Tag: simplify

Get more done (part 2): The habit that’s costing you hours every day

Get more done (part 2): The habit that’s costing you hours every day

We all know that task-switching hurts productivity. Every software engineering team I’ve ever worked with has debated how to minimize interruptions. And yet, we still let it happen. Perhaps because, even presented with data, we underestimate its full impact? 

One study shows that it takes 25 minutes to get back on track after a task interruption. (Shit, that’s a lot of wasted time!) I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s twice this in a typical work environment, when you mix in exhaustion, unbelievable frequency of interruptions, and high-pressure deadlines. 

So, if you task-switch regularly, changing this one habit will save you hours of (wasted) time every day. Before you work through the tasks on your success list, check out these tips.

Use your calendar

Are you organizing your day to minimize interruptions? 

You probably know I’m a big advocate of focusing on what’s most important. So get that right, decide to make it happen, and then…

Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time (3 or 4 hours) to focus on your most important tasks. 

Yes, I said 3 or 4 hours. Yes, this can be done in the corporate environment. And once you identify your true priority and decide you’ll make it happen, I’m positive you’ll figure out the how.

That email can wait

Are you still leaving your inbox open all day (or your app notifications on) and responding to emails as they come in? Does your boss know you’re wasting hours of your creative potential every day with this fear-driven habit? 

Stop it!

Schedule non-real-time communications—like email and social media—once or twice per day, and avoid them outside of these scheduled times.

Remember, the sender intentionally used a non-real-time communication method. Email isn’t urgent. You’re making it seem that way.

If this really terrifies you, consider an auto-responder that explains your new habit. You might even inspire others to take more control of their work days.

Thanks for your email! Just a head’s up—so I can focus on helping my amazing clients create energizing, spontaneous-jump-for-joy work lives, I respond to emails between 4 and 5 PM CST Monday-Thursday. Have a great one! – Mandy

Design your environment to minimize interruptions

Notice your most common distractions and use your environment to help you.

If you have a tendency to reach for your cell and thumb your way to Facebook, put your phone in another room. Install an app that blocks the websites you’re trying to avoid, or slows you down enough to make the decision conscious.

What’s distracting you? How can you change an element of your physical environment to easily avoid this distraction?

Strategize with your team

If you work with others, you probably aren’t the only one frustrated by the interruptions and distractions within your work environment.

Create team norms that empower each team member to communicate when they are focused, and when they are open to interruptions. This doesn’t have to be complicated, but you and your team do have to be committed. 

Hang a sign on your cubicle wall, use a status message in Slack, or schedule a meeting-free block for the whole team each day or week. Then adhere to these new standards without exception!

Make it easy to minimize interruptions

Eliminate the everyday mindless distractions you’ve been allowing and watch yourself easily get way more done in less time. Start small, incorporating just one change at a time, and celebrate every win along the way!Want to be among the first to know when the next article in this series is published? Sign up here.

Get more done (part 1): Stop wasting brain power

Get more done (part 1): Stop wasting brain power

Where to begin

In this 3-part series, I’m going to share my most effective task management* tips so you can get more done in less time.

Keep in mind that all of these practices assume you know your most important vision, decided on a strategy, and set measurable goals.

vision strategy goals tasks

*This is the thing you probably call “time management.” We don’t control time. We can, however, choose what we do within (the illusion of?) time. So upgrade your language, and notice how much more powerful you feel. 💪

Why does this matter?

Ever let a project fall off your radar? Of course you have!

Gee, I was going to write/work out/start a company, but it just didn’t happen.

You mean you didn’t make it happen, right?

This quick and simple technique solves that problem. You’ll never again forget about a project, or that “crazy” idea you had one time.

Second, and imo more importantly, you’re going to literally create space for more creative thinking. Which means better results on whatever projects you choose to pursue.

You’re better than this

Our thoughts are so damn repetitive. 

I need to feed the dog as soon as I get back from the gym.

I need to feed the dog when I get home.

As soon as I get home, I’m going to remember to feed the dog…

Sound familiar? What a waste of your highly advanced analytical power!

Write it all down

The key is to write it down as soon as you can. This gets it out of your head.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

David Allen, productivity consultant, author

Have a system for recording 3 things: ideas, projects, and tasks.

Keep a list of ideas that you aren’t working on atm.

