24 Days Till Christmas

A Special Kind of Advent Calendar

For many people the time before Christmas is a very stressful time. Despite the fact that we look forward to the Holidays, it comes laden with a lot more work. It is not that we don’t like the preparations for the Holidays, but it means extra work in addition to our already packed days.

Looking back on 2020, it was, and still is, an unusual year that presented us with challenges we couldn’t have imagined. We had to be extremely creative to come up with solutions for our businesses and lives. The most difficult part, we often had to do it alone. Many couldn’t–and still can’t–visit family or friends because of the pandemic.

This is how I came up with the idea for an Advent Calendar for you.

The idea took shape while  preparing my son’s Christmas package. He lives in New Zealand, and our plans of spending Christmas with him got shattered. I still wanted to share some Christmas traditions with him, but how? Until we remembered a Christmas tradition in our house when he still lived with us. It can travel and stretch over the Advent Season: an Advent Calendar.

Advent Calendars

It’s an old German tradition to make the wait for Christmas Eve fun and enjoyable for kids. Starting December 1st children are allowed to open a little window on a calendar or unpack a little treat, one per day, until December 24th.

That’s exactly what I have in mind for you. A little something every day starting December 1st until December 24th. This version, though, won’t be filled with sweets and candy, sorry, but with ideas, tips, thoughts, suggestions to stay strong no matter what stress you may experience and to prepare yourself and your business for whatever challenges you may face now and in the future. 

Every day, starting December 1st through December 24th, you’ll find a new post. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

I wish you a very happy, calm, and peaceful Advent season,

3 Simple Steps to Better Manage Your Time

Why would anyone want to explain the difference between a to do and a project? The simple fact of the matter is, there is quite often a misconception about the two.

I’m sure you would agree that the redesign of a website is a project, a big one. But purchasing a gift for a friend… most likely not.

Let’s have a closer look at the two terms and see what qualifies as a project and what qualifies as a to do. Is the following a project or a to do? Buying a present for your best friend? The answer: it depends, and here is why.

It’s a to do if:
You know exactly what to buy, where to buy it and that it’s in your budget.

It’s a project if:
1. You don’t have a clue what you want to buy and need to do some research.
2. You have to figure out where you will get what you’re looking for.
3. You don’t know if it’s in your budget.

David Allen, who created the methodology “Getting Things Done,” came up with a clear and simple distinction:

To Do: If only one action step is required to reach the desired outcome.

Project: If the desired outcome requires several action steps.

Why is this important? Because it helps you think differently about your planning and time commitment. There is a big difference between ordering something online vs. having to do some research and then moving on to the purchase. Sounds kind of obvious, doesn’t it? But that’s not necessarily the way we think about it. By not being specific about the various steps (of this little project) we tend to greatly underestimate the time it will take to get it done. Our mind deceives us. Buying a gift for our friend equals to: “not a big deal” and “done quickly.” If, however, we consider the various steps, our mind changes from “done quickly” to “it’ll take a bit of time.”

If you look at the bigger picture it can turn into a vicious cycle. Because you underestimate the time you’ll need to accomplish something you constantly feel “behind” or playing catch-up which in turn results in stress. Something we all have enough of.

If this sounds like you and you feel you’re always behind and chasing time, there are three simple steps you can take to improve your time management.

Step 1 – Make a List

Make a list of all the things you want or need to do, either on paper or electronically.

Step 2 – Note All Necessary Steps

Determine what requires only one action step to be completed and what requires two or more action steps. Note all the necessary action steps required to finish each “project.” Remember, everything that takes more than one action step is not a to do but a project.

I’ll use my example “go grocery shopping,” something everyone can relate to. Here my process before I get into the car: 

  • Plan what I will make for dinner.
  • I may have to check a recipe for ingredients and add any missing ones to my shopping list.
  • I’ll also check what I have to restock in the fridge and/or pantry. I add these items to my shopping list as well.
Step 3 – Block Time in Your Calendar

Blocking time in the calendar. What is the best time to work on my project? Again, let’s use the project “go grocery shopping” as an example. I like to go shopping when stores are not crowded, i.e. not on weekends and not around the time school ends. Having said that, in case I’m on the road and pass a store, especially one that is a little farther away, I’ll do the shopping en route.

