Kathy Paauw

MyWikiBiz, Author Your Legacy — Monday April 15, 2024
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Kathy-Paauw_6780.jpg Kathy Paauw

Wouldn’t you love to stumble upon a secret library of ideas to help you de-clutter your life so you can focus on what’s most important? Kathy Paauw offers simple, yet powerful ideas, on how to manage your time, space, and thoughts for a more productive and fulfilling life.

Personal Accountability

Just after graduating from college, the first full-time job I got was as an administrative assistant for a higher education institution. Although I was not passionate about the work itself, I gave it my best effort. It paid the bills during our first four years of marriage while my husband was in medical school.

Several support staff in the organization perpetually played the victim role; they frequently held a “pity party” to air their grievances about work conditions and to pontificate about how unfair life was. A few co-workers invested a lot of their energy in trying to “look” busy so they could deflect as much work as possible. Because my desk was generally orderly and was not piled high with papers, the woman I shared an office used to advise me: “You should pull files from the drawers and stack them on your desk so you’ll look busy. Then they won’t keep giving you more work!” My reply to her: “But that’s why I am here, is to work! Why would I want to deflect work if I am all caught up?” She really thought I was an odd one! I think she also felt a little threatened by ability to be so productive…as if my productivity would make her look bad. I wasn’t there to compete with her. I was simply there to work.

Some of my co-workers carried a sense of entitlement, and they frequently asked really lousy “victim” questions like these: Why does this always happen to me? When is someone going to give me a break? When are they going to fix this problem? My co-workers never stopped to ask how they might be part of the problem...or part of the solution.

John Miller, author of The Question Behind the Question (QBQ), suggests that this victim mentality comes as a result of asking poor questions. If you have not read this short book, I highly recommend it. I’ll share a story to illustrate some of the powerful points the author makes about QBQ.

A few years ago I received a phone call from an administrative assistant (I’ll call her Carol) who had found my website while doing some online research about how to increase personal productivity. She was calling with questions about some productivity tools she had read about on my website. By the end of our conversation, she was very eager to get the Paper Tiger and a tickler file system – both were productivity tools I’d recommended. The next step was to get purchase approval from her employer, a non-profit organization.

A few days later I got an email from Carol, informing me that there was a budget freeze in her organization. Not only was she unable to make any purchases, but she was also told that she could not implement the Paper Tiger system during work hours. Her organization had been forced to lay off support staff during a recent budget crunch and Carol’s responsibilities had increased, so her boss did not want her taking time away from her “work” to learn and set up a new system.

To my surprise, Carol was determined to forge ahead, despite these challenges. I could tell that she was passionate about her organization’s mission. She knew how important it was to be more productive so she could handle the additional responsibilities she had recently inherited. I was amazed to learn that Carol had decided to spend her own money to purchase the necessary tools and to work after hours to get everything set up.

As I thought back to my years working as an administrative assistant, I couldn’t help thinking of the support staff I’d worked with 20+ years ago. Put in Carol’s circumstances, they would have asked questions like these: Why do I have to do everything? When are they going to provide me with more help? Why can’t they at least pay for products that would help make my work easier?

It’s understandable why someone would think this way, especially when feeling frustrated, unsupported and overwhelmed. Still, these are lousy questions to be asking. Our society is full of victim thinking. How can we possibly make progress when we’re so busy playing the victim? These negative questions don’t solve any problems! Nothing positive or productive comes from asking them. These questions also imply that someone else is responsible for the problems and the solutions. What ever happened to personal accountability?

Carol generated additional choices by asking better, more personally accountable “I” questions rather than victim-like “they” questions: What can I do to increase my personal productivity? What can I do to develop myself? What can I do to support our organization’s mission?

Curious about what happened with Carol? After she implemented the Paper Tiger software and the tickler file system with her own funds and on her own time, her productivity went way up. Her supervisor could not believe how quickly she could retrieve information and how consistently she was meeting deadlines, despite her additional responsibilities.

Three months after Carol’s initial purchase of these tools, I received a request for multiple network copies of the Paper Tiger software and several more tickler file systems, as well as a request for some of my time to help with implementation of these tools. This time it was paid for by her organization, despite the budget freeze.

About a year after Carol’s employer implemented the software and tickler files, I called to ask how things were going. Someone else answered Carol’s direct line, and I was told she no longer worked at that extension; Carol had been promoted to a management position! When we connected, Carol told me about some incredible transformations that had taken place in her organization since they had implemented the productivity tools that she had started out with on her own.

Instead of blaming, complaining and spending energy trying to deflect additional work, Carol had asked the QBQ: What can I do? Then she designed her own solutions and took action. She took personal accountability rather than becoming a victim. And Carol did what she did because she chose to, not because she had to. Remember to check your self-talk: I should…, I gotta…, and I have to… represent victim language; I choose to… is empowering and builds on personal accountability.


