Be the Best That You Can Be! Learn to Set Goals in LifeTopix

Goals are the best way to set yourself up for success. To achieve goals, you must establish a plan and create steps to help you get there. It’s necessary to build specific and measurable goals, make yourself accountable and visualize your progress to motivate yourself to keep going. Thankfully, the LifeTopix app provides an effortless way to set goals and build a plan to turn your dreams into reality.

LifeTopix is an extraordinary all-in-one app for organizing work and life. It is smart, simple and powerful. Parents, real estate agents, freelancers, contractors, business owners, students, teachers and others use the LifeTopix app every day to manage their busy lives. 100,000 users and growing!

Watch the Video to Learn How to Set Goals

Watch this video to learn how to create goals with the LifeTopix app and how to follow a plan to achieve those goals.

A New Beginning: A Personal Story of Minimalism and De-cluttering Bootcamp

Minalimism

This is a story about minimalism and how it relates to productivity and happiness. At LightArrow, we often provide tips for becoming productive, organizing your life and living a happy, stress-free existence. We regularly remind our readers that they can be productive by doing less. Seems counterintuitive, right?

Simply put, everything you own or bring into your life must be cleaned, stored, fed, trimmed, serviced, refilled, watered, powered, etc. You get the picture. Taking care of all this stuff takes time and effort. The more possessions you have, the less time you have to enjoy life. Consequently, minimalism translates into more time to dedicate to you — not your stuff.

Today, I’m sharing my personal journey with you. Over the last three months, I shed more than half of my belongings; sold a house in less than a week; and moved from the booming and rapidly growing city of Austin, TX to the beautiful town of Boulder, CO, which is located at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Why Boulder?

My husband, a seasoned veteran in high tech, was presented with an exciting and fulfilling job opportunity in Colorado. With careful consideration, we decided to embark on this journey after 10 years in Austin, TX. As they say in Texas, this is not our first rodeo. We’re practiced movers, as we’ve lived in the Silicon Valley, Portland Oregon and other cities.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas

My personality is eclectic, with the unusual combination of right-brained tendencies with an affinity to logic, organization, order and consistency. I’ve always considered myself to be deeply organized. Everything has a place in my home, usually neatly labeled, stacked, grouped and color-coded.

What I didn’t realize until preparing my house for sale was there were nooks and crannies in this 4467 square foot, 1.24 acre home that contained unorganized messes that were pushed away like an ex boyfriend. Out of sight. Out of mind. The more space you have, the more you use. Something had to be done – and fast.

It was December 2014 that we decided to put the house on the market. It officially went up for sale on January 29, 2015 and was sold five days later. Prior to sale, a considerable de-cluttering and organizing journey was completed within 6 – 8 weeks (which would take most folks a year). How did we do it? I’ll get to that.

Embracing Minimalism

Over the years we accumulated lots of stuff. Frankly, stuff we don’t need. For me, shopping was always a form of recreation – an escape mechanism, retail therapy or a pacifier for a bad day. There was always a good excuse to buy a new pair of shoes.

I’m making the transformation. I’m on a journey to continue to shed many of my unnecessary possessions that burden me to focus on healthy and fun life experiences. I’m not saying that I will have only 50 or even 100 total things and live out of a backpack. I’m not saying that I won’t replace things that no longer work with new things. This is unrealistic for my family’s lifestyle, but the change is still profoundly significant.

Now, I find myself repeating this mantra, loosely quoting Voltaire or Stan Lee,

With more stuff there must also come great responsibility.

With any purchase there is prodigious consideration to the responsibility of owning it and its effect on the environment.

The Storm Before the Calm

If you’ve ever worked in the startup world, you know that deadlines can be crazy and you sometimes have to make the impossible, possible. This is exactly what we needed to do. Apply the startup mentality to what I would call “extreme de-cluttering, purging and organizing.”

I wouldn’t suggest this swiftness to the faint-hearted. Without a deadline, these steps can be spread over several months or even years, depending upon your urgency. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting.

You might ask. Does de-cluttering and organizing ever actually end? For now, the flood of activity still continues, but the urgency has diminished. Essentially, I’m now basking in the satisfaction of a job well done — “the calm.” However, maintaining the lifestyle continues.

The Roadmap

A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. -H. Stanely Judd

By now, you’re probably wondering how we accomplished this transformation. First, I started with a SMART goal and then prepared a plan or roadmap.

SMART Goal: Achieve a non-cluttered and minimalist home environment with focus on a quick home sale within 4 – 6 weeks.

Time is money. Every day a house is for sale, you’re losing money. In order to reach this goal, we built a plan to get there. We recorded every task imaginable including repairs, painting, purging, organizing, cleaning and staging. We also established a budget and arranged the finances.

What Were the Rules?

We decided if we haven’t utilized a household or personal item in 5 -10 years, it would go. Exception – photos, things bonded with the sentimental and snow skis. Some items were easy to purge. For example, how many laptop bags from trade shows does a person really need? And some items were difficult — a basketball signed by Magic Johnson and a Schwinn almost-vintage bike? My husband wouldn’t budge on those. Some battles aren’t worth fighting.

Road to Success

We tackled the house room-by-room and started with the most cluttered and noticeable rooms with emphasis on the home sale. For example, we started with the great room and ended with the attic. We cleared countertops, removed personal items and stowed and grouped items. If you want to learn more about organizing and grouping, visit If You Want to be Organized, Learn This One Simple Concept.