After all, the whole point of this exercise is to make the best use of your time and eliminate as much stress as possible.

If you have recurring action steps, keep an eye on the time for future planning. The more you learn about the time commitment for various tasks, the better for your planning. Being more conscious about your time will help you make better decisions of what to do and when to do it.

Last but not least, let’s have a quick look at some electronic task management and project management systems. You’ll find quite a few. Whichever tool you choose, keep it simple. Use tool(s) that appeal to you, that are intuitive, and fit your work style. The process is the same, but instead of writing things on paper you collect your to dos and projects with sub-tasks in a task management tool.

My repository for projects and tasks is the Microsoft To Do task manager. I find it’s intuitive and easy-to-use, and it synchronizes over all my devices (laptop, cell phone, office computer, tablet). No matter where I am, I always have my phone with me and can easily add something. This way I don’t have to worry about anything falling through the cracks. Other task managers I have used in the past were:

Now over to you. What are you doing to keep track of your to dos and projects? Do you prefer a paper list or are you more an electronic kind of person? What tools are you using? Do you have any tips? Or are you struggling to keep track of everything? Let’s talk or let me know in the comments below.

See you next time.

Making Better Decisions

… and what habits have to do with it

Signs: over here – no, this way

I came across the video “3 simple tips of making better decisions” (3:31 min) by the BBC, and it tickled my interest. Human beings constantly have to make decisions. In a research done at Cornell University in 2018 it was estimated that on average an adult will make approximately 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. That’s a lot.

Of course, not all of these decisions have the same weight or impact on our lives, in fact, we make most of them unconsciously. And that’s good, because if we would think about each one, we would suffer analysis paralysis and would be totally overwhelmed.  

So far so good. But if we consider that, according to Dr. Modgil, all decisions, big or small, require the same amount of brain energy, then it doesn’t really matter if we make a big or small decision. It is far more important when we make a decision. How could we ensure that we have enough energy for the ones that are really important? How do presidents, CEOs, or doctors, who constantly have to make decisions, have or preserve energy to make (mostly) good ones? And more importantly, what could we as entrepreneurs learn from them to improve and get better at decision making? After all, our livelihood may depend on it.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Some of the most successful or creative people just don’t bother with small decisions. They create habits instead, eliminating as many small decisions from their days as possible. I‘m referring to decisions such as what to have for breakfast, what to wear, how to start the day, or what to do first after arriving at the office. By creating these habits they eliminate energy sucking decisions, energy that would be far better used for more important questions or problems.

I’m not sure if this was his intent, but take Steve Jobs for example. He would only wear black turtlenecks and jeans, every single day. When he stood in front of his closet there wasn’t anything he had to think about. He just grabbed any turtleneck and any pair of jeans, done. This is a little bit too extreme for my taste. But there are other options to remove this decision from your morning. One option would be putting your clothes out the night before. Or maybe deciding what to wear for a whole week. If you’re traveling you do it as well.

Or consider a “morning routine.” As the word suggests, it refers to activities in the morning that you repeat every day preserving brain energy for other decisions later in the day. Depending on your personal schedule and lifestyle you design your morning routine based on what is important to you and what you would like to gain from it. The book “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod and Cameron Herold provides a lot of examples of routines successful people created for themselves to guide their days in order to meet their professional and personal goals.

Creating habits is only one of the three aspects mentioned in this video, but surely worth giving it some extra thought considering it may have a positive impact on our businesses and our lives.

As a side-bonus, it also gives some structure to your day and, based on my own experience, a morning routine guarantees a good start into the day. But you don’t have to stop here. Take a moment and look at your day and your work. What else could you either simplify, delegate or altogether eliminate? What is eating precious brain energy that would be much better used for more pressing or more important questions or challenges? Give it some thought.

Also, consider the time of day when you make big decisions. For me the saying “You should sleep on it” just got a completely new meaning. Give your brain the time to work on your question overnight and recharge. I’m sure it won’t be the first time that you find a brilliant solution while standing in the shower.

See you in two weeks,