4 Productivity Lessons I Learned From Life

4 Productivity Tips I Picked Up FromIt’s pretty well known that most lessons are not taught in a classroom. I think this is especially true when it comes to productivity. No one ever teaches you how to write a list or how to plan your schedule in school. (Maybe they should!) We’re just expected to know these things.

Most of what I learned about list making and time management I learned the hard way – through mistakes.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years:

List Making is in My Blood

For as long as I can remember my Dad has always been making a list about something. For example, my dad’s garden is his pride and joy. Every March he makes a list of all the vegetables that he wants to have in his garden for the summer. He’s very systematic about it and even draws out a map of where each vegetable will be planted. It’s pretty cute that he’s so passionate about it.

Watching my Dad planning out his garden had a strong influence on me as a child because I love a good system.

I use them all the time in my work as a health producer. The day before a shoot, I sit at my desk and run through the entire interview I’m going to conduct in my head. I visualize exactly how it should go. For example, I’ll interview the doctor first, then get exam video of the patient and doctor, and then interview the patient. I think about the purpose of the story and then write a list of all the questions to ask the doctor and the patient. This helps me make sure I don’t leave anything out.

Some people might see it as being over prepared – but just as my Dad’s planning would pay off with a fruitful harvest every summer – all my systems have made my life much easier.

Every List Helps

My very first TV job was at WLNY-TV 55 on Long Island. (Random fact: It’s also where I met my hubby.) One night at that station will live on in infamy—all because of a stupid and avoidable mistake.

That night the main anchor was on vacation, so one of the reporters was filling in for him on the 11:00 p.m. newscast. That fateful night, the clock struck 11, and camera one’s red light went on. We were live.

The fill-in anchor read the show’s opening perfectly. She then turned to camera three, as scripted, for the next story— except that there was no script! Eeek! An anchor’s nightmare: no teleprompter.

She scrambled to make it look as though nothing were wrong. But it was obvious to her, the viewers, and everyone involved in the production that something had gone awry.

That night, during our “postmortem” meeting—in which we discussed the good, the bad, and the ugly of the show—the substitute anchor threw the camera operator right under the bus. It wasn’t pretty. Turns out, an intern (not me!) was on camera three that night and forgot to turn on the teleprompter.

Boy—that did not go over well.

The next day there was an announcement from our news director: “Everyone must fill out a checklist before operating a studio camera!” As you can imagine, this idea was met with eye rolling and groaning. But we did it. Every one of us completed this form before every single show in the two years that I worked there.

It may seem silly to make a checklist for some simple things that you do everyday, however when our brains are running on automatic we don’t always make the best decisions. That day I learned that no list too simple.

Life Is Easier With A List

I’ve written before about my recent apartment-buying drama, but lists can really come to my rescue when searching for a new home. And the move before this last one was no different. My husband and I decided we should leave our home in Forest Hills in Queens and move to Manhattan.

We checked every area we could find in Manhattan for a rental in our price range. But as soon as I got off the F train in Forest Hills and headed back to our apartment, I had already forgotten how many closets the apartment we looked at had, if it had an air conditioner, or what floor it was on!

When you’re renting, sometimes the listings aren’t complete. They don’t have pictures, and there are rarely floor plans. Normally, I’m very good at paying attention and staying focused, but for some reason, this assignment completely overwhelmed me. I was shocked, until I realized why.

I wasn’t tackling this in a way that I knew from experience would work perfectly for me—with a list!

After several disappointing and frustrating trips, I decided to make a checklist, just as I do at work. So I made a list of all the things I needed to pay attention to when I was looking at an apartment: address, floor, view, hardwood floors or carpeting, number of closets, square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, dishwasher, laundry, doorman, etc.

This checklist became our rundown every time we stepped foot into an open house. Jay and I would refer to it as we walked through a space and ask questions accordingly. It allowed us to focus on exactly what we needed to pay attention to so that we could walk out with all the information we could possibly need to make a clear decision.

I think it was important for me to struggle through those first few months of apartment hunting. Since it lead me to the realization that whether it’s a work or a home, a list will make almost any process run smoother. Plus that list lead to the start of this blog!

Be Prepared

‘Be Prepared’ is the boy scout motto and for a good reason. Life has a way of surprising us at the most inconvenient times. Last year my parents called me in the middle of the day at work and told me that my mom had to be taken to the hospital. She got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, blacked out and fell and hit her head badly. Eeek! I talked to her and she was fine but being admitted for all kinds of tests. So I wanted to be there with her.

I left work and went home to pack an overnight bag and froze.

I couldn’t think of anything that I needed – and I should’ve known that I needed all the essentials. You know — pajamas, an outfit for the next day, toiletries, etc.

But I couldn’t think of anything. When something like this happens your mind is thinking a hundred different things. It catches you off guard and your not able to think as rationally.

I think it’s a lifesaver to have a short list of items to pack in case of emergency. These types of small lists can save you time down the line.

These are just a few of the stories that I touch on and more in my book Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed. If you want to hear more of my misadventures with lists — please check it out. And if you already have — I’d love it if you could leave a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

What productivity tips have you learned from the school of life?

To-Do List Fix: You Never Cross Anything Off

Why you aren't crossing things off yourI often get questions from people who need help fixing their to do list. I find that the same problems often crop up again and again.  So I figured I’d write posts from time to time to help you tackle them because I’m guessing some of you might be having the same issues.

