Tag Archives: Time Management

Time to Shine

What time does your alarm tell you to ‘rise and shine’ every day?  (I’m assuming here that you do not get to sleep until you naturally wake up on any given work day.  A safe assumption on my part, yes?)  I’m also going to guess that you are quite likely one of the altogether too many folks that are sleep deprived much of the time.  Do you even know if you are a morning person or not anymore?


Sleep deprived or well-rested, we all have an optimal time of day when we are clear-headed and ready for pretty much any challenge.  When our brains are primed to calculate and estimate, analyze and realize, plow through that to-do list at a record pace with stellar results.  Even if it might be caffeine fueled, just a little bit.


Do you get to pick your own starting hour?  So that you can arrange it based on what you consider a decent wake up time, barring any familial responsibilities.  Or do you march to the requirements of your workplace, even if it is in sleep-walking mode?


Personally, I am not an early morning type, though I have found that I can get my mind moving earlier in the day if I am allowed by circumstance to do it slowly with a mug of tea to nudge my brain into gear.  When required by outside forces, I get up and get moving grumpily and my brain has several false starts before the gears start to act in concert, about midmorning.


Chipper early risers get a blank stare from me at best on these days.  Though as I have mentioned before, I will rouse my meager energy store to offer ‘good mornings’ to all I encounter because I know it is important.  Just don’t ask for much more, please.


But back to your optimal clear-headed state.  I hope that, sleep deprived or not, self-selected start time or not, you do at least know your best hours of the day.  That you can manipulate and arrange to work on the really important stuff during these golden minutes of mental whirring.


If not, give it some thought.  Knowing when your mind is sharp will give you a better shot at success, when it is your time to shine.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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All the Little Life-keeping Tasks

I am amused or perhaps bemused by the occasional articles in various sources about people who have successfully simplified their lives and are happier for it.  I like to be aware of where all my edges are, so I have never been one for creating complexity in my life.  And yet, I cannot imagine how people are able to really pare down these days with all the bits and pieces that worm their way into your needs.  (For instance just consider all the types of insurance…)


Anyway, I have been taking stock of the status for many of the little things that help us to keep a life.  Particularly because quite a few can be out of sight, out of mind.  I just realized that I cancelled my teeth cleaning in January, meaning to reschedule and haven’t gotten back to it, oops.  This is why I take stock periodically.  I keep a list of all these bits and pieces, again so I know where the edges are – because these are all things that can trip you up when you don’t have them in order when you need them, but things that tend to work their way out to the edges of your awareness.


Many people let the condition of their skills and career work out to the edges, and often even fall over the edge.  And then when they need to take stock, say in the midst of some change at the office, they don’t even know where to start.  Doing the work every day somehow felt just like keeping that skill current.  But it turns out that it wasn’t, at all, and now it’s a problem.

public domain image - French predictions for the future

public domain image – French predictions for the future


We can fill each day with plenty of tasks, we get bombarded with reminders of this or that bit of life-keeping thing from the dentist or the insurance company or HR; and we can relax and let the busyness of the tasks or the external reminders take the lead.  It can all just be too much.


Or we can set aside an hour or two as often as we feel the need and go through some of this life-keeping that gets out to the edges, check up on it.  I’m going to go hunt up the dentist’s phone number now.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Hassle Anticipation

We’ve all heard the advice not to buy trouble.  But we should also be prepared for certain eventualities.  Some days, certain activities are just like… doing your taxes or going to the dentist.  A hassle, an aggravation, frustrating – and so on.  But sometimes we expect something to go wrong and so we start to work ourselves up, just ready.  Going to get your license renewed, for instance.  Encountering certain people at work, perhaps.  Waiting in line just about anywhere for anything.  (I’m not an early adopter so I really don’t get the folks that stand in line, sometimes for days for the latest release of any technical item – don’t ever tell me you hate to wait in line.)

Construction is always a hassle.

Construction is always a hassle.


Back to hassle anticipation – could we possibly experience the hassle just because we became so certain that we would have one that we somehow brought it on?  I’ve certainly watched it happen to others – someone ahead of you in line is giving off that vibe by fidgeting, sighing, or other cues gets up to the counter and their voice has that edge right off the bat.  I imagine that I have probably done it too, though no example comes to mind as I type.


We are bound by rules almost everywhere we go – the employee handbook at work, bank rules, insurance rules, school rules – piling up in front of us and blocking us from just getting the simplest thing on our to-do list done.  (Well such-and-such isn’t going to happen today because I forgot to bring that stupid form with me.)  It is such a hassle, why are there so many rules?


