Trail Starts Here sign

Where Do I Start?

Trail Starts Here sign

It’s easy to answer “Where do I start?” with “at the beginning” isn’t it? Sometimes though, the beginning isn’t immediately obvious.

“I’m soooo overwhelmed with what has to be done! And I have no idea where to even start making changes so that I feel like I’m accomplishing something on a regular basis.”

Sound familiar?

I’ve heard it a few times, heck – I’ve said it myself a few times!

I pulled this great quote from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done:

Trying to manage from the top down, when the bottom is out of control, may be the least effective approach.

This describes exactly why I believe you need to know what’s currently on your plate before you set your long term goals.

Now, you might be saying, but Evie! You’re a coach, don’t you encourage your clients to set goals right away?

And yes, I do, but the shorter term goal of “I want to understand what’s currently on my plate” needs to be accomplished before adding more goals to the plate.

So, why take the time and energy to know what’s on your plate before you set your goals? Well, there are three reasons:

  1. When you don’t already know exactly what is on your plate, taking on more things only adds to the confusion and overwhelm. ‘Should’ becomes a constant companion as in, “Oh, I should be doing this” and you spend less and less time with what makes you excited, as in “Ohhh! I get to do this today!”
  2. When you know what’s on your plate, you can easily see where you’ve taken too much on or what’s not as important as you previously though. And then you can let that stuff go. Remember, just because you’ve always done it that way, or other people in your profession have, doesn’t mean that you have to do it that way.
  3. When you set your goals after you know what’s on your plate, you can easily see what you’re already doing that supports those goals. And you might find that with a slight tweak, some things you’re already doing will support your new goals.

Think of it like this, if you’re driving and get lost, you stop and find out where you are (or pull out your phone or GPS) so you can determine how and when you’ll get to your destination.

So, what’s on your plate that you can let go of? Share in the comments below!

Mug with a things to do list on it

3 Problems that Create Overwhelming Task Lists

Mug with a things to do list on itWhenever I talk about task lists, whether in a presentation or with clients, I hear about how they’ve tried making lists, but it just doesn’t work for them. And if they had a system for keeping track of their goals and tasks that was working for them, then I’d leave it alone. However, they usually don’t.

When I ask why task lists don’t work, I generally hear something like:

  • It’s overwhelming to see everything I need to do in one place.
  • I make a list, stare at it and then go and do something else entirely.

This isn’t a problem of task lists not working – the problem is what’s on the list.

Here are the top three reasons your list isn’t working for you:

  1. The tasks are too big.
    Your tasks are things like updating your website, launching a program/product or paint the living room. Of course you’re frustrated and overwhelmed! Those are projects, NOT tasks (and you’ve created yourself a list of them!).

    Your task list is exactly that, a list of tasks. Instead of writing “paint the living room,” ask yourself what’s the next step? Have you picked a color yet? Maybe your next step is to look at colors at a store and grab a few examples to take home and review.

  2. The list is too long.
    Everyone has created lists like this. You’ve decided to write down everything that you need to do and before you know it; you’ve assigned yourself 20 tasks for the day. Again, you’re frustrated because you know that there is no possible way to complete all those items today.

    And you’re absolutely right. It won’t all get done. You’ve actually created a list of things to do over the next three or four days. Recognizing that and deciding what to complete today from that list will save you time and frustration. So, create a smaller list just for today. If everything feels like it HAS to be done today, take a look at last week’s article here.

  3. The important tasks are hiding between the trivial tasks.
    That looks like this: Clean off desk; Call Mom back; Email Jane; Write proposal for upcoming project; Make my inbox zero; Do the dishes; Wash towels.

    So, the really important thing, writing a proposal (or whatever it is for your business) is nicely hidden in the middle. You do all the “easy” tasks and run out of time at the end of the day for the really important one. Sorry, but that is not your task list not working for you – that’s you not working your task list.

    Always prioritize your list. Even if it’s not written with the most important item first, put a star or asterisk or something next to the highest priority item so it gets done first!

    Think of it like this – if someone says I want you to call your mom back, do the dishes, read all your email, take this $1000 bill and clean off your desk – what would you do first? Yep, you’re going to take that $1000 right away and then go do those other things.

    So, where is that $1000 on your task list? Find it and take care of that first.

What did I forget? What are your reasons for not keeping a task list? Share in the comments below.

photo credit: jessica wilson {jek in the box} via photopin cc

How To Choose Priorities When Everything Is Important

Have you ever had this situation: You’re looking at the list of things you want to accomplish this week and it feels like everything really should be done today. Everything is super important and can’t really wait until the end of the week. So, choosing what needs to be done today is frustrating, not to mention deciding what task you’re going to do next.

Sound familiar?

I had that experience this week. Between deadlines, emails, phone calls, meetings and other things I just wanted crossed off my list – it was extremely difficult to pick out what was really my highest priority.

I’ve heard other people say your highest priority tasks should be the things that will directly result in bringing in money or growing your business, but what about those items that won’t contribute to the bottom line now, but they’re a step in that direction?

Yeah, I was a bit frustrated.

So, this is what I did (and what you can do when you find yourself in a similar situation):

  1. Make a list of what you want to do this week (or even just today).
    If you already have that list, great! Mine was the undone things on my weekly list that had a few items added to it over the course of a couple days. I decided to rewrite it with just what was undone.

  2. In the margin, draw two lines down the page.
    My lines were about a centimeter apart. It doesn’t matter which margin it is, use whatever space is available on the paper.

