Archive for Productivity – Get Things Done!

Staying focused

I love mindmaps.  And I love learning how to be more efficient and effective.   So check out this colorful, visual help guide for avoiding distraction and staying focused.  Wonder what new technology they will need to add in a couple years?

Getting rid of distractions in our wealthy world lives allows us to do more GIVING to those who don’t care about anything on this list and simply need food and shelter.

Mind Mappin’ Mama

I have a Mindmap for practically everything. Sometimes it is a mindmap I make and manage for a long period of time – like my personal scheduler. Other times it’s a quick throw away mindmap that helps me think through a difficult conversation.

What is a mindmap?
Here’s the official definition from our generations “Encyclopedia Brittanica” AKA Wikipedia:

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing.It is an image-centered diagram that represents semantic or other connections between portions of information. By presenting these connections in a radial, non-linear graphical manner, it encourages a brainstorming approach to any given organizational task, eliminating the hurdle of initially establishing an intrinsically appropriate or relevant conceptual framework to work within.A mind map is similar to a semantic network or cognitive map but there are no formal restrictions on the kinds of links used.

The elements are arranged intuitively according to the importance of the concepts and they are organized into groupings, branches, or areas. The uniform graphic formulation of the semantic structure of information on the method of gathering knowledge, may aid recall of existing memories.

Here is an example of a hand drawn mindmap:

And one that is generated with a computer:

All the way back to Junior High School, my class notes looked like a mindmap. There’s just something about this format with multiple colors and lots of arrows and boxes that helps me really process information more quickly, not dwindle on decisions and be most productive and effective.

Here’s just a short list of how I’ve used Mindmaps recently:

  • My personal organizer mindmap I use at least 3-4 times a day. It tracks my meetings appointments, goals, tasks, idea brainstorms, bible verse to memorize, personal journaling, notes from meetings, you name it. It is like command central for me.
  • Brainstormed a website layout
  • Organized my thoughts for writing an eBook
  • Focused myself for a difficult conversation
  • Created a meeting agenda
  • Picked apart ideas for a marketing plan
  • Took notes during a phone conference
  • Put together a presentation outline before moving it into Powerpoint

Why I like Mindmaps:

  • It’s fast and easy to add items. Mindmapping actually keeps up with the pace of the thoughts pouring through my brain!
  • The levels, branches, legs make it easy to separate and differentiate ideas
  • There is no wrong or right way to organize! You can start quick and get your thoughts out then very easily drag and drop to move your ideas around

Mindmapping allows you to be more efficient in organizing your thoughts. You can focus on the outcomes you are trying to achieve and not be distracted when your brain runs in another direction. I can spend 5 minutes mindmapping in preparation for a difficult conversation that will lead me to a better outcome in a shorter period of time.

My personal favorite Mindmap Software is by Mindjet. There are also a variety of free mindmapping applications but I do not use them so I can’t give a personal recommendation. But I do suggest you visit Mindjet’s website to understand the potential of how it can used.

Would you pay $5 per voicemail to have someone return messages for you?

Time or Money.
It’s always a trade off. Or is it? Spend more money. Save more time. Save money. Spend more time. Here are the typical examples that come to mind:

- Paint your own house or pay someone to do it
- Spend 6 hours bargain shopping around town and coupon clippling or 30 minutes dashing into the department store….or even better, paying a personal shopper
- Making your own scrapbooks or paying someone to do it for you
- Cooking from scratch dinners with fresh veggies and meat and bread bought daily or buying “Meals Made Easy” that must be heated up within 2 weeks of putting them in your fridge.
- Clean your own house or hire a cleaning service

We are always having to decide where is the most effective place to spend our time because there are simply not enough hours in the day. For me personally, I chose to short cut the bargain shopping, the home made meals and pay a housecleaner. But it is because I have been blessed with a profession that allows us those luxuries so I can spend my precious free time with my children. It also means I have to spend a lot of time working. And most entrepreneurs trying to start their own business don’t have much of either – time or money – and must chose very wisely how to spend both for the first couple years of their business.

