BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘preparedness’

The 2-Week August Project – Focus On Finishing Like Your Hair Is On Fire

Posted by denisefisher on August 8, 2009

 

Hair on FireLast August, Seth Godin wrote a blog post about why you should take on a project to finish during the last two weeks of August. In the US, he claims, those are the slowest two weeks of the year (though I’d guess that the end of December would claim that distinction). He suggests that while everyone else is getting in their last days of vacation and basically coasting, you should focus on finishing a 2-week project and pursue it to completion like your hair is on fire.

Coincidently, mid-August is six months before my next birthday. I have lots of things I’d like to accomplish before my next birthday. Perhaps too many. Having too many options and not much of a plan is a formula that pretty much assures that nothing will get done. Creating a plan and completing a significant task builds momentum.

September always has that back-to-school, time-to-get-serious-again feeling to it. I’m imagining how great it would feel to be ahead of the curve and have a plan of action that would allow me to hit the ground running the day after Labor Day. I can dig it.

Before I determine my August project, I’m going to write up a list of potential prospects from which to choose. Then I’m going to pick one and finish it. I’ll need to keep in mind that it has to be something that can be completed in two weeks, and not be unrealistically optimistic about what I can accomplish.

Do you want to play along? Here’s the goal for next week: Choose your own 2-week project for the end of August, make a plan, and focus on finishing it like your hair is on fire.

You’ve got a week to start deciding on a plan. Go.

Posted in Personal Style, Productivity, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How To Create a Weekly Schedule

Posted by denisefisher on May 29, 2009

Coffee & Planner

People of importance have schedules. They live their lives with purpose and have things to accomplish. They can’t afford to set aside their planned obligations to tend to the interruptive whims of others. They don’t wait to find out what’s going to happen before deciding what they should do; they have a vision of where they’re going and they plan ahead. Michael Phelps doesn’t swim laps only if he can find time to fit it into his daily agenda. Oprah Winfrey doesn’t go on the air without having scheduled her guests and program topics far in advance, or without having coordinated countless details in preparation for the show. Seth Godin doesn’t wait to write a blog post until he feels like it, nor does he casually think about writing a book without scheduling when he will work on it and establishing a deadline for completing it.

These people didn’t start scheduling their time once they became prominent figures. They reached their celebrity status largely because they’ve had the self-discipline to follow through on their directed planning. Sure, these people may have trainers, managers, producers, and support teams to help them with their itineraries and agendas now, but even with assistance, they still have the responsibility of making time to pursue their goals while managing day-to-day tasks and obligations. They learned to work with a schedule that would assure that they were doing the things they needed to be doing when they needed to be doing them.

How can you create a schedule that works for you?
You can create schedules for different timeframes (daily seems to be the most common), but I find it effective to start with a weekly schedule. By focusing on just one thing each day – one project or one type of task (using a specified theme of your own choosing) you can create a manageable and flexible weekly format. There will be tasks that you do daily at their appointed times, but if you don’t plan for other projects, the daily minutiae will consume your entire day, and subsequently, the entire week. And if you don’t schedule the time, you’ll never make any progress on those larger projects that need to have time designated for their attention.

Lets look at a low-tech way for creating a reusable weekly schedule that incorporates recurring tasks, and includes a designated day for working toward a long range project, one week at a time. By designing a template-like schedule, you don’t have to create an entirely new schedule every week. Similar tasks are grouped together to be done on a designated day of the week. When new tasks arise, they are incorporated into the weekly schedule on the day designated for those types of tasks. When your dry cleaning is ready to be picked up, you don’t have to adjust your existing schedule to accommodate that task, you simply add that task to the next day designated for errands.

If you have a good feel for how to structure your week, you can jump right in and label each day of the week with a preliminary theme. Alternatively, you can draft a concept schedule that describes your anticipated energy level or other factors that will affect how you plan your week. Shown here is a such a draft:

Weekly Schedule First Theme 
Make a list
If you want to make your schedule comprehensive, you need to identify recurring tasks as well as project-related tasks that you want to accomplish, and make sure that your themes cover those tasks. Start by listing the type of activities you engage in on a weekly basis – not necessarily the specific activities, but the type of activities you could describe as a category. Things like running errands, studying, home maintenance projects, writing, or socializing with family & friends. Add to that list projects or pursuits that you want to accomplish (write them all down, you can edit or prioritize or phase your goals as your schedule develops). Projects and pursuits might include reorganizing the garage, creating a business plan, writing a song, restoring a classic car, planning and saving for a two-week trip to Australia, reading 12 business books over the span of a year, or making a quilt. You can create a separate schedule for work and personal tasks, or you can combine your roles to focus on the system holistically – the latter is especially helpful for those who work from home or have unconventional work schedules.

