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Tag Archive for: solutions for living

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Top Time Management Strategies to Increase Productivity

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Meat Loaf says it best: “if you are only killing time it will kill you right back.” How true.

As we all try to cram more into our days, weeks, and nights we are creating unsustainable expectations for ourselves and for those that rely on each of us to get stuff done. In a previous post, Time “Savers” that Could Kill You, I offered my opinion on what I would consider dangerous and potentially life-threatening “time savers” that seem to be becoming commonplace in our manically productive world. Sleep deprivation, texting or emailing when driving, fast food and avoiding exercise were all on my list.

With that aside, I would now like to share the seemingly effective strategies I personally try to utilize for managing and maximizing time. But to be clear, I don’t have a degree or certificate in time management from any reputable institution. I am just a busy working mom of four kids who has been able to stay fit, get a Master’s degree, and run a business all because I can get lots done in a day. I have also read numerous books on productivity, health, happiness and personal development and have been able to incorporate many of the strategies I have read and learned into my world. So, here are what I would call my “tricks of the trade”…

  1. I prioritize.  What are your time priorities? If you answer “clearing my inbox, answering and responding to calls, getting projects done” then you have not looked at your life from the proverbial 30,000 feet. You are missing the big picture. Personally, my priorities (in order) are my health, my family, my career, and my personal development (yes, health comes first – without this the others are jeopardized!). So, my time spent always aligns with those. My health time includes sleeping, preparing healthy meals and exercising. My family time includes all that is involved in being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, grandchild, etc. My career is all that I do to manage my clients and business. And my personal development includes many of my social relationships, reading books and attending school, conferences and workshops. I make sure that every day includes at least one activity under each domain and recognize that some weeks my time shifts between these unevenly, but that in the next week I will find a way to correct course. Nothing I ever do under any of these priorities can be considered a “waste of time” as that would put me in a negative mindset (i.e. having to take a day off to manage a sick kid is never met with angst – “sick kid” falls under the family priority). Having set and firm priorities allows me to dictate how to schedule my time ensuring the right balance over a day, week and month between the four pillars of my life.
  2. I live in the non-urgent but important quadrant.  I love Stephen Covey’s thoughts on time management from the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Consider that if everything on your list is “urgent and important” you are doing something wrong and have not planned your time properly. While urgent things may creep into our day, ultimately being proactive and planning effectively means that you can focus on important things and manage these before URGENT happens. To balance my priorities I ensure that nothing “unimportant” lands on my desk or in my schedule. After all, I just don’t have time for “unimportant.”
  3. I am proactive.  Being reactive is a time waster. When we “react” we enter a different head-space, are required to shift our focus from the events of the day to something unplanned, and often spend more time picking up the pieces than we would if things didn’t crumble in the first place. Do you have a warning light on in your car? Get it into the shop before you are stranded at the side of the road spending hours dealing with roadside assistance and not having access to a vehicle. Or better yet, schedule your car for regular maintenance to keep it running smoothly. Feeling sluggish or unwell? Take a day off to recharge, make some changes to your routines, or get into your doctor before you enter full-blown illness. Taking one day off to feel better is more effective than the week you will need when the illness spreads.
  4. I use technology wisely.  Technology is a tool, but it is also a trap. My phone has a few productive apps but no games. Personally, “playing video games” does not align with my priorities as these have nothing to do with my health, family, career or personal development. I also don’t use my phone to conduct business – more to just be informed about it. Trying to conduct business on a smartphone often leads to errors in typing, autocorrect, and changes the response to something shorter, even curt. I would prefer to respond on my computer or make a phone call versus emailing on a device. I also don’t watch TV – unless it involves a family movie or show we can all enjoy together. Technology for me is an information tool for my business, and an “in the moment” way to communicate, but otherwise I think use of those gadgets are a waste of time, not the opposite.
  5. I plan ahead.  Proper planning is always an effective use of time. Leaving your home to realize your meeting is thirty minutes farther away than you expected, driving somewhere to realize you forgot something, going to the grocery store without a list, arriving to a meeting without reviewing the agenda beforehand, or cramming your Powerpoint the night before are all signs of poor planning. In our personal lives being unprepared wastes time and money, in our professional lives these jeopardize our professional reputation. Make time in your schedule to proactively manage your “to do’s.”
  6. I know myself.  Are you in tune with your capacity? Personally, I know my limits and recognize when I work best. For example, I am most effective at writing (reports, documents, blogs, etc) in the morning. From 8am to noon I can fly through written tasks quickly. After noon, my focus wanes and it is easier for me to work on emails and calls as these require more short-term attention. This is how I try to structure my workdays. I also know things that I am good at, struggle with, and those things that I have taken on before with poor outcomes. Knowing this helps me to stay in my strengths as this is where I am most effective.
  7. I use lists.  In “The Art of Stress Free Productivity” and even “The Four Hour Workweek” both authors suggested that each day should start with a list of the top 3-5 things that need to be done that day. No exceptions. I find this strategy exceptionally helpful and each morning, or even the night before, I write a short list of “to do’s” and enjoy crossing things off as I accomplish them. Sometimes the list is separated by “personal, kids, work” etc. to match my priorities. And if I find myself wandering from my list to other tasks (i.e. my email inbox), having this in front of me grounds me back to the tasks that need to come first.
  8. I take notes when reading.  When I read educational or development books I always have a notepad and pen with me. Why? Because to read a book about personal development and to not take away or implement any of the strategies after makes reading a waste of time. If there is information I can benefit from, I want to capture that in a place where I can incorporate it into my life and review it later. This optimizes my reading time and self-development priority.
  9. I manage my energy levels.  Maximizing my energy levels maximizes my productivity. I do this by eating well, sleeping well, managing stress, and exercising.
  10. I delegate.  To effectively delegate you need to look at the resources available to you and determine who might be able to take some of the responsibility and run with it. If you know you don’t have time to take on a new project, say no, or figure out who you can enlist to support you in getting the job done.
  11. I practice self-discipline.  It is easy to be distracted, coerced, or tempted by other, maybe more fun, but usually less productive, tasks. That phone conversation with a friend, google wandering, checking Facebook, that lengthy lunch. While these may ultimately align with your priorities, the things you are neglecting during your productive hiatus will only work to move things from “important” to “urgent” in no time. Self-discipline allows you to firmly focus on the tasks on your “to-do” list versus those other enjoyable activities that might sway you in a less productive direction. So, get the “to dos” done first before being pulled in other directions.

Do you have other time maximizing ideas? I would love to hear them.

Originally posted August 2014

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I Already Passed Kindergarten: A Responsibility Lesson for Kids

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

When my children were young, each September I would take some time to write letters to the teachers my children would have for the upcoming year.  I have found this to be an effective way to help the teacher get to know my child more quickly, and to understand who they are beyond their informal and scripted report card from the year before.

In this letter I would describe my child – what they are like as a student and a person, and what they do and don’t do well.  But beyond this, I also explain the culture of our family when it comes to homework.  I remember when my daughter was in kindergarten she didn’t finish a homework assignment.  I got a note home from the teacher highlighting this.  It was written to me.  I responded with: “I already passed kindergarten, please hold my child responsible for not meeting her classroom expectations”.   I have enough to do.  I have to parent them, keep them safe, plan for the present and future, make sure they get along with their siblings, ensure they become responsible and respectful adults, have clean clothes, food to eat.  I really don’t need to do their homework.

My children know my philosophy on schoolwork.  This is for them, not me.  It is up to them to know what is due and when, and to ask for help if they need it.  They are not to cram and ask for things the night before.  Bedtime is bedtime, not to be extended because of homework procrastination.  When I help them this is in the form of assisting them to organize the work, break it into manageable chunks, showing them simple ways to understand the content, and asking them if they feel this will meet the expectations of the classroom.

I expect teachers to hold my children accountable for completing their assignments.  If this means no recess, extra homework, a failing grade, a trip to the principal’s office, so be it.  I trust the school system and the measures they have in place to educate my children – if I didn’t, I would pursue other options.  Learning, like working, involves responsibility, commitment, accountability, organization, planning and time-management.  Kindergarten and beyond is the perfect place to accumulate these skills, as I feel the true value of school is not in the content, but in learning how to learn, be around others, and manage the expectations of someone in charge.

In Kindergarten my girls had to participate in a car rally.  The task was simple – make a car, and parade around the school in a foot race, holding the car around your waist.  One kid arrived with a car made of wood.  It had working lights, mirrors, and tires that rotated on a functional axle.  He couldn’t even lift it.  I wonder if his parent failed the assignment?

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O-Tip of the Week: Get into the Habit…

Our O-Tip of the week series we will be providing valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

For the month of January our O-Tip series will concentrate on creating achievable resolutions and goals for the new year.

If you’re wanting your resolutions to stick long-term you need to turn the healthy behaviours into healthy habits.  Learn how to create lasting habits that will help you reach your goals in the following post from our blog, featuring a free printable habit tracker!

Solutions for Living:  Forming Healthy Habits

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O-Tip of the Week: When Setting Goals Think “SMART”

Our O-Tip of the week series we will be providing valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

For the month of January our O-Tip series will concentrate on creating achievable resolutions and goals for the new year.

Make sure when setting your goals they are SMART goals.  Learn all about SMART goals in our goal planning guide, complete with a free printable to help you on your way!

Solutions for Living:  Goal Planning Guide

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O-Tip of the Week: When it Comes to Goals Don’t Just “Set It and Forget It”

Our O-Tip of the week series we will be providing valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

For the month of January our O-Tip series will concentrate on creating achievable resolutions and goals for the new year.

We encourage you to set goals and resolutions not just at New Year’s, but throughout the year.

Follow our guide to help you create resolutions you can achieve and start you on your best year yet!

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Never Stop Learning

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Over the holidays we were prepping for a family ski trip.  Our children are not yet skiers, and were asking us questions about our upcoming adventure.  My oldest daughter asked my husband “Daddy, have you ever fallen when you ski”?  His response was “Of course…that is why I am a good skier – if you are not falling you are not learning anything”.  So true.

His comment got me thinking about fear, risk and how people learn.  We need to fall to know how to get back up.  We need to fail to know how to succeed.  We need to make bad decisions to know how to do it right the next time.  We need to lose money to know how to keep it.

Humans seem especially good at falling, failing and learning as children, teens and young adults – provided the people in their environment provide them with these valuable opportunities.  As adults we tend to fall and fail in our early careers, social and personal lives while we learn how to behave as an adult and to manage our growing responsibilities like work, families, homes, etc.  Then we seem to reach an age where we become teachers, leading the younger generations to grow as we have.  We still need to gain knowledge during this time, but ultimately we might be revered as wise for all we already know.  But then do we stop learning?  Or stop having the will to learn?  Do we reach a point of “knowing it all”?

I will use another example to explain why I ask these important questions.  I have a close friend whose elderly grandparents are struggling to manage in their home.  They both have health issues and struggle to mobilize, access their upper level, get into the community, and cannot care for their home as they need to.  Family is providing a significant amount of support while living in a state of constant worry.  Really, the couple are one fall or new health problem away from losing their home and being institutionalized.  My friend mentioned to the daughter of this couple that an Occupational Therapist could provide valuable insight into how they might be able to manage more safely and independently so they can stay at home.  The daughter replied “Oh, they would never go for that”.  How sad.  This couple are unwilling to learn.

With a background in Gerontology (the study of aging), I understand fully the challenges most of us will face as we age.  And as an Occupational Therapist (the study of human function) I also understand the difficulties of living with a physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioral disability – age related or not.  But the big difference I see between my younger and older clients is their willingness to learn.  My younger clients seem to want to learn what I know, they appreciate how I can help, and engage in the process of working with me to make things better.  Yet my older clients are historically much less open to suggestions.  It is more difficult to get them to consider alternative ways to manage, devices that might help, or to accept assistance to do activities that are now unsafe for them to do on their own.  My funniest example of this was a 96 year old client that told me “scooters are for old people”.

I consider myself a life-long learner.  I recently finished my MBA, am constantly reading books about business, health and wellness, I take great interest in the stories and experiences of other people, take courses, attend conferences.  I just hope that when I reach that wonderful age of ultimate maturity I will continue to appreciate the value that other people can bring to my life and situation.  And hopefully I will accept suggestions, input and ideas proactively.  Because while falling is one way to learn – like when skiing – the older we are the harder it is to get back up again.

 

previously posted February, 2015

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Top 10 Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

December is, legitimately, the most stressful month of the year. Shopping and presents, food preparation, cards, socializing, crowds, different schedules and routines, decorations, spending, pressure to buy the right thing for the right person – and not forgetting anyone.

I wanted to offer some practical suggestions to reduce stress and help you enjoy the holiday season this year.  Here are Julie’s TOP 10 TIPS based on my own experiences as a busy mom, but also as an occupational therapist who often helps people to break down tasks into more manageable, and less stressful chunks:

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Stand Up for Good Health

We’ve spoken a lot on our blog about the negative effects of our sedentary lifestyles and sitting disease.  Unfortunately, for many, our jobs require us to spend long hours at a desk, in front of a screen without much movement.  Making time for movement throughout the day is extremely important to help battle these negative effects.  Learn more about the benefits of building movement breaks into your day in the following from Participaction.

Participaction:  This is how standing up more often can change your entire workday