If you are like me – a stationery and books addict and love to do lists, and organise your home, life, ideas, projects and whatever else you may think of – you may want some great advice to learn how to better manage all your papers, documents and lists with ideas or tasks.
Did you ever lose an invitation, some post notes or an important bill? Were you wondering how to keep your children’s artwork and school-related things organised neatly? What papers you should and shouldn’t throw away?
That’s what this newly released book can help you with: The Paper Solution by Lisa Woodroof. The author felt there was a lot about decluttering in general but not much help or many tips available for people who struggle with floods of papers. She had to deal with boxes of documents, and all sorts of albums and notebooks belonging to her father after he died. There was so much of this, she felt overwhelmed and left the task for a couple of years. At some point she felt that she didn’t have a good working system for herself to deal with her papers as well, as there were so many coming via the post every week.
“The average American receives 49,060 pieces of post in their lifetimes. One-third of it is junk mail.”
As well as the mail, we bring home business cards, invitations and forms from work, school, the doctor’s and other places. There are also often tonnes of photos that we keep, some souvenirs, magazines, recipes we may or may not use one day… And of course, there are always some reminders and notes to ourselves, and shopping lists, and so much more if you think about it for a little bit longer! She has the perfect name for it, the paper tsunami, and she believes it will come sooner or later to most of us.
Lisa created a system that worked well for her and then started to help others to deal with their papers. She quickly found out that 85% of all papers we keep at home can actually be shredded and recycled.
Would you like to find out more about some of the tips from the book?
A story about survival – an interview with the author of the book Being Krystyna.
This time of the year we have many World War Two anniversaries starting with 1st September when in 1939 the Nazis attacked Poland and began the war. I think it’s the perfect time to sit with a book such as Being Krystyna – a story that connects the war times with our modern world, and two very different generations. A beautiful but also sad story. An account that gives hope even in the worst circumstances that one may find oneself.
What is one of the most surprising facts is that, had I eaten breakfast and not fainted in a gym a few years ago this book wouldn’t exist! No, the moral isn’t that unhealthy habits can sometimes be good for us. ;), it’s rather that everything happens for a reason. An ambulance was called to the gym and I met Chris Porsz, a paramedic and photographer who was born in the UK and had Polish parents. We spoke a bit about Poland where I come from and he suggested that I may want to visit his mum who lives in a local care home. He thought she would enjoy the company of a Polish-speaking person. She did still speak Polish but hasn’t used this language for years. I agreed and visited the lady a couple of times. Once I met Christ there and he said that he wrote some notes down when his mum used to tell him about the war, her move to England and life here. He said he isn’t a writer but would love someone to write this story down so it could become a book one day as he felt it’s really special and should not be forgotten. I love writing. However, I didn’t really feel up to the challenge! I knew someone who could be just perfect for this task! And that’s why and how I ended up telling my writer friend Carol all about this story. She decided to take it on.
1. Carol, what sort of books did you write before Being Krystyna and why?
I had written an epic fantasy trilogy before Being Krystyna. It came about following a day dream I had many years ago in which I saw the main characters and decided to write their story. I have always liked reading nonfiction but never thought I would write in that genre one day.
2. Was the decision to write the book about Chris’s mum surprising? I know you had doubts whether you should write this book. What has persuaded you that you felt you should do it?
I did ask several people I knew if they wanted to write a book about Krystyna Porsz, but no-one seemed interested. It seemed a shame that her story would never be told because I knew such wartime experiences were valuable and important, and something compelled me to try and write it myself. I doubted my own ability to do the story justice and you have to be very careful when you are writing about real people. It’s a completely different discipline from writing fiction – you are using the same tools but you need to approach the subject matter with much more sensitivity. It is even more important when the person or people you are writing about are dead or unable to communicate -as in Krystyna’s case with her having dementia. This was one problem that Ifound very daunting. I wanted to be as accurate as possible regarding the facts while also showing Krystyna in the best light as she was not only the main character but a real human being too. Fortunately, it seemed to work out really well!
