18

What my 18-day-old son has taught me and my wife about time management

time management habitsOn November 10th,, 2011, at 06.07 AM, me and my wife had a baby boy. This child was our first one and we were very excited about this event.

The whole birth process and the first moments of seeing our born child were the most memorable events ever. We will sure remember them for the rest of our lives.

Our son is now 18-days old, but has already taught us valuable lessons when it comes to time management and productivity.

Focus on one thing at a time

Our son is a master in focusing. Either he sleeps, eats or wants to be awake but be close to his parents. Whenever he does one of these activities, he gives his 100% focus to these tasks.

He doesn’t watch television or fiddle with cell phone at the same time while he is doing one of the things above.

He is 100% present. He is 100% focused.

Note to adults: How many of us can be 100% present? How many of us can give 100% of our focus to a task at hand?

I think that this is something we should learn from the newborn babies; work on one task and give it 100% of your attention. When communicating with someone else, be 100% present.

Rest and sleep enough

How many of us sleep and rest enough?

We stay up late at night, surf the web or watch television – only to find out that we are super tired the next day. Because of this, our focus is lost and we become less productive.

This is not happening with babies. Our son is an avid sleeper. Excluding those moments when he is eating or awake and just wants to be close to his parents, he is sleeping tight.

He has an inner wisdom that in order to become stronger, he has to sleep and rest.

Note to adults: How many hours per night do you sleep? Are you replacing your sleep with low-value tasks like watching television or surfing the web? Even working in the expense of sleep is a short-term strategy.

Feed your body and mind with proper nutrition

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that our son focuses on is eating. He prefers eating natural and organic breast milk – the best food for him on the planet.

Also, when he eats, he focuses on eating and finishes when he is full. He doesn’t skip meals either.

Note to adults: Nutritious food on regular basis is keeping our engine (body & brains) running. It also gives us enough energy to be more productive.

Unfortunately, skipping meals, eating junk food or consuming excessive amounts of sugar is not serving us properly, so they have to be replaced with more healthy options.

Communicate clearly

Our son doesn’t know how to speak, but he has alternative ways of communicating with us; either by showing different facial expressions, body movements or just crying.

There isn’t a change of missing when he starts “talking” to us – he is very clear and direct. Because of this, me and my wife cannot miss his communication. On the other hand, it is our job to interpret what he is trying to say (is he hungry, wants affection or something else).

Note to adults: Do you communicate clearly enough, so that other people are not wondering what you said? Are you talking clearly enough? Are you getting to the point quickly and promptly?

Paying attention to your communication skills (and improving them) is valuable, because by that way you can cut down the confusion and guessing, that would otherwise emerge.

Focusing on essentials (80/20)

Babies focus on just the essential things and that’s all that’s needed. When it comes to my son, he either eats or sleeps or wants to be close to us.

He is not jumping from a project to another, trying to please everyone or have a task list of 100 items in it. He knows what he needs and he focuses on just those things.

To be more specific, his 20% focus is on eating, 70% on sleeping and 10% on staying awake.

Note to adults: Are you focusing on the essentials? Have you cleared out all the distractions in your life, so that you can focus on things that really matter?

If you haven’t, stop for a moment and figure out what you want. Then, clear out those obstacles and distractions out of your life and start living the way you want to.

Take advantage of time pockets

When my son got back home from the hospital, I started my two-week paternity leave. During that time, I have learned to take a full advantage of the available time pockets.

For instance, I have had a chance to work on my blog, while he was sleeping or while my wife was feeding him.

Note to adults: We may claim that our days are busy and we don’t have time for ourselves. However, if you are just willing to take a closer look at your daily tasks, you will see that there are moments when you can dedicate time to yourself too.

I suggest doing a time-audit, where you log all your daily activities for couple of days. When you do that, you start to see some patterns emerging and you will realize how you spend your days.

You may be surprised, that you can free-up some time for yourself, if you eliminate some TV time or other low-value activities in your life.

Adjust your rhythm and schedules

After living one week at home as a family, I realized that none of the schedules and timetables I had planned were effective anymore.

We were awake at nights, slept till noon and our schedules were pretty much turned upside down.

Note to adults: What I came to realize was that you have to be willing to adjust your own schedules when a situation changes. Find your time pockets and quiet moments and work on your own projects during those times.

The key is to re-plan your activities and schedules if needed. In fact, this is what I’m doing right now, since family is #1 priority in my life.

