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Friday, December 23, 2016

Even more about Swiss Cheese

Read time is less than 2 minutes

Today’s post starts with a caveat about Swiss Cheese—not the kind of cheese you see on the party platter, but the time management method of using small amounts of empty time to complete tasks.  

The caveat: beware of using the Swiss Cheese time management method to an extreme. A few years ago my husband Terry and I discovered that we were both “doing one more thing” while we were waiting for the other person. However, it was easy to solve the problem with clear communication. Today if I am emptying the dishwasher and he is sorting the mail when it is almost time to head out the door, I simply ask him, “Are we each doing one more thing while we wait for each other?”
Problem solved.

Another less often used description of the SwissCheese time management method is just as helpful as the one I described in the December 2016 post.  In his book, Doing it Now, Edwin Bliss describes the Swiss Cheese Method as “Make yourself do any small thing toward completing your task. ‘Poke holes in the task’ until it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to finish it.” 

Whether the task is to write a paper for school or create a proposal for a workgroup, start poking holes. The first hole to poke might just be to list all the details that will make up the task.

One hole for the school project might be to gather resources—that’s all, just do a quick internet search. Another hole might be to narrow the resources into the best five or ten by title. Another hole might be to skim one of the resources—you get the picture.

One hole for the work project might be to list what you already know. Another hole might be to list what you need to find out. Another hole might be to list people in the industry who could give good advice—again you get the picture.

Using the mindset of poking holes in a project until it seems manageable takes away any feelings of being overwhelmed and indeed makes the project manageable.

This Swiss Cheese method takes starting well ahead of the deadline and meshes well with the other Swiss Cheese method of using small amounts of free time.

By the time I write another post, another year will have started and I will adopt my annual anchor word. I am using some Swiss Cheese time to mull over what the 2017 anchor will be and have almost made my final decision. 

Consider what you will emphasize for yourself in the coming year. Leave a comment if you wish. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Prioritize, focus, beat the clock—even if it means cutting the cheese

 Read time is approximately 2 1/2 minutes

Last post we discussed three surprising tips that connect decluttering to reaching success.  Today let’s focus on two more practices for de-cluttering and using time wisely and that are particularly useful during this busy, busy holiday season.

1.       Beat the Clock
I call the first time management practice “beat the clock” because it actually involves using a timer. The strategy combines prioritizing and focusing when I de-clutter and/or clean my house. First I determine how much time I have to complete the cleaning job that particular day and divide the time by the number of rooms I must clean to see how much time I can spend on each room. For instance, if I have eight rooms to clean in four hours (240 minutes), I can spend 30 minutes in each room. Second I prioritize the rooms in order of needing to be cleaned.
I start with the room that needs cleaning the most and actually set the kitchen timer for the allotted time. I find I am very focused on the job since I am trying to "beat the clock." If I do not finish that room before the buzzer goes off, I still must move on to the next room. If I finish any room before the buzzer goes off, I can go back to a room I did not finish earlier until the buzzer does sound. When the buzzer sounds, I move to the next uncleaned room.

Now, I know that cleaning house is not altogether like completing a school or job-related project, but might this system of prioritizing, focusing, and beating the clock have some carry-over to managing time while completing any project? How might you see yourself using this practice?

2.       Swiss Cheese
The other particularly useful practice of time management in this busy, busy season is the Swiss Cheese method. The Swiss Cheese method is most often described as using any little amount of free time to accomplish something. (Picture small holes in a wedge of cheese.) For instance, if you just have three minutes in a chunk of time, fold a dryer load of towels or order a party platter for your holiday open house or answer one review question at the end of a chapter. Where do these little holes of free time come from? Some ideas might include waiting for your tablet to boot up, standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for the rest of your family to get in the car.

Using small amounts of empty time to complete tasks sets a tone of accomplishment and spurs you on to more accomplishments.

In the next post we'll discuss a less often used description of the Swiss Cheese time management method.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Making your bed makes you more successful

Read time is approximately 2 ½  minutes
In the last post, we discussed new beginnings as in a new beginning of a school year or a new project. The question posed to ask yourself is, “What one thing can I do today to make myself more successful at…?” 

If you came up short on an idea or didn’t take an action, let’s start again. Notice I did not meet my blog goal (it has been almost two months since I posted rather than once a month).  That does not stop me from posting today. Just because any of us falter once or even a few times, it doesn’t mean we should give up on the whole project. Sometimes we falter because we need to shift our focus, sometimes our technology might fail us, or sometimes life just happens. Today’s post includes steps that we can take to feel successful and get back on track.  

Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors, wrote an article featured in What Inspires Me. In her Sept. 6, 2016 article, “Calm your mind by Clearing Office Clutter,in Less than 5 Minutes” she writes that clutter is overwhelming. Clutter can be a number of small unfinished tasks that lead to a feeling of paralysis, she writes, and offers ten suggestions for controlling the clutter.

