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.

Overwhelmed just thinking about the upcoming holiday season? Relax. If you take a little time to plan your holiday season, it will be more enjoyable for you and your family! Focus on practicing good organizational techniques and time management principles.  Here are some tips to make the holidays enjoyable and the new year start off in a positive manner.

Setting Your Goals for the Holiday Season

  • Christmas_treeWe are pulled in so many different directions during the holidays: travel, family gatherings, parties and social events, shopping, baking, decorating, etc. As yourself: What do I want? This question is an invaluable guide for the holiday season. Think about what you want to do, as opposed to what you think others expect of you. Decide on your goals for the holiday season. Do you want to spend quality time with family? Do you want to try your hand at hosting or baking? Or, do you want to relax and enjoy quiet time? Achieving your goals and creating a meaningful holiday season requires that you have smart plans in place, especially if you want to enjoy the season without overindulging or stressing out.
  • It is difficult to keep all of the mental clutter associated with the holidays in our head! Keep a ‘holiday central’ notebook or create a memo in your handheld device. List items you want to do (notice I didn’t say need to do!), gifts to be purchased, people to send cards to, etc. Create a holiday budget so you know what you want to spend and stick to it.

Dealing with Holiday Schedule Overload

  • holiday_stressorsAll the things you want to do over the holiday season can bring pressure if you don’t bring your wants and needs into alignment and into a manageable schedule. Holiday joy comes from balance and choosing the activities that are fulfilling for you. Avoid taking on too much at this time of year. If you’re feeling too pressured, look for activities that you can reschedule until after the holidays, delegate, or say no to. Recognize that you can’t do everything, especially if you want to enjoy your holiday season!  Ask yourself: What is the worst thing that will happen if I don’t do this?
  • Identify and avoid triggers. If going to certain events or seeing certain family or friends stresses you out and always ruins your holiday experience, avoid that activity. If you must attend, shorten your visit. If you are watching what you eat, plan ahead by eating a small healthy meal at home, so you won’t be as hungry at the event. Or plan out what you will eat at the event, allowing yourself a few treats that you only get to have once per year and stick to your plan.
  • If you regularly exercise, don’t stop over the holidays! Carve out time for exercise, even if it is not as much time as you usually do. The holidays are stressful enough – don’t miss out on a great form of natural stress relief!

The payoff to all of this planning? You won’t have post-holiday regret syndrome! You’ll be calmer and more available to enjoy the company of your family and friends, and you’ll start the new year feeling empowered.

Watch the video here, or read the full article below.

video-superachieverOne of the greatest challenges for busy, successful and creative people juggling several projects, talents and ideas is to live a well-balanced life. If only we could do all that is on our personal and professional ‘to do’ lists while simultaneously attending to our health, nurturing our important relationships and taking good care of our responsibilities.

Everyone knows someone who works full time, volunteers, runs a successful blog, and somehow still finds time to go grocery shopping, cook organic Instagram-worthy meals, foster a loving relationship, walk his or her adorable Boston terrier, and, oh — train for a half marathon. These kinds of “super-achievers” have the same number of hours in the day as the rest of us, but somehow, they always seem to get more done. How do they do it? Here are 5 tips to help you maximize your precious 24 hours daily.

Tip #1: Stop Trying to Win the Crazy-Busy Badge of Honor
crazy_busyStaying busy, but not productive, is the curse of our times. These days we are so busy that we can’t stop talking about it. And busyness has become a cultural symbol of status. Even though people say they’re complaining, they’re secretly bragging. Here are some typical phrases that I often hear from my private clients and audience members:

“I am so tired, I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep!”
“I’m drowning over here!”
“Oh my God, I’m crazy-busy!”

We have to stop the glorification of busy, and realize that no one is really “busy”… it’s all about priorities. We have to stop using this phrase, and take back control so we feel empowered, not depleted.

