Make a super-simple daily schedule that works

When Aaron and I were doing the Home Work podcast, we preached about the importance and benefits of having — and sticking to — a daily routine, or schedule. At the risk of beating a dead horse I’ll reiterate here: it really is tremendously helpful to know what you’re doing and when. A predictable work/productivity schedule provides focus, direction, and eliminates the overwhem of “Where do I start?”

Humans will almost always take the path of least resistance, and that applies to forming new habits. I want to make this as easy as possible. Here’s a bare-bones way to get a “beginner’s routine” in place and, more importantly, into practice.* Follow these very simple steps:

  1. Write down your do-or-die tasks. These are the things you simply may not skip, ignore other otherwise fail to complete. Exclude the items that can slide for a day or two.
  2. Consider deadlines. What is due when? Make a note of each.
  3. Consider the time and effort each task requires. Again, make a note.

When that’s done, it’s time to sort. On a new piece of paper, write Monday through Friday. Now, using the annoted list you just created, plug in those tasks. Pay attention as you write: If something is due on Wednesday, for example, and it takes a lot of time and effort, schedule work to begin on Monday or Sunday. If a task requires little mental muscle, add it to a day with a few other similar tasks to take advantage of chunking. Have you assigned each task to a certain day? Great. Now on to the very last step.

Write it down where you know you’ll see it, every day. For me, that’s Google Keep. I don’t care what service or product you use, as long as you know for a fact that you’ll look at your new schedule daily.

I’ve been doing this for months now (yes, that’s my actual schedule pictured above) and it has been great. I’m weeks ahead on all of those tasks and I feel completley on top of it. Again, you can go much deeper into managing your time, but if  you’re currently struggling or working without such a plan, the steps outlined here will help you foster a very helpful and lasting habit of productivity.

*For a much deeper dive into this, check out Mike Vardy over at Productivityist.

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Investigation: Finding my own voice

At 46 I still struggle to be me online.

I launched my very first blog in 2000 after discoveirng Grant Hutchinson‘s Splorp. It was the first time I had seen the word “blog,” let alone a chronological, vertical arrangement of posts on his life. I loved the idea and made one of my own via Adobe GoLive. Publishing via FTP was a huge pain the ass, but that’s beside the point.

I really liked what Grant was doing, so my first blog was very much like his. Time went by and I began to admire other bloggers like John, Shawn, Patrick, Dave and so on. I wanted to be like those guys so I started mimicking what they were doing (in my defense, a lot of us mimicked John). Then I started working for AOL where the bulk of my job was scaning RSS feeds, finding relavant stories, and essentially re-telling them at TUAW.

Today I’ll sit down and think, “OK, I’m going to write about something. Let’s see…” and then I browse the sites listed above, among others. “Let’s see what people are talking about.”

That’s crazy and tonight I stopped myself and examined “What’s happeing with me? What do I want to write about?” Turns out I didn’t know. So I opened Bear, and wrote the following questions and answers:

What happened today?

Work was a little crazy
I was late for the Scout meeting
Grace had her first day of high school
William cooked himself dinner
I updated Overwatch
I had two meetings at work; one with the CEO, the Clinical Director and the Associate Executive Director; and another meeting with the CEO and the drivers.
I had an evaluation with a potential new assistant for my building
I hoped that I get paid soon because I need some cash

What did I learn today?

I need to pay more attention to dates and times
Vulnerability is important
The only person I can be — online and off — is myself

What tools did I use today?

Bear
MS Outlook
Todoist
Keep

What did I work on today?

Unclutterer articles
Cultivating leads on Fiverr
Boy Scout calendar for the upcoming year
Spending time with Grace following her first day of high school
Laundry
An outline

What’s worth posting/sharing today?

This process is.

And that’s how I got here. My online voice is an ongoing investigation, and this is the first report. See you again soon.

Eliminate little hassles for job satisfaction

I started a new job last September and it’s the happiest and most satisfied I’ve been at work for a long, long time. I’m doing something I know how to do very well, something I’m good at (if I may be immodest for a moment) and something I simply enjoy. Aside from all of that, a huge factor in my current job satisfaction is management of the little hassles.

It’s common to downplay the day-to-day hassles when there are “bigger fish to fry,” but in my experience, these daily hassles can have a huge impact on overall satisfaction. I like to set aside time to tackle them all at once, for two reasons.

The first is time and energy available. Most of these little irritations or minor administrative tasks can be completed with a minimal effort or time commitment. Therefore, I save them for the end of the day when I lack the focus or energy for heftier work. Also, buy “chunking” these issues, I get to experience the rewarding satisfaction of fixing them over and over. It’s an easy win for boosting satisfaction.

Try to identify the minor hassles in your day-to-day, as well as a block of time that’s dedicated to addressing them. You’ll find it’s a very rewarding practice.

Tales of a summer custodian: waxing floors with Cpt. Kirk

tosc_02

This post is the first in a series that explores my summer working as a temporary school custodian. Enjoy.

“Oh you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” When alarm sounded at 5:00 AM last Tuesday, I was not happy. “Maybe unemployment isn’t that bad.”

The bank disagrees, so I hauled myself out of bed, ate a yogurt, got into the car and started the commute to my new gig.

beakerThis week was my first working as a temporary school custodian. After performing more manual labor than this doughy writer has seen in a very long time, I can now strip a floor, wax a floor and paint stairs (work DOWN, now up). I’ve discovered that enamel-based paint simply does not come out, and that every science teacher in America eventually makes the Beaker joke.

I also know that you can play Black Sabbath through a SMART Board.

