Category Archives for "Time management"

How to Gain Work-Life Balance Without Sacrificing Your Career

Professional Parents who I’ve worked with frequently struggle to find balance in their life where they don’t have to sacrifice success at work for success at home. We know that it takes a certain amount of time and effort to achieve a high level of success at work. After all, if you’ve found that working 12 hour days gets the job done best, you’ll always continue to work 12 hours.

If you’re now forced to work 10 hour days or less, you will feel you were not getting as much done, and therefore not likely to get as much work done.

This leads to a feeling I call guilt-guilt. You feel guilty if you don’t put in the hours. You feel guilty if you continue the way you have been going as you’re neglecting other areas of your life.

Often times, in my clients at least, this leads to in-action and stagnation. Often I’ve found that people will neither progress as fast in their career nor gain that Holy Grail of work-life balance. Your attention is split between work and non-work. And when this happens, neither task gets the focus it deserves.

We’ve spoken about the power of focus in a few other blog posts, so I will not dwell on it here. However, we will look at how this balance can be achieved without feeling guilty and without losing out on either account.

Productivity Time

A recent study has shown that most people are only productive less than 30% of the time as work. Productivity time here being describes as time which is spent fully focused on one task. The study found one software firm where productive focused work accounted for an average of only 20 minutes per employee per day!

Another term I use, optimum productive time is time which is spent doing one task and being in a state of “flow” where you literally zone in on that task at the expense of other things happening around you. Have you ever been so focused on something that someone has come up to you, started talking to you, and you weren’t even aware that they were talking until they raised their voice: “Hello?!”Or we’ve responded with verbal nods and then thought to ourselves: “What did Sarah just say?” We’ve all been there! Fortunately for us (and not Sarah), this is valuable time and the amount of work we get done is huge compared to when our attention is split.

Two Projects and a Baby

It has widely been documented that it takes time for us to get into that “flow” state and this ranges from 10-15 minutes per instance of focus. So if you have two projects on the go, you may have booked in some time in the morning to work on both projects and then have meetings relating to both of these in the afternoon.

Your day might go like this: Project 1 is scheduled in from 9am – 10:30am. You switch to Project 2. Before you can do this, you check your emails. It takes 15 minutes to get through them. You move on to Project 2 and it takes another 15 minutes to get into flow. You’re half way through and someone comes over to ask you about plans for lunch. As you’re going into flow, its time for lunch.

When you come back a little early from lunch, it takes you 15 minutes to get back into flow, and 10 minutes of your meeting is spent in pleasantries with the project team and the director of the other department. It takes another 4 minutes before you feel like you’re falling asleep. You find yourself with 3 more tasks to do for the project and as soon as you finish with that meeting, your boss adds on another task – though not before asking you about your recent trip to Malta with the family. You try to get emails cleared before the next meeting and the phone rings. Your partner wants you to come home on time so that you can pick up your toddler from the childminder’s as you’re invited to dinner with a family friend. Before you can get into flow, it’s time for your second meeting. You barely make it on time to the childminder’s place, and all you want to do at this point is sit down in front of the TV with a large glass of wine.

The above is a fairly generous account of how much time can be lost to switching between tasks. And although you managed to get some work done, it was nowhere near as much as you pictured yourself doing when you were planning the day the previous night.

Now let’s chunk together the related tasks so that there is less time lost and rerun that scenario.

You realise you have some natural breaks in your day and decide to plan around that. In the morning, you start work on Project 1. You made a few phone calls yesterday and got the meeting for Project 1 moved to the morning citing other meetings and tasks from your director. No one wants to take it up with your director as to why they’ve given you tasks which overlap with your meeting, so they graciously accept. You’re in flow soon after starting working on the project and you stop by your friend’s desk on your way to the meeting to plan lunch. When you’re in the meeting, you’re already clear on what you need to do so you don’t take on too many more tasks and push back on another department’s requests and ask them to discuss with your manager where necessary. That buys you more time.

You clear and respond to some emails before lunch. When you come back from lunch, your partner calls to ask you to pick up your child on you way home. You start working on project 2. It takes you 15 minutes to get into flow, but your focus hasn’t shifted when you go into the meeting. Someone tries to interrupt your state and when they come and talk to you, you start the conversation with “How can I help you?” instead of “Hey, how are you?” which is an open invitation for more conversation. They swiftly move on to bother someone else and waste their time instead. Your meeting goes well and you go straight home from the meeting. You stop off at the childminder’s place and have plenty of time to have a chat before you have to get home and be ready for that wonderful dinner with great company, absolutely stress free.