Tip #2: Use Time Management Tools that Work for You & Stick to Them
One of the key components to time management is to find time management tools that work well for you and then stick to them. Consistency is key! Use one calendar, one master project list or project management tool, and one task management system. It doesn’t matter if they are paper or digital, old fashioned or a fancy new app. The key is to create a system around your habits, needs, work and lifestyle, learn it well, and use it consistently.

Tip #3: Stop Multi-Tasking & Engage in Uni-Tasking Instead
Multi-tasking is generally less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time. Studies show it impairs productivity. It is impossible to do 2 tasks at the same time without compromising each. Research shows that it takes your brain 4 times longer to process than if you focused on each task separately. David Meyer, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has spent the past few decades studying multi-tasking. His research shows that not only is multi-tasking inefficient, but also can cause problems at work, at school, and even, in some cases, be dangerous. Meyer explains, “It takes time to warm up to a new task, especially if both require the same skills.” So focus on one task at a time, give it your full attention, and then move onto the next task.

Tip #4: Use the Power of the Pareto Principle (a/k/a the 80-20 Rule)
The Pareto Principle takes its name from a 19th century Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto. In the late 1940s, business management guru Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Pareto, who observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Pareto’s Principle (or the 80/20 Rule as it is often called) means that in any grouping of items or events, a few (20%) are vital and many (80%) are trivial. 80% of our results come from 20% of our activity. That means that of all of the daily activities you do, and choices that you make, only 20% really matter (or at least produce meaningful results).

What is the takeaway that we can learn from the Pareto Principle? Identify and focus on the 20% that matters! When life sets in and you start to become reactive instead of proactive, remind yourself of the 20% you need to focus on. If something in your schedule needs to be deleted or not completed with your fullest attention, try your best to make sure it’s not part of that 20%. Use the Pareto Principle as a litmus test to constantly check in and ask yourself: “Is doing this task or activity right now the highest and best use of my time? Is this truly part of the 20% that matters?” Let the Pareto Principle serve as a powerful daily reminder to focus 80% of your time and energy on the 20% of your work and life that is really important and delivers positive results.

Tip #5: Honor Appointments with Yourself
facialCalendar in your personal to-do’s, along with your professional appointments. Our work calendars fill up quickly with tasks, projects, and events. When was the last time you scheduled something fun for yourself and/or your family? A date night with your significant other? A yoga class, time to read, take a bubble bath, etc.? Give structure to unstructured activities and tasks. Try to reverse your calendar and begin with the premise that you need (and deserve) time for play and relaxation. You schedule those first, as well as previously committed time — like when you sleep, eat, exercise, commute to work, and other blocks of time you must expend each day.

Start practicing proactive, positive productivity using the 5 tips above. And remember, be consistent!

In the world of time management, we give a lot of weight to appointments that we set with other people, or events and meetings that we have to attend. We block them out on our calendar and then we make a commitment to show up unless there is a true emergency. And that is certainly a good thing. One would say we are practicing good time management techniques.

And yet, when it comes to making appointments with ourself, we don’t give them the same importance on our calendar. Indeed, most people put themselves last. That yoga class you wanted to take? Missed it again. Getting to bed on time so that you are well rested? Oops, that went out the window when you let something else take precedence over it. Sadly, most of us do not honor appointments with ourself!

me_timeWhen I speak on time management and productivity, I ask my audiences to name something that they don’t allow themselves enough of in their lives. The answers are almost always focused on simple pleasures like reading, sleeping, spending time with family, taking a bubble bath, going for a bike ride, etc. We crave more “me time” and yet we deprive ourselves of it on a daily basis.

We have the imagination to find creative ways to deny ourselves simple pleasures. You should hear the convoluted excuses high functioning, success-minded folks devise as to why they couldn’t possibly, say, sit and read a book for half an hour. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad that they are denying themselves such basic human treats. Even though I know better, sometimes I catch myself doing the same thing.

Why do we do it? Sometimes it’s guilt, sometimes it’s low self-esteem (a sense that you don’t “deserve” a treat), sometimes it’s because you put everyone else’s needs first. Sometimes it’s a societal dictum or a limiting belief like, “I have to work hard and earn X before I deserve a treat.”

