Our lives are so busy now. Just keeping up with technological change, new ideas, apps and methods can be a full-time job. We have so many things to juggle on a daily basis and so many calls on our time. It can be difficult to track it all. Many of us turn to lists to help us to manage everything, but a Brain Dump type list alone is not enough. You need a system in order to succeed.
A system is exactly what David Allen’s brilliant book, Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1) provides. It’s a great resource for learning how to list, organise and get a grip on all the various tasks that you have to manage in your life. This is part two of the series and focuses on the day to day use of the system to achieve better productivity. If you have missed the first part of the series, you can read that here.
For this part of the method, you will need a planner, diary, Filofax or similar. Paper-based or electronic, it doesn’t matter. It’s your system and should be designed to fit your needs.
One of the first things to do is to examine your brain dump list and put any time critical tasks into the diary or planner. Appointments, deadlines, meetings, project goals, insurance due dates, social events and so forth.
Another category that you need to note in the diary is dates by which others must deliver their part of a shared project upon which your own tasks are dependent. If you can’t start until they have finished, then you need to know when to check the delivery date with them or ask about any changed priorities that might impact on your diary planning.
David Allen suggests that you should use the diary only for the time-critical framework and not place your To Do lists into the diary. I take this to mean that a time-critical task from my To Do list can go into the diary but the entire list should not.
The diary forms a framework that will be central to keeping you on track and feeling organised. By checking your diary regularly to identify upcoming events and deadlines, you can ensure that you allow enough time to prepare for them. Working backwards you can place tasks on a list for each day that will move you nearer to the target in your diary.
Next look at the remaining items on your long brain dump list. Add the most critical tasks to a To Do List for the week. These will be things you need to do to meet the commitments you put in your diary as well as things which you have decided to complete that week. The latter will be driven by the larger business goals you’ve set yourself. If one of your goals is to re-write the copy on your website by 20th March you can break the goal into separate tasks, for example, tackling a page a week, and allocate the tasks to different weeks in your planner between now and the deadline.
By breaking large tasks down into smaller ones with measurable outcomes they feel more manageable. You can feel a sense of satisfaction that you have completed a step on the journey to completing the whole task. If a task is too large and you don’t break it down then it will feel too difficult and you will put off doing it.
Having a long list of tasks with no real feeling of urgency (beyond that awful feeling of having too much to do and not knowing where to start) can lead to things being missed. Creating a set of daily To Do Lists works much better as you have a much shorter list to get through, and this feels more manageable, and you are therefore much more likely to actually succeed in completing the items.
Choosing too many tasks for your weekly list leads to feelings of overwhelm which will negatively impact your productivity. Having only one piece of paper for the list is one way to keep the list manageable. Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day or week. Three to four main tasks per day is a good number to choose. You can always go back to your list for more if you finish quicker than expected.
Small related tasks can be chunked together. Dealing with related tasks in one go can save time as your brain doesn’t need to switch tracks too sharply. The brain isn’t great at switching rapidly between disparate tasks and takes a while to get back into the concentration zone. If you plan your week so that similar tasks are done back to back, you will often get more done. You could write more than one blog post in a particular session for example.
If, whilst doing a task, you think of something else you need to do, just make a note, and then return to your original task. This will be less disruptive to your concentration than thinking you will remember the new task and write it down later. At the end of the day or week, you can then add the various notes to your main brain dump list.
By concentrating on only a short list of things and having all the time critical elements noted in a diary, you have a plan for the week which allows you to calmly progress through your week, regularly referring to your list and planner to ensure that you are always engaged in the task that you should be doing and moving to the next task in a timely manner.
If you find that you still have too many tasks that fall into the critical category and you are not able to fit them all into your day, one option is to delegate some of the tasks. I will be examining delegation in more detail in a future post and it is often the answer for those time consuming but essential tasks such as data input, research, sourcing images for social media, proof checking and filing. If your lists include time-consuming admin tasks that you just don’t have the time to do, then just get in touch. I’d be happy to help you to get it all under control.