Your Weekly Sanity Hour

We’ve not covered the benefits of grabbing a quick half hour power nap in the middle of your work day. But what would you say if I told you that one whole hour per week can save you endless stress and insanity?

Let me explain.

You no doubt have an incredible busy life and a to-do list a mile long. And the longer it gets, the harder it is to get anything done. As you add new tasks, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to give each the proper attention they need.

That’s why it’s so crucial to give yourself one hour each week for a sanity check-in. It gives you time to get a pulse on all your To-Dos in front of you at once, take stock of the big picture, and keep track of everything that’s on your plate. It also gives you the time to think about how you can work smarter and more efficiently through that list, instead of slaving away everyday.

It’s easy to do. You just need to incorporate a weekly sanity hour into your regular routine. Here’s how I recommend you do it:

Schedule a recurring event on your calendar every week, whether on your online calendar (I recommend Google Calendar) or a paper one, preferably an hour or two. Then dedicate that time to getting yourself organized for the week ahead and ensuring that nothing is slipping through the cracks. This could mean organizing your tasks, making lists of people you need to follow up with, arranging your priorities so you can always focus on the tasks that are most important – whatever you need to do at that time to get your head and vision back on straight.

Now don’t you dare go spend this time working on the actual tasks. This is your chance to take a break from working, take a step back from it all and see it on a macro level. Here are some examples of things I utilize this time for:

  • Clean up my workspace, put stray items away and toss excessive clutter
  • Empty out my email inbox, make sure my Gmail filters and labels are working properly, clean out any outdated or superfluous ones
  • Review and update my high-level projects & goals, and the bite-size steps I’ve laid out towards each for the coming week, or whatever next approaching deadline
  • Look at my calendar for the week, take note of any important calls or meetings that will need preparation, and schedule extra time for that preparation
  • Take stock of any projects I’ve been wanting to tackle but haven’t had time, such as redesigning my website or updating my resume
  • Think about how I can be more efficient with my time, and consider one new tool to try out this week that might improve my productivity

Now it’s your turn!

What can you do to improve your work sanity with one hour a week? Schedule yourself some time and try it out – and then let me know how it goes!

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Trigger Happy

Warning: Triggers AheadWe all have different things that trigger a specific reaction in us. You see a plate of fresh baked cookies, and your stomach growls. You watch that one movie and the ideas just come pouring. Each of these simple external triggers causes your brain to react with a particular feeling or habit, which can be either helpful or hindering. They can influence your decisions, make you recall memories, and motivate you to take action.

The idea here is to surround yourself with triggers that have a positive affect on you. You can’t change the fact that these external triggers exist around you, but you can try to use them to your advantage. This involves a combination of removing the negative triggers, and surrounding yourself with the positive ones.

To do this, it’s important to understand that the triggers themselves are not inherently good or bad. They just are, and you can manipulate those triggers around you to encourage more positive responses.

For example, if you kept a plate of cookies on the counter, you’ll end up eating more cookies. But if you instead keep out more healthy triggers, such as a healthier yummy snack or exercise magazines, you will find yourself more likely to stick to your diet.

Identifying your triggers is the first obvious step. But this is much harder than it sounds. Triggers are not an exact science, and everyone has different responses to various things. The trick is to pay close attention to your surroundings when you do feel a sudden urge or emotion, and take note of what might be causing you to feel that change.

Negative Triggers

For example, you may notice that walking over to what part of your living room results in a feeling of anxiety. Take careful stock of the items around you, and you may discover this feeling is being triggered by a painting or other object near you. In this case, the idea is to remove this object and thus remove the negative trigger from your environment.

Positive Triggers

Now in another example, you may notice that you feel more hopeful and uplifted in one part of your bedroom. This could be because of a picture of a loved one, or simply because your bed comforter reminds you of safety and warmth. Whatever the trigger is, and no matter how simple it may seem, it’s important. And it can inform how you can influence other areas of your home and workplace to encourage the same positive feelings.