Conclusion

Although many of these lessons on this post weren’t new to me, it was wonderful to see these patterns and behaviors in my son – right from the birth.

I know that there are still many lessons I will learn from him (both from time management perspective and something else too), but I’ll write a follow-up post about those later J

And oh … you may be wondering why I didn’t mention his name? Well, in Finland, it is a very common habit that only the parents know the name in the beginning.

The name will be later revealed in the Christening event for the rest of the people. The Christening event takes place mostly within 60 days of the birth.

Your next tasks:

1. Put this blog post into action!

  • Go through the lessons on this post – they are essential when it comes to time management and productivity
  • Just pick one of the points on this blog post and try to master it – then move to the next item and master it after that

2. Share your experiences and tips on the comment area:

  •  Do you have children of your own – what lessons have you learned from them when it comes to time management?
  • If you don’t have your own kids, have you learned valuable time management lessons from children?

3. Spread the word:

I would appreciate it if you share this post on Twitter or on Facebook.

10

50% focus produces 50% results

Lack of attentionHave you ever worked on something, but you weren’t giving your task your full attention? Later you had to go back and fix things?

This is perhaps a very common way of working and it has happened to me and you several times during our lives.

However, let me propose another way of working. Instead of wasting time on doing something twice, we should make things properly at once – right from the get-go – and then move on to the next task.

Even if you have to do a little bit more focusing in the beginning, you get the work done right the first time and you minimize time waste.

Why aren’t we giving our task the focus it deserves?

When looking at my experiences on this topic (fixing something I already did), I noticed these three different situations that led me to unsatisfied quality of my work:

a) I was busy

Busyness caused me to do things in a very quickly manner. So quickly, that I didn’t have enough time to focus on what I was doing, thus producing weak results.

b) I didn’t have proper knowledge

Sometimes when I was set to do something, I had to do it with too little knowledge. This caused me to solve a problem in a wrong way.

Later as I had more background information on the topic, I realized that my solutions or decisions were made with improper knowledge. This in turn made me to go back and fix the work I had done earlier.

c) I was distracted

I wasn’t able to concentrate on the task at hand. I was distracted by something and this took my focus away – from the task to the distraction.

Also, I didn’t have a one long and solid phase of focus when working on the task. Instead, the focus lasted couple of minutes at once.

d) I was cheating myself (a bit)

Lastly, I didn’t quite understand the nature of the task. I even cheated myself by doing the task without giving it any deeper thoughts and marking it complete as soon as possible.

Had I slowed down a bit, I would have been able to see that the task wasn’t even doable in such a short period of time. Also, the quality of the work didn’t met my own standards – even if I allowed myself falsely to think that way.

How to prevent the half-ass focus from happening?

Now that you know some reasons, which are causing the decreased focus, let’s discuss about how to prevent the double work happening the next time.

a) Being busy

My approach is that if I’m too busy to focus on a task, I’ll skip the task till the better time (by blocking out some time on my calendar). I find it useless of trying to focus on something, when I know I don’t have enough time to wrap my mind around the topic.

I believe that it is a good thing to take advantage of even the smallest time blocks that one has and do even the smallest action related to a task, if possible. However, you should be able to do it in a way, that you can fully focus on your task and do it right the first time.

For example, if you are writing a book and you have only 15 minutes available to work on it, you could write one page in a hurry and produce mediocre-level content.

On the other hand, you could take that 15 minutes and try to master the first two sentences and then later produce the rest of the page.

This way, you are using your 15 minutes productively, you are giving enough thought and focus on what you are doing (thus most probably producing something right the first time).

b) No proper knowledge

There are two approaches to this situation.

First, if the task is self-assigned, you just have to spend enough time on the topic, so that you are comfortable and knowledgeable about it.

If we go back to the writing example again, you might be writing an article of topic you don’t know about. In this case, you are responsible of exploring the topic enough before writing it, so that you know what you are talking about.

Second, if the task is assigned to you by someone else, be honest about your level of knowledge! Tell that other person, that you don’t own enough expertise about the topic and you may have difficulties of producing results that are satisfactory to both parties.

This way, both of you are on the same line and no nasty surprises happen, because you both know the real situation.

c) Too much distraction

If you find yourself too distracted, you should be aware of the reasons and find out how to prevent them.

If the distractions are external (cell phone, instant messaging, e-mail, social media), then the fastest way to handle it is to mute your phone and unplug from Internet. Schedule your interruptions and set times when you check e-mail, voice mail and social media (check here for more info on dealing with distractions).