The Balancing Act

“The average office worker receives more than 200 messages a day via snail mail, email, express mail, cell phone, landline, wireless Web, bicycle messenger, singing telegram, you name it. Taking in information these days is like trying to drink from a fire hose.” --Dr. Martha Beck

Did you know that one Sunday edition of The New York Times contains more information than all the written documents in the world during the 15th century? Does it seem like life is spinning out of control? The pace of life just keeps picking up! And with it, job satisfaction is on the decline.

In an Associated Press article, Marc Greenbaum, a 50-year-old professor at Suffolk Law School, stated that “I'm personally happier but I observe more people that are more miserable. There's more pressure on them to produce, more problems with maintaining a boundary between work and family, even maintaining a boundary between work and the outside because of things like e-mail, voicemail and the Blackberry. They can't get away.”

According to the Families and Work Institute, over 47% of U.S. workers surveyed feel overworked. In addition, 59% of Americans describe their lives as very busy according to an NBC news survey. According to Dr. Richard Swensen, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, the average American will spend one year in his/her life searching through desk clutter looking for misplaced objects. We are working harder and faster than ever. Being more organized can help reduce stress, save time, and improve efficiency.

We celebrate National Get Organized Week the first week in October. Most people think of “getting organized” as a physical act – clearing piles of paper, putting things away, etc. What many people overlook is the mental part of getting organized. And I always say that organizing your physical environment without first clarifying your priorities is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic!

Here are 8 tips to help you with the mental part of getting and staying organized. I encourage you to read through the whole list, and then go back and choose two or three ideas to implement.

1. Understand the difference between URGENT and IMPORTANT. If it’s important, it may be a vital priority for you. If it’s urgent, it’s time-sensitive, but it may or may not be important. Be sure you are clear about the difference when deciding what deserves your time. Check out the time management matrix at http://www.orgcoach.net/timematrix.html, which beautifully illustrates the difference.

2. Find time for yourself. Schedule time away from your work and your family. Use this opportunity to tune in to what you want and need. Don't feel that you're being selfish; you have a responsibility to yourself to take care of your needs. Studies show that productivity dramatically increases when you are well rested.

3. Check for balance between these four vital areas of your life:

  • Well-being -- caring for your physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs
  • Family relationships
  • Work activities
  • Service activities -- volunteer work, being a good neighbor, practicing random acts of kindness

4. Live your life in the present! Quit saying, “I’ll do this when I get around to it.” I have yet to find a person who said on their death bed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”

5. Increase productivity by planning your week and fine-tuning your workday. Block out time to handle priorities. Important tips to remember as you plan your week:

  • Have unscheduled time in your calendar for handling unexpected but important tasks.
  • Plan to work on creative activities during the time of day when you are at your best.
  • Schedule “protected time” to work on projects that need your undivided attention. If interruptions are eating you alive, close your door and ask that people come back to see you at a designated time.
  • Temporarily turn off the audio feature on your cell phone, pager and email account. Pick and choose when you respond and when it’s appropriate to let calls go into voice mail.
  • Be realistic about your expectations. Don’t set yourself up for failure by planning too much in one day.
  • Leave work at a reasonable hour so you have time for those other three areas of your life – self-care, family, and service to others.

6. Reduce your stress by being underwhelmed. Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting overwhelmed:

  • NO is a complete sentence. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. When someone makes a request, buy some time before answering. Say, "Let me think about it," or "I’m in the middle of something right now. I'll call you back and let you know." This will give you time to evaluate the situation and decide if it's something you truly want to do.
  • Delegate as much as you can. Focus your time on activities that you enjoy and are best at.

7. Stay out of e-mail jail. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Determine frequency of checking for e-mail messages. Some people choose to check it throughout the day and even use such devices as the Blackberry when on the road, while others only check for messages a couple times a day. You are the only one who can determine what will work for you.
  • Use the F.A.T. (File, Act, Toss) method to keep your email inbox from piling up. If a message needs to be filed for future reference, place it in the appropriate email subject or contact folder. Place a red flag next to those items you need to act on but don’t have time to do right at the moment. Immediately toss (delete or forward) anything you don’t need to keep.
  • Remove your name from subscription lists that do not provide value to you.

8. Set up your work environment to keep your focus on what’s most important. Here are some tips:

  • Arrange your workspace so you have the most commonly-used things close in. Store things used less frequently in less accessible space.
  • Create a filing system that enables you to find things instantly. The #1 reason that people pile instead of file is a fear of not being able to find it when they need it. Visit http://www.orgcoach.net/PaperTiger.html for some ideas.
  • Create a tickler file system to remind you of important follow up at the appropriate time. The #2 reason that people pile is a fear of forgetting to do something that is out-of-sight and out-of-mind. A good tickler system reminds you to follow up on the appropriate date, and provides an alternative to that “I’ll just set it here for now” pile. Visit http://www.orgcoach.net/products/tickle.html#ticklerfile to see what a good tickler file system looks like.
  • Keep only what you plan to focus on today on your desktop. Remove visual distractions from your workspace so your attention is not pulled away from what you’ve chosen to work on today! Everything else should be put away until it’s time for you to focus on it.