We know on one level that we need the rules to create structure and protection for certain rights, but do we need so many?  (The answer to that is probably not, a lot of rules are around just for the sake of rules or to benefit the institution over the individual…)


Back to anticipating the hassle, logically we are just in knowing that these established steps and rules can make things go slowly so why do we not allot enough time to accommodate this awareness?  I’ll just be a minute at the bank at noon on a Friday – sure.  Why is the doctor running late at 4pm, I have to get my daughter to dance class you know?


We are mad at the system, the institution for making our quick task or errand drag on and put us farther behind for the next one.  On top of it, we knew this would be a hassle, so we waited to the last possible minute to do this thing so it isn’t like we can come back later – how dare they?


How dare they indeed.  Do you have any stories about hassle anticipation?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Tick, Tock – Watching the Clock and Marking Time

There is nothing worse than a slow day at work and even in these days of fewer coworkers and greater pressure the slow days do appear.  Agonizingly dull while your mind whirls through all of the things that you could be doing at home if only you could be released from the necessity of an eight hour stretch in the office.


Of course, there are probably things that you can do here and there to occupy a few moments, maybe even an hour.  By helping someone else, clearing up a few outstanding tasks, sorting through information that was left for later – a later that many days seems to be terribly far out of reach.  The funny thing about this current boredom is that you have joked about it with your cohorts and longed for it when you have felt buried under a to-do pile that quite possibly is heavy enough to set off one of these sink holes that are opening up all over these days.


But for whatever reason you sit here today, must look gainfully occupied, but idled and making up games in your head to keep from staring at the clock.  Because that darn clock doesn’t move fast enough on this day when on others it laughingly flashes through the minutes while you frantically work through all the urgent steps for over-due projects.


Finally, lunch and a taste of freedom.  But of course, this time is over way too soon and you are back at your desk.  At least a few more methods of looking busy popped into your head while you ate.  And a few emails that could use attention came into your inbox.  Oh and this is a perfect time to do some research on upcoming projects, and that seminar you want to ask about.


You think to yourself that perhaps you should have more sympathy with your children the next time that they say they are bored, instead of looking daggers at them while you are swamped with chores around the house.  No, probably not.  Just as right now you are sorry that you ever joked that you’d like to be a person of leisure when crazy busy, you are certain that the memory of this day will fade quickly, aided in disappearing by a new avalanche of to-dos.


(This post was written in response to Daily Prompt: ( YAWN )


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Structure – Limiting or Freeing?

What is your relationship to structure?  Late last year I posted a piece about personal styles of organization, Chaos is a Style, but I’ve been thinking lately that we don’t go deep enough when we talk about organization.  Organization is an overlay concept of structure; if you aren’t aware of the structure, how can you effectively organize?


public domain, house frame

Structure is first imposed upon all of us because we get a finite amount of time per day – nature is egalitarian in that we each get the same total minutes and hours.  After that, the forms our personal structure might take are endless.  So what do I mean by structure?


You move from waking through your ‘day’ (I put this in quotes because some people are awake during night hours, living opposite of most of the rest of us) until you decide to end your ‘day’ by going to sleep.  Some people don’t bracket their day with sleep, for whatever reason so we are back to the imposed structure of a 24 hour period for a day, one bleeding into the next without the break of sleep.


Then we get to the myriad activities, thoughts, events, tasks that fill these waking hours and the method that we use to move from one to another.  Some of these activities formulate patterns – the number of times that we eat in a given day, a work schedule, planned appointments – all of which start to fill in the details of our daily structure.  Organization is the method, or methods, that we choose to use to manage the structure that our days take on.


Personally, I have this mix of the creative – which requires unplanned mental and physical space to fully evolve – and logic – which prefers discipline and detailed planning for greatest efficiency and comfort.  Some days this is a tedious mix, but mostly I see this as a tremendous benefit since I can then relate to the style and structure of so many other people.


The structure of your day can be imposed externally by nature, by obligation (work, school, etc.), by your personality type.  It is interesting to me, and perhaps one germinating factor in this post, that the word and concepts of fluidity have come up over and again in my various experiences in the last few days.  Types of structure can go from fluid to rigid; again affected greatly by the broad points that I made in the start of this paragraph.


