Do you want more time with your
family or to fit in that yoga class you keep promising yourself that you’ll
join, but you’re always too tired by the end of the day?
How does your average day go?
Maybe you’re looking at your emails on your phone as soon as you wake –
reaching out to grab your phone whilst it’s still dark or you log on to your
computer before the kids wake up just to get in an hour before the day gets
hectic. Then there’s the long commute to work, a busy day answering emails and
attending meetings, no break for lunch and then the drive back home. Maybe you
work evenings and weekends just to keep afloat.
A different job might be the answer, but finding a new one isn’t always that easy. You’ll probably have to work just as many hours as you do now, unless you’re prepared to do something less responsible and for a lower salary. If you’re trying to save as much as you can on your journey towards financial independence then that isn’t an option that you’ll want to consider.
So what is an option?
My suggestion is to try to find a
way of managing your workload better, so that work stays where it was
originally meant to be and only happens between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.
I expect at this point you’re say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before. I know, I just need to be more organised and learn how to plan’. You’re right, those things will help, but I’ve got another idea for you, courtesy of Cal Newport. In his book, ‘Deep Work’ he describes what is a valuable technique in how to really focus to get tasks done. In essence, how to do the same amount of work in a shorter period of time and do it better.
If you’re a nurse or serve
burgers at McDonalds this isn’t going to be for you, as it’s a practice which
helps the creative process in the world of what he calls ‘knowledge work’ i.e.
for those of us who spend a lot of our workday sitting at a computer.
So, what is ‘Deep Work’?
Cal Newport describes it as ‘professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit’. He claims that those individuals who have been influential in society often practise deep work.
In contrast to these people, most of us in the modern world have forgotten the value of deep work. Unfortunately, in our ultra-connected world, the focus has moved away from this valuable work to tasks such as responding to and sending emails, what he would define as shallow work. This is ‘non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted’. He believes that this work doesn’t create much new value in the world.
Cal states that there are two core abilities for thriving in
the new economy:
The ability to quickly master hard things
The ability to produce at an elite level, in
terms of both quality and speed.
These two core abilities depend on your ability to perform deep work, which involves :
Focusing your attention tightly on a specific
skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master. This
requires uninterrupted concentration.
Receiving feedback so you can correct your
approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
The benefits of deep work
As well as enabling you to increase the quantity and quality of your work, Cal believes that if you spend your day focusing deeply on a task you don’t have the capacity to think about irrelevant things or worry about problems.
In contrast, if you spend your day checking your inbox the problems the emails present will remain at the forefront of your mind. By concentrating fully on those things that are important you will experience your working life as more important and positive. In summary, ‘to build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction’.
Next time I will look at Cal’s four rules of how to develop and build the skill of ‘deep work’. If you can’t wait until then listen to him being interviewed by Paula Pant on the Afford Anything podcast.
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Do you want life to be easier next year? Want to feel on top of your task list? How about learning to meal plan? Want to keep track of the cash that keeps disappearing from your purse? Would you like to have one place for all of this? A place which you can tailor exactly to your specific needs? The answer to all those questions is a bullet journal.
The problem with other planners
The bullet journal is a planning system that I have been using over the past two years. When I was first looking at planners I bought a Passion Planner. The trouble was it was too big and had a lot of space for listing your appointments during the day. I wanted something to organise my personal life i.e. my evenings and weekends, so didn’t need all the space for weekday appointments. I then discovered the bullet journal.
What is a bullet
It’s basically a notebook where the pages are covered in dots. The pages are numbered and there is space to create an index at the beginning. It was created by Ryder Carroll who has recently written a book about his system. Although he gives ideas for various page set-ups and symbols that you can use within the journal, basically there are no rules and you can use it however you want.
Some people are turned off because it can be a lot of work setting up the different pages each month, whereas something such as the Passion Planner does all that for you. The answer is to keep it simple. There are loads of YouTube videos out there about how to create beautiful bullet journal pages, but if you’re gonna use it to save time, then you don’t want to make work for yourself.
Then there is the cost. Although you can buy the trademarked Bullet Journal notebook, they are expensive. There are other dotted notebooks out there which you could buy instead or just use an ordinary notebook at first and see if you like this system.