Keep a list of active projects. Mine include “Program Upgrade!” and “Write Memoir.”

Capture your tasks, which includes your daily success list and any tasks you want to remember for later. When you’re creating task lists, review your project list as a reminder to record the next action for each important project.

(Side note. Unlike my beloved Martha Beck, I am SO not a fan of detailing out every single task required to achieve a project. Just a few easy next steps works for me!)

Capture these lists in a simple online tool like Google docs or Trello, in a physical list such as a bullet journal, or a combination of both. 

Peaking required!

For this to work—for your mind to trust that you’ll look at that note later—you have to have a trusted system.

So you’ve written it all down. Now, decide how often and when you’ll look at these lists. 

You want to free up mental capacity. The thing is, your brain is smart enough to hold onto your thoughts if you’re putting them in your Notes app where you might see them again 8 months from now.

So decide how often you want to review (read and update) each list, and schedule it in your calendar.

Get even more done

So, write down your ideas, projects, and tasks. Look at it on the regular. Keep them updated. 

You’ll not only remember to move forward on your most important work, but you’ll have more creative brain power, which dramatically ups the quality of work you’ll produce!

Sign up here to be among the first to know when the next article in this series is published!

Need more time? Here’s where to find it.

Need more time? Here’s where to find it.

Oh, the stories I hear from people wanting more time…

“There’s not enough time in the day to accomplish everything I want to get done.”
“I don’t have time to be creative!”
“I feel like my days, weeks, years just fly by, and I'm missing out on so much.”

I hear the Not Enough Time story almost as much as I hear the Not Enough Money story. The root of this problem, as always, is mindset.

Until you’re convinced that you have all the time you could possibly need (you do), let’s talk about what action you can take right now to experience way more time.

Let’s give it a name

First, allow me to introduce a term: energy drainer.

An energy drainer is anything that makes you feel less energetic. It costs you time, both directly and indirectly. 

By noticing, then actively eliminating or changing your energy drainers, you’ll win back time you didn’t even notice you were wasting. 

Step 1 to more time: Be on the lookout

Awareness is always the first step of intentional change.

A straightforward way to find what’s draining your energy is to notice what you complain about—aloud, in your mind, or even subconsciously.

Look for both little annoyances and big complaints in every corner of your life:

  • Things (a cluttered closet, no household budget)
  • Schedule (long work hours, an overdue oil change)
  • Relationships (an aging parent who needs more help than you’re able to give, a not-yet-fulfilled promise to schedule a date with your friend)
  • Body (avoiding a doctor, not getting enough sleep)
  • Thoughts (comparison, self-doubt, worry)
  • Feelings (an abandoned creative project, grief you’re avoiding)
  • What else?

Sometimes the source of a drain is obvious, like when your work schedule shoots up from 40 to 60 hours.

But usually, it’s a little trickier. You might yawn every time you walk by a certain closet at home and not even notice. Its clutter makes you tired, and beyond that, the grief connected with the photos inside exhausts you.

What have you been tolerating?

Step 2 to more time: Know the true cost

As I’ve said, less energy means less time. There’s also your own and others’ disappointment, stress, physical or emotional exhaustion, health issues, feeling imprisoned…

For each energy drainer you identified, notice specifically what pain it’s causing you. What’s the cost of doing nothing?

Step 3 to more time: Do something

For each complaint, if it’s not worth the cost to you, do something about it.

You have two options.

Option 1: Come up with a plan to eliminate or lessen the energy drain. Set a realistic date. (Schedule your decluttering. Call the auto repair shop. Ask your brother to take your dad to his appointments.)

Not sure how to get rid of what’s draining you? I can help!

Option 2: Accept it with gratitude. What’s great about the situation? What can it teach you? (You notice you’ve been nagging your husband about his clutter without taking care of your own. You’re grateful for the chance to give back to your dad who gave you so much throughout the years.)

“Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” 

Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher

Key questions to ask yourself

First, be on the lookout. What do you complain about? What have you been tolerating?

Then, know the true cost. What pain is this causing you? What’s the cost of doing nothing?

Finally, do something. How could you eliminate or lessen this pain? Or will you accept it with gratitude instead?

Photo by Vlad Chetan.

Ditch your to-do list (and create this instead)

Ditch your to-do list (and create this instead)

What’s on your to-do list today? It’s a lot, right? You don’t want to do everything on that list. Some of those things have been there for weeks.