3. I’m one of the characters in the book! How great an honour is that! It’s an amazing feeling that my name can be in the book out there for decades or perhaps even centuries. However, it’s also a weird feeling when I know that I didn’t really do anything special to deserve to be in such a book. Did you have the idea to use my character in the book from the beginning? If not, what other ideas did you have for the plot of this book?
It took me ages to come up with a structure for the narrative. I didn’t want to tell the story where you just go from A to B and then the end, like writing a list of what had happened in a person’s life. I felt it was very important to show the importance of the lessons of history by comparing Krystyna’s past with the present-day. I can’t pinpoint the exact day that the idea for seeing the story through the eyes of another person came to me, but it was a magical moment! The whole book seemed to create itself around that idea. It also allowed me to contrast the different life experiences of two Polish women. I think it added depth to the narrative. Using the real you, Agnieszka, also felt right because you had met Krystyna on several occasions so what followed in the book was an embellishment rather than a fiction.
4. What do you like most about writing books? Is the process or the final step – when the book is finished – the most pleasant?
Every book is different. Usually, I only write when I have inspiration. If the inspiration is powerful and I have plenty of ideas, the writing comes easily. That is when I enjoy the whole process. Getting lost in the physical act of writing is what I enjoy the most. If I lose all sense of time and even any sense of who I am or where I am, then it is the best feeling.
5. Writing a book is a great challenge! Writers get tired, overwhelmed, fed up at different stages. How was writing Being Krystyna for you? Did it take you long? And have you experienced any obstacles while writing it?
The only obstacle for me with Being Krystyna was having to go out to work! Once I had the idea for the structure of the book, I found the writing came fairly easily. I made sure I planned what I was going to write in each chapter as I like that kind of discipline. I’m not what they call a ‘pantser’ where you just start writing and see where you end up. I wrote like that when I began the first draft of my first book and it was a dreadful mess that needed lots of work afterwards. The only thing that held me up with Being Krystyna was the research for the historical details. I did a lot of reading and also studied documents and personal accounts of wartime online. These details allowed me to add depth to Krystyna’s own accounts of her life. I don’t recall how long it took me to write. Probably four months. I worked on it every afternoon. It’s a novella, of course, and I would expect a novel to take twice as long.
6. What do you feel is the most important message in the book?
Stories like Krystyna’s show us how quickly hatred and bigotry can infiltrate society, and with the resurgence of far-right ideology in the present day we need to know these lessons from the past. Krystyna always feared the Nazis would return after the war and I think she was right. That fascist mindset has never gone away and no-one should be complacent about it. Krystyna herself would say her message was ‘Just be kind’.
7. While writing the book you had to do a lot of research on WWII. You surely learnt a lot during this process. Did you find anything surprising or shocking about the war that you didn’t know about before?
I read many personal accounts that were profoundly shocking. I knew there was absolute horror in the camps but the facts are even worse. There were things I read that I’ll never be able to forget, try as I might. But there was great heroism too and time and again it surprised me how much some people can endure and yet still survive. That Europe in particular was able to rebuild itself after all that destruction and carnage amazed me – and to find that normal decent human feelings still existed even more so.
Every week try to cut off or limit something that doesn’t matter much to you but takes up your time—it may be complaining, Facebook, TV, gossiping or worrying about the future. Don’t feel bad though if you procrastinate a bit sometimes; according to research this is normal and everyone does it. It’s important not to feel guilty about it and make sure that it doesn’t take too much of your time and attention.
It’s easy to get into meaningless chats or meet with negative people not because we really want to but because for some reason we feel we should. When you start to say NO to some invitations you may lose some friends. But then, are they real friends if they don’t understand your need to work on something important to you so you can’t hang out with them as much as you used to?
The average adult person who has children has for themselves only around 2 hours a day. Due to lack of energy these 2 hours are often spent in front of the TV in the evenings. Think how you can organise this time differently. Surely you need to rest a bit but, to tell the truth, TV isn’t a good method for gaining more energy. Maybe you could allow only half an hour a day for TV (and occasionally watch a film, say at weekends) and spend the remaining time on some exercises, such as yoga from a YouTube channel.
Exercise is a very effective cure for fatigue.
