September / Productivity: The Month That Got Away

Have you ever been so busy that the basics fall away? That's what we experienced at OSW this month. This newsletter was scheduled for the first week of September – but since clients come first, it didn't happen. As I read the last of David Allen's three books on productivity, I take comfort as this world-class guru admits he gets overwhelmed every so often as well.

The Mind Sweep

The best way to regain control and perspective is to clear your head of all your tasks, events, ideas, projects and commitments. It's important to write them down or they'll create distracting thoughts that prevent you from focusing on the task at hand. The mind can't release all these thoughts until they are safely parked for retrieval at some point. Capturing, defining and categorizing every item on your mind is a simple but profound technique to free yourself for creativity.

Capture It All
Create a master list in random order, logging all your projects and tasks in a notebook or a computer document or app. The key word is all. Capture everything on your mind no matter how large or small the item. This is not to be confused with a daily list which includes just a few items for each day. Another method is to write each item on a separate piece of paper and place them in your inbox so you can review them later one at a time. You will organize and prioritize these items later. Index cards work well for this. The important thing is to capture everything going on your world, small and large, in a container or bucket. The inbox or master list is the container for all items whether it's writing a book or stocking up on cat food. I use both methods, capturing in my inbox daily and logging into the master list weekly. 

Batching is Best
If you have a number of calls to make, or errands to run, batch them so you can get them all done quickly. When leaving a voice mail, let the person know the best time to reach you and repeat your phone number twice, at the start of the message and at the end. When doing errands, plan your route strategically, with all errands in each neighborhood.

Projects vs. Tasks
A project is more than one step or task. Tasks can be more easily completed. If a task takes two minutes or less, do it now and cross it off your list. If there are many such two-minute tasks, schedule an hour to do as many of them as you can. You'll get a burst of energy knowing how much you've done, and you will be moving things forward as responses come in.

If a project looms large, planning is essential. Chunk each project into small steps, writing every thought or idea, even the very smallest detail, without worrying about the order. You can prioritize the steps later. This form of brainstorming uncovers new ideas, challenges and steps that will come into play. Each project may be more complex than originally anticipated so patience may be required. Every minute in planning saves ten in doing. During the discovery, you'll capture many of the tasks required and gain perspective on what it takes to complete the project. 

A Not-So-Simple Project
I need to have my desk chair fixed. Sounds simple, right? It was anything but simple. First, I had to do research online to find the maker (step 1) and then a call to the manufacturer, Herman Miller (2). Once I had two recommendations, I made calls (3 & 4) and played phone tag (multiple steps). I listened to voice mails and called again (5 & 6). Once I reached each and discussed the project (7 & 8), I was asked for the name of the chair and photos of the label and missing part. I searched for the chair online on the Herman Miller site (9), grabbed two photos from the website that clearly showed my chair (10), took several photos on my IPhone of the label and the area where the bolt was missing (11), uploaded the photos to my computer (12). Then I emailed the photos to each vendor (13 & 14) and waited for estimates. Once I reviewed the estimates (15), and called to ask a question (16) I make a decision on which vendor to hire (17), and they order the parts. Then they call to let me know when the parts arrive. More phone tag and voice mails. Next, I call back to schedule a time (18) so they can come to the home office and finally repair the chair. Eighteen steps later, my chair is whole again. Each step isn't difficult but there are many actions and decisions involved in even a simple project.  

Multiply that by dozens or even hundreds of projects we juggle. No wonder our brains go into overwhelm. Planning and organization help sort out some of the complexity of life and work. 

Creating Flow
Often it's challenging to start a project. We procrastinate when it's difficult or overwhelming. If we simply start on one step – any part of the project – we get a surge of confidence as we realize step-by-step it's easier than anticipated. Most projects loom large until we break them down into bite-size chunks. Once you begin, it's easier to attack it next time. Inch by inch, it's a cinch. Sometimes once you start, you can even move forward and get into the flow.

My Talks: Paper Piles & Decluttering
I recently spoke to a lovely group of residents at the Lincoln House Outreach community. LHO is a NORC, a naturally occurring retirement community. The first talk featured paper and how it seems to multiply when we're not looking. The second talk focused on clutter, how it comes in every day, and the benefits of decluttering to your stress level, health, and productivity. Finally, we talked about the steps involved to declutter any space. Like any large project, it needs to be planned, chunked and executed in small stages. 

I'm always on the lookout for organizations where I might speak. If you know of one, please let me know. 

Time Trouble
For those of you who have challenges with time (and who doesn't) I recorded a podcast called "Time is On Your Side" on a site called "It's All About Women." (It's just as relevant to men.) This site features therapists and other professionals giving support, inspiration and guidance. Let me know how you like the podcast. Here's the link:

Connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. 

If you need organizing help for your projects, I'm here.