Ideas for how to use a bullet journal
To give you an idea of
how I use my bullet journal, these are the pages that I set up every month…
This is simply the date and day of the week in a list and I can write events and appointments next to it. For example…
As I am doing my best to keep track of where every penny goes,
the next page in my bullet journal keeps track of my cash spending. I withdraw money
once a month, having worked out how much I should need and every time I spend
some I write it down. It looks very similar to the diary page, but instead of
appointments it shows what I’ve bought and how much it cost. It has also helped
me to keep track of how much Mr Simple owes me. Before starting this system I
would pay for things in cash and forget that he owed me for half. This may be a
step too far for you, but if you really want to dig deep into your spending
habits then this is a good way of doing that. Here’s what it looks like…
1M Eggs £5.20
2T Pilates £8.00
3W Groceries £3.90
5F Tea and cake
This is just half a page or a page with the heading ‘Tasks’. I
write a very simple bullet-point list, adding to-do’s as the month progresses
and when the task is done I put a cross through the bullet point. At the end of
the month you look to see what you haven’t done, decide if it is still a task
that needs doing and if so, carry it over to next month.
For the last two months I have created a meal plan table. This is the beauty of the bullet journal. The dots allow you to draw, using them as a guide. I create a table with 30/31 boxes, with the day and date in each box. I then write in a meal for that day…
Chilli and rice
Paneer curry, dahl
Chickpea and squash
stew and couscous
shepherd’s pie with green beans and peas
I don’t always stick rigidly to the plan, but it at least gives me ideas as opposed to scrabbling around after a long day at work trying to think what to make.
Ryder Carroll calls daily logs ‘the workhorse’ of your bullet journal. Just write down today’s date and all your notes for the day go here. You can write the day’s tasks and appointments or use it for journaling, whatever you want. Here’s what mine looked like the day after we came back from our short break in Somerset:
Had a sunny walk up Dunkery Beacon
yesterday and then came home and went out for a curry. Nice to be back home,
but have to think about work now. Planning to make time each morning to work on
money to AM for Xmas meal
Advertise bed on Facebook Hub
Tesco monthly shop
As you can see I often write tasks on
the daily log rather than on the ‘Tasks’ page. It just depends how I feel. Like
I said, there are no hard and fast rules.
I hope that this has given you a
little taster of how versatile a bullet journal can be. Ryder Carroll’s book gives
other ideas e.g. custom collections and trackers, but I think I’ll leave those
for next time.
Do you plan? What planners have you tried? Have you ever tried bullet journaling? Is there anything you’d like to know about setting up a good planning system? Just drop me a comment below.
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For me ‘a simple life’ extends to keeping work simple, to limiting it to between Monday and Friday and between approximately 9am and 5pm. Unfortunately I know that this is easier said than done, but in this article I want to give you some ideas about how you can achieve this. I believe that the key to managing your time is to be more organised.
It seems that we are all expected to be busy nowadays. If you’re like me, when you bump into someone you haven’t seen in a while, the first thing they ask you is, ‘Are you busy?’ In this situation I feel scared to say that I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t got enough to keep me occupied, but most of the time I don’t feel overwhelmed by it. I’m not up until 2am writing reports the day before the deadline, unlike some of my fellow workers.
So how do I manage this then? I haven’t got less work than other people, it’s just that I am very organised. I have systems in place to manage my workload and I spend a lot of time planning. Some people would say that I spend too much time planning. The thing is when I’ve got a plan I feel calm. How does this compare to your average working day? Feeling stressed and overstretched? Want to be more organised? Here’s how…
How do you plan your days? Do you even plan them at all or do they just happen? My work days are very varied. Sometimes I am at home all day, other times I am out at the door at 8am, going to various appointments and don’t get to sit down at my computer until the afternoon, if at all. When I do get some time to myself though I have a checklist that I go through and I have that checklist written down. It includes tasks such as:
reflect on previous day and note tasks arising
allocate tasks a slot on my calendar
On most days I get at least an hour to do this at some point. What this means is that I don’t end up for example having to fill in my timesheet days or weeks late when I can’t actually remember what hours I worked on that day. It doesn’t become a chore. It takes a few seconds at the beginning and end of the day and it’s done. I don’t forget about a message someone left on my phone. If I went to a meeting the day before then a task I add to my list is to write up my notes.