If the distraction is internal (lack of sleep, emotional states), then you just have to find a better moment of doing the work. This happens after you have rested enough and handled the emotions first (for the latter, also resting has worked for me but exercising, watching a movie, listening to good music…).

Whatever the distraction type is, you should have undistracted space (physical/mental) first to take care of the situation. Only then can you produce top-notch results – without a need of going back and fixing your already-done work.

d) Cheating yourself

If you acknowledge, that you are not honest to yourself, stop what you are doing! Give your actions a bit more thought and never say that you have completed a task, when you know in your heart that it isn’t so.

When you are proud of the work you have done and it meets your standards, only then it is OK to move on to the next task (and mark the previous one as complete).

Conclusion

Doing things without full focus can increase your workload and waste your time. Therefore it is important to stop for a moment and really understand the nature of your task and the available time you have for it.

This way you can avoid extra work and achieve results that you can be proud of and which meet your own standards.

Your next tasks:

1. Put this blog post into action!

  • Before starting on a task, stop for a while and understand the true nature of the task at hand
  • Don’t try to accomplish too much in too short time period – that increases the risk of re-doing the task again in the future
  • Prevent the extra work by going through the four-item list on this post

2. Share your experiences and tips on the comment area:

  • How often do you have to go back and re-do some tasks you had already done?
  • What reasons have caused the lack of focus (thus re-doing your tasks)?

3. Spread the word:

I would appreciate it if you share this post on Twitter or on Facebook.

21

9 Ways to Improve Your Email Communications

Email writing tipsE-mail is one of the most important ways to communicate nowadays. Even if our mailboxes are already flooded with e-mail, it is still a widely used communication tool because it’s easiness.

However, there are certain “rules” to remember, so that the communication is as effective as possible. By using these small tweaks in your messaging, you can communicate your message more efficiently.

1. Use To field sparingly

When there are multiple people in the e-mail conversation, limit the usage of TO field to consider only those persons (or person) who the topic really concerns. The rest of the people in the conversation can be set as CC in your message.

I have been in e-mail conversations where multiple people have been involved and also multiple people have been to TO field by the sender. This has wasted my time, because I had to understand first, to whom the message was meant for.

In fact, I had to ask from the sender, if I was required to take action. In many cases, I wasn’t.

2. Limit the usage of CC fields

You should limit the usage of CC fields too.

All of those people, who are not involved in the conversation or whose presence doesn’t add any value to that, should be left out.

3. Write first, edit later

To me, writing an e-mail message happens the same way as writing a blog post: I write first and edit it later.

After writing a message proofread it. Also, I try to find ways to cut out all the extra words/sentences that are not needed. That way the mail is not too long and just the essential information is included.

4. Make sure that you don’t ask unnecessary questions

It is important to make sure, that you don’t ask the same questions that are already answered in earlier e-mail communication.

I have to admit, this has happened to me many times before. I have been too busy to send a question by e-mail, without taking a better look at the earlier messages that the other party has sent.

Not only am I wasting my time by writing the e-mail, but so is the other person/persons, who have to explain the topic again and reply to my mail.

5. Use the markup effects only when necessary

I know that there are many people who can’t stand HTML effects in their mail messages. In fact, I’m not a big fan of HTML either – when it goes overboard.

However, I feel that using simple effects like bolding, bullets or colors (when using sparingly though) make the e-mail more readable and the message easier to understand.

6. Have a clear subject line

One of the important parts of your message is a subject line.

Subject tells the receiver about the message that is coming from you. That’s why you should be detailed enough of what your message is going to cover.

Naturally, a more relaxed style may work better in personal communications, but not necessarily in corporate e-mail, where the communication is more formal.

7. Pick up the phone

You should pick up the phone if you feel that the e-mail communication is not going anywhere.

Too many times I have been a part of very long discussions threads. Especially jumping in to the conversation in the middle of it is difficult and it took me quite a bit of time to understand, what the topic was all about.

In these cases, it is easier to pick up the phone and talk to the other person directly. Or if the issue is very complex, hook up a meeting with all the parties involved.

8. Don’t go overboard with attachments

If you have a huge attachment you want to send to the other person, upload it to an online storage site and mail the link to the receiver instead.

In fact, it may not be even possible to send big attachments because of the attachment size limits (especially in the corporate world), so you have to find other ways to deliver the attachments.

