There is a practice that I have been using for years when it comes to my schedule and how I allocate my time. It is a habit I started doing years ago because I am very calendar-focused. I pretty much put everything on my calendar. And by everything, I mean even activities that most people wouldn’t think belong on a calendar. Most people schedule in appointments and planned phone calls, both personal and professional. They also layer on social events, such as parties to attend. But they almost never think to add activities on their calendar such as exercise, meals, sleep, hobbies, errands, etc. Those activities often seem too personal, or are solitary activities and, therefore, often don’t get precious space on the calendar, which means they get placed at the bottom of the priority order.

For years, it seemed natural to me to give space on my calendar to activities that most people typically don’t include. And I started mentioning this to my clients when doing time management and productivity coaching. I also started teaching this tool to my audiences when conducting a speaking engagement about time management and calendar planning. And what I have noticed is that it resonates with many people!

I’ve seen clients and audience members adopt this practice and it has resulted in major shifts in the way they spend their time. It gives them permission to focus on the activities that often don’t get enough attention. They wind up getting more sleep, eating healthier meals (and not skipping meals!), getting their exercise in, and engaging in hobbies and passions and other pursuits that they don’t usually make time for.

Could a simple practice of putting an activity on your calendar really make such a difference? The answer is yes. A resounding yes. But don’t only take my word for it.

Neil Fiore, the author of the book The Now Habit (which is a great little book about how to beat procrastination) calls this practice The Unschedule. Unscheduling is a massive shift in thinking from how most of us use calendars and schedules. It gives structure to unstructured activities and tasks. Instead of starting to build your calendar out the typical way, which is to first place the structured activities on your calendar (meetings, appointments, social obligations, etc.), you reverse your calendar and begin with the unstructured activities.

The premise behind the Unschedule is that you need (and deserve) at least one hour of play and relaxation a day, and at least one day off of work a week. You schedule the unstructured activities first, such as sleep, meals, exercise, commuting to work, hobbies, and other blocks of time you must expend each day. Then you layer on top of those activities everything else. The everything else activities are often the need to do, have to do, should do types of activities, whereas the Unschedule activities are often the want to do and love to do activities.

Can everyone do this? Yes, but to an extent. To be fair, if your calendar is so chock full with work, obligations, and other activities that there is no room for unstructured activities to be added, then this would be a tough practice to try to implement. However, let that be a wake up call. You could start a small version of the Unschedule by at least adding a proper amount of sleep and actual meal times so you no longer eat on the run or skip meals altogether. In time, you could aim to add in some exercise and other activities to start giving yourself some more me-time on your own calendar.

The key to the Unschedule really working is that you don’t only add the unstructured activities to your schedule, but you honor them. My clients and audiences have heard me talk about this often. Honor appointments with yourself the same way you would honor an appointment with anyone else. If you see a slot on your calendar is taken up with an unstructured activity that only involves you, and you immediately give that slot away because it is only “me time” after all, then the Unschedule loses its effectiveness. That’s really the beauty of the Unschedule. YOU get to be a priority on your own calendar, in your own schedule, and in your own life. That is the true power of the Unschedule as a worthy time management tool.

Try to Unschedule your calendar by adding in some unstructured activities and see how it feels. I hope you love the results!

Most of us want to be more productive and focused. We want to get more done in less time, and work smarter, as opposed to harder. But we also live in the real world, where we have responsibilities, to-do’s piling up, people relying on us, and a laundry list of tasks that we want to get to.

overwhelmed_with_workProductivity isn’t one size fits all, and it is not a bull’s eye that we can always reach. Productivity lives alongside us every day and we are constantly tweaking it and changing it and paying attention to it and reassessing it. I know that sounds exhausting but it’s really not. Look at it as a constant companion that’s helping you get more done, but that also recognizes you are human and that you need a break.

So how do you stay productive and focused, while also giving yourself a break now and then? Enter the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo (yes, an Italian, hence the name, which means tomato in Italian) in the late 1980s. The premise behind the Pomodoro Technique is that taking short, scheduled breaks while working eliminates burn out and distractions, and improves focus.

So how does it work?

pomodoro_techniqueEach Pomodoro lasts for 25 minutes, and is a highly focused work session, followed by a 5 minute break. After 4 Pomodoro intervals, you take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.