Way too often we spend our time also on… looking for different things. Try to be organised and dedicate a week or a whole month to de-cluttering your house. Plan what you will do each day to tidy your stuff up. A method by Marie Kondo is very popular and helpful nowadays. Have you heard of it yet?
Try to find a place for everything in your home and group things together. Don’t keep coins or hairpins in a lot of different places at home. One type of item = one place at your home.
Organising your clothes (including the ones in the laundry and in any other place at home), on the same day works wonders. Put into a bin everything you haven’t used for a few years but think that you “might use it one day’. If you didn’t need something for 4 years, do you really think you will need it now or in the near future?
Many of your documents, notes, and other similar things also could go in the bin. Don’t deceive yourself; some of these things you will never use or need again!
Try a meaningless stuff diet and see how well it tastes! 😉
A simple distraction such as a notification (often not important at all!) on your mobile means that each time you lose your focus and, according to studies, need 4 to 15 minutes to concentrate and motivate yourself again to keep working effectively on your tasks!
It was found that office workers are distracted every 3 minutes on average!
Data from 2016 indicated that 3 out of 4 employers believe that every day an average employee loses 2 hours of work due to distractions. While you are doing your work, write down all the distractions that happen for a week or two and analyse them. Think what you could do to minimise or avoid them!
We get easily distracted when we are tired. Remember about taking regular breaks, going for a walk and catching some fresh air. Breathe, eat well, drink a lot of water and some green tea. These SIMPLE (but often neglected!) pieces of advice will help you to stay calmer, more focused and more patient.
If you can, and surely sometimes you can, turn your mobile off or change it to airplane mode.
One of the greatest pieces of advice, although quite difficult to follow at first, is to get up earlier to avoid distractions: requests, phone calls, noise, notifications, and questions from others! You’d be amazed how much meaningful work can be done in the early morning hours. Don’t get up earlier to catch up with emails or to clean your home! Get up earlier to do something creative, something that’s meaningful for you, something that will give you exceptional results and will bring you closer to achieving your goals. Write, read, work on your business or project, for example. This is a precious time.
If you get up 1 hour earlier every day you will gain 7 extra hours for something that matters to you! How does that sound? Seven quiet precious hours. I had a long period of time when I was able to get up 2 hours earlier than usual. That’s 14 hours a week! Now while in advanced pregnancy I have had to change my schedule because of the need for more sleep. Remember, not every piece of advice will work the same for everyone but I can say that this tip which I read about in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfastby Laura Vanderkam (available here) made a huge improvement in my life.
Experts advise that to change your habit and make this morning routine easier, ideally, you should get up at the same time every single day. If you allow yourself to sleep longer at weekends, then you’ll feel that it’s more difficult to get up early during weekdays.
If you feel it’s too difficult to do this, maybe try a shorter period of time; for example, 30 mins extra in the morning—that will also make a difference. Just remember to make sure that you still can sleep 7-8 hours a day.
Some people like to have their Power Hour in the morning so they can feel they’ve achieved something before everyone else gets up. Power Hour means that you dedicate one hour where you put 100% effort into a dedicated project, activity or task. Or it may mean for some people, for example: 20 mins spent on some creative work, 20 mins of reading and 20 mins of exercising. Check what will work best for you. Knowing that you achieve something early in the morning will make you more satisfied and put you in a more positive mood which will last for hours during the day.
Around a decade ago some employers suddenly started to ask during work interviews: Are you able to multitask? Some still do this although many people are already familiar with the most recent studies which indicate that multitasking is impossible in humans and is merely switching from one task to another. On top of that, multitasking decreases productivity by up to 30-40%.
It may sometimes be okay to combine a physical activity with a cognitive one, e.g. listening to an audio book while riding a bike or washing dishes, but many employers got the idea of multitasking completely wrong. Some of them believe that multitasking is needed and can be done in busy office environments where one needs to answer a lot of phone calls, reply to emails and provide face-to-face customer service. No, it can’t.
Research shows that trying to multitask will actually make you slower and also … lower your IQ! Our human brain can focus only on one task at a time and people who try to work this way and avoid multitasking achieve the best results.
Researchers from the University of Sussex in England carried out a study using MRI scans. The findings revealed that people who spend time using multiple devices, for example texting while watching TV, had less brain density in a part of the cortex which is responsible for cognitive and emotional control. Emotional control is a simple term but some of you may wonder what cognitive control means. It basically means that your brain allows you to make decisions based rather on our goals than habits and reactions. It allows you to be flexible and adapt more easily in different situations.
If you are interested to read more about multitasking I’d recommend this book: The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw (available here).
Designing books may seem a relatively easy and not very important task but actually merging an idea for a design with a book’s meaning is a massive challenge.
Charles (Chip) Kidd, is not only a famous award-winning American graphic designer but also a writer, a musician, an editor, a book designer and a lecturer who lives in New York. He presented his ideas and opinions in two TED talks and in various interviews which have been seen by millions of viewers world-wide. He is probably one of the most famous book-cover designers.
When asked during an interview whether he judges books by their covers. He responded wittily: “No, I judge covers by their covers.”
Kidd stresses that a book cover is vital because that is the first thing people see while deciding if they want to buy a book or not. In one of his TED talks Kidd quickly persuaded an audience how first impressions truly matter when he started his speech with “a full body wriggle” to draw people’s attention. Kidd advises other designers to trust their intuition but to remember that covers cannot be obvious:
“When I’m working on a cover for a book called ‘City on Fire,’ I’m not going to show a city on fire. It’s like going back to drawing an apple and writing the word ‘apple,’ underneath, you don’t need both.”
When a designer reads a book, he needs to think how he translates the main message and the meaning of the book. Designing jackets is somewhat like capturing something intangible that is embraced by the writer’s words, things that readers need to imagine, and transferring it to a more tangible idea, a picture, a meaningful design.
One of his most famous projects was a book-cover design for a science-fiction novel, Jurassic Park, written in 1990 by Michael Crichton (the book Spielberg adapted in 1993 into a legendary film with the same title). While thinking of the design, Kidd decided to learn more about dinosaurs, and to see different pictures, models and expositions in the National History Museum in his city.
He was thrilled when he found out that the right to the image was bought and used by MCA Universal for the famous movie with the same title.
Jurassic Park is only one out of over 1,000 book covers that Kidd is responsible for.
Have you ever bought a book because you liked the cover; or vice versa, have you ever decided not to buy a book because you didn’t find the cover attractive?
We know that one of the problems is of course our time usage. I don’t like to use the phrase ‘time management’. Time management used to be SO important for around a decade or so, and yet it’s vital to realise that THIS IS MORE crucial in terms of physical work (especially for example with targets in a factory) but in most jobs, such as admin or management, time isn’t as important as other aspects, such as:
having creative ideas
or having great interpersonal/presentation skills
I think the term ‘self-help’ booksis quite damaging as well because it seems like there is something wrong with people who read about goal setting, productivity and well-being and they NEED HELP! They need improvements in their life, like everyone does in some areas, but it sounds like they have some diseases, maybe mental health problems, and need help with this. What’s more, it suggests that the problems may be so sensitive and embarrassing that people don’t want to speak to their doctors about it and they prefer to help themselves on their own… SELF- help books… Who created such an unsuitable name tag for these great titles about personal growth, strength and motivation?! I’m glad that this has changed and publishers have started to refer to this section rather as ‘self-development’ now.
Similarly, I believe that we should find a new name for life coaches! What a discouraging wording! I think it suggests they can teach you… how to live your own life properly! So they basically seem to know everything about “how to live a happy life” and can teach everyone the same or similar techniques no matter where they come from, what situation they are in, or what they problems are. It’s like measuring everyone with the same scale.
Many people have started to make big money out of this business and unfortunately there are some so-called ‘gurus’ out there who learn all the secrets of a fulfilling, healthy and happy life on a short online course and then they are certified and ready to tell you how you should work, bring up your children, achieve your goals and build your relationships.
I was really put off by the term life coach for a long time. It sounded like people trying to get rich at the expense of whoever would be willing to pay to get advice from such modern fortune-tellers. “The concept of ‘life coaching’ barely existed 30 years ago. But by 2012, it was a $707 million business in the U.S., according to the most recent figures from the International Coach Federation (ICF).” (read more here).