What you do with the structure of your days, your life, and about controlling the structure your life has taken on, to the extent that you can deeply affects your feelings of contentment, happiness.  Your awareness level of the structure in your life; decisions that you make as to the effectiveness of your current structure, is where the title today comes in.  If you don’t put some thought into the sort of structure that you operate best in, then you can build a life that feels all wrong.


Creativity and fluidity usually appear hand in hand.  Water is the best representative of fluidity, but it still requires some external structure – pitch or grade to allow flow, gravity, varying solid surfaces – what would the Grand Canyon be without these additional factors, as one example we are all given for the amazing effects that water can impose.


On the opposite side is rigidity; complete inability to adapt, change, or even bend to conditions.  All people have some need for structure, but rigid folks have such a strong desire for days upon days that follow a precise pattern ad nauseam.


Most people fall somewhere in between complete fluidity and complete rigidity; usually exhibiting a combination of these characteristics based on the activity.  More detailed structure is welcome in one situation, but intrusive in another – limiting or freeing.  Lack of clear structure can be frightening when in a crowd, but welcome on a Sunday afternoon.


Have you given any thought to how structure affects you?  To the types of imposed structures that give you the best opportunity to shine?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Busy, Rushing… Oops

Show of hands – who makes more mistakes when rushing?  (Hmm, are we being honest with ourselves today – I think there should be more hands up.  This is a safe zone, your boss can’t see us.)  It is a conundrum but a fact that we end up wasting a terrible amount of time rushing and then having to redo things.

busy rushing

I came up with this post idea while on my way to an appointment.  I actually allowed plenty of time for traffic delays so that I wouldn’t be rushing; and since the world has a perverse sense of humor, I hit all green lights.  Which gave me time to jot down notes for this post in the parking lot before my appointment.  Writing the notes at that point served two purposes – first I would therefore be respectfully early and not I don’t have a life early, second I wouldn’t forget the idea while at the appointment.


(Blogging tip – always carry a pad and something to write with because inspiration is everywhere, but you won’t remember later.)


So, rushing leading to oopsies – I’d like to be able to say that I learned my lesson a long time ago that it never pays to work in that one more thing because you have a half a second.  But I can’t.  Ask me next year and I hope to be able to say, yes indeed I finally got that lesson down cold.  I do not squeeze in that one more thing, I take a deep breath before shooting off the email in a rush, making the call, fill in that activity.


We should all be so lucky to be able to build in more than adequate travel time, prep time, etc. in front of every effort.  Since we can’t, we can still take that millisecond to review our logic before we act.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Defining Done

Has it ever happened to you that you happily turned in a completed project only to have the other party sort through it and respond with, ‘oh, but’?  The one or two of you out there who said no don’t have to keep reading, unless you want to that is.


If you verified the exact expectations of the completed project before starting, then good for you and shame on the other party for changing their mind after you thought your work was done.  The current word for the expectations, or results that should come out of a project is deliverables, buzz word if you like.  It is actually descriptive and clear enough that I agree with its usage in this context.


If you did not get clarity on expectations from the other party and proceeded with the project based on assumptions, well – live and learn.  And then adopt project management best practices, without having to pursue a PMP (Project Management Professional certification from Project Management Institute).  Defining the exact meaning of done, in agreement with the stakeholder is part of the PM’s early activities.

How do you know when a chain is complete?

How do you know when a chain is complete?


Think how much easier your life around the office would be if you picked up and used this little nugget.  Back a few years ago, after I had started to think about studying up on being a Project Manager, but before I had started to actually do so, I had a meeting with my team where we white boarded our definition of a project and here is some of what we decided:


We put the definition of a Project up on the white board as follows –

  • Anything outside your normal routine
  • Requires a deadline
  • Requires focus or analysis
  • May require outside sources to complete (internal NSC, member, customer, etc)
  • Can be initiated by various constituents such as: customer, sales, or internal staff
  • May require measurement
  • Often requires specialized communication (can set up templates for frequently used requests like price audits)
  • Should develop a process for repetition and sharing best practice
  • May need to be tracked


Preparing to complete a project request –

  • Are all necessary questions answered by the requester – who, what, where, when & why?
  • Have reasonable expectations been set?
  • Do you understand the final outcome that is expected?


ALWAYS document the date received and determine completion date based on complexity and other activities on your desk + customer/requester needs.  If you cannot complete in the time requested, you should come to me ASAP to discuss solutions.


When responding to requester to set parameters use the phrase, “In order to provide complete and accurate information, (and then set a reasonable deadline).  You then MUST meet this deadline.