You may be thinking… “25 minutes? That’s it. How easy!” Not so fast. The Pomodoro is a highly focused work session, which means no interruptions or distractions are allowed. By other people for sure. But also, not even by ourselves. We tend to task-switch every 3 minutes according to David Meyer, a researcher at the University of Michigan who studies multi-tasking and task switching. That means that we interrupt ourselves constantly throughout the day. We may be in the middle of a task, and think of something else and move to another task (“Oh wait, I forgot to send that email earlier today. Let me just do that now.”) With Pomodoro, you focus on the task at hand only. When you complete your 25 minute Pomodoro interval, then you allow interruptions, self imposed or otherwise.

The beauty of the Pomodoro Technique is its simplicity. You use a timer to break down work into manageable intervals, separated by short breaks. You know there is a light at the end of the tunnel in 25 minutes, so you dive in with full mental acuity and give your work intervals your all. You tend to be more focused and productive, and during your breaks, you give yourself a real break.

What do you do during your breaks? Grab snacks, drink some water, stretch your legs and body, pet your dog, say hello to someone, use the restroom, check social media or email, etc.

The Pomodoro Technique can work well for anyone… students, professionals in an office environment, self employed folks who work from home in an unstructured environment, etc. Indeed, the structure of the Pomodoro Technique is often what makes it work so well.

If you have ADD, the Pomodoro Technique can be very powerful. It helps you focus on the task at hand, knowing that you get a built in break after 25 minutes. You may need to shorten your Pomodoros at first to work up to 25 minutes. Likewise, if you can last longer than 25 minutes and still be highly focused, then stretch your Pomodoros a bit. But not too long, as studies show that too long, and you start to lose focus.

For more information about the Pomodoro Technique, visit http://pomodorotechnique.com, where you will find videos, books, a timer, etc. You can also download the app to help guide you through your work intervals and breaks. Ready to take a bite out of that tomato? Try the Pomodoro Technique and see if it helps you be more productive.

My friend and colleague Stephanie Calahan recently posted on social media asking people to share their favorite project and task management tools. I shared how much I love using Asana! Stephanie then asked me to write a comprehensive guest blog post for her readers describing Asana, how I use it for my business (and personal life!), and why I love it so much. Thought I’d share it with my readers too!

Click on over and check it out, and feel free to leave comments under the original post over on Stephanie’s site, or below on mine.

asanaWould love to know if you are using a project and task management system, which one and how you like it. And if not, let us know if you plan to check out Asana after reading this post. Read the article here.

use_technology_wiselyWith all of the technology devices at our fingertips these days, it is easier than ever to stay connected 24-7. But, how do we balance the need and desire to stay connected with the danger of technology taking over? By continuing to be the master of technology, not the servant!

I travel a lot for business in my role as a productivity consultant and professional speaker. Indeed, I am writing this column on my IPad at an airport, and will then email it to my online business manager (how’s that for 21st century technology?). When on the road, it is vital for me to be able to stay connected. But it is a constant balance between using technology to stay connected and get my work done, save time and be more productive, while not letting technology take over my life. To that end, here are some tips to help you stay connected, but maybe not exactly 24-7. Just because you can b e glued to your device doesn’t mean you should be!

Protect Yourself – Consider allowing only select people to break through to the inner sanctum. Just because you can be reached 24-7 doesn’t mean everyone needs to have access to you. Don’t share your itinerary and contact information with everyone. Use voice mail and email wisely to protect yourself by choosing when and how to reply back to people (see next point!).

Choose Times to Check In – Instead of constantly checking your email and voice mail messages, choose times of the day to check in. That way, you do not interrupt the flow of work (or play). This will help you be more proactive and less reactive. Studies show that email is a huge time bandit. It also creates an unnecessary need to continuously check it, which is a major interrupter in most people’s day. Plan your check-ins so that you are not reacting like Pavlov’s dog, salivating whenever you get an email.

appsThere’s an App for That – Choose which applications you will use on a regular basis and download only those apps to your smart phone or tablet. Yes, there are a multitude of apps available today, but the average person only uses 5 on a regular basis. Choose wisely, as apps can become electronic clutter and use an enormous amount of memory space on your device.

Use “the Cloud” – With today’s cloud-based technology, it is so easy to maintain information in a safe and easily accessible location so that you can access it when you need it on-the-go. From your contacts and client database, to your calendar and documents, everything can be stored in the cloud. Take a good, hard look at Google. It offers a lot more than people realize and can be your best friend when you need to stay connected away from home or the office. I also personally love Dropbox and Evernote, both great cloud-based tools for accessing notes, documents, and other data.

