How To Prioritize When You Have So Many Tasks

Everyone alive today has more to do than time to do it in. So how to ensure that what needs to be done is, in fact, completed? And how to prioritize tasks to increase the odds that you’re working on what matters most?

I recommend using a Productivity System to determine which tasks take priority.  Productivity Systems are practices and methodologies that help us get things done more efficiently and effectively. The best productivity systems are structured yet flexible, not overly complex, and easy to implement.  Using a productivity system can lead to better prioritization and make it easier to meet your most important goals. 

Below are 3 Productivity Systems that can help enable better task prioritization.

The 4D System

Originally proposed in the book The Power of Focus, written by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt, The 4D System distinguishes highly important tasks from those that are less vital.

The 4 D System consists of four categories: Do, Defer/Delay, Delegate, and Delete. Place tasks or projects into one of these categories based on importance and go from there.

The 4-Quadrant Matrix

Created by Steven Covey, this matrix helps prioritize tasks for optimal efficiency.

Tasks are divided into four quadrants: Important & Urgent, Important & Not Urgent, Not Important & Urgent, and Not Important & Not Urgent. The goal with this matrix is to spend most of our efforts on Important tasks and leave the unimportant tasks to others, or delete them entirely.  In an ideal world, we’d spend most of our time on Important but not Urgent tasks (Quadrant 2) and as little time as possible in Quadrant 4 (Neither Important nor Urgent). The remaining ~20-25% of our time might be spent in Quadrants 1 (Important & Urgent) & 3 (Not Important & Urgent.)

Created by Steven Covey

The Eisenhower Matrix

This is one of my favorite time management tools. The Eisenhower Matrix was established by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States. Eisenhower was a time management guru before the field existed. The Eisenhower Matrix prioritizes Important tasks over Unimportant tasks. The Eisenhower Matrix can serve as a guide in determining what to work on when there are just too many things to do.

Established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Although there are many similarities among these three prioritization systems, there are also differences. Consider experimenting with these systems and then choosing the one that works best for you.

If you would like to learn more about productivity, click here to get your free ebook, “Nine Common Efficiency Mistakes and How to Fix Them.” Or, contact Lisa Mark, C.P.O. to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing and productivity needs.

4 Tools That Help Free Up Time for Entrepreneurs

Most people alive today have more things to do than time to complete them. This month’s guest blogger, Ashley Taylor, discusses how a few widely available tools can help entrepreneurs be more productive.

Entrepreneurs are busy! There is always so much to do, including networking events, investor pitches, team meetings and actual work. If you’re overwhelmed by the workload, it’s time to start working smart instead of hard. Below are 4 resources which may help to streamline business tasks, improve productivity, and create downtime.

Social Media Management Tools

Regardless of the industry you’re in, Hookle notes that social media plays a major role in business success. Managing social media accounts individually is a cumbersome and ineffective process, and collating performance reports from different social media accounts involves additional time which may be better spent elsewhere.

A social media management tool can provide a unified solution for all social media accounts, including scheduling posts, generating performance reports, and making on demand changes.

Cloud Storage

As reported by Indeed, while email has long been the preferred mode of communication for businesses, it is not always the best solution for sharing information. If multiple teams are collaborating on a project, it is easy for important information to be lost

Utilizing cloud storage applications allows for documents to be stored in a central location accessible to everyone. This makes it easier to track project progress, provide feedback, update as needed, and access information.

Project Management Software

According to Martech, using a project management tool allows you to create projects, assign relevant stakeholders and track progress all in one place. Project management tools can allow users to create project boards which can be further divided into individual tasks, enabling up-to-the-minute status tracking and more relevant business decisions.

Additionally, as many of these tools are cloud-based, boards are shared among stakeholders on all teams, potentially reducing the need for team meetings to bring people up to date on the progress of a project.

Invoicing Software

Manually sending invoices to clients increases the chances of delayed or missed payments. Additionally, as the client base grows, it may become increasingly difficult to track payments. Invoicing software allows you to automate the invoicing process. Invoicing software allows you to set customized billing reminders for each client.

