September brings fresh starts and new beginnings, so it was very timely that I decided to take a vacation day to re-examine my goals and priorities.  I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed the past few weeks, as I had been juggling a lot between my day job, volunteer work and home life.

So I first started with a “Life Repair Day” – this is something I read about last year and I have completed it a couple of times since. It is very similar to “Inbox zero” but much more.  It took me two hours to complete everything on this list:

  • Every email answered (yes, every email – for all your email addresses).
  • Every bill paid or put in place where you’ll pay it later.
  • Every piece of paper, envelope, and post-it filed or thrown away.
  • Your system of physical files is up-to-date.
  • Every text on your smartphone is answered.
  • Your physical desktop is clear, and your computer desktop is free of those stray files.
  • Your in-box (literal and virtual) is empty.
  • Everything is backed up.

It is such a freeing feeling, getting caught up on all the little things – it really makes a difference.

Next I reviewed a system that has worked well for me in the past – I find my productivity skyrockets when I follow the very simple principles. Over the summer it is easy to fall out of good habits so I vowed to begin again – the Single Best Time Management Tip Ever.

It is called “Multiple Put Down” and you work on a task in 20-minute increments, with absolute focus, and then put it down, over and over, until you’re done. Here are the steps:

  • Alert your brain that a task is coming that will require its recall, creativity, and brilliance. Then let some time pass – a day perhaps.
  • When you’re ready to start, set a timer for 20 minutes, such as the stopwatch feature on an iPhone. Set your cell phone to airplane mode, turn off your email, and silence all other distractions. Then hit start on the timer.
  • During the 20 minutes, you must focus on that task without interruption. And unless the building burns down, do nothing but work on that task until the timer goes off. You may hit the wall, but keep going. The vast majority of people find they can work on that task “in the zone” until the timer goes off.
  • After 20 minutes, you have a choice: keep working or take a break. If you keep working, reset the timer to 20 minutes and go through the process again, without interruption until the next 20 minutes are up. If you decide to take a break, it can be short (such as refilling your coffee cup), medium (returning a phone call) or long (going into a meeting, or working out).

This technique will save you so much time – in three hours I was able to develop two presentations from scratch and write an article. This would have taken me a full day if I hadn’t used this strategy; having zero interruptions kept me concentrated on the task at hand.

Now that I am caught up, my mind is clear and I can refocus, instead of having that feeling of being “too busy” (I would never want to be someone who complains about how busy they are). I love what I do so I want to enjoy the ride and take it all in – being proactive in my work instead of reactive makes such an impact.

At the end of my day I made one last goal for the coming months after reading the article “Disruptions: More Connected, Yet More Alone”.  The video embedded in the article really affected me, so I decided to “break free” from my smartphone and limit my usage. The article suggests that “life is better led when it is lived, rather than viewed through a four-inch screen” – this statement is so obvious, yet after watching the video I realize we are living in a culture of smartphone obsession. I plan to still take my phone with me, but I will mindfully leave it in my purse so that I can take in more of life’s moments, rather than posting a picture or video about it. I can’t imagine how this will change my life as a result.

So all in all, my vacation day was exactly what I needed to reset my priorities and get several items on my to-do list accomplished. I encourage each of you to schedule some time for yourself whenever you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or need to recharge your batteries.  It is all about finding what works for you – working smarter, maximizing your time, and getting things done.

What goal-setting, prioritization and/or time management tips work best for you?

Jodi LeBlanc
Jodi LeBlanc is a Values and Ethics Advisor with Veterans Affairs Canada in Prince Edward Island. She is a collaborator/innovator for numerous public service initiatives and national networks and is a member of CGE’s editorial advisory board. You can connect with her via @jodilynne3 or