Whatever the reason, the truth is that not only do you deserve to treat yourself to simple pleasures – it’s essential for your health, well-being and creativity.

reading_bookHow can we change this? First, start by recognizing that you give your own appointments the short end of the stick on your calendar and in your own time management practices. Then not only resolve to change this, but act on that resolve. Block out the time on your calendar and then honor that appointment as if you made it with the most important person in your life. Why? Because you are an important person in your life! And you are worth it. Don’t skimp on time for your own personal and professional growth and development.

“But Lisa”, I hear you say, “I can’t possibly. I have too much to do. I don’t have enough time.”

Ask yourself this: What do you spend time doing that you really don’t enjoy – and that you really don’t have to be doing? What isn’t particularly healthy or helpful? What could you be doing less of, if you were honest with yourself?

Maybe you’re a workaholic spending many more hours working than is really required. Perhaps you spend time worrying or stressing or complaining (most people spend more time complaining how little time they have than doing anything about it). Maybe you don’t have systems set up so you are spending too much time doing tasks that could be streamlined. Maybe you’re wasting your evenings watching television programs you don’t really like that much anyway.

Whatever your day is like, you have an opportunity to do less of what you don’t want – and more of what you do want.

I invite you to engage in this rare, but powerful, time management treat. Look for opportunities to not only make some appointments with yourself… but honor those appointments! Trust me, you are worth it.

calendarA few weeks ago, I presented at the National Association of Professional Organizers San Francisco Bay Area Regional Conference. My topic was Make Time for This: Effective Time Management. As I was putting the finishes touches on my slides and handout prior to the conference, I started thinking about the many different systems, tools and strategies people use to manage their time. Specifically, I started thinking about how far we have come with regard to digital/electronic systems compared to years ago. Yet, every time I speak to an audience about time management and survey the participants, it amazes me how many people are still using paper-based systems (paper, pen, notebooks, post-it notes, folders, etc.) compared to digital (software, apps, tablets, smart phones, etc.). And yes, even in a room full of professional organizers and productivity consultants, there were more than a handful that admitted to still using a paper-based system.

So which is better? That’s not an easy question to answer, even for a productivity expert because the winner is in the eyes of the user.

checkmarkA paper-based system has a certain solidness to it. You get to touch your system and hold it in your hands. For people that are very tactile focused, this concreteness can make all the difference. Being able to write with your own hand, feel the pen move across the paper, turn the page, tab it, shuffle paper, put a post-it note on it, etc. can make all the difference. The act of being able to physically manipulate the system is what helps the paper-based user to stay in control of the system and perhaps even enjoy using it. The disadvantages to this “ol d fashioned” type system include a limited/finite amount of space/storage, inconvenient size if the system is too large to fit into a small purse or pocket for example, and the fear that your system can be easily lost or destroyed with no back up.

People that are digital focused tend to do better with an electronic system. There are many advantages, including the ability to set reminders and alarms, an amazing amount of storage (especially if your digital system is in the cloud), portability and often a small size if you use your system on a handheld device, and the ability to share and synchronize with other’s calendars in workplace. Some disadvantages are that you can’t always see the full month view (a real pet peeve for those that are strong visual learners), and it’s not satisfying for tactile individuals who love the feel of pen to paper.

I used a Filofax day planner for years when I was still practicing law. I absolutely loved it! The smell o f the leather, the feel of the paper, the way my pen filled up the pages with appointments, and the fact that it was always with me ready to serve me at a moment’s notice. I was very careful about the way I handled it, and was adamant about not losing it. Some lawyers were so fearful that they may lose their daily planner that they offered a hefty financial reward to anyone that found it and returned it to them! I knew someone that left his planner on a plane and got it back and did indeed send a large check to the finder.