  3. Label the one column Income and the other Deadline.
  4. Review your list for income generating tasks.
    Place a check-mark in that column. Now, you might be thinking: But I don’t have anything on my list that will directly result in me making money today, so I won’t be checking anything in this column.

    And if that were exactly what I meant by “income generating tasks”, then you’d be right. However, income generating tasks are also those tasks that might generate income later.

    So, that networking event that you plan to go to – belongs in this category.
    The phone calls you wanted to make to connect with people – yep, it counts.
    Creating a freebie for your website – you guessed it, it counts!
    Reading every email in your inbox – NOPE, that doesn’t count. It might be a nice distraction, but it can wait.

  5. Review your list for tasks that are part of a deadline that is in the 24 or 48 hours.
    Yep, you guessed it – place a check-mark in that column.

  6. Estimate how long each task with a check-mark next to it will take.
    And write it down next to the task!

  7. Decide your priorities.
    Anything that has a check-mark in both categories should be done first.

    And anything that doesn’t have a check-mark can wait a day or two (yes, I know you’d really like that item completed, but you’ve just identified it as not being a high priority).

    Now, for the income versus deadline items, you’ll need to make a call on those. I took a look at when the deadline was and how long each item was going to take and decided to do the income generating items first.

  8. Start working on the highest priority task!

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that 10 minutes of planning will save me a couple hours of being frustrated. It also means I don’t work late into the evening, because I’ve decided what can wait until tomorrow or next week.

What do you do to decide your priorities when everything feels important? Share below!

Image courtesy of “Stuart Miles” / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Business Hours from store window

Why I Do Laundry During Business Hours

Business Hours from store windowIf you work from home, have you heard this advice: Never ever do housework during your business hours? I have. And usually, anything that tells me it’s okay not to do housework is great in my book! However, I break this rule regularly and usually on Mondays.

The title of this article gives it away. I do laundry during my work day. Why? Because it works out really well for me.

Rules like “Never ever do housework during your business hours” are guidelines. The purpose is to encourage you to treat your business seriously, make time for it and don’t get sidetracked doing other things (things that won’t help you pay bills). So, it makes some sense.

But why do I do laundry on Mondays? Well, my Mondays are usually a day for writing and getting some items checked off my to-do list. And it takes about 45 minutes or so for a load of laundry to finish, which is a nice block of time to get something done. It becomes a game for me – how far can I get on this task or how many of these items can I complete before the buzzer goes off?

Now, I do have a few of my own rules around doing laundry.

  1. It does not get put away during work hours unless it can’t go in the drier.
  2. Work comes before laundry. So, if I’m in the zone working on something, I won’t get up when the buzzer goes off. I’ll finish what I’m working on first.
  3. It does not run when I have calls scheduled (especially if I’m doing calls from the first floor). The buzzer is quite loud.

So, when I’m doing laundry I’m usually very productive, a lot gets done! And it surprised me at first – given that I was breaking a “rule” about working from home. But, like most “rules” they are just guidelines for you to use while determining what works best for you.

What business or productivity “rules” do you regularly break with great success? Let me know in the comments!

photo credit: tengrrl via photopin cc

What Do You Do to Make Sure You Get All Your Important Business Tasks Done?

As I mentioned in a previous article, I spent some time over the last few weeks making phone calls for an informal poll on tasks, goals and balance (first articlesecond article, third article). The wording of the  poll questions changed slightly as I went, but in general it was three questions and then whatever follow up questions I wanted to ask. This is the first of four articles that are a direct result of those phone calls.

What do you do to make sure that you’re getting all your important business tasks done?

That (or some form of that) was the first question of the poll I took over the past four weeks.

Answers ranged from nothing to detailed systems that involve thought and time. The most common answers involved some form of a to-do list and a calendar.

I heard two themes from people who don’t regularly make or keep to-do lists:

  1. When I have time and I’m not really busy, then I keep a to-do list.
  2. When I have a to-do list more seems to get done.

I get it, you’re busy and you want to spend your time DOING and spending time PLANNING to do just doesn’t seem to make sense (or be productive). I’ve felt like that! However, when there’s a lot going on is exactly when you need to make sure you’re taking time to plan.

I’ve learned I’m much more focused and less stressed when I have a to-do list. And that’s especially when there’s a lot going on.

A lot of people I talked with have or would like to have a daily to-do list. However, it’s also important to have a “Master” to-do list. A place for all those things that you need and want to get done, but aren’t a priority today or even this week.

Why have a master to-do list? It’s to prevent to-do list overwhelm. One person I talked with said she doesn’t like keeping to-do lists because they get too long and detailed. Well, if you’re looking at a long list of tasks and today you’re only focusing on one to three, then yes, that list will seem really long and frustrating! Instead pick those one to three things you’ll focus on and create a list with only those things on it. The other list still exists, you just don’t need to look at it multiple times a day.

Another reason you get more accomplished when you have a to-do list is you’ve effectively set your priorities for the day and know what tasks you’ll be doing to support that. This makes moving from one task to the next go much more quickly. When I don’t spend a little time making my daily to-do list I usually end up spending at least twice that time trying to figure out what my next task is for the day.

Now, on to some specifics. Below is a summarized list of how people make sure they’re doing what needs to be done – in no particular order:

  • Create lists (either on paper or on computer)
  • Create a daily list the night before
  • Schedule appointments into a calendar (paper or computer)
  • Schedule blocks of time for projects into a calendar
  • Calendar reminders
  • Outlook tasks
  • Work with others
    • Accountability partners
    • Mastermind groups
    • A coach
  • Plan each week in advance

Do you do anything that’s not listed here?