Be Courteous – You may be a technology junkie and love the idea of not only being accessible 24-7, but using your devices constantly to make phone calls, dictate reports, etc. If you are in a business setting, this is perfectly acceptable in this day and age. In fact, many commuter trains look like a technology explosion took place! But if you are in a quiet setting, or perhaps one that is not focused on business (some restaurants for example), be courteous to others and do not over-use your tech tools to the dismay of everyone around you. There is a time and place for using our technology to stay connected, and sometimes abstaining is the polite thing to do!

Coaching Challenge: Try to use the above tips to practice staying connected in a way that allows you to be more productive without feeling like you are addicted to technology. Let technology be the servant, not the master!

Bring order to your chaotic life with five fantastic organizational tools

By Guest Blogger, Jane Johnson

Picking up a few sophisticated scheduling apps is a must if you want to use your phone to become more productive in your day. Whether you are looking for a daily organizer, a task manager, or period tracker, the following five apps provide user-friendly scheduling functionality.

Download the following 5 calendar apps to put your life in order…

1. Remember the Milk (Free – for iPhone)

Dubbed the “Swiss Army knife of to-do list management” by Lifehacker.com, Remember the Milk is an app that enables users to take their to-do lists with them… anywhere they happen to be! This app will synch with your Outlook, iCal, Gmail, Google Calendar, etc.  Complete tasks on the go as you search tasks and organize them by priority, due date, time estimate, lists, tags, and more. You can also coordinate tasks by location by viewing tasks near one another, and then planning a task route according to the most efficient way to get everything done.

2. Dropbox (Free – for Android)

It was just the other day that I realized that I couldn’t possibly live without Dropbox! This app allows me to save all of my photos, word documents, and videos from my smart phone—which then automatically backs them up on all of my computers and mobile devices (as well as the Dropbox website). Talk about safe keeping! Thanks to the Dropbox app, I’m able to take everything that matters to my life and my job on the go, and have instant access to it wherever I go.

3. Evernote (Free – for iPhone)

I just got back from a trip to Los Angeles, and thank goodness for the Evernote app. This app helped me seamlessly plan my very short 3 day trip, kept track of all my travel plans (including my flight e-tickets and passport), helped me organize and save my receipts so I could redeem them with my employer, and plan a daily itinerary that I could use to check off tasks as I completed them.  Thanks to Evernote I was able to organized, take notes and photos, and record voice reminders while I was at work and play during my trip.

4. Toodledo Pro ($1.99 – for BlackBerry)

Toodledo Pro is an app that simply improves productivity. This app allows users to organize tasks according to folders, tags, contexts, subtasks, and more—then search and sort through these same tasks using your preferred search method. And the great thing is that you can take Toodledo with you anywhere—via your mobile phone, on your laptop calendar, or integrated directly into your web browser. Plus, Toodledo makes collaboration effortless. It’s never been easier to work with a remote group of people on shared projects with collaboration tools that let you share documents, images, and project details, import existing tasks to delegate responsibilities among individuals, and import tasks from various sources into one central task management tool.

5. Dragon Dictation (Free – for iPhone)

The Dragon Dictation app allows users to speak and instantly record their thoughts, reminders, or notes to themselves via text or email. It’s a great tool for when you need to work hands-free (since dictation is 5-times faster than typing on a keyboard) and a lot safer if you’re operating a vehicle.  You can use this app for work or fun! For instance, easily dictate status updates directly to your Social Networking applications such as Facebook or Twitter. Dragon Dictation is available in various languages—including English, Spanish, German, etc.

Bio: Jane Johnson is a writer for GoingCellular, a popular site that provides cell phone related news, commentary, reviews on mobile service providers  and popular devices like the Android powered Samsung phones.

Listen to Lisa talk about “Creativity and Technology Solutions for Business and Life” in a recent Radio Interview with WTBQ host Joe Dans on September 21, 2011.

Listen to the broadcast by clicking here.

