But it’s a good busy…
Do you ever run into a friend or acquaintance and when you ask “How are you? How are things going?”, the response is “busy”. Or “good busy”. So, what does this really mean? In our manic society that always seems time deprived, busy has become the new sign of success. If I’m busy, I must be productive. If I say I’m not busy, I’ll appear lazy and unmotivated. But is any of that really accurate? With many of my clients, and myself, we get lazy with our language and “busy” has become a catch-all phrase like “fine” or “good”. With our multiple responsibilities and often hectic lives, this phrase has become a shield and a barrier to deeper connection and an intentional life. As animals, we are hardwired for connection and we are most successful when we are engaged and involved with others – packs, tribes, clans, communities, etc. But the “busy” label keeps others at a distance and keeps us from that connection.
What the heck are we so busy doing?
There is no doubt that we are over-scheduled and our lives are very dissimilar to preceding generations. But it’s also true that we have more leisure time than ever before. In so many ways, our lives are so much easier than our ancestors and yet we act as if we are busy tilling the land, protecting the homestead and eking out a living – all not true. The question becomes: what am I busy doing? The answer is at the heart of intentional living – taking off “the badge of busy” and starting to rewrite the story of your life. Are you busy with classes, education, volunteering and vocational work? Great – that level of being busy should feel productive and satisfying. Are you “busy” with social media, Netflix and shopping that leaves you dissatisfied and unhappy? What can you do less of or differently?
If your default status is “busy” but you are unfulfilled, stressed and unhappy, it’s time for an internal audit. Revisit your priorities and start living intentionally.
What are you spending your time on now?
As an organizing coach, I help my clients rewrite the stories of their lives. We move from frazzled and overwhelmed to living a more calm, intentional life. To be organized and find more space, more time and more joy, time management is key. While there are lots of tools for time management like calendar systems, timers and “smart” electronics, first determine what is the real value of your time. Most of us don’t know the true value of our time so we waste it on unnecessary tasks that consume too much time, effort and resources. Break down a “typical” day into time chunks – morning, work/school, after school/work, evening, etc. Within those segments, pinpoint the tasks that you need to complete in each block. What tasks can you do best? Are you maximizing your time and effort or is there room for improvement? What tasks can be done better by someone else?
What can I outsource?
Most of us have a strong skill set that makes us effective and productive. And we all muddle through some tasks that we can outsource to make the balance of our time more productive and less stressed. Do you like to cook but hate to grocery shop? Transition the grocery shopping to another family member or use one of the many food delivery services available. Do you love Fido but getting in a long walk just doesn’t fit in your schedule most mornings? Give that task to a household member with more time and flexibility. Also, some folks spend their days walking dogs! Hire a professional dog walker or find a neighbor to hire or even better, barter services with.
There are a few tasks that we must do ourselves so figure out the best way to get it done. And know that there is someone, somewhere who will gladly take over the tasks that don’t fit in your schedule or skill set. Work to your strength and hire to your weakness. Welcome to the new service economy!
What is your biggest distraction? Is it the phone, email, social media, constant interruptions from others? Managing and minimizing distractions are key elements of time management and staying organized. Whether you are trying to focus on a project at work or complete a task at home, constant distractions slow us down significantly. Are you familiar with the term “activation energy”? Activation energy is the minimum amount of energy that must be available for a chemical reaction to occur. The principal is the same for the energy needed to get a project completed. To start a project, we need a certain amount of “energy” but once we get started, it is much easier to continue to completion. It’s the stopping and restarting continuously that slows our progress and expands our timeline. So how do I minimize distractions to keep my activation energy going?
“Do not disturb”
To keep focused on a project or task, you need to minimize your distractions by employing a “do not disturb” mentality. Set the timer on your phone for a reasonable length of time – 60 or 90 minutes. Then one by one, shut off or down those distractions. Turn the ringer off on your phone or set to “do not disturb” – don’t worry, the timer alarm will still go off. Minimize the taskbar which shows that a new email has come in. Place your phone upside down so you won’t see texts or notifications coming in. Are you concerned you might miss an “urgent” message? Set your phone to alarm after 20 or 30 minutes for a quick peek to be sure there is nothing that warrants your immediate attention. Are you in open office space and can’t close your door for a short period of time to work? Move into a conference room or put on earbuds to block out distractions.
