Starting Your Day In A Positive Way

Have you ever noticed how the first few hours after waking up can determine how you feel for the rest of the day? If you've ever found yourself saying "It's going to be one of those days", you know exactly what I mean. A few bad experiences in the early hours can drag your whole day down, to the point where everything seems to be going wrong.

Here's a few strategies for preventing this from happening.

1) Wake up earlier than you need to

If you travel any distance to work, it's important to wake up earlier than you need to. A stressful drive to the office, or missing your bus by a few seconds can really ruin your day. Leave plenty of time for getting ready and eating. As a rule of thumb, if you don't have time to eat a proper breakfast before working, you're not leaving enough time.

2) Review your goals and task lists

The more in control of your life you feel, the happier you are. Keeping a close eye on your goals and tasks keeps everything fresh in your mind, and you're much less likely to forget about them. Not only that, but it allows you to review things and to quickly spot troubles. And it puts you in a positive frame of mind.

3) Read your affirmations

Before I tried using affirmations, I thought they were a waste of time. However, having experimented with them I've found them to be an invaluable tool for improving my mood. Stick to two or three simple ones, such as “I have abundant energy” or “I make effective use of my time”.

Think of affirmations as a kind of mental scaffolding. They're useful for keeping you internally positive and uplifted until you can change your external situation.

4) Read something uplifting

Rent autobiographies of people you admire from the library. When you come across a good article on the Internet, print it off and read it later. Not only will this help reduce the amount of time surfing the net, but it creates your own personal library that you can refer to time and again.

Keep a highlighter handy when you're reading them, so you can mark any important points. Review these later and make your own set notes.

5) Listen to something uplifting

If reading isn't your thing, rent some audiobooks or listen to podcasts. There's a wealth of personal development podcasts out there, and the advantage is that you can do something else whilst listening to them. Such as exercise…

6) Do some exercise

Twenty to thirty minutes of simple exercises in the morning gets your blood flowing and improves your mood. It doesn't have to be too strenuous, and some light skipping or a gently jog around your area is just as effective.

Remember what you've achieved

So you've been up for just over and hour, and you've already managed to review your goals, read your affirmations and done some exercise. Sounds much better than stuffing down a slice of toast and running for the train…

Posted in: Productivity Toolbox | Comments (1)


3 Simple Time Management Tips

Managing your time is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, yet some people seem to be able to get much more done in the same amount of time. Whilst this could be down to some form of time machine, it's much more likely that they've mastered the art of time management.

Even if you feel like you'll never get anything completed, there are a few simple things you can do to get yourself started.

1. Know what needs to be done

You can't really start managing your time until you know exactly what you need to be getting done. Setting goals is a great way of deciding where you want to go, but you still need to break it down into smaller chunks that you can actually do.

If you've set yourself a goal, grab some paper, write your goal in the middle and then list all of the tasks you'll need to do before it's completed. You don't have to think of everything, but it will give you a much firmer plan to work with. Once you've listed your ideas, write them down in the order you want to complete them. Some might be more urgent than others, or might yield the greatest return. For example, doing a bit of research at the start might reveal some sticking points that you can avoid (and save time).

Finally, estimate how long you think each task will take. It's always best to over-estimate these, as there are usually unexpected complications. I find it helpful to write down how long things actually took once they're done so I can estimate better in the future.

2. Monitor your time

I've written about using time logs before, and they're a really easy way of getting a grip on where your time goes. If you use a computer a lot, you've probably had days where you've been "just checking" your email but ended up wasting lots of time. Once you see just how much time you've spent on surfing the web, it can be quite sobering.

All you need to do to get started is grab a sheet of paper and note down when you start each task and when you finish it. Remember, you're not just noting down work tasks but everything. Getting up to make tea/coffee, answering the phone and "checking emails" all count. It might sound trivial, but it's these trivial tasks that can take up your time.

After a week or two, you'll have a firm idea of what's taking up your time and you can start doing something about it. Sometimes just the act of keeping a time log will make you more effective, as it makes you resist the urge to procrastinate as you know it'll be noted down!