As you can see, having fewer transition times leads to better work flow and productivity. As your state is not interrupted, you’ll get a lot more done and be ahead of schedule on a few things without making many other adjustments.

More Work, Less Time

Of course there are other things you can do to make sure you have squeezing the juice out of each day and making sure you have more time for your family on a daily basis. In order to maximise the benefits of the time you save from switching tasks, you must also eliminate distractions from your productive time. Here’s a few things you can do which will save you those precious moments and claw back more time for you:

  • Close your Outlook/emails – Having notifications pop up each time we have an email come through (and some of us have easily 70+ emails coming in daily!) can be distracting. Each one of those is screaming at you: “LOOK AT ME I’M THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD!” Except you know it is not. Unless you are expecting an email which will help you with your current task, close the email program completely. Put on an Out of Office reply stating that you’re not available by email and if it’s anything urgent, to call you or come find you. You will find that most people will be happy to wait for a reply from you.
  • Cut out the chatter – We’ve touched on this earlier. People have a habit of wanting to kill time (yours and theirs) by having casual conversations with you. Eliminate these by telling people you’ll be happy to talk at lunch time or during a break. And as mentioned above, start conversations with “How can I help you?” and advise people you are working on a task with a very tight deadline. They will understand, I promise you.
  • Mobile phone on silent – This might sound like an obvious one, but as busy parents, we often feel the need to keep our mobile devices near us “just in case”. Very rarely does an actual emergency present itself. However you can prepare for these by giving the important people in your life (spouse, childminder, kids’ school) the number for your workplace so they can contact you in case an emergency does happen. Now you can put the distraction machine away.
  • Apply the 80/20 rule. When you have to choose between several important tasks, figure out which task will help you the most. What can you do now that will have an impact on other tasks, other projects or other people the most? What is the hardest task to do? Usually this is also the most important or will yield the biggest return for your time invested.

There are other ways to get the most out of your time too. Of course your mind-set and psychology is a big part of this.

You can find out more by checking out my online video programme: Close the GAP. It’s a short course packed with actionable advice on how you can add up to 2 hours more free time to your day, and how you can double your productivity so that you can excel both in your career, and your non-work life.

This course is guaranteed to free up more time for you to spend with your loved ones.

Your Recipe for Task Management Rainbow Cake

It is crucial to having work-life balance to have a handle on what needs to happen when. More specifically: which of our tasks should be done now, and which can be done later – if at all. Below is the task management system I use when I feel that I have lots going on and I am in danger of going into overwhelm. Below is a simple recipe I use to avoid overwhelm and make task management a doddle!

layered cake


1 List as long as your arm

1 Notepad

1 Thinking cap (or turban in my case)

1 cup of tea

Multi-coloured Pens/highlighters to taste


First and foremost, grab yourself a cup of tea. As I’m British, this is a requirement. I already have my Earl Grey, therefore I will wait.

If you haven’t already, create a list of all tasks you need to complete. These could be all related to one area or multiple areas of your life or multiple projects.

These tasks now need to be divided up into categories – or layers as follows:

  • Red Layer: ‘A’ tasks
  • Orange Layer: ‘B’ tasks
  • Yellow Layer: ‘C’ tasks
  • Green Layer: ‘D’ tasks
  • Blue Layer: ‘E’ tasks

Let’s explore these a little more and define what goes into each section. Feel free to use some highlighters or coloured pens to mark up your list.


‘A’ Tasks

‘A’ tasks are tasks that you Absolutely Must do right away. These tasks cannot wait another few days or a week. Go through your list and put an A next to each of the tasks which fall into this category.

‘B’ Tasks

‘B’ tasks are those which are Best to do soon, such as within the next day or two. These tasks won’t ruin your day if you don’t get them done, however they cannot be left for long before they become ‘A’ tasks.

‘C’ Tasks

‘C’ tasks are those which you can Choose to do now or leave to later. Typically you need to do these from 2-5+ days from now, but you do need them done.

‘D’ Tasks

Tasks which fall into this category are those which much be Delegated. They need to be done, but it doesn’t need to be YOU who does them. You may also notice as you go through some of your other tasks, that some of these – although being both important and urgent, can be delegated. In this case, they become ‘BD’ or ‘CD’ tasks etc.