Every night after work, I scheduled hours on my calendar dedicated to these tasks. We spent sixteen or more hours every weekend. My family moved away a month before I did, so I tackled much of it alone. Like I said, this plan is not for the faint-hearted. This was de-clutter bootcamp.

myhouse

Photo from Sotheby’s Reality

We divided everything among donate, trash, recycle, sell and give away. What wasn’t sold was given away. After approximately 30 SUV-loads of items purged, we achieved the clutter-free environment for which we had hoped. As a small example, I donated 100 pairs of shoes and fifty percent of a three-tiered closet of clothing to Goodwill. We dug deep.

How and Where Did We Get Rid of All This Stuff?

If you wish to embark on this satisfying but challenging journey, the essential places, websites and apps are listed below:

A garage sale or yard sale is also a good option. If you’re on a tight deadline like us, a yard sale might be unrealistic because of time constraints. And don’t forget to ask your friends if they want your stuff. Your trash can be someone else’s treasure. It’s amazing what they’ll take. For example, a friend who manages several rental properties took our cleaning supplies and other items that were prohibited by the moving company.

How Do I Feel Now?

It’s heartwarming and satisfying to sell (at a very low price) and give away things that you don’t use or need. The hugs and appreciation that I receive are gratifying beyond belief. We’re now living comfortably in a house that is half the size of the previous home. We are almost unpacked and we continue to donate and purge items daily. The environment is non-cluttered and feels peaceful. We know where everything is and the work involved in maintaining the home is next to none.

What I learned

If you’re someone who’s just starting out and entering the “acquiring years,” take this advice seriously. When you have too much stuff, it weighs you down. It negatively affects your energy level. It doesn’t allow you to have the time you need to get things done and experience life like you should. I feel as if a weight has been lifted – a monkey off my back. For example, I have the freedom to take a hike with the dogs after work instead of raking leaves out of the pool or sweeping the patio. Your time is priceless — guard it.

I honestly don’t miss those things and I don’t think I ever will.

Please Share Your Experiences with De-cluttering and Minimalism

We would love to hear your experiences with de-cluttering and minimalism. Please share or write a post.

10 Secrets of Highly Productive People

Productive PeopleTo some, it’s a mystery why many people are driven to action, while some people have a difficult time getting things done. Research indicates that genetics might play a role in motivation (specifically for exercise); however, there are secrets that productive people know that keep them in the fast lane. Keep in mind, these methods can be adopted by just about anyone.

If you want to get more done, without jeopardizing your health or well being, get to know the secrets of productive people that we’ve outline for you today.

1. Productive People Establish Routines

A routine is a daily recipe or roadmap — a guide to follow every day the same way. Productive people, who are juggling work, school, children, a household or other obligations, follow a daily routine. A daily routine is essential for becoming efficient and productive.

Productive people first establish a routine for the simple things, such as brushing their teeth and making their beds; then they make routines for more complicated activities, such as making a to-do list each morning for work or school that outlines each day’s obligations.

Why it Works

When you establish a consistent schedule, you’re less likely to encounter the unexpected. Unexpected activities are the things that slow you down. For example, imagine you can’t find your keys in the morning. If you have a routine of placing your keys in the same place every evening, you’ll know where to find them every time. The action becomes automatic.

2. Productive People Use Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).

Some researchers believe that Emotional Intelligence is innate, while others believe it can be developed. To improve EI, take note of others’ body language, voice patterns and other verbal and non-verbal cues as to their state of mind and feelings.

Why it Works

People who use Emotional Intelligence information make better decisions based on emotional information from themselves and others. Emotional Intelligence can be used to prioritize life tasks, problem solve, and to lead and communicate effectively.

Comprehending and recognizing your own emotions can motivate you to work toward the accomplishment of your goals. Understanding the emotions of others helps you empathize and prioritize by taking into consideration emotional cues. For example, when making decisions regarding tasks that are important to complete at work, considering management’s feelings can guide you in the right direction.

3. Productive People Read Books

In the modern days of on-demand television, online books, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, reading books might appear old-fashioned and passé. However, highly productive people never stop learning, and they make time to read books — regularly for leisure and for learning. Books provide a new perspective and allow individuals to escape.

Why it Works

There are several productivity benefits of reading books. Reading provides stress relief, improves vocabulary, improves sleep, keeps your mind sharp and improves focus.

Making reading a nighttime ritual can set you up for a good night’s sleep, which increases productivity. However, make sure that your reading material is made from paper because lights from electronic devices actually inhibit sleep. Light exposure before sleeping suppresses the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep.

4. Productive People Listen to the Beat of Their Own Drum

Everybody is different. Some people are morning people. Others are not. Some like to work in spurts, while others keep a steady pace throughout the day. Some like to work in a quiet room, while others thrive in a busy coffee shop.

What’s important is knowing what works for you. Keeping a diary of productive times and places helps you harness the power of your own rhythm and personal style.

Why it Works

Self-awareness is the ability to have an understanding of your personality – and in this context, your work style. Becoming aware of what works and doesn’t work empowers you to alter behavior to set yourself up for success.

5. Productive People Work With Passion

Productive people wake up each day with a passion for their life and work. Their day gives them meaning and purpose and they cherish every moment of it. They’re motivated by their goals and the tasks they’re taking to accomplish them. Passion doesn’t come naturally; productive people go out and search for it.

Steve Jobs once said,

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.”

This doesn’t mean that you should immediately quit your job to pursue your passion of becoming a golf pro or polo player. It’s important to love what you do — not necessarily to do what you love. Focus on what is meaningful about your work and you’ll feel satisfaction from it.