List of Weekly Activities 
Group your weekly tasks
Categorize your list of tasks and activities by a descriptive label (such as “errands”, “correspondence”, etc.). Identify and mark similar tasks on your list by circling them, color coding, or using symbols in the margin. Think about where and when you will be doing these tasks as you create your categories. You will most likely end up with too many categories of lists on your first try. On your next revision you can look for categories that can be combined under a broader heading (for me, I eliminated the theme of “laundry/wardrobe” and reassigned the related tasks to my “catch-up day” or my “home projects day”). Some of your tasks will probably fit into more than one category – that means you either need to refine your theme description or identify the primary aspect of the task that helps you select the appropriate category.

Categories List - 2nd RevisionCategories List - 3rd Revision
Create a daily theme
Whittle down, combine, and refine your categories until you come up with a list of 7 theme names – one for each day of the week. You will probably need to play with this step and do some editing until you find suitable descriptions for your themes – you can also go back later and revise them after you’ve created a prototype or given the plan a test drive. The important thing is to make it work for your own personal style.

Categories List - 4th Revision 
The importance of a name
The words you use when naming your daily themes can have a profound psychological and motivational effect on you, so choose your labels carefully. If the theme name “yard work day” makes you think of drudgery to be avoided, change the name to something more inspiring, like “landscape architecture day.” The naming process can be broken into a series of smaller steps. For me, it worked best to write up a bunch of descriptive words or phrases to articulate the “feel” of a particular day’s theme. I wrote something like “people/calls/correspondence/follow-up/obligations” to start with, and eventually ended up with the label of “business day,” since it’s a day for which I want to approach my tasks in a business-like manner. The cool thing about this technique is that a well-chosen name really helps to create an image and set the tone for that day’s activities. It’s almost like taking on a role, dressing the part, assuming the characteristics, and behaving in a manner consistent with that image. After creating a patchwork of descriptive words and phrases, it was easier to select the theme name that summarized my intended focus. You can also change these names later if you come up with a better title, so don’t get too perfectionistic about it.

Assign each theme to a day of the week
To make your recurring schedule work, it’s important to identify which day of the week is best suited for your particular themes of tasks and activities. If you have competing days, you’ll have to play around with your options to get the best fit. I like Sundays for planning, in anticipation of the upcoming week. I like Mondays for assigning myself the hard stuff, doing important tasks, and working through meticulous details – the tasks that I can do best when I’m fresh and ambitious.

Categories List - 5th Revision

I’ve recently realized (after 50 years of life experiences) that I need to include some kind of catch-up day in my schedule to accommodate the unexpected things that come up and interfere with my plans. This also allows me to complete tasks that take longer to finish than what I’d scheduled, and it provides some forgiveness for good intentions gone awry. If you don’t have some kind of catch-up day included, every little obstacle and diversion will put your remaining schedule behind and might make you want to write off the rest of the week as a loss, and wait to start anew on Monday. However, if you designate a weekly catch-up day and you don’t actually need the day to catch up on your tasks, you can use that time to work ahead or to do something just for you.

If you don’t know where to start – start with “Trash Day” 
When a major construction project is planned and scheduled, it’s the industry standard to start with the demolition and excavation. You’ve got to clear the project area to provide room to start on the new construction or renovation. This standard also works well for planning a personal schedule. If you’re not sure which days should be assigned which themes, start with the day before your community’s scheduled trash pick-up. This will be your demolition and excavation phase. The trash pick-up will always come on that day, and will not fluctuate, even if something important comes up (except, perhaps, around certain holidays, in which case there is a planned shift in scheduled trash pick-up). So on the day before trash day, designate it for cleaning out your refrigerator, and from there, you will find that other tasks will naturally flow.

If you’re clearing out your refrigerator, it may also be a good day to schedule leftovers for dinner, a day to plan your grocery shopping list and upcoming menus; and while emptying the waste baskets in other rooms of the house, you might find another compatible task to include for that designated day. In mild weather, if you have a yard, the day before trash pick-up may also be the ideal day to bag up yard waste, assuming you don’t have yard work scheduled for some other day of the week. My “day before trash pick-up day” is Wednesday. Wednesday is also the day I chose to designate as my catch-up day. It’s a nice mid-week break that allows me to purge unwanted items, clear the decks, and regroup for a second phase of productivity for the week.

