Archive for the ‘Time’ Category

How Much Time Should Planning Take?

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. — Seneca

Once in a while a client avoids planning on the ground that it takes too much time. They’d much rather dive right in and spend that time getting some of their work done, instead of reviewing goals, choosing priorities, and making lists.

"Out of Business" (c) All rights reserved by Lynn Park.

"Out of Business" (c) All rights reserved by Lynn Park.

How much time should planning take? Less time than anything else you do in your work. Like tooth-brushing, planning takes very little time and pays big dividends for the small increments of time and effort invested.

Good planning requires just two percent of your time, divided between two types of plans.

First, one percent of each day will be used to plan the following day. Before finishing work for the day, evaluate the following day. Choose three tasks that contribute to your larger goals, and work on those tasks first thing the next day. That one percent of time (about five minutes of an eight-hour day) spent planning tomorrow’s work will pay off beautifully in real progress on the things that matter most.

Then, devote another one percent to longer-range planning. Arrange a half-day planning retreat every quarter, so that you can weigh your progress and adjust your focus. This will prevent unproductive drifting.

Finally, use another half day (for a total of two and a half days out of a 240-day work year) to make your annual plan.

Remember that frantic activity does not equal productivity; in fact, productivity thrives on calm and considered action. Invest just two percent of your time – just five minutes a day and two and a half days each year – and watch the productivity returns pour in.

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The Won’t-Do List

 

No means no! (Photo taken on Vancouver's Canada Line by Margaret Lukens)

 

Productivity is as much about what we choose not to do as it is about what we do. (Remember the Evil Overlord List? 100 tongue-in-cheek won’t-do entries that begins, “Being an Evil Overlord seems to be a good career choice.”)

With this in mind, I’d like to supplement my list of committed tasks with a “won’t-do” list.

Below I’ve started with five things I’d like to eliminate from my life. I’ll be adding to my list whenever I think of something that is hindering my efforts to get where I want to go.

My Won’t-Do List

1. I won’t attend meetings with no agenda. And I encourage everyone else not to do it, either. Waste of everyone’s time. And in case it’s not clear, “so that everyone can catch up on what’s happening” is not an agenda. It’s a time sink.

2. I won’t balance my personal checkbook. For over 25 years I balanced my checkbook to the penny every month. In that time, the bank made two errors, one for a dollar and one for a dime, both in their favor. (Both came from misreading the numbers written on a check.) For the hours it takes to balance the checkbook every year, I can live with that error rate. I’m done.

3. I won’t get behind in my business bookkeeping. Given the won’t-do above, this one might seem surprising, but last year when my bookkeeper quit, I allowed my books to get months behind, which caused two problems. First, I had to catch up in order to do my taxes. But more important, I can’t manage my business if I’m not looking at the numbers in a timely way. I won’t “fly blind” again.

4. I won’t arrive on time. I’m already punctual; I believe that keeping people waiting often makes them feel disrespected, and I don’t want to do that. Now I want treat myself more generously. I won’t habitually cut my schedule so close that I feel anxious about arriving on time. Instead I will plan to arrive early. When I do, my reward will be time for a few games of ZenBound or Angry Birds.

5. I won’t agree to serve on committees or boards because I’m flattered to be asked. I love to feel needed and wanted, I do, which makes me something of a sucker for nominating committees and clever task force leaders. Plus, the work they offer me is really interesting stuff that I’d really like to do. But I won’t agree to serve just because I am flattered to be asked. If I don’t have room for it in my schedule as well as a genuine desire to participate, I won’t say yes.

Opinions change. Two years ago I would have said that I feel no need to jump out of a perfectly good airplane; now, thanks to the glowing reports of one adrenalin-amped nephew (who is not a daredevil but a well-balanced business owner, husband, and father of three) I have committed to a sky dive. And there was a time that I believed that, except for an omelet and salad, any meal that took  less than an hour to prepare couldn’t be very good; now I’m all about the 30-minute recipe.

On the other hand, when I look at my won’t-do’s, they look like they’re with me for the long haul. They represent real learning about what supports productivity and what diminishes it.  Last year’s “no way” may be next year’s “why not?” but my won’t-do list is here to stay.

What’s on your won’t-do list? Leave a comment here.

Worth Repeating – October posts from New Leaf News

 

Still fresh, still good for you! (Farmer's Market, Granville Island, British Columbia. Photo by Margaret Lukens)

I’ve dipped into the New Leaf News archives to share a few posts that still seem as fresh and relevant today as they did in Octobers past. In case you missed them the first time around, here they come again!

I’m still using mind-mapping as a technique to organize and view more information than is possible with a list or outline. And since I wrote about it last year, I have begun making some mind-maps using a piece of free software that couldn’t be easier: MindMeister. I recently used it to develop the curriculum for my new teleclass/workshop PortaVault Prep. It enabled me to fit essential notes for three hours of class time on a single page.

