This past week I found myself in a difficult spot. Not only did my fall last week slow things down quite a bit (what with lots of naps and TV-watching), I found myself overwhelmed by all the things I had committed to do but couldn’t manage.
But along with being able to work only a few hours each day, I happened to be “blessed” with a flood of new ideas and possible projects that made me feel even more overwhelmed.
On top of that, I had to get my taxes filed and catch up on emails. Yikes! What to do?
I heard my inner voice tell me over and over again, “You need to get organized, set priorities and only do what is necessary right now.”
So I went back to my tried-and-true planning system and dug myself out.
My system is all about lists… but what kind of lists? Let me show you.
Aspirations, Commitments, Time and Lists
At any given time we are swimming in a world of possibilities when it comes to getting things done. There are things to get done now… things to get done later… and things to get someday. It’s those someday things that can be the real problem, which I’ll explain later.
Current Priorities List
This is a list of things you need to accomplish in the next month or so. They are projects you’ve already committed to or have set in motion, such as putting together a webinar, changing your website homepage or keeping a promise to a colleague to give them feedback on a project.
The thing about current priorities is that they need to get done relatively soon, but probably not today or even this week. But the mind has a hard time sorting things this way. It wants to do everything NOW! But putting these items and projects on a Current Priorities List, you can reassure yourself you won’t forget about them. But you don’t need to take action until the time is right.
These are items and projects that come from you Priorities List. This list is at the core of planning and organizing. Once a week you take a look at this shorter time period and ask, “What things on my Priorities List need to get done this week?” If you’re leading a workshop next week, it would make sense to prepare for it this week and avoid getting behind.
The key to a successful Weekly List is not to make it too long. You’re not naming small things, but important things – things that make a difference to the forward movement of your business. So you need to select a few key items (from 5 to 10) that you absolutely commit to getting done this week.
This list includes one or two items from your Weekly list and also a number of small things that need to get done that day such as respond to certain emails, errands etc. And of course, how much you commit to getting done that day will also depend on the number of appointments you have with clients or prospects.
I have a simple game I play every day It’s called, “Get Everything Done on My Daily List.” It’s not always possible, but when I set that intention, I usually succeed. Remember, it’s not about getting a few dozen things done but getting the most important things done.
Project Ideas List
This new list is my secret weapon for productivity; it collects all the good ideas I come up with and then put aside for now to ripen. This is the area many of us find so challenging.
You know the situation: You come up with a great idea and you start working on it immediately. After all, that’s where the energy is, right? Well, yes, but working on this new idea completely sidelines your priorities.
Even worse, a few days down the road you realize that this idea is not really viable or it’s something better done a few months from now. So you’ve put in all that time, distracted yourself from your priorities, and are now behind on important projects. Result: You feel overwhelmed.
That’s where the Project Ideas List comes in. Whenever a brilliant business idea (or an idea about any other area of your life) pops into your head, go to your Project Ideas List, write it down and get back to your current priorities for the day. You can review it later, think about it and let it ripen until you feel ready to put it on your Current Priorities List.
Lists as a Filter for Ideas and Actions
One way to look at lists is as a filter for all the ideas that pop into your head. And you can use all your lists for that:
• You recall that you promised your wife you’d pick up a roast chicken from Costco. That goes on your daily list for after work.
• You remember your taxes are coming up in a couple weeks; you write it down on your weekly list and look at the times you could spend a few hours this week.
• And as you peruse your Project Ideas at the end of the week, you decide to upgrade a project to your Current Priorities list.
You now have things organized for today, weekly, monthly and for the indefinite future. After a little practice, you start to relax feel less overwhelmed. After all, the only things you really need to focus on are what you’ve committed to doing today. And if your list is a reasonable length, there’s no need panic; you can get it done.
This is another important page for breaking down the things on your Priority Lists. Most priorities or project consist of a series of action steps, sometimes a few sometimes many. When you’re ready to get moving on that priority, pull out a Project Page and start listing all the action steps.
There’s an art itself to breaking projects into action steps, but the famous saying, “You can’t eat an elephant in one bite, but you can chop it into pieces and eat it one step at a time,” applies here.
Putting It All Together
This system for organizing all your projects and ideas is simple and powerful, but it can seem a little complex. After all, you have six lists here. How do you manage all of them?
This can be done a few ways, but this is what works for me:
First of all, I create forms for all these lists. This can be done in Word using tables. My lists have the title and space for the date at the top. There’s a narrow column on the right for numbering the items and two narrow columns at the right for dates dues and to check things off.
Here’s a generic form you can use. (just click to download)
Then I put all of these forms into a binder with a few divider tabs.
Tab One – Current Priorities. I use a three-hole punch and put the holes on the right side of the page and place those pages on the left side of the binder. And then on the right side of the binder, I put the Weekly List, with holes on the left side.
So what you have are the Current Priorities List and the Weekly Lists facing each other. I keep the binder open on my desk at all times to easily check my priorities.
Tab Two – Project Ideas. Left hole punch on the right side of the binder. Just flip to that page when you have a new idea, and write it down.
Tab Three – Project Plans. I’ll put a few pages here with current plans that come from items on my Current Priorities. Once these projects get completed, I just file or toss the page.
Tab Four – Copy a number of each of the forms and place them under Tab Four at the back of the binder for easy access.
That’s it for the binder. The key to keeping up with all your lists it to do a short planning session at the end of each week. Look at all your lists, move items, forward them or remove them. When a page is full (with a lot of completed items) simply create a new page. And start with a new Weekly List every week.
How About Your Daily List?
My daily list goes onto a daily page in my At-A-Glance Appointment Book. It may seem a little cumbersome, but I work mostly from my office and work with clients by phone, email, and Zoom. I don’t need to carry this stuff around.
Can you do this on a mobile device or computer?
Yes, you can. I’ve tried this more times than I can count. And although I do virtually everything on my computer, I could just never make time management and organization work for me on a computer. But it may be essential for your situation.
One of the best systems for this is Evernote. The basic version that can handle all of this is free and is simple to use. For a few more features it’s $5 per month. Simply create Notes for each of these List Pages, including unlimited Project Pages. Plus, you can import documents and attach them to that note or page, which would be very useful for projects.
And another one that my editor mentioned to me is Wunderlist that she finds even easier to use. So check out both of them!
I hope this has been useful. OK, ready to start on the path of getting past feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do? You now have everything you need.
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