This way you are not filling up the correspondent’s e-mail box with a huge file, thus the mail sending and receiving happens faster, when you are just sending the link, but not the attachment itself.

9. Prioritize your e-mail messages sparingly

In certain e-mail clients (like Outlook), it is possible to use a red exclamation mark to mark the message as important one.
Although this is a great way to increase the attention on the receiver side, you may want to use this effect sparingly.

I rarely use it myself. However, when I do, it means that the issue is truly urgent and I need to have an answer to that question as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, if I would use it very frequently, people would start ignoring my messages (or take action much slower), because the power of urgency was saturated by overuse.

Conclusion

By using these simple tips, you can make your e-mail communication more effective. Since the amount of e-mails is growing all the time, you want to make sure that the messages you send are actually well-crafted and stand out from the crowd.

Your next tasks:

1. Put this blog post into action!

  • Go through this list of tips and see, what parts you could apply in your e-mail communication

2. Share your experiences and tips on the comment area:

  • What are your tips for effective e-mail communication?
  • What are your pain points when it comes to communicating through e-mail?

3. Spread the word:

  • I would appreciate it if you share this post on Twitter or on Facebook.
8

One crucial thing to do before you start working

how to well preparedThere is an old saying, “Well planned is half-done”. However, for the sake of this post, I would like to modify it into form: “Well prepared is half-done”.

While planning is essential when you want to know the overview of steps you are going to take, the value of preparation cannot be underestimated either. With preparation, you can make sure that the action steps related to your plan are executed as efficiently as possible.

Benefits of preparing

The most obvious benefit of preparation is that it gives you a head start when taking action.

Instead of pondering what to do when you sit on your office chair, you are ready to take action immediately, because you have done your preparation beforehand.

Second major benefit is better focus in busy situations.

You may be stressed over a tight deadline, but if you have prepared your tasks (at least a bit) in advance, you can focus better on them when you start working.

Third, you are most likely to get your stuff done faster when you prepare (than without preparing). When all of the low-value stuff is out of the way, you can focus 100% on the high-value part of the task instead.

The fourth benefit of preparedness is a mental one. You expect (being mentally prepared) for something to happen – rather than letting it occur unexpectedly, thus stopping you on your tracks completely.

For example, if you are heading for a business trip, but weather forecast has predicted a heavy snow storm for that day, you realize that that the planned schedules are not going to be valid that day (or the trip is even postponed till another date).

Had you prepared for this to happen in advance, it wouldn’t be a shock to you, thus you had already taken pro-active action on how to handle the situation (like, letting the other party know about the weather conditions and possible delays).

How does preparing and goals work together?

There are certain similarities when it comes to preparing and planning – yet there is a difference between these two.

Whereas the planning gives you the overall direction where you want to go and which goal to reach (and by when), preparing makes sure that those goal-related action steps are made efficiently and without losing time on minor details.

Also, in my experience preparing works better with short-term goal tasks than with the long term ones.

For example, you might have a plan related to a goal, that you hope to reach in three years from this date. However, it may be just impractical to make preparations now, since your plans may change down the road.

On the other hand, when you take your preparation closer to the “runway level” tasks, you are living more on moment and you are not preparing for something that may never be realized.

For instance, preparing in advance for the tasks on the next day or on the next week (sometimes even on the next month) is a much more preferable way of proceeding than preparing for something in the distant future.

Create a habit of preparing in advance

It is imperative to create a habit of preparing – whether doing it mentally or actually taking care of some of the low-value tasks, so that you can focus on the high-value ones instead.

What I suggest you to do is to block some time for example on Saturdays or Sundays and make your preparation work for the next week’s various tasks. This makes sure that your tasks are executed much more promptly than without any preparation.

How do I prepare myself for the next week?

I prepare for my next week tasks on Sunday. I have reserved a time block, when I go through the tasks I have coming the next week.

When the blogging is concerned, on Sundays I do the following:

a) Edit and upload my coming YouTube video ready for the Friday

b) Write a notification of the new video to my list (auto-responder message) and schedule it

c) Decide the topic for my next blog post

d) Write a rough outline for my coming post

e) Decide on the topic and create an outline for my next guest post

f) Have a dictionary page ready on my browser’s tab (I need this when writing my blog post on Mondays ;)

When I have these tasks done, I’m ready to kick-start my week by writing a new blog post on Monday morning, starting at 05.30 AM. I can take the full advantage of my available time, instead of pondering about the topic to write about or what goes inside my post (outline is ready).