3. You can't do everything

Nobody dies with an empty to-do list. There will always, always be some things you won't be able to do. Whether it's a simple project or going into space, it's a fact that you will have to sacrifice some things in order to do others.

It can be difficult to turn projects down, so to ease yourself into it keep a separate list of projects on the back burner. Once the initial excitement has worn off, the project might not seem like such a good idea after all.

Another way of giving yourself some extra time is delegating your work to someone else. You can either give it to a friend or relative, or hire someone from an outside agency to help. This isn't just a strategy for big jobs either. Even something simple like mowing the lawn can be outsourced. There are always people looking for a little extra cash, so keep an eye out for them and reward them for their work.

Good time management doesn't happen overnight

Creating the habits of good time management takes time and effort. No amount of tips and tweaks can suddenly make you super-efficient (I wish they could!), but if you take things one step at a time you can build upon your successes. Over time you'll become more experienced at recognising time sappers, and you'll have developed the strategies for dealing with them.

Posted in: Time Management | Comments (1)


Five Books That Changed My Life

One of the simplest ways you can improve yourself is to read a good book. Reading gives us an insight in to how other people have overcome challenges, and what they've learnt from their endeavours. There's a huge array of personal development books available, and through the years I've read several that have had a real impact on my life.

1. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Steven Covey's book was the first real self improvement book I ever read. It's fair to say that it was one of the most important things I ever did, as every page is packed full of information. The seven habits aren't particularly complex, and are more useful when treated as foundations to greater habits.

It takes time and effort to truly internalise them, but it's worth the effort once you start feeling the difference. You'll learn how to become more efficient in your work, how to improve your relationships with other people and how to maintain your habits once learnt.

2. The Power of Focus

Focus is a vital ingredient for any kind of productive work, as without it you can end up moving from project to project without ever completing anything. This book is a little heavy on the emotional side of things, and there are a few too many stories in it, but the core lessons are extremely useful.

There's everything in here from creating a balanced life, to learning how to ask for things (which has always been a barrier for me). Even if you find it a little sappy, it's worth reading just for the "pick me up" effect it has.

My review at sodaware.net.

3. Getting Things Done

The GTD method of time management has become quite popular, and once you've tried the system it's easy to see why. It's very easy to get started with, and you don't need lots of tools or software to do anything. A few sheets of paper and some folders are all you really need to start becoming more productive.

The core idea of the system is to stop your brain from having to remember everything you need to do. Once you have your ideas and tasks on paper, you can use your brain power to actually work on things instead of remembering them (or forgetting them if you're anything like me ;))

My review at sodaware.net.

4. The NOW Habit

This is another great book for managing your time, but it also takes recreation into account. Knowing that you have to sit at your desk for 12+ hours to finish a project can make you less productive, so scheduling in some fun time gives you something to look forward to and can make you more efficient.

I've used a lot of this book to create my own effective schedules, and knowing that I'll be able to take a break does work. When you work for yourself you can fall into two traps: working too much and not taking time to relax, or relaxing too much and not actually working. Creating a schedule can help with both problems, so it's definitely worth finding out how to make them.

5. The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business Success

It might have a particularly long title, but this book is packed with useful tips for becoming more successful. The laws are split into different categories, including business laws and personal laws, and each law also has tips at the end for applying it to your own life.

There's a little repetition as you get further in, but you're bound to find something you can use to become more successful.

There are more recommendations in the personal development books section of the site, so take a look if you're after some reading material.

I'd love to hear about books that have made a difference to you, so please feel free to leave them in the comments section!

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New Personal Development Resources

I've added three new templates in the personal development resources section of the site. This follows up on the free templates first seen in "Progress Tracking and Beyond". After a request to convert these templates into PDF format, I looked around on my PC to see what other templates I could share.

Free Templates

There are three new templates in total. They're very simple, but they were designed that way so it wouldn't matter if I spilt tea on them or made a mistake. The first template is a blog scheduler, the second is a to-do list and the third is a daily planner.

