11 minutes of a typical workday focused on a given task before they were interrupted. The real problem was that it took them nearly half an hour to return to the task, if they did at all.

Constant Interruptions are a problem for many people. They are not only annoying and disruptive, they can put you behind in your work and cause stress. It’s important to determine why you are being interrupted and take action accordingly.

For instance, if people keep walking into your office to consult you about something, can you have brief stand-up meetings every morning to keep everyone better informed or written policies and guidelines for them to follow?

Do they interrupt you because you have supplies or materials located in your office or work area? Can you relocate them so they’re central to everyone? Or duplicate them. Make sure each person has the equipment and supplies needed.

Are certain people more talkative than others? Probably 80% of your interruptions are from 20% of the people. If so, can you confront these individuals? Do they realize how their interruptions are affecting your work? In a high-tech world, people crave high-touch even more. Can you arrange to have a coffee with them at break time?

Do you work in an open office with no privacy? Can you periodically work in a boardroom or a spare office? Can you work through the normal lunch hour and take a later lunch? Can you work flexible hours, coming in early and leaving early?

Are the interruptions from telephones or e-mail? Can you engage the voice mail when you are working on your priorities and ignore e-mail until specific times?

Some interruptions are inevitable and even essential so don’t get upset when you are interrupted. Just remember that in some cases that’s just your job calling. If you have allowed more time for the task than you thought it would take, you will still avoid the stress.

It makes sense that the longer you work on a specific task, the more chance you have of being interrupted by others and interrupting yourself. So schedule priority tasks in chunks of 90 minutes. Your energy and ability to concentrate rises and falls in 90 minute cycles. This is the continuation of the sleep cycle and I recommend 90-minute work sessions mainly for this reason.

The most productive time of the day is 10:30 AM for most people so mornings should be reserved for priority work wherever possible. Early birds should start their major products even earlier. If you control your work location, take advantage of it. Some people work at home in the mornings; others work at a coffee shop. Choose a location where you can best concentrate on the task at hand without interruption.

Regardless of where you work, it is important that you control the technology. Ignore the urge to send email or text messages while working on your scheduled project. Maintain focus on the task, jotting down ideas that pop into your mind without being detoured by them. Be sure to put your smart phone on airplane mode.

Self-discipline or self-control, focus, attention, prioritizing and planning are essential if we are to remain effective in this digital age of speed. These are all functions of our executive center in the prefrontal cortex area of our brain. That’s why I claim that the battle against interruptions has shifted from the office to the brain. In my book, Strengthen your brain’s executive skills, published by Bookboon.com, I discuss how we can strengthen these cognitive skills, and in particular, those executive skills that are so critical to the effective use of our time.