When it comes to communicating with new clients, an invoice can be a unique way to develop brand awareness. Invoicing software can make invoicing clients easier by automating the billing process. There are many customizable templates available to streamline the process.

One of the keys to success for entrepreneurs is to be judicious with time. Incorporating these four tools in your business may improve cross-team collaboration, make supervision easy and significantly increase the time you can dedicate to other more important business activities.

Ashley Taylor is a disabled mother of two energetic children. Ashley runs DisabledParents.org, a website dedicated to providing resources for disabled parents.

The Time Butler specializes in the design and implementation of organizing and productivity systems for corporate, small business, and residential clients. Contact us today for more information!

The Best Way to Manage Your To-Do List

Most people alive today have way more to do than time available to do it. This is one of the reasons a well-managed To Do list is so important. Effective To Do list management enables us to:

  • Track outstanding projects & tasks
  • Determine what’s important and what can wait
  • Maintain control over items we need to address
  • Increase the odds of completing projects on time and within budget.

Below are 14 quick and easy tips to help you create and manage your To Do list.

  1. Create a separate To Do list for each project or set of similar projects. The To Do lists can be paper-based, electronic, via an App, or any combination of these that works best.

  2. Include both small and large tasks on your To Do list, as well as any recurring tasks, and the frequency within which they recur.

  3. Split each project into individual and measurable tasks & goals using the SMART system. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For more information on the SMART project management system, click here.

  4. Calendar a firm due date for each project.

  5. Working back from the project due date, create a due date and calendar reminder for each project-related task. Be sure to consider wait times from others involved in the project, as well as the amount of time needed to complete the task, and any other items that require time and resources necessary.

  6. Build in extra time where possible to account for the unexpected.

  7. Design your day, week, and month so that you can work on time- and brain-intensive tasks when at your best. Aim to do this 75-80% of the time.

  8. Understand that emergencies happen, and can impact your deep-thought, brain-intensive project time. If stuff happens, resume brain-intensive work at the next available opportunity.

  9. Schedule project time on your calendar and then honor this appointment with yourself as much as you would honor an appointment with anyone else.

  10. Share project due dates, goals, and tasks with all stakeholders involved in the project. This can be done via email or via calendar appointment, or both.

  11. Create a ‘Waiting For’ section on your To Do list. This section includes items that you need from others to proceed. Calendar a recurring appointment to remind you to reach out to those on whom you are waiting.

  12. If possible, create a deadline, after which no new input can be accepted. Remind all stakeholders of this deadline via regular emails and calendar reminders or appointments.

  13. Check off completed project items and transfer them off the To Do list. This shows progress and may increase motivation to move forward.

  14. And finally, understand that this is not an all or nothing proposition. It’s impossible to account for everything that might happen. The purpose of a To Do list is to minimize disruptions and ensure that you can get back on task at the soonest opportunity.

If you need help managing your to-do list, contact Lisa Mark, C.P.O. to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

Never Store These Four Things on Your Desk

Desk space before and after organizing
Before and After Organizing by The Time Butler

With the rise of work from home, our work surfaces have become ever more important. Storage spaces & usable spaces are two different concepts. We store items we need for use later, and we use items that we need right now. Because desk space is at a premium, make sure that your desk contains only what you need for the work at hand.

To ensure you’re using your desk space effectively, consider refraining from storing the following items on your desk.

  1. Old papers & documents. If you don’t need it, either downsize it or find another place to put it. Downsize what you can and keep what you need, just not on your desk. Documents that need to be kept can be archived into labeled banker’s boxes and stored somewhere else. Unneeded documents can be shredded, recycled or pitched. If you need more help in identifying types of paper that don’t belong on your desk, you might find last month’s post helpful. This post discusses how clutter is created when papers come to rest in a pile to manage later, rather than being integrated into the established system. 

  2. Food. Yep, we all need to eat. And snacks are great! And it’s so nice to be able to grab a bite while working. But food is better stowed in a desk drawer if it’s not perishable, or in the kitchen if it is, rather than on your work surface.