‘E’ Tasks

This is my favourite layer as it involves tasks which you can Eliminate. These tasks are a distraction from what is important right now. They are of low importance, and if you spend time doing these, you’re taking time away from doing you’re A-C tasks.

Reviewing your ‘big list’ of tasks should be done weekly, although you will probably review it throughout the week as you will hopefully be referring to it rather often.

Hold the Oven!


“But CJ, what if I have too many ‘A’ tasks? Which one do I do first?” I hear you ask! Very good question and thank you for asking. You win the prize for best question asked all blog post. Here’s where our old friend Pareto comes in to help us sort the wheat from the chaff. The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, comes into play here to help you decide which task should be first. Decide by looking through your ‘A’ tasks, which one would have the biggest impact on your goal right now. Mark this task A1. Ask yourself the same question again, excluding that first one. This next one becomes A2, and so on…

Now you have a nice layered list of tasks. You may well write them out again in the new order you have placed them in.

The Icing on the Cake

Here’s some icing for your layered cake. You can speed up this whole process by using an app which I thoroughly recommend and use for all my to-do lists (among other things) – and that’s Evernote.

Evernote is one of my favourite productivity tools and it can synchronise across all your devices.

I’d love to hear from you and know now your Task Management Cake turned out! And if you’re still having trouble juggling all the hats, call me now on 07988630004 and get your time back once and for all!

The Slight Edge (Revised) – Jeff Olson Book Review

slight edge

The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson was one of those books that formed an integral part of my own journey. It is a book that focuses on the power of daily actions and habits – something I’m a huge advocate for.

Slight Edge Experience

I remember distinctly my own Slight Edge experience with becoming a public speaker. My own coach will tell you how terrible and nervous I was when I first started speaking. After spending 30 minutes every day and also coaching and holding my own seminars, I slowly became better at my craft. Now I can deliver multi-day seminars with the support of a good crew.

Many times, our daily habits go unchecked. We do not equate the daily action to the long-term effect. But taking the time to master a craft has great results over time.

Negative Edge

Many of the things we do – either consciously or subconsciously, have an impact on our life which becomes greater and greater over time. For example, Jeff refers to eating a single burger – which we know is not going to give you immediately visible results in terms of weight gain. A single cigarette will likely not cause serious health problems. However, over time, the results of these habits or daily actions will compound on each other and the effects will surely be visible, months and years down the line.


Positive Edge

Similarly, the effects of positive habits will not show up right away. a single session at the gym is not going to give you a 6-pack. A single dance lesson will not see you being in the finals in “Strictly” (to my disappointment).

Each of these effects, if observed on a chart, would show very little movement at the start – it would be like watching grass grow. However as time goes on, those indicators on the chart will move faster and farther along, showing up eventually as mountains! This is akin to the compound effect on a bank account left to grow over time.

Easy To Do and Easy Not To Do

Another great distinction from this book is that when forming positive habits, such as healthy eating, it can seem like it is hard to do. However negative habits, are easy to do. However this law reverses after some time – what’s easy to do now (e.g. eating burgers and fried) becomes uncomfortable later. What’s difficult now (e.g. healthy eating) becomes comfortable and easier later.

You can apply these principles to your own life and examine, and change your own daily habits. This book gives a solid foundation on how to go about doing this.

What I like

This book is an easy read at just over 160 pages and is well laid out. Jeff Olson uses some great and practical examples such as the water Hyacinths. It also has great goal-planning exercises which underlay some of the principles in my Daily Planner which I use with clients.

Another refreshing thought was that I was already applying some of the positive habits mentioned in the book, though at the time there was much room for improvement – especially in the areas where I found the positive habits hard to do consistently.

This revised edition also has checklists at the end of each chapter to help aid the learning.

What I dislike

To be honest there isn’t much about this book that I didn’t like. Perhaps going deeper into some of the habits and time management – however I understand that the scope of the book isn’t really to teach time management.

I seriously recommend giving it a read.

You Have a Flight to Catch!

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You have a flight to catch!

You have a flight to catch – maybe not in a literal sense but figuratively speaking. Usually on any given day, I’ve got a lot of things to get done. There’s usually never enough hours in the day to get everything done. But here’s the thing – There’s always enough time to get the important things done. Things that we really want to happen, we will make time for.

Sometimes it can be hard to decide which of those many things you should get done – a number of them will usually seem equally important. So I use another tool to decide which task to do first. I imagine that I have just been called out of town – that I have a flight to catch and I might not be back for a few weeks. Which one item would I do before I went to catch this flight? Which one thing cannot be left undone?