See more about WTBQ radio and Joe Dans’ show each Wednesday at 1pm here: http://wtbq.com/PersonalityPage8.asp

Powerful smart phones, computers, tablets, websites, software, blogs and social media. There are so many technology tools and gadgets these days that it is hard to keep up! On the other end of the spectrum are people that are glued to their devices, addicted to their “Crackberry.” Indeed, for many people, technology has become the master. However, true technology was designed to be our servant. The following tools (some are “apps,” which is short for applications for those of you that have are not as familiar with smart phone lingo) will help you harness technology to boost your productivity. You may have heard of some, while others may be new “finds.” All of them are designed to assist you in being smarter, faster, and more productive, which is why technology was created in the first place.

Google Calendar – Need a calendar that can’t be lost, can be accessed from any device, and can be shared with others when you want to? GoogleCalendar to the rescue! Google Calendar is an Internet based calendar system that you can access from your desktop computer, laptop, smart phone or tablet — basically any device with Internet service. You can share events with family members and friends, making it perfect for families to use and even small businesses. And it is absolutely free! Your content is stored “in the cloud,” which means you can never lose it, a real bonus for those of you that sometimes misplace your smart phone or forget to charge it.

YouSendIt – Ever want to send a friend or work colleague a file but it is too large to send via your regular email system? Try YouSendIt next time. YouSendIt is secure online sharing software that allows you to easily send large files and email at tachments. It is free for the basic level, and if you need to send even larger files, you can upgrade to a paid version. I use YouSendIt often to email video files, slides shows, and other types of files that are larger than usual. It is quick and easy. All you need is the recipient’s email and, voila, away the file goes.

Dropbox – This tool is my favorite. Dropbox is a free service that let’s you store information from your computer, smart phone or tablet on the Internet, and then access it from anywhere you have service. You can also share it with others. Just upload files, videos or photos into your Dropbox account, and they are stored there until you need them. The basic level gives you 2GB for free. Any more than that, and you must buy a paid version. But 2GB is a lot of free online storage if you are only storing documents. If you need video a nd photo storage, you will be at a higher level. To me, the beauty of Dropbox is it’s portability. It is like having your files with you wherever you go!

Evernote – Need a place to jot down notes, ideas and lists that can be accessed from anywhere, and tagged and archived so that the information is easily retrievable? You will love Evernote. Evernote is a suite of software and services designed for note taking and archiving. It allows you to make notes and lists in a handy location (better than post-it notes scattered everywhere) using your computer, smart phone or tablet, and access them when you need them. Uses are endless — shopping lists, business ideas, snap a photo of something to remember it, clip webpages, class notes, recipes, travel itineraries, images of business cards, etc. Evernote has a bigger learning curve than the other tools list ed, but once mastered, it’s power is amazing.

Toodledo – Need a place to list all of your projects, tasks and to-do’s that is portable and allows you to access it from any device? Chuck the paper and check out Toodledo. It is an Internet based software that is a powerful task manager. You can organize tasks by category, place them into folders, track due dates and access the information from anywhere. If you need a calendar system also, Toodledo does have that option. You can tag tasks to easily search them later, add notes to them, and lots of other bells and whistles. Toodledo, like Evernote, allows you to dump your brain into an electronic format so that you don’t have to remember everything yourself!

Dragon – Dragon i s voice-to-text software that allows you to dictate to your smart phone, tablet or computer, and then converts the voice recording to text. Once in text format, you can email or text it to yourself, or anyone else for that matter. Uses for Dragon are endless — shopping lists, letters, quick emails, etc. It’s not only easy and fun to use, it’s also safer to speak into your phone than type when driving!

Coaching Challenge : Harness the power of technology! Choose at least one of the above tools and try it. Technology works best when you take the time to learn how to effectively use it and integrate it into your life. So be patient, take your time and discover what works best for you.

Join Lisa and your fellow Social Club 2.0 members on Thursday, August 18th from 6pm – 8pm as we toast Lisa! The new location will be at Chateau Hathorn, 33 Hathorn Road, Warwick, NY (845) 986-6009 (upstairs room/bar), click here for directions.

Certified Professional Organizer, Lisa Montanaro, of LM Organizing Solutions has launched her new book, The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. With its expert content and beautiful design, the book makes the perfect gift.

You can order an autographed copy at www.TheUltimateLifeOrganizer.com. Also, become a member of The Ultimate Life Organizer Book Club for access to exclusive, member-only invitations to book-related special events and offers.

See you Thursday!