Weekly Schedule Themes 
Put your plans & schedule in writing
This step is really important. If you’ve taken the time to think through the details of an effective schedule, it’s worth the extra effort to write out your final draft in a presentable form. This reinforces the notion that your schedule is of some importance, not just a whimsical exercise done for fun. Writing your schedule on card stock or on an index card makes it easy to locate for quick reference; an index card can double as a bookmark for your planner or a book. Post your schedule where you can see it or just establish it as your policy.

Weekly Schedule Themes Extended 
Expand the theme
Once you have a theme, you can use it to create schedules for other roles, projects, and pursuits in your life. I created a schedule for blogging, exercising, meal planning, wardrobe planning, and TV watching. Each of the subsequent schedules kept with the original scheduling theme to keep the activities compatible.

Act like a “schedule person”
For your schedule to be effective, you have to honor your commitments and expect that others will do the same – especially the activities that are scheduled for yourself. Don’t allow others to trivialize your planning by asking you to set aside your plans “just this once” to go do something fun or to help them meet their deadlines, with the rationalization that you can catch up on your things tomorrow.

Refer to your scheduling policy when coordinating tasks with others. Your daughter needs some new shoes for soccer or it’s mentioned that the car is due for an oil change? Say, “I’ll put that on the agenda for next Tuesday, when I do errands.” If you are working on a personal project which needs 2 hours of uninterrupted focus each week, go to the library or someplace where you won’t be disturbed. Tell your family and social contacts who might randomly call you that you’re not available on Thursdays – that’s your research & writing day. 

Colorful visualization
I even created a themed schedule of colors for the week (this was actually an integration of a color-coded system I had previously created to help organize my “to do” lists). This may seem to take the concept of a theme to extremes, but hear me out. The colors I selected visually reinforce the emotional setting for that day’s activities and helps to create the image and enhance the story behind the theme. I also use descriptive words that remind me of my color choices and provide an association between the colors and the themes.

Now, here’s the cool part: Selecting colors allows you to color code tasks on your master list – just put an appropriately colored dot next to the associated task on your list. You’ll be able to add tasks to your list as they occur to you, in any order, then categorize them with colored dots than you can easily identify when you scan your list. Take the color coding even further by integrating color-matched folders, post-it notes, and page tabs. If you are a visual person, and you like themes, categorizing, and colors, this could be a motivating factor in getting you to create and use such a system. If not, skip the color-related mentions. As always, the best plan for you is the one that you’ll use.

Colored folders, notepads, markers, tabs 
Weekly scheduling time
Once you’ve developed your weekly schedule template, you will have to take time (usually once a week) to decide which specific tasks will be scheduled for the upcoming week. You only have so much time each day, and your master to do list (color-coded or not) has more items on it than you can fit into your schedule. So you have to be selective and be careful not to overbook. 

Productivity studies suggest that only 40-60% of your available work hours be designated for structured activities. The rest of your day will be consumed with daily tasks and unstructured activities. As you start to do the math, you’ll quickly realize why you never seem to have enough time for everything that you want to do. But don’t let that deter you. Focus on finishing the tasks you start. You won’t be able to complete everything, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of finishing your selected tasks. That’s better than working on twice as many projects but completing none of them. The beauty of planning a weekly schedule is that your plan will be in place before your day begins, and you won’t need to feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do or waste your time deciding which task should have priority at any given moment. You’ll already have that plan.

The weekly schedule and reality
Focusing on one theme per day allows you to postpone to-do tasks to their designated days without getting distracted or worrying that things will fall through the cracks. Your weekly schedule is the Plan A. It has flexibility to it, but be careful about how frequently you resort to a Plan B. If the exception becomes more of the rule, you’ll lose the benefits of having a weekly schedule. However, if unavoidably urgent issues come up, or an unexpected opportunity arises, you can often swap days, and avoid pushing your entire schedule back a day. That’s when those scheduled catch-up days come in handy.

Expect that you will have to refine your themes and revise them from time to time, due to such things as changes in seasons, life situations, or personal preferences. But don’t think of your schedule as an assignment that is imposed on you. Instead, think of your schedule as your script – a directed plan that’s standard issue for people of importance, like you.