Why it Works

Those who feel truly successful are proud of the work that they’ve accomplished. There’s always something to feel good about at work — appreciate your achievements. Being delighted about your accomplishments motivates and encourages you to keep going.

6. Productive People Don’t Let Others Tell Them What They Can’t Do

Limitations are something that unproductive people know well. Self-imposed and external limitations squash productivity. Productive people don’t let others hold them back from the greatness that they can achieve. They see their goal and keep going no matter what others might say.

Don’t let the naysayers impose limits on you. Distance yourself and keep your eye on the prize.

Why it Works

It goes without saying that focusing on the positive, rather than the negative fosters success and productivity. Those who focus on the goal and are passionate about it are likely to achieve it.

7. Productive People Practice Self-Restraint

Self-restraint is one of the most difficult practices to achieve, and learning self-control is challenging for many. Productive people know that limiting temptations, such as time wasting activities, can lead to enhanced productivity.

It’s important to recognize when self-restraint is an issue. Keep a diary of wasted time. There are practices that can help you learn self-control. Software and apps can block and limit distractions. Practicing yoga and meditation increases self-awareness and control. Eventually, self-control becomes automatic or a habit and it comes naturally.

Why it Works

Reducing time-wasters, such as television, video games, unhealthy snack breaks, etc. shifts attention to the important tasks at hand. When self-control is no longer an issue, focus becomes easier and time becomes free to do the things you really want to do — without guilt.

8. Productive People Experience Life

People who are productive get out of their comfort zone and experience all life has to offer. They crave new experiences, travel, pursue education and socialize often. Every new life experience is an opportunity to learn something new. Powerful, exciting and new life experiences provide important memories that people reflect upon for years.

Why it Works

It’s simple. Interesting life experiences foster joy, learning and contentment. Happier people work harder and are more productive. Productive people make better decisions based on past life experiences — whether those experiences are good or bad.

9. Productive People Say “No”

One of the most important skills to learn is to say, “no.” Management consultant, educator and author, Peter Drucker, once said,

“Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”

Productive people know when requests don’t align to their personal goals or professional goals. They understand how to prioritize and which tasks and activities to focus on. They know what can be deferred or ignored. They know when it’s the right decision to say “no.”

Why it Works

When time is limited and demands are insurmountable, prioritization becomes more important than ever. Saying yes to everything wastes time, sacrifices quality of work and can be overwhelming. Learning to say no to meetings, invitations and projects that don’t move the needle is hard to do, but advances productive people to meet their most important demands.

10. Productive People Schedule and Record Everything

Do you get anxiety about forgetting your daily obligations? Many of us do. Holding too many items in our heads creates excessive stress and anxiety.

According to studies, most people are only able to remember three to four things in the mind at once. If you’re the average person and not a master of memory, use a paper calendar or mobile app to manage schedules and obligations.

Why it Works

Recording commitments, ideas and goals ensures that you won’t miss appointments and other obligations, but also reduces the anxiety associated with forgetting those items. A reliable mobile calendar or personal organizer provides you with audible and visible reminders to keep you on track.

Your Turn

What are your secrets for success, motivation and productivity? Please comment and share!

Set Yourself Up for Success with These New Year’s Resolutions Tips

MyNewLife

Two of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions are getting organized and getting in shape. Reaching these goals requires goal setting, planning and commitment, which seem overwhelming for many of us. If you don’t want to be one of the 92 percent who abandon their New Year’s Resolutions, read this quick and easy guide for setting yourself up for success in the new year.

Our goal at LightArrow is for you to accomplish success and productivity in 2015 and beyond – whatever your dreams might be.  This post will help you formulate a plan to accomplish the life changes you dream about. It focuses on goal setting, planning and execution – whether your goals are for business or personal life.

Setting “S.M.A.R.T.” Goals

Clearly set, firm goals are necessary for meeting objectives in personal life or at work. However, many of us have vague, squishy goals such as “lose weight”, “organize house” or “start new business.” Ambiguous goals such as these examples are usually abandoned if the goal is unspecific, unrealistic and doesn’t include a deadline. Firming up these goals by making them “S.M.A.R.T.” is key for success.

Many businesses set goals by using “S.M.A.R.T.” goals, which is a mnemonic acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable or Assignable, Relevant or Realistic, and Time-Based or Time-Related. “S.M.A.R.T.” goals have been used successfully for years for personal development, project management and performance management. “S.M.A.R.T.” goals are most effective when written down. Write them in the present tense and phrase them in a positive way. They also include a time period. An example of a “S.M.A.R.T.” home organizing goal is:

I have an organized and clutter-free house in 90 days by minimizing unnecessary possessions and categorizing necessary objects through the use of organizing solutions. I practice uncluttering 60 minutes daily.

An example of a “S.M.A.R.T.” weight loss goal is:

I’m in shape and weighing 24 fewer pounds in 90 days by eating 2000 calories daily, doing 5 hours of cardio weekly, doing 90 minutes of strength training weekly, and practicing 60 minutes of yoga weekly for three months.

Recording your goals is important for reaching them. In fact, a study about goals performed by Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University of California found that those who write down and share their goals are 33% more likely to achieve them.

For those on the go, using a smartphone app, such as LifeTopix is a great method for recording goals. The following example shows how a goal appears in a smartphone app. With this app, you can also log metrics against your chosen goal. Other ways to record goals include using a paper journal or diary, spreadsheet or word processing program.

Complete SMART Goal App

LifeTopix

It’s also important to refer back to your recorded goals often to remind and inspire you to continue.

