Are You Kidding…I Don’t Have Time to Plan for the New Year!

That’s a Luxury I Just Can’t Afford

Here we are, already a week into the new year, and I’m not done with my annual planning yet. This is something that every year I intend to do before the end of the year, but it rarely gets done on time.

I know I’m not the only one struggling to get everything done, and I get it. Our lives are busy and just keeping up with daily things is usually more than we can accomplish. And now I’m suggesting adding annual planning and goal setting to the list!

I know I’m not going to get everything done, but this doesn’t mean I should quit trying.

The question is, how can I be the most productive with the time I have?

I think it comes down to intentionally balancing time spent focusing on the past, present, and future.

We can focus on the past and everything we didn’t get done. We can focus on the future and all the things we want to get done. Or we can focus on the present and all the things that we need to get done today.

Constantly giving an unbalanced amount of attention to any one of these will make us less productive. This is why I always try to remind myself to…

Learn from the past, look to the future, and live in the present.

This is a process for prioritizing the things on my list.

Here’s an example. This morning as I was checking the weather, I saw that late next week it is predicted to have low temperatures in the single digits. I live in a house that was built in 1916 without running water. When running water was added, it was installed just inside the north side of house. I’ve learned from the past that when it gets this cold the pipes can freeze.

Of course, when this happens it requires additional time to thaw them out. And if not thawed out soon enough it might freeze to the point of causing a leak which would take more time to repair, not to mention the cost in dollars.

After years of experience, I now know that a couple of rows of small square bales of hay stacked along the north wall of the house will help insulate the pipes. I also know that it’s hard for running water to freeze, and if we leave faucets trickling, they won’t freeze.

I could spend all my time focused on the past and the things that I experienced from previous frozen pipes, or I can glean what I learned from the past.

This brings us to looking to the future. If I need bales of hay stacked along the house…I need to get that done. This means I need to find some bales and pick them up. Where I normally get them, I can’t get to when it’s muddy, and it’s snowing and raining today. This means that I need the ground to either dry out or get cold enough to freeze. But I don’t want to wait until it’s too cold and the pipes freeze.

This is going to require the coordinating approval of getting the bales, the weather, and my schedule.

I could spend all my time focused on the future and the what ifs, or I could use what I do know, and plan for the future.

This brings us to living in the present. I already have more things to do than I can get done, and now I need to add getting bales to the list. When am I going to have time to go get hay bales and put them along the north wall of the house?

I know that spending time thinking and planning can seem like a waste, but if my pipes freeze, fixing the issue will take a lot more. The same is true for everything in our lives. We can take some time to plan or just deal with the frozen pipes as they come.

Everything comes down to what I choose to do, and it’s up to me to prioritize wisely.

This is where learning from the past, looking to the future, and living in the present intersect. These three things help us to prioritize what we’ve learned from our experiences, what we desire going forward, and what the first next thing is that should be done.

Planning for the new year is the same process as the water pipes. You should look back to past years and learn from them. Look to the coming year and what you hope to achieve. Live every minute of every day like it’s the only one and all the others depend on it.

The investment of time spent planning is worth every second.

How Can I Determine Which Thing on the List Should Be Done First?

It’s Amazing How Things Become Clear with a Limited Amount of Time

The discussion in our mastermind group this past week was around productivity and how to be more productive. It started with the question of, what does productivity mean and what does it look like to be productive?

What is productivity? Now there’s a question for you to answer. We have a limited amount of time in a day, a year, or a life.

Productivity generally refers to the ability of an individual, team, or organization to work efficiently within that time in order to maximize output.

High productivity results from a mix of factors: motivation, personality, natural talent, training or education, environment, support from others, time management, and things that happen that are outside of our control.

Output / Input = Productivity

So, what is output? This is one of the things that makes the question of productivity so hard to answer. But this is where we need to start with the productivity question. What is the most important thing to accomplish in this finite amount of time we’ve been given?

There are so many things trying to get on the “to do” list and each one competing for the top position. Deciding which one should get that spot is tough. There are so many great and important things that we need or want to do.

It’s easy to say that we have limited time, but hard to actually schedule things that way.

My computer’s battery is not lasting as long as it did when it was new. Recently while working out of the office, without the power cord, I had 2-3 things that I wanted to get done before the computer shut down. This limited time forced me to sort and prioritize them.

How do we decide what to say yes to?

Emergency situations often require triage. This is the process of prioritizing a patient’s treatments based on the severity of their condition and the resources available. In these situations, victims are divided into three categories.

  • Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those who are unlikely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.

These choices aren’t easy and often require a quick “gut decision”. A pre-determined system, training, and experience aid in the process and provide for the greatest number of survivors.

