How I get things done
“Jamie returned to the priest, handed him two more coins, and asked him why he was smiling.”
“I was thinking of all the changes you’re going to have to make, lass,” the priest admitted. “I know it won’t be easy on you, but in time you’ll come to love this clan as much as I do.”
“Have you considered, Father, that it just might be the clan making all these changes?” Jamie asked, her eyes alight with mischief.
The priest thought she was jesting with him. “I fear you’ve set yourself an impossible goal,” he told her with a snort of enjoyment.
“How impossible, do you suppose?” she asked. “As impossible as eating a giant bear all by myself?”
“Aye, just as impossible.”
“I could do it.”
“How?” the priest asked, falling nicely into her trap.
“One bite at a time.”
–The Bride by Julie Garwood
I broached the idea of writing a post about my organizational skill set on Twitter and received an overwhelmingly positive response. People want to know how to get things done and they believe that there is some secret that other people aren’t sharing with them. My process is really simple. It involves setting daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. I break those goals down into individual tasks and then prioritize.
I’m not sure who introduced me to the Franklin system. It may have been my husband; it may have been my mentor. It was someone, however, and it changed my life. It’s from using the Franklin Day Planner system that I started writing down my daily tasks lists and learning how to prioritize.
Changing or modifying one way one structures their day is very difficult. While I am a firm believer in the idea of habits, the 30 days to create something or make a life change isn’t universally accurate. What is true is that it takes time to make a change. Therefore you have to stick with any new system for a period time before you can call it a success or failure.
It is not the tools that are important but the process. It does not matter if you use electronic devices or pen and paper. It matters only that you implement the process. What you are looking for in any system is simplicity. The more difficult the software or planning system, the more likely you are to abandon it.
- Moleskine notebooks because they are small and can go with me anywhere. The cons are that they are small. You can fill up a moleskine in a month and it’s hard to keep track of longer term goals but truthfully, I only abandoned this because Ned bought me a very nice gift which I reference below.
- Franklin system. Franklin Covey sells these giant binder systems and while they’re helpful in setting out short term and long term tasks, they are so bulky. I’ve tried their software too and we’ve never gotten along. Suffice to say that I’ve parted ways with the bulky planners a while ago.
- Day planners are great so long as they leave you space to write. You need at least a post it note size (if not larger) space to write out daily goals and tasks. Be careful that it doesn’t get so big that you don’t take it with you.
- Things, Reminders, or other software. Again, while these tools can be great make sure that they are simple and that you are willing to use them. One of the things I like about pen and paper is that it takes me away from the distractions of the computer and I can really contemplate what it is that I need to get done at a certain on the time.
I admit that I have tried to use computer software programs and have always reverted to pen and paper. (see above list of tools) I do reward myself with fancy pens and papers to help jumpstart my process.
What I use now:
- A small binder from Russell & Hazel, the calendar tabs, and filler paper. (This was a gift from Ned)
- Russell + Hazel to do notepads.
Step 1: Setting Goals
What are goals? Goals are things you want to accomplish (as opposed to tasks which is HOW you accomplish your goals). A goal for me, as a reviewer, could be three reviews a week. Another goal is to clean and organize my office. Another goal would be to cook for four nights.
One part of the Franklin system is setting aside time to consider what your goals are. This time should be set aside daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. As people change as your priorities change, so too will your goals change.
Each morning before 8 o’clock I set up my goals for the day. At the beginning of every month (usually the Sunday before the month starts) I contemplate what I want to achieve during that month. And every so often during the year I think about what I want to achieve in that year.
There was some Harvard business study done and I have never found it but the story goes that the Harvard business graduates were asked to formulate their goals. Only a small percentage chose to write down their goals. When they reconvened 10 years later at a class reunion, those that had written down their goals had achieved more than the rest of their class combined. It is the writing down of the goal or the task that is the important part of the process.
Memorializing your goals can be as simple as using a pen and paper or using a more complicated computer software program but whatever you use, be sure to write them down.
Step 2: Prioritize your goals.
Once you have your goals and tasks written down, it is now time to prioritize. First, prioritize your goals and then your daily tasks. What things need to be done right away? (Almost nothing unless you have deadlines so don’t stress yourself out!) I have time sensitive items so many goals are prioritized by date. You may choose to prioritize based on something else but date sensitive prioritization is a good way to start.
Prioritizing may be the most important part of any “getting things done” system because when faced with a number of projects or goals, ranking them helps to separate what’s important from what seems important. It makes your goals more manageable.
When you first set out your goals, you think every goal is equally important but they can’t be. Force yourself to rank them, force yourself to figure out what is most important to achieve. The less important goals are pushed down the road. They might be something you do six months from now or six years from now. Remember your life may change your goals and the priority of these goals so be flexible.
After you have prioritize your goals, it is now time to reduce those goals into achievable tasks.
Step 3. Defining tasks.
What Julie Garwood’s heroine says is true. You can accomplish any task, any goal, if you take one bite at a time. Breaking up your goals into smaller tasks has several rewards. First your goal does not seem unmanageable. Second if they are unlikable goals, you can spread those out over the day or several days. Finally never underestimate the sense of satisfaction and motivation you receive by crossing an item off your to do list.
