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Apr 24

Two Ways to Track + Execute Anything

by Michelle Santaferraro

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“When I am doing one thing, I’m really focused on that one thing. I have no to-do list. I put everything on a calendar, [which helps me] know that this call is going to take 15 minutes or that this is a 25-minute project.” *

When I read this quote by Andrew Ross Sorkin, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box, I was reminded of a common principle I teach to my clients. There are two very different schools of thought surrounding execution in the productivity realm: force dates onto a calendar for all you have to do OR make a to-do list and block time in your calendar.

If you decide to take the route of Andrew Ross Sorkin, you will need to estimate the projected time of your project and make commitments on your calendar by scheduling an appointment with yourself to get it done.  Then you can be assured what you must remember is in one place [the calendar].  It is even better if you can search your actionable items in the calendar tool you have chosen.  Yet for many of my clients, this method leaves them feeling boxed in which makes them want to rebel.  Or if a day goes awry for them, then they are forced to move things around and adjust their projections.

If you decide to adopt the to-do list habit, be aware that your list can grow and grow if you do not allot time slots for what I call ‘focus time’ to address these actionable items.  You may spend your day simply getting the easy things done, and the temptation can be to wait until co-workers go home or come in early to address what you have to get done.  However, with this system you can be flexible with your time and figure out when you are in meetings and then simply tuck in the ‘focus time’.  Yet, I find many folks are challenged with this ‘focus time’ as a true appointment with themselves.

You may find one of these options suits you best.  Be assured that there are multiple differences, even amidst the organizing and productivity gurus.  The solution they think is best is typically introduced by, “Well, of course…”.  Yet, isn’t it wonderful that we can experiment with ideas that work for other people and then find our own rhythm?
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* Article published in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Fast Company.

Posted in Personal Productivity

Feb 27

Time to Take a Stand?

by Michelle Santaferraro

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In the last few years, there has been a buzz around the importance of changing your position throughout the day in order to avoid sitting for 8 hours. Remember those friendly graphics and stretching exercises you could mimic when waiting by the company copier?  Now many of us have all our accessories at arms-length and could easily stay seated for hours. Several of my clients have recently made the switch to standing desks and love the variety they offer. If you have been curious about the craze, then here are some things you should consider when looking at stand-up desks:

Desk Space Limitations – Many of my clients have had to figure out where all their desk accessories will go when they make the switch.  Everything from the pens in your coffee mug to your favorite stapler may need to be housed just to the right or the left of the desk.  Pedestals are a good option for storing these items near your standing desk.  They typically have two drawers along with one file drawer and come with casters so they can roll.

Features of the Electric Stand-Up Desk – Most reviews agree that the noise of the raising and lowering of the desk is a top consideration in this category. The customer service reviews of each product are critical and the variation of shaking or wobbling while raising and lowering the desk should be considered. Many electric desks even offer automatic reset settings to the ergonomic heights that are optimal.  (NOTE: The Wirecutter states that proper standing posture should allow for elbows to be at or near a 90-degree angle, your eyes should be about 20 to 28 inches from a mark about two inches below the top of the monitor, and a roughly 20-degree top monitor tilt.)  The stand-up desk that seemed to be a top pick again and again was the Jarvis Bamboo desk made by a company called Fully (formerly Ergo Depot).

Features of the Non-Electric/Hand Crank Stand-Up Desk – This is a cheaper option for many folks and allows an easy point of entry in trying out stand-up desks. Humanscale and Steelcase make several models.

Desk Mounted Standing Workstations – You might also consider buying a desk conversion kit.  Some conversion kits can attach to your current desk or you can buy the frame to attach your desk.  This provides an opportunity for you to see if you like the set up in a typical work week. Some reviewers are excited about the Kangaroo Pro Junior. You could look at other options from Ergotron, Humanscale, and Veridesk.

One Mandatory Accessory – Many agree that if you are going to buy a stand-up desk, make sure you also look at an anti-fatigue mat as an added sidekick.  Some suppliers are offering the mats along with your purchase, but I suggest investing in a quality mat.

Frequency of Sitting vs. Standing – So, how much standing and/or moving should be practiced in a typical workday? Alan Hedge of British Journal Sports Medicine says “You should be standing and/or moving around 2 hours of every 8-hour workday.”  Yet Rachel Litsey, an ergonomics specialist and owner of Bouldergonomics shared, “In terms of the optimal amount of time a worker should be spending time sitting vs. standing, there is no definite consensus.  Frequent changing between sitting and standing is optimal.  It is best when the changes happen frequently throughout the day rather than long periods all at once.”

