Win Your Day with Time Blocking and Time Boxing

When stressed and overwhelmed, even the most disciplined person can lose their way. According to Parkinson’s Law, work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s direct quote is, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He wrote this in reference Read More

When stressed and overwhelmed, even the most disciplined person can lose their way. According to Parkinson’s Law, work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s direct quote is, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He wrote this in reference to bureaucracy, but it is a perfect explanation for what happens to tasks and projects without boundaries. Tiffanie Wen provides an excellent deep dive in her article, “The Law That Explains Why You Can’t Get Anything Done.

Projects and Tasks

Every project should have a deadline. A deadline, whether imposed by you or someone else, creates a boundary, and boundaries are good. Not only do they provide structure, but they also help you prioritize.

According to David Allen’s GTD system (Getting Things Done), anything that requires two or more tasks to complete is a project. And if a project has a deadline, the tasks that support it should also have their own deadlines. If you have six important tasks to accomplish in a month, but only four have specific deadlines, those tasks with deadlines will be prioritized at the top of the list. The two tasks with vague or non-existent deadlines will flounder at the bottom of the list and may not get done at all.

So how can you structure your day so that your tasks and projects actually are completed? How do you motivate yourself when you are staring at a monitor or junk room and overwhelmed at the enormity of the work ahead? By putting boundaries around your time with Time Blocking, Time Chunking, and/or Time Boxing.

Before I explain how this works, let’s weed out one term. Time Blocking and Time Chunking are used interchangeably, so I will refer only to Time Blocking and Time Boxing in this article.

Time Blocking

Schedule for Time Blocking in 25 Minute Increments

Time Blocking involves dedicating a block of time to a task or project. With the Pomodoro Method, developed by Frances Cocirillo, you work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and repeat. One round of this is referred to as a Pomodoro (think of a traditional tomato-shaped kitchen timer). After the fourth round, take a longer break. Are you dreading a big, time-consuming project? It’s less overwhelming when you only have to commit to 25 minutes of intentional work at a time. This graphic shows what that might look like.

That’s a strict schedule but with about six hours and forty minutes of focused work time. Think that’s not enough? According to a study of 2,000 office workers, most people who work an eight hour day are only productive for about three hours. So, if you achieve this schedule, you are twice as productive as most. There are health benefits for breaking up your work session. According to the American Optometric Association, to prevent eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at something at least 20 feet away. Working within short blocks of time can help achieve that.

Hacking the Tomato (Pomodoro)

Schedule for Time Blocking in 50-Minute Increments

For most tasks, the Pomodoro method works for me. But when I get in a writing zone, I don’t want to stop. If stopping after 25 minutes feels like an interruption that stymies your workflow, try different durations until you find one that works for you. In his book, The Time Chunking Method: A 10-Step Action Plan for Increasing Your Workflow and Skyrocketing Your Productivity, Damon Zahariades found he works better with longer blocks/chunks of time. This graphic shows a much more condensed schedule for six and a half hours of focused work.

Time Boxing

Time Blocking is an excellent way to stay on track, but you can still stretch a project out without additional boundaries. Enter Time Boxing. With this technique, you set a limit on the amount of time you will spend on a task or project. If you want to get a blog post written in four hours, schedule the time on your calendar and get to work. At the end of the four hours, evaluate if the task is done or “good enough.” If you absolutely must spend more time on it, then schedule the minimum amount of time you might need to finish.

This is an excellent practice if you have perfectionist tendencies. And if you often miscalculate how much time a task or project takes to complete, this technique will help you create more realistic estimates – a key component of good project management.

Time Blocking vs. Time Boxing

So which technique should you choose? Either will help you manage your time better, but they can also be used effectively together. Use Time Boxing to schedule when you will complete a task and Time Blocking to keep your focus and momentum during that time limit.

I’d love to hear what works for you. How do you manage your time?