Think about how this applies to your business and your own strengths and skills. What tasks should you outsource versus those you should spend your time and talents on? Where are you going to get the most bang for the buck? Here are some things to consider outsourcing:
- Writing the content for your website or marketing materials
- Website design and development
- Logo creation, graphic design and branding
- accounting and tax preparation

There is a website called eLance.com that allows you to find freelancers who will do practically ANYTHING for you. This includes things for crazy busy people like “listen to my voicemails and transcribe them into emails for me daily so I can chose how to respond”. Can you imagine being so busy that you have to outsource your voicemail answering???? Now there’s either a business that is really exploding or someone who has set the wrong priorities and is not being productive enough. Either way it’s proof that you can outsource anything.

No matter what you decide to outsource remember YOU ARE IN CHARGE. Be sure that you have a well-planned and scoped project to be outsourced so you get what you want. Think ahead about the outcome you are looking for and definitely spend the time interviewing and finding the right person for the job. Even if you get a personal referral for someone local, be sure you fully know and understand everything you are getting.

Of course there are so many things money can’t buy and time is all you have. And for those, we need to hold tight. My 3-year-old son this morning. Shaking his finger at me and looking me straight in the eye and saying “You promise you will stay home and have breakfast with us tomorrow?” It’s priceless. And THAT, is exactly why I am burning the candle at both ends. Working full time at the corporate job and part time on my dream that will allow me to be home more and be the influence I want to be on my children….before someone or something else takes that role.

Time or money trade off? Personally I want both. I want to have it all. With both you can make a HUGE difference in the world. Think big and you will find a way.

100 emails a day and a fear of deletion

I came home from the office today looking like a zombie. My husband kept asking me what was wrong and it took me a second to figure it out. I was tired. I went straight to making dinner, cutting up bite size pieces of chicken for everyone 5 and under (that’s 3 people!), dishing out the appropriate portions of peas and carrots, buttering dinner rolls and pouring milk. I couldn’t even force a smile across my lips. Because I was worn out from my day and not able to enjoy my family! That is clearly NOT having it all!

So I thought and thought what the heck was wrong with me and came to this conclusion. I was mentally and emotionally spent from my day at work. Not all days are like this but today was exceptionally challenging with some high intensity meetings and emotional co-workers over projects gone way bad and……..over 100 emails! Yes, that’s how many I received today. Starting at 12:35 AM actually and ending, well, do they ever really end? There’s one from Australia popping in as I write this.

So, that’s just my ‘corporate job’ email. My personal pictureyourlife email is equally overwhelming. Because I manage my own website, I control the size of my mailbox. That has led me to frequently increase the capacity instead of deleting. Most people would have a panic attack to know that I have now 2099 emails in my inbox Friends and family I haven’t touched base with in forever, the obligatory 3 or 4 jokes a day (thank goodness there were none chiding my alma mater Ohio State Buckeyes after last nights no show at the BCS Championship game!). And of course the spam. Do I care that Kohl’s is having Super Saturday AGAIN? Do they really think I’m going to spend one of my only sleep in days to be there for the doorbusters at 6 AM? Why am I still subscribed to this stuff?

How do I get a handle on this? DELETE, DELETE, DELETE and UNSUBSCRIBE! We all need to get this excess noise out of our lives and focus on what is really important and necessary. In comparison to what I received, I only sent 14 emails today. And to the credit of some of my thoughtful teammates, a few emails were eliminated by a quick trip to my desk to shore up some strategy. How about that? We actually spoke to each other face to face!

Ultimately, I think I am my own worst culprit. The email overload is so bad that I’ve gone into survival mode. I don’t delete! Our company policy is 200 MB and 60 days. So I just manage from the top of the stack and let the system weed out the old. So far so good on that method. I haven’t lost anything important with this approach (which makes me wonder, if nothing important happened over 60 days ago, does what I’m doing right now really matter at all??) But even as I process through emails while I’m reading, I just can’t bring myself to deletion. I have this false sense that I will go back and check something, forget a date, want to log that person’s email address, maybe do something about that sale, etc, etc. But it really rarely happens.