Blog Schedule

This is the template I use on all of my blogs to try and keep some form of order in the chaos. It's setup to use four steps for creating each post, which I outlined in "How a blog article is born".

blog-schedule-thumb.jpg

To-Do List

I usually have a dozen or so projects going off at any time, so I created this little to-do list to be used with any project. It's meant to be as generic as possible, so it can be used for just about anything.

todo-list-thumb.jpg

Daily Planner

This little template breaks the day into half-hour chunks that can be used to schedule your day. See "How to create an effective schedule" for a complete guide on creating a schedule that works.

daily-planner-thumb.jpg

You can find more printable templates in the resources section.

These templates are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Licence, which means you're welcome to share and modify them as long as you keep the original link and don't use them for commercial purposes.

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Three Things I Ignore Too Often

One of the greatest tools in life is the ability to learn from our our mistakes and the mistakes of others. They don't have to be huge mistakes either, it can be something as simple as learning that cooking pasta for 20 minutes is not a good idea or that eating nothing but cream crackers will not make you big and strong.

One of the things I wanted to create with this site was a place where I could share what I've learnt, so here are three mistakes I make, some more often than others. They're all centred around a lack of focus, which can be a real productivity killer.

1) Ignoring plans I make

Planning isn't one of my favourite activities, but I find that once I've started to create a plan it's not too difficult to finish it all. Plans can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to create, and the level of detail depends on the task being planned. The real problem isn't in creating the plan, but in sticking to it.

Once the initial enthusiasm has waned, it becomes very difficult to stick to any kind of schedule. More interesting tasks appear all the time, unexpected events occur that throw off schedules and there are days when you just don't want to see a particular project.

So far the best solutions I've found to this problem has been the following:

  1. Make the plan as simple as possible - This goes against my natural urge to plan for everything and to make things as detailed as possible. Instead, I find a more agile approach works best. This starts by making one very general plan, and making smaller ones as each large milestone is completed. See Agile Achievement for more information on this.
  2. Put the plan somewhere visible - It gets very hard to ignore a plan when it's constantly in your face. It might feel a bit silly writing out your plan on a huge sheet of paper and sticking it to your ceiling, but it does have an affect!
  3. Make your plans small - No matter what you plan for, something will appear and mess it up. The smaller (and simpler) your plans, the easier it is to cope with these interruptions. This isn't to say you shouldn't set big goals, but rather you should aim to get there in lots of little steps rather than a few giant strides.

Planning takes work, but if done well it can save hours of time and a lot of frustration. Learn what your limits are and set yourself reasonable targets to avoid any problems.

2) Ignoring priorities

This is related to the first point, and in some ways it's probably the biggest mistake that anybody can make when it comes to productivity. It's an unfortunate fact that there will never, ever be enough hours in the day to complete everything. This is where priorities come in, and when they're followed they can make a huge difference.

The hard part is accepting that in order to do something, you will have to not do something else. Once you understand and accept this, it makes it a little simpler to prioritise your actions. To further encourage sticking to priorities, any rewards should be given for tasks that were marked as "high priority".

3) Ignoring the clock

After a certain amount of work, your productivity will take a steep decline. This is nature's way of telling you to stop and do something else. Once of the worst habits I picked up at university was working until 5 or 6am in the morning, getting a few hours sleep and then working through the day again. Although I got my work finished, the quality suffered as I made more mistakes and felt far more frustrated.

I've found the root cause of this problem is not trusting myself to resume work the next day. Although I know I'll be more effective in the morning, I've had too many days of slacking until the afternoon that put me off this approach. It often seems like working through the night is the only way I'll get something completed.

I found the best way to beat this problem is to wake up an hour earlier and dive straight into whatever task I set the night before. Even if I don't get a huge amount done in this first hour, it sets up a more productive mood for the rest of the day.

Bonus - Not ignoring other people's standards

It seems every list needs a bonus item at the end, so here's one thing that I don't ignore that would probably be a good idea. Everybody has different standards, and it's often hard enough meeting your own, let alone somebody else's.

Don't get too hung up on trying to be somebody else. Improve yourself in your own way, and you'll be far more satisfied than you ever could be by living someone else's life.

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