Of course this is another way of applying the 80/20 rule, but it’s a way that helps your brain cut to the chase of getting one action done – and inevitably it will be a highly important task – otherwise you wouldn’t choose that one. If you have more time after completing that task, ask yourself “Now, which one task can I do before I catch my flight?”

Again you will pick the task that will yield the biggest results.

Added bonus: Glance over your to-do list again. Now that you know you have this flight to catch, which one task can you delegate to someone else to do? Which task doesn’t require your presence but it can be done by someone you trust? Delegate this task and you’ll immediately double your productivity.

Comment below and let me know what you do to decide which task to do and which ones to leave behind, especially if you are pressed for time.

Inspirational Quote

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analysing new

Inspirational Quote!

We all get stuck with analysis paralysis at times. I’ve found that every time I’ve over-analysed something, I’ve stopped dead in my tracks, and instead of being productive, I’ve gotten lost in the woods trying to figure out what I need to be doing and when.

Analysis paralysis occurs due to two main reasons.

1 – Not having a clear direction or goal in mind. Even if you know what your goal is, you need to know what the next step is. This will help you decide what actions you need to take.

2 – Information overload. This is linked to the first because if you’re clear on the next thing you need to achieve in order to get closer to your goal, you can narrow down your actions. Information overload can still occur because if your immediate goal is to set up a website, you’ll often hear about a bajillion things you need to do: Responsive website, opt-in pages, lead magnets, header images, one-pager or multiple, auto-responders, etc. etc. The list goes on. It can be a nightmare to decide which you need to focus on first (or even figure out what everything means if you’re anything like me).

The solution here is to firstly be very clear on the goal or mini goal you’re going after. Then chunk up the knowledge into sections – Okay you need a website, so the first thing is not to worry about auto-responders, but the purpose of your website, what you want it to achieve for you and then decide on a layout for the website. Perhaps decide on what theme to go for if you’re building on WordPress. THEN when you’re clear on this, you can start to focus on more intricate details like setting up opt-in pages and creating lead magnets.

Begin with the end in mind.

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March 29, 2016

Make Time For You!

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Breakfast on a bed in a hotel room

Make Time For You

A quarter of all professionals are unhappy with their work-life balance. (Source: The Independent) Statistics like these remind me of the times I spent way more than 8 hours at work and then came home to work on the 5-9. Workaholics and people who have their arms pulled in too many directions rarely take the time to relax on their own.

Now the next thing you’re going to ask is how you’re going to possibly find the time. The thing is, we all have 24 hours in a day, and I feel that we always make time for the things that are important to us. If a loved one asked you to drop everything and come see them, chances are that you’ll hop to it and get there quick as you can.

Similarly, learn to place as much importance to your own leisure time and ultimately yourself. Take yourself out on a date once in a while. Schedule it in if you have to, but do it! You’ll thank me later.

Often you’ll find that taking even half an hour in a day (maybe going for a walk during lunch) can help you be more productive when you get back to work.

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June 9, 2015

Time Perspective from a 4 year old

Today’s blog post will be short and sweet. I want to share something interesting I learned from my 4 year old son.

Whenever talking to him about something in the past, he calls it yesterday. For example, I’ll ask him when did you last eat pasta? He’ll say “yesterday”. If anyone tries to tell him otherwise, “nope, it was yesterday.” When he wants to defer something that he doesn’t like doing, usually going to nursery or having a bath, he’ll say “No daddy, that’s tomorrow.”

He’ll place something that he doesn’t like into the future so he doesn’t have to worry about it. However if it’s something he wants or likes, e.g. if you tell him he can have his favourite toy truck later, he will say “No, now is later!”

After a few of these simple exchanges, I learned that things in the past should be left in the past. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, it’s gone. Don’t let it bother you. Conversely, if you’re afraid of something or feel something may not go to plan, leave that to the uncertain future. Do not let those things that haven’t occurred yet bother you.

There’s a old saying that goes “A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only once.” If you live in constant fear, it will inhibit you from doing the things that will bring you great rewards. You have to feel the fear and do it anyway.

You have many important goals, that you are drawn towards. Things that if you could have, be or do, they would bring you pleasure.  These things you should not leave to the future. You need to go do them now. Let go of your excuses as to why you can’t do those things. Later is now!