Here are some examples of triggers I personally use, which may prove useful for you as well:

  • I keep an “ideas board” at my work desk, covered with articles and images from magazines that have inspired me, or my creative accomplishments, or happy photos of loved ones I admire – looking at this bulletin board of creative clippings helps me feel good about myself and jump-start the creative juices.
  • I keep the desktop on my computer totally empty, so as not to distract myself with other programs and documents – then when I have work or a project that I do want to remember, I’ll add it as an icon to my desktop for a visual trigger.

Triggers & Marketing

Triggers are also an essential part of marketing and advertising. The ads you see on TV and in magazines can absolutely trigger a need to purchase something you didn’t realize you wanted. So why not utilize this concept in your own marketing strategy?

Happy customers = Paying customersIf you understand common triggers and how they play with what goods or services you are trying to sell, you can help influence the reaction of your audience when they interact with your marketing campaign. By no means should you exploit this or communicate false information. But there is a great opportunity here to help your audience better understand and feel the benefits of your products or services if you incorporate relevant triggers that your audience immediately relate to.

For example, let’s say you sell chocolates and other sweet treats in gift baskets. People have such a strong emotional response to the idea of sweets and the situations in which they crave them. So reminding them of these moments as you advertise can be a very effective way of relating your products to your audience on a more personal level.

So now take a moment and think about what your triggers are, either in your personal life or business, either for your own mental health or the health of your business marketing – or BOTH! For either of these purposes, it’s a very healthy practice to revisit regularly, so take the time to do these check-ins with yourself ongoing whenever you can. Maybe try scheduling some recurring time on your Calendar to remind you to do this.

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell me what negative triggers you notice that you can overcome or avoid – or positive triggers you can utilize more in your personal or professional life.

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Beat the Mid-Day Blues

“The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

Ever suffer from the mid-day slump? From 1 P.M. to 3 P.M. in the afternoon, your body’s core temperature drops, sparking the production of melatonin, which is what signals your body to sleep. And for most of you, that time window falls right smack in the middle of your work day. So how do you beat those blues and stay productive through this slump?

Winter makes it even worse, as we deal with overcast weather and lost daylight so much earlier. But even during the summer, it’s still important to arm yourself against this dreary condition.

I am actually very focused on this myself, having a somewhat irregular sleep pattern, which makes me even more tired and susceptible when this slump hits. So while I’m working on this, I thought I’d share what I’ve found with you, in case you likewise find yourself extra weary on any given afternoon.

Here are some tips I’ve found that can perk you back up when you’ve hit the mid-day daze:

  1. Get some sun! Sunlight actually halts the production of melatonin in your brain. The best thing you can do is step outside for a few minutes and catch some rays. You’ll even get some vitamin D while you’re at it.
  2. Take a nappuccino! If you can’t get yourself outside, the next best thing you can do is grab some quick shut-eye – though no more than 30min or you may affect your ability to fall asleep as usual that night. Try this tactic: pound a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage, and then snooze for 20-25min. The caffeine will be just hitting your bloodstream as you wake back up.
  3. Stop and smell the mint! The peppermint scent will stimulate your trigeminal nerve, which is connected to the part of the brain which induces wakefulness. So grab a breath mint, chew a piece of mint gum, or just take a quick sniff from a Vicks vapor inhaler. Any of these will do the trick for a easy mental perk-me-up.
  4. Drop and give me 20! A quick burst of exercise will also get your blood pumping and mind more alert. So if you don’t mind getting just a little sweaty, grab some floor space and pump out 10-20 push-ups or crunches, or put on your favorite song and dance around a bit – as long as you’re moving for at least 5min.
  5. Optimize your bedtime! As I said above, your previous night’s sleep can have a huge affect on how well you function the next day, especially through this rough afternoon patch. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep, but the average American only gets 6.9 hours a night. So I know things get in the way, and it can be hard to prioritize this, but it’s so important to make sure you are getting all the sleep your body needs. That’s the best long-term solution to beating these mid-day blues.

