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Take the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge

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Take the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge

I have taught time management for over 14 years. I could argue my training is great. In earnest, it is probably just equal to other good trainers, the main difference being that I teach people to build their own system and to not use mine or the time-management gurus’, because we are all individuals. This led to a breakthrough for me on time management.

Making a Breakthrough in Time Management After Time-Management Training for 14 Years

Recently, I have stumbled on something that is a game changer in time management. It’s not mine. It’s not anyone’s. It feels a bit like how the internet grew: one piece at a time until it all came together.

This information just needed to be brought together. Most time-management tips, lessons and tricks, are about discipline, focus, or small pieces, like writing a daily to-do list, but at the heart of an effective time-management system are seven fundamental game-changing pieces. Get these right and the whole system just works, like the story of the internet.

If you can master these seven pieces, you will significantly upgrade your time-management system. Let’s be positive and call them hurdles, because when you start to jump them, the race to be a better time manager has begun. Find out more about each hurdle below.

Time Management Hurdles

    To Jump Each Hurdle Is Only One Exercise per Week for 30 Minutes

    Jumping these seven hurdles will significantly upgrade your time-management system.

    You can’t do part of it. You can’t do one hurdle. You can’t do a bit and come back to it. It’s take the challenge, do the race, or don’t.

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    My advice? Decide why you are going to spend 30 minutes per week doing these exercises. This is because when you need to “choose left or right” (deciding to do this or do something else), you need a compelling reason why. The answer cannot be “to be a better time manager.” To achieve that goal, find one easy and simple time-management tip on the web, e.g. start each task on your to do list with a verb. Job done. We know from Edwin Locke’s work on goal setting that challenging and specific goals work best.

    This goal setting requires some reflection. Decide why. What problem will it solve? Will it help you get home one night on time? Is the goal to be more calm, more in control?

    Then the goal is to hear people in the office unprompted saying, “He’s more calm/She seems much more in control.” Write your reason, your goal, on a sheet of paper and keep this close to you. Remember goals need to pack the three Ps, as Muhammad Ali did — “I am the Greatest” — Present, Positive, and Personal. For example, “I am much more in control. People have said so unprompted,” or “I am working on my big projects and my boss has noticed and commented positively to me.”

    Now it’s time to take the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge.

    Week 1 — Jumping the Capturing Hurdle

    How much do you capture of what comes into your world, and into your head?

    Jumping the “Capturing” hurdle is about being able to grab any time demand that comes into your world. The more obvious is your email inbox. The less obvious is capturing stuff that you think of when you are driving.

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    • Using a clean sheet of paper, write ALL the capture points (entry points) of your time-management system that you currently have. For example, email inbox, phone calls, and meetings.
    • If you have too many, delete one. For example, you have multiple notepads doing a similar job.
    • If you don’t have enough, for example, you are still relying on your memory in the car, in meetings, in corridor conversations, add one.

    Week 2 — Jumping the Listing Hurdle

    How well do you get things out of your head and onto a list?

    Jumping the “Listing” hurdle is about getting stuff out of your head and onto a list. “The most successful people are the ones with the emptiest heads.” Leaving room for thinking, decision making, and problem solving, not for remembering (storage).

    • Using a clean sheet of paper, write down ALL the lists that you currently have. For example a daily to-do list.
    • If you have too many lists remove one. Particularly the lists that you do not trust. For example, the Outlook reminders list.
    • If you don’t have all of the following lists, add one; particularly the daily to do list (not a stream of actions), or the call list, project list, waiting for list, weekly list, monthly list, or a some day maybe list.

    Week 3 — Jumping the Emptying Hurdle

    How good you are at emptying those capture points?

    Jumping the “Emptying” hurdle is a little like emptying the dishwasher. If you don’t, then it just builds up until you cannot see the dishes for the kitchen sink and then you have to load the dishwasher and wash-up what’s left. Emptying frequently and appropriately is key.

    • Using your list of “Capture Points” that you created in Week 1 decide when you will empty each one of your capture points. Add a column two. For example your email inbox will be assessed once an hour for 15 minutes, or after each major piece of work. Not continuously.
    • Add a column three and identify a trigger for each capture points that will help you to create the habit. The best way to form a habit is to “piggy back” another habit. For example, when I broke my foot, I had to do exercises everyday for 5 minutes. I piggybacked brushing my teeth. Your example might be emptying your in-tray once a day as you log off from work or with each cup of coffee.
    • Read this short post to help you, “Say Yes Wisely” because most people struggle to say ‘No’, which drains their time hugely. Use this learning to say, “No” to at least one task this week and each week from here on in.