What are the tasks that you need to do every day? Do you sometimes forget them and find yourself trying to catch up later on? Take a few minutes to make a checklist of those daily tasks that you can refer to every day. It really will help you to be more organised.
How to keep track of your tasks
So, how do you remember all your tasks? Thanks to the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen I’ve developed a task sheet. It has sections for phone calls, emails, notes to write up, documents to read. The idea behind this is that instead of flitting from one type of task to the other it is easier to make all of your phone calls in one go or send your emails one after the other. On many days I am out and about between meetings and sitting in my car. I can look at my task list to see what calls I need to make and do those whilst I have time to kill. Other, lengthier tasks, I’ll save for when I am sitting at a desk.
What tasks do you have to do on a regular basis? Do you make your lists on scrappy bits of paper that you can’t find when you need them. If you want to be more organised develop a task list with sections for each type of task. You can either print your lists out and throw them away once you’re done with them or keep it electronically and keep updating it.
Weekly and monthly planning
Years ago, I went on a training course about planning. It was a two-day course, with day one and day two being several months apart so that we could try to implement the recommendations and then return later in the year to review how we were getting on. What I learnt from that course is that it’s not just enough to have a to do list, you have to put time aside in your diary to undertake those tasks. In fact, I came across an episode of The Life Coach School recently entitled ‘Throw away your to do list’. Brooke Castillo talked about this exact thing. Take your to-do list, diarise each task and then throw away your list.
We all have deadlines. My job involves writing reports, one at the beginning and one at the end of the project. For the initial ones I don’t always have a lot of notice, but for the final ones I know six months in advance when they will be due. I can also pretty much guess what other tasks I’ll have to do to gather information for the report.
Each week I review where I am on different projects and put aside time in my diary several months in advance for any meetings that I need to arrange and to write the report. Now, I don’t always stick exactly to the time and day, but I know roughly what I’ll have to do over that week. It also means that I won’t miss anything nearer the time. I won’t sit down to write my report and think, ‘I should have met with so and so’, because I’d have diarised it and done it before the slot for report writing was in my diary. It also allows me to see how much work I’ll have in a certain month and if the manager is trying to give me something new to work on I can show how many other commitments I have at that time.
Every week I try to look at the following week, which should already have appointments pencilled in, and book those meetings. When the week arrives then I add the other day-to-day things such as making calls and typing up notes.
Want to put this into practice and be more organised? Are there tasks that you know will be coming up over the next few months, even though you don’t know exactly when? Allocate time in your diary for them. Even if you have to move them around it will give you an idea of how much work you’ll have on over that period of time. Attend regular meetings for which you need to prepare? Put an hour aside several days before each meeting to do so. Make a monthly mileage claim? Again, schedule this into your diary so that you don’t end up waiting months for that money you’re owed.
There is also the question of focus. When you have to prepare a report how well are you able to concentrate on it? For some ideas I would suggest having a read of my two posts on Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work’:
The basics that I gleaned from the interviews were that in this world of instant responses and the temptation of social media, in order to be able to be productive you need to disconnect yourself from all of that. He recommends turning off your email alerts, putting your phone in another room and basically reducing distractions as much as possible.
All of this may be very difficult if you work in an open plan office, of which Cal is not a fan. If you can reduce distractions, he then recommends practising ‘deep work’ by setting a timer for say 30 minutes and trying to immerse yourself in the work you need to do for that period of time. After 30 minutes you can check your emails or your phone. It might be a good idea to get up from your computer. You could make a cup of tea, or if like me you are at home, hang out the washing.
Now, I don’t want to sound as though I am perfect as there are times when I think that I could be more organised, when I have worked on the weekend, but they are few and far between. Usually they are before or after annual leave. Unfortunately, in my job, there is no one else to pick up your tasks whilst you are off, therefore if you have a deadline for a report in the middle of your holiday that report needs to get written before you go away. Apart from that, as I said, life is simple. Work happens on weekdays and rarely extends past 6pm. That way I can enjoy my early mornings, my evenings and my weekends. Work feels just a part of my life and I have time for plenty of other activities.
So, if you want to be more organised, have a think about how to plan your working life better. What do you struggle with at work? What tips do you have for others who have a busy schedule? Let me know if you want more information about anything that I have written. I’d be happy to help.