Make a Plan to Achieve Goals

In business, embarking on a new project always requires planning. In business and in life, creating a project to help you reach your goals is an excellent method for launching anything new – whether it’s an organized house, healthier body and mind, new business or product, or creative endeavor. Once you’ve recorded, stated and shared your goals with family, colleagues or friends, start making plans to set yourself up for success. For example, perhaps your goal is to get in shape. Getting in shape requires significant planning and commitment, which can be accomplished through project planning.

A project plan requires a list of specific tasks and in some cases, appointments and/or meetings. For example, to execute your goal to get in shape, there are a number of tasks and/or appointments that are necessary, such as attending exercise classes, menu planning, grocery shopping, purchasing a gym membership, etc.

Build and schedule a list of these tasks and appointments that are realistic in your life, and schedule these tasks on your calendar in order to stay accountable and remain on track. To accomplish this, use a basic paper planner or a smartphone app, such as LifeTopix to plan these tasks and appointments as shown in the following example.

Complete Calendar and Organizer App

LifeTopix

Using a mobile calendar on your smartphone helps you balance your new time commitment with your current, and possibly already busy, schedule. In addition, the advantage of using a mobile, digital planner or calendar over a paper calendar is you receive both visible and audible reminders, which ultimately keeps you on track. Also, mobility is key when you’re someone who’s constantly on the go. Flexibility is a huge advantage of mobile apps over paper for project and goal planning. The ability to easily make changes to your plan anytime and anywhere keeps you productive and on task.

Log and View Your Progress

Keeping a log of your goals helps you achieve success because many people don’t realize that progress is being made because the changes are very small each day. For example, losing two pounds might not seem like much, but when this weight loss happens week after week, the lost pounds add up.

In addition, keeping a log of past successes helps you make these successes repeatable. It’s helpful to look back at logged items, journals or notes to motivate you based on past diet, household or business changes or other factors. Smartphone apps such as LifeTopix, paper journals, spreadsheets or other software are excellent methods for tracking workouts, healthy eating, and inches lost or other statistics. For example, with the LifeTopix app, you log all these types of items against your goals and watch your progress each day, week, month, etc. as shown in the following example.

Complete Goals Log

LifeTopix

Keeping notes and associating them with your project helps to trigger memories about what’s working and what’s not working. For example, in the following example, notes associated with the “Get Fit in 90 Days” project include important diet information, which impacts future weight loss success.

Journal for Goals

LifeTopix

Your Turn

I hope you learned something new today about “S.M.A.R.T” goals and achieving personal and business success in 2015. What are your New Years’ Resolutions and what are your tips, tricks and tools for achieving them? Please share and comment!

7 Tips for Staying Productive When Life Throws You a Curveball

How do you stay productive during tough times?

Sometimes just when you think you have a good read on life, you’re blindsided with a difficult issue or obstacle – what many refer to as “a curveball.” At one time or another, just about everyone will face a curveball. Whether it’s a breakup, job loss, family issue, financial problem, health setback or other issue it’s hard to stay focused and productive when your personal life is in turmoil.

Maintaining professionalism at work or school is difficult when you’re facing personal problems — especially when negative thoughts are consuming you. But, allowing your personal life consume your work life can result in poor productivity, mistakes and bad choices.

Today, I compiled a list a strategies that I personally use to help me stay productive during rough times. I hope you find these helpful in your life.

1. Set Priorities and Stick to Them

When life gets rough, you need more time and energy to deal with your personal crisis. At work, understand what’s essential and most important. Limit the time you spend on non-essential tasks or busywork. Keep a prioritized to-do list and stick to it. Communicate your priorities with your supervisor often. Delegate tasks when possible.

2. Leave the Drama at Home

Have you ever had a coworker confide in you about a breakup or other personal issue? Did you find the situation awkward or did the coworker become a nuisance or burden — sapping your productivity? It’s okay to confide in others in whom you trust, but beware of sharing too much at the office. Eventually, you can become a workplace scapegoat and could be a target of blame for mistakes due to your “public” personal crisis.

Instead of discussing your issues with others at work, seek guidance or support from a personal friend, counselor or family member outside of work. Knowing you have a scheduled time to consult with a friend or counselor will help you resist the urge to over-share with coworkers.

3. Schedule Your Work in Time Blocks

In times of personal crisis, it’s important to be very diligent about properly managing your time. Good time management practices help you feel more in control and reduce your stress level.

An excellent time management strategy is to organize your work into blocks or chunks of time. Many of us have different types of tasks to complete such as meetings, phone calls, generating reports, creating budgets, etc. When you schedule similar tasks together, you use your time more efficiently because you’re not regularly shifting contexts. Constantly shifting contexts results in poor concentration and depletes you of energy.

To use this method, make a list of all your necessary tasks and then use a digital calendar to group them according to the type of task. For example, schedule meetings together; return phone calls in blocks of time; and schedule budgeting activities together. And don’t forget to schedule time to just think. It’s important to reflect and plan – not just “do.”

4. Take it Day By Day

One of my favorite adages is “This too shall pass.” I think about the times that I’ve faced challenges, family crises, illnesses and other life trials. They seemed traumatic at the time, but I’ve always emerged stronger and more resilient afterward.

Not everything is under your control, but when you can change the situation take positive steps to ensure a good outcome. Write down or record your goals that will set you up for success. Don’t dwell on the possibilities of a negative future. Take each day one at a time. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but you can make positive change happen over time.