Unfortunately, summer will soon be coming to an end. I know, don’t rush it! Enjoy the last days of summer. Perhaps you have a vacation planned, or want to just stay at home and relax. But fall will be here before you know it. So, take some time now to plan your back to work strategy for fall now. Hopefully, the following tips will help get you started.

  • Get Through That Dreaded Email Inbox. I know that many of you still have tons of emails sitting in your inbox. Summer does not mean a hiatus on email. So take the time now to get through that inbox. Delete like crazy, move important or active emails into folders, and reply to those that you have left for far too long.
  • Sort Through Your Paper Inbox. You probably have a pile of paper on your desk that you call your “inbox.” Sort through it now so you can start the fall season seeing the bottom of it! If you don’t have an effective paper management system, get some stacking paper trays and label them with categories of paper that make sense to you. For example, Inbox/Unprocessed Paper, Action, File, Shred, Scan, Read. Use a desktop label maker or a portable one. I personally like the label makers by Dymo for the way they marry technology, design and functionality.
  • Sort Through Your Files. Go through your files quickly and efficiently, pulling out anything that is obsolete, can be scanned for future reference, belongs to someone else, etc. The less paper you have in your filing system, the more likely you are to file the new stuff coming in! So get to it.
  • Create Templates and Systems. On a going forward basis, create templates, systems, work flow charts and samples that will help streamline your office and work life. The more work you do up front to delegate to yourself (or better yet, to someone else), the more you will be able to reap the rewards of these systems long term, especially in the fall when everyone is so busy.

Follow through on these tips and you will be well on your way to a productive autumn season! Meanwhile, if you have a great office (home or work) productivity tip, email it to info@getbuttonedup.com or share it on their Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/GetButtonedUp for the chance to win a free Dymo label maker. The winner will be chosen randomly.

Full disclosure: This is sponsored content and I have been compensated to do this post. That being said, I do not blog about anything I do not believe in and Dymo did not edit this post or direct the content in any way.

I was recently asked by Buttoned Up to review The DYMO® LabelWriter® 450 Duo. I have reviewed several Dymo label makers now, and put them to the “professional organizer” test. The 450 will be the only one on my desktop going forward, which says a lot as my desktop is precious real estate and is not cluttered up by unnecessary gadgets. So to win a coveted spot on my desktop is a big deal!

I will start by sharing what I love most about the 450 Duo – its compact size. In organizing, we teach our clients that in most cases, going vertical is a smart space-saving idea as it uses less horizontal space in a room or on a desktop surface. Dymo seems to understand this, and created a compact product that still performs on a high level. The “Duo” stands for the fact that it prints labels and postage. It does so by having the postage print out on the top of the device from a horizontal opening, and the labels print out underneath from a vertical opening. Trust me, this is a brilliant design because it keeps the 450 Duo small enough to politely sit on your desk and spit out labels and postage when you need them, without taking up tons of space!

So, what can it do exactly? Print impressive address labels, shipping labels, file folder labels, name badges and more, at speeds up to 71 labels per minute. You use the included DYMO Stamps® software to print precise USPS-approved postage directly from your desktop – without fees, contracts or monthly commitments. I am so excited to start using it to ship out my books as the orders come in — it will save me from many trips to the post office! It also prints permanent DYMO D1 plastic labels in a variety of sizes and colors – perfect for when you need durable labels for your office or workplace. Like all LabelWriter printers, the LabelWriter Duo printer never needs ink or toner, and includes software you can use to print labels directly from text in popular software programs, verify US addresses and ZIP+4 codes, and much more.

But did I mention that my favorite feature hands-down is the 450’s compact, lightweight design (yes, I know I am repeating myself, but this is really a plus in my book!). I like my gadgets streamlined, attractive and compact, and the 450 delivers! It is perfect for any office or workspace. It can be left out on display on your desktop for you to use it when needed. And when not in use, it won’t take up much space and will be a sleek and stylish addition to your office. The Dymo LabelWriter 450 Duo will appeal to a busy professional that not only wants to stay organized, but look organized too!

Love this labeler so much that you want one for yourself? You can win one! ButttonedUp is running a contest for a free labeler. To enter, either email your best labeling tip to   with the subject line: Dymo, or visit their Facebook page and post a tip on their wall www.facebook.com/getbuttonedup. The winner will be chosen randomly.

Full disclosure: This is sponsored content and I have been paid to do this post. That being said, I do not blog about anything I do not believe in and Dymo did not edit this post or direct the content in any way.