5 ways planning ahead makes success easier

5 ways planning ahead makes success easier

Have you ever gotten all ready the night before, so that all you had to do in the morning was get up and go? It makes the morning so much easier, since you're not wasting time or energy thinking about what needs to be done, or what clothes to wear, or where all the pieces of your project are. Instead, you do what needs to be done, and you do it well.

If you've done this before, try making it a habit. If you haven't; give some of these a try:

1.) Working out in the morning. Spend a few minutes the night before getting ready for your workout. Lay out your clothes, shoes, and any other gear you'll need. Juice, coffee, or a piece of peanut butter toast? Have it ready to go as well. Write down exactly what route you're going to run, or what workout you're going to do. Then, when your alarm goes off, just get up and do it. No thinking required. No time constraints. No excuses. By the time your mind wakes up, you'll be halfway through the hardest part of your day!

yoga man
microsoft clipart

2.) Preparing dinner. Knowing what you're going to have for dinner tomorrow can eliminate a lot of stress if you're trying to feed a number of people. Anything you can do to pre-prep the food helps even more. Some of the easiest evenings at our house are when we've prepared food for a slow-cooked meal the night before, then simply dumped everything into the crockpot in the morning and headed off to work. We come home that night to a fully cooked meal - no effort required!

3.) Making lunch. Packing lunch the night before practically guarantees victory, at least for me. Lunch is the meal where I'm most likely to make a spur of the moment bad decision and put down far too many calories, either because I decide to join others and go out to a restaurant (big portions), or because I'm in a hurry and hit the drive-through (bad food). Having my lunch pre-made and waiting for me eliminates both of these temptations.

4.) Getting dressed (or more specifically, picking out what you'll wear.) If you're new to preparing the night before, this is a great place to get started. For me, this isn't a big time saver - I grab a shirt and a pair of pants and I'm ready. But for my wife (or anyone who puts more thought into what they wear than I do), who can easily spend five minutes looking for what to wear, this helps make the rest of her morning a lot less stressful, as those extra five minutes come in handy when it's time to get out the door.

5.) Get your To Do list in order. This one is huge for me. Having a plan of attack when I wake up in the morning is usually the difference between a proactive, getting-things-done day, and a reactive, getting-sidetracked-by-email-and-other-webstuff day.

I've learned over the years that the more of these I do, the better my days go.

Does planning ahead take a little extra time and energy in the evening? Of course. However, it isn't any extra time and energy, because you'll have to do those things anyway tomorrow. In fact, I've found doing these things ahead of time takes less time and energy that it does the next day, since you don't have multiple distractions pulling you in different directions at the same time.

So give it a try. Plan ahead for tomorrow, and let me know how it goes. And if you have some good planning ahead tips, please share in the comments below..

-Chris Butterworth


Evernote with Skitch for Windows is here!

Evernote with Skitch for Windows is here!

Skitch for Windows is here - you need to download this free program-app right now. (and if you don't have Evernote, you should download that, too.)

You all know how much I love Evernote (it's the first program I open on any device I'm using.) But the lack of Skitch for Windows has been killing me. Ever since Evernote acquired Skitch back in August 2011, I've been waiting, a little envious of my Mac-using friends.

Yes, I've had Skitch integration with Evernote on my Android for a long time, and I've used it occasionally, but annotating an image on a 3.5" screen just isn't the same when you're sitting in front of dual full-sized monitors.

What is Skitch?

Here's a quick "what you should do next" tutorial I created using Evernote with Skitch and about 5 minutes...

That's it - simple as anything. You can now capture what's on your screen, and mark it up to show the important parts, quickly and easily. One more tool in your productivity toolbox.

I bet there are some uses for health and fitness, too.

-Chris Butterworth


Evernote - goldilocks uses notebooks AND tags!

Evernote - goldilocks uses notebooks AND tags!

Do you get confused in Evernote about whether to use notebooks or tags? I've found using both notebooks *and* tags gives me the best of both worlds. Here's why:


I signed up for Evernote in the fall of 2009, and began using it heavily in 2010.  I currently have about 3,600 notes in my Evernote account, spread across various areas of my life: day job, hobbies, blogging, family files (cars, medical, insurance, etc.), kids' stuff, and more. And I've gone through a few iterations of how to organize my notes/thoughts over the years.


I started out using Evernote as if it's a digital version of a paper filing system, where each note can be filed into one, and only one, place. This works great, until it doesn't.