There are now even more options for stand-up desks and so reading reviews are encouraged.  I liked the guide from reviews.com and enjoyed the quirky tests that they put their samples through.  Their team spent six weeks researching and testing 67 adjustable standing desks before creating this guide. If you are like me, you might even get innocently drawn in by their other reviews … did someone say vacuums?

Posted in Personal Productivity

Nov 22

Tackling the Mile-Long To-Do List

by Michelle Santaferraro

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Do you have a to-do list that is a mile long? Do you find it to be a laundry list of things you need to do both personally and professionally? How do you get a long to-do list under control? I have found that probing a bit more about what is on the list may help you wrangle it in.  You could try to recategorize the items you have listed under these categories:

Priorities
What are truly the priority items that are on your list?  They could be those items that are part of your job description or business objectives, they could be goals you have set that relate directly back to what you value.  The priorities need to be delineated from the rest of your actionable items.

Reminders
What are the things on your list that are simply reminders? These are the items like updating the shot records for your pet, changing the oil, or changing house filters. If these items are triggered by a season of the year (e.g. house filters), then a calendar could be used for these reminders. I like to put the maintenance schedule on the machine itself if I can.  I go so far as making labels for the inside of my windshield for a needed oil change or a sticker on the water filter.

Shoulds
What are the things on your list that you feel you should do?  Is there an item on your list because you want to repay someone?  They did something nice for you and you want to reciprocate. These are the things that would be ‘nice’ to do, but you may or may not get to them. These things might represent obligations. If you have postponed them for some time, it may mean that you need to give yourself permission to let them drop off the list.

Delegated Opportunities
What are the things on the list that could be delegated?  There may be some items that would be better to outsource because someone else has the tools and expertise to accomplish them quickly.  Are there items that could be delegated to a house cleaner, dog sitter or virtual assistant? Maybe your children or a family member could take some of this load off you.

Errands
Do you find some of the items are simply errands you need to run? If you group these errands based upon location, you can knock some of them off at the same time.  Some errands involve returning items to a store or a friend. Stage these items in the trunk of your car. Then, make a quick note in your phone or on a 3”x 5” card listing the places you need to go so you can be triggered to remember.

Other Solutions to Break Down Long Lists:

Tried and True
Create a daily to-do list from your Master List.   Stephanie Winston, a veteran in our organizing industry, encourages folks to use the master list as a “reservoir … in which you capture everything you have to do.”  Then, she encourages a Daily List that pulls from the Master List – just 10 things. The Daily List becomes your “working daily action guide,” says Stephanie.

Bottom Line
Separate the list the way Alan Brown of ADD Crusher talks about it. Use his lighthearted approach in categorizing “the thing I’m doing now” from the “important thing that I am NOT doing now” and the “BS stuff that I’m NOT doing now” to approach this long laundry list of actionable items.

The 1-2-3 Approach
This approach can break it down into manageable portions.  Julie Bestry, CPO, with Best Results Organizing, gives this numeric solution to oversized to-do lists.  She has her clients identify one big task, two medium-sized tasks, and three small tasks for each day (it could also be for the week). She identifies a big task as a task that will make major progress toward an important goal or it will take some significant time, effort and/or attention. You can find the 1-3-5 Approach online as well.  It works on multiple devices to make it easy to capture what you need to do no matter where you are.

You don’t have stare in overwhelm when it comes your long to-do list.  Whether it is categorizing what type of actionable items you are dealing with or utilizing the simpler sorting of doing a Master list and a Daily List.  Whichever one resonates with you, there is an answer for your mountainous list.

Posted in Personal Productivity

Oct 7

ONE Thing That Could Change Everything

by Michelle Santaferraro


I recently read the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams Realty, and Jay Papasan.  In it, Keller shares the key principle to his success – focus on the ONE Thing.  He noticed he had huge success when he narrowed his concentration to one thing.

What is the ONE Thing? He describes it as a focusing question to keep you mindful of your most leveraged priority (Pg. 112). The focusing question he asks is: What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary? (Pg. 112). This question can be applied to different areas of life: work life, spiritual life, health, relationships, etc. This question must be asked in light of what your true purpose is – and the answer you give should tie back to that purpose.  He defines purpose as “what you want your life to be about more than any other [thing].” (Pg. 145)

I have begun to ask myself this question as I start my day.  It helps me hone in on what is truly the most important thing I must be doing. Sometimes that may be the very thing easiest to postpone.  Other times it is the phone call that must be made in which bad news must be delivered. It may even be the content development I’ve been putting off for weeks that needs to be created.

