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Op/Ed

Why an “Enough List” is the answer to your never ending to-do list

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It’s 12:17 a.m. I’m laying in the dark basking in the glow of my laptop, next to my sleeping sons, as I go back and forth between the clock and my to-do list, then back to the clock, then over to my children’s faces.

At this moment I imagine I feel similar to many other entrepreneurs, small business owners, and work from home parents. The day is done, it’s after midnight, but you’ve barely made a dent on all the things that need to get done.

In the morning the day seems wide open, the world your oyster, and the list of obligations not quite intimidating, yet. It all seems manageable, in the morning. But all it takes is a hiccup to consume a couple of unexpected hours of your morning to throw off your entire day. A technology failure, an unhappy customer, an unexpected task, all of these can wreck a well-made plan. And even without these mishaps, regular distraction, email, a headache, or simply, writer’s block can disrupt one’s business processes as a whole.

So, what’s the solution? I’m already working 100 hours a week, maybe another 10 or 15 will make it all fall into place? No, instead it’s the opposite. Know when to turn it off . Enough is…quite literally…enough.

When I read Melissa Camara Wilkins’ article about having an “enough list,” I dropped my laptop, slow clapped for about five minutes, then found a lighter and swayed back and forth until I realized I had a deadline I needed to meet. Wilkins talks about how she makes a short list – of three things exactly – that will be the focus of her day.

They are not specific tasks, she states, but may be as general as “make that phone call I’ve been avoiding” or “write an article” or “send that email”, but she only makes three, simple, goals a day.

Wow. What a fantastic idea. I began to plan my day around this philosophy and then I woke up. Because, let’s be honest, I’ve got some serious stuff to get done. This idea sounds great on the surface but come on.

Who can seriously only focus on the examples provided in the article? Especially for someone running a small business or acting in a leadership position, the number of phone calls or emails that need follow ups, issues that need resolution, meetings that need your attention, and articles that need to be written are ongoing.

That being said, the takeaway from the article is good – know when to turn it off. Since for me (like many of you) my to-do list never gets completed, instead it gets whittled down to “nearly manageable” but often escalates to “all hell breaking loose,” I was looking for a solution to keep my days as stress free as possible.

So I used Wilkins’ idea as inspiration and I started my “enough list”.

I realized there was no getting away from my to-do list because, honestly, I need it to stay sane and know what expectations and deadlines are the most pressing. But now I also have an “enough list” that allows me to turn it off for the day.

This list designates when it’s ok for me to shut the lid of my laptop and put away my phone. Different from Wilkins, though, instead of putting tasks on my enough list, I put milestones.

I make goals for each day. My to-do list may be a mile long but for Thursday, I’m going to be satisfied with attending my two morning meetings, writing three articles, and responding to four key emails that I put off the day before. And at 6:30 I’ll turn off my laptop, put away my phone, have dinner with my family, talk to my children when they are in the tub, enjoy an episode of Breaking Bad with my husband after the kids go to sleep…and if I feel like it, because who am I kidding, check my email after that.

An enough list isn’t about putting a cap on your day; it’s more about prioritizing your time to make sure your to-do list doesn’t eat you alive. At least not today.

Megan Noel, a veteran ex-educator with a PhD in Early Childhood Education, enjoys researching life through the eyes of her two young children, while writing about her family’s adventures on IndywithKids.com. With a nearly a decade in small business and marketing, this freelance writer spends most evenings pouring over new ideas and writing articles, while indulging in good food and better wine.

Op/Ed

The music you’re listening to may dictate your productivity levels

(EDITORIAL) Whether it’s a podcast, news, or music, most people are listening to *something* while at work – so what makes you the most productive?

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music for productivity

For some, productivity requires a state of concentration that can only be achieved in silence. But workplaces are seldom so quiet, and truth be told, most of us prefer to have some background music playing while we work. Some people swear they can’t work or study without it.

Personally, I find music helpful for encouraging productivity and creativity. It distracts the part of my brain that would normally be chattering away – the voice in my head worrying, wondering, and daydreaming. I find that music neutralizes this inner voice, freeing up my brain to focus on the task at hand.

More and more research backs up what many of us experience – a state of enhanced calm, focus, and creativity when we listen to music while working. Deep Patel at Entrepreneur.com has a list of the best types of music to serve as the soundtrack to your workday.

Typically, music without lyrics is best for working or studying, since lyrics tend to catch our attention. Research has so consistently shown classical music to boost productivity that the phenomenon has it’s own name – the Mozart effect.

But other forms of wordless music can work as well. Patel recommends cinematic music for making the daily grind feel as “grandiose” as a Hollywood epic. Meanwhile, video game music has been specially designed to help gamers concentrate on game challenges; likewise, it can help keep your office atmosphere energized. Soothing nature sounds, such as flowing water or rainfall, can also help promote a calm but focused state.

