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Control Your Time and Clutter
Published Thursday, February 11, 2016


How many projects are you working on right now? How many folders are sitting on your desk? How many tabs are open on your computer? Do you keep things out and open as reminders of things to work on today because if you put them away, they are “out of sight, out of mind?” At what point does your mind feel so cluttered that you realize you’re not doing what you need to be doing?

At what point is it all too much? Do you know what your tipping point is? You need to, because it can be the difference between being busy versus productive.

You’ve likely read the science that demonstrates that multitasking splinters our attention so that we are actually less effective and less efficient. But you also know it because you feel it. You get to the end of your workday and realize you didn’t get done the one major task you had selected. And then you go home, disappointed, only to have the same happen the next day.

We each have a unique tolerance level for how much stuff we can have out in view and still be productive. For some, it’s beneficial to have two projects going at once: it gives you choices, a break, a “useful distraction.” For others, anything in view other than the one project needing immediate focus will drain our attention and productivity.

Once we cross over the line to “busy, not productive,” due to physical or mental clutter, the easiest road back is to deal with the physical clutter first. Through dealing with the physical stuff, we gain insight into why it’s there, what’s missing from our time and task management systems, and what role our own self-management plays. The physical stuff is the symptom of something else, and it’s our job to figure out the underlying cause. It’s rarely simply about not having homes for tasks, papers or digital stuff. And it’s not as simple as downloading software or an app; that software is of no use if it is unused.

Here are five strategies to better manage your workload. Experiment with these approaches to figure out when you are likely to swing from productive to unfocused.

Focus on One Task: How many projects are you working on right now; what’s open and in view? Consider that your baseline. Beginning tomorrow, for just one day, only have on your desk one thing you need to work on. Hide the rest from view. Decide how long you’ll work on the project and set a timer/reminder if you need to. When the time is up, stop. Push it away from the desk. Think about what you got done. How did it feel to be focused on one thing?

Track: Keep track for two hours today of everything you do. Just keep a notepad, Word doc or something simple. Don’t look for a piece of software to track it, unless you already use it and know it well. At the end of two hours, notice your habits. How much switching did you do? What did you complete? What is left undone?

Whittle Down Paper Piles: If you have any piles on your desk, try this. Set a timer for 10 minutes or get into work 10 minutes early. Start with any pile, one paper at a time. What is this? What is the next step? Is it done? What is left to do? Does it have a home when you’re done with it? How are you reminding yourself of a next step? Few things we do these days are purely one-step-and-done.

Organize Your Schedule: How is your calendar working for you these days? Are you on time all the time and not missing appointments? How is your task list working for you? Do you feel, and do others acknowledge, that you are always reliable, on top of things, in control and productive? Can you rattle off your top tasks for today in 20 seconds or less? How about for this week? Are you fairly effective at achieving the long-term projects and goals, or do you wait to the last minute? Make sure you have a time management system that works for you.

Find Your Best Time of Day: When is your most productive, creative and energetic time of day? Thinking back to yesterday, what did you work on during your best and most productive time? Figure out what yours is and make the choice to use that time for your best work. You can’t hit it all the time, but you’ll become more protective of this time once you acknowledge this.

Susan Fay West is a certified ADHD organizing coach and certified professional organizer in chronic disorganization based in NH. She can be reached at 603-554-1948 or visiting OrganizeForAFresh

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