In order to actually focus on the ONE Thing you’ve determined and to be successful at it (in your work day or in your personal life), it takes practice in a few principles.  Here are a few of them that resonated with me:

Willpower has its peaks and flows.  Keller argues it is not that we lack willpower to get things done, instead we have limited willpower.  We should use willpower when we have the greatest amount of energy to exert it.  Do you have more energy to stay focused in the morning, early afternoon? Or later in the day?

Habits are formed in 66 days, not 21 days. According to research from the University College of London, it takes 66 days for a habit to become automatic or ingrained.  Keller quotes F.M. Alexander, “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” (Pg. 119)

Saying yes to working on your ONE Thing will mean saying no to multiple other things. The more things you do, the less successful you are at everything you try (Pg.193). Your talent and abilities are limited resources.  Your time if finite.  If you don’t make your life about what you say yes to, then it will almost certainly become what you intended to say no to (Pg. 195).

“At any moment in time there can be only ONE Thing”, says Keller. Success comes down to this: being appropriate in the moments of your life.  You become appropriate in your life by understanding what matters most.  That is when everything will make the most sense. When you don’t know what matters most, anything makes sense. Try asking the focusing question each morning to gain the clarity you need for your day: What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Posted in Personal Productivity

Jul 15

Time Blocking 101

by Michelle Santaferraro

You know that task on your to-do list that you keep brushing aside? The one that lingers when everything else has been crossed off. The one that requires your full attention, no distractions, but that you always find a reason to put off until tomorrow. These are the tasks that often take you to the next level and also require some intention on your end. These are the tasks that require time blocking.

What is time blocking?

Time blocking is when you intentionally set aside time to put your head down so you can work on what moves you forward professionally and affects the bottom line of your business.

How do you guard it?

  • Put the music on (if this helps to focus attention)
  • Turn off email notifications
  • Choose to let incoming phone calls go to voicemail or silence your phone
  • Choose to say no to the easy interruptions that bombard you
  • Choose to postpone the requests and questions others think you should answer
  • Communicate with team members that you have your head down and give them a time frame of when you are available

Stay Accountable

So you have your space set but how do you make sure you stay on task? Call a friend before going into your “heads down” work and tell them you will call in an hour.  Tell them when you talk to them again after the hour is up, you will have accomplished “such and such.”

You could also ask an admin or a co-worker to be with you in the same physical space. They can work on their task while you work on yours.  Before you begin working, tell each other what you are trying to get done in the next hour. When your time is up, share your progress.

You may also want to consider calling your colleague, friend or coach on Sunday night to talk through the week ahead. Share with them about the upcoming week and go over what your goals and priorities are.

Use Props for Productivity

Sometimes you just need to let yourself and others around you know that it’s time to focus. Set up signage that goes across your office entry and alerts other co-workers that you are not available.  Some workers go so far as using Caution tape, but it could be a simple sign that says “Heads Down.”

Use a Time Timer that can show you how time is elapsing. That way you will rely on looking at the timer and not the computer nor a digital tool for tracking time, so you do not get pulled into other work on your computer.

Don’t let those high-level tasks float from one to-do list to the next. Take them by the reigns and schedule them into your busy day, specifically at a time when your brain is fresh. As you begin to make this part of your weekly schedule, it will likely become something you can’t live without.

Co-authored with Bev Moranetz, owner of Streamline Organizing Solutions, LLC

Posted in Personal Productivity

Nov 17

Put Yourself In A Place of Productivity

by Michelle Santaferraro

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I had a girlfriend years ago who would dress in her workout clothes first thing in the morning as a way to show intention around working out.  By putting on her workout outfit, she was ‘ready to engage’ and she knew that she would work out after dropping her kids off at school that morning.  These days, yoga pants and yoga tops are a fashion trend and may not indicate a person is intending to head to the gym or that they have just visited a gym, but in her case; it was the trigger to create the consistent habit of working out.

Putting yourself intentionally into a place of productivity can have powerful outcomes in your work and life.  We can orient ourselves to being more productive by either getting in a productive stance or getting ourselves in a place or location of productivity. In the coming months, we are going to take a deeper look at how to put yourself in a position of productivity, and thus a position of power.

A productive stance.

How you hold yourself is everything. When you walk into a meeting –whether you realize it or not — your posture could change the entire outcome of an important negotiation. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has studied nonverbal expressions of power and dominance and she has done extensive research on the power of posture, which she expounds upon in her TED talk.