5. See the Situation from a Different Point of View

When you’re blindsided by a crisis, it helps to get some perspective on the situation. Step away from it and see it from a different point of view. It might not be as bad as it seems. Consider your history and learn from the past. Has this situation ever occurred in your life before? How did you handle it? Was the outcome a success? What can you do differently this time?

If you’re feeling rattled, focus on your strengths and the things that matter; and prioritize accordingly. Build a plan to set yourself up for future success and happiness.

6. Take Care of Your Health

Staying healthy plays an important role in being productive. During stressful times it’s even more important to take care of your health and well being because your immune system becomes weakened. Channel your stress and anger into healthy activities that you enjoy. Yoga, meditation and aerobic exercise such as walking, running or cycling are great ways to relieve stress and make new friends. Ensure that you get at least eight to nine hours of sleep every night and stick to a healthy diet. Make yourself accountable by keeping an exercise and nutrition journal.

7. Don’t forget to Ask for Help

Seeking help from family, friends and therapists during difficult situations is a great way to heal and take your life back. Sometimes we take the burden all onto ourselves when others are ready and willing to help. Keeping feelings to yourself and taking on too much can lead to more stress, depression and anxiety. Imagine yourself as a friend in need. What would you do for that person? Most likely, your friends and family would happily do the same for you.

Your Turn

How do you stay productive when you’re dealing with a personal crisis? Please share your ideas and experiences!

Reducing Stress and Anxiety – 3 Things That Work For Me

Over the years, probably brought on by being a startup junkie and always having poured myself unreservedly into work my entire professional life, I’ve developed several bad habits or things that are harmful to health, and perhaps also to relationships.

On the one hand, there is this insatiable passion and seemingly endless energy to take on challenges, get stuff done, being an engine that is always on. Sadly, on the other hand, there is fatigue, irritability, loss of focus, and low quality sleep. Undeniably, according to both ancient wisdom and modern medical know-how, the latter set of things affect one’s health dangerously. And with equal importance, the closest relationships are exposed to occasional bouts of irritability and other forms of negative energy. Broadly speaking, there is a general feeling of stress and anxiety as a result.

Three things I have either changed or started recently are personally helping me a lot without taking away from my productivity, and seem to be helping cut out the bad set of things.

RelaxPool

1. Turn off all audible alerts and lock-screen notifications on devices. (Except calendar reminders and text messages.)

This was a surprisingly welcome change. Sounds simple, but do you really need to be suddenly interrupted from your flow or zone, with a ding and a lock screen message that “Your Facebook friend so-and-so just joined Pinterest.” – and other irrelevant, unnecessary crap? I started going into my iPhone’s Notifications setup each time anything came up (Mail app alerts, Google alerts, Facebook, Twitter, CNBC alerts, and perhaps 10 others), and turning them off. I left Calendar and text message alerts on as I control the reminders I put on my calendar items, and also I am not a defocussed incessant texter – especially when I work, so most texts I get are important. On the same note, during work hours, I only make myself visible to the group of people I am working with on messaging apps. I still check my email and look at my agenda frequently, but on my own schedule, when I am in-between focussed tasks – kind of like waking up in sync with natural sleep cycles. Which leads me to my second thing – sleep.

2. Sleep well. Instead of an alarm clock, use an app like Sleep Cycle.

I started using this about a couple of months ago instead of using a regular alarm. It is ingeniously simple. You turn it on, put it next to your pillow facing down. It tracks your sleep cycles, duration and quality by tracking motion (whatever it detects from your tossing and turning, etc.), and perhaps from movement noise since it asks for access to the microphone. You can configure a window of time to wake up in, and it detects a stage when you are either awake or your sleep is in the waking part of the cycle during that time window, and wakes you up. Also, it measures your sleep quality and gives you a score and a graph of sleep level over time – that way you can correlate various pre-sleep activities with quality of sleep – for example, does sipping some tart cherry juice an hour before going to bed actually help with sleep, does deep breathing right before sleep give you some golden deep sleep cycles, etc. As my friend Chip had said 20 years ago: you should measure things that you care about. Inducing positive energy and a calm disengagement via pre-sleep deep breathing, and cutting out sources of negative energy seem to help in my case – which takes me to the third point.

3. Add positive energy (many choices). Cut out negative energy (namely TV news channels, and social media complainers).

Points 1 and 2 take zero time investment and give heavy positive returns. So that’s golden for the ROI (return-on-investment) fanatics. Point three is also a net positive – consuming about 30-60 minutes of time every day for adding positive energy (meditation / deep-breathing / quiet-time / simple yoga / reading / praying / reflecting / being grateful – look up Positive Psychology when you have a minute), but freeing up much more than that by subtracting sources of negative energy that steal time both directly and indirectly, and negatively affect every aspect of life. I am talking primarily about TV “news” folk, political talking-heads and other assorted villains – kings and queens of ignorance on TV and the internet constantly furthering their narrow agendas by stepping on your gentle minds. They come from the right and the left – ignore them, and instead look straight at what you value – there’s much better stuff there. The negative energy sources are plentiful in our social circles, in person, and more so on social media since it’s a much larger set. Cut. Them. Out. Hide them from your feeds, unfollow them, walk-away, change the topic, do whatever it takes to cleanly disengage. There are always tons of important things that require immense energy, constructive debate, championing ideas, defending values, and much effort without all the shallow and shrill things stealing our precious time. Any issue that is important to you can be engaged with constructively without subscribing to a buffet-line of fast-food class negative sentiments. That frees up more time to embrace positive things. Things you admire. Things you learn from. Things that leave you positive. Spend time with people that enrich you, and take a vacation every now and then!

