3 Unexpected Places to Look for Your Important To-Dos

  3 Unexpected Places to Look for Your Important To-Dos During a virtual meeting with my team, my laptop was running loud and slow. While I struggled to share my screen over the noise of my fan, one of my virtual assistants suggested I might have too many tabs open. “Who ME????” Yes, ME. Whether Read More

 

3 Unexpected Places to Look for Your Important To-Dos

Beige desk with phone, laptop, planner. 3 Unexpected Places to Look for Your Important To-Dos

During a virtual meeting with my team, my laptop was running loud and slow. While I struggled to share my screen over the noise of my fan, one of my virtual assistants suggested I might have too many tabs open. “Who ME????” Yes, ME.

Whether or not you faithfully use a digital or paper planner, you might have some unrecorded and tasks lurking in hidden places. Here are three unexpected places to look for your important to-dos and tips for managing them.

Browsers

Although I am a professional organizer and help people organize their digital lives, that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with tab-mania myself. A single project might require opening up multiple tabs to access programs, do some research, and keep up with email and virtual meetings. As I move through tasks, those tabs multiply and often don’t get closed in a timely manner.

On this occasion, so many tabs were open in my browser that I couldn’t even make out the favicons, those tiny branding images on browser tabs. In fact, a click of the drop-down arrow at the end of the row showed even more tabs open.

As soon as we finished our meeting, I started clicking and closing tabs. I also found myself writing in my planner. One tab reminded me I needed to finish some research. Another prompted an idea for a yet-to-be-written blog post. And yet another was a PDF of an online receipt I needed to save. Those tabs were important to-dos! Anything that took just a few minutes ago, I took care of immediately.

Perhaps neglected open tabs in your browser are unrecorded tasks for your to-do list. Like a tactful Apple store employee once told me, “Just like you need rest, so does your laptop. Turn it off at night.”

So I challenge you: Every night for a week, close all your tabs. That’s right, all of them. You can “pin” those you use daily (right-click on the tab) so they open when you restart your computer, or bookmark them so you don’t need to search. Either way, you will save time. Wait, did you catch the word, restart? Yes, shut that baby down for the night.

TIPS:
  • If you are not already doing so on a regular basis, pick one day a week to check for and run program updates, clear out cookies and caches (see the settings for your browser).
  • Check your device’s trash or recycle bin for items that can be permanently deleted. Until you do, items still take up space.
  • Check your device’s battery life and available storage. I can’t cover directions for all types here, but you can find them by searching for “how to check battery health/available storage on _____.”

Your browser is just one place your important to-do’s might be hiding. Here are two more places:

Voicemails

Occasionally my voicemail is full and I have to clear it out. Every single message is something I need to do. The car repair shop now has a part that I’ve been waiting on, so I need to schedule a an appointment. My mother sang “Happy Birthday” on another message and I want to save it to my cloud storage. Another message reminds a prescription is ready for pickup. That’s an errand to the pharmacy. All of these are tasks that need to go on my list of important to-dos.

TIPS:
  • If your phone had to be reset and you lost your voicemails, are there any you would be sad about losing? Download happy-memory messages you want to save to cloud storage. I am so happy I downloaded voicemails of my parents serenading me with “Happy Birthday” together. Since my father passed away, it is a comforting memento.
  • Check your voicemail greeting. You may wish to say something different or rerecord using a better microphone.
  • When you delete messages, they might still exist in a deleted folder. Empty the deleted folder to make room on your device.

Scraps of paper

If you frequently write on sticky notes, scraps of paper, and/or notepads, then you might be  a “paper planner” person. As much as I love technology for its efficiency, I use Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner to keep track of my important to-dos. I love the feel of pen-to-paper and checking things off with a flourish. Clicking and swiping on a to-do app just doesn’t give me the same satisfaction, no matter how nice the interface is.

Sometimes I catch myself writing on sticky notes or notepads when on calls or webinars. I make a point of checking for these hidden to-dos on my desk at least weekly, putting them in the right spot in my planner. Often I make these temporary notes because I’m not quite sure when or if I am going to tackle them. The solution for this is a “grasscatcher list,” a master list of to-dos that aren’t urgent but shouldn’t be forgotten. Mine is in the back of my quarterly planner and I do a serious list sweep monthly and quarterly to weed that list down. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system refers to this as a “Someday Maybe” list. 

TIPS:
  • If you must write on a scrap of paper in a pinch, add the date. This will give you some frame of reference for what the note was about, if it is still relevant or even needed, when you come across it.
  • Before phone calls and meetings, determine the best place to record notes. I prefer paper planners with a two-page daily spread that includes a notes page for this reason. For client consultations, I have an intake form ready. The same goes for virtual coffees. I love using forms and creating them for my clients!
  • Use traditional phone message pads with a carbon copy feature to record voicemails and take calls. Fill in all the prompts for information. This can clear up half of your random note clutter!

Summary

Open browser tabs, voicemails, and scraps of paper are just a few of the unexpected places to look for your important to-dos. This digital and paper clutter can be prompts for tasks and they can pile up if not dealt with. Take care of them immediately or record in your planning system. Better yet, if not needed, delegate or discard.

Three things to do on a regular basis (think daily, every other day, or at least weekly):
  • Check your browser for open tabs and close them. If you need to access certain sites regularly, pin them or bookmark them.
  • Check your voicemail and clean it out, or at least add them to your to-do list and delete messages as you take care of them.
  • Corral loose notes and record them where they will be most useful.

With all your browser tabs closed, your voicemails cleared, and random notes recorded, you will get a good night’s sleep, and so will your laptop.

So, how many tabs are open on your device as you read this?

Need help with organizing your digital life? 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

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

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

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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