P.S. For time planning purposes, it took me about 3 hours to set up a weekly schedule template, following the steps I’ve described. I do things slowly and very thoroughly, so adjust your own time estimate accordingly. Once your schedule is initially set up, you can do your weekly planning without so much intensity and detail. Please comment with suggestions and scheduling tips that have worked for you. I’d like to include your successful techniques in a future edition on this topic.

Posted in Organization, Personal Style, Productivity, Routines, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

What Happens To Your Online Accounts When You Die?

Posted by denisefisher on May 14, 2009

Fortune Cookie of Impending Death Here are some thought-provoking questions that may elicit a sense of uncertainty, if not panic:

  • Do you know how many online accounts you have?
  • Do you have a list of them anywhere?
  • Is that list written or printed out (not just on your computer)?
  • What about passwords to your accounts?
  • Have you informed anyone about your account info, and do they know where/how to find and access it?
  • Where are your digital photos and important electronic documents kept?
  • Where are your purchased music files and other purchased downloads stored?
  • Are your media files and other documents accessible to someone you’d want to have them?
  • What about your private files or accounts – are there any you’d want destroyed or closed without being viewed?
  • Do you have any arrangements made for services or subscriptions that are automatically renewed and charged to your credit card or other financial accounts?

NPR’s program, All Things Considered, did a story on 11 May 2009 about this very topic. Click on this link to read about, or listen to, Your Digital Life After Death.

Over the past few years, several businesses have emerged with online sites and subscription services to deal with the related issues of legal matters, privacy concerns, electronic bequeaths, and designated access, as well as legacy wishes and remembrances.

Listed below is an extensive selection of online resources that might help you in planning the digital details of your eventual demise – they include all of the services I could identify as of the date of this blog posting. I have visited each of the sites to find out what they offer, how their system works, and the rates they are currently charging for their services. The summary descriptions are provided here:

AssetLock.net – This site provides a digital version of traditional estate planning. A template is provided to help remind you of what to include. You can store documents, instructions, and include a listing of accounts and passwords that will be accessible to designated individuals upon your death. You decide who can access which of your entries. There are 3 levels of services and pricing: 20-100-unlimited entries; 20MB-1GB-5GB storage; annual fee of $10-$30-$80.

VitalLock.com – This site describes itself as being in the “Alpha” stage of development and is not yet active.

LegacyLocker.com – A seemingly well-developed service and clearly, the most widely promoted system of its type, this site requires users to designate beneficiaries for their information as well as verifiers of their death. One of its defining criteria is the human oversight element, which requires that a human being provide the company with a death certificate before it will release information or access to the designated beneficiaries. There are 2 levels of services and 3 levels of pricing: the free account includes 3 assets, 1 beneficiary, and 1 legacy letter; the premium service includes unlimited assets, beneficiaries, and letters, and can be paid by a $30 annual subscription or a one-time fee of $300.

SlightlyMorbid.com – This site’s purpose is to send messages or notifications to your online friends in grave situations (not just the situation of your death). Plans are priced as one-time fees, which is described as being similar to the way you would pay for someone to prepare a will. It covers situations of death, natural disaster, accident, serious illness, or whatever you specify. You designate one trusted friend (or up to 5 or 10, for premium plans) and that friend will send out a message to 10 (or 30 or 50, for premium plans) of your online contacts to notify them of your condition, based upon messages you have written in advance. Your trusted friend cannot view or change the messages – they can only activate their delivery. Changes and updates are free for 3 years; after that, changes can be made with a small update fee. The one-time set-up fees are $10-$20-$50.

GreatGoodbye.com – This site’s tagline is “e-mail from the grave.” Its service allows a trusted person with activation codes to send out your final e-mail message with a photo attachment upon your death. When the trusted person activates the process of delivering of your message, a notification is sent to your e-mail address and you are given 21 days in which to cancel the ultimate delivery of your message(s).  I suppose this is in case your trusted person makes a mistake, becomes no longer trustworthy, or you make a miraculous unexpected recovery. Premium packages can include audio or video attachments. There are 4 levels of services and each service has the option of an annual or one-time fee: 1-3-10-500 e-mails; yearly fees of $10-$20-$36-$50; one-time fees of $39-$87-$150-$219.

MyLastEmail.com – This site’s service is basically an online memorial page that you set up in advance, and is made accessible upon your death. The free service includes the posting of 1 document, 1 image, 1 video, and notification of 2 recipients. Premium packages are mentioned on the website, but apparently are not yet available.