  3. An excess of knickknacks or tchotchkes. Décor can be beautiful, but not if it clogs your work surface. Keep décor to a minimum – a photo or two of family or pets, a paperweight given to you by your best friend, or a decorative holder of writing implements. Ditch the rest or store it elsewhere.

  4. Obvious non-desk items like kitchenware, clothing, books you’re not using for work, shoes, toiletries, make up, and pet supplies. If these items land on your workspace because they don’t have a spot, set up a home for them elsewhere and then use it.

Remember the basic rule: keep only what you need for the work at hand. Anything that is a distraction or hides your work needs to have a permanent place elsewhere. If you need help establishing a clutter-free workspace, contact Lisa Mark, C.P.O. to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

The Best Way to Control Paper Clutter Permanently

Before and After Organizing by The Time Butler

Last month, we examined how to set up a paper management system. Now, let’s discuss how to increase the odds that the system will continue to work long into the future.

My spouse is like the character Pig Pen in ‘Peanuts.’ Imagine if you will a man followed not by clouds of dirt and dust, but by paper. Paper is his nemesis, and he hates it. Couple this with the fact that he’s an ‘outie’ – someone who likes things out, rather than put away, and we have the perfect storm of what I’ve come to refer to as ‘the paper situation’ in the home and offices we share. Piles of paper everywhere – in the kitchen, in the bedroom he uses to WFH, and on his desk in the home office. They are organized piles, and he can find things, which is what makes the system work for him.

Although there is nothing wrong with being a piler as opposed to a filer, piling or filing in all but the most organized manner makes it very difficult to find things. When your desk contains a mix of reminders, project notes, and things to file, toss, or shred, knowing what to prioritize can be problematic, and important items can get lost.

Most paper pile or file systems fail not because the paper doesn’t have a home, but because of a lack of follow through. Paper pilers often don’t follow through when they have finished the task at hand. Whether making a phone call, engaging in research, brainstorming a new project, paying a bill, or crafting a To Do list, papers generally come to rest in a pile to manage later, rather than being integrated into the established system.

Every organizing system needs to be maintained. Without maintenance, the system itself, no matter how good, will ultimately fail. Entropy affects everything, so good maintenance is the key to setting up an effective system that lasts.

Use the “4C Process”, below, to increase the odds that your system will continue to be successful long into the future.

CALENDAR. Set aside 30-60 minutes every week for maintenance. Plunk a repeating ‘maintenance’ appointment on your calendar on a ‘quiet’ day at a quiet time.

  1. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays tend to be quieter than Mondays, when we’re attempting to catch up from the weekend, and Fridays, when we’re prepping for the weekend.
  2. Likewise, early in the morning or late afternoon/early evening tend to be quieter  than during the mid-day rush.
  3. When the reminder pops up, honor it as much as you would honor an appointment with anyone else.

CATEGORIZE.  Gather papers together and sort like with like. Make corresponding piles of the following:

  1. To Do’s, to be added to your To Do list.
  2. Financial items that need to be addressed, corralled in a labeled file or basket on your desk. Once addressed, mark these with the date paid & the reference number, and then file them.
  3. Items that need to be filed, corralled in a file or bin, and placed on top of the filing cabinet.
  4. Handwritten project notes, to be added to project management software and then discarded or filed as needed.
  5. Anything else that needs to be addressed, added to your To Do list or to project management tasks, or delegated to support personnel.

CLASSIFY.

  1. Add To Do’s to your To Do list.
  2. Update project management software with goals & tasks.
  3. Set a calendar appointment to address financial items, or delegate these to support personnel if possible.
  4. File or Pile items in the filing cabinet.

CLEANUP. The goal of the maintenance exercise is three-fold:

  1. To clear your work area of anything that doesn’t need to be there and open up the space for the things you need to focus on;
  2. To categorize items so that retrieval is easy;
  3. To ensure tracking of To Do’s, financials, project tasks & goals, and items that need to be delegated.