Benefits Drawbacks
Mirrors paper filing system; each note has a place Can only nest one level deep
Easy to move notes from one notebook to another Must be consistent in where to file different "types" of notes (ie: does auto insurance get filed under auto, or insurance?)
Can group notebooks from similar subjects together into "notebook stacks" No keyboard shortcut to move/select notebooks. (not yet, at least.)
Selecting a notebook stack shows all notes in all notebooks within that stack
For those old enough to have worked with paper files, notebooks feel more natural

Once I wanted my notebook filing tree to resemble a file-tree in Windows, I was sunk; notebooks just don't offer this level of nesting. So I began moving everything "into" tags. Another problem was being consistent in filing - did a hotel receipt go under vacations, or receipts? How about my auto insurance policy - insurance, or auto?


Next I created one big notebook to store all my notes, and I replicated my notebook structure with tags. Then I started modifying and adding new tags. Tags allowed me to nest my filing system several levels deep. They also allowed me to add multiple tags to each note, which is the mind-blowing equivalent of storing a single piece of paper in multiple folders at the same time!

For example, I could have a high-level tag for Household, then a sub tag for Insurance, then more sub tags below that for Auto Insurance, Life Insurance, Health Insurance, etc.

Another example, I could scan a receipt from an oil change on my wife's car, and I could label (tag) that note with Auto, Accord, Cheryl, and Receipt. I would then be able to find that note by perusing any of those 4 tags.

This was like seeing the light for the very first time, and I began multi-tagging most of my notes.

Benefits Drawbacks
Can use multiple tags for each note, effectively "filing" a single note in multiple locations Tags don't always appear in nested, file-tree order. In some places they are alphabetized
Able to nest tags several levels deep Tendency to over-tag, both on a per-note basis, and by using tags at a very granular level
Keyboard shortcut (Ctrl + Alt + t) allows selection of single or multiple tags without leaving the keyboard Cumbersome to "move" from one tag to another - lots of keystrokes involved to add one and remove the other
Selecting a parent tag does *not* show all notes from all of the children tags

9 months and 1,200 notes later, and I started having panic attacks about my notes - too many tags in too many places with too many choices. Ick. Information overload! I longed for the simplicity of notebooks. I also realized I was spending more time thinking about what tags to assign a note, and where I should look to find a note, than I used to do when I used notebooks. I decided tags were making my use of Evernote less efficient.

Notebooks AND Tags working together

I have since moved back to using notebooks as my primary filing tool. I use notebook stacks to group notebooks around their various themes, and I spend a second or two thinking about where to file each note.

I have an Inbox Notebook which is where everything is captured, without thought. Then, each day or two, I review & file my inbox items.

I also use several higher-level tags. I have a tag for each member of my family, for example. This allows me to use broader notebooks, and combine them with tags. For instance, I used to have notebooks for Medical-Collin, Medical-Jason, Medical-Cheryl, Medical-Chris, etc. Now I have a notebook called Medical, and all medical-related notes are dumped into it. I also have similar notebooks for School, and for Auto. I can then tag those notes with Collin, Jason, Receipt, or Accord.

This combined system has left me with fewer overall choices, and I feel like I'm processing my information faster and easier - both for storage and retrieval. My guess is this is what Evernote's developers had in mind all along... It's like they wrote the program specifically for Goldilocks!

How do you use notebooks and tags in your evernote?

-Chris Butterworth

5 keyboard shortcuts to make Windows easier

Have you ever watched someone work with a program where you know how to do it better/faster/easier? It's maddening! These 5 shortcuts are easy to use and are available throughout the Windows environment - Word, Excel, Internet, Evernote, and so on.

1. Copy (Ctrl + c)

Whether you're trying to copy a letter, word, block of text, photo, or file, reaching for your mouse and searching around for menu options is so tedious. Once you select the text, just hit the Ctrl key and the "c" key, and Bam - your text (or image, or file) is copied to the clipboard.

2. Paste (Ctrl + v)

The copy shortcut is great, but you get to finish off the 1-2 combination by quickly and easily pasting whatever it is you just copied.

3. Select All (Ctrl + a)

Selecting long blocks of text may be one of the most frustrating events you do during the course of the day - you're holding down the button and dragging the mouse, wondering if you started in the right place, or if you you're going to be able to stop at the end. Don't do that anymore! Just place the cursor anywhere in the block of text, then hit Ctrl and "a". (probably immediately  followed by Ctrl + c, right?)

4. Find (Ctrl + f)

Being able to quickly find a word in a document is very helpful. It's even better when you trying to find something specific buried within a long web page or PDF file. Press Ctrl and the "f" key, and you'll see a pop-up box asking what it is you're trying to find.

5. My Computer (Windows Explorer) (Win + e)

From anywhere within Windows, press the Windows key and “e” to open up a new instance of My Computer - ideal when you're trying to find a particular file, or when you need to copy a file from one location to another. (using ctrl +c and ctrl + v, of course!)


