I am someone who likes to get stuff done.
I can’t stand that feeling of getting to the end of the day knowing that I was unproductive, and I could have got more done had I organised myself better. Perhaps I’m just a product of a culture obsessed with “busy-ness”, but I suspect a lot of us are the same. We achieve our goals by getting in and doing the work, every day.
Planning and accomplishing things and feeling like we are moving closer to our goals are central to our health and happiness. It is also my experience that when people are feeling on top of things they are more likely to take care of themselves in the gym and pay attention to what they eat.
Need something done? Ask an effective person.
Busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive. The most effective people have figured out a system for getting the most important, valuable things done first. They also know how to delegate and to ditch the stuff that just isn’t that important.
I am an insatiable consumer of productivity tips, and I’m going to share with you the best ones that I use, some days more successfully than others, to tackle my to-do list.
1) Get it out of your head and onto the page
Feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to get done? Relying on your brain alone to file and organise your to-list is like sitting down to a messy desk. You need to tidy up first. Take half an hour to dump out all those niggly to-dos occupying valuable brain property onto the one page, without censorship.
The first step of David Allen’s famous system in his book Getting Things Done is to capture the things you need to do, and to continue to update this master list as soon as you think of something. Don’t leave everything you need to do swimming around your brain, cluttering up your decision making ability and causing you undue stress. Collect the information. Then you can decide what to do with it.
2) Planning starts the night before
Many people get to work, check their emails for half an hour and THEN sit down to plan their day. I have found that I start my day with far more clarity and direction if I do my planning the night before.
It’s so powerful to write a list of the tasks you need to do the day after just before going to bed. Something amazing happens when I sleep after writing my list. This list becomes embedded in my mind and creates the white space I need to have restful sleep. I then wake up knowing exactly what I have to do and what is most important.
While I write these lists, I casually prioritise, using tactics I learnt from time management guru Brian Tracy. An A1 task is the most productive task on my list and has the most time pressure. This is the first thing to knock off my list, before moving on to A2, and so on. Ultimately, you want to be so on top of your to-do list that you don’t have too many urgent things to attend to, and you can get to that important but not urgent stuff that really moves you closer to your goals.
Going to work and having this prioritised list in front of me straight away puts my tasks in an order I can follow with some automation. When distractions occur, I can recalibrate and keep moving. You’re not completely thrown off when things don’t work out. You just move on.
4) Delegate anything not in your core skillset
When you are doing your night before planning, make sure if there is anything you can delegate, you label it. Remember: why are you on the payroll? What are your strengths? What can you do, and only you do, that can achieve the results you need to achieve? Take your hands off tasks that aren’t within your strengths so that someone who is better at it can do it.
5) Ditch it
One of the best things about doing that brain dump I talked about in Step 1 is that you can take a good hard look at all those to-dos that have been on your list for ages that you’re not getting to. Now think: is this something I really need, or want to do? This is a tough one, because a lot of the tasks that bring up resistance for us are actually the most important, but hardest, things to do, so we tend to put them off.
There will be at least one item on your list that you could ditch altogether. Do you really want to train for a marathon or get started on your novel? Maybe, maybe not. It’s up to you! I have learnt that it’s so liberating to can those tasks that just aren’t in line with our priorities and desires.
6) If it only takes a couple of minutes, do it straight away
Ok, this is a biggy that could have saved me a thousand headaches in the past.
If something lands in your inbox and you can do it there and then without too much interruption to your day, for heaven’s sake DO IT!
The number of times I have forgotten to pay a bill or do something else simple because I put it off rather than doing it on the spot is maddening. These little daily tasks that crop up need not throw you off your game. If you can complete them as soon as they hit your inbox, it doesn’t become an urgent task PLUS they won’t be overloading your mental space that we went to all that trouble to clean in Step 1. If you can delegate the task immediately, even better.
7) Find the tools that suit your style
Some people adore making lists, and there is nothing better than the action of putting pen to paper to create organisation and action. Some of us like to have our spaces dotted with post-it notes.
I personally love an app called Evernote to organise my thoughts and to-dos. It has actually transformed the way I do things and share tasks with my colleagues.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the countless tools available to organise and prioritise the things you need to do. Find something that works for you and stick with it. A lovely prioritised to-do list that you never look at is pretty redundant.
Don’t let perfectionism ruin you
Don’t throw all attempts of organisation out the window when things go wrong. Learn from mistakes and move on. I certainly have days when I don’t follow my own advice and I spend the day running around like a headless chook and getting nothing done.
One of my favourite sayings is from business and productivity coach Marie Forleo: Focus on progress, not perfection. As long as we are getting better at organising ourselves, that is good enough.
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