What are some of your favorite positive energy sources? What kinds of negative energy sources have you successfully cut out? Please share.

Eight Surefire Ways to Sabotage Your Goals

Do you feel like you’ve haven’t achieved the successes you set out to accomplish? Do you believe you haven’t lived up to your fullest potential? You’re not alone. Many people feel this way. If you want to accomplish more, you can get there by spending some time planning your goals and building an action plan to reach those goals. Setting goals is an effective process that can get you on the road to success. Don’t know where to start? Follow this quick presentation below to learn a little about setting and achieving goals.

A Mom’s Guide to Making Brilliant To-do Lists and Getting Stuff Done

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In our modern world, we’re busier than ever — especially when raising children and running a household. We’re rushing from one activity to another, and we struggle to find the time to get everything done that we plan to do. Important tasks fall through the cracks leading to embarrassment and other consequences, such as an unpleasant phone call from a teacher. Sound familiar?

I fully relate to how crazy life can be for parents. I have the unique and fortunate experience of working outside of the home and being a stay-at-home mom. For five years, I focused on parenting — juggling school-related activities, volunteer work, household chores, and equestrian hobbies. Outside of those five years, I’ve worked in the technology industry on teams using cutting-edge project management and software development techniques.

Over the years, I’ve gained invaluable experience in several project management methodologies that you can easily apply to running a household. I’m never a purist – I choose techniques from various methodologies to develop my own time management style.

Specifically, I learned techniques for managing my to-dos in smarter ways, which I’m excited to share to help parents who might be struggling with managing their busy lives and schedules.

The Basics: Why Keep a To-do List?

Studies show that most people can only remember 3 to 9 items at a time. If you’re anything like me, I’m guessing you have more than 9 items to do. If not, I’m jealous. Trying to keep all those items in your head consumes energy that you can put to better use.

David Allen, the founder of the Getting Things Done® (GTD) method for managing life and business suggests that you capture anything and everything that has your attention. Why? Because your head is not a calendar, whiteboard, computer, or notebook — it just can’t hold all of this information efficiently. Capturing everything you need to do will free your mind of trying to remember to pick up snacks for baseball practice or preparing for a PTA meeting.

Studies also show that keeping a to-do list can lead to high self-esteem. Crossing off your to-dos gives you a sense of accomplishment and gratification. If you don’t complete everything, you’re still seeing progress. My mantra is — “progress, not perfection.”

The Basics: What’s a To-do?

When you first make to-do lists, you might blend goals, projects, tasks, and events/appointments — consider they’re all different, which I explain below.

Goals – Big things that you want to accomplish, such as “Have an efficient cooking environment before the holidays“ or “Lose 10 pounds in 5 weeks.”

Projects – Large undertakings that you can break down into tasks, such as “Organized Kitchen” or “Triathlon Training.”

Tasks/To-dos – Smaller items that help you to achieve goals and/or complete projects, such as “Remove expired food from refrigerator” or “Run three miles.” In this post, I’m using the terms “to-dos” and “tasks” interchangeably.

Events/Appointments – Things you must perform at a designated time and/or place, such as a parent-teacher conference. Events can result from goals, projects, or tasks — such as an appointment with a professional organizer.

When making to-do lists, focus on tasks — not projects, goals, and events. Ensure they’re actionable things that you can accomplish in a session. Don’t be afraid to break tasks up into smaller tasks. With practice, you’ll understand how large or small your tasks should be.

You Have a Colossal To-do List. What Now?

You’ve captured actionable things that you can accomplish in a session, and now you have a monster to-do list and you’re more stressed than ever. This is when you tame the beast by putting prioritization into play.

Consider that your to-do list is essentially a list of requirements and think of your family as a high-performing team who prioritizes and delivers various things — homework, shopping, meals, balanced budgets, etc.

In business, the Product Manager of a team typically prioritizes requirements into scales, such as “Critical,” “Important,” and “Desirable.” For example, in the case of a household, “Schedule Carpool” and “Feed the Dog” might fall into “Critical,” while “Vacuum the Office” might fall into “Important.” Also, consider using a “To-Don’t” list for anything you’ve decided is just not important or do-able.

Instead, you might choose to prioritize using the Covey Quadrant, which is described in depth in the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey. The quadrant identifies four categories for prioritization, Quadrant 1 (Important and Urgent), Quadrant 2 (Important and Not Urgent), Quadrant 3 (Not Important and Urgent), and Quadrant 4 (Not Important and Not Urgent).

Choose a tool for categorizing your to-dos — paper, whiteboard, mobile app, or other software. Divide your to-dos into the above categories or sections of your quadrant.

Help! What Do You Do Next?

Figuring out the jobs that you work on each day or week is unique to you. It hinges on the type of work you do, your family’s priorities, your available time, and special needs that your family might have. When you choose your family’s to-dos, evaluate the time and resources you have available, and the priority of the tasks.

For me, my work and life is very deadline driven. When I don’t have a hard deadline, I establish one for myself, and this method prompts me to get things done. I schedule hard commitments and deadlines on my calendar and fit the other items into the gaps in-between.

I suggest that you trust your intuition. Be fearless about breaking your rules if things aren’t working for you and your family.

How Can Your Family Help?

Sharing is caring. Getting the family to share household priorities can have a profound effect on success. To accomplish this, I look to Agile software development.

Agile software development is one of the most popular methods for creating software in an iterative and incremental way. It was developed by a group of software developers about a decade ago. And it’s become one of the most popular methods for creating software in an iterative and incremental way. Applying this methodology to family life has become a popular trend.