These are the most common things that drive me crazy when I'm watching somebody else work inefficiently within Windows. i bet you'll feel the same way too, once you get used to these..

Fluency + 1 - I wrote about fluency not too long ago. It's easier to add one new thing to your current workflow than it is to try to remember 5 things you should be doing. I'd recommend picking one of these 5, and start using it today, like Now! Then, as it becomes 2nd nature, come back to the list and try adding another one.

What are some other good shortcuts out there? Do you have a favorite I didn't mention? Let me know..

-Chris Butterworth

fluency +1

It's easy to learn one new word once you're already fluent. The same holds true for fluency in things other than languages - routines, software applications, sports, politics, just to name a few.

Think about a 30-person office where it's somebody's first day there. 29 people are fluent - they know each other's names, departments, habits, likes & dislikes. They know where the copier is, how to scan to their personal folder, and where the coffee supplies are.  Today they simply have to meet the new guy - one new name to remember, and maybe something about him from the short conversation they had. Fluency +1.

But the poor new guy. He's trying to remember 29 things about 29 people, plus everything about the office. He's taking lots of notes - both mental and written, but his head's swimming with information, and the entire first week is a blur. His productivity is the lowest in the office.

There are systems, short cuts, and new things you can try in your daily life to increase your productivity. The trick is to try adding one or two at a time to the things you're already fluent in.

Try using a feature on your phone you haven't used before. Or try using a keyboard shortcut on your computer. (did you know pressing ctrl+c is the same as right-clicking with your mouse & selecting Copy? And ctrl+v is the same as Paste.)

There are thousands of ways to make things work a little faster, easier, or better. You don't have to learn them all at once - that would kill your productivity like the new guy in the office. Just learn one at a time. And once you become fluent with it, try another.

-Chris Butterworth

don't break the chain

Imagine you're talking with Jerry Seinfeld.  Not the goofy, funny, incredulous comic from on-stage, but the smart, dedicated comedian who's dead serious about his craft.  Jerry leans forward, and gives you this beauty of a productivity technique:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."

"Don't break the chain," he said again for emphasis.

I first read about this back in the summer of 2007, and it has been one of my go-to tools ever since.  It's especially powerful when I'm working on a new goal.

Once you've been working on a goal, project, or task, on a regular basis (ie: daily), for a long time, it becomes a habit, and the need to mark your daily progress dissipates.  But at the beginning, when you're working hard on something new, "Don't break the chain" is a great mantra.

In fact, last month I knew was going to be a challenge for me, as I had projects brewing on multiple fronts.  First thing I did was to build a Seinfeld-Chain calendar in google spreadsheets.  (my April results are below.)

I gave myself a green square for each day I was perfect, a yellow square for each day that was good but could have been better, and a red square for each day I failed.

Training long hours, writing and building this blog, being very conscious of what I was eating, and taking care of all my miscellaneous obligations.  Whew.  Turns out there's a lot green - good job, me.

Focus.  Single Task.  Work the Process.  Just Do it.  Each day, did you get it done? Give yourself a gold star.  (or a red x, or a green square...)

-Chris Butterworth

DeskSMS - saving seconds adds up to saving minutes (and eventually hours!)

** updated 5/14/12. After 2 weeks of evaluation, it was time to either pay up or get out. And I'm sad to say, but I got out. Another tech which has functional potential, and which some people might find useful, but I simply could not get enough use out of it to justify paying for it. In fact, after the first few days I was back to texting from my cell phone as my primary choice/response. Too bad, this seemed to have had potential... -Chris

Most days I'll have a handful of texting conversations during the course of the day. It's not a lot, but each text is very disruptive to my workflow.

Look over at my phone.  Pick up my phone.  Hit the "on" button and swipe to the home screen.  Drag the notification bar to read the text. Press to answer the text. Slowly type out my response. Hopefully find and replace all the errors caused by auto correct. I'm probably out about a minute by the time I've responded - longer if I had to type a long response. Add all those minutes up throughout the day and I probably lose more than 10 minutes a day to texting. (I can only imaging how much time is involved for those of you who text more frequently!)

Now imagine if I could get notified of, read, and respond to my texts without leaving my office computer.  I would save about 75% of that time, which translates directly to the productivity bottom line.

Enter DeskSMS. (hat tip 40Tech).

I read about this yesterday and downloaded it today, and so far it has worked flawlessly.  I don't think it works for MMS. (at least I haven't figured out how to send a picture yet.)  And it's only free for two weeks. (after which it costs about $5 per year.)

So far I'm calling it a win.  The real test will be whether I find it enough of a productivity enhancement to pay for the service.  I'll give you an update in 2 weeks...

