Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

November 24th, 2009 No Comments

30 Minutes to Less Clutter

clutter 02 {before}

This guest post was written by Claire Tompkins of Clutter Coach.

Can you spare half an hour? What if it would make the following half hour twice as productive? And the hour after that too? Spending time on organizing is a great investment because it always gives you a high return, unlike other investments these days.

Figuring out how to start is often the hardest part of decluttering. The big secret is that it really doesn’t matter, just make a decision and do it. I’m going to suggest one of many possible approaches to structure your half hour, and that’s triage. Triage is all about decision making. It provides a simple structure to guide you and it depends on quick, resolute judgments that you act on right away.

In the medical world, triage is used when there are many patients and limited resources. Care is denied to those who will probably not live, so that those resources can help more patients who probably will live. I can guarantee you that you don’t have enough resources to manage all the stuff that’s currently in your life. Becoming skilled at triage (AKA, ruthless decision making) means more of your time and energy goes to the important stuff.

Triage breaks down into three categories (via Wikipedia

1) Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;

2) Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;

3) Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.

On your desk, this means

Category 1. Stuff you like and need that will be put away;

Category 2. Stuff you don’t like or need that you can immediately decide to ditch;

Category 3. Stuff that you need to deal with right now.

Let’s do half an hour of desk triage. Remember, triage is speedy because lives are at stake. The more quickly you make decisions, the clearer your desk will stay. You may not get through your whole desk in half an hour, but you’ll complete a section rather than just rearranging the piles.

If you have a lot of paper, choose a small area, perhaps just a section of your desk. Triage will get you through the purging and decision making. I’ve added some post-30 minute clean-up suggestions if you want to keep going.

In a hospital, triage patients are sent to different areas depending on their category. On the battlefield, they are simply marked with colored tags. On your desk, use Post Its to mark your piles. Allow enough room for sorted piles. A card table is great, but the floor will work too.

Phase One:
This is the gross sort. You’re deciding whether papers belong to category 1, 2 or 3. You’ll need a timer, 2 piling spots, and containers for recycling and shredding.

Set your timer for 15 minutes. Start with the pile on the left side of your desk and move across to the right without skipping over anything. Don’t let your eyes wander. Each time your gaze passes over the desk, your mind starts to run in different directions and you get distracted. Focus on one thing at a time. Turn away from the desk if it helps.

Pick up the first item in the first pile. Is it category 1, 2 or 3? Don’t read or think too much about an item; you only need to identify it for now. If you can’t decide, choose category 1. Put it into the correct pile or bag. Repeat until the timer goes off.

Phase Two:
Set the timer for ten minutes. Sort the paper in category 1 by topic. If a topic does not come to mind, ask yourself why you are keeping the item. When you go look for it again, you’ll think, “where is that information about ______?” Use that word. Choose broad topics; it’s easier to look for a particular item in five possible folders rather than 50. Right now, you’ll just create separate piles for each topic. Label the piles with Post-Its. If you run out of room, stack the piles alternating horizontal and vertical to keep them separated.

Post triage: File! If your file cabinet is a disaster area, consider getting a temporary file box to use until you can revamp it. That way your newly sorted papers won’t get lost again. I’ll do a post on my organic filing system soon.

Phase Three:
Set the timer for five minutes. Now we’ve come to category 3. These papers were out on the desk because you’re using them to remind you to do something. This is not an effective strategy. You need a list. A list allows you to see at a glance what all those to do’s are. When they are piled up or spread out, you can’t get the whole picture.

Your to do list can be in a notebook, on a pad of paper, in your PDA, a whiteboard, on your phone; wherever you will be most likely to look at it. For each reminder, create a to do. To do for stack of marketing letters: address envelopes, stuff them (including business cards), stamp and take to mailbox. To do for event flyer: Add event to calendar and make a note to RSVP (if necessary) on calendar several days before. To do for pile of business cards: enter into computer contacts list or put into alphabetized card box.