Another life and death choice is deciding who gets a transplant when there are a limited number of organ donations available. Take for example a set of twins who both need a liver transplant, and their father has one liver to give. Which little girl gets it? The early thoughts of a father would be to give half to each. The problem with this, half wouldn’t help either. The final decision will be determined by which one needs it most or which one is most likely to survive.

Most of the choices that we make in business aren’t this critical…or are they? The decisions we make can mean life or death for our business.

In medical life or death situations, there is a system and plan in place before hand. This same type of system should be implemented in our business. We should predetermine how we are going to choose the most important thing to the life of our business. This is where things get hard.

What makes one thing more important than another?

What should be the highest priority? Should it be production or proposals, record keeping or customer service, marketing or staff? We’re faced with tough decisions in business every day.

I can’t answer this question for you, but having a “business triage” system will give your business the highest chance for survival.

Our 5-step BUILD process helps us prioritize and manage all the hundreds of decisions we’re faced with every day in our business. You can find out if the business building tools are right for you here.

One of the Most Important Tools in My Toolbox

How You Can Improve Productivity by Using OneNote

Let’s take a peek inside my productivity toolbox.

Most of the time when we hear the word “tool”, the first thing we think of is a circular saw or nail gun…not computer software.

However, production is more than just the physical aspect of producing things. The more organized we are, the more productive we are.

By nature as a recovering perfectionist, having things well organized is important to me. I know that to some people the level of organization that I love, makes them feel trapped.

The more organized we are, the more freeing it can be.

It’s about taking control of your life and making it what you want it to be.

For years I worked on ways to get and stay organized. Am I where I want to be? Not yet, but remember, I’m a perfectionist by nature. Getting and staying organized is a difficult thing and it only increases the more you try to do.

One of the best tools I’ve found for organization is Microsoft OneNote.

This tool is great for organizing and communicating. It does so much, so well, that I don’t need a bunch of different apps to do different things. Too often these various apps don’t sync well across different systems and devices.

I would equate OneNote to a three-ring binder with improved technology.

OneNote is the “Six Million Dollar” binder. Just like “The Six Million Dollar Man” this computerized version of a ‘notebook’ has superhuman bionic computerized capabilities.

A good comparison of OneNote to a binder is how I used to have project binders on site at construction projects. This was a place where information would be kept organized so that employees, sub-contractors, project management, architects and the customer could all have access to the specifics of that project.

OneNote is organized similar to a binder. You can have different “notebooks”, each book can be divided into multiple “sections” and each section can have “pages” and subpages.

Here are a few of the superhuman bionic capabilities of OneNote

  • Share information with other people across multiple devices. This can be as simple as sharing a shopping list with your spouse or as detailed as an entire notebook with colleagues on a project.
  • Syncs automatically across multiple devices. If someone adds to the shopping list or checks something off a “to do” list, you will know it instantaneously if you’re connected to the internet. If not, it will sync once you are.
  • When changes are made, they are marked until viewed. If someone makes a change, I will be able to know that, go to the specific change and know who did it and when it was done.
  • Insert almost anything on a page. You can insert copies of other documents, screen clippings, photos, audio and video recordings, links to other pages and/or web locations, etc. This is only a part of what is available with OneNote.
  • Link from and to multiple locations. I can put a link for a specific OneNote page in a task reminder or calendar event or on a word document. Click on it and it will open that page, even if OneNote isn’t open.
  • Editing is really easy. Things on a OneNote page can be clicked on and moved to a different place on the page. This feature is great for prioritizing a list. If I want to move something higher on the list, I just move it there, no cutting or copying or pasting (although you can do those things as well).
  • It’s always ready to open and use. It doesn’t require the opening of a program, folder or a file before you can write something down. Click on the OneNote icon in the task bar and it’s open. A couple more clicks and you can write down your note before you forget it.
  • Great place for filing and storing. If I want to save an email from a customer with a picture and a link to a web site, I can do that right from Outlook.
  • Can protect sensitive info within a shared notebook. If I have a page that has ideas for my wife’s Christmas or passwords to my bank account, I can password protect those pages. This means that if my wife “accidently” goes to her Christmas page when she meant to go to the shopping list, she can’t open it without the password…and she doesn’t have the password.
  • Can draw or write on it just like paper. This feature is great for quickly gathering information with my tablet or phone. I can draw the floor plan for a room addition and write dimensions and notes right in OneNote.

This tool can do all this and more. Some people will probably say that it has too many bells and whistles or it’s too complicated. I’m sure this isn’t the best tool for everybody and that’s okay. Not every person uses the same cordless drill.

This tool is simple to use and a great way to stay organized.

Even if you aren’t a recovering perfectionist like I am, OneNote can help you be more productive and…

Isn’t that what we all want…to be more productive?

This post was originally published January 21, 2017

It was updated again on October 4, 2020

How I Use My Calendar to be More Productive

Investing Your Time Intentionally Is the Key to Unlocking Productivity

There are as many different ways to use calendars as there are people. Not only that, but if you’re like me, the way we use them continues to change. Not to mention, that calendars themselves keep changing. They have gone from tracking days by scratching a mark in the wall of a cave to now being computerized.