Music with lyrics is okay too, as long as it doesn’t turn your office into a karaoke bar. Cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Emma Gray worked with Spotify to identify the characteristics of music that can actually change our brain waves. She found that music between 50 and 80 beats per minute can trigger the brain an “alpha” state that is associated with relaxation and with being struck with inspiration.

Really, any music will do, as long as you like it. Research from the music therapy department at the University of Miami found that workers who listened to their preferred artists and genres had better ideas and finished their tasks more quickly.

What styles of music help you focus during your workday? I myself enjoy the collection of “lo-fi” or “chill-hop” playlists on YouTube. This music has a consistent beat that is engaging without being distracting, and the accompanying video generally features an adorable cartoon character to keep you company.

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Op/Ed

Morning rituals of highly successful people – do you have one?

(EDITORIAL) From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own morning rituals to achieve higher success and order.

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realtor working

Fleximize took a look at the morning habits of 26 of the country’s most successful individuals to include the President of the United States Barrack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Jobs and even Oprah Winfrey.

What was discovered? Well, each of the men and women on their chart start their day early with time blocked out for exercise and meditation, breakfast and family. In short, things that are important!

Someone, somewhere coined it best: “If it has to happen, then it has to happen first!” Everyone has an “it.” Anyone who has managed to find professional success is surely embracing this philosophy. The first hour(s) of the day are used doing whatever is one’s top-priority activity. And no sooner do you start you risk the priorities of everyone else creeping in.

Interestingly enough, exercising in the morning is one of the group’s top priorities. It’s been said many times that exercise helps keep productivity and energy levels up and better prepares us for the everyday challenge of achieving all we can.

From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own lives to achieve higher success and order.

An Insider article found that “the most productive people understand how important the first meal of the day is in determining their energy levels for the rest of the day. Most stick to the same light, daily breakfast because it works, it’s healthy for them and they know how the meal will make their mind and body feel.”

The Fleximize chart demonstrates that successful people consider the quiet hours of the morning an ideal time to focus on any number of things: important work projects, checking email, meditation. And what’s more, spending time on it at the beginning of the day ensures that it gets complete attention before others chime in.

So check the chart and find someone you can relate to.

BI points out that planning the day, week, or month ahead is a crucial time management tool designed to keep you on track when you’re in the thick of it. Using the mornings to do big-picture thinking helps you prioritize and set the trajectory of the day!

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Op/Ed

Security of client information is important, so change the process

(EDITORIAL) Too many companies have had security breaches, which is bad enough, but is the process for insuring client information safety too old to secure?

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security too old to function

While it’s clear companies seem to get hacked regularly, the steps taken to keep users safe are a joke. Companies still rely on asking personal questions in an effort to make users feel safe, but those attempts are laughable.

I wasn’t laughing earlier this week as I was setting up a few new accounts.

As anyone knows, creating accounts can be a real pain in the buttocks. But, since I’m kind of a geek, I would sometimes find the humor in choosing and answering my three security questions. (Wondering if I’d remember the answers.)

What band was your first concert?
What was your favorite dog’s name?
Where were your parents married?
What model was your first car?
Who was your childhood bff?

Cool.

I never thought much about the security questions until the last few times when I encountered a few like this:

In which city were you married?

What is the name of your eldest child?

At what time of day was your oldest child born?

How old was your father when you were born?

What?

I felt I had taken a step back in time.

Sure, these questions might be ok, if there were a lot of options, but these were four of the seven provided.

I’m not a super touchy person who gets triggered easily or angered at the drop of a hat. But, these questions made me question this process and its security.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, in this day and age, it’s quite possible you’ve never been married or had a kid. It’s also possible for some folks, they didn’t know their dad. Or, if they do, maybe they don’t want their security question asking how old he was when they were born.

But, the bigger question: Why so very personal? And, from a woman’s perspective, why so presumptive. It made me wonder: are the questions the same for a man or a woman of any age?

I can’t imagine a 22-year-old being asked about the birth of their eldest child. Or, where they were married.

These questions had to be options based on my age and gender.

I chose the questions I could answer like, where was my elementary school located.

But, I didn’t feel safer for answering. Somehow I felt like the company asking them was 1) Prying to gather personal data 2) Not concerned about safety 3) Was sexist.

As many others have argued, it’s time to shut this process down, if only for the fact that it doesn’t make us safer online. This is a practice that should be relegated to the past, just like the presumptive questions being asked.

Seems no matter where you look online, banks, retailers and even medical providers are hacked. Our information is floating in space on the interwebs.

Obviously, security is a top concern. Who wants to sign up for a service only to find out later, “OOPS, our bad, your information was hacked. Here, we will give you free credit monitoring for a month.”

Doesn’t cut it.

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