Three of the most powerful suggestions are 1. Make your bed, 2. Beware of freebies, and 3. Tidy-up for five minutes.

1. Make your bed seems unrelated to productivity, but it actually can be powerful. Making your bed not only sets the tone for the day, but it also gives you an immediate feeling of accomplishment. You will build on that positive feeling all day.

2. Beware of freebies is one of my biggest personal challenges. I need to remember that I already have a stack of bags from conferences and three extra silicone phone pockets and those tee-shirts never fit anyway.  All those freebies add up to physical clutter and mind clutter. If I really want a silicone phone pocket, I can buy one for $1.74 online. 

3. In the next post we will talk more about the power of a five minute tidy-up. It is amazing how much I can get done if I set a timer for five minutes. When I come back to the project the next day, my workspace is organized and I am better able to focus.

To see all ten of Gretchen Rubin’s tips, click here to go to “Calm your mind by Clearing Office Clutter, in Less than 5 Minutes."

Please share your best practices for clearing your space—and your head—of clutter in the comment section. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What can you do today?

Read time is less than two minutes

 This week marks the traditional beginning of a new school year; the end of last school year seems long ago.  Remember the time you spent to reflect after the end of the school year? Let’s see what happens when we turn reflection 180 degrees and practice reflection near the beginning of the school year or before the beginning of any event.
In January 2016, I referenced Sarah Brown Wessling’s blog on the topic of what makes a good teacher or good learner. She suggested good teachers and good learners reflect at the end of the year. That’s good advice. Now let’s take that advice one step further—revisit your reflection from last spring and actually make a plan to do something about what you determined.

How did you respond to Wessling’s question, “What are the three things that make a successful teacher?” or “What are the three things that make a successful learner?” Think about your response and make a plan--a response is not enough. What can you DO about your response TODAY?

As we face the beginning of a new school year, three things might seem like a lot on which to focus. Change the question to, “What is ONE thing that makes a successful teacher?” or “What is ONE thing that makes a successful learner?” What is one thing you need to continue to do to be successful this school year? What one change do you need to make to become even more successful this school year? Build on your strengths. Choose ONE thing on which to begin work.

If you did not reflect last spring, start a reflection now. Use the simpler question, “What is ONE thing that will make you successful this school year?”

If you are not a teacher or a student, reflection is still for you. The question simply becomes, “What is one thing that will make you successful on the project you are about to start?”

Education is one of the few professions that allow the learners--or workers to start over each fall. Take advantage of the new start to become even more successful.

Next post, we’ll continue to work on ideas for getting more organized.  Until then, have a great start to your new school year or new project. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

It is worth doing well or it has to be done?

Read time is approximately 2 minutes

My mother was adamant in teaching my sisters and I, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” My advisor at the University of Wyoming was just as adamant about, “It doesn’t have to be perfect—it just has to be done.”

So how do we know which piece of advice to employ? Well, just like both of these people who influenced my life used to say in response to several of my questions, “It depends.”

 “It depends” is how I find the time management balance in my life…some projects such as a resume fall mainly into the “do it well” category. Other projects such as a blog post (or a dissertation it turns out) fall mainly into the “has to be done” category. Obviously, the resume has to be done before the prospective job is filled or it won’t matter how well it is done and obviously, the blog has to be done as well as possible or readers will stop reading. But by-and-large, different projects fall under different categories and we need to decide which project will best be served by which school of advice: do it well, have it done, or somewhere in the grey area between.

Dr.Joseph Ferrari has identified three different types of procrastinators who fall into those three different categories: do it well, has to be done, or grey area between.  We might find it helpful to know what kind of a procrastinator we are (and we all procrastinate sometimes) and why we might be procrastinating.
Ferrari has designed a flowchart infographic describing three types of time wasters. Sometimes just knowing why we do what we do helps us avoid regrettable behaviors. Follow the flowchart to see what best describes your traits in most projects.

Try the helpful tip at the bottom of the flowchart for a couple of weeks. Post a comment on the end of the blog to let the rest of us know into what category you fall, if the tip has helped, or if this whole exercise fails to match your life experience.

Next post we’ll talk about an important strategy for the beginning of a school year and in subsequent posts we’ll talk more about tips for avoiding procrastination and managing time better. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Read time is approximately 4 minutes

On the last post I shared some tips for motivation to manage time and promised to share some specific tips I have learned in prioritizing my tasks and sustaining motivation to finish a task. Today, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of just what managing time might look like. I will use one of my projects as an example—writing a blog post.

I really like that term Sarangi uses, steering time. Steering time incorporates both prioritizing tasks and approaching the tasks in a planned way. Just like using a navigation system to drive or steer to a destination, it takes a system to steer time and arrive at your target destination. Compare steering time to the steering/driving steps a navigation system provides.