Do you believe that multitasking is a useful productivity practice? My work with clients indicates you’re not alone. Still, research on how our brains execute tasks is yielding stronger evidence that we need to stop interrupting ourselves. Read this advice from an 18th century father to his son, and take it to heart.

Want your productivity instructions boiled down like a concentrated sauce? Here is last year’s light-hearted look at the main ingredients of getting more done.

Wishing you a happy October!

How Pareto’s Principle can turn 20 percent of your effort into 80 percent of your results

Your friend and mine, Vilfredo.

Allow me to introduce someone who can profoundly affect your productivity. You may know him by his reputation, if not by his name or face.

Name: Vilfredo Pareto.

Claim to fame: formulated/discovered the Pareto Principle, also known as the “80/20 Rule.”

Pareto was an Italian economist who first observed that in developed economies, about 80 percent of the wealth was owned by 20 percent of the population. Additionally (and to simplify quite a lot) Pareto noted a consistent, predictable  imbalance between inputs and outputs.

Relatively little was made of this discovery for many decades after Pareto published it. Still, other applications of Pareto’s discovery cropped up in odd places.

For example, most people find that they wear about 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time. When carpeting is replaced in public areas, about 80 percent of it was still perfectly sound; only 20 percent was seriously worn. Many business owners find that 80 percent of their sales come from 20 percent of their customers. And 80 percent of their complaints come from 20 percent of their customers, too — but not the same 20 percent that accounts for the sales.

Pareto’s discovery was astonishing to him and to us because it runs counter to some of our basic beliefs about how the world works. We tend to believe that all actions have proportionate results. We behave as though all of our efforts are of equal importance, as though everything on our task list had equal weight. We behave as though Pareto’s Principle didn’t apply to us.

How can we use this 80/20 Rule to work for us? Recognize that the majority of what we do in a typical work day will have little impact while a small minority will have a major impact. Begin by identifying those things that are likely to make a real difference. Do those things first. Devote your best time of the day to making progress on the 20 percent of your activities that will likely yield 80 percent of your results.

Know where your revenues come from — which customers and which of your products — and focus your attention there. Let go of marginal (or unprofitable) activities. Be strategic in your use of all resources — time, capital, other people’s help, everything you’ve got.

Remember, it’s not the busiest person who wins, but the one who works most effectively. Use the 80/20 Rule to focus your energies on the activities that matter.

If you’d like to dig more deeply into how Pareto’s Principle can transform your life, pick up The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch.

Worth Repeating – July posts from New Leaf News

photo by Margaret Lukens

I’m sharing a few posts from the New Leaf archives. Here’s what was on our mind in Julys past.

How can you make progress on a goal that, for lack of a “natural” deadline, seem to take a back seat to everything else? Here are a couple of ideas to help you get it done.

In good economic times and bad, it always pays to be respectful of your most firmly limited resource,  time. Are you saving a little money but squandering your time?

Abraham Lincoln provides a timely and timeless hope for Independence Day and every day.

Rest, rejuvenate, recommit

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

— Bertrand Russell

Stinson Beach, CA - enjoying a break

One of the most popular productivity books of the past two decades is David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. And while I appreciate his approach, and use many aspects of it myself, I’m afraid that his title may lead some people astray.

Ultimately, it is not about “getting things done.” There are so many things to do, we could get things done 24/7 and still not make any progress. There will always be tasks to do. In our hearts we know this, right?

What matters most is choosing the right things to do, then approaching them with focus and organization. Too much attention on getting things done can lead us to overlook a crucial piece of the productivity picture: time for rest.

Every week, without fail, devote a day (or two half-days, if you must) to rest, rejuvenation, and re-commitment. Do those things that give you joy, that make you pause, that remind you of why you bother to “get things done” in the first place.

Without attention to rejuvenation and re-commitment, business people are in danger of burning out — that condition where nothing matters, no carrot is juicy enough, no stick is scary enough, to make us move. Do not flirt with burn-out.

Remember that your professional life is about the pace, not the race. You must create a pace that is sustainable over years in order to succeed as an entrepreneur. If you are ill, take days off. If you are frazzled, take an afternoon and do what you love. And every week, give some time to activities that provide rest, rejuvenation, and re-commitment.

Here are some of the things that give me some “R & R & R”:

  • drive an hour to the mountains & hike among towering redwoods.
  • drive to the beach, walk miles on sand, get chilled and sunburned, eat lunch at Barbara’s Fish Trap.
  • attend a conference that really gets me excited about the possibilities of being an entrepreneur and reminds me that not only can I do it, I MUST!
  • walk my feet off in the city (in my case, San Francisco.) Take pictures.
  • if physical effort isn’t called for, spend a day (and I mean a whole day!) in a hammock with a library book that has nothing to do with work. I suggest West With the Night, by Beryl Markham – she’s not nearly as well-known as she should be.
  • or spend the day on the sofa with a bunch of movies in the “watch instantly” queue: five good heists (The Thomas Crown Affair, Dog Day Afternoon, The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven, …) , ten hours of English history (Anne of a Thousand Days, Elizabeth R, A Man for All Seasons, Mary Queen of Scots, …), or six degrees of Kevin Bacon (Footloose, The River Wild, A Few Good Men, Mystic River, National Lampoon’s Animal House, …) — you choose the theme.