Need help with productivity? Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me or schedule your free consult. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Supercharge Productivity with Smartphone Reminders

Supercharge Productivity with Smartphone Reminders Did you set some New Year’s resolutions that you have yet to take action on? Well, dust off those goals and start making real progress with smartphone reminders! Your smartphone comes with a default reminders app that can help you build habits and routines. If you ask your phone’s personal Read More

Supercharge Productivity with Smartphone Reminders

White smartphone on orange background with exclamation point symbol on phoneDid you set some New Year’s resolutions that you have yet to take action on? Well, dust off those goals and start making real progress with smartphone reminders!

Your smartphone comes with a default reminders app that can help you build habits and routines. If you ask your phone’s personal assistant to set a reminder (“Set a reminder to call Bob at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow), that’s where you’ll find it. Note: I’ll be referring to iOS, but Android users have one too. Also, the information in this post will most certainly be outdated as apps come and go, improve or disappear, and technology advances overall. But the basic concepts are “evergreen.”

I use reminders to help me achieve annual goals and resolutions. Want to track your food intake? Set a lunchtime and evening reminder to keep you on track. Want to meditate every morning? Set a daily reminder. Do you forget to set out your recycling bin? Set a weekly/bi-weekly reminder for the night before pickup. Want to remember to record your odometer reading every January 1st? Set an annual reminder. It feels good to check off a reminder when you complete a task!

Reminders vs. Alerts set in Appointments

Are you confused about when to add a reminder and when to add an appointment? Me too, sometimes! Reminders are for things I need to do and alerts are notifications I set for appointments: places I need to be (in-person or virtual), or blocks of specific project time. If you have reminders for tasks that will take more than fifteen minutes to do, then blocking out time on your calendar would be a good thing, especially if you are trying to build a routine, a group of related habits completed in the same order each time.

When I create an appointment on my calendar (Google, Outlook, iCal, etc.), I always set alerts. For most phone appointments I set one for one hour before, and another for fifteen minutes before. For appointments I need to drive to, I enter the location and then set an alert for two hours before I have to leave and another for 30 minutes before I have to leave. This allows for traffic issues.

Why more than two alerts are helpful

Sometimes I want an extra alert for an appointment that requires extra prep time or that is very infrequent. For example, my dentist is in a town an hour away from me. Setting an alert one week prior gives me time to plan another appointment or errand in the area. I’ve found that the default calendar on my iPhone only has an option for two alerts, but I can add more if working from the app on my laptop. Google calendars offer unlimited alerts.

Explore and Customize Features for Smartphone Reminders:

  • Choose the day: If this is a one-time occurrence, just pick the day and time.
  • Set repeating reminders: How frequently do you want to take the action? You can choose daily, weekly, monthly, etc., or you can also customize the date to the 14th of every month, third Thursday, etc.
  • Set a repetition end date: If you no longer need this reminder after a certain date, then set an end date for the repetition. If you are setting reminders to build new habits and routines, then you can delete them when the habit is ingrained. Not sure how long that might take? Read about habits and routines in my post, Five Myths About Goals, Habits, and Willpower
  • Choose the ideal time of day: When is the best time of day to get this reminder? Would you get more benefit out of exercising first thing in the morning? Would a little yoga before bed help you sleep better? Set the reminder when you need the nudge, giving you enough time to complete the task.
  • Set a level of importance: I am not using this feature, but do set a level of importance if you have so many reminders you need to prioritize them.
  • Include emojis: One or two visuals can be a nice prompt. I added sunrise and sun emojis to my Morning Meditation reminder. 🙂
  • Set a location: Want a reminder to buy special stamps next time you are near your post office or to drop off a bag of donations when you are near your favorite charity? You can plug in the location and get a reminder when you are nearby.
  • Create lists: When writing this post, I realized I haven’t really used this feature. I just piled all my reminders into the one default list. In fact, I was going to write, “As much as I like the Reminders app, this is list overkill for me. I have so many other lists that I want to keep this simple.” But then I realized that I have soooo many reminders it was taking me a while to find the ones I need. So, I now use the default list for one-time reminders and created lists for repeating reminders. Whew! Clutter-free lists are a good thing. I no longer see my annual and “far into the future reminders” such as “Record odometer reading on January 1st“and “Renew my DBA in 2021” every single day. Here are the reminder lists I use:
    • Daily
    • Weekly/Bi-weekly
    • Monthly/Quarterly
    • Annually
    • Far off