The PMI definition component that we missed above is that a project is temporary, but we sort of covered that in the first bullet point.  And that is defining done.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Being Productive Means…

Productive is one of those firmly squishy words that we like to use as adults.  We like to be efficient, even lazy folks want their tasks to be over (efficient) as quickly as possible so that they can get back to the good stuff.


So you’d probably like to know what I mean by ‘firmly squishy’, right? These two words don’t tend to go together, being rather polar opposites.  But we use lots of firmly squishy words in life – like go-to person, on the same page – notice that these are also buzz words.  If the two people or the group using these words doesn’t make the effort to confirm base definition, there can be serious problems once the real work is started.


Back to productivity, we want to feel and be seen as productive people.  In our personal life, we are only held accountable to our own definition of productivity for the most part – although children are held to their parent’s definition (is this definition the same when the parent applies it to their own activity as to the child’s?) and folks who are in a stable relationship are held to the standard or definition that their significant other uses.  In our work life, we had better make certain that we understand the organization’s definition of productivity as well as our boss’, and our co-worker’s definitions.

Building in earlier centuries meant rudimentary tools and many strong backs.  Yet buildings were beautiful and sturdy.

Building in earlier centuries meant rudimentary tools and many strong backs. Yet buildings were beautiful and sturdy.


Now you see where this firmly squishy thing comes in.  Most likely the definitions have nuanced differences as you move from yours to those of the folks in your sphere.  And these definitions can have significant effect on results of your effort to be seen as productive.  What’s a person to do?


Well, make certain that you clarify the definition with the folks that matter most to your current task or effort of course.  In advance.  And make notes for yourself because once you get into the task itself, this will slip to some dark space in your memory banks.  Start with your own definition of what productivity means to you so that your counterpart understands what you mean.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Do You Make Checklists?

I used to work with someone who had a great habit of keeping daily checklists in a specific notebook, including starting each new entry with a box to check off once completed.  If I asked her to do something, out would come the notebook and she would start with a box on a new line.  She would repeat back to me exactly what she understood the request to entail.  She would end by asking me if I had a specific time frame or if she could fit it into her active task list and let me know the completion date.


She and I liked to bounce ideas off of each other so not only was her process great, it helped that she would promptly write the request down since we often would start to brainstorm on one thing or another while I was there.


My dad was a premier list maker – fall yard work, spring yard work, things he could tell us that he wanted, and so on.  And when I say things that he wanted, he would include the store or stores, the sale cycle, the color, the catalog number – everything we could possibly need to get that item.


I have found that I have to date my lists and put a list header – projects for the house, blog post ideas, books to read, etc.  I have a bit too much of my mom in me, maybe; or combo of mom’s somewhat haphazard methods and dad’s more precise ones.  Mom was good at jotting down info on whatever was handy at the time and then forgetting where she had put the data when she needed it.  I do manage much better than she at getting the info moved to the correct list.  But I still come across undated random lists that I’ve made upon occasion.


Early on, I wrote about this topic from a different tack, Chaos is a Style.  There are so many details that I am stunned when I meet someone who doesn’t keep lists, doesn’t have someone else to get the details done, and manages to get things done on time.  How about you?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Uninterruptible Tasks

This one comes from discussions that I have had with direct reports on many occasions.  The phone rings, the emails keep coming, people nearby talk to each other or to you and much of this is part and parcel of your actual job.  But while all of this activity can fill your work day, day after day it can also keep you from getting to the meat of your job.


Being a knowledge worker implies by the very label that you think, sometimes think deeply to accomplish projects and tasks.  How can we think with all of this activity, however?  These tasks that take up so very much of our day are quick and endless and interruptible.  But they don’t necessarily require much thought – a far cry from acting thoughtlessly, though.  Responses can be chosen like multiple choice test answers, or cafeteria style – a little of this, a pinch of that and a dollop of the thing over here and you move on.


Some tasks must be put together from scratch, carefully gathering the proper bits and pieces from experiences, from historical data, from others in your company or outside of the company.  They require careful consideration and perhaps a delicate touch to complete effectively.  Interruptions force you to spend precious minutes carefully picking up where you left off and then getting your forward momentum slowly going again.  Read this article to see evidence that we knowledge workers already knew – that a Brain Interrupted is not the most effective or efficient brain.


What is a worker to do?  Talk to your supervisor when you have one or more of these tasks and develop an acceptable plan to unhook from the distractions and successful navigate these uninterruptible tasks.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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