On the positive side, the quantity of email I receive is in direct proportion to the number of people in my own circle of influence. Let me tell you, before email, I wasn’t receiving 100 phone calls or letters a day! Thank God for this technology that helps keep us all connected!

So here is a new resolution for the year……read and process, read and process, read and process!

Read your email and do one of the following:

  1. If it requires only a short reply (< 30 seconds), do it right away then delete the original
  2. If it will take some time, effort, research to reply to, tag it as a task and add it to your task list so it does not get lost in the shuffle
  3. Have a system in place to capture email addresses so you can feel comfortable deleting one from somebody new (if in doubt, keep an email address. you never know!)
  4. Just delete it and don’t feel guilty! You’ll forget about it by tomorrow anyhow

Happy deleting!

My Favorite Time of Year

I love this time of year!!!! We just enjoyed wonderful family memories celebrating Christmas together. The anxietous anticipation of preparing for the Holidays is past. No one noticed or cared that big brother got 1 more gift to unwrap than little sister nor that you neglected to hand design table centerpieces from Martha Stewart’s latest idea book. All the little stressors of pre-Christmas are over. Now……it’s on to planning for a new year!

Best of all, I can do it on my own schedule without feeling obligated to call in to work because everyone else is on break too! Out with the old, stale, broken, used and abused. In with the new, clean, organized, focused and inspiring.

Here’s a list of things I’m “having fun with” this blissful week (seriously….when you love life, it doesn’t feel like work!)

  • Clean out my email!!!! Yes, there are over 3000 in my personal email account right now. And my corporate job email account only allows 200 MB and auto deletes after 60 days. Let’s just say I ‘manage from the top’. The top 2 days worth of email in my box that is
  • Financial Planning – do the gut check on where we are for 2007 taxes and decide on any end of year tax deductible donations
  • Clean off my desks! File, file, file. The best investment I made last year was a labeler and some nice file folders. Just having things organized in nice looking files makes so much difference as compared to my chicken scratch handwriting. By the way, this is a HUGE challenge for me to keep my desk clean! I’m a piler, not a filer and need things visually in front of me. Still, I feel it is important to dedicate an hour or so at the end of the year and again once a quarter so I have a fresh desk and fresh mind to work from.
  • 2008 Goal Setting - This is the biggie. What do I want to accomplish in the next year? How much time and money can I dedicate to it? What will fall off the list? More details on this to come. If you do nothing else, make sure you set your goals. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever get there?
  • Family Fun! The kids are out of school and this is a great time to have lots of dedicated time with my kids. We try to do some fun family activities that we don’t normally get to with school schedules. Just going out to dinner, shopping together, the movies, “paint your own pottery”, zoo lights or just hanging around the house and playing with our new Christmas presents.
  • Reflecting and Preserving Memories - I try to be sure to journal about the holidays and the past year and work on my Family Yearbook for 2007.
  • Home Projects - This time of year it is mostly organization projects. Storing away holiday decorations. Cleaning up the kids bedrooms and toy areas. Getting rid of older unwanted toys and clothes to make room for the new. Figuring out how to use those new gadgets you got for Christmas – iPods, Wiis, HDTVs
  • Date Night! My husband and I get to have at least one date night over the holidays to reflect together, plan for the new year and just enjoy some alone time after all the craziness of the holiday parties.