I fought the digital revolution tooth and nail for a long time, as I loved my Filofax and it served me well in the sense that I used it religiously and had great time management skills. But when the Palm Pilot was created (yes, I am dating myself!), I thought I had died and gone to Heaven, which is surprising for such a tactile person (I love to write by hand… even to this day!). I think it was the fact that it looked like a Filofax (leather bound, small size with the device inside) and you could “write” with a stylus. So it was a great transition piece as it mimicked many of the attributes of a paper system, but was the beginning of the digital overthrow — at least for me!

asanaThe Palm was the first in line of many digital time management systems. I am now fully digital using Asana as my digital task/project management system (if you haven’t checked it out, go to Asana.com — it is free and pretty amazing!), and iCal as my digital calendar system on all of my Mac devices (iPhone, iPad and iMac). BUT I still often make a daily to-do list on good old fashioned paper, and sometimes I even do a Brain Dump on paper when I have a lot of mental clutter in my head and need to get it out. There is still something so satisfying to me about running th at pen across the paper and watching the words appear. And there is nothing like the feeling of physically crossing an item off your to-do list!

If you are still struggling with whether to go fully-digital or continue using your tried-and-true-but-outdated paper system, realize that you can use both. Just be careful not to duplicate your efforts (by using two systems for the exact same purpose) or create systems that conflict and compete with each other.

In the end, there is no “perfect” system. The ultimate goal of any productivity or time management system should be to capture and complete the tasks and responsibilities that make up your personal and professional life, not necessarily HOW that is accomplished. The system doesn’t have to be pretty or stylish (unless aesthetics are important to you), or the latest and greatest digital marvel (unless being a techie is fun for you and you love being an early adopter). The system just has to do its job, which is to help you manage your time and tasks better. Free yourself from the mindset that one is better than the other, and ask yourself which is better for you at this particular time in your life. And if you absolutely can’t choose one or the other, feel free to create a system that incorporates both the paper and digital worlds. Heck, you never know… it just may become the next big thing!

Lisa-tvshowJust finished segment on @Fox40News with anchor Bethany Crouch on to-do lists. Lots of fun! Looking forward to doing some future segments.

Bethany said they’re hoping to bring me back. She wants to try to do a regular segment on the show with me as the expert. That would be amazing. But I don’t want to get my hopes up because she probably says that everyone. 🙂 She’s very charming…

The station’s producer contacted me to come to the studio and talk about how to actually get things done on your to-do list – to make your day more productive. She heard that I was presenting on this topic at the American Marketing Association of Sacramento Valley on July 23rd and wanted me to share some tips with viewers in advance of my presentation.

“To-do or not to do?” – the perpetual question that races through your mind as you try to figure out how to navigate your to-do list and actually get things done. So how can you make leeway without stressing yourself out?

Watch this segment where I share some tips with Morning Show News Anchor, Bethany Crouch, about to-do lists.

Hope it helps you to be more productive and get those to-do list items done!

(Sorry, there’s a short advertisement before my 3 minute segment)

So psyched to be the featured speaker at the July 23rd event hosted by the American Marketing Association chapter in Sacramento, CA. I’ll be presenting “Boost Your Productivity to Be More Successful!” If you are local, come join us. Should be a great event — here are more details:

productivity-July23rdWould you like to achieve new heights through greater organization and productivity?

Come learn tips and tools of the trade as productivity expert, Lisa Montanaro, provides solutions to real-life productivity problems. This fast-paced and entertaining presentation provides practical techniques for managing time, paper, information, projects, and yourself. Enhance your organizational and time management skills to become more productive, achieve your priorities, and make your business more successful.

Grab & Go Strategies:

  • Take control of your day by effective planning & scheduling.
  • Focus on your priorities and work more productively.
  • Handle interruptions and time wasters that drain productivity.
  • Overcome procrastination and minimize reactively running your business and life.
  • Delegate and use others more effectively.
  • Manage information overload.
  • Develop a personal action plan to enhance organizing & time management skills.

Schedule:

5:30-6:30 Registration and Networking/Cocktails/Appetizers

6:30-7:45 Presentation + 15 minutes for questions

Location:

Seasons 52
1689 Arden Way Suite 1065, Sacramento, California 95815

See the details here, and register here