What have you done lately to rest, rejuvenate, and recommit? What will you do this week? Leave your comment here to spark ideas for other readers.

Time Myth: “busy people are more productive”

Ready for a tough assignment? The next time you feel overwhelmed because you have too much to do, slow down.

This is not easy. It is a natural tendency to rush through our work when we feel short of time, but in the end it doesn’t help. That’s because busy-ness is not the same thing as productivity.

Our goal is not to do the most things, but to do the most important things.

The next time you feel really rushed, stop and take stock of all you have to do. Give yourself a full minute to take it in. Think about what really is the most important thing for you to move forward. Then do that one thing.

At the end of the day, you’ll find that the discipline of moving mindfully through your tasks, rather than racing frantically through them, allows you to get more of the important things done while feeling less stressed and more in control.

Time Myth: “I have to run faster to get everything done”

We all have certain beliefs and assumptions that we make about time. One common assumption I encounter: getting more done requires running faster.

clock with color pencil effect by Margaret LukensSome time management systems encourage us to work faster to save maybe 10 or 15 percent of our time. And while a saving of 10 percent is always welcome, there are much bigger gains available, and they come with less stress. Getting those really big productivity gains requires challenging our fundamental assumptions about time and how we use it.

While I respect David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, the title is a bit misleading. We can “get things done” 24-7 and still be no further ahead. There is simply no correlation between getting lots of stuff done and being successful.

Productivity improvement does not come from running faster. It comes from having clear goals to pursue and then allocating enough time to work on the steps required to meet those goals. It may require defending that allotted time against others who would intrude on it.

What could we substitute for the old belief, “I have to run faster to get everything done?” Try this on: “I need to be absolutely clear what I want to achieve so I can get the most important things done.”  There will always be more stuff to do than can easily be done in a day. It was true when my ancestors were clearing granite chunks from farm fields, and it’s true when silicon chips allow people to flood my in-box with email day in and day out.

Before trying to run faster, ask yourself where you really want to go. You may find it’s closer than you thought.

Need a Net Nanny? Rescue Time Provides the Loving Discipline.

How do you waste time at your computer? Are you an obsessive email-checker? Do you while away hours playing solitaire or backgammon? Are your achievements in Farmville and Mafia Wars huge compared to your achievements in the real world? Are you a connoisseur of funny pet videos on YouTube?

image courtesy of http://www.zynga.com

With temptation never more than one little mouse click away, our best productive plans can easily be derailed. I can always divert myself from work that is difficult or tedious by clicking over to something amusing (I’m a solitaire and backgammon girl, myself.) Even when I’m not trying to avoid work, it’s easy to be drawn from one site by a link, that leads me to another interesting link, that leads to…. Day’s over and nothing’s accomplished.

Did you ever wish for something that would help to keep you on track, a sort of nanny to remind you of what you should be doing right now? Enter Rescue Time. Rescue Time bills itself as time management, productivity, and project tracking software. Running in the background on your computer, it’s basic function is to track what you’re spending time on – business, email, social networking, meetings and phone calls, and so on.

Time Rescue provides pre-assigned categories of activities, which are surprisingly easy to customize, allowing you to change the productivity ranking (“Being on twitter is required for my job – I’m the social networking guru, honest!”) and fine tune the reporting.

One feature of Rescue Time that can be especially helpful is the Focus Time tool. If I need to write without interruption for 30 minutes, I tell Rescue Time to put me on Focus Time, which means it will block any category that I have rated above a certain level of distraction. If I try to leave my work and open a browser window on facebook.com, which I have rated as “very distracting”, the browser window will roll over to Rescue Time, with a reminder of why the site is blocked for me and, just in case I really need to look at facebook right now, a message detailing how I can unblock it.

If you are motivated by upholding your personal best, you’ll probably enjoy checking your Rescue Time stats and making sure you haven’t dropped below your average, or the score of the average Rescue Time user.

Of course, Rescue Time can’t enforce productive habits against your will. What it can do is to helpfully remind you of your intentions if you should falter for a moment and provide feedback about how well you’re sticking to your goals. And when it comes to forming good time management habits, that’s a lot of help.

The basic Rescue Time application is free.

Multitasking: a quote

A quote for the day:

iStock_000004003368XSmall

There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.

— Lord Chesterfield, in a letter to his son, c. 1740

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