    Week 4 — Jumping the Deleting Hurdle

    How much you ask yourself the right question: “What is the impact if I don’t do this?”

    Jumping the “Deleting” hurdle is about getting rid of more of the time demands that enter our world. Plus, it is about not accepting every time demand. Being clear on what we are here to achieve and eliminating more of what does not achieve that.

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    • Understanding how to use advanced search is the key to finding emails quickly. Learn how to use advanced search.
    • Unsubscribe from a minimum of four external email lists that you are on and that you do not use. And unsubscribe from a minimum of three internal distribution lists that you are on.
    • Commit from this week to dealing with copied-in emails more quickly. Do this with the ABC tool: A. A CC email?, B. Briefly read it, and C. Clear it. Delete, unless you reply, but this must be by exception.

    Week 5 — Jumping the Storing Hurdle

    How effective you at storing the right information in the right places for later?

    Jumping the “Storing” hurdle is about having the right information where you need it, when you need it, and keeping it easily accessible, a little like the documents at home. For example, the house insurance: is it in a big pile of important stuff? Or the next business trip tickets — where are they kept?

    • Using a clean sheet of paper, write down ALL the storage points that you currently have. For example, the wall by your desk is a storage point and your “day notebook” and your desk.
    • If you have too many storage points remove one. Maybe you don’t use or rely on the reading pile storage point. Decide how you will manage now that this storage point has been removed (Combine with another storage point?). If you don’t have all of the following storage points, add one; especially for physical documents (e.g tickets), and then consider books to read, websites to refer back to, or papers to read, book shelf, reference folder, tickets, or tickler file.
    • Identify for each storage point the frequency and the trigger and add these in as columns to your list of storage points above.

    Week 6 — Jumping the Scheduling Hurdle

    How great do you schedule, beyond using your diary just for meetings?

    Jumping the “Scheduling” hurdle is about having one diary and using it for more than just booking meetings. Scheduling important work on big tasks that we shy away from because they are big frogs.

    This is the toughest hurdle. Maybe the highest. Some fail here.

    • Identify why you are on the payroll. This is your “Key Result Area (KRA).” Here’s some help — it is not the long list of stuff, from managing clients, to meetings, to presenting, dealing with queries, managing your team, etc. It is one to three things. In a commercial company, your reason for being on the payroll will be to increase sales and profit. For sales people, it is easier; they have a budget. This is their KRA. For others, it will take a little thought to identify a few measurable things that you do that proves that you are worth your salary. For example, for a waiter it might be the TripAdvisor scores.
    • Identify the three projects/large chunks of work that will have the biggest impact on the reason you are on the payroll/KRA’s.
    • Get “stealth mode.” Find a way to get away. Book a meeting room, work from home, or close the door. Whatever you can do to be in stealth. Schedule into your diary 90 minutes next week, and a recurring appointment where you will do only those projects in that time.

    Week 7 — Jumping the Acting Hurdle

    How awesome you are at choosing left or right?

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    Jumping the “Acting” hurdle is the key one. It is why you are paid to do what you do. This is where decisions are made: choosing left or right a thousand times a day, knowing what you are worth. Divide your salary by 2,000. This is your hourly worth. Don’t do stuff that is worth less than this value per hour.

    • Decide on the length of your “short amount of time.” The “Do It Now!” piece of time. It might be 5 minutes, 4 minutes, or 3 minutes. The difference might not be much, but you decide what it is. For every time demand/task that comes into your system, do it now if it can be done in less than your short amount of time. Commit to this. Do not kid yourself that you can do a task in the short amount of time and still be doing it 20 minutes later. This is because your brain will soon know what you are doing and stop you doing it.
    • For longer amounts of “doing” time, learn the Pomodoro technique (2.2 minute video) to help you focus and use it once per week. Maybe during your scheduled project work.
    • Place the reason you decided that you are on the payroll (KRA/’s) in Week 6 in a place that will disrupt your behavior. For example, a post-it note on your laptop/screensaver/desktop image. Not on the wall because we go blind to what is on the wall — “Corporate wallpaper.”

    Pulling It All Together

    This is how the seven pieces of an effective time management system fit together:

    Time Management Hurdles Overview
      Finished the Race? Congratulations!

      Excellent news. You did it. You jumped all seven hurdles and nailed the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge.

      You now have a significantly upgraded time-management system. To download the whitepaper, “Take the 7 Week Time-Management Challenge,” with tables to complete and more advanced exercises, check out my bio.

      Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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      Darren A. Smith

      Founder of Making Business Matter - Training Provider to the UK Grocery Industry

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      Last Updated on September 9, 2021

      10 Best Productivity Planners To Get More Done in 2021

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      10 Best Productivity Planners To Get More Done in 2021

      Productivity planners and journals are tools of a trade. There’s an art to productivity. Just like art is very personal to the artist, productivity is very personal to the person. What works for you may not work for me. This is an important distinction if you really want get more done in less time.

      Too many of us dabble in productivity hacks only to move on to the next tool or trend when it didn’t workout for us, missing the lesson of what worked and didn’t work about that tool or trend.

      We put the tool on a pedestal and miss the art. It’s worshipping the paint brush rather than the process and act of painting. We miss the art of our own productivity when the tool overshadows the treasure.

      As an artist, you have many brushes to choose from. You’re looking for a brush that feels best in your hand. You want a brush that doesn’t distract you from your art but partners with you to create the many things you see in your mind to create. Finding a brush like this may take some experimenting, but when you understand that the role of the brush is to bring life to your vision, it’s easier to find the right brush.

      Planners are the same way. You want a productivity journal that supports you in the creation of your vision, not one that bogs you down or steals your energy.

      Let’s dive into the 10 best productivity planners and journals to help you get more done in less time.

      1. The One Thing Planner

      The NY Times best selling book, The One Thing, just released their new planner. If you loved this book, you’ll love this planner.

      As the founder of the world’s largest real estate company Keller Williams Realty, Gary Keller, has mastered the art of focus. The One Thing planner has its roots in industry changing productivity. If you’re out to put a dent in the universe, this may be the planner for you.

      Get the planner here!

      2. The Full Life Planner

      The Full Life Planner is Lifehacks’ ultimate planning system to get results across all your core life aspects including work, health and relationships. This smart planner is 15 years of Lifehack’s best practices and proven success formulas by top performers.

      With the Full Life Planner, you can align your actions to long term milestones every day, week, and month consistently. This will help you to get more done and achieve your goals.

      Get the planner here!

      3. The Freedom Journal

      Creator of one of the most prolific podcasts ever, Entrepreneur on Fire, John Lee Dumas released his productivity journal in 2016. This hard-cover journal focuses on accomplishing SMART goals in 100 days.

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      From their site:

      “The Freedom Journal is an accountability partner that won’t let you fail. John Lee Dumas has interviewed over 2000 successful Entrepreneurs and has created a unique step-by-step process that will guide you in SETTING and ACCOMPLISHING your #1 goal in 100 days.”

      Get the planner here!

      4. Full Focus Planner

      Michael Hyatt, author of Platform and host of the podcast “This is Your Life”, also has his own planner called the Full Focus Planner.

      From the site:

      “Built for a 90-day achievement cycle, the Full Focus Planner® gives you a quarter of a year’s content so you aren’t overwhelmed by planning (and tracking) 12 months at a time.”

      This productivity planner includes a place for annual goals, a monthly calendar, quarterly planning, the ideal week, daily pages, a place for rituals, weekly preview and quarterly previews. It also comes with a Quickstart lessons to help you master the use of the planner.

      Get the planner here!

      5. Passion Planner

      They call themselves the #pashfam and think of their planner as a “paper life coach”. Their formats include dated, academic and undated in hardbound journals with assorted colors. With over 600,000 users they have a track record for effective planners.

      From the site:

      “An appointment calendar, goal setting guide, journal, sketchbook, gratitude log & personal and work to-do lists all in one notebook.”

      They have a get-one give-one program. For every Passion Planner that is bought they will donate one to a student or someone in need.

      They also provide free PDF downloads of their planners. This is a great way to test drive if their planner is right for you.

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      Get the planner here!

      6. Desire Map Planners

      If you’re looking for a more spiritually oriented planner, Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, created the Desire Map Planners. With Daily planners, Weekly planners and Undated planners you can find the right fit for you.

      Behind this planner is the Desire Map Planner Program including 3 workbooks that not only support you in using the planners but guide you in your thought process about your life and intentions you’re using the planner to help you fulfill.

      Get the planner here!

      7. Franklin Covey Planners

      The grandfather of all planners, Franklin Covey, has the most options when it comes to layouts, binders, and accessories. With over 30 years in the productivity planner business, they not only provide a ton of planner layouts, they also have been teaching productivity and planning from the beginning.

      From the site:

      “Achieve what matters most with innovative, high quality planners and binders tailored to your personal style. Our paper planning system guides you to identify values, create successful habits, and track and achieve your goals.”

      Get the planner here!

      8. Productivity Planner

      From the makers of the best selling journal backed by Tim Ferriss, “The Five Minute Journal”, comes the Productivity Planner.

      Combining the Ivy Lee method which made Charles Schwab millions with the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused in the moment, the Productivity Planner is both intelligent and effective.

      It allows for six months of planning, 5-day daily pages, weekly planning and weekly review, a prioritized task list, Pomodoro time tracking, and extra space for notes.

      From the site:

      “Do you often find yourself busy, while more important tasks get procrastinated on? The Productivity Planner helps you prioritize and accomplish the vital few tasks that make your day satisfying. Quality over quantity. Combined with the Pomodoro Technique to help you avoid distractions, the Productivity Planner assists you to get better work done in less time.”

      Get the planner here!

      9. Self Journal

      Endorsed by Daymond John of Shark Tank, the Self Journal takes a 13 week approach and combines Monthly, Weekly and Daily planning to help you stay focused on the things that really matter.

      Self Journal includes additional tools to help you produce with their Weekly Action Pad, Project Action Pad, the Sidekick pocket journal to capture your ideas on the go and their SmartMarks bookmarks that act as a notepad while you’re reading.

      Get the planner here!

      10. Google Calendar

      You may already use Google Calendar for appointments, but with a couple tweaks you can use it as a productivity planner.

      Productivity assumes we have time to do the work we intend to do. So blocking time on your Google Calendar and designating it as “busy” will prevent others from filling up those spaces on your calendar. Actually using those blocks of time as you intended is up to you.

      If you use a booking tool like Schedule Once or Calendly, you can integrate it with your Google Calendar. For maximum productivity and rhythm, I recommend creating a consistent “available” block of time each day for these kinds of appointments.

      Google Calendar is free, web based and to the point. If you’re a bottom line person and easily hold your priorities in your head, this may be a good solution for you.

      Get the planner here!

      Bonus Advice: Integrate the 4 Building Blocks of Productivity

      Just as important to productivity planners as the tool are the principles that we create inside of. There are 4 building blocks of productivity, that when embraced, accelerate your energy and results.

      The four building blocks of productivity are desire, strategy, focus and rhythm. When you get these right, having a productivity planner or journal provides the structure to keep you on track.

      Block #1: Desire

      Somehow in the pursuit of all our goals, we accumulate ideas and To-Do’s we’re not actually passionate about and don’t really want to pursue. They sneak their way in and steal our focus from the things that really matter.

      Underneath powerful productivity is desire. Not many little desires, but the overarching mother of desires. The desire you feel in your gut, the desire that comes from your soul, not your logic, is what you need to tap into if you want to level up your productivity.

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      A productivity planner is just a distraction if you’re not clear on what it’s all for. With desire, however, your productivity planner provides the guide rails to accomplish your intentions.

      Block #2: Strategy

      Once you’re clear on your overarching desire, you need to organize your steps to get there. Let’s call this “strategy”. Strategy is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. You must first turn over all the pieces to see patterns, colors, connections and find borders.

      In business and life, we often start trying to put our “puzzle” together without turning over all the pieces. We put many items on our To-Do lists and clog our planners with things that aren’t important to the bigger picture of our puzzle.

      Strategy is about taking the time to brain dump all the things in your head related to your goal and then looking for patterns and priorities. As you turn over these puzzle pieces, you’ll begin to see the more important tasks that take care of the less important tasks or make the less important tasks irrelevant.

      In the best selling book, The One Thing, the focusing question they teach is:

      “What’s the One thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else is easier or unnecessary?”

      This is the heart of strategy and organizing what hits your planner and what doesn’t.

      Block #3: Focus

      With your priorities identified, now you can focus on the One Thing that makes everything else easier or unnecessary. This is where your productivity planners and journals help you hold the line.

      Because you’ve already turned over the puzzle pieces, you aren’t distracted by new shiny objects. If new ideas come along, and they will, you will better see how and where they fit in the big picture of your desire and strategy, allowing you to go back and focus on your One Thing.

      Block #4: Rhythm

      The final building block of productivity is rhythm. There is a rhythm in life and work that works best for you. When you find this rhythm, time stands still, productivity is easy and your experience of work is joyful.

      Some call this flow. As you hone your self-awareness about your ideal rhythm you will find yourself riding flow more often and owning your productivity.

      Without these four building blocks of productivity, you’re like a painter with a paintbrush and no idea how to use it to create what’s in your heart to create. But harness these four building blocks and find yourself getting more done in less time.

      The Bottom Line

      Your life is your art. Everyday you have a chance to create something amazing. By understanding and using the four building blocks of productivity, you will set yourself up for success no matter which planner, or “paintbrush”, you choose to use.

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      As you experiment with different planners you will narrow which one is best for you and accelerate your path to putting a dent in the universe.

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      Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

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