Is there an important sales call to make or a difficult phone call to initiate? You might want to think about standing while you do so. Many times when we need ‘power’ or ‘authority’ in conversations, our words are lost in a more sedentary and slouchy position. Standing gives us greater confidence and articulation.  When making a sales pitch over the phone, I have historically dawned my business suit before picking up the phone.  What is crazy is that my posture changes after I have transitioned to a suit – my shoulders are back and I am standing up straighter.

Stand and deliver.

The phenomenon of standing desks has swept the workplace claiming a myriad of health benefits and increased productivity. A handful of the best writers — Kierkegaard, Hemingway, Dickens, and more — did their most prolific, creative work at a standing desk.

In fact, Maria Popova–the creator of Brain Pickings — an incredibly influential and tediously curated blog about creativity that takes about 450 hours per month to run — boasts that her best work happens while standing on a wobble board. “It might sound crazy, but it actually helps you balance your posture much more evenly than just standing on your feet, in which case you inevitably shift your weight to one leg or the other, subtly twisting your spine. With the wobble board, so long as you have a single touchpoint—like a finger on the keyboard—it becomes incredibly easy to balance, and you’re forced by gravity into perfect alignment,” said Popova in an interview with Life Hacker.

Power in standing tall.

If you practice yoga often, you probably know that Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, while seemingly simple, is an extremely active and engaging pose.

Get up from your desk and try it for a second. Stand tall, feel your feet on the ground, open your chest with arms at your sides, slightly tuck your tailbone, engage your thighs, roll your shoulders back and down to lower your shoulder blades, and bring your chin back so your ears are above your shoulders. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.

What happened when you did this? Believe it or not, this is one of the most powerful poses in the yoga practice because it is the foundation of all standing, balancing poses as well as inversions like handstand.

Productivity isn’t always a noun, sometimes it needs to an intentionally manifested in our posture. As Cuddy says, “Change your posture, and you could change your life.”

Posted in Personal Productivity

Jun 12

Go For A Walk. It’s More Productive Than You May Think.

by Michelle Santaferraro

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When was the last time you got turned off your computer, got up from your desk, intentionally left your phone sitting there face down, and went for a walk? No music, no noise. Just you and the cosmos. It may have been over a week, or it could have been just an hour ago; but it turns out that taking a walk might be one of the most productive things you could do with your day.

In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit elegantly explores walking as a spiritual and creative act. She wanders too and fro, journeying down a path through her own personal history, embarking on spiritual pilgrimages like Camino de Santiago, and reflecting on how the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other shapes our thinking from the work Thoreau, to early mountaineering history, and beyond.

“Modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness,” she states as an advocate for the simple yet provocative act. “Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented society, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking.”

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” (Aphorism 34). Many have noted the creativity sparked by walking throughout history, but now researchers at Stanford have reported the results of four studies that demonstrate that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after. “The kind of creativity we found for walking is more generative, more brainstorming [than sitting indoors],” says researcher Daniel Schwartz.

Just how much creativity does it generate? They found that creative output increases by an average of 60% while a person is walking.

When I work with my clients to organize their agendas for productivity and success, one of the most important things we talk about is what will aid them in being more creative. Activity is linked to unlocking mental blocks. For some people that’s going for a run or a bike ride, for others it’s making time to journal of meditate. Whether you decide to take a detour in the woods or just a loop around the block, taking a walk today might spark a stroke of genius.

You’ll never know if you don’t try.

 

Posted in Life Balance, Personal Productivity

Feb 11

World Record Delegation Model

by Michelle Santaferraro

 

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It was the London Olympics in 2012 that brought victory to the U.S. Women’s 4 x 100 meter relay team.  They had 2 previous Olympic runs that ended with failed baton handoffs. Yet, in their third attempt, they executed flawlessly and won the gold medal in a time of 40.82 seconds.

If you want to experience flawless delegation within your team or with fellow colleagues, then you need to pass the baton with flawless execution.  Apply this world-record delegation model designed by Organomics ® called G.R.I.P.:

G.R.I.P.

Goals – Why are we doing this?

  • How does it align with corporate goals or values?
  • What is the expected outcome?
  • What impact does this have on our bottom line?

Resources – What resources do I have to do this?

  • Who else will be helping on this task?
  • What budget has been allocated?
  • What work has already been done?

Information – What are the details?

  • Give me more details on context.
  • Give me more details on the deliverables.
  • Give me more details on dependencies.

Process – What is the timing and schedule?

  • When is the project due?
  • What are the milestones?
  • What is the communication process?

 

This delegation model will help you understand at the very beginning of a hand off if you have what you need as far as resources and vital information to be successful.   Gathering all this information will help you manage expectations right up front. Take this model with you into your next team meeting, or discuss it with your boss at your next check in.

©Copyright Organomics 2015

Posted in Life Hacks, Personal Productivity

Oct 15

Act Or Be Acted Upon: How to be Productive

by Michelle Santaferraro

“Act or be acted upon”, this is what Stephen Covey says in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  He is talking about being proactive versus reactive in life.  Spending most of your day in a reactive mode can leave you stressed and making the confession at the end of the day – “I got nothing done!”

But what if you could change that?

I like how Covey explains being proactive in his first habit – “It means more than merely taking initiative.  It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives.  Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.  We can subordinate feelings to values.  We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.”

He speaks about an overall mindset that encapsulates responsible behavior in all parts of your life.  Yet, if we took this concept of being proactive into our work week, what would it look like?

One way is to look at your week ahead and identify your priorities before jumping into the week.  These priorities should be flowing out of your long term goals and/or business objectives.  The types of activities that you may identify are:

  • Contacting customers
  • Developing content
  • Solving problems
  • Strategizing
  • Developing yourself professionally
  • Coaching
  • Planning/Preparation
  • Networking
  • Building relationships

Once these are identified, the second thing I encourage you to do is to time block.  Time blocking is making appointments with yourself so that you will honor and give attention to these priorities amidst distractions.  It is important to do this because no one will be knocking at your door to see if you got these done.  They are empowering priorities that move you forward and so they carry with them deep gratification when completed.

A third way to be proactive is to look at your week ahead and ‘anticipate’ what is coming up.  Are there appointments to confirm, deliverables due for a meeting, or preparation needed for a difficult conversation?  Reactive people are in a state of constant interruption and repeated fire quenching. Being pulled into these repeated situations can only cause more stress.

Becoming proactive holds with it great empowerment.  You can become a more proactive person by looking at your week ahead and identifying priorities, blocking your time, and anticipating what is coming up in the week ahead.  This will put you in an offensive stance to approach your week with vigor.

Posted in Personal Productivity, Tips

Sep 3

The Secret to Organization Success: Build in Recovery

by Michelle Santaferraro

     

What are some simple ways to maintain organization?  Build in recovery intervals each day.  One of my colleagues, Barbara Hemphill says:

“Organizing is about how quickly you can recover.”

 When you practice recovery, you are much more likely to get back on track when things are out of control, cluttered, or scattered. A very simple example is an every week occurrence of bringing in the groceries.  If you come home with bags of groceries, you are ‘recovering’ when you put them away and so preserve your monetary investment. Building intervals of recovery into your day is a way to stay organized and be ready for the next task you need to do.

In a given day, what are some natural intervals for building recovery?

AFTER MEETINGS – Build in a 10 to 15 minute buffer after meetings so that you can track what actionable items you have just received, what items are delegated to others, and any timelines that need to be tracked to your calendar.  Many folks attend meetings and rush to the next one without any time for recovery.  If you wait to recover at the end of the day, trying to remember what was said and attempt to reconstruct the meeting details can be tricky.  Critical elements can be forgotten.

AFTER CHECKING EARLY MORNING ‘FIRES’ – Get back in control of your time.  First thing in the morning, you may be checking emails and voice messages and, depending upon what you discover, you may be pulled into an emergency that you must attend to. Some days are like that given your industry and your type of work. When the urgent is taken care of, get back in control of your time by incorporating the newly discovered actionable items into your tracking system and get back to the priorities of the day. This will quiet the chaos in your mind because you will have these actionable items represented.Now, you can get back to real priorities of the day.

AFTER FINISHING A PROJECT – Take the contents or papers from the task you just finished and move them off your desk or just behind you.  You do this before starting a new task.  Sometimes we simply start stacking the next thing on top.  If your project was electronic or in soft copy form, you could close out the window on your computer before moving on to the next item at hand.  Clutter can call to us subconsciously.  You are having your physical environment and/or desktop support the clarity you desire in your mind.

Getting organized and staying organized comes down to little habits we do every day. It is not the tool you choose to get organized, but the habits you develop around the tools and technology you choose.  Building recovery into your work day will help you support clarity of focus and build those organizing muscles.

Posted in Life Balance, Personal Productivity, Tips