Organization has been coming up in a lot of my conversations lately - professionally and personally. I've heard from several small business owners that they struggle to set calendar boundaries (AKA responding to emails 24/7 and running all over town for meetings), as well as feeling like they're on a "hamster wheel" with an endless to-do list. Additionally, this to-do list is merely keeping them afloat; it's not necessarily moving their business forward. On the personal side, my friends - especially those with kiddos - are starting to schedule 2018 activities and looking for ways to organize better. Yikes!
A couple years ago I wrote about organizing. Among my many weaknesses, professional and proactive organization is, happily, one of my strengths. And since I implemented the below actions three years ago, the amount of productive and strategic things I accomplish at work has skyrocketed. At home... well, I would give myself the most improved player award for 2017 :)
The turning point tool for me has been my Day Designer. I bought my first three years ago and am just as in love today. When I talk about it, I picture myself as Frank from You've Got Mail: "You know, that nut from the Observer who's so in love with his typewriter." My "typewriter" is this little baby (and warning, it's almost as heavy as a baby - ha!). I just ordered my 2018 edition, and when it arrives, my friend Mindy and I will promptly unwrap and throw an organization party.
Although I love the Day Designer itself, what's more important is how it's used. A plan(ner) is nothing without action. So if you're interested, here are the organization actions that have changed my life:
- Schedule yourself a time block to get organized every morning. Meta, isn't it? "Schedule time to schedule." I feel you. It's tempting to dive right into those emails that came in overnight or head straight into your first morning meeting. Instead, try blocking out 30 minutes before your first commitment every day to review what you didn't get done the day before and prioritize for the day ahead. This is THE foundational step to you controlling your day so that your day doesn't control you.
- Buffer your meetings, classes, and appointments. I always over-schedule time when meeting with other people, as well as make myself a 30 minute buffer between meetings. While I know that this isn't always possible, it is much more doable than people admit. Having a buffer allows you (a) to not rush and (b) gives you time to check off quick follow-ups or preparation required for what's next. In my new professional life, I'm going as far as only scheduling one client meeting a day - so that each person has my full attention, I can thoroughly prepare and follow-up, and I have blocks of time to do my own strategic work.
- Review yesterday's to-do list and carry over what you weren't able to complete. Before just plopping your tasks onto today's list, think critically: is this specific thing a priority today? Maybe it's wiser to add it to your list for next week or next month instead of constantly carrying it over, just because the list says so.
- Establish today's top priorities. This takes self-honesty, as many of us will quickly retort: "Everything is a priority!" I hate to burst your self-importance bubble, but it's not. Pick the top three things that you must do before the end of the day. Focus your productive energy on these three priorities before reacting to others. If you leave the day having completed your top three, that is success, and you should feel great.
- Then, prioritize the other stuff. Some days, getting through three tasks will be a struggle. Other days, your priorities may not be time-sensitive. And yet other days, you'll power through your top three in just a couple hours. When this is the case, I number my other tasks so that there's no distracting myself with internet-browsing or chitchat when deciding what to do next. It takes the choice out: don't think about it; just move onto the next.
- Have a system for the completion process. Unfortunately, life is full of half-completed tasks, waiting on others, and follow-ups. The next time this happens to you, try the following:
- If you've completed your part of the task but are waiting on someone else before you can cross it off, circle your task. This trains your eye to not re-read the things that you can't yet do anything about.
- If you must carry over an item to another day or week, mark a --> next to it.
- And the most satisfying: when you are done, you are done. Smugly jot down that big, fat check mark and move on!
As Carolyn notes below, organization is personal and subjective. Check out a few reader comments for what's worked well for others (especially night owls), and add your own. For example, a friend just introduced me to these desktop and writing tools, that she's using alongside her Day Designer.
PS - If you've been reading for awhile, you know that I'm a BIG fan of promoting other people, products, and businesses who bring exceptional value to my life. The Day Designer DEFINITELY falls into that camp for me, and many of you have bought one since I originally wrote this back in 2015. If you're still enjoying it as much as I and plan to buy your 2018 edition, you can do so through this link, and I will gratefully receive a small commission from your purchase (no price difference to you). And bonus discovered by Mindy: free shipping on orders over $100 right now, so go in with a friend - like we did - and save yourself $30. And thank you.
PPS - When I mentioned an organization party in Nashville, I was serious. If you live in the area and you're up for a fun, laid-back organizing party, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love you to join.