One of the principles of agile is a “self-organizing” team. In a self-organizing team, a group works together to accomplish a goal — and they choose their tasks — instead of waiting to take orders from “the boss.” Yeah, that’s right. You have to relinquish some of your control.

In Agile, the team attends a planning meeting at regular intervals. For families, I recommend the same technique. At this meeting, the family reviews the tasks in the “backlog” (the items you captured and collected) and decides what to do in the next “sprint,” which is a period of time determined by the team. This technique empowers the family to agree on the goals and tasks, and it encourages the family to participate.

Another method to adopt from Agile is the “daily standup.” This is a short session where each family member communicates 1) What I accomplished yesterday, 2) What I will do today, and 3) Is anything blocking me from getting stuff done. A quick, casual “daily standup” gets the family on track and identifies any issues, such as unfinished homework.

What’s the Right Tool for the Job?

For families with children who are old enough to use computers, tablets, and smartphones, I suggest finding technology, such as a personal organization application, that works for your family.

Encourage family members to add commitments, such as travel plans, homework that’s due, carpools, soccer practices, piano lessons, etc. to the calendar so the entire family understands when and where these items are taking place. Find a personal information organizer that enables you to manage the family calendar and task lists in one place. Take advantage of audible and visible notifications to make sure you never miss an important meeting, task, or appointment.

With a mobile personal organizer, your family has access to a shared calendar and task lists at any place or time. For example, when you’re at baseball practice and you’re assigned snack duty; you can instantly add this commitment to your calendar and the items to buy to your shopping list. This way, there’s no excuse for showing up empty handed.

Your Turn

Please comment and share your ideas for organizing your families’ crazy schedules and commitments. Thanks!

Five Ways to Start and Finish Tasks and Responsibilities

Many of us believe that some people are naturally highly motivated to complete tasks while others are not. This may or may not be true, but I believe that there’s always ways to improve your ability to get things done.

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A study published in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology indicates genes might play in role in whether or not a person is productive. In the study, rats which were selectively bred to run were over 10 times more likely to run than their more lazy counterparts. In my opinion, as this might explain that some species may be bred to exhibit some characteristics, human motivation is much more complex and you must consider many varying factors. In other words, don’t blame your genes for laziness. Instead, learn tactics to motivate yourself to start and finish tasks.

If you believe you fall in the less motivated crowd, trust that you can become a more productive person who starts tasks, and finishes them within deadlines. If you understand the reasons that you might not be motivated and if you learn a few simple time management skills, you can improve your ability to get things done.

1. LEARN WHAT MOTIVATES YOU

We’re all different. Learn what motivates YOU. Is it wealth? Is it winning? Do you want to help people? Is it attention from others? Positive reinforcement? Meaningful work? Take note of what motivates you to complete tasks and projects and focus on these areas. Become an expert in the areas that you care about.

For example, you might be motivated by meaningful work. Seek out opportunities that support your desire to help the poor, express your creative side, or teach children – it’s up to you. Focus on these opportunities to boost your motivation. When you’re feeling good about a job well done, your self-esteem soars, and you’ll gain confidence and inspiration when completing the less desirable tasks.

2. VISUALIZE POSITIVE OUTCOMES

Worrying about the consequences of not finishing projects and tasks leads to more and more procrastination. It’s a vicious cycle. Focus on the reward and visualize the positive outcomes. Think about how good you will feel when you accomplish the goal.

For example, you might prefer to sit on the couch and watch TV night after night instead of attending workout sessions. From my own experience, I reduced my number of workouts and noticed my waistline expanding and my blood pressure rising, which is a bad combination. To combat this, I visualize fitting into my smaller jeans and the blood pressure numbers going down. This motivates me to schedule and show up for my workouts to reach better health and wellness. So far, the method is working and I’m back in smaller jeans, and I continue to improve my health.

3. PLAN YOUR TASKS AND PROJECTS

Sometimes it’s difficult to get started on tasks because you feel like there’s too much to do and you get overwhelmed. You have several balls in the air, and then you simply shut down and search the web for funny cat pictures.

Having a clear picture of all the items that you need to accomplish and having an understanding of what’s urgent and what’s not urgent will actually put your mind at ease. Recording and managing your tasks gives you an idea of what can fall off the list and what can wait until a later date. Using a mobile task management app or other software makes it easy to re-prioritize and keep track of your to-dos, projects, tasks, appointments, goals, and events.

There are several methods and task managers for managing the things you need to do. We recommend our app, LifeTopix and it’s little sister, My.Agenda for keeping track of your ever-growing task lists.

4. FIND MOTIVATION IN A FRIEND

If there’s a task that you find unpleasant, find a friend who enjoys the task and team up. For example, I don’t love yoga. I understand the benefits of yoga, such as healing pain and improving immune function as well as improving health overall, I just don’t enjoy practicing it. I’ve made a resolution this year to change my workout plan to focus on yoga. Therefore, I found a friend who’s a yoga instructor and she’s willing to attend classes with me. I know she will help me stay accountable for keeping up with my practice and maybe I’ll learn to love yoga through her enthusiasm and the benefits that it provides.

5. TAKE STEPS TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH

Nothing crushes motivation more than feeling sick, tired, depressed, or in pain. If your health is limiting your motivation, seek help from traditional or alternative medical practitioners for acute or chronic conditions. If you have a condition that’s difficult to treat or if you just want to improve your general health and fitness, you might consider learning about the Quantified Self movement.