Information Overload

"One of the effects of living with electronic information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.” -Marshall McLuhan

Surveys show that people's stress levels are at an all-time high, and a major source of that stress is information overload. How are you managing the barrage of information you receive daily?

Over the past twenty years, technology and downsizing have joined forces to turn office space into a dumping ground for information. Computer manufacturers promised us paperless offices back in the 1980s, and yet a decade later paper production had doubled!

Information comes to us in four primary ways:

  • Paper
  • Electronic (e-mail, web links, etc.)
  • Spoken (in person or recorded messages)
  • Thoughts in your head

What typically happens when you sit down at your desk and are overwhelmed with where to begin?

You could start with your e-mail… or perhaps with the verbal message your assistant gave you on your way to the office. But then…how about that overflowing "In Box" you haven't looked at for days? Or what about getting started on the brilliant idea you had on your way into work this morning?

How can you possibly figure out what is most important to focus on right now? Having clarity about your priorities is critical as you wade through the maze of choices that compete for your time.

The Four D’s

There are only 4 possible choices for what to do with information. I call it the Four D’s:

  • Do it now.
  • Defer it for later – file it for action or future reference.
  • Delegate it to someone else.
  • Dump / delete -- don’t do it.

Let's look at each option more closely:


Ask yourself: "Is this the BEST use of my time right now?" When you do weekly planning, you can plan ahead and block out time to tend to your most important activities. (Yes, that's right...you can make an appointment with yourself to focus on your most important activities or tasks!)


If you have papers you need to take action on at some point in the future, use a tickler file to help you remember to follow up at the appropriate time. Visit http://www.orgcoach.net/products/ticklerpic.html to see a picture of a good customized tickler system. If the follow-up is an activity, such as a follow-up phone call a month from now, enter a reminder in your calendar so you don't forget.


If you are not delegating some of your work, I encourage you to revisit the possibilities. The most productive people in the world are those who spend 80% of their time doing what they do best and love most, while surrounding themselves with people whose talents are complimentary to theirs.

Even if you don’t have the money to delegate tasks to others by hiring help, you may be able to trade services with others.

If you are a small business owner, you probably wear many hats…and some of those hats may not fit very well. Let’s say that you are a great writer, but you really struggle with graphic design and layout. At a recent networking event you overheard a graphic designer say that he wanted to put out a quarterly newsletter but he was not a very good writer. Perhaps you could barter with him for your ongoing graphic needs in exchange for ghostwriting his quarterly newsletters.

A number of my small business owner clients – often cash-poor when in the start-up phase -- have found ways to delegate tasks they were either not good at or did not enjoy, in trade for something that they love doing.

Think outside the box. Identify what you would delegate if you could, and then figure out some creative ways to make it happen!


There's productive power in asking yourself these questions:

  • What's the worst possible thing that could happen if I don't have this or don't do this?
  • If I toss this now and discover I need it later, can I get it elsewhere?
  • Does it have tax or legal implications?
  • Will this enhance my life to do or keep?

How often do you complete everything on your “to-do” list? (I call those “do-do” lists – we do this and do that.) I have been invited into many offices as a productivity consultant, and I can tell you that most busy people have multiple do-do lists stashed throughout their offices, cars, briefcases, and homes, in an attempt to try to remember everything.

But how often do you stop to examine if what you’re doing is really the most important thing you can be focused on at the moment? As Stephen Covey, author of First Things First, says: “What does it matter how much we do if what we’re doing isn’t what matters most.”

When you have multiple tasks and to-do lists competing for your time, it can be stressful and difficult to focus on any one activity. Imagine driving through a construction zone on a busy street, where all lanes of traffic must merge together into one lane. The merge can be stressful due to the simultaneous activities requiring attention all around you. But once you’ve transitioned into a single lane of traffic without colliding with another car or hitting a construction cone, stress goes down and confidence goes up.

In the Seattle area, where I live, road construction is going on everywhere. But by the time construction is completed, capacity has already outgrown the new infrastructure and additional cars quickly fill the new lanes. We're back to gridlock by the time the paint is dry! I see some parallels between adding lanes to a highway and creating new paths for transmitting information. Even though we're already bombarded with too much information, we continue to create more every day! Since it's not going away, we've all got to learn to manage information overload. The key to managing overload is to clarify your primary goals and then focus on a few top goals you most want to accomplish in the coming year.

Regardless of what form your information takes – paper, electronic, verbal communications, or an idea in your head – establishing your priorities is the key to working most productively. Without prioritizing information, ideas, and opportunities as they come in, you are at risk for either doing something that is less important while something more important is neglected, or you are at risk of forgetting to handle an important task before the deadline passes.


External Links

Business URL: http://www.orgcoach.net, http://www.discassessments.net, http://www.oftpconsulting.com
Blog URL: http://kathypaauw.com/blog/
Personal URL: http://www.orgcoach.net

Name: Kathy Paauw

Country: US
Web: http://www.orgcoach.net/

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