Problem: You never check everything off your list


1.  Use Action Words:  Your list isn’t specific enough.  Don’t just write “respond to emails” – write instead “write back to Debbie about holiday party.”  That gives you a concentrated action that you can feel good about crossing off your list.

2.  Prioritize:  Look through your list and determine what really needs your attention first.  Once you figure that out then make a separate list for those items.

3.  Evaluate:  It’s also important to consider whether or not your list is realistic. Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure by writing down tasks we couldn’t possibly complete.

4.  Divide & Conquer:  If you have a mammoth task to complete try to break it down into smaller pieces and do a little bit every day.  If you make smaller lists this will help you to feel a bigger sense of accomplishment faster. It will feel like you’ve done so much because you’ll be able to move onto the next list sooner.

5.  Outsource:  Another way to shrink your lists is by outsourcing some as much as possible. Do you really need to do all the items on your list or can you get someone to do it for you?

What are some classic list problems that you have?

Checklist to Stop Being a People Pleaser

peopleI like making people happy.

I like giving people good news and helping them when they’re stuck with something.

The problem is, you can’t please everyone and sometimes being a people pleaser has negative side effects.

When you’re always trying to please you can feel like your just saying yes automatically. Helping your friends starts to feel like a burden. And then you can get resentful, eeek!

Here’s a checklist to help you control your people pleasing ways and take back your time:

1. Remember you don’t have to do it – When someone asks for something, before you say yes, stop and take a moment to think, “Do I actually want to do this?” Don’t say yes to invitations you know you’ll regret later.

2. The world won’t end if you say no – Try it. The next request you get — just say no. You’ll quickly notice that everything isn’t falling down around you. A no is not the end of a friendship. If you can’t do something, or if you don’t want to – the majority of people will understand.  If they don’t then maybe that’s a friendship to reevaluate.

3. Make yourself the priority – It’s fine to help people if you have the time. But don’t push important things off your to do list to accommodate someone else.  Also think about the projects and priorities you have cooking – can you put them on the back burner? Keep appointments you’ve made with yourself to get things done.  You’ll be happy you did.

4. Set limits – If you offer to help a friend move, set a time limit and stick to it. For example, tell them you can help between 2pm and 3pm. This way you’re not compromising your whole day and you still get to be a good friend.

5. Don’t make excuses – You don’t have to justify your actions to others. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it.  Just say that and say it as quickly as possible so the person can move on and make other plans.

Are you a people pleaser? What are some of your tactics for saying no?

Get Inspiration From Late-Bloomer Celebs

Julia_ChildSpring is synonymous with a fresh start. If you’ve been lagging on your New Year’s resolutions or you just want to make a change – now is the time to turn over a new leaf.

However, change is not always easy.

Especially the 10th, 20th or even 50th time around. Today I want to celebrate this list of people who found success a little later in life. Proving that it’s really is never too late to change your ways!

Julia Child – Probably the most famous late bloomer, Julia didn’t develop an interest in cooking until she was in her late thirties. She went on to publish nearly twenty cooking books, many of which where tied to her popular television shows.

Vera Wang – Vera had many missteps before she became a successful designer. In her youth she was an avid figure skater, but failed to make the US Olympic team. Later she would rise the ladder at Vogue, but was constantly overlooked for the editor-in-chief position. So at 40 she decided to go out on her own, initially by designing wedding gowns. Now she’s broken into the mainstream and even designed lines for more affordable retailers like David’s Bridal, Zales and Kohl’s.

Harrison Ford – After struggling to make it as an actor in Hollywood, Harrison quit to become a carpenter!  Can you believe it?  He actually met George Lucas after he was hired to build some cabinets for him. Lucas would later cast him in the role of Hans Solo. However Ford’s big career break didn’t happen until he was 35.

David Seidler – You probably haven’t heard of David, but you are probably well aware of his most well known screenplay – The King’s Speech. David’s didn’t start his career as a writer until he was in his 40s. He also spent nearly 30 years working on the script. Proving that dedication really does pay off.

Colonel Sanders – Yes that Colonel. Harland Sanders did run a relatively successful restaurant in Kentucky for most of his life. However it was until he was 65 that he created the franchise now known around the world as KFC.

Now that you’ve got a little inspiration — what have you been putting off that needs to be added to your list?

Checklist to Spring Clean Your Desktop

messyIt may seem simple but clearing clutter will do a world of difference for your stress levels.  In fact – there was a UCLA study that found whenever a woman is around clutter, her stress hormones skyrocket.  We don’t want that!   So let’s start small — like by decluttering your desktop.

I can’t believe how long I let my desktop stay littered with photos, documents and even shortcuts that I never used.  I would navigate around all the clutter and it would slow me down.  Don’t forget — every second counts!  So just having to clear away unnecessary photos and folders or wasting time looking for something you “know is here somewhere,” takes up your precious time.  Well let’s take it back!

Here’s how:

1. Create categorized folders like ‘photos’ and ‘documents’.

2. Move all the picture files into the photos folder, etc.

3. Look at the remaining files, think – do I really need this? If you haven’t looked at it in over a year the answer is probably no.

4. If you still have files left over put them in an ‘Odds and Ends’ folder.

5. Revisit this practice every so often.  I’d say every 3 or 4 months.  Because even though now you have folders and order — sometimes it’s tough to keep to using them.

Once you get in the groove of clearing digital clutter — you can attack your Facebook page, Twitter feed and even your apps.

What are some other ways to clean out your digital life?