It sounded like a scam and deceiving people. However, if I’m against something I like to know what it really is. How can I be against life coaches if I haven’t watched a few videos and read some books about them and written by them? I thought they were people who pretend to be psychologists. While getting familiar with the topic I’ve realised that some so-called life coaches are actually great and charismatic people who make some thought-provoking and interesting speeches. I have a few favourite ones now. I don’t treat them as my ‘gurus’ and specialists about everything but it’s motivational to listen to some of their speeches or read some books.
So, yes, it looks like the name is quite unfortunate and may put many people off rather than encourage them to learn something from, for instance, good and experienced productivity and time-management experts.
I’d recommend we dig deeper to see whether we like someone and their opinions rather than focusing on the name that may not always be chosen accurately and wisely…
To tell the truth I’ve always struggled to define myself as either a night owl or a morning bird. Which one are you?
“…On a daily basis fully 85% of the people follow an early bird schedule in the morning, but given any choice in the matter, only 22% would continue to do so.” (read more about it here )
Some periods in my life I could say that definitely working and/or studying late evenings or even at night felt most productive to me, and yet on different occasions (depending on my circumstances such as having vs not having children, work shifts etc.) I felt that I kept falling asleep around 9pm-ish but felt so much better in the mornings! Why is that, then? I was curious as to how to find out how my natural biological clock works and if this is even still possible in a world as artificial as the one we have created: we have light at night and technological devices that distract us all the time.
Thomas Edison apparently used to promote his idea of the light bulb a lot by emphasising that future generations won’t sleep much and they will be able to have longer days due to the breakthrough of electric light, and because of this they will be able to achieve more! He wasn’t entirely mistaken BUT… sleeping less than 7-8 hours isn’t part of our human nature and leads to many negative consequences, like bad mood, stress and even to some health conditions… We can control light but it doesn’t do us much good, does it?
On the other hand, when we count how much time we sleep in our BUSY, PRODUCTIVITY-BASED & ACTIVE lifestyles it seems like a huge waste of time and we feel that if we could sleep “just a little bit less” we could accomplish SO MUCH MORE!
I’ve read the book The Power of When (available HERE ) and it got me thinking… The author suggests that each of us can be one of four (rather than just two) types of people or actually… as he prefers to call it – type of an animal. It was great to find this book because it sounds so unfair to categorise ALL PEOPLE simply in one out of two categories: early riser or night owl.
It looks like I’m a bear type and I feel most energetic if I can get up when the sun is rising and go to sleep when it’s getting dark outside. It is a bit problematic where I live, in England, because during most of the cold months days are really short and I can’t do everything just within 6-7 hours a day because that’s the only time we get light! So although I may be a bear, I still need to make a choice and decide whether I can feel better and accomplish more when going to bed very late or by getting up very early. I tried both.
According to studies, night owls can often be associated with intelligence and creativity but there are so many more different benefits that you get when you get up in the morning (read more here).
I think the real breakthrough in my thinking about it was a book which I didn’t want to buy because I felt that the title was somewhat silly… What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: How to Achieve More at Work and at Home by Laura Vanderkam. It turned out to be a fantastic and useful book (available HERE).
The author convinced me that getting up earlier and not spending my time on ANYTHING I have to do – such as cleaning, working, cooking, etc. – but on the most meaningful tasksand activities which make me happy, are connected to my passions and are important to me, can be a great way of improving my work-life balance and life satisfaction! Lack of tiredness and little or no distractions help me to achieve a lot more in the mornings in terms of completing different tasks related to writing, for example. Yes, that’s true, it is difficult to get up early… but once you start to do it you just need to stick to the routine even at weekends/ your days off and then it becomes so much easier.
We often confuse productivity with being busy. What exactly does it even mean? We feel productive when we are very busy, when we have a lot of tasks and complete most of them. Usually the more hours we work, the more productive we feel.
There has been plenty of research where findings show that if we work too many hours we decrease our productivity A LOT!