Whether you’re a filer or a piler, or a little bit of both, the best way to control paper is via follow through. Every time you work on a task that involves paper, ask yourself where does this paper belong? Then, when you’re finishing up your projects for the week, make time for follow through and to classify.

Taking the time to make this into a habit will save you time in the long run. It is a mind-set that will help you keep track of your task list, prioritize what is most important, increase efficiency, and decrease stress.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

How To Set Up A Paper Management System

Office before and after organizing by The Time Butler

Maintaining an organized office requires a system. Last month, we discussed ways to organize your office using SPACE and SAVE methods. Both strategies can be utilized to organize your workspace.

To maximize productivity in your office space, you’ll also need a way to manage paper. To create a custom paper management system that is effective, efficient, and streamlined, follow these six steps.

  1. Make a pile of your Action Items, and calendar time to address each one. Then honor that calendar appointment with yourself as much as you’d honor an appointment with anyone else. After you’ve addressed these, file them.

  2. Gather reference information that you use regularly. Store it in a binder, on your computer, or in an easily accessed file cabinet rather than on your desk.

  3. Create a project folder for any task that has more than 3 or 4 documents. Depending on frequency of use, this can be stored at your fingertips, on a shelf, or in the file cabinet.

  4. If you don’t need it, pitch it. Most of us keep way more than we need to keep, especially where paper is concerned. Unless the document is critically important or tax-related, when in doubt throw it out.

  5. Consider going paperless for financial statements, bills, and notifications.  These can then be downloaded and filed in your electronic filing system. And because they are not actual paper, they don’t require physical space. And if you don’t have an effective e-file system, there is always the Search feature.

  6. To make downsizing easier, keep recycle, shred, and trash bins at your fingertips. Having things within reach removes barriers to moving forward. We are less tempted to delay something if we don’t have to get up and walk across the room to do it.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

How To Maintain an Organized Office

Your office can go from this…

Clients often ask me why their office doesn’t stay organized. My response is always the same: office organization, like any other type of organization, requires upkeep. Upkeep is described as “E” in the SPACE system. “E” stands for Equalize, which is the maintenance required to keep the system working once the organizing project is complete. Like paperwork, email, calendar management, or any other task, organizing is not a one and done thing. It requires regular work to maintain.

As a reminder, SPACE stands for Sort (like with like) Purge (unneeded, unused, unwanted items), Assign a Home (figure out where items will live) Contain (prevents one group of items from negatively impacting another group of items) and E (Equalize.)

I also use the SAVE process to create organizing systems. The best organizing systems, and those that last the longest, employ Simplicity, Accessibility, and Visibility, Every day. 

Both strategies can be utilized to organize your workspace.

…to this!

So, how do you maintain an organized office?

First, SPACE your workspace. SPACE everything – the desks, the drawers, the shelves, your file system, and, if it’s used as storage, the floor.

  • Set a timer for 15-20 minutes, and then do as much as possible in the area in which you’re working.
  • Establish your decision matrix. If something is broken, out of date, no longer relevant, makes the office look cluttered (say, excessive décor), or you otherwise do not love, use, or need it, consider downsizing it.
  • But, do be aware of any industry compliance issues when downsizing. Industry compliance applies mostly to documentation but can apply to other things as well.
  • Remember that sometimes documents need to be kept even if there is not an immediate (or potentially ever) use for them.

Once an area is SPACE’d, set up Zones.

  • Determine which type of work happens where and set up zones to facilitate this.

Use the ‘Fingertip Method’.

  • Items used regularly should be within reach so you don’t have to get up to retrieve them.
  • This includes writing implements, a stapler, phone stand, scissors, tissues, places for coffee or teacup and water, Post It notes, a note pad and your To Do box. And of course your desktop or laptop, or both.
  • Items not needed on a regular basis can be stored elsewhere.

That takes care of your physical space. The final step to maintaining an organized office is organizing your virtual desktop. A cluttered desktop reduces productivity because it takes longer to find what you need. It may even render the search function less productive.