Integrating Smartphone Reminders into your Calendar

Want to see your reminders in your calendar? For a time, I considered using Google calendar (it is awesome!) but that requires a Gmail account and the one I have is for personal emails. My work email addresses are based on my domain, so Google isn’t an option. So I use iCal and Outlook for my business emails. Since iCal does not include reminders in the schedule, I found that the Fantastical 2 app (as of this writing) allows me to also see all my calendar items along with reminders for the day, in order of scheduled time. Pretty cool! But also pretty cluttered. So the only thing I use Fantastical 2 for is duplicating and moving appointments, something it is excellent for.

SmartWatch Notifications

If you have a smartwatch, one that will vibrate when you get a reminder, then it is “smart” to turn on notifications for that device. I absolutely love this feature, because I hate the sound of a ringing phone! Hate is probably too strong a word, since a wonderful person may be calling me, but the sound jars me out of whatever task/creative thinking I am involved in. So, the sound AND vibration on my phone are always off. A big plus to this is I never have to worry about my phone ringing in meetings, movie theatres, medical offices, etc.

An embarrassing story…

I’ve never told anyone this story until now. It’s especially embarrassing because I worked for over a decade in human resources and hired over 500 college students!

When I got my first smartphone, the technology was a bit overwhelming, but I was so happy to have all the features of a small computer at my fingertips! I’d been let go from a job after the company I worked for went bankrupt and five months later I had finally landed a job interview. Yep, it took five months!

Right before I met with the manager of a company I really wanted a job with, I dutifully turned off the sound on my phone (I had learned that much!), but midway through the interview, I realized with horror what I’d forgotten to do. My purse began buzzing, loudly, and started vibrating on the nearby table. I’d forgotten to turn off the vibration notification feature for phone calls and someone was calling me.

Maybe it was so loud because the phone was rattling next to my keys. Not sure, but what I was sure of was I had no idea how to turn it off! The interviewer looked a bit annoyed and I mumbled something about a new phone. The buzzing finally stopped. The interview ended. I did not get the job. I blame the phone. And my (now ex) husband, who had been calling me to see how the interview was going. Okay, maybe not his fault, but I digress… The point is, a ringing or even vibrating phone can be noisy and distracting. A vibrating smartwatch, not so much.

Sample List of Smartphone Reminders

Screen shot of reminders lists on smartphone including, Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Annual listsHere are some of the smartphone reminders I have set:

Daily

  • Morning meditation
  • Mantras
  • Daily plank
  • Check Thumbtack (7:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m.)
  • Evening routine: floss, vitamins
  • Record meals in MyFitnessPal
  • Cycle for 15 minutes

Weekly/Bi-weekly

  • Take out the trash
  • Take out the recycling
  • Schedule gym workouts
  • Update meal kits
  • Update mileage in MileIQ
  • Update Quickbooks
  • Update client files
  • Schedule networking events
  • Update websites

Monthly/Quarterly

  • Choose Audible books
  • Use Verizon rewards
  • Resend newsletter
  • Pay rent
  • Pay bills
  • Change air filter
  • Check Google Ads performance

Annual/Semi reminders

  • Record odometer for the new year
  • Change smoke alarm batteries
  • Look for tax forms (Amazon Affiliates, Acorns)
  • Schedule annual medical appointments
  • Schedule dental checkup

Far off…

  • Renew my DBA fictitious name
  • Renew driver’s license
  • Renew domains

What tasks have you been forgetting or putting off? What habits do you want to build? If you are ready to be more productive, reach your goals and stay on top of tasks, then grab your smartphone and add those reminders!

Need help with productivity? I am happy to help you create your last filing system ever! Call me at 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or just go ahead and schedule your free consult for business or residential organizing, life and productivity coaching! I’d love to help you get organized so you can live the life you desire.

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Glinda the Good Witch: Counselor, Consultant or Coach?