OK good luck and see you on the battlefield! And feel free to let me know if you find these tips helpful, or if the battle is only getting worse.

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell me what methods and measures you can take on to avoid losing valuable productivity to that mid-day slump!

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How To Conquer Your Paper Inbox

In the battle against Office chaos, paperwork is one of the more formidable foes. It spreads to cover every working surface while you’re not looking, and makes it impossible to find anything.

It’s constantly attacking – you get rid of one stack and there’s another one waiting in the mailbox. With such ongoing chaos, how are you supposed to wade through the mess to identify the important info? If you simply ignore the whole problem, you’re likely to miss out on something very important, such as your bills or that registration renewal notice. Oops!

So how to tackle your own personal paper war?

It’s about setting up your own personalized inbox system that is based on action and prioritization. I already showed you how you can do this with your email inbox. So now let’s do the same with your paperwork.

Just as my Gmail star system allows me to sort my email based on the action and turn-around-time it requires, so you should have similar inboxes or trays in your workspace where you can immediately sort incoming mail in the same fashion. My recommendation (and what I’ve found most useful) is to have something like the following:

Inbox 1: To Do

This is the most important inbox, because it is for any and all paperwork that requires you to take action on it next. So this should be your top priority inbox, and where you should immediately put any papers you find that need your immediate action. And then this should be the first inbox you look through in the morning, to make sure you are addressing your most urgent papers and action items first thing. Some people like to break this out into two inboxes, one for Urgent To Do and one for Later To Do. But whatever you decide, just make sure you do have someplace  front and center to put these “action item” papers however works best for YOU.

Inbox 2: To Get Response

No doubt you have paperwork you can’t take any action on until you hear back from someone else, such as an invoice you need payment for, or a contract you’re waiting for agreement on. These should go in their own inbox so you can see at a glance what things you are still waiting for a response from, and be able to keep track of them. Call this inbox whatever you want, “Waiting to Hear Back”, “Response Required”, “Needs an Answer,” or anything else you like. Again, just make sure it works for YOU!

Inbox 3: To Reference

This is for any paperwork that doesn’t require anyone’s immediate action, but relates to current and important projects that you may need to reference and take action on in the near future. I often break these inboxes or trays into separate ones labeled for each current project I have going. Or if you don’t have too many different projects, or prefer a one-stop shop for these papers, you can certainly have just one inbox for this topic. But however many you decide to have, and however many projects you need them for, just make sure you have a well-thought out place to collect any papers that are relevant to those and to YOU.

Inbox 4: To File (No Action)

You no doubt get lots of paperwork that has no required action or immediate relevance, but is important to hang on to nonetheless, such as your banking statements, or pay stubs, or copies of signed contracts. This inbox allows you somewhere to toss those papers in the moment, so that you can go back and file them away as you prefer later when you have more time. I won’t go into detail on a system for filing those papers here, but make sure you at least organize your files by category (work, car, medical, credit card, etc) and/or date (2012 taxes, 2013 taxes). And if you really want me to cover this in more detail, let me know in the comments, and I’ll happily write a separate post on this!

Inbox 5: Receipts

These seem to be the hardest type of loose papers to keep together or find when you need them, and yet some of the most important to track and save, especially if you are trying to run a business. They tend to spread all over the house, not just in the office, and can make balancing your accounts, updating your finances, and (as you probably just did) filing your taxes a real hassle. So I highly recommend designating a separate smaller sized tray (such as the top lid of a small shoebox or the box your checks came in) for ALL your incoming receipts. That means every time you would have tossed them on the table or inside your purse, put them in this inbox instead. It may take some initial effort and getting used to. But I promise you’ll find it totally worth it, and so much faster and easier, when you do go through it later to sort, balance, file, etc.

Remember, these are just my suggestions for the types of inboxes or trays I find ideal for your incoming papers. I heartily encourage you to take these recommendations and mold them into a system that works for YOU and how you naturally operate in your workspace.

