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How to keep on top of your work

The more things in your life that you leave undone, the more anxiety and stress you experience. Completed work does not produce stress. People feel great and are energized when they get things done. It’s the uncompleted items that distract them and drain their energy.

If you simply don’t care whether something gets done or not, you’re not under stress either. I’ve never seen a children have anxiety attacks because they hadn’t cleaned their room yet. But in the business world, such an attitude would hardly be conducive to a successful career.

Being a responsible adult does have its disadvantages. We do care about the multitude of things that should be done. And if we have more to do than we have time for, how do we get out of this Catch 22?

The first thing you might do is to write down everything that you think you have to do. When items are reduced to writing we don’t think of them so often. They no longer pop into our minds unexpectedly, causing incessant anxiety.

The next step is to decide which ones can be eliminated without having a significant effect on our business results or our career or personal or family well-being. Most people have a multitude of things that they feel should be done drifting in and out of their minds. Capture them and delete them before they delete you. Once you have decided not to do them, they can no longer be a vehicle for stress.

Of the remaining items, quickly do those that will take less than five minutes to complete. This does not follow the recommended time management principle of doing the most important things first, but it will sure make you feel good to see all those crossed-off items. And with most of the items off the list, you are able to focus on the ones that are important.

Your list may still not be down to a manageable size. If not, see which items can be delegated or outsourced. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Then prioritize the remaining items. Schedule time to work on the high priority tasks – those that will have significant impact on your personal and organizational goals. The more urgent ones should be scheduled earlier in the week. If they are huge, time-consuming tasks, break them down into chunks. Blocking off two or three hours each week to write a complicated but essential report, for instance, will see it completed within a month or so.

Finally, put the remaining non-priority items on a weekly To Do list, either in a week-at-a-glance paper planner or your electronic handheld device. Be realistic. Don’t cram them all onto a “Things to do today” list. Spread them over the ensuing week or two. If they don’t all get done, it’s no big deal. You have already blocked out the time to work on the ones that are really important.

Basically, you are getting the brief, easy-to-do items done, delegated or deleted quickly, and you are blocking off time in your planner to work on those items that are important. Blocking off time in the future to work on specific tasks or projects is referred to as “scheduling.” The balance of the items, those of minor importance, can be added to a “To Do” list, where they will likely die a natural death if you never get the time to work on them.  This happens because scheduled tasks are commitments, while listed tasks are just intentions.

If after all this, a few things still don’t get done, rest assured it’s not your fault. Your job is to do what’s possible, not what’s impossible. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Worry or anxiety weakens your immune system as well as your executive skills, and leaves you open to energy loss.

Making choices do consume energy. The frontal lobes of our brain are constantly weighing the pros and cons of every bit of information, trying to determine the best choice. But once the choices have been made, the stress disappears, and it is no longer an energy drain.


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A new broom sweeps clean

Getting rid of the clutter.

The logical place to start when you decide to limit the stuff in your home is at the source – shopping. If you have a broken water pipe, you don’t start by mopping the floor, you turn off the water. You can resist those needless trips to the mall and garage sales if you develop some good old-fashioned willpower. There are books that can help you with that – or you might need counselling.

Your brain has a mind of its own. And since it gets a shot of the pleasure chemical, dopamine, every time it sights a shiny new thingamabob on the shelf, shopping can become addictive. And marketers who continue to get better at targeting our subconscious desires are not making it any easier. Martin Lindstrom, author of the book Buy.ology: the truth and lies about why we buy, claims that buying and consuming will continue to escalate in the future.

Experts tell us to get rid of a habit by replacing it with a better one. I feel you are able to replace the habit of marathon shopping with the activity of organizing. You can’t be in two places at the same time, and when you’re at home sorting and tossing things out, you can’t be at the mall being exposed to the temptations created by the shiny new gadgets and endless paraphernalia. And you also get a shot of dopamine every time you accomplish a task such as cleaning out a kitchen drawer or donating something to the needy or gifting an unused item to a friend.

You probably have no problem keeping digital files instead of reams of paperwork. It’s just a small leap from storing paperwork as digital images to storing your stuff as digital photos. They don’t need dusting, and in most cases are just as functional. If you miss actually looking at them, use the photos as rotating screen savers. But I think you’ll find that out of sight, out of mind.

Consider selling your stuff on Kijiji or eBay. An Australian survey conducted in August, 2008 by eBay indicated that the average household has about $3000 worth of unused or unwanted clutter around the house. The price of the items was determined by the average price of comparable items listed on eBay. I figured if it’s true for Australians, it’s probably true for the rest of us as well. If we held a garage sale we might be over $1000 richer and be able to move the car into the garage to boot. Just think; selling your clutter can become your bread-and-butter.

If you think parting with your accumulated possessions would be too traumatic try this. Pack them into a carton or better still, a few transparent plastic storage containers, and stack them inside a closet or in the basement or stick them in your storage locker. Then you can easily retrieve them if you feel depressed or about to slip into a coma.

