Oh yes indeed I sleep, and very well indeed! But I get asked this question so often – in the context of “how do you do all you do?” – that I finally decided to address this here on my blog! First, though, I have to admit that I offer my responses to this not because I think other folks need to “get more done,” and certainly not with the intent that you would follow what I do. But I do think some of the ideas I work with might be useful to at least know about .. so this post launches a series of posts that will explain some of the most useful “productivity” tools and habits that I use – and you can take it or leave it as you see fit!
So to begin, my “productivity” story began when I was about 10 years old. I read the book “Cheaper by the Dozen.” This book was published in 1948 (the year I turned 7). It was written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, two of the 12 children in the Gilbreth family. Their parents were pioneers in studying “time and motion” to produce the greatest degree of efficiency in organizational behavior. Of course for me as a young girl, the book caught my attention because of the very interesting and often hilarious anecdotes of growing up in a family of 12 children. But what ended up having a lasting influence on me was the idea of efficiency! From the moment I read the book, I launched a personal “mission” to find the most efficient way of accomplishing any task! I determined that even if I did not become an engineer, I would always be an “efficiency expert!” This is kind of ironic since I have ended up with quite a tense relationship with “management” – but that is another story!
Watching now the evolution of my grandchildren, I am more aware than ever of the lasting influence of the ideas, skills and interests that they are drawn to in these school-age years! So if you are interested in following my next few posts that get into more details on this, remember that the “seed” of efficiency for me dates way back .. I have now have had about 65 years to refine this “skill”!
So here is my first explanation about organizing my life – that “day-timer” idea! As soon the Franklin Covey planners were published in 1997, I grabbed it up immediately — it provided a way for me to do what I had already been doing – managing my day-today schedule and the tasks I needed to do – but more efficiently! Then the application Omnifocus came along, based on the idea of “getting things done” – and I have never looked back!
I will write more about Omnifocus and other tools I use later, but the main point I want to start this series with is the importance of the calendar, and how I use it. Of course like everyone I wish there were hours in the day, but for me, one way to stretch my available time (for petting my dog, sleeping, being withe friends, traveling with Karen, being with my grandchildren, cooking fabulous meals and eating them, etc etc) is using my calendar only for the things that are actually happening in a defined time frame, and having on my calendar what I will need for that occasion so that I do not have to hunt for it. So here are the guidelines I use:
- What goes on the calendar are only those things where I have to “show up!” Tasks I need to do are in Omnifocus (with reminders, of course!). You can use any approach you prefer… even paper .. but the idea is to keep your “to-do” list OFF your calendar. For me, my calendar shows an uncluttered view of the things I have to show up for! Once I know how much “open” space there is, I can then look at the “to-do” list and figure out what is reasonable to accomplish today. If other people are looking at and helping to manage your calendar, and they might think “open” space means they can schedule things for you, DO make a calendar entry as often as you need it, indicating you will be getting your tasks done. You can call is “Writing” or “Tasks” – just let other people know they actually cannot use this time!
- Linked to my calendar events is all the information I will need for that occasion .. the address and phone number of where it is happening, the URL of any online resources I will need, a note about where I can find the minutes of the last meeting or any documents I need. If there are tickets I will need for the event, my calendar has a note reminding me of where the tickets are! If I have to take something along with me to the event, the calendar note includes what that is! This is crucial even for social events … if I need to take a main dish to the potluck, my calendar has a note about what dish I am taking.
- When I schedule a calendar event that requires advance action on my part, that task goes on the to-do list, NOT the calendar! So if I am going to need to shop for the ingredients for a putluck dish, and prepare it ahead of time, those tasks go on the to-do list with the advance due date to get them done. Example — the potluck is on Saturday. I need to shop on Friday for the particular ingredients for the dish I am preparing, and I prepare the dish on Saturday morning. But those tasks do NOT go on the calendar. Only the potluck goes on the calendar. My to-do list shows that shopping and cooking have to be done on Friday and Saturday. Since these are “tasks” that can happen at any time that works best as the time approaches, I can wiggle around to manage how and when these preparation tasks get done! And, my calendar for Friday and Saturday have “open” times when I can get them done – I know the protect this time if at all possible because I can see the potluck coming up on the calendar, and the to-do list is warning me about it. If its, turns out that the open time evaporates, then I know that I will need some help with the task (someone else will have to shop for me), or, I will need to reconsider what i am taking to the potluck!
OK .. enough for now … stay tuned .. Omnifocus will be next!
I look forward to reading about Omnifocus! Has your definition of “productivity” changed throughout your life? My definition of productive changed drastically after my son was born. Prior to my son being born, I viewed productivity as completing a task related to work/school/scholarship/service (e.g., publishing a manuscript, giving a presentation, revising a course, finishing my degree). Since my son was born, I place less value on those same tasks. I still feel productive when I complete those tasks, but place a higher value on non-tangible productivity, such as quality family time, playing with my son, exercising, cleaning my house, cooking dinner, etc. Or maybe I am just beginning to place less value on productivity and more value on “other” things. Hmmm!
Thank you so much for this comment, Michael! Indeed, your comment makes me realize that the examples that I am drawn to include in this blog are the things you are referring to .. like getting ready for a potluck! Indeed, the most important “task” in my book is devoted to my own physical, emotional and mental health. Every time I feel tempted to skip the 60 minute walk of the day to do one of the “work” things on my list I remind myself that there is no more important thing to do than what I do for my own health and well-being, which in turn contributes to the health of my family and others in my life. Yes indeed, having a child enter your life does create some shifts — shifts that I believe are very important. So yes, keep those priorities high on the to-do list. The other things on your list might be important in a certain way … perhaps vital to the economic stability of your family at this moment. But without your own health and well-being, all of that does not matter. If you have your own health and well-being, and some of those “work” things evaporate, you can find a way forward!
Always wondered how you did it all, thanks!
Reblogged this on Busy Nurse Research and commented:
It’s funny, because while I am often also asked how I get everything done, my answer frequently involves *not* accomplishing quite a number of things (i.e. I could really use a housekeeper). So I’m looking forward to this series of blog posts that I expect will contain some useful suggestions around actually being efficient.
Indeed! There are some things that just never get done! I do hire a housecleaner – not as often as I need it, but often enough not to be living in a garbage heap! And I do look for efficient ways to do what must get done … for example, one of the “efficiency” principles I use is to handle something only once .. I try to file papers or dispose of them the first time I pick them up (for exmaple tax documents that are coming in right now get scanned the moment I open them (thanks to the little scanner smart phone apps this can happen!) and then they get filed. . no siting around to be shuffled around on my desk for weeks! Anyway, just to reassure you that yes, there are many things that escape the “getting done” category – but keeping those to a minimum is a very worthy goal!!