February 2016

Leap Year: How Are You Using Your Extra Day?

By | 2016-02-29T09:07:49+00:00 29 February 2016|Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , |

How often do we say “Geez, if I only had an extra day?” or “I wish I had a little more time.”

This year we do! These 24 extra hours give us just over 27 more minutes each week than we had last year.

How are you using your bonus time? Give it some thought. It could be just an extra day page to tear off your calendar or use those 27 minutes to…

  • Help others?
  • Help yourself?
  • Make a difference?
  • Spend it with your significant other, your kids, or family?
  • Do a 20-minute workout?
  • Work on writing that book you’ve haven’t had time for?
  • Sleep an extra 20-minutes on the weekend?

What ideas do you have?

The Math

An extra 24 hours = 1440 minutes / 52 weeks = 27.69 minutes -OR- just over 27 minutes each week.

Leap Year: Background

In short, our year is measured by how long it takes the Earth to go around the Sun. It doesn’t take 365 days but 365 1/4. Actually… 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. So, every four years we effectively lose a day. To prevent drift in our calendar we adjust the four year period to be 4,161 instead of 4,160 days. Read more on The “Straight Dope” website.

September 2015

Circle Of Time Planner

By | 2015-12-23T19:21:16+00:00 16 September 2015|Categories: SandBlog, think|Tags: , , |

Time management optimization… I’m always looking for different and effective ways to enhance time management. I’ve learned, better managing what you have to do frees you up for what you want to do. I’ve bumped into a novel approach to day management that you may want to try out.

You’re familiar with daily planner pages that use a grid/table to track the day (8 am at the top / 5 pm at the bottom).

This novel version I’ve found, uses the clock dial to visually map time. It’s basically a pie chart of your day.

[from the X17 website]
There is something about seeing my day presented on a wheel like this that makes me feel I have better control of my time. I like seeing the spacial relationship between projects/tasks.

I found this on the X17 website (myX17.com). They produce planners and notebooks… But what makes their system unique is that they use a series of rubber bands to hold multiple mini-sections in one book. (detail below)

You can mix pages that are blank, pages that are lined, a calendar, and an address book in the same journal. And… one of the inserts you can buy uses this clock dial planner!

I looked all over the internet to see if this was a standard template I could find. No luck. So the folks here at the Idea Sandbox Institute have re-created it.

Below is a sample blank page.

[click to view larger]
Here, I’ve filled it out similar to the way they do in the example from the X17 site.

[click to view larger]

How to Use It

  • Draw lines from the center to the hours you have appointments.
  • Shade in the inner portion of the dial for in-office events. Shade in the outer portion for out-of-office events.
  • Add meaningful names to your events just outside the marked time.
  • Curving arrows can indicate a block of time.

If anyone is familiar with this tool, please let me know. I’m deducing from the example from the website that this is in fact how to use this planner.

Download It

Click to download a: Scalable Vector PDF version or a JPG version. Print at the proper size for the planning system you use. These are half-letter sized. (5.5″ wide x 8.5″ tall or 014 x 21.5 cm)

August 2015

Exit the Wheel, Take the Escalator

By | 2015-08-23T16:41:22+00:00 26 August 2015|Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , |

You know that swift glide-y feeling you get when you walk on an escalator. You’re moving faster than you normally would with the same effort. That’s the feeling we all want when we work. Instead, it often feels more like running in an exercise wheel. We spend lots of energy and break a sweat; we are working hard. However, when we exit the wheel at the end of the day, we find ourselves in the same place we started.

Hamster Exercise Wheel


Many productivity tools help us manage what’s on our plate. I’ve looked through my books and have found a few techniques that – instead of simply moving things around on your plate – will help you reduce your serving size. These are… Create Focus, Purge Time Wasters, and Unplug Things.

Create Focus

Distractions and interruptions are part of our workday. The ringing phone, pinging e-mail, and pop-in visits from co-workers can break your work flow. To be a responsive employee most of these need to be answered… But not necessarily at that very instant.

Recovering from disruption inevitably will take you a few minutes to re-focus and pick-up where you left off. These breaks chip away at your productivity.

If you don’t have an office door to close to indicate, “do not disturb,” (most of us in cubicle-world don’t have that luxury), create a “sign” that indicates you’re in a flow and prefer not to be interrupted. This could literally be a sign, or perhaps you don headphones or pull a piece of tape across your cube entrance.

If your company has a culture where co-workers have been trained to expect an instant answer via phone or e-mail… Change your voicemail message and e-mail auto-reply to indicate that you’ll be able to get to their messages as soon as you take a break in your workflow.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you halt business, be irresponsible, or ignore important customer issues because you “have trouble focusing.” It is just that more times than not, if given a few more hours, questions get answered and resolutions get discovered. (How many times have you caught up with e-mail after being on vacation or out sick… and when following the e-mail chain see a problem in the morning find a solution by the afternoon?)

Adopt an “80/20 Hour.” Work without interruption for 48 minutes (80% of an hour), and then take a 12-minute break. This helps keep you focused for a solid period, and the break prevents burning out on what you’re working on. You can use that 12-minutes to address real issues, or simply get away from the computer screen and stretch your legs. I use a countdown timer on my computer to track my time. (It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t let yourself get distracted.)

Timothy Ferriss in his book The 4-Hour Work Week spends a good chunk of his book focusing on how to eliminate unnecessary and unproductive activities.

A few of his recommendations for gaining focus include…

  • Turn off the audible alert on e-mail.
  • Turn off the automatic send/receive.
  • “Check e-mail twice per day, once at 12:00 noon or just prior to lunch, and again at 4:00 p.m. 12 noon and 4 p.m. are times that ensure you will have the most responses from previously sent e-mail.”

One of the best suggestions I’ve ever heard…

  • “Never check e-mail first thing in the morning. Instead complete your most important task before 11:00 am to avoid using lunch or reading e-mail as a postponement excuse.”

Purge Time Wasters

Karen says of time wasters…

“If Time = Money. Time Wasters = Money Wasters.”

How true.

In his book The Obvious James Dale writes, “Most business takes too long.” He offers suggestions, including…

Eliminate the meetings that you can. If you have to meet, make it shorter. Taking longer to prepare meetings makes them shorter.

Write an agenda with…

  1. your objective,
  2. the points you need to make to accomplish it, and
  3. the questions you should answer.

Now cut out the parts everyone already knows, the parts people don’t need to know, and the summary. Set a time limit. (Never more than an hour, usually twenty minutes.) When time is up, stop talking.

UnPlug Things

The Operations team at Starbucks had a rule. Before you can add something new for the baristas to do in-store (new beverage, new program, etc.), first you had to unplug something. When trying to do too many things, there is a chance you may be able to do all of them, but probably not any of them well. UnPlugging is about providing quality, not quantity.

Karen Salmansohn in her book Ballsy suggests “Don’t Just Create To-Do Lists, Create Un-To-Do Lists.” She adds, that we need to UNDO…

  • Unimportant meetings
  • Unclear assignments
  • Energy-sapping people

These tips will certainly help you get off the exercise wheel and obtain that glidey escalator feeling. Your co-workers will pick up on your behavior… and while they may need to learn how to adjust to your new style, more than likely you’ll find them also adopting these work habits.

What other techniques work for you?

June 2015

Productive or Active?

By | 2015-06-09T16:36:47+00:00 10 June 2015|Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , |


This sticky note has been stuck to my computer monitor for a while. Now I have a smaller note that states “busy ≠ productive.”

Often we’re merely active in what we’re doing. Activity feels busy. But it’s not necessarily productive.

Are you keeping yourself busy to avoid a project? Or have you fallen into the trap of doing busy work and (if you were honest with yourself) unnecessary tasks to avoid what really needs to be accomplished.

Being active doesn’t mean you’re being productive.

January 2010

Get More Done With An Un-ToDo List

By | 2011-04-07T17:39:49+00:00 21 January 2010|Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: , , |

Sand for Your Inbox
January 2010

How is your resolution season going? Mine is okay so far.

As I started to put together my “ToDo” list for 2010 – carrying over things from 2009 – I realized I’m trying to “pack for a five-day trip into a four-day suitcase.” Trying to cram in too much. Does that happen to you?

stuffed suitcaseThe frustration (and illusion) is… we think if we re-fold and rearrange our clothes just right, all of our items… just… might… FIT!?

Perhaps, with enough stretching – and someone to sit on the suitcase while you zip – you may make it work.

(But, you know when arriving the destination you’ll find undergarments strewn on the baggage carousel along side a popped suitcase).

Unfortunately, this same behavior is what many of us tend to follow when managing projects and tasks we need to accomplish at work and home. We try to pack as much as possible into our time.

The Problem

Each of the things we think and worry about use up a little bit of our brain processing power. From the small “buy milk on the way home” or “fill out TPS report” to the big “don’t forget wedding anniversary” and “marketing plan due next Wednesday.”

Even if we write things down (which is a good idea) we still drain a bit of our brain’s power. And, when you’ve got too many things rolling around up there – it can cause stress, problems concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and disorganization.

We’re over packing our brains.

The Solution – The Un-ToDo List

Instead of trying to cram your ToDo list beyond capacity, try an Un-ToDo list? Remove things that are creating clutter, distraction, and the feeling of “Yikes! I’ll never get it all done.

I guarantee there are items listed in your task management system that you may never do… or are so far in the future aren’t relevant now.

Here are the key steps…

  1. Gather all of your tasks in some sort of list.
  2. Right off, eliminate those that:
    • aren’t necessary,
    • have been lingering and you’ll probably never do, or
    • are time fillers. Activity not necessarily productivity.

    (Feels better already, huh?)

  3. Move the things you’ll get to in the future to a “someday maybe” list. Your “someday maybe” list is a list you keep filed safely away, and review once in a while. It is a good way to store ideas out of your mind, but in a safe place.

TIP: You can use the Idea Sandbox Prioritizer (http://prioritizer.idea-sandbox.com) to help with your Un-ToDo list. This free web-based tool helps you arrange your first things first. The items that fall at the very bottom of your Prioritizer list probably could be deleted or moved to a “someday maybe” list.

I hope this idea really helps you. I think you’ll find clearing out some of your task clutter will lighten your load and help you feel that you’re accomplishing more.

I’d love to get your feedback in the comments below!

Happy Un-Doing.


Paul's Name

Paul Williams
professional problem solver
Idea Sandbox
Twitter: @IdeaSandbox

Amsterdam • Seattle

April 2008

Two Goals for Today

By | 2008-04-09T07:15:00+00:00 9 April 2008|Categories: SandBlog|Tags: |

What are my two goals for today?

We try to cram so much into our day… but at some point, in trying to do too much, we end up diluting our effectiveness.

I try to focus on two main goals at work each day.

Sure, I have tasks through the day… but what are your two goals to accomplish today?