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Helping the Family to Get Things Done

Helping the Family to Get Things Done

helping hand

    Ever had a conversation with your brother about how he feels like he never seems to get anything done beyond checking his email? Or talked to your mother about her difficulties finishing a project?

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    Have you ever tried to help them set up a system — make their lives a little simpler or a little more productive? And had that attempt blow up in your face?

    My experiences with helping my family (and many friends, as well) — even when they ask for the help — seem guaranteed to blow up in my face. If I’m lucky, I get a shrug and a ‘This just isn’t working for me.’ If I’m not lucky, at the next family get-together, I’m in for some serious snubbing.

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    Why is it so hard to help someone else become more productive?

    At least in family situations, we all generally seem to assume that we have one another’s best interests at heart. I want my father to read a book on productivity or my cousin to filter her email because I think these actions will make their lives easier. And, fairly routinely, relatives ask for some sort of help. Every family get-together seems to focus on some new project: someone’s building a deck or planning a party or otherwise needs help. So, why is helping a friend or a family member out with productivity problems so much harder than pounding a couple of nails into what will eventually be a front porch?

    I’ve got a theory: there’s a right way of hammering a nail. Try pounding a nail upside down and you’ll see how many variations you can really come up with. But with productivity, or even simply making a person’s life a little bit easier, there are thousands of different options. And the options that work perfectly in my life just aren’t going to work as well in anyone else’s — where I need to focus on handling my email addiction, my father needs to deal with an overflowing voice mail box. The techniques that get me through the day don’t translate into his lifestyle.

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    What is the solution?

    We don’t want to leave our friends and family struggling in a situation where we think we might be able to help. But it can be hard to introduce techniques to other people: we can be very excited about a new trick or tip that they may not be able to use, or they may be resistant to changing their system, or a half dozen other difficulties. If you want to share the system you have developed, or even just a small trick that you think another person will find useful, there are ways to go about it that won’t get you kicked out of the next family reunion.

    From my experiences, the most important step is to be okay with people not only ignoring your suggestions but flat out telling you that you’re wrong. Remember, you like these people, or you wouldn’t be offing your help. Pushiness won’t help anyone. So take a deep breath and let it go. Arguing about it will only lead to trouble: my attempts at making my mother’s life easier only got her to threaten to swap me for a grateful child. And, yes, I freely admit that if I hadn’t gotten so emotionally involved with her incoming email, I would have been safe from all such threats. Remember, it’s just email or shopping lists or whatever. The people are the important thing: if their system works for them, leave it alone.

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    You should also keep in mind that different people work well with different systems. Many people consider ‘Getting Things Done’ ideal for their lives, but just as many have decided that, while it’s a great framework, there are plenty of detail that need tweaking — and even more that just don’t like the way they would need to adapt GTD to their lives, or their lives to GTD. Rather than pointing people towards your perfect system, you can often provide more help by pointing them towards the resources they need to find their own niche. While it might be a shameless plug, I think a site like LifeHack is going to be more valuable to someone you want to introduce to the concept of productivity than just handing them a copy of ‘Getting Things Done’ and expecting them to read it. For one thing, the posts here are a heck of a lot shorter than a book — which means that your friend or relative doesn’t need to make a big time commitment to start. For another, there are lots of options and lots of explanations of the pros and cons of those options.

    I won’t argue that there is value in reading ‘Getting Things Done’ or a half dozen other productivity books, but most books aren’t primers: they aren’t a good starting place for someone who doesn’t know that there are options beyond overflowing inboxes and packed schedules. They’re generally written for someone who’s already taken a step or two in the direction of making life a little easier.

    Where to start?

    Rather than sending off books or lists of links, I’ve been able to help my friends and family by narrowing my focus. I’ll email a link to one specific article that directly addresses what problem they’re currently facing. And I don’t offer to walk them through it — I leave it up them to ask if and when they decided they need help. Sure, it’s rare that anyone actually uses the information you pass along in exactly the way you expect, but they often will be able to find some sort of use for it.

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    Last Updated on March 30, 2020

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

    So, what to do in free time?

    Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

    Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

    1. Reading Files

    Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

    Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

    2. Clear out Inbox

    Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

    If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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    3. Phone Calls

    Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

    Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

    4. Make Money

    This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

    If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

    5. File

    No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

    But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

    Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

    6. Network

    Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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    7. Clear out Feeds

    If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

    8. Goal Time

    Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

    If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

    Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

    9. Update Finances

    Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

    Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

    10. Brainstorm Ideas

    Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

    11. Clear off Desk

    Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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    Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

    12. Exercise

    Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

    13. Take a Walk

    This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

    It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

    14. Follow up

    Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

    When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

    15. Meditate

    You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

    Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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    16. Research

    This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

    If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

    17. Outline

    Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

    18. Get Prepped

    Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

    You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

    19. Be Early

    Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

    Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

    20. Log

    If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

    Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

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    Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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