Counselor, Consultant or Coach? What’s the difference between a counselor, consultant or coach? Does a counselor/therapist make recommendations to improve your business processes? Can a coach or counselor help with your extreme depression or anxiety? And what did Glinda the Good Witch say to Dorothy after the hot air balloon lifted away without her? We’ll Read More

Counselor, Consultant or Coach?

Photo of beach maze by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

What’s the difference between a counselor, consultant or coach? Does a counselor/therapist make recommendations to improve your business processes? Can a coach or counselor help with your extreme depression or anxiety? And what did Glinda the Good Witch say to Dorothy after the hot air balloon lifted away without her? We’ll get back to that later, I promise! Here are some examples of what each professional does to help you get down your yellow brick road of life.

Counselor/Therapist

Therapy emphasizes the past, present, and sometimes, the future. Here, the focus is on improving mental health – cognitive and emotional capabilities, functioning and thriving in relationships and society, and meeting the demands of everyday life. Therapists have different approaches and specialties. Licensing is required, and psychotherapists are extensively trained before they can work independently. I am not a therapist, so if a client needs help managing and improving their mental health, I will encourage them to seek help from a licensed therapist.

After Dorothy’s world spun out of control (and Kansas) she might have benefited from some therapy before embarking on her trip down the yellow brick road.

Consultant

When I work as an organizer, I am a consultant providing expert advice. Along with the physical work of sorting through papers, clothes and general clutter, I make recommendations about what to keep, what to let go of and how to store and display what is kept.

Organizing emphasizes the past, present, and future. We work on improving the functionality of systems and spaces, so you can manage your things, time, and activities. Although licensing and certification are not required, I am a Certified Professional Organizer (NAPO), hold specialist certificates in Workplace Productivity, Residential Organizing, and Life Transitions, and continuously invest in professional development.

Need help streamlining processes or organizing your office for maximum efficiency? As a business organizer, I can help with that. Need recommendations on how to organize your kitchen? As a residential organizer, I can give you recommendations and help you get it done. And that includes how to store and pack your fabulous ruby slippers!

Coach

Coaching, on the other hand, is a collaborative process and emphasizes the present and future. In this role, I don’t tell you what you should do, but I support you as we explore possibilities and you gain perspective and arrive at your own solutions. We start by identifying where you are and exploring your values and goals. Then we work on shifting you to a place of confidence and competence: your unique potential. We get there through focus and accountability.

The process is a very empowering tool for navigating transitions and reinvention. Although licensing and certification are not required, I am a graduate of a one-year, comprehensive coach training program and offer life and productivity coaching. Coaching is a safe space to share dreams and is ideal for people who are ready to move forward. As one of my clients said, “I knew the answers, I just didn’t know the questions. You knew the right questions to ask.”

Working with a Counselor, Consultant and/or Coach

Dorothy's ruby slippers sitting on a stump in the woodsDoes it make sense to work with more than one of these professionals at a time? Yes! Have you ever worked with an accountant AND a tax professional AND a financial advisor? Sometimes it’s good to let them communicate with each other to give you the best possible results. I am always open to communicating and collaborating with my clients’ support professionals – with permission of course.

And what did Glinda, the Good Witch say to Dorothy? “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” Glinda would have made an excellent life coach!

Are you stuck? Call me at 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or just go ahead and schedule your free consult for life and productivity coaching, or business or residential organizing! I’d love to help you simplify, amplify and Zen Your Den® (and your life).

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Five Myths about Goals, Habits, and Willpower

Goals, Habits, and Willpower New research shows that some of what we have been told about goals, how long it takes to form a habit, and the willpower needed to get those things done may be wrong. Here are some of those myths and ways to flip your beliefs. The best way to achieve your Read More

Goals, Habits, and Willpower

New research shows that some of what we have been told about goals, how long it takes to form a habit, and the willpower needed to get those things done may be wrong. Here are some of those myths and ways to flip your beliefs.