Purpose driven people are constantly looking for ways to be more productive.

I don’t know if I’m going through a phase or if getting older is making me more aware of the limited time I have to spend. Either way my desire to be more productive is at an all-time high.

When scheduling things, it is important to be flexibly rigid. This is balancing the importance of planning with intentionality and the realization that life happens. Finding that balance is hard.

One of the benefits to a computer calendar is the ease with which things can be added, shared, moved or deleted…this is also a detriment. Over the past few years I realized that I was moving things on the calendar that I had scheduled with myself. I would schedule tasks for myself on the calendar and they would get pushed back and back and back again. Then I realized I wasn’t giving meetings with myself as much importance as those with others.

Then I realized the calendar is like any other tool. It doesn’t serve its purpose if it isn’t used properly.

The first thing with any tool is to determine what its purpose(s) is and use it accordingly.

  • Scheduling meetings – The most basic purpose of a calendar is for scheduling meetings. These may be recurring meeting or one-time meetings. Scheduling our tasks as meetings with ourselves and giving them equal importance is critical to productivity.

  • Reminder of things ahead – This could be meetings, events, actions, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

  • Budgeting time – Similar to money a calendar can work like a budget for time. When you start filling out the calendar there is a limit to how much space there is. When it gets filled up, you’re going to need to stop trying to spend more.

  • Prioritizing what you spend time on – Once the calendar is full and there are still things to put on it, you must decide what goes on and what comes off. This calls for a time triage

Determine what works best for you and use your calendar accordingly.

Some days I would accomplish almost everything on my list and then there were days where it felt like I hadn’t achieved hardly anything. As I began to study why that was, it became apparent that the most productive days were the ones that I had packed the calendar full, from beginning to end, even little things. The days that were less productive had more unscheduled and open time. I realized that when my day was scheduled so full that I didn’t think I could get it all done, I was focused and did much better at staying on task.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been scheduling my calendar full, to the point of some days being scheduled tight without any open space. In doing this I have noticed that I have been consistently more productive. This doesn’t mean that everything gets done, just that I’ve been more productive.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but this seems to be working.

I still need to work on being wiser about what I spend my time on. There’s limited time so we all need to be good stewards of the time we’ve been given. Being productive requires intentional action. Productivity seems like a big monster, but we can take him out if we’ll just start implementing small steps in the right direction.

Knowing Yourself Is One of The Most Difficult Things to Do

It’s A Critical Component in Being Productive

This past week I listened to Michael Hyatt’s, Lead to Win podcast, “3 Actions to Beat Your Biggest Distractions”. The actions were: 1st – build a wall against interruptions, 2nd -put a leash on distractions and 3rd – increase your frustration tolerance. They spoke about how easily we can be distracted, especially nowadays with the bombardment of information.

Most of the things they discussed were great solutions. Some of them, however, were not what I would have done.

Each of us has been designed differently by plan. To be the most productive version of ourselves we need to take time to intentionally figure out what that plan is.

Ultimately it comes down to knowing…

  • WHO we are
  • WHY we do the things we do
  • WHAT we need to be able to accomplish those things
  • WHEN do those things need to be done
  • WHERE do we need to go to achieve those things?
  • HOW do all the pieces fit together

Being our most productive selves is no one’s responsibility but our own.

They talked about interruptions and distractions as different things. For me they really are one in the same. (This reminds me of last week’s post.) If I’m distracted, I’m being interrupted and conversely if I’m interrupted, I’m being distracted. Believe me I know, because I’m interrupted and distracted a lot. Let’s just call it disruptions.

The point here is, regardless of what you call it, you need to know what things disrupt you and how to best deal with them. You can predetermine what those things are and implement systems to handle them ahead of time. It will take some trial and error to figure it out, but you are the one who can do this for yourself. I know that if I get on a social media site that I will spend more time than planned so I’m careful about when and how often I do it.

One of the things that is hard for me is the constant battle between my desire to serve people well and the need to stay focused on what I’m working on. If I’m in the middle of preparing a proposal and the phone rings or a text message comes in and I don’t respond I feel bad. On the other hand, if I stop what I’m doing to respond I’m losing my concentration and dragging out getting the proposal done.

Every situation is different, the key to unlocking productivity is to think about it and be prepared before it happens. In each instance which is more important? If it’s the proposal and I can’t control myself to not respond, then turn the phone off. If it’s a call that I’ve been waiting for all day then I should take it.

The important thing to remember is that it’s up to me. I can choose.

There’s no easy fix. No one size fits all. If you are still alive then you can do something to improve your productivity. The key is to know yourself. This requires asking questions, trying different things and never giving up.