So happy inbox-ing and paper-tackling, and let me know in the comments below if you have any questions, feedback or ideas of your own!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell me how this system works out for you, or if you have any suggestions on other useful office paperwork management systems.

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Keep the Clutter Clear

“Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace” -Robert J Sawyer

Let’s talk about how to re-organize your spaces most afflicted and overwhelmed by clutter. One of the quickest ways you can feel a significant increase in your creative productivity is by freeing your largest spaces from clutter and disorganization, whether it be the closet or the home office or anywhere else.

But once you get it cleaned and organized, the hard part comes in keeping it that way. And that’s what I want to tackle in this post. How do you keep the clutter clear?

Because no matter how good a job you do finally getting your space all perfectly neat and organized, the hard part comes after as you try to keep it that way. Like many of you, I definitely have days when I’m just too tired to put in the extra effort to put that shirt away instead of tossing it on the floor, or keep all my paperwork together. And then there’s the frequent consumerist temptation to accumulate even more stuff on top of all that.

So we’ve got to be prepared to continue tackling the creative chaos ongoing.

When laziness kicks in, I at least know that my space is set up in a way that is easy to maintain. So I don’t have to reach far to put that shirt away. And each bit of loose paperwork has a spot for it or a cute container on the desk where it can be put quickly.

When temptation hits, I now ask myself: “Will I definitely use this for something immediate and/or important?” I will only buy an article of clothing if I can decide on a specific situation to wear it that is coming up immediately and/or is of great importance.

With that, I’ve implemented a new rule of thumb. I will let myself purchase no more than 3 total items per shopping trip. That way, when I come home with my new purchases, I can hold on to the excitement of each item and remember to use each for something immediate or important.

If I buy too many items at once, then most of them end up immediately folded in my drawers, mixed up with the older pieces, and then I won’t remember which ones are new and still need special attention. So those new unworn items just become another forgotten part of the greater closet, and lose their purpose for being bought in the first place.

True, this is one goal that will never really be complete. For as long as you continue to accumulate more stuff, or even take out and use the stuff you already have, there will be a need to continue putting things away without creating clutter.

But it is a goal worth setting. And one I intend to help you keep.

So with that, I’ll leave you with one more tip – a useful mantra I personally stand by:

If less is more, then more is less.

There are diminishing marginal returns from each additional piece of unnecessary, commercialized crap you consume. The larger the shopping cart you bring home, the less attention each individual piece will get, and the less and less satisfied each item will make you feel (and the less happy your wallet will be).

Money can’t buy happiness, remember?

Here’s to keeping the clutter clear!

Work the Space

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.” -Mary Shelley

You may have identified the space where you are most productive and can focus your work time. But what if that space is really messy and disorganized? In that case, what you’ll need to do first and foremost is…

Work the Space!

One of my recurring resolutions is to regularly reorganize the area where I work to maximize productivity, to wrangle the clutter and chaos within that space so I can truly concentrate and create. For me, that means two different spaces: my home office and the film production office at the home of my business partner. For the latter space, we then have the added complication that the very same room for our production office also doubles as his bedroom. So making this an effective and efficient work space has been extra challenging, hence the continuous goal to stay really focused on it.

In order to tackle this, I am utilizing one of my 10 Productivity Tactics to break up this resolution into smaller, actionable steps. I set aside one whole day to start breaking it all down:

1. The first of these was to sort all the clutter in our production office space into individual piles, to get a good condensed look at just how much and what range of clutter I’m dealing with.

2. From there, it was easier to sort out and categorize the clutter based on the function it serves or the action it requires. For example, I ended up with a lot of loose paperwork that needed a better system for sorting & filing. Previously, these papers had ended up just getting left out and scattered about so that it was difficult to know what to do with them and they often got forgotten about.

3. So I created a new space for these papers, which is the next step for each of the categories of clutter. I sorted the papers into filing cabinets, giving the folders new labels according to the purpose or action associated with each group of papers. Now these loose papers have a better home than in piles on the dresser, and will be much easier to find when I need them. But beyond that, I also now have a new easy & accessible means of putting away more loose papers as they come up.