  • Use the same principles to organize your virtual desktop that you use for your physical desktop.
  • SPACE each file, downsizing items you no longer need, want, or use.
  • Then place the remaining files into organized folders.
  • Consider setting up a File Index so you know where items are located.
  • Do this in small chunks of 15-20 minutes on a regular basis to avoid build up.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

How to Boost Income Through the Gig Economy

In today’s economy, side gigs provide a way to increase income. The trick is finding the right gig for you and your schedule. Here’s some advice from our guest blogger, Amy Collett, to help you get started.

What Is the Gig Economy?

As technology develops and changes the way we communicate, it is also drastically changing the way many people work. In the modern gig economy, companies including TaskRabbit, Uber, Rover, and Fiverr use custom apps to help skilled contract workers connect with the people who need them. These types of gig opportunities are often referred to as the “sharing economy,” the “collaborative economy,” and the “freelance economy.”

The gig economy provides the opportunity to utilize one’s skills and resources to create a career that works for you. Many people find that working freelance provides the flexibility needed to balance home and work. Gig opportunities may also provide enough money to get by while pursuing your entrepreneurial passion. The popularity of the gig economy is so vast, an estimated 57 million freelancers contribute 4 trillion dollars each year. Many people find that freelance work leads to launching a new business.

Find your Gig

Start by deciding which platform works best for you. The platform you choose is largely determined by the services you wish to provide. Sites like Upwork (link here?) are great because they connect you with potential clients looking for cost-efficient solutions for limited-run projects.

You can also drive for rideshare companies like Uber, Lyft, and Via, or work with animals by dog-walking and pet-sitting.

Tips for Gig Success

Instilling discipline and organization into your gig life will increase your odds of success. Consider doing the following:

  • Build a personal brand. Use the same design elements (fonts, images, usernames, etc.) across all platforms.
  • Differentiate your services from your competitors’ services in a way that stands out.
  • Stay organized. When you prioritize what you need to accomplish, you won’t have to scramble to do something that accidentally fell off your radar.
  • Consider using software for invoicing and expense tracking, website creation and to automate your social media posts.
  • Learn ways to de-escalate situations with difficult customers so you’re equipped to defuse any problems. With most gig platforms, your performance is rated. A high rating means more hires and a better asking wage.
  • Try to find unique ways to care for your customers that will leave a lasting impression.
  • Keep records of all work-related expenses. It’s easier to do this as you go along than to attempt to recreate your financials at the end of the year.
  • Determine whether you need a business license before you start working. Research state laws to ensure you are in compliance.  

Make Your Business Official

Once your gig turns profitable, you may decide it’s the perfect time to start your own business. Business structures vary from state to state, so be sure to check the laws in your area.

The gig economy provides an opportunity to gain income while crafting a flexible schedule. For the best experience, find a gig that appeals to your interests and skills. If it’s a good fit, you may be able to build a steady income and start a new business.

Amy Collett helps people develop their own personal brand. For more information, please visit bizwell.org.

How To Create Task Zones for Office Efficiency

Many articles on creating office zones focus on zone usage for many people, such as collaboration zones to brainstorm with others, quiet zones for concentration, deep work zones for important project work, and private zones for breaks & non-business tasks.

Although it can be helpful to have these types of zones in a large office employing many people, this blog post talks about Task Zoning. Task zoning adds to productivity by establishing dedicated spaces within your own work area to get more done more effectively.

Effective Task Zones are deeply customized for each individual for optimum work performance. What works for one person may not work for another.

Below are the Task Zones that work for me.

  1. The ‘To Do’ Zone. This zone contains important work which needs to be completed. This includes both soft and hard copy items of tasks. Many of these tasks are administrative – bill pay, financials logging, tracking mileage, sending out contracts to potential clients, managing team projects, and managing email. Other examples of items in my ‘To Do’ Zone include upcoming project notes, important notes from colleagues, and a comprehensive To Do list. Because I’m only about 80% paperless, my ‘To Do’ zone includes information in hard copy along with the relevant soft copy documents, organized just enough, but not too much, according to how I use and retrieve them.