According to Laura Vanderkam, learning
to use mornings well is what separates achievement from madness. Before the
rest of the world is eating breakfast, the most successful people have already
scored daily victories that are advancing them towards the lives they want.
Successful people have priorities they want to tackle or things they like to do
with their lives and early mornings are the time when they have the most
control of their schedules.
Not all hours of the day are created equal
In her research Laura Vanderkam found that people who were serious about exercise did it in the mornings. At that point emergencies had yet to happen and they would only have to shower once. New research into willpower is apparently showing that tasks that require self-discipline are simply easier to do when the day is young. When you’re on a diet it’s unlikely that you will tuck into that packet of biscuits for breakfast, but come the afternoon your willpower may be waning and you may struggle to resist them. For successful people regular activities develop into habits. Getting things down to routines and habits takes willpower at first, but in the long run conserves willpower.
From studying people’s morning habits, Laura Vanderkam has learnt
that getting the most out of this time involves a five-step process:
Track your time
Part of spending your time better
is knowing exactly how you’re spending it now. Write down what you’re doing as
often as you can and in as much detail as you think will be helpful. While you
may be thinking specifically about your mornings, try tracking a whole week.
The reason to do this is that the solution to morning dilemmas often lies at
other times of the day. You may be too tired in the mornings because you’re
staying up late. But if you look at how you’re spending your nights, you’ll
notice that you’re not doing anything urgent or particularly enjoyable. A TV
programme can be recorded and watched later – possibly while you’re on the
treadmill at 6.30am.
I have worked out how much time each activity takes so that I know what I can fit into my routine. When you can be confident that you have enough time to do what you want to do, you don’t need to rush and can relax and enjoy your morning.
Picture the perfect morning
After you know how you’re spending your time, ask yourself
what a great morning would look like for you.
Think through the logistics
Map out a morning schedule. What
would have to happen to make this schedule work? What time would you have to
get up and what time do you need to go to bed in order to get enough sleep? Can
you get to bed by that time?
Build the habit
This is the most important step.
Turning a desire into a ritual requires a lot of initial willpower and not just
for the first few days. Start slowly. Go to bed fifteen minutes earlier and
wake up fifteen minutes earlier for a few days until this new schedule seems
doable. Choose one new habit at a time to introduce. Chart your progress.
Habits takes several weeks to establish, so keep track of how you’re doing for
at least 30 days. Once skipping a day feels like you forgot something you’ll
know you’ve got a habit and can take your ritual up a notch.
Tune up as necessary
Life changes and so can your morning routine. Tune it as you need.
Ms Vanderkam’s takeaway message – the hours before most people eat breakfast are far too precious to be blown on semiconscious activities. Make yours meaningful.
So have you got a morning routine? If not and you try this out, I’d love to know how you get on.
My advice for today is to be the tortoise rather than the hare – small steps, not big leaps. In this way you are more likely to arrive at your chosen destination.
This is the time of year when many people are making New Year’s resolutions – get fit, lose weight, give up smoking, save money – but as we all know many people fail to see these through despite all of their good intentions. Now if you have made some resolutions, that’s great, you have some long-term goals to work towards in 2019. The next step is to translate each resolution into something that you are going to do at least several times a week, if not every day, in order to achieve that goal. The key is to start small. If at the moment you don’t do any exercise at all don’t commit yourself to going to the gym for an hour five mornings a week. Start with say a fifteen-minute walk three times a week and if you achieve that and can keep it up for six weeks, then increase it.
In order to monitor your progress a habit tracker may be useful. These are a popular tool with those in the bullet journaling community. Basically, it is a star chart for adults. Draw out a table with the days of the month across the top and the habits that you want to cultivate down the side. At the end of each day look at which habits you have achieved and put a tick (or a star!) in the box. Then, at the end of the month you can assess your progress and adjust next month’s habit tracker accordingly.
The good thing about a habit tracker is that you can see your progress and hopefully, if there are lots of ticks, you will be spurred on by your positive progress. Even though the initial changes may be small, you have to start somewhere and over time they can grow and help you move towards your big goal. As the saying goes, ‘Every journey begins with a single step’. Every day you will take one step and eventually you will arrive at your destination. Good luck on your journey!