Now if I can impart one piece of wisdom, it would be this: don’t force yourself into a new system of organization that doesn’t feel natural just because others say it’s the best way. You need to develop a system that works with how you already naturally operate, so that as you accumulate more things, it’s not a huge chore to continue putting stuff away.

Personally, I work better when things are categorized and put away out of sight. I hate having too much stuff lying around. If I don’t have a good system for where to put everything away, I will just end up shoving stuff in random drawers – which eventually catches up with me. So what I need is a better way to put things away so that they don’t get lost later on.

However, I also have the out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem – in that once I shove stuff away, I am in danger of completely forgetting about it. So I organized my new paperwork filing system into tall, obvious filing cabinets so I don’t forget where they are. I then created a paperwork tray system on my desk for the important papers that need immediate attention & action, which helps to keep them front of mind.

Then with the less important or urgent items, I found better places to store them where they wouldn’t need to be as visually obvious. For example, I also found that we had a lot of film equipment and props lying around the home office that are quite bulky and take up valuable space. These items also don’t have much frequent use, since we only bring them out when we are ready to film another project.

So for these items, I chose the basement storage space below the apartment. I identified what didn’t need to be out in the open for frequent use and moved it down under there to be stored similarly in bins based on category and function, and keeping the most frequently used items toward the front.

Lastly, I encountered a great many nick knacks and miscellaneous items lying around that either are too small to keep filed or stored, or simply don’t belong to any larger group or have an obvious “home.” For these, I’ve discovered a love for cute containers. By this, I mean small woven baskets, old mugs, unused vases, decorative pencil trays, lids from old boxes (like the one your latest jewelry purchase or new checks came in) – take any old or odd containers you were going to throw away and put them to good use instead.

The box you bought that pack of Christmas cards in makes a good holder for the loose receipts that you’ll need to go through later. An old mason jar is the perfect place to collect loose change. Clean out that tin can you had dinner from last night and put your pencils and pens in it. That fun little box your mother bought you at the flea market can be a great place to toss extra paperclips, tacks, rubber bands and other misc. items on your desk.

You can’t avoid having some amount of small, loose clutter – so having different little containers to put them in keeps them easier to keep track of and more pleasant to look at.

Now that I’ve started getting my work stuff better categorized and put away, I know I’ll be able to quickly locate anything I need at any time, even if it is put away out of sight. And if it’s something urgent that I need to not let myself forget, I know I’ve got it at the front of the pile or in the properly visible place on my desk, so I’ll be sure to see it first thing.

This is the system I’ve discovered I need for my work space. Now you’ve got to figure out what kind of system you need, and what would work best for you, based on your work habits and preferences.

And it doesn’t stop there either. I’ve set up the start of a new and improved system, but it’s always going to take some initial effort to remember to maintain it. As much as I was focused on setting up a system that works well for me particularly, it still requires some small changes of habit and self-discipline to keep it up, if I don’t want to sink back into the mess I ended up with before. So I’m giving myself the rest of the year to get completely comfortable with my newly organized work space, and make sure I don’t muck it up.

Why don’t you do the same? Happy organizing and systematizing!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please comment below and tell me how you can organize your workspace for easier use, or how I can help you figure out the best system for YOU.

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Productivity Tactic #8: Define Your Space

Hopefully by now you’ve defined your goals and started making strategic progress towards them.

But what about the spaces in which you do this? Have you found that properly productive space wherein you are able to fully focus on your work and your goals; where the creative juices keep flowing, and the To Do lists practically check themselves off?

In my own experience, I’ve found it to be nearly as crucial to define your work space as it is to define your work goals themselves. That space can make or break your ability to work productively and can influence whether you make smooth progress or none at all.

So if you’ve been following my Productivity Tactics so far, and still find yourself struggling to make headway on your goals, consider whether this might be your missing link.