    My ‘To Do’ zone includes a hard copy of my To Do list, hard and soft copies of upcoming team projects, with dates, participating staff, and notes, and a Post It note with reminders of upcoming tasks that absolutely, positively, have to be done within the next week.

  2. The ‘Deep Work’ Zone. This zone enables the critically necessary deep work that keeps us in business – in my case, project items. While much of my work consists of items in the ‘To Do’ Zone, the ‘Deep Work’ zone is the work that makes up the most important part of business.

    My ‘Deep Work’ zone is almost completely dedicated to work projects. My work projects include Action Plans for current and potential clients, developing new products and services, implementing new business processes & creating new courses to teach colleagues and clients.

  3. The ‘When I Have Time’ or ‘Aspirational’ Zone. This zone is dedicated to long term projects that require a lot of time and effort. These are the things that should be done, and that would behoove me to do, but that require so much time and effort that I may never get to them. Because I don’t want to lose track of them, I keep them here.

    Items in my ‘Aspirational’ Zone include complex marketing strategies I’m thinking about implementing, engaging a video team to produce a marketing video of an organizing project, writing a book (who isn’t?), deep reading on new organizing topics and strategies for special populations with whom I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be, and obtaining additional industry certifications. These are all things I want to keep track of but do not currently have time to address. I may never have time to address these, but on the off chance I do, they are all in my ‘Aspirational’ Zone just waiting for my attention.

  4. The ‘Supplies’ Zone. This is a small but functional corner on the desk where often-used supplies are kept. I call these ‘fingertip’ supplies – I keep them at my fingertips so that they are available when needed. These can be replenished as necessary so you never run out.

    Examples of items kept in the ‘Supplies’ Zone: several pads of Post It notes in all colors, for on-the-spot note jotting, a large square of pull off notes with my business logo for on-the-spot bigger note jotting, pens and pencils, scissors, stapler, box of tissues, mobile phone stand for FaceTime calls, bowl of hard candies, water bottle, and my trusty laptop.

I find that dividing my desk space into these four zones aids my productivity by allowing me to track what needs to be done, and when, and with whom, whether it is a current project, administrative background work, or aspirational. You, too, can set up zones customized to your available space and how you work.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.

Office Space Planning: Where to Start

Most business owners spend a LOT of time in the office. Office spaces that are easy to navigate, designed strategically, and well set up increase the chances of worker collaboration, productivity, and business success. Below are four tips to enhance office planning and setup.

  1. Strategize. Figure out where things will go, what the budget is, and who key decision makers are. Ask yourself what’s working, what tasks are difficult and why, and which tasks are most frequent. Then build your office space around these constraints and considerations. Strapped for space? Consider smaller work areas. Need more storage? Use wall space to increase storage options. Does your business scan a lot of documents? Place the scanner in an accessible area to make frequent scanning easier.

  2. Collaborate. To increase the likelihood of success and cooperation among workers, create spaces that enable people to communicate effectively. Open spaces work if there is sufficient storage and workspace.    Where possible, consider open desk areas instead of cubicles, soothing colors instead of jarring colors, and ergonomic chairs or standing desks to make it easier to work for long periods.

  3. Ascertain. Determine which tasks are the most important and most frequent and build your office space around them.  Have a lot of paperwork? Ensure there is enough space to catalog it all for easy use and retrieval. Use a lot of plans that are difficult to see on a computer screen? Ensure sufficient flat space is available to work on these. Deal with a lot of email? Have sufficient online storage and backup processes in place. Use a lot of supplies? Build in storage options to keep these tucked away but easy to get to.

  4. Reduce. Nothing is more distracting or difficult to work in than an office space filled with unused and unwanted items. Spaces that are cumbersome, overfull, and difficult to navigate detract from worker success. Don’t have a use for something? Don’t like something? Don’t have room for something? Sell it, donate it or otherwise remove it from the space.

Lisa Mark, C.P.O. is a productivity expert and Certified Professional Organizer. Contact Lisa if you would like to find out if she is a good fit for your organizing or productivity needs.