The best way to achieve your goals is to tell people

Goals, Habits, Potential

“Tell everyone your goals.” Going public with your goals has been a popular suggestion for years. But does it really make a difference? According to research by Peter Gollwitzer, Professor of Psychology at NYU, telling people your goals takes the edge off of motivation. It’s as if the act of telling people was the first step towards making progress towards that goal. So telling people you are going to lose 20 lbs by summer actually gives you a slight feeling of accomplishment and you may delay a relevant first step, like clearing unhealthy stuff out of your pantry.

Flip it: Keep your big goals to yourself but write them down and keep them visible in your planner and vision board. (Announce them to the world if you want when you’ve reached a milestone!

Start with the hardest, “worst” task first

Eat that Frog. Fit that big rock in the jar first. But is it a tasty frog? Is that the right rock? Should you focus on the hardest/easiest or the biggest/smallest? What’s important is to distinguish between the important/unimportant tasks. The hardest task may not be the most important task and vice versa.

So zero in on the most important task and break it down into micro-tasks. The satisfaction that comes from completing a tiny first step of an awesome (as in big and life-changing) goal is a feel-good motivator for getting things done. That accomplishment might provide just enough positive reinforcement to keep you moving forward with a harder/bigger task.

Flip it: Start with the smallest task of an important project. It may be the easiest, but it will give you a feeling of accomplishment that can provide motivation to keep going through the tougher ones.

It takes 21 days to form a habit

This idea originated from Maxwell Maltz, in his book, Psycho-Cybernetics (1960). 21 days is certainly a good start, but it may be just the beginning of making it stick. According to a research article in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it can take from 18 to 254 days to make a habit a… habit. Yes, 254!!

If you are new to meditating, hanging your keys on a hook, or making your bed every day, it may take a bit longer than 21 days. Consider that a 30-year-old who has never been the bed-making type will have been practicing the habit of leaving their bed unmade every morning for about 25 years (I’m giving 1- 5-year-olds a pass here!). That’s 9,125 days. So 21 days may not be the magic bullet, but it is certainly a milestone to be celebrated!

Flip it: Consider 21 days as a goal for a streak – an unbroken number of days you have practiced this new habit – and reward yourself with something meaningful. Note: “Meaningful” does not have to mean “expensive.”

We have a limited amount of willpower

Willpower printed on silver metal key tagGoogle “limited willpower” and you will see all three sides: It’s limited. It’s not limited. Have some sugar to get more. Ego depletion is the belief that we have a limited reserve of willpower. Deny yourself bacon at breakfast, a greasy burger and fries at lunch, and cookies and a Snickers bar in the afternoon and you are doomed to blow it all in the evening.

This concept gained traction in the late 1990s when Psychologist Roy Baumeister led a study on the topic. But more recently, another study has suggested this might not be the case. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck discovered that the subjects of Baumeister’s original project already believed that willpower was limited. Note: Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is one of my favorite books. I recommend it to all, especially parents who are trying to figure out how to support and motivate their children.

What does this mean? Henry Ford’s quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,” may apply here. Belief may drive behavior.

Flip it: This is where positive thinking comes into play. When willpower reserves are running low, review your goals and your reasons why recognize your progress and give yourself a gritty pep talk to stay the course.

Think only of positive outcomes

I will be the first to encourage people to think positive,  happy thoughts! Positive thinking reduces stress and keeps you motivated to be productive. Negative self-talk, on the other hand, is self-defeating and non-productive. When I am anticipating a win or loss for myself, I hope and plan for the best, but… I also imagine the worst-case scenario. Why? Because it forces me to do a little risk analysis and imagine plan B or any actions I need to take to ensure a great outcome. It’s not that I’m planning for failure; I’m preparing for success! And rarely does the worst-case scenario happen!

Flip it: Think positively, but also analyze the worst-case scenario. You might identify some quick fixes that will help you realize your ideal scenario. Just don’t stay in the pit of negativity too long!

Do you need help with goal setting, habit-building, and accountability? Life coaching can help! Call me at 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or just go ahead and schedule your free consult for life coaching or organizing! I’d love to help you simplify, amplify and Zen Your Den® (and your life).

,

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO