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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



June 28
09:30 2021


RIMS virtual session provides tips on staying organized and avoiding “time thieves”

By Christopher W. Cook

While the country slowly opens back up after the coronavirus pandemic, a number of industry conferences continued to be held virtually this year as organizations begin preparations for in-person events in 2022. One of these organizations, RIMS (The Risk Management Society), provided two weeks of educational sessions, keynote speakers and networking opportunities in its virtual experience.

Time yourself doing recurring activities like brushing your teeth, showering, running errands or cooking meals. You might be amazed to learn how much time they really take compared to what you think they do.

As I browsed through the lists of offerings, one session particularly caught my attention. “Calling BS on Busy” was presented by Andrew Mellen, a professional organizer, speaker, author, and known as The Most Organized Man in America.

Glancing at the provided handout, it was within one of the first sections—Costs of Disorganization—I became intrigued. It shared that:

  • Of the paper we hold on to, 80% will never be used again
  • An average adult tells 200 lies a day (only one-third are spoken)
  • The average person spends one year of their life looking for lost or misplaced items

The way that my wife and I are constantly looking for lost items around our house, it was one of those sessions that I wish she could’ve attended (and if she ever reads this article, this would be the part where I pat her on the head and say “love you.”)

After getting the attendees in sync through a breathing exercise and making sure that everyone sets a personal intention for the session, Mellen reminded listeners about “time management,” and that time cannot be managed or controlled, but rather individuals control themselves in relation to time.

Some of the biggest causes of “lost time” include:

  • Complaining
  • Commuting
  • Gossiping
  • Doing other people’s work
  • Watching TV
  • Hanging with negative people
  • Indecision
  • Interruptions
  • Social media
  • Making empty promises
  • Not putting things away
  • Solving the same problems again
  • Piling instead of filing
  • Eating your feelings
  • Criticizing yourself
  • Picking fights
  • Not capturing ideas in the moment
  • Indulging your perfectionism
  • Unnecessary meetings *
  • Email *
  • Procrastinating *

(The three marked with asterisks will show up again later.)

Everyone is “busy.” If you live independently, you will be. Busy is the new normal, or as Warren Buffet puts it, “Busy is the new stupid.” Saying that you’re busy as if it means something is unnecessary because we all are.

The question is, though, why are people busy? How are they spending their time? Are they doing activities of high value or are they just busily doing everyday things?

When it comes to prioritizing activities and tasks, a few problems that occur are:

  • Choosing comfort over values
  • Saying yes to unsuitable requests
  • Deferring decisions
  • Having concentrative limits

Fortunately, with problems come solutions:

  • You calendar is to time as a budget is to money. Schedule events on a calendar and stick to it.
  • Excellence is greater than perfection. No one is perfect, but people can be excellent.
  • Stop deferring to the future. Impact change in the current moment.
  • Eat that frog. Credited to Mark Twain and made popular by Brian Tracy, this phrase refers to starting your day by doing the worst task first, making the most painful thing out of the way.

When it comes to focusing on task priority, there is enough time to finish what’s important.

When planning tasks in advance, “someday” does not exist on a calendar. Tasks also have beginnings and ends. The laundry is not finished until the hamper is empty and ready for more dirty clothes. Clean clothes in a basket on top of the dryer is an unfinished task.

To assist with finishing tasks, utilize a timer and a stopwatch. This moves the situation from being narrative to time-based. Rather than saying, “I’m going to do this until it’s finished,” say, “I’m going to do this for X-amount of time.” If you try to do something until it’s finished and you fail to do so the first time, you’ll feel like a failure the next time you have to do it.

Time yourself doing recurring activities like brushing your teeth, showering, running errands or cooking meals. You might be amazed to learn how much time they really take compared to what you think they do.

Keeping organized

In between his sections regarding “time management,” as a professional organizer, Mellen shared The Organizational Triangle®, three simple steps to becoming and staying organized.

  1. One home for everything. For example, a set of keys can be in one of two places, in your hand or its home. If everything has its designated home, you can find anything in less than 30 seconds, Mellen said.
  2. Like with like. All like objects are kept together in the same designated home. Mellen shared the example of keeping one screwdriver in a junk drawer while all the other tools are kept in a toolbox. In due time, you’ll forget about the tool in the junk drawer and go out and buy another one.
  3. Something in, something out. With this concept, you don’t accumulate things, but rather you replace them when they need to be.

Seven “time thieves”

When it comes to lost time at home or in the office, look no further than The 7 Deadly Time Thieves™. These seven objectives can easily waste your time; but fear not, Mellen provided suggestions on ways to avoid them.

  1. Interruptions. Mellen pointed out that there is a difference between an interruption and a distraction; the first being external with the latter being internal. You can distract yourself, but you can’t interrupt yourself. Below is a sampling of common interruptions and distractions. Notice that the first in each category involves the phone. Your phone ringing is an interruption, but the obsessive checking of one’s phone is a distraction.

Common interruptions include:

  • Ringing phone
  • Unexpected visitors
  • Emergencies
  • Fire drills
  • Equipment malfunctions
  • Alarms or other ambient noise
  • Physical pain like headaches
  • Common distractions include:
  • Checking your cell phone
  • Streaming media: television or music
  • Worrying
  • Grooming
  • Reading non-work stuff at work
  • Gossip and eavesdropping
  • Social media

To minimize interruptions, six things can be done:

  1. Shift the culture. Adjust the boundaries and have discussions about what is acceptable and what isn’t.
  2. Make constraints known. If some-one interrupts you, let them know how much time you have and set a timer. If the timer goes off and more discussion is needed, set a time and place for an appointment.
  3. Run an errand. Mellen reminded listeners that a body at rest stays at rest, while one in motion stays in motion. If you lead your interrupter away from your workspace (e.g., take a walk), you have better odds of staying in motion.
  4. Turn notifications off. Unless your job description involves constant interruption for the sake of customer service, you don’t need constant chirping in your ears.
  5. Group online activities together. If you have multiple tasks to do online, do them together and then shut down your browser.
  6. Isolate yourself to concentrate. Mellen advised going to a conference room or other quiet place if you need some time to focus. Trying to concentrate in a room full of distractions isn’t helpful.
  1. Multitasking. Mellen called multitasking one of the 200 lies you tell a day. While things may happen sequentially, successfully performing two tasks simultaneously is not productive. You can’t bake a cake and perform surgery at the same time.
  2. Overcommitting. The most important takeaway from this time thief is that “no” is a complete sentence and people need to learn how to say it appropriately. Make no excuses, as Mellen referred to excuses as a form of procrastination and whining.

If possible, offer a trade off if someone asks you to do something. Let them know that you can’t do it now but offer a time when you can. Also, don’t wait to tell someone no. As Mellen said, the only thing better than good news is bad news fast.

Remember: Saying no to something is saying yes to something you value more. Practice saying no as you would to various individuals. After all, you would say it differently to a boss com-pared to a friend or a family member.

  1. Poor planning. There are 168 hours in a week. There are no exceptions. Everyone gets the same amount. So even if you work 40 to 50 hours a week, you still have two-thirds of your week available.However, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Mellen stressed the importance of using a timer or stopwatch to find out how long certain tasks take. Taking those results, you can proceed to make strategic choices on how your time is spent.You can also help prioritize your tasks by asking the following questions:
  • Does this have to be done today?
  • Does this have to be done by me?
  • Is this a step in a larger project or a one-off?
  • Is there something more important to do first?
  • Does this get me closer to my goal?
  1. Email. Mellen shared five tips to avoid wasting time checking messages.
  1. Check only when you can read and reply to it. At best, you waste time reading it because you have to reread it if you choose to reply later.
  2. Stop using email for internal communications. Programs like Slack or Microsoft Teams help get you away from your inbox.
  3. Don’t read and answer constantly. Unless email is key to your job, it’s considered a low-value activity, Mellen said.
  4. Automate using rules or filters. Mail programs give the user the ability to preset messages based on keywords, subjects or email addresses. This prevents everything being lumped together in one single inbox.
  5. If a message is less than 15 words, use the subject line for the message. Include the acronyms EOM (end of message) and NRN (no reply necessary). This will help eliminate long threads containing brief responses.
  1. Meetings. Every meeting should have an agenda. Mellen provided five tips regarding meetings:
  1. Have standing meetings. This is where all participants remain on their feet. With a desire to sit down, agenda items should move along quickly.
  2. Distribute handouts and agendas at least 24 hours in advance so people can come prepared.
  3. Every agenda item should have a time limit for discussion.
  4. Back-to-back meetings should not exist—ever. Time is needed to buffer and soak up the information from each meeting. This can’t happen when one immediately follows another.
  5. Debrief yourself after the meeting. According to Mellen, the meeting isn’t the end of the meeting, but rather it’s after everything on the agenda has been synthesized post-meeting.
  1. Procrastination. There are two forms of procrastination. The first is avoidant. The second is one of the 200 lies you say daily and hides itself under self-care. “Just five more minutes; it’s me time.”

Some examples of procrastination include:

  • Hope it will go away
  • Someone else will do it
  • Fear of the outcome, either good or bad
  • Fear of others’ judgment
  • Waiting for the perfect time
  • Not sure how or where to start
  • Not in the right mood
  • Lack of inspiration
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of money or other resources
  • Lack of motivation
  • Too much pressure
  • Too tired
  • Faulty concept of time
  • Bad habits
  • Perfectionism
  • Something better to do
  • Overwhelmed with other things
  • Another crisis interferes
  • Your vacation or leave is starting soon

The best way to avoid procrastinating is to eat the frog.

While we can’t control the clock, hopefully we can be more productive by using our time more wisely. I know I’m going to try to do a better job being organized. I recently spent five minutes looking for my shoes, because I took them off in the bedroom upstairs instead of in the mudroom where I usually do. I guess that’s better than the time I lost my keys in my hand.

For more information:

Andrew Mellen

The Risk Management Society

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