Now, back to uninterrupted by phone calls from work time at my newly cleaned desk

Focused and Guilt Free

Can life be any crazier than in December? I’m not sharing anything new. All of us are in the pre-Christmas madness. In the past, craziness like this would have tipped me over the edge to uncontrollable panic, stress and anxiety. But I’m sitting here today as cool as a cucumber. Here’s just a little background into what’s on my plate right now: Christmas is 2 weeks away. I’m not done with my shopping by a longshot. I just spent 4 days in Sweden for business. Our new au pair arrived the day I got back so I’ve been spending every spare second getting her up to speed on our household and childcare needs, driving her around town to get familiar with the area and helping her do all the logistics of social security card, drivers license and bank account and trying to learn to cook special new food so she feels welcome and comfortable here in America (Did I tell you cooking is so not my gift? . Not to mention this little Heritage Makers business I’ve drummed up. Oh yeah, and we are hosting my oldest daughter’s 5th birthday party this Saturday. That’s enough to commit most people to the insane asylum. And I’m sure each of you has an equally comparable list of things going on right now and I commend you for even taking the time to read this article! May the 5 minutes it takes you, provide 15 minutes of productivity for you this week. The best way to capture that time…

1. Replace your ‘freak out’ moments with ‘in focus’ moments. It may sound cliché but life is really about how you look at it. I could seriously freak out and panic and let my heart race and get grouchy with my kids but none of that will help get everything done. All I can do is the one thing I am focusing on at this moment. I can’t change anything that’s already behind me. I can’t make anymore time. And worrying about the stuff to come doesn’t help either. (Preparing for it does but that’s another lesson Just focus completely on enjoying and completing the task at hand…decorating the tree with your little ones, visiting Santa, choosing the perfect gift. Focus on them for the right amount of time without straying from the goal and GTD (Get Things Done!) My example from today…getting my Christmas Cards done. I had a zillion other things on my mind but today was the ordering deadline. So I focused solely on that activity after the kids went to bed and got it done. Something knocked off the list. BAM! It feels great. If all I do is focus on one activity like that an evening, I’ll have 12 more things knocked off the list by Christmas. When you focus and look at it that way, you see how much you can really accomplish and you are able to more completely finish an activity and quickly switch gears and move on to the next (like writing this article!)

2. Don’t overcommit. You’ve heard it a thousand times before but here is another reminder to help you have a guilt-free day. It’s ok to not be the mom who is sending in the snack for the classroom holiday party. It’s ok that your Christmas cards do not get into the mail until Dec. 30th. It’s ok to make the easy-cheesy-pleasey dip with store bought crackers for that holiday party. It’s ok to not put up all your Christmas decorations this year. It’s ok to skip your husband’s boring office Christmas party. It’s ok to not bake a tray of cookies for each of your neighbors. My example for the week, my daughters birthday party. Instead of inviting 25 kids and spending a small fortune putting together goodie bags that every mom hates having around their house, we are doing a smaller, more intimate lunch and afternoon at the ballet with my daughters closest friends. We get to dress up in pretty dresses and go down to the ‘big city’. That is an experience for all of us to remember and saves so much prep time. Now I can look forward to a fun time with my daughter, her friends and their moms without fretting about a clean house, activities and food for 25 people.

Remember, saying “No” is really giving you the opportunity to say “Yes” fully and completely to your other commitments.

How does this apply to my business?
1. Focus Moments: When you are ‘working the business’, really work the business. Don’t be distracted by unimportant email newsletters. It won’t hurt your busines if you skip reading the daily newsletter or even if you miss a week on a Yahoo Groups. Pick your few, specific, business building tasks and focus directly on them alone. Call clients and book events.. Call potential customers to sell gift certificates. Call that person you’ve been trying to connect with to join your team. And focus only on that person and their needs for those 15 – 30 minutes.

2. Don’t Overcommit: Did you tell yourself you were going to send a personalized holiday thank you card to all your clients from 2007? And a tempting postcard to everyone else on your potentials list? Consider this…will it just be lost in the shuffle of the holiday season? You can still do it but make them and send them just after Christmas so it stands out from the crowd and has a bigger impact for you. Remember..work smarter, not harder! And this Christmas season, family first, then business will follow.

This week’s practical resource is a simple quote so as to not add further tasks or guilt to this already busy time:
“I really cannot give you the formula for success. But I can give you the formula for failure. It’s this: Try to please everyone.” Bernard Meltzer