Now, you may be thinking your to do list will get unmanageably long. Yes, it will. But it’s not any longer than it was in your head, or spread out around the house. Before all these things were on the list, you were by turns overwhelmed and in denial about how much you had to do. Now you can see it in black and white. This is your current reality.

Post triage: Make looking at your to do list a habit. Send yourself email reminders if necessary. Where you keep your list is up to you. The important part is having one place to look for your tasks.

Use triage every day. The time it takes for each section may vary for you. The example above was based on most of the paper being tossed out, so there was less to organize later. But using a timer helps you stay focused and speedy and not find yourself deep in reading an hour later.

At your desk, sort mail into bills, action items, reading and filing. Create folders for your current projects on the desktop and file everything else in the file cabinets. Gather up scraps of paper and Post-Its and copy them over to your to do list.

This may seem tedious, but once it becomes a habit it won’t seem like so much work. Even five or ten minutes a day will really help. Another benefit is that you may be inspired to keep less stuff once you realize that you have to work to keep it all organized. It’s your stuff, you’re in charge.

Professional organizer Claire Tompkins specializes in honing in on what her clients truly want and need. That way, she can develop organizing techniques that make their lives easier and give them more free time to do what they love. There’s no “one size fits all” answer. The right technique is the one will actually get used everyday. Services include in-person sessions and telephone coaching. Read her blog here: Phone: 510-768-7913.

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November 6th, 2008 4 Comments

What’s Wrong with Taking a Nap?

Napping in Chongqing
In today’s 24-hour technological society, most of us don’t nap at all, and many don’t nap enough. We all need to start napping more- it would make us less crabby and more productive in the long-run.

Why don’t we nap? Social stigma / false beliefs:

  • Napping is for lazy people
  • Napping is a waste your day
  • Napping is unproductive

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Napping actually makes us more productive because we wake up feeling refreshed, as if it’s the start of a second day.

Famous Nappers

During World War II, Winston Churchill would nap at least an hour in the early afternoon. Churchill is quoted saying “‘Nature had not intended mankind to work from 8 in the morning until midnight without the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.” Some other famous nappers throughout history include:

  • Thomas Edison
  • Leonardo Davinci
  • Albert Einstein

Skilled Napping Takes Time

If you aren’t very good at napping, don’t worry- it is a skill that can be improved over time. I would have never thought I could nap on public transportation. I would be afraid to miss my stop… But since I’ve started taking the train every day, after some practice, napping has become a habit. I am now able to fall asleep, and wake up in time for my stop.

Give napping a try… What have you got to lose?

Next time you consider making a Starbucks run to keep you awake through the afternoon, consider taking a 20 minute nap instead. You just might wake up feeling more refreshed than you would have felt from the short-term jolt of caffeine.

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August 4th, 2008 No Comments

Defeat the Multitasking Virus: The Power of Finishing 2 Mission-Critical Tasks Each Day

Not enough computers to work

When we feel jittery, or worried, or anxious in thinking of the great amount of work that lies before us, the jittery feelings are not caused by the work, but by our mental attitude- which is “I ought to be able to do this all at once.” The truth is: We can only do one thing at a time. When we work with this attitude, we are able to concentrate and think our best.

-Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics

A few weeks ago, I realized that my multitasking habits on the computer were starting to impact my productivity. As I became more active in reading blogs/RSS feeds, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, and Plurk, I became less effective at actually getting things done that matter to me. So what did I do? I asked Timothy Ferriss (not literally- I re-read a chapter of The 4-Hour Workweek).

Ferriss recommends that each evening, you think about what task needs to be completed, and ask yourself about the next day, “If this is the only thing I accomplish tomorrow, will I be satisfied with my day?”. Then, write down 2 mission-critical tasks that you’d like to get done the next day. Instead of using computerized to-do lists, Ferriss recommends that we revert to paper, to limit the amount of information we put on our list:

I use a standard piece of paper folded three times to about 2″ x 3 1/2″, which fits perfectly in the pocket and limits you to noting only a few items. There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day. Never. It just isn’t necessary if they’re actually high-impact.

-Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

The next day, you perform these two tasks separately from start to finish without distraction. I have implemented Ferriss’ simple productivity strategy in my own life, limiting my multi-tasking habits, and focusing on 2 mission-critical tasks each day. After trying this for a few weeks, I have found that his solution works great- my productivity skyrocketed, am I am also happier and feel more gratified with my work.

What makes it work?

Parkinson’s Law– Work expands to fill the time available. This is the magic of the imminent deadline, and works well for completing 2 daily mission-critical tasks.

80/20 Rule (The Pareto Principle)– For many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In relation to 2 mission-critical tasks, your 2 tasks should be part of the 20% that results in your desired outcome (e.g. increased income, productivity, happiness). Again, make sure you ask yourself “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”

Before you get started using Ferriss’ approach to productivity, please be aware of these 2 challenges with the approach:

Challenges with the 2 Mission-Critical Tasks Approach

1) 80/20 optimizations can sometimes cut out critical tasks

This is what’s wrong with a lot of 80/20 optimizations- the belief that truncating the system at the head will optimize its effectiveness; in many cases it actually cuts off a critical piece of the overall ecosystem.

-Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

Solution: When you define your daily mission-critical tasks, be careful not to cut out/stop doing anything that is critical to your long-term success.

2) You may have a bunch of smaller tasks you need to complete in a day

Solution: Bundle your tasks into 2 larger mission-critical tasks. For example, if I want to write three blog posts in a day, I would consider this one of my mission-critical tasks: “Write 3 Blog Posts for Life Evolver”.

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August 1st, 2008 36 Comments

How to Become a Late Riser: 5 Reasons Why Sleeping In Every Day Will Boost your Productivity


There is no hope for a civilization which starts each day to the sound of an alarm clock. -Author Unknown

Super-Replicating Belief: A Belief that has some property which facilitates its own transmission, which makes it be held by an increasing number of minds.

There is a super-replicating false belief in our society that sleeping in is lazy. Sleeping in is not lazy- many individuals would actually be more productive if they slept in versus waking up early (especially if they learned lucid dreaming). But as a whole, promoting the belief that sleeping in is lazy serves the needs of a stable society, in which individuals are all on similar schedules.

What are some of the ways that society makes us feel guilty for sleeping in?

  • “Early to Bed, Early to Rise, Makes a Man Healthy Wealthy and Wise”
  • Early risers are considered more productive than those who sleep in
  • We are only supposed to need 8 hours of sleep, and people often brag about getting by on less
  • If we sleep in, we may feel out of synch with the 9-5 society
  • The online community, including bloggers Steve Pavlina and Leo Babauta, promote becoming early risers

There is no need to feel guilty or lazy- here are 5 reasons why sleeping in will boost your productivity:

5 Reasons Why Sleeping In Every Day Will Boost your Productivity

Are you a Night Owl?
Are you a Night Owl?

1) Depending on your chronotype, you may be a Night Owl living in a Morning Lark’s world

Morning Lark: Morning person, naturally wakes up 2 hours earlier than the majority of the population, is ready for sleep between 8pm – 10pm. Cope more easily with early shifts.

Night Owl: Night person, naturally wakes up 2 hours later than the majority of the population, doesn’t feel sleepy until 12am – 2am. Cope more easily with late shifts.

Many creative types, such as writers, actors, and computer programmers, tend to be Night Owls. If they don’t have to get up early for work, many Night Owls choose to go along with there inherent sleep schedule and work until very late at night.