But don’t rent public storage. The eventual goal is to get rid of the stuff once you have realized you neither need it nor miss it. The more remote your place of storage, the more remote the chance that you ever will get rid of it. According to the August, 2017 special edition of Mindfulness magazine, there are 2.3 billion square feet of rentable self-storage space in the United States. That’s three times the size of Manhattan, New York. That’s a lot of stored possessions waiting for us to die.

Most people don’t enjoy their stuff even when it’s visible. According to Dan Levitin, author of The organized mind, the brain habituates to things that don’t change, and you no longer notice it if it’s always there. He also mentioned a study of one American household with 2260 visible objects in just a living room and two bedrooms. How would anyone have time to even look at everything, let alone enjoy it?

So keep visible only those things you need or use regularly. And never keep what you can’t use.

I think you will actually feel unencumbered, free, and happier with your new uncluttered space and a sense of pride in your new accomplishment. You may also find you are more productive, more creative, and more able to focus on your significant goals and daily activities.

Memorabilia that tie you to the past frequently keep you from fully enjoying the future. Recalling good times are never as enjoyable or as stimulating as creating new ones.

Neurologists tell us that our brains are hardwired to be creative and to achieve goals. Clutter is to your brain as mud is to your feet. Don’t let it get deeper and deeper and impede your progress through life. Be like the perfectionist bride who, when it was time to sweep down the aisle, literally swept down the aisle.

A new broom sweeps clean and a clean start creates a path to a better life.

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Time management: where do we start?


The first step in managing time is to get organized.

The three major resources that are essential to a successful business are time, money and people.

If you lose money, you can always earn or borrow more.  If you lose people, you can re-hire.  But if you lose time, you can never regain it – either by working or by borrowing.  It is lost forever.  And the sad part is, there is not an inexhaustible supply.  You can dip into the time bank only so many times – then, when it’s all gone, you’re gone.

It stands to reason that since time is in great demand and is in such a limited supply, that it is the most valuable resource.  Therefore, if you want to be successful in business, you must learn to manage the time at your disposal.

Unfortunately, some people can’t even manage their money, let alone their time.  And even those who do manage their money well do a relatively poor job of managing their time.  The expression “look after the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves” is equally true for this precious commodity called time.  We cannot afford to be spendthrifts when it comes to time.  Spending time on impulse items such as reading your spam email, scrolling through Facebook postings, surfing the Internet with no purpose in mind or fidgeting with the latest needless digital gadget when there are meaningful tasks to be performed are only some of the ways we squander valuable minutes, which soon amount to hours.

We also waste time by constantly shuffling papers, searching for misplaced items, interrupting ourselves and others needlessly, procrastinating on jobs that must be done eventually, worrying about things we can’t control, and saying “yes” to time-consuming activities that do not relate to our goals.

Add to this perfectionism, idle time, and a myriad of bad habits, and we have the potential to waste hours each day.  Hours that could be spent on profit-generating activities, family time, or self-renewal.

The first step in gaining control of your time is to get organized.  Organize your office, your files and your procedures to eliminate those wasted minutes searching for things, shuffling papers and interrupting others.  Then look for shortcuts when performing those necessary but routine activities such as corresponding, conducting meetings, and fielding phone calls.  The resulting time savings can then be invested in those profit-generating activities and personal priorities that you just never seem to get around to.

Time management is not a one-time thing.  It is a continuous process of changing time-wasting habits, streamlining the necessary activities, and always focusing on those key activities that generate the greatest return.

Time management has been described as “common sense put into practice” or “self-management” Or “making wise choices.”  It seems easy.  But it isn’t easy for one reason; we are forced to change our way, leave our comfort zone, and abandon those habits that we have developed over the years.  Change does not come easily.  It takes motivation, determination, and perseverance, which are brain-based skills that must be strengthened through continued use.  But the rewards – a more productive and satisfying life – are worth the effort.

A word of caution: don’t try to change too many things at once.  Remember, time management is a life-long process.  Make changes gradually.  Become comfortable with making notes during phone calls, for example, before revamping the way you conduct your meetings, and so on.

And don’t be afraid of reverting to paper if it makes the job easier. Technology is meant as a better means to an end, not as an end in itself. For example, after years of losing track of things to be done that became hidden in a plethora of emails, I revised my old Telephone Log to include email actions, and finally feel secure. (A description is available in the product section of our website.)

Where do you get your ideas for better ways of doing things?  There are over 1000 books on the topic of time management.  Articles appear almost every month in one of the thousands of magazines being published.  Seminars are in plentiful supply.  There is even this blog and hundreds of others. There is no shortage of ideas on saving time.

But what you must do is select those ideas you feel will work for you.  Adapt them, if necessary, to suit your particular job or situation, and then put them into practice.

You have probably heard the expression that an organized mind is more important than an organized desk. But let me assure you, that working at an organized desk actually helps you to develop an organized mind.