My friend Megan asked:
What tips do you have in prioritizing work, keeping a good to do list, staying organized, and getting it all done in 40 hours a week?
Okay. Here’s how I do it. (Written with help from my Organizational Yoda: Deidre Miles)
Only check email and voicemail three times a day. Don’t let other people’s unscheduled interruptions deter you from your day. I have one private email address and one way to reach me in case of emergency. Everything else is vetted by someone better at it than me.
Only process stuff a couple times a day … and when you do, actually process it. Actionable items from email – get them on your to-do list. Items that someone else has to do – get ‘em off your back and onto theirs, scheduling only a follow-up reminder to make sure they’ve done the work.
Need to send emails? Fine. No problem. Just don’t check any other emails. Does this require discipline? Absolutely. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. This is at the top of my email signature:
** PLEASE NOTE: I have begun checking email only three times per day to be more valuable to my clients, partners and family. If it’s an emergency, please call. **
That call would go to our amazing virtual receptionists that know how to find me or those who can reach me.
What about during-the-day ideas? Ideas for ads or blog posts or gifts for others? Capture it. Send yourself a quick email if you can do it without checking other emails. Shoot yourself a text. Write it down in a notebook. But process it all later during the next time you process.
Put these email/voicemail processing times on your calendar. The most important thing you have to do each day? That goes on the calendar, too. Maybe two things. No more than three important things on your calendar each day. Hopefully, one of those important things moves you toward some greater goal – even if it’s just a tiny step, make it. Just keep moving toward your big, hairy goal.
Okay, you’ve got your list. You’ve got it processed.
Now, before you start, review and prioritize the list. Are there monkeys that really shouldn’t be on your back. Delegate them right now. Quickly – what else can you say ‘no, thank you’ to? Don’t be the bottleneck.
Got it? Ready? Go.
DO THE WORK
Close out the world and get to work.
Work the list. Go Pac-Man on that list.
Believe it or not, I actually have a light-switch I throw in my mind’s eye.
When your mind starts to wander. When the phone rings (if you forgot to shut it off). When twitter tweets (if you forgot to shut it off). When Stars Dance.
Get back to the list.
Schedule what really matters. Every morning, pay yourself first. Drink another glass of water. Don’t eat crap. Energy counts. If you need to take a ten-minute break, set a timer and take a break.
Then, honor the timer. Get back to the list.
Try your darndest to schedule meetings (including calls) during your least productive time. I’m more productive, creative and effective in the morning. Therefore, I try to schedule meetings in the afternoon – and back to back if possible. It’s harder to re-groove after one meeting when you know you’ve only got an hour before the next one.
If you have a meeting, make sure there’s an agenda in advance. Stick to the agenda. No meeting ends without action items, assignments and deadlines. If a meeting ends without those, congratulations – the meeting organizer just wasted everyone’s time.
So, the meeting ends? Get back to your workplace and work.
Get back to the list.
When you start to doubt … the work … others … yourself …
Get back to the list. This is not the time for reflection. This is the time for work.
When it’s time to add something to the list, add it. Capture it. Get it out of your head. Get it out of there! Whatever – blog idea – ad idea – to make room for more stuff.
Then get back to work.
Work the list. Work. The. List.
End each day by reviewing your progress and setting the table for the next day.
It’s not sexy. Sorry. This is the green vegetable stuff. It’s good for you and gives you more energy than you ever thought possible … even if candy’s sweeter and more fun.
(By the way, I used to be addicted to productivity app switching. I thought the app made a big difference. It doesn’t – whether it costs $150 or is a piece of scratch paper. Pick one. Stick with