-Chris Butterworth

scatterbrained? try single tasking

I have too many lots of things to do at any given time.  In fact, here's what's rattling around in my brain right now:

  • Finish and publish one of the half-written posts I have for this blog.
  • Write up (and publish) some of the thoughts I have for my real estate blog.
  • Start writing my monthly email newsletter.
  • Scan (and tag) into Evernote the pile of papers on the corner of my desk.
  • Follow up with the loan officer regarding a potential real estate purchase.
  • Book the free trip to San Francisco my wife & I got for sitting through that time share presentation.
  • Purchase season passes to Wet n Wild for the summer.
  • Respond to several emails.
  • Read (or at least skim) the scores of posts waiting for me in my feed reader.
  • Dozens of other smaller things to do.

Each day I have a block of time to work on this stuff in the morning, and another block of time in the evening after the kids to go bed.  In addition, I have short snippets of time during the day - 3-5 minute stretches here & there while I wait for a report to run or for an email to be answered.

I find that whenever I look at the list as a whole, I get overwhelmed thinking about all of them, and I usually don't get much of anything done.  However, when I single-task and focus on one item exclusively, I get it done and am able to move onto the next item.

The trick is to plan ahead.  I review my list, either at night or first thing in the morning, so I know which items are critical, which will take a long block of time, and which ones I can work on during my 3-5 minute drills during the day.  When the time is right, I pick a task and give it all my focus and energy until it's complete.  Then I can cross it off my list and move onto the next one.  In fact, I'm going to cross that top one off my list right now!

- Chris Butterworth

Evernote power-user tip - 8 useful keyboard shortcuts

The faster you can make Evernote work, and the more it works just the way you want it to, the more valuable it becomes.  Enter keyboard shortcuts - key combinations you can use so you don't have to slow down and reach for a mouse.  Here are the 8 shortcuts I've been using most often:

1. tag list (ctrl + alt + t) - when inside a note, or when selecting a note (or multiple notes) from the notelist, this brings up a full list of tags.  You can quickly add & remove tags from these notes.

2. bullet points (ctrl + shift + b) - probably half of my notes have bullet points.  They help me organize my thoughts, and the tab / shift-tab work very well for indentation and un-indentation (I've found some of evernote's formatting to be a bit quirky.)  It's a quick & easy way to group various thoughts and sub-thoughts together.

3. list view (ctrl + F5) - brings up your notes in list view, with the note preview pane at the bottom of the screen.  Perfect for perusing a longer list of notes and/or sorting by a specific column.

4. snippet view (ctrl + F6) - brings up your notes in snippet view, with the note preview pane on the right of the screen.  Perfect for perusing a shorter list of notes.  I also like the preview pane in this view better for drafting & editing notes.

5. hide / unhide preview pane (ctrl + F11) - especially useful with the list view, this removes the preview pane altogether and gives you a full screen of your listed notes.  Pressing it again toggles the preview pane back into view.

6. view notes from a specific tag (ctrl + shift + t) - from the notes list, this will bring up a drop-down list of all tags.  Typing the first couple letters of the tag you want will quickly bring up that tag.  Hit enter, and your screen displays only the notes within that tag.

7. print screen / screen clip (windows + prtscrn) - allows you to use the mouse to grab any part of the screen, and create a new note conatining that exact image as an image file.  You can click to open, right click to save as, copy, etc.

8. copy screen clip (windows + prtscrn, then ctrl with mouse) - same as screen clipping above, except if you hold down the ctrl key while you clip, the screen clip will be copied to the clipboard, where it can be pasted anywhere - email (and then a blog post!), a different note, word / excel, paint, etc.

I find that with keyboard shortcuts, like a lot of other things in life, it's difficult to digest them all at once and completely change how you're using evernote.  It's probably better to work on using one or two of them until you become fluent with them, then add another.  lather, rinse, repeat, until eventually your hands don't leave the keyboard anymore!

-Chris Butterworth

This one thing can make or break your day

I've written about single tasking and single mindedness before - if you know what you're going to accomplish before you start, it's much easier to eliminate the pull of all those distractions. If you're just wandering through the motions, you might as well not even try...

from Seth Godin:
Let me guess: check the incoming. Check email or traffic stats or messages from your boss. Check the tweets you follow or the FB status of friends. 
You've just surrendered not only a block of time but your freshest, best chance to start something new. 
If you're a tech company or a marketer, your goal is to be the first thing people do when they start their day. If you're an artist, a leader or someone seeking to make a difference, the first thing you do should be to lay tracks to accomplish your goals, not to hear how others have reacted/responded/insisted to what happened yesterday.
I couldn't agree more.

-Chris Butterworth