Preparation gives me a head-start for my week and I get more done this way.

Conclusion

As you can see, preparation has many good sides in it. If you are not already doing it, I hope that you decide to learn this habit as quickly as possible.

Be ready to rock your day and week (sometimes month) by doing some preparation in advance!

Your next tasks:

1. Put this blog post into action!

  • Block out some time on the weekend and prepare your tasks in advance – for the next week
  • Start being prepared on anything (not just blogging). Take some time to think if there is anything you could do in advance, when it comes to handling your everyday tasks

2. Share your experiences and tips on the comment area:

  • Do you prepare for your tasks in advance?
  • What benefits have you experienced after preparing for something?

3. Spread the word:

I would appreciate it if you share this post on Twitter or on Facebook.

 

13

7 ways to use procrastination to your advantage

Dealing with procrastinationProcrastination is one of the biggest reasons you are never going to reach your goals.

When you have defined a goal but don’t take any action towards it, the whole goal setting process has been pretty much useless.

Procrastination is often associated with negative feelings too. For example, you might be blaming yourself for not taking action on something. You feel intimidated and inferior for procrastinating on the task.

However, what is also true is that we do not always have to be productivity superstars (we all procrastinate at times).

In fact, we can use procrastination to our advantage. When we channel our procrastination the right way, we get something else done.

1. Procrastinate on right things

The first tip is something that I learned from Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog. There he talked about procrastinating on low value task, so that you can focus on high value tasks instead.

To do this, you should constantly review your actions and decide, if there is a task that could be safely abandoned.

For example, you could decide to procrastinate on watching television (like news) or read newspapers and do something useful during that time (like reading a book).

2. Get stuff deleted off your task list

Sometimes I have realized that postponing a task can actually reduce the items on my task list.

For instance, I have created a list of things to do. Then for some reason, it may not be possible to start a task right away or I have been focusing on just something unessential, but no the actual task itself.

Eventually, when I’m ready to get started, I have realized that it is not necessary to do the task anymore. Whether there was a time limit that exceeded or someone else already took care of it, I can safely delete the task off my list.

3. Create a plan for solving/implementing a task

If you are not sure on how to solve or implement a task, take some extra time (procrastinate) to have your plan right.

Sometimes it is possible, that you need some extra time to organize your thoughts and get a better understanding of the topic before doing any implementation work.

Use this extra time for making a plan (just a rough one will do) on how you are going to get started. In fact, many times I have realized that having a perfect plan in advance may not be the best way to start.

When you finally get started, the “how” will reveal itself to you – at the right time.

4. Prepare for something big

There are times when you are not ready to take action right away. In fact, you need to prepare mentally in advance to a task or an event.

For example, you would like to ask the raise from your boss, but you are afraid to do that. You find excuses for not entering the office of your boss. You are procrastinating on the task.

However, you could decide to take that procrastination as preparation time.  Go through the situation beforehand in your mind, so you can be better prepared of what to say and of the possible outcomes (getting the raise or if you get rejected).

5. Get something else done

When you procrastinate, you should channel your energy to other tasks instead. For instance, if you have to call a client, but don’t want to do it (at least not yet), you could decide to handle some other, minor level tasks out of your way first.

This way, you are not completely slacking off. You are just focusing on minor tasks, until you are ready to do the most important task.

6. Read

Don’t feel like doing the presentation for the customer just yet? Then pick up the business or the personal development book on your desk that can improve your business skills or yourself as a person.

Also, when you read, it might give you some ideas on how to do the postponed task (like that presentation) in a smarter, more creative and more efficient way.

7. Relax

Finally, take some time to relax and get some rest, if you find yourself postponing on the task. If you are tired and stressed, starting on a task may not be a good idea.

Instead, recharge your batteries and have more determination to crush that task you procrastinate on.

Conclusion

As you can see, procrastination is not always a bad thing. However, in order to make it serve you, you have to re-channel your energy to something else, if you find yourself procrastinating.

Use procrastination to get something else done, if you are not ready to tackle the important task yet.

Your next tasks:

1. Put this blog post into action!

  • Identify the situations when you procrastinate
  • Find alternative actions to take, when you procrastinate (for example the ones on this post)

2. Share your experiences and tips on the comment area:

  • When do you most likely procrastinate? In which situations?
  • What do you do when you procrastinate? Do you take the time for your advantage?

3. Spread the word:

I would appreciate it if you share this post on Twitter or on Facebook.