Here are the directions I generally use to get a project done, such as writing my blog post.
1.       Let go of daily tasks. Sweeping the floor, ironing the laundry, or washing the car will have to wait if you are working on a home project. Updating your calendar, cleaning your desktop, or scheduling appointments will have to wait if you are working on an office project. Time is not elastic. Don’t try to stretch yourself to complete all of the daily tasks as well as the project.  If you wait until the daily tasks are done to tackle a project, you will never even get the project started. For instance, when I am writing my blog post, I delay answering text messages or email. Those communications will have to wait.

2.       Make the to-do listlist everything, every little step.  For instance when I write a blog post, I have items on the to-do list such as brainstorm, write a draft, correct the draft, choose a picture, write the headline, wait a 24 hour cooling off period before writing the final draft, publish the post, make notes, read blog examples. Listing every little step gives me a better idea of how much time writing the blog post will take.

3.       Prioritize the items. Think of these as the turn-by-turn navigation instructions to follow. Complete the most important item first. For the blog, taking notes is the most important to me. I need to complete that first. In fact, I usually begin writing notes for the next post as I am working on the current blog post. The notes help me avoid procrastination and writer’s block. If I have notes about the information I will use in the post, I can write the draft.  If I know I won’t be able to write the draft in one sitting, I always quit in the middle of a sentence. See blog post “Never finish your sentence.” 

4.       Plan for interruptions. This most important step, planning for the unexpected, insures that unexpected interruptions do not become calamities. Consider even listing the step, resolving interruptions, into your to-do list.  Phone calls, visits, responding to messages and messes to clean up can be unexpected. For instance to avoid a calamity, I start a blog post at least a week before my publishing deadline. I start even earlier if I know I have a fuller than usual calendar. For this post, I started June 20 since I knew I was having house guests for the 4th of July weekend and I wanted to publish before July 8.  Just like a navigation system recalculates when I make a wrong turn, I can recalculate when an unexpected interruption happens—and I can still arrive at my planned destination/goal.

5.       Cross off tasks as they are completed. This significant step gives me a feeling of accomplishment, helps me stay disciplined, and spurs more energy for me to complete more tasks on the way to finalizing the overall project, in this case the blog post.

6.       Create self-discipline. The steps can work for any projects, only the specifics will change. By letting go of some daily tasks, listing all the steps, prioritizing the steps, and planning for interruptions, and crossing off the steps as they are completed, we create the motivation and discipline we need to complete a project.

In the next post, I’ll share what I have learned from other experts about goalsetting motivation—I have already started the notes. J

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Steer time, prioritize tasks, and approach in a planned way to complete project

Read time is approximately 2 minutes

Perhaps you are starting a summer project that you have been promising yourself to complete for a long time. 
The excerpt from the post by Dr. Ipsita Sarangi first appeared in the WizIQ blog in 2014 and is still relevant today in helping you complete that summer project. She reminds us of why managing time is essential and highlights six keys for time management in a work environment; the first one and the last one are the most critical in completing a project or any arena. 

The following excerpt gives us motivation to start managing our time. In the next post I’ll share some specific tips I have learned in prioritizing my tasks and sustaining motivation to finish a task.

Sarangi’s three most important phrases in the excerpt include steering time, prioritize tasks, and approach in a planned way:

How often do you find time galloping out of your hands? Weekly, Daily, Hourly? For many it seems that there’s just never sufficient time in the day to get everything done.

Truly in the words of Peter F.Drucker
Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”

Do you know how some people are able to pencil in so many diverse activities into their agenda, while others hardly seem to have time for a task?
Do you think they are genius? Not sure.
Are they more systematized? May be.
Better at steering time? Likely.

Time is a unique, irreplaceable, non-renewable resource that is one of the major building blocks for the successful completion of the project... Dealing with deadlines and other time constraints on a daily basis has made…time management…essential for good project management.
Once one knows how to manage their time, they will be able to maximize what they do…at work and thereby reduce their stress levels.

Time Management in a Project:
1) Aids to prioritize the tasks – Efficacious time management advocates daily tasks by prioritizing them. Once you align the tasks in order of importance, you can deal with them one at a time. If a project manager is aware of what chores are important for himself and his project, he would not waste time on trivial matters and have the extra time to concentrate on other crucial issues.
6) Creates discipline – Time always ticks away. But with good practice of time management, you are less likely to procrastinate. Time management leads to higher potency and disciplined ways to complete the project.
Hence, time management avoids last minute haste and…develops a rational overview of commitments. It brings forth an approach in a planned way to produce effective, efficient, higher quality pieces of work.

Also stayed tuned to this blog to see more concrete ideas about prioritizing tasks and creating discipline to complete tasks and projects.