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Time To Discard The Portmanteau

Time To Discard The Portmanteau

In the days of grand ocean liners, passengers used portmanteaus — huge, metal-strapped trunks large enough to throw in everything they might need on a three or six week voyage, plus a good few items they couldn’t even imagine a use for. A portmanteau life is just the same: a mass of dissimilar activities, tasks and responsibilities, thrown together without clear focus.

Too many people suffer from trying to handle portmanteau lives. As a result, they’re overworked, stressed out and always on the run from one activity to another. They’re so busy they exist in a nightmare of firefighting and just-in-time decisions. There’s no focus to what they do. It’s as if they can’t bear to prioritize or exclude anything. Their lives include so much, nothing gets enough time or attention.

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Of course, focus isn’t enough by itself. Your life may be tightly focused and have little impact or usefulness. I had a colleague once who was given the job of handling the organization’s relations with the local community. Despite the tight focus, his role had no impact. The business wasn’t interested in the local community’s concerns, and the local people had long ago given up on hopes they could influence the organization’s leaders. Some people focus their lives on areas that are similarly unimportant, even useless, to anyone — including themselves.

At work, “portmanteau” roles have so much overlap with other roles people expend most of their energy in turf wars. Low impact roles are unneeded and hateful. Who wants to do a job they know no one values? If a role comes into both categories, low impact and poor focus, it’s a blind, lame tortoise trying to win a horse race.

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To be worth doing, any action need to be part of a clear focus and have measurable impact on what you value most. Activities with little impact should be eliminated. No one will notice they’ve gone. Poorly focused roles, especially portmanteau roles, should be split or have the useless elements removed. One main area of impact, one role. Two areas, two roles. A properly organized role has a clear purpose and a single focus. Anything else is a distraction and a waste of time. Delegate it. Drop it. Forget it. Tightly focused, portfolio roles with clear impact are the only ones worth doing. They’re also the only jobs able people relish, since they provide the best opportunities for interest and achievement.

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It’s the same with life in general. Taking on too much, and not discriminating between what you can do and what you should, stops you from accomplishing what matters most. It’s so tempting. There’s so much that needs to be done. Living a portmanteau life will leave you frustrated and exhausted. Find your portfolio: the focus and direction that will allow you to concentrate on activities you enjoy and relish.

Try asking yourself these questions:

  • Does this task affect anything directly useful to the most important things in my life?
  • Could sombody else do it?
  • Could they do it better?
  • What would happen if I didn’t pick it up?
  • If I focused more clearly, what could I achieve?
  • Can I have more impact? Where? How?

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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Last Updated on June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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