You will be more productive and less stressed when you manage your time and distractions. Figure out what solutions work best for you to filter out your distractions and keep your activation energy going.
I’ll just check Facebook//Instagram/Pinterest for a minute…
Social media, in all of its manifestations, is a daily part of our lives. For anyone in marketing, sales or communications, it is a necessary evil. For the rest of us, social media can be a fun distraction, a communication tool and definitely a “time suck” which drains our time and productivity. Have you ever said “I’ll just check Facebook for 5 minutes” and you look up from the screen and an hour has gone by without your even noticing? Social media, for all its useful applications, is absolutely a rabbit hole that we all tend to fall into. In the workplace, the stakes and costs are even higher. Studies have shown a 13% loss in productivity in the workplace due to social media use which costs the economy billions each year. So how do I keep social media from being a time and productivity suck?
Put yourself on a social media “diet”
The Greek poet Hesiod urged “moderation in all things”. For all of us, social media must be limited if you want to remain productive and on schedule. Too much of anything is not healthy so put yourself on a “diet” of social media. Set a timer on your phone and when the timer goes off, get off social media. If you are truly on social media for work, write some bullet points on what you are doing and stick to your outline. Resist the temptation to click on interesting links or check out what others are doing and saying online. Like resisting cupcakes is good for your waistline, resisting checking out our friends’ feeds is good for your productivity.
Turn off social media notifications on your phone to keep from logging on all the time. Like Pavlov’s dog, we hear that little “ding” and think this is something we must check out immediately. Instead, set a time each day to go through your social media feeds and engage online. A couple of hours is not going to make a difference in liking a friend’s photo.
In this day and age, who doesn’t have an overloaded inbox? Even when we have a personal email (or two or three) and a work email, it’s easy to get overloaded. Here are some tips to declutter your inbox.
- Create Folders so you can file away emails to quickly find them in the future. Related to Suzy’s soccer? Just drag anything into the folder and you can always go back and reference the schedule at another time.
- Unsubscribe to email newsletters you signed up with good intentions but that’s not getting the information read. Unsubscribe if you know you can’t prioritize this.
- Create a rule. You can designate a particular folder for certain emails to be downloaded to vs. the inbox. Want anything related to shopping to go into a particular folder? Create a rule so it doesn’t clutter your inbox and your really important emails don’t get lost.
- Don’t just delete, unsubscribe. Yes, it’s quicker just to delete but if you scroll to the bottom of those pesky marketing emails, you’ll see the “unsubscribe” button. Take 5 minutes a day to unsubscribe online and stop unwanted and unneeded emails from arriving in the first place.
- Delete unneeded file folders. Did you create an email file folder for Sam’s 4th grade class info? Great. But now he’s heading to high school so it’s time to delete that folder….
Why you need to write it down
Have you ever tried to get through a busy day and remember all the tasks and projects you need to complete? For most of us, the answer is a resounding “yes”. So how successful were you in getting everything done in a timely and efficient manner? Sadly, most of us will answer “no” to that question. The reality is that it is extremely difficult to remember all the tasks and responsibilities we need to manage. To be more efficient, you need to write it down. The task of writing in itself creates muscle memory and reinforces the reminder. Typing or using an electronic device works too if you are without paper and pen but studies show this is less effective. So, why do you need to write it down? Firstly, when you write down your tasks and projects, you jog your memory to complete the task. Secondly, and as important, you create a visual reminder that can be incorporated into your schedule.
Sticky notes everywhere
As an organizer, I work with clients to create systems and solutions to find more space, more time and more joy in their lives. For some clients, a PDA or smartphone is a must for everything from grocery lists to work tasks. Written lists, sometimes scratched on the back of junk mail, do the trick for others. I have a “special” notepad in my kitchen and legal pads in my office to write down reminders. Whatever works for you works for you. For visual learners especially, a written note has significant impact. I like the kitchen and office as my command points. Where are your strategic areas for notes? Another great visual reminder is the sticky note, again in a strategic place. Because we are creatures of habit, putting a sticky note where we cannot fail to see it is a visual reminder that might represent a change in routine or reinforces a new habit.
When you write down a reminder or task, you create a visual system that is a trigger for action. Notes, lists and sticky notes organize us and make us more efficient.