What’s more, if we work a lot of hours for a few weeks or more – that’s just a perfect recipe for depression, burnout and anxiety which may even lead to a nervous breakdown!
Labour Economics published an article by Collewet and Sauermann where the researchers outlined their study done on call-centre workers. Even with part-time employees, increasing their number of working hours created more fatigue than productivity! (more about this study here )
Too few hours = we won’t achieve much.
Too many hours = we are tired and our productivity decreases a lot.
What’s the golden rule? What’s the perfect solution, then?
Chris Bailey in his book The Productivity Project (available HERE) talks about an experiment that he did. Namely, he worked alternate weeks for a very different amount of hours. One week he worked 20 hours and another one 90 hours, and in this way he did several weeks.
An important lesson that he realised? That while working 90 hours he did only a bit more work than while working 20 hours!
When he had only 20 hours to do his tasks, he felt a bit of pressure that his time was so limited so he focused on using his more valuable time (when he had most energy and attention) to do the most important, difficult and meaningful tasks. With that limited amount of time it was also easier not to procrastinate too much (and, apparently, it’s impossible to completely avoid procrastinating) because he had to focus on what must be done, on priorities! During the 20-hour-work week he had more time to recharge and restore his energy levels in various ways too (meditation, exercising, sleeping well, socialising, etc.).
When we work a lot, it’s hard to remember all the time what’s most important, what we should pay more attention to, what’s the bigger picture. Although we work more, we don’t have enough energy and focus to do planning or to do it properly, and to think of possible improvements and solutions to various problems.
Chris dug deep in his research to find out the ideal amount of hours that one should be working so as not to get too tired and to be able to complete a lot of tasks in a productive way. He found that although 46 hours felt like the best working week for him most studies indicate that 35-40 hours a week is perfect to get the job done with maximum productivity.
Surely the more you enjoy your job, the more you are able to work. However, breaks and time to rest are crucial for your creativity, maintaining an innovative and open-minded thinking and approach, and your efficiency.
How many hours a week do you work? Do you have any control over it? Can you improve this aspect in your life to become more productive?
I’ve recently read Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Timeby Garfield (available here) and the book contains some really interesting anecdotes; for instance, about French who tried to implement the idea of using 10-hour, instead of 12-hour, clocks. The idea was that all 24 hours would be squeezed into a day-and-night-time period of ten hours. How? Simply there would be more minutes in each hour. This idea hasn’t found many enthusiasts though. Clocks are an old invention and we are so used to the usual style and schedule of hours and minutes that we find it difficult to accept any modification of them.
Sometimes I think about time usage and discuss it with others because it is strictly related to productivity, but until very recently I didn’t really pay much attention as to how OBSESSED the modern world is with TIME.
Time is precious
A race against time
Have a hell of a time
Have the time of your life
Time is money
Ahead of one’s time
… and lots of other phrases that we use very often indicate that time has become something nearly as significant in our lives as food, air or feelings.
Teams who work on updating Oxford Dictionaries decided to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the English language to check what words are the most commonly used. If we ignore words such as “the”, “of”, and some linking words that we use in sentences a lot, and focus purely on nouns, then there is the interesting part!
“That’s unbelievable!” I thought. I know that everyone, particularly in Western developed countries, is kind of fixated about being on time, controlling or managing their time and so on BUT… really?! When and how did we get to the point where we use this word more often than a lot of other significant words which describe our everyday life?
Just if you are curious what are the rest of the 10 top most commonly used words in the English language… Here we go: person, year, way, day, thing, man, world, life and … hand (?). I understand we use words such as “thing” or “life” often, but “hand”? Another little surprise 😉
Time-management books and articles are incredibly popular nowadays and yet I don’t really believe that we can manage or change our time. Do you? We can surely manage our tasks, activities and life. That’s why I prefer to word it rather as time usage or planning one’s day/time. However, I know that ‘time management’ is a phrase used EVERYWHERE so for simplicity sometimes I’d use it as well (or when I use tags, for example,so people can find my tweet or blog easier).
Do you use or have you ever tried any productivity/time-management tips and techniques? What’s your favourite one?