The Quantified Self is a movement that advocates measuring characteristics of your daily life such as calories, blood pressure, exercise, diet, heart rate, and other aspects. The purpose of measuring these aspects of your life is to gain knowledge about yourself, which can lead to insights for improving your health and happiness and for reaching personal goals. Quantified Self is also referred to as self tracking or self quantifying.

When your goal is to improve your health, keep these things in mind – never give up, get support from professionals, be patient, exercise your mind and body, and keep a positive attitude. A positive attitude can take you a long way. Also, just completing one or two small tasks when you’re not feeling well can give you a great feeling of accomplishment. You might have limitations, but accepting them is not giving up. Be thankful for what you can do!

YOUR TURN

Please comment and let us know how you find ways to start and finish tasks and to improve your motivation.

Understand Your Brain Dominance for Better Productivity

Brain Dominance

Sometimes people are described as right-brain dominant or left-brain dominant. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize winner and Neuropsychologist, described right and left-brain dominance in 1981 when researching the split brain. According to his findings, the left side of the brain controls logic and focus, and the right side of the brain controls creativity.

Corresponding to Sperry’s theory, people who are left-brainers excel in project management and they’re inclined to follow productivity systems. Those who are right-brainers are more artistic, and they decide their course of action as they go along. In reality, most people have both left-brain and right-brain characteristics. However, they might have more characteristics associated with one side or the other.

We typically associate prioritization and planning with left-brainers. However, the right-brainers use intuition and big-picture thinking to manage their time so don’t discount their valuable skills. Being conscious of the less dominant side of the brain can help strengthen it. This understanding can be useful for productivity goals. Learning balanced thinking skills (using both sides of the brain) can boost productivity.

Are You a Right or Left-Brainer?

Right-brain characteristics include imagination, artistry, and intuition. People who are right-brain dominant tend to be more passionate, empathetic, and impulsive. They choose professions in marketing, fiction writing, teaching, sales, art, and design.

Left-brain characteristics include language skills, logical thinking, and math and spelling skills. People who are left-brain dominant tend to process information linearly when solving problems. They are usually good planners and tend to make to-do lists. They choose professions in science, legal, programming, engineering, non-fiction writing, and health care.

If you want to learn if you’re a right or left-brainer, you can take a quick test online. This short quiz from Eterna helps you determine your brain hemisphere dominance. I personally took the test, and it determined that I’m right brain dominant which was not a surprise for me. My intuition told me where my dominance falls.

Messy and Clean Desks Play Roles in Productivity

Messy desks can be associated with creative, right-brainers, while clean desks can be associated with the more orderly left-brainers. This is a generalization, of course.

I recently discovered an article “Why You Should Have a Messy Desk.” The article states that many of the most successful people in recent history have or had messy desks – including Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Tony Hsieh, and Mark Twain. What do these successful CEOs such as Hsieh and other leaders have in common? They’re creative visionaries and big-picture thinkers — most likely, right-brainers. My theory is that they’re heavily involved at the beginning phases of the creative process — the stage that new, innovative ideas develop. And after they’ve designed the new concepts, they hand over the project to the team members who plan, implement, and develop the final products under their creative guidance.

After research and thought, I concluded that messiness AND neatness play a role in productivity. A study from the University of Minnesota determined that an orderly environment activates a mindset of following convention and a disorderly environment promotes exploring new ideas.

Visualize effective brainstorming sessions in messy offices or conference rooms — ideas flowing freely in an unstructured way. Imagine a creative war room at an advertising agency – think Mad Men. These unstructured spaces are where ideas flow. On the other hand, picture times when you’re getting things done. In my case, I clear my desk of clutter so the things around me aren’t demanding my attention. I’m a right-brainer who employs practices of the left-brainer to boost my productivity.

To encourage productivity, consider your task at hand and your brain dominance. Messiness promotes the creative process and neatness encourages the implementation of projects in a conventional way. If you’re a right-brainer, don’t be afraid to tidy your workspace when you’re in the execution phase of a project. If you’re a left-brainer, go with the flow of a messy environment when you’re brainstorming and generating new ideas.

Exercise the Less Dominant Side of the Brain

You can greatly improve your productivity by complementing your thinking with thoughts and behaviors that don’t come naturally to you. You can also perform brain exercises to develop the less dominant side of the brain.

If you’re a left-brainer, you probably believe you don’t need advice for being productive because you have an excellent system in place. However, you might lack big-picture thinking. Do you get bogged down in the details and tend to lose sight of the big picture? Do you analyze the numbers, but lack intuition about the direction you should take? Is finding creative answers to problems difficult for you?

Understanding the above weaknesses of the left-brainer can help them to improve their decision-making, problem solving, and productivity. This type of thinking might not come natural; however, the left-brainer can benefit from brain exercises such as drawing, playing an instrument, and playing sports to strengthen the right side of the brain.

If you’re a right-brainer, you probably don’t use a productivity system because you intuitively know how much time it takes to complete a project or task. Do you keep your agenda and your ideas in your head and easily visualize your projects and tasks? Do you get your projects done (sometimes at the 11th hour), but forget to pay your mortgage? Do you ignore the numbers and make decisions based on creativity and intuition? Are you late for meetings because you don’t make appointments and use reminders?

Using a productivity system or software with projects, appointments, reminders, and tasks can greatly improve the right-brainer’s productivity. The right-brainer can also improve their focus by working in 90-minute intervals with 10-20 minute breaks. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, coding, writing, and reading (without skimming) can exercise the left side of the brain.

Your Turn

Did you take the test to learn your brain dominance? Do the ideas and notions in this post ring true for you? Do you use a productivity system? Comment and let us know!