Uncluttering the project to-do list

I have a few to-do items that have stayed on my project list for way too long, and a few weeks ago I decided to do something about those items before the end of the year. I wasn’t aiming to necessarily complete each project, but I wanted to get each one in motion.

First, though, I had to figure out why I was stuck — why I wasn’t making progress. And in each case, I found that I was stymied by the first step.

Project 1: Getting routine medical work done

I was overdue for my annual lab work and physical exam. Why? My doctor had retired and I hadn’t settled on a new one. I’d asked a few friends for recommendations, but many of them were in the same situation as I was, having used the same doctor.

Once I decided I really needed to tackle this project, I realized I could easily take a few small steps to move past this decision-making logjam:

  1. Expand the geographical range I was willing to consider.
  2. Send an email to a larger group of people whose opinions I trusted, asking for recommendations.

And this worked out perfectly. Two people raved about their doctors; I picked one and had a first appointment, which went well. After that, I got my lab work done last Thursday, and I have my physical exam set for this coming Friday.

Project 2: Dealing with a broken lighting fixture

I love the lighting fixture in my bedroom, but it has a design quirk that has caused some recurring problems, which my handyman has repeatedly fixed. The last time it stopped working, I just brought a basic blah-looking lamp into the room as a temporary measure and lived with that for way too long. I was unsure what to do as a more permanent solution, so I did nothing.

But finally, I decided to decide and my decision was to give up on the fixture I had and buy a new one. I went back to my favorite lighting store, where I’d bought that first fixture, to see what was available. The store has great customer service and a wonderful selection; the only drawback is that it’s not close to my home. Once I got there and explained my problem, I wished I’d made the effort to come in sooner. The owner said that if I brought in my old fixture, the technicians could probably make an adjustment to prevent the problems I was having!

I got someone to remove the fixture from its ceiling mount, and I took the light into the store. The folks there expect to make the fix and install the light for me again shortly after Christmas.

In both of these cases, once I determined my first steps, everything else fell into place. I just needed to get past the first decision-making hump.

Project 3: Replacing some carpet

I have one final big to-do hanging over me: replacing the worn-out carpet in my home office. This is yet another project where I’m stymied by the first step, which is selecting the kind of floor covering I want. Because of my cats and the way the room is used, carpeting seems like a poor solution. The room already has a lot of wood, so wood flooring sounds like a poor choice, too.

This one is a big decision, as the cost will be non-trivial. But, I’ve got the Internet at my fingertips, there are some good flooring stores nearby, and I know some people to consult — so I’ll be off investigating my options before the end of the year. Because I’m determined to not let this project languish any longer because of one decision-making obstacle, I’m sure to get it done.

Staying on top of everything

Being a full-time military wife, mother, and entrepreneur, my life can be very hectic. I’ve got to keep on top of everything so that things get done and my life stays balanced.

A number of years ago, I realized that the method I was using to keep track of my tasks and projects had reached its limit. I started falling behind. I was working inefficiently, spending time on items that were not necessarily the highest priority. Details were falling through the cracks. I kept forgetting to follow-up with people from whom I was expecting information.

I attended a conference in 2009 and learned about a book titled, On Top of Everything: Manage Your Projects and Life With Ease by Laurence Seton. A few weeks later, after hearing some colleagues’ testimonials and reading the reviews, I purchased the book. It is well written and very easy to read. The book introduces a system called “Projecteze®: The Ultimate Organizational System”.

Projecteze® uses tables in Microsoft Word to create a simple, elegant, yet powerful system to track projects and tasks. Most people are familiar with MS Word so there is no need to learn a new software program to implement the Projecteze® system.

Although the author recommends MS Word, I believe that other programs such as Pages for Mac or WordPerfect would work equally well if that is the software you are most comfortable using.

The benefits of using word processing software for Projecteze® include:

  • Low cost — most people already have access to word processing software
  • Ease of use — most people already know how to use word processing software
  • Flexibility — of entering, formatting, and presenting information
  • Accessibility — information can be viewed on almost any computer and easily accessed online
  • Sortable — tables allow information to be sorted by project or by priority so you’re working on the right tasks at the right time
  • Transferable — easy to hand over projects, or parts thereof, to co-workers for completion

On Top Of Everything has many examples of how to use the Projecteze® system in several different types of businesses, for managing school work, and for just following through on personal projects at home. The following is an example of my personal chart to give you somewhat of an idea how the system looks and operates:

When my copy of On Top Of Everything arrived in the post, I read it from cover to cover and immediately put the theory into practice. I designed my Projecteze® table and filled in all of my tasks, projects and plans on which I needed to work.

In less than a week, I was in love and comfortable with this new system. I immediately saw what I had already accomplished, what needed to be done, and where to concentrate my efforts. I could keep track of all my tasks and projects. I was proactive — working on the most important things first instead of reacting to whatever dropped on my desk. I was also able to keep tabs on when I was expecting information from other people — something that I always had trouble with before. I was able to follow up at the appropriate time instead of bothering people constantly or forgetting to contact them at all!

As a professional organizer, I recommended the Projecteze® system to many of my clients and I was pleasantly surprised to read their glowing reviews on Amazon.

Easing out of daylight saving time

As a child, I had an eccentric uncle who collected clocks. Every room had at least five or six, all ticking away. As you could imagine, the end of daylight saving time was an adventure. Uncle Mike would start adjusting their time one week in advance. Each day he’d change a handful of clocks, and leave the rest for the following day. It drove my poor aunt crazy. “For one week each year,” she’d say, “I have no idea what time it is.”

If you’re in the U.S., don’t let the change from daylight saving time (DST) this weekend stress you out (even if you collect clocks). With some careful preparation, you can get through it relatively unscathed.

Most people dislike the change to their sleeping habits that comes with the return to standard time. According to WebMD, it’s best to ease into it. Nicholas Rummo, MD, director of the Center for Sleep at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., recommends going to sleep a little bit earlier each night leading up to the changeover. For example, going to sleep 10 minutes earlier each night for six nights will help quite a bit.

This is especially helpful for the kids, who often struggle with the change. In fact, this is the same thing my wife and I do as we make the transition from summer vacation to the school year. It works pretty well.

WebMD also suggests exposing yourself to sunlight as early as you can. Have breakfast near a window or even walk outdoors for a bit, if you can. This will help reset your internal clock.

Back to the kids. The time change can be difficult for school-age children, and downright miserable for toddlers (and their parents). One thing you can do to ease the pain for everyone is stick to an established routine. Dr. Jodi Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night, believes this is the way to go. “You want to stick by the clock and stick to the bedtime rules,” she said. “Another piece that is key is wake them up at their normal times–don’t let them sleep later to ‘make up’ for lost sleep from the night before.”

But really, the best advice I can give here is be prepared. The kids are going to get less sleep then they’re used to, so try to be patient and prepared.

Besides sleeping changes, what else is there to do? First of all, confirm that your clocks — both electronic and analog — make the change. Some will do so automatically, like your cable box, computer, smartphone or tablet. Others will need a little help. I always forget about the clock in the car (as well as how to change it). Our microwave oven also spends a few days displaying the wrong time.

Also, this is a good time to make sure your home’s smoke detectors are working and replace batteries in your flashlights. The end of DST also marks the start of hurricane season here in New England, so I make a review of our storm food and related supplies each October/early November.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, “Happy Halloween!”

Time management: making sleep a priority

With all the things we want to do (and need to do) with our days, sometimes sleep gets shorted. I’m not talking about a household with a new baby — I’m talking about a household like my own where I’m balancing commitments related to work, family, friends, pets, household maintenance, exercise, etc. So many of us sometimes skip on sleep, but the more I read, the more that seems like a really bad idea.

If you have regular problems with insomnia, you might look into sleep hygiene techniques; you might also want to see a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders.

But some of us who don’t have babies, don’t have insomnia, and don’t have other reasons why we can’t dedicate enough time to sleep, we simply don’t make sleep a priority. The following information is encouraging me to make sure I do get enough sleep.

Tricia Salinero pointed me to an NPR report about a recent study on mice, and what it may mean to us.

“While the brain sleeps, it clears out harmful toxins, a process that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, researchers say.”

The Guardian reports that some scientists are skeptical of the study, but it certainly is intriguing, if in no way conclusive.

Rachel Hills pointed me to the BBC website, where Michael Mosley reported on what happens during both deep sleep and REM sleep, and why it’s important to get enough of both.

“We get more REM sleep in the last half of the night. Which means that if you are woken unexpectedly, your brain may not have dealt with all your emotions — which could leave you stressed and anxious.”

On the Personal Health blog of The New York Times website, there’s an article by Jane E. Brody that begins:

Think you do just fine on five or six hours of shut-eye? Chances are, you are among the many millions who unwittingly shortchange themselves on sleep.

Research shows that most people require seven or eight hours of sleep to function optimally. Failing to get enough sleep night after night can compromise your health and may even shorten your life. From infancy to old age, the effects of inadequate sleep can profoundly affect memory, learning, creativity, productivity and emotional stability, as well as your physical health.

To learn more, I’m planning to read Dreamland, by David K. Randall. Here’s just one quote, courtesy of Brain Pickings:

Sleep is ingrained in our cultural ethos as something that can be put off, dosed with coffee, or ignored. And yet maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is now thought of as one of the best forms of preventative medicine.

But for now, I’m smiling as I read about Lucy Kellaway’s movement, called YAWNS, which I found on the Financial Times via Metafilter. YAWNs is an acronym for Yes A Wonderful Night’s Sleep, and it advocates “no more boasting about being awake. Anyone admitting in public to getting up at 4 a.m. would have to prove they went to sleep at 8 p.m. and were still getting eight hours.”

Editor’s note: For tips on how to get the sleep your body needs and organize your time and space to make it possible, check out “Want to be more productive? Get more sleep.” Also, consider keeping a sleep journal to track how much sleep you get each night and how you feel the next day. Each person has different sleep requirements, and these requirements can change as you age.

Time management vs. the unending flow of interesting information

We all have our time management weak points — mine involves a love of information. I could happily spend ages just reading all the wonderful things printed online.

As Robin Sloan wrote in his tap essay, Fish, found on the Tapestry app:

There’s so much to read and watch — and so much of it is good. I mean, just think of the links that flow through Facebook and Twitter. … All the craft and care that comes flooding through my browser tabs every day hour minute.

But, of course, I don’t want to spend all my time in front of a screen (or a newspaper, or a magazine) reading this wonderful stuff. I need to work. I want to see family and friends. I want to pursue other interests.

So, what is the answer to not being overwhelmed by all the possible stuff to read or podcasts to listen to or videos to watch? While I was driving to the dentist this past Monday, I happened to listen to a podcast called Minimalism for the Rest of Us, hosted by Robert Wall. Episode 26, called “Drinking From the Fire Hose,” had Wall in conversation with Patrick Rhone, and some of it really resonated with me.

Here’s the first thing that caught my attention, from Rhone:

What it really comes down to is: Instead of drinking from the fire hose of information, being real picky and choosy about the information that you want to engage with.

“Information you want to engage with” was a phrase that really grabbed me. So much of what’s out there might be interesting and important, but I’m not going to engage with it.

What information would I engage with? Here are some examples:

  • Information that helps me serve my clients better.
  • Information that I want to share with friends, family, colleagues, etc.
  • Information that helps me make a decision: who to vote for, what route to take.
  • Information that spurs me to action: calling my senator or cooking a healthy meal.
  • Information that helps me learn about a subject I’ve consciously decided to spend time educating myself about.

But that means there is a lot of information I won’t engage with.

And that brings me to another quote from the podcast:

Wall: I had a point at which I thought I should be just reasonably informed on world news. … If I just subscribe to like CNN Top Headlines, nine times of 10 I could read the headline

Rhone: and get everything you need to know.

I’ve had this same type of realization. Oftentimes, a headline or a tweet tells me all I need to know about a topic. If I feel I need to know more, the first paragraph of the article might be all I need. I still tend to have a nagging sense of guilt about not reading the full article, especially when it is a well-researched and well-written piece. But hearing Wall and Rhone talk about this might make me feel somewhat less guilty.

Here’s an example of a headline being plenty: As I’m writing this, the New York City mayoral primaries are being decided. I don’t live in New York; I’m not going to engage with that information. I do want to know the results, but a quick glance at a headline is all I need. I really don’t need any details beyond that.

Here’s some final advice from Rhone, about deciding whether or not to let an information source into your life, be it an article someone linked to, a podcast, an RSS feed, a magazine, or anything else: “No is the default.” If something is truly important, he says, multiple people will point him to it, and that might lead to a Yes.

Five ways to do what you want when you want

Life is full of choices. Barring an emergency, if there is something you really want to do, you can almost always find a way to make it happen. Try these five time-saving tips to find more time:

  1. Plan what you want to do into your day. Activities will almost always extend to fill the allotted time. If you want to have family time or just time to yourself, mark it in your planner. Treat this appointment with the same priority as you would treat an important client. As the company L’Oreal says in its advertisements, “You’re worth it!”
  2. Do what you are supposed to be doing when you are supposed to be doing it. If you have scheduled two hours of uninterrupted time to work on a business proposal or work on your scrapbook, DO it. Do not get sidetracked by a ringing phone or new email. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, and you and I both know he wasn’t talking on his cell phone while he was doing it.
  3. Pack your bags! If you have repetitive activities every week such as a soccer game every Monday evening or a writing class every Thursday morning, dedicate a backpack or sports bag for that specific activity. Always keep the items required for that activity in that bag even if you need to buy duplicate items. If you want to work on your writing while at home, remove the items from the bag, work, and then return the items to the bag. You will always be ready to leave on time knowing you have all your stuff in the bag. Have an overnight bag packed and ready to go for a spontaneous weekend away or an emergency trip to the hospital.
  4. Record your favourite TV shows and limit your social media time. Record your favourite shows and watch a one-hour TV drama in 45 minutes. Fast-forward through the commercials so you will not be tempted to buy more stuff you do not really need anyway. Set a limit on how much time you spend on Facebook and other social media sites. Only check once or twice a day and set a timer so you know when to say good-bye.
  5. Learn to say NO. If you are asked to do something you are not entirely comfortable with doing, say so. Have some answers ready if you are put on the spot: “I’m sorry I give everything 24 hours consideration before I give an answer” or “I am sorry but I don’t have the time available to do an adequate job” or “I can’t help on this project, but have you talked to X? I know she has been looking for ways to be more involved.” If you have paid for a course or seminar and you are not getting anything out of it, ask for your money back. If that is not possible, stop attending anyway. Remember, your time is worth something.

The challenge of saying “no”

Setting priorities and saying “no” to people, groups, causes, and activities can be tough — but it’s also rewarding. I’ve been reminded of this as I’ve done some priority setting and no-saying of my own recently.

There’s a group I’ve been involved with for eight years; I’ve met some delightful people through the group, and it was a wonderful fit for me when I first joined. But over time, things have changed. A few weeks ago, I finally dropped out. It was hard to acknowledge it was time to move on. But, now that I’ve said my goodbyes, I’m really appreciating the extra time in my schedule. I’m also noticing that some projects I’d put aside for years are now getting done. And, saying goodbye to the group doesn’t mean saying goodbye to the friendships.

Learning to say “no,” when appropriate, is an important skill. As Merlin Mann said in a Beyond the To Do List podcast:

Everything you agree to do is other things you can’t do.

The most productive people are often those who do learn when to say no. Kevin Ashton highlighted this in his article “Creative People Say No,” which resonated with me even though I’m not an artist, a novelist, or such. I recommend the whole article, but these are a few excerpts:

A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.” …

No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. …

How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code? The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less. We do not have enough time as it is.

Peter Shankman, while encouraging others to say “yes” to new opportunities, noted in his article “Saying Yes vs Saying No” that there are many requests to which “no” is the right answer:

There are times when we should say no. The “can I pick your brain without paying you for your time” requests? Yeah, those are pretty much always a no. Not that I don’t want to help you, and if you’re just starting out, or have one question via email, I’ll always say yes. But I’ve learned to say no to those more often than not, because they negatively impact me. (As they do you, as well.) And that’s fine. There are times to say no.

But the best advice, for me, comes from Lisa Barone. She said this on Twitter, and it’s become a new mantra for me:

We only get 24 hrs in a day. So if the answer isn’t “OMG, YES!” it has to be “I’m sorry, but no.”

Four simple steps for coping with significant life changes

Recently, I found out that someone I know lost his job. He described being shocked when he learned he was being let go, and that he had to accept that he needed to shift gears and move into job-search mode. He also said something else I found very interesting:

I found that I have so much that I should and want to do, that it has proved to be almost more difficult to accomplish things than when I was spending eight-plus hours in the office every day. Each day so far, without a schedule as tight as I had been maintaining while employed, seems to be flying by! More time is actually less time.

It’s the paradox of that last statement that gave me pause. Theoretically, it would seem that not having to commute and spend several hours at an office would equate to having more time to work on anything you want — in his case, job search activities. I think a couple of things are happening here. First, he’s dealing with a change — and not just any change, a major one that came as somewhat of a surprise. Second, his routine is not his routine anymore. Even though he has systems that work for him, they may not necessarily fit his current situation. And, now that he has less structure built in to his day, it can be easy for time to just slip away and for him to become frustrated.

Change, unwelcome or unexpected, doesn’t have to have a negative spin. Auriela McCarthy, author of The Power of the Possible said:

People think of change as something dangerous. But it helps to remember all the ways your life has been altered in the past and realize that not only did you not keel over and die, things often turned out for the better.

When a significant change occurs in your life, you might find yourself consumed by stress or even fear, but there are several things you can to do to stay positive and keep moving forward:

  1. Take a look at what has worked in the past. If you find that you’re feeling frustrated about your new circumstances, you can take hold of your emotions by thinking about the strategies that have previously been successful. Can those techniques be incorporated in your new routine? What adjustments would you have to make?
  2. Consider new strategies. While you can rely on tried and true action steps, this might be a good time to explore other options that might help you more easily manage your current circumstances. You can talk with friends and family members to find out what strategies worked for them to help you decide the ones you’ll try. Be sure not to get stuck at this stage as it can delay how quickly you can focus on your next steps.
  3. Create a new plan. Once you’ve reviewed all your options, you’ll need to craft a plan. Select specific tactics you’ll employ consistently so you can successfully transition to your new routine.
  4. Put your new plan to the test. Of course, there’s no point in having a plan if you don’t implement it. Keep in mind not every day will go as you intend and you may need to make some adjustments. If you encounter hiccups along the way, you can again talk with someone you trust (perhaps a long-time advisor or mentor) to give you objective opinions or make necessary changes.

Whether it’s changing jobs or doing a whole house uncluttering project, being organized with your process is a great way to stay on track and move forward when undergoing a significant life change.

4 questions for preventing information overload

I’m more selective about the information I put in my body than what food I consume. — Robert Reid

If you have wide-ranging interests or just a huge sense of curiosity, you may be like me — someone who could happily spend days just reading things online or in newspapers or magazines.

But, of course, we also want to do other things with our lives: earn a living, get exercise, see friends, pursue our hobbies, etc. So how do we cope with the never-ending flow of interesting information?

When I’m making my decisions about what to read, I focus on four questions.

Why do I want to know about this subject or read this article?

If it’s information related to my profession, it might change how I do my work. Since I do editing work, updates from Associated Press about changes to the AP Stylebook matter to me. As an organizer, sometimes there is a new product or an explanation of a specific technique or even just a cool way of wording a familiar concept that might really help a client.

News about what’s going on in the lives of family members and close friends matters to me, because I care about these people. So yes — I do use Facebook to follow the lives of the relatives and close friends who use Facebook for that kind of sharing.

Sometimes there’s information I need in order to take action. For example, if there’s an election coming up, I need to get informed about the candidates and the ballot issues. And I may want to learn more about a specific cause to decide if I want to get involved.

Irrespective of the reason, it is a good idea to be aware of why you want to know about a topic before you take to reading about it (even if it’s a simple reason like I want to smile at cute kitten photographs to lighten my mood).

How much do I need to know?

Do I need an in-depth knowledge of a topic? Often, I don’t. Sometimes just a headline is enough. Sometimes one thoughtful article by a trusted source is enough; I can read one article instead of 20.

Is this a source of information I want to pursue?

Many people write about the topics I care about. Over time, I’ve found which ones tend to provide the most useful information, so I can ignore the rest. I’ve also found which people tend to refer me to articles I want to read; if they share something, I know it’s likely to be worth my time.

Do I need to know now?

If the article relates to something I may do in the future — travel to a place, buying a product — I can just file the information away, often in the form of a bookmark to the article or others might save the link to Evernote. All I need is a very quick skim to determine if it’s likely to be useful; I’ll read it more carefully when the time comes (such as when I’m waiting for an appointment or relaxing on a Saturday afternoon).

Asking myself these questions allows me to skim through a huge amount of possible information and pick the few things I really want to read. It’s still a challenge — I’m an information junkie at heart — but these questions at least set me going along a path away from information overload.

Change the workaholic mindset to improve productivity

Many people are often in search of a strategy, tool, or productivity system that will help them to get more done. This is a good goal to have — afterall, who doesn’t want a set of habits that will help them cross stuff off their to-do list? In addition to actually accomplishing what you set out or agree to do, there’s a strong feeling of satisfaction you get when you actually pull it off on a regular basis.

On the other hand, it is possible this exuberant feeling you get from being productive can be taken to the extreme. You might crave that feeling so much that in your attempt to consistently recreate it, you end up working all the time. One could speculate that the need to work all the time is really about wanting to be in control. Others may characterize this as an addiction to working, even if the task you’re engrossed in is a worthwhile endeavor. Perhaps, work feels like a comfortable place to retreat to, a way to escape other parts of your life. No matter what the underlying reasons are, if you find yourself focusing on work tasks all the time, you are likely to be considered a workaholic.

On the surface, there may not seem to be a downside to spending a few extra hours at work each day, especially when you’re achieving the goals you set for yourself. But, keep in mind that you may be confusing working too much with having a strong work ethic. While both may require diligent effort and a reliance on core values, overworking likely includes a lack of discipline or the inability to stop working and recognize when it’s time to take a break. Here on Unclutterer, we’ve often extolled the benefits of taking mini-breaks throughout the work day as well as the positive effect exercise and sleep has on productivity. Certainly, if one is always working, there would be little or no time for either of those activities or any outside interests. Ultimately, this would lead to burnout.

In addition, an overly zealous worker is not beneficial to employers. Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them, explained:

A workaholic might seem to be every CEO’s dream: an employee who comes in early, stays late, doesn’t take vacations, and takes on mountains of work. But those very qualities may make the workaholic a poor candidate for employee of the month because they often have more work than they can handle effectively, don’t delegate, aren’t team players, and are often more disorganized …

If you’re taking on too much, it is possible that you may not realize it (take Dr. Robinson’s quiz). As I mentioned before, you may think you’re simply a hard worker. Of course, there may be times when you need to work extra hours. Business owners everywhere (myself included) understand this all too well. However, it is important to prioritize specific tasks and to recognize when it’s time to ask for help. The latter will not only allow you to streamline your focus, but also help you to be more productive.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: A new productivity book from 99U featuring advice from Unclutterer

This past fall, I was contacted by the amazing people at Behance and 99U about contributing to a book series they’re editing and curating. I’m a big fan of 99U and have been in the LifeRemix network with Scott Belsky (the publisher behind Behance and 99U) for years. It took me exactly one second to agree to the project before I even really understood what it entailed.

The book, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, released today is the first in a three-part series exploring creative productivity, time management, individually tailored processes, and great design. 99U’s traditional focus is the creative community (artists, designers, writers, etc.), but the information in this book is applicable to most everyone — especially those of us tied to desks all day.

Jocelyn K. Glei, the editor-in-chief of 99U and this book series, explains:

In Manage Your Day-to-Day, we address the specific challenges that this 21st-century influx of information presents for creative professionals, and offer solutions for how to build a daily routine, maintain focus amidst a constant stream of distractions, and keep your creative mind (and work) fresh … Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, Manage Your Day-to-Day provides a playbook of tried-and-true best practices for producing great work. To accomplish this, we recruited 20 of the smartest creatives and researchers we knew—from Stefan Sagmeister to Seth Godin to Gretchen Rubin to Tony Schwartz to Dan Ariely—and asked them to share their road-tested insights on what helps them do great creative work.

The chapter I wrote for the book is “Learning To Create Amidst Chaos” and admits that “like it or not, we are constantly forced to juggle tasks and battle unwanted distractions” while working and to “truly set ourselves apart, we must learn to be creative amidst chaos.” I provide advice for ways you can train yourself to find focus in disruptive circumstances, much like a basketball player has to learn control so he or she can be successful throwing free throws on a rival team’s court.

The official book trailer:

The book is published by Amazon’s new publishing house and is available in paperback, audio, and digital format for the Kindle. Learn even more about the project and the contributors at 99U.

Are you constantly running late? Strategies for making appointments on time.

You know the annoying feeling of sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, for minutes on end, doing nothing while the doctor is running late? It can be aggravating. Oncologist Dr. James Salwitz recently published an article expressing a doctor’s perspective on this trial on our patience. He wrote about a normal busy day at his office — or what was a normal day, until this happened:

The 1:30, 1:45, 2:00 patients all arrived at 2:15 and suddenly I was looking at an afternoon that would run deeply into eve. I really hate it when patients are late. …

As an oncologist, I detest running late, because it means leaving people with cancer on their minds, stewing in my waiting room. Personally, I worry when I am waiting at the dentist for a cleaning. What goes on in the mind of someone waiting to see me?

This got me thinking about how much grief we can cause for ourselves and others when we find ourselves running late. Usually we just inconvenience people, but sometimes the implications are more serious. Laurie Perry shares a story about the woman who hit her Jeep:

After the crash she sat in her car, writing out her phone number for me, saying, “I was late for work.” I remember looking at her with absolute disbelief, thinking You almost killed me because you were late for work?

That line keeps coming back to me at the oddest times. I’ll see someone blow through a red light and hear that lady saying, I was late for work. And then I think, I hope they don’t kill someone just because they couldn’t bother to leave on time for work today.

What causes us to run late? Some people fall prey to underestimating the time it will take to get somewhere. That’s not my personal weakness. I’m what Penelope Trunk calls a “time pessimist”; I assume things are going to take longer than my first estimate. I’ve learned that Google Maps gives me an optimistic driving time. And I live in an area with minimal public transit and winding two-lane roads, where any traffic snarls lead to major delays — so I’ve learned to pad many minutes into my driving times.

Some people are hooked on the adrenaline rush of cutting things close. In her book It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, Marilyn Paul notes that “there is a thrill in running late, postponing something to the last minute, or meeting a deadline by minutes. If you’re in your car, rushing to an appointment, you experience the exhilaration of trying to get through each traffic light.” She goes on to explain that there are better ways to get your adrenaline rush. But I don’t get a thrill from cutting things close — quite the opposite. I’m one of those people who is nervous enough about missing a plane that I arrive at airports ridiculously early.

I’m also not someone who tends to get held up because I’ve misplaced something. My house keys go on a hook by the front door. My Prius car keys and my wallet stay in my purse. I’ve got a tote bag that has everything I need for a certain weekly meeting. Sure, I will sometimes misplace something and have to scramble, but it’s a rare event.

Rather, when I’ve found myself leaving home later than I intended, it’s usually due to what Kathleen Nadeau calls one-more-thing-itis. I send one more email. I do one more seemingly tiny task. Then I hope there’s no traffic jam, because I’ve eaten up all my carefully planned buffer time. And I promise myself I’m never doing this to myself again.

But for many people, it’s difficult to develop the habits needed to arrive on time. For anyone who is chronically late and concerned about that, but is finding it hard to change, I’d recommend Never Be Late Again, by Diana DeLonzer, which presents “seven cures for the punctually challenged.” It’s a book filled with both humor and wisdom, from an author who has overcome this challenge herself.

Additional help: Hang something as simple as a removable utility hook near your front door or inside your coat closet to hold your keys every time you come into your home. Set alarms on your smart phone, watch, or Time Timer to remind you to get out the door when you need to. Time yourself doing regular morning activities (brushing your teeth, taking a shower, walking your dog around the neighborhood, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc.) to see how long it really takes you to do these activities. As humans, we often underestimate how long things take us to do, and having a real sense of the time it takes you to get ready can help you plan your day better so you can get places on time.