Why keep stressing yourself out with that lame, overwhelming list when you could be creating a shorter, more powerful, and energizing list instead?

That’s what I’ll show you today. You’ll learn how to transform your typical to-do list into a success list to get more done in less time and feel more creative, focused, and powerful.

Your to-do list replacement

Each morning, instead of creating a to-do list, I want you to start creating a success list—a prioritized list of important tasks.

A success list is a prioritized list of important tasks.

Let’s look at this definition closely 🔎 before we jump into the how-to.

1st keyword: prioritized. When you prioritize before you start work, and then only do what’s on your list, busy work evaporates.

2nd keyword: important. They create value that matters. We’ll get into this more below.

3rd keyword: tasks. (Didn’t expect this word to be special, did you?) How often does your task list include massive undertakings like “declutter” or “find job?” These are not tasks, my friends—these are projects which belong on a list of their own. You want to know exactly what action to take for every item on this list. What is the next step(s) to move your project forward? (If you’re stuck, your next task might be, “Break project X into tasks.”)

Getting started

Start with a list of things you’d like to get done (aka your traditional to-do list.) Then use these items to write a new prioritized list of vision-aligned tasks. Use the following tips for deciding what makes the cut.

First, if it takes less than 2 minutes, just do it.

Otherwise, ask the focusing question, the importance question, and the strategic question.

Ask the focusing question

To get more done with less effort, always ask yourself the focusing question:

Question 1: What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

This comes from one of my favorite productivity books, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

You can use this question with your daily success list to decide how to approach a problem or goal. You can also use in the ideation phase of a project, or even earlier with strategic planning.

What do I mean by “easier or unnecessary?”

For example, say my #1 goal is to have one Focus Session scheduled by the end of this week. As I sit down Wednesday morning to write my day’s success list, I’d ask myself this question:

What’s the one thing I can do to book a Focus Session by Friday, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Say I have a list of ideas already noted. I can eliminate tasks that don’t impact this outcome—program content creation, for example.

When I ask this question, I’ll get new ideas: do a Facebook Live video describing Focus Sessions, send 10 emails inviting people to Focus Sessions…

If I do a Facebook Live video that’s engaging and creates a sense of urgency, people who already know me will see it, and it’s likely that at least one person will schedule. And if they do, I don’t have to do anything else on the list to reach my goal—they become unnecessary!

If they don’t schedule, then I’ll send 10 email invitations. And since I’ve just practiced communicating the value of Focus Sessions, this task will be easier!

Ask the importance question

Second, consider the Eisenhower Matrix of urgency vs. importance to resist the trap of letting unimportant work get in the way of what matters most.

Question 2: Is this important?

An urgent task requires immediate attention. You can either do it or delegate it, depending on its importance (and your creativity in finding a way to delegate.)

An important task is expected to have a considerable effect on your success or well-being. It aligns with what actually matters to you—the person you want to be, the way you want to feel, the vision you have for your future life. For an entrepreneur, it might be revenue-generating activities and rest. For a recovering creative, it might be those 20 minutes you’ve decided to spend every day practicing your favorite artform. Generally speaking, you know what’s important. But are you allowing this to drive your behavior?

Here’s a visual of how to act once you’ve determined whether a task is urgent and/or important.

The Eisenhower Matrix

UrgentNot urgent
ImportantDo it today.Plan when to do it
and schedule it.
Not importantDelegate it to
someone else.
Eliminate it.

Ask the strategic question

You might have tasks that you want to do, but they don’t make the cut using the above two questions. This is true, for instance, when we have creative ideas that don’t fit the traditional model of business value.

“[When you take action based on inner knowing,] just because those benefits are not recognized by a patriarchal culture as being of value doesn’t mean that they aren’t of value.”

Hiro Boga, business strategist, writer, mentor

In this case, ask the strategic question:

Question 3: If I’m saying Yes to this, what am I saying No to?

This lets you follow your inspiration while being intentional. Simply consider its impact and decide upfront what you’ll do.

For example, today I felt inspired to post to Instagram about the animal spirit card I drew yesterday. Will anyone change their life because of it? I don’t know. But I felt that saying Yes to this didn’t mean saying No to anything more important.

More powerful and more fun

Use these 3 questions to create a success list that makes your daily work more powerful and more fun:

  1. What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
  2. Is this important?
  3. If I’m saying Yes to this, what am I saying No to?

