Back in May I did some staff training at work called "Stress less, achieve more" run by Think Productive. I thought it was going to be more about time management, but it was more far-reaching than that, and involved not trying to stuff more things into an already over-stuffed day, but working on prioritising and working more effectively in the time I have available. Escaping from the tyranny of the to-do list, to evaluate what is on the list and why so that you free up brain space to actually do things. We also looked at dealing with interruptions, paperwork and keeping the ideas flowing. I found it a really useful day, particularly as a chunk of the afternoon was devoted to implementing what we'd learnt in the morning into our own workflows and schedules. That meant I could be quickly up and running with a new way of doing things. Since then, I've worked with the new system, making a few tweaks as I go.
Some of the key tools I'd already implemented are:
- Inbox zero. I keep my email for incoming items only. This makes it a lot less overwhelming to look at. There is a link to Jo Alcock's advice on this above.
- Calendar management. Make sure I add all appointments, meetings etc to my calendar and keeping an eye on upcoming events so I don't miss anything.
- IDoneThis is grammatically awful, but a useful way of keeping track of CPD activities. I have it set to send me a daily email on the days I'm at work, to which I reply with a short summary of what I've done that day. This is really helpful when it comes to reflect on CPD, which I try and do monthly when I update my revalidation log.
- Saying no. I've struggled with this one for years, until I heard someone say that it isn't rude to say no, but it is rude to say yes, but then have to back out of the commitment at a later date, which cast a whole new light on the matter! I still feel guilty when I have to say no to things, but at least I know now that this is the best option in the long run.
I've had a play around with various tools over the years and am still tweaking what I work with. For a calendar, I've found that using my iPhone personal calendar with my work Outlook calendar connected to it means I can see at a glance what I'm doing when, and, because I'm part-time and occasionally change days or work different hours, it avoids any problems with an event being in one calendar and not the other. Whilst I was on maternity leave I found that having an old-fashioned diary-style organiser worked better for me outside work than an electronic calendar, and I've carried on with this since coming back to work. I still use my Outlook calendar for work commitments and this still appears in my iPhone calendar too. So, I use that heavily at work, and to check in with it easily when I'm not at work, but my outside work life now goes into a Life Book from Boxclever Press (used to be called Organised Mum, which annoyed me hugely as I'm sure other people than Mums can be organised too). I was very very tempted by Bullet Journals, as I love their appearance, and that might be something I explore more in the future. I have integrated some bullet journal things, such as habit tracking, into my Life Book, as well as the use of different colours...
To do lists
The Think Productive course advocated having one place to download all your projects from your head, whether work or home related, and then have actions relating to them. I didn't like the idea of having work and home all together like that, so having tried it for a couple of weeks, I now have a spreadsheet for work productivity, and use my Life Book for home productivity. With both methods I review each week what I've done, what needs doing and any upcoming activities, whether it's a meeting to prepare for, a big project to organise or a birthday to remember. I also do a tiny five minute review every day which keeps me on track. I've found that it's meant I arrive at work very focussed on what I need to do that day - usually five tasks chosen from my actions list (I have found that three big tasks, plus a couple of smaller ones works well) and it's also created more headspace for me outside work, which means more time to spend with my family and doing hobbies!
Email and phone
Can be really disruptive whether you're at work or at home. At work I have notifications turned off so I check my inbox when I choose to, rather than reactively, which tends to steal time away. Similarly, I keep my mobile on silent (it is set to ring only if my daughter's nursery calls) when I'm at work so that I'm not interrupted by personal calls.
Helping your future self
Can't find the minutes for that meeting, or forgotten what you need to buy at the shop? I started storing information based on when I would need to use it, rather than when I first came across it. At work I use Outlook, and at home my Life Book. This has revolutionised the way I deal with things and meant it's much less painful to get up to speed with upcoming events as I already have everything to hand. Admittedly it doesn't always work perfectly - a couple of weeks ago I found myself in Sainsburys with a shopping list but without my purse!
Please leave me a comment if there's anything you've used to help be more organised.