YourPersonalScribe.com – This service is unique in its personalization of creating your life story. Sharon Scribe (yeah, that’s who provides this service) writes your personal obituary in advance, with your help. She uses a questionnaire followed by a personal interview with you, as well as interviews with close family members, friends, and colleagues, to prepare your life story. I don’t know what will happen when Sharon Scribe dies, but she also writes wedding toasts, poetry, and tributes for other special occasions in one’s life. The base rate for this service is $300, but has some flexibility for lower income clients.

Deathswitch.com – This site’s model has a very futuristic sci-fi feel to it (even the audio you hear when the page opens or when you roll over a link is very space-age sounding). They call it information insurance. I’d call it a life-watch service. It’s very different from others in that it does not require you to designate a trusted person with the responsibility for initiating the services upon your death. The website summarizes it nicely as “an automated system that prompts you for your password on a regular schedule [at intervals designated by you] to make sure you are still alive.” If you do not respond to multiple follow-up prompts, pre-scripted messages are automatically e-mailed to your named recipients. The company encourages you to test out the service by having the death messages sent to yourself. If for some reason you did not reply (but are still alive) you will get a preliminary message allowing you to click a link that says “Wait I’m still alive!” You can set up a free account that will send your message to 1 recipient with no attachments. The premium account sends up to 30 different messages to up to 10 recipients each (300 recipients total). I could not find the rate information for premium accounts on the site, but an Associated Press article about this service mentioned that it was $20/year.

I scanned through my hand-written list of online accounts (I have 7 pages worth) and found these representative accounts among my listings:

e-mail accounts AOL, Yahoo, G-mail
social networks Facebook, Twitter, Linked In
financial accounts credit union, bank, mortgage company, Visa, home equity line of credit
investments/retirement Thrift Savings Plan, brokerage accounts, retirement account
travel-related sites frequent flier miles, Travelocity account
merchandise accounts Amazon, PayPal, ebay, iStockPhoto, iTunes
image/video/communications Flikr, YouTube, Skype, Oovoo
recurring/renewable payment accounts Verizon DSL service, AOL internet service provider, Corporate Housing ad, GoDaddy domains, Franklin County property tax

My listing will probably remind you of some of your accounts that need to be considered in your planning arrangements. If you prepare and store documents or photos online (also referred to as “the cloud”) you need to take these files into account too. It’s not much of a virtual leap to go from the cloud down to earth and onto your computer and hard drives. You’ve got a lot of information on your computer to consider in your planning too.

These aren’t just issues to consider in anticipation of your death. With so much information being stored electronically, you’ve got a lot of digital eggs being kept in various compartments, but all in one basket.

Have you ever had your computer crash or had your computer lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed? I have. And so have lots of others. Find someone and ask them about it – they’ll tell you what it was like. When my computer was stolen, the most devastating loss was my collection of family digital photos. The thief could’ve had the computer. I just wanted the files. I had some of the files printed or stored elsewhere, but most of them weren’t backed up, copied to others, or printed out as photos. They were gone forever.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking you’re covered because you back up your files onto an external drive or some other media. If someone breaks into your home and steals your computer, and the hard drive or other media is stored nearby, they’re going to take them all. Same thing for a natural disaster. A fire, flood, electrical- or wind-storm comes along and all your electronic equipment and storage media is likely to suffer the same fate. Ask the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

You’ve got options for saving your data and planning for access and/or deletion of your online accounts, but you have to put the plans in place now. You may not have the advance notice of your impending death in which to take care of these preparations. And even if you do, will you want to spend the remaining months of your life getting your accounts and online documents in order? Will you even have the energy or ability? Think about it, make a plan, and take some preliminary action to get things started. It’s better than doing nothing.

Here’s a closing thought: You can put together your own service plan – a simple, low-tech version of the packages mentioned above. But you actually have to do it. If paying someone else will get you to take action, it would be worth doing that. Even if you start out with a free online plan or put together a paid premium plan for one year, you’ll have organized your information and considered the details of your arrangements, and would be able to cancel your service after a year, by switching to your own at-home version. Enlist another family member to take on this task with you. They need to do it too, and may not have thought about it or started it either. Use the power of partnership and accountability to get your affairs in order.

(Editorial note: for any of you who may be wondering about my previously mentioned grand finale of wardrobe organization, I am in the process of completing and editing it. It’s very long and detailed, even more than my usual posts. So it may be published in a format other than a blog post. Updates will follow.)

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