2) Most people need more than 8 hours of sleep

Before the invention of the electric light in 1879, most people slept 10 hours each night, and this has recently been discovered as the ideal amount of sleep for optimum performance. Additionally, people in cultures that are free from the demands of modern society typically sleep 10 hours each night. There are big benefits to sleeping ten hours per night:

Research Center of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, have demonstrated that alertness significantly increases when eight-hour sleepers who claim to be well rested get an additional two hours of sleep. Energy, vigilance, and the ability to effectively process information are all enhanced, as are critical thinking skills and creativity.

-James B. Maas, Power Sleep

3) Sleep consistency is important; the time you wake up is not (unless you must get up for work)

Sleep consistency is key- this is why I named this post “5 Reasons Why Sleeping In Every Day Will Boost your Productivity”. But the time you wake up is not important:

In 1757 Benjamin Franklin gave us the epigram “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” It would be more accurate to say “Consistently to bed and consistently to rise….” As long as you fulfill your sleep requirement without interruption, it doesn’t really matter what time you go to bed or get up.

-James B. Maas, Power Sleep

Sleeping in can improve your long-term memory retention
Sleeping in can improve your long-term memory retention

4) Sleeping in can improve your long-term memory retention, memory organization, and learning

REM Sleep: Stage of sleep with predominant eye movements and dreaming. During REM, brain neuronal pathways are fired randomly, and REM sleep causes strengthening of memory circuits similar to lifting weights causes strengthening of muscles.

When you fall asleep at night, you go through 4 stages of sleep every 90 to 110 minutes. You typically go through 4-5 cycles of these stages each night. With each successive cycle, more time is spent in REM stage. During later sleep cycles, REM sleep increases from twenty to as much as sixty minutes.

Whenever you have a short night of sleep, you eliminate the long REM periods that come toward morning. This can have significant negative consequences in terms of your learning, thinking, memory, and performance. The only solution is for you to get more sleep.

5) Sleeping in allows you to catch up on sleep debt

Sleeping is a way for you to catch up on sleep debt (Hours of sleep you need per night – Hours of sleep you actually get). In my sleep debt post, I recommend that instead of sleeping in, you catch up on sleep debt by going to bed earlier. However, if you can’t get to bed early, and can’t get enough sleep in your normal schedule, it’s smart to sleep in to catch up on sleep debt when you are able to.

Bonus Reason) Sleeping in allows for more time to practice Lucid Dreaming, allowing you to control your dreams and rehearse for waking life

A lucid dream is a dream in which you are aware that you are dreaming. There are many reasons people decide to try lucid dreaming. Here are a few of the more popular reasons:

  • Fun (ex. flying, superhero abilities)
  • Treatment for nightmares
  • Rehearsing an activity for your waking life (ex. sport, musical performance)
  • Self knowledge and personal growth

To learn more about lucid dreaming, sign up for your Free Lucid Dreaming Starter Handbook.

Now that you know the benefits, here are three tips for becoming a late riser:

How to Become a Late Riser

Note: If you are a Morning Lark, and easily awaken at an early hour, you will generally not be able to become a late riser. This advice is for Night Owls who do not wake up easily for work.

For freelancers and those in control of their own work schedule, sleeping in is an easy habit to adopt. But what about the rest of us? Here are some solutions for the regular worker:

1) Talk to your employer about flextime

Flextime allows you to determine when you work, so you can sleep in every day if you negotiate coming in late with your employer.

2) Talk to your employer about working from home

Talk to your boss about working from home one day of the week. Prove that you can be trusted, and then negotiate working from home full-time. As part of this arrangement, make sure to negotiate working on your own hours (so you can sleep in).

3) No flextime and can’t work from home? Quit your job

If your employer doesn’t allow flextime or working from home, and you are a Night Owl, and getting up early each morning is hell for you, why not consider some alternatives? You could find another employer that is more flexible, or you could start your own business. Either way, you would be more productive working your own hours, versus the hours that society chooses for you.

4) No flextime, can’t work from home, and don’t want to quit your job? Sleep in and face the consequences

A late riser in North Korea:

This post is part of the Sleep Evolver Series

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