When you feel connected to the purpose behind the day-to-day tasks, it’s easier to do the work. You can stop doing everything that doesn’t matter—or at least head in that direction. Plus, you’ll feel a renewed sense of control as you raise your personal standards for how you manage your time.

Could you use one-on-one support to help you focus and get things done?

My clients love how I save them a ton of time and energy. For example, after landing his dream job (he’s currently planning a 10-day trip to Colorado with his wife and baby thanks to this job!), Kyle shared this about my coaching: “She kept me moving forward, and I resolved unknowns much more quickly and more decisively than I would have on my own.”

Let’s chat!

Declutter your workspace—and mind—in 1 minute

Declutter your workspace—and mind—in 1 minute

This week’s invitation to mindfulness taps into the power of environment.

  • Look around your workspace.
  • Notice. How does it make you feel? Peaceful and energized? Anxious and tired?
  • Tidy your workspace. Set a timer for 1 minute, and tidy what you can in that time.
  • Breathe. When your minute is up, take a deep belly breath.
  • Notice. How do you feel now?

Keep committing to these 1 minute tidy sessions (after meetings, between tasks, before you head home) until your workspace makes you feel good.

I’m continuously surprised by how a simple change in our space can impact us. If you’re in a city that’s beginning to warm and brighten like Omaha, don’t you feel different than you did just days ago?

Never underestimate the power of place!

This is the year (part 2): Break it down

This is the year (part 2): Break it down

tl; dr Your action plan

  1. Use two techniques to write your goals: ask Gary Keller’s focusing question and be specific.
  2. First, break down your life goal until you’ve created an annual goal: e.g. 5 years, 2 years, 1 year.
  3. Next, break down your annual goal until you have ONE next first step that feels easy.


In the first post of this series, you defined your big inspiring life goal. Now, you’ll break that goal down into actionable steps without losing your mind in details.

Simplify with this question

In The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller shares what he calls the focusing question. It’s a question I’ve started to use in all of my goal setting and action planning, and it has made life oh so simpler.

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” – Gary Keller, entrepreneur, bestselling author

What’s the one thing you can do to achieve your biggest dream such that by doing that one thing, everything else would be easier or unnecessary?

Be specific

In my corporate days I heard the acronym S.M.A.R.T. regularly, which is intended to help you set valuable goals. It stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, or some similar variant of these words. It’s good, just boring. Hah! Let’s simplify.

Make your goals exciting by being specific!

Don’t say you want to go somewhere fun. Say you want to go to a country where little English is spoken before the end of next year. Don’t just say you want to garden more. How often do you want to garden? Where will you garden? Will you plant rare species of roses or enough produce to feed your family all year? Notice how much more exciting a specific goal feels.

Instead of  being specific, I could have set a goal to be a published author. To meet this goal, I could write something sloppy, self-publish cheaply, and move on. But that’s not what I want. To ensure that I put out my best work, I want to traditionally publish, which requires an unbiased third party to work with me.

Get specific to help yourself get clear about what you’re after, and to keep yourself excited along the way.

Bring your big dream into this year

Using the focusing question above, break your goal down into time periods that make sense. For example, what one thing could you do five years from now that would make everything else easier or unnecessary? One year from now? You might prefer to start with present day instead. Given where you are now, what could you accomplish towards your goal in one month? One year?

Here is my breakdown:

  • Someday: Become a bestselling author
  • 5 years (2023): Participate in a best-in-class writers’ residency
  • 2 years (2020): Become a traditionally published author with my memoir
  • 1 year (2019): Send my memoir manuscript to 3+ publishers

All you need is the next first step

Once you have a specific goal that’s related to this year (or quarter or month or week), continue to break it down using the focusing question from above. Your intention is to get to a step that is soooo tiny it feels easy. I’m serious!

Your intention is to get to one step that feels easy.

This is where I’ve made the same mistake time and again. While you could break your goal into every baby step needed to achieve it, don’t! You can do that later. First, things change. Ask any project manager. Second, it’s not fun. Imagine sitting in front of your list of every step that’s required to achieve your big goal. Even a monthly goal is going to be made up of dozens of steps. Does that feel empowering?