The second part of the process then is determining what bear you want to eat and then distilling that into one bite at a time. Let’s take “Review a Book” as the goal. In order to review the book, I have to do several tasks:
- Read the book
- Identify the plot / summarize plot
- Was I happy or unhappy and why.
- What grade would I assign.
- What are the things that moved me
- What are the things that didn’t move me
- Any good quotes
- Write the above into a review
- Upload review
- Find cover
- Proof review
- Schedule for posting
Now each of these tasks don’t need to be written down. Instead, my task list for the day may just include “review book B” but if I’m having trouble jumpstarting a task, then I’ll write down a number of tasks and then feel good about accomplishing each little item.
If you are having a hard time accomplishing a goal at any given time, break it down into tiny bits. For instance, sometimes it’s hard to write reviews so I’ll break my review down into discreet segments.
- Write an introduction
- Write a paragraph about the heroine
- Write a paragraph about the hero
- Write a paragraph about the conflict
I legal writing in my real life job. Almost all of that legal writing follows the same standard format in which I have to write four different parts. The first two parts will only take me approximately twenty minutes apiece. The second two parts will take me anywhere from six hours to twenty four (and above) hours depending on the case file and the issues to be resolved.
It is my preference to tackle the hardest and largest parts of the writing project first. I preferred to get my undesirable tasks out-of-the-way sooner rather than later. This is not the only way to attack your goals. Everyone has their own process.
Before you start this process or during the learning of the process one of the things that you want to do is start keeping track of how long it takes you to do things. This is not to identify areas in which you are wasting your time, but how you will incorporate those important tasks such as going to Starbucks and getting a coffee into your daily routine. The process is not about eliminating pleasures in your life but making sure that you have time in your day to enjoy those pleasure is without guilt.
Basically anything that takes more than 15 minutes is something that I will put on it to do list. For instance after I drop my daughter off at school it takes 15 minutes to make it through the Starbucks drive-through. The days that I want to treat myself, I will then add in that to do on my task list. Not because I’m going to forget to go to Starbucks, but I want to be able to schedule that as well as cross it off my list.
I no longer include minor tasks such as making my bed which takes all of two or three minutes in the morning except for days which I’m very busy and I feel like I need to come for every minute of the day.
This is another important sidebar. Not every planning day is going to be the same. Some days you will need to accomplish more than other days and you will need to have a more regimented schedule. But that is not every day. You cannot schedule your days minute by minute every day of your life or you will begin to hate not only your process but your life. Don’t ask me how I know this just trust me.
Step 4: Prioritize the tasks.
The Franklin system teaches the use of symbols and numerical prioritization but you should use the system that works for you. Maybe it is simply numbering each task with 1 being the most important. Maybe it is the use of different colored pens with the red ink identifying the most important tasks. Each task should be identified with some notation.
During the morning or the night before, look at your daily tasks list and prioritize them based on what you feel needs to be done THAT day. Once you have them prioritized (and again, they can’t all be equally important), you have one more step.
Step 5. Estimate time.
One of the things that I found that would prevent me from completing my tasks was failing to properly estimate the time it takes to do any one particular thing in a day or failing to identify different things that I wanted to do that would take time out of my day.
Unfortunately you do have a finite amount of time in one day to do any number of tasks.
If you don’t have a system, you might want to start by simply keeping track of the things you do in a day. Do this for a week. After every tasks, pull out your little notebook and note what you did and how long it took you to do those things. If you don’t properly estimate the time it takes to complete tasks, then you will feel like a failure and abandon the system. Don’t feel bad if it takes you longer to accomplish something than you anticipated. There’s nothing wrong with that. Celebrate that you completed a task!
I also like to over estimate the time that it takes me to do any one project. If I finish before that time is up I can either move onto a new project or I can fool around. It’s also important to note if watching YouTube videos or reading or watching television is a part of your daily process, you should add that into your schedule. Again not so that you can punish yourself by see how much time you wasted but rather so that you have the time in your day to enjoy those pleasures. But you may look at your schedule and priority list and say today is not the day that I should be watching two hours of television or spending two hours on Twitter.
Step 6. Stick to the list.
If you find yourself deviating from the task list, then it’s not helping you get things done. Stick to your list for at least the first week. New tasks or goals can be written down in your notebook and you can look at those during a break or the next day.
BONUS STEP. Do no harm.
If your day is so busy you look of afraid at your task list, then it’s time to reevaluate what you want to do that day. Everyone needs mental health breaks or they will not be able to function. I am a firm believer in the law of diminishing returns. At some point you reach peak effectiveness and every minute spent after that peak gives you diminishing returns to the point that there’s no point in exerting the effort. Go lie down.
It takes me approximately fifteen minutes to write out my goals and tasks for the day and then assign a time for me to do them. But! I do them both at night (at the end of whenever I’ve decided my “work” is done for the day) and then in the morning.
Hope that helps! Happy 2015 folks. Now I’m going to check this off my list…