Additionally, there’s real satisfaction at the end of a day of hard work:

  1. Unpainted stairs become painted stairs.
  2. Unpainted railings become painted railings.
  3. Unwaxed floors are smooth, shiny and beautiful.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived on Tuesday at 6:30 AM and made my way to “the shop” at the edge of campus. The boss man was actually on vacation last week, so Number One (let’s call him “Riker”) was issuing assignments. On this day I’d be stripping and waxing floors.

After doing my time card wrong (I put my arrival time on Monday, not Tuesday, and in the PM slot), Riker and I made our way to the first building for “stripping and waxing.”

It’s not as sexy as it sounds.

The halls were full of the furniture that used to occupy the classrooms, so we could get right to it. Stripping is pretty easy:

  1. Connect iPhone to SMART Board, play Black Sabbath.
  2. Mix chemicals that will likely be responsible for the third arm my body will grow in a few years.
  3. Spread the water/chemical mix across the floor with the “stripper.”
  4. Feel disappointed that the stripper is not a coed working her way through nursing school.
  5. Follow the stripper with the shop-vac, which is a massive thing with a cylindrical body and a long squeege attachment to suck up the water and chemicals.
  6. Quietly name the shop-vac “R2.”
  7. Say “Come along, R2” in your head as you suck up the water.

kirkOnce the floor is dry, things get meditative. First, pour a line of wax on the floor. Then, slowly spread a thin layer, walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

The last step is this: get all Zen with the wax.

First, you worry about doing it wrong. Then you try to line up your efforts perfectly with the edges of the tile. Last, get really, really into spreading the wax.

Like, really into it.

You begin to recognize just how far a puddle of wax can be stretched. You make beautiful, identical arches. You learn — and work to maximize — exactly how perfectly even, thin, perfect a single swi—

“Huh?”

You realize someone has been talking to you while you were zoning out with the wax.

The wax takes about an hour to dry, and four coats are applied in total. A couple of tips:

  1. Don’t do the edges of the room until coats three and four, otherwise it will pool.
  2. Cut a box around the door, as stripper used in the hall will splash under the door and can un-do your hard work. Come back and do that spot later.

The last room I waxed featured the above cut-out of Captain Kirk, which I took as a good sign.

Aside from a coffee break at 9:30 and lunch at 11:30, that was my day. Slow, quiet waxing in an empty building. It was easy, meditative and well…fun. It sounds ridiculous: here’s a guy with a M.Ed. who’s really enjoying the process of waxing floors, but there it was. I really enjoyed the process of waxing floors.

It was low stress, easy and offered instant gratification. I also began to feel a kind of kinship with my blue-collar brothers and sisters. We’re behind the scenes — which I prefer — doing a job that helps everyone else excel at theirs. Faculty, staff, administration and students can do their thing in a building that’s clean, safe and fully functional. It’s a good feeling.

Plus kudos to whoever put that Kirk cut-out in their classroom. You, sir or madam, are doing it right.

Study Hall

studyhall

Could you describe the ruckus, sir?

Yes, I know they’re in detention above, not study hall, but stay with me.

I’m working on a few projects outside of my job. I’ve got Home Work, Board Games Weekly and ideas for other stuff that’s still in the spitball stage. I’ve got goals and hurdles for each, some bigger than others. The cool part of creating side projects is that you’ve got full control over the thing. The trouble is that there’s no one to bounce ideas off of when you get stuck. So, let’s to go Study Hall.

My idea for Study Hall is a way to gather people with outstanding projects that need a little attention. A real-time sounding board comprised of like-minded self-starters who want to discuss their project(s) out loud. If you’re not “stuck” but want to join a conversation with people who are, you’d be welcome to do so.

Interested? Then let’s do it. Leave a comment on this post and I’ll schedule a Google Hangout. Bring your ideas and your experience. Or I’ll tape all your buns together.

The Productivityist Workbook

My Internet buddy Mike Vardy has written The Productivityist Workbook, and it’s available for pre-order now. Mike is one of those guys I think of as “the real deal.” He’s super smart and actually cares about being productive. Not in a jargon-y kind of way, but in the way that produces results.

I’m quite looking forward to reading the book, which Mike describes thusly:

“The Productivityist Workbook is designed to help you learn valuable strategies and explore tools that will allow you to attack your work and life with a more balanced, efficient, and effective approach.”

Sounds good to me.

Email apps

mailboxui

There’s been a surge in iOS apps that attempt to “fix” the way we work with email and they have me thinking, “Look what we’ve done to ourselves.”

In 2013 we’re so inundated with email that a lucrative cottage industry has been constructed around dealing with it. I can remember being excited to receive my very first email messages in 1992. Now I dread that damn “ping!”. It sucks, and we’ve done it to ourselves.

Merlin Mann recently had a lot to say on this topic. My favorite bit is the following:

“Put to best use, Inbox Zero is merely a philosophical practice of learning to be parsimonious about which and how many inputs we allow into into our lives—and, then, to responsibly but mindfully tend to those inputs in a way that is never allowed to hinder our personal commitment to doing the work that really matters to us.

Once you’ve dedicated yourself to making the things you love, every inbox can and should become a well-monitored servant rather than a merciless master.”

Sweet Mary in Heaven, yes. I check mail 3-4 times during the day. Once 5:00 PM hits, I don’t look at it. Not once. Look, I’m going to die someday. I don’t want my epitaph to read “He was REALLY good at email.” There are so many things that are more important. Like, everything.

In the meantime, good luck to all the developers and thinkers who are tying to figure out how to loose the email chain. You’ve got your work cut out for you.