Take some time to really identify that place (or those places) where you feel most productive. It could be your office at work or at home, or your living room, or a coffee shop down the street. Then make room in your daily schedule to use that space regularly and consistently for your work routine.

This might involve incorporating travel time into your work schedule, to ensure you can get to and from your ideal work space. And if your ideal space requires this, make room for it. Don’t sacrifice it for something more conveniently located that might not be as productive. Trust me – it will make a difference.

This could also mean locating the nearest sources for necessary fuel that you will need whilst working in your ideal space, such as power outlets, food and caffeine. Whatever it is you need to have around you to stay focused and productive – be it a coffee maker, or steady wifi, or that stuffed animal that’s been your lucky talisman since the 9th grade – make that your first step to secure before you commit to your new work space. You’ll want to make sure you are fully supplied for success when you sit down in your ideal space and can avoid interrupting your workflow in order to go find these later on.

But perhaps the most vital step I advise is the physical setup of your ideal work space itself. If you will indeed be working in this space on a regular basis, you will need to keep it well lit and well organized with all (and only) the necessary materials and resources you’ll need to work towards your goals. This means you’ll also need to make an extra effort to keep it free of any other irrelevant clutter, to make sure you can focus all your energy on the tasks in front of you.

If you can do this, I’ve no doubt you’ll find the progression of your work and goals much smoother and faster… and your ability to balance the chaos in your creative work much easier. Because defining your work space will also help you to define the spaces for other elements in your life. And you’ll be amazed how much knowing exactly where you are and being exactly where you want to be can do for your creativity and productivity.

So go on. Define your spaces. And then see how much more you are able to employ them & enjoy them!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us about your ideal work space!

Sharing Outside the Box

Sharing is caring“Chaos is a friend of mine.” -Bob Dylan

In honor of this past holiday season, I thought I’d write my next post all about the gift of sharing with others, and how this can help significantly improve both your efficacy and joviality.

The secret is in one word: Dropbox!

If you haven’t heard of this fantastical tool, Dropbox is a cloud-based hosting system (yes, it’s on Android!) that allows you to easily store and share single files or entire folders with others across the internet. It uses this fancy process called file synchronization, which basically means that when you put a file in your Dropbox, it will both (a) instantly update in the cloud AND (b) create a “mirrored” copy of that file for each individual Dropbox you’ve specified to share with. It’s the best of both worlds – because you’ll have the file itself saved in the cloud AND have a copy on your computer that you can access anytime, even when you’re offline (not connected to the internet).

There are several account options, based on how much storage you need. I recommend the Basic account (what I have), which gives you a whopping 2GB… for FREE! But if you need more space, there’s the Pro 50 Account, which gives you 50GB for $9.99/mo, the Pro 100 Account with 100GB for $19.99/mo, and even the brand-new Team level account with 1000GB for $795 and up. Now that’s getting pretty pricey, but chances are the Basic level will suit your needs just fine.

The bottom line is, it’s all about sharing with others in a way that saves you the most time, money and space (less physical paperwork!), and makes the most sense. It’s a very simple set up process, and then the sky’s the limit! Whether you’re sharing important documents with your colleagues (that you’ll get to after the holidays), or festive photos with family, or New Year’s Eve videos with friends, it’s the simplest and fastest way I’ve found to keep my world synchronized.

So if you’re ready to get your sharing on, head to to set up your account now. You’ll be taken through a pretty straight-forward sign up process and asked to download the Dropbox application to your computer. This is essential, or you won’t be able to access the mirrored copies of shared documents on your computer. They make it incredibly simple too – just drag the Dropbox icon into your Application folder, and then double-click the Dropbox icon to launch on your computer.

Once you are all set up, you’ll see a little Dropbox icon icon in the top bar of your desktop. This gives you direct access to all your Dropbox folders, as well as to “Launch Dropbox Website” where you can manage your sharing preferences. Create as many folders as you like, and share each one with whomever you like, and then let the sharing and caring begin!

Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please feel free to comment on this post and share!