One of my small steps is to re-read my memoir in full, making sure it still flows well following my last stage of edits. Does that feel easy, like something I could jump in and do right now? No way. So I keep going. I have 22 chapters. I could write a bulleted list of 22 items, each saying “re-read and edit this chapter.” Not fun. Instead, I write the next step: re-read and edit chapter 1. For me, this does feel easy. Chapter 1 is my favorite chapter. It’s been revised more times than most, so I know the revisions will be limited. If it didn’t feel easy, I’d keep going — re-read my introductory scene, for example.

Additional reading

This is the year (part 1): Your biggest dream

This is the year (part 1): Your biggest dream

tl;dr Your action plan

  1. Identify the one big dream that’s most meaningful to you.
  2. Find a compelling and emotional reason why you want it.
  3. Write it down. Write it in a secret journal, text it to your coach, or share with me on Facebook. Whatever you do, put it into the world.

This is the year

It’s December, which always has me thinking about goals. I love the natural cadence of turning inward to review my life’s focus at the same time I’ve literally turned in to avoid the cold weather outside. I love the boost of energy new goals supply through the first frigid months of the new year, when sockless Toms feel so far from reach.

Here’s the thing about this season. You can make your wildest dream your reality. No, it won’t fully come to be in 2019. But you CAN make big progress. You can head in that direction. So will you?

Maybe the excuses are already flooding your mind. I don’t have the time. This is good enough. Not now, not with this new baby / aging parent / hangnail.

“There’s always a million reasons not to do something,” as Jan so eloquently said to Pam in The Office Season 2. But what about that one reason to do it?

This moment is all we have.

With this three-part series, you’ll set the stage to make a major life change in 2019.

  • Part 1: Define your big inspiring life goal.
  • Part 2: Break your goal down into actionable steps without losing your mind in details.
  • Part 3: Build a process that supports you in achieving your goal.

Let’s do this.

What’s your big dream?

What’s your biggest “someday” dream? Notice: I’m not asking what you want to accomplish next year. I’m asking for that exciting dream you wouldn’t dare say aloud without prefacing it with words like “ridiculous,” “unrealistic,” and “obviously a total fantasy.”

What is your biggest “someday” dream?

Why go big? In The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, author Gary Keller talks about the domino effect. Using the analogy of falling dominoes, he says that each step you take towards your goal makes the next step easier. Did you know a domino can knock down another domino that’s 50% larger? In other words, it doesn’t matter if you take a tiny action, because its power compounds. So go ahead and dream big.

“So when you think about success, shoot for the moon. The moon is reachable if you prioritize everything and put all of your energy into accomplishing the most important thing.” – Gary Keller, entrepreneur, bestselling author

One of my big someday dreams is to be a bestselling author. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a little girl, scribbling plotless ghost stories into journals and hiding angsty poetry under math textbooks in my closet. This year, I’m making significant progress in this direction.

What’s the ONE most important thing?

Narrow your focus to just one dream.

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say No to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett, investor, speaker, philanthropist, multibillionaire

Maybe you have a few things in mind — a life-purpose dream, a relationship dream, a creative dream. That’s ok. But decide which ONE is the most meaningful to you. There is no such thing as multitasking, just the costly practice of task-switching. If you want to make anything happen, decide to make one thing happen.

If you want to make anything happen, decide to make one thing happen.

Why do you want it?

As I wrote way back when and again here, what you’re really after is a feeling. What’s the feeling underlying this dream? For a big goal to stick, it needs to be backed up by powerful desire. I invite you to ask yourself, “What’s the compelling and emotional reason why I want this?”

Writing makes me feel good. I feel energized and creative. I appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted sentence. But I don’t need to be a bestselling author to feel this way. No, this big someday goal is meaningful because of my life intention to help people maximize their joy. To be a bestselling author is to inspire into action as many people as possible.

More reading

You are not crazy: why decluttering is so hard

You are not crazy: why decluttering is so hard

Before yoga class begins, Sharon (name changed) tells us about the beaded jewelry necklace that broke in her hands this morning, scattering tiny seed beads across her bathroom floor. After class — more specifically, after she finds out that I help people declutter as a way to support extraordinary life changes — she shares that she got down on her hands and knees to carefully pick up each bead. She saved them just in case she ever gets the string repaired.

“I know it’s crazy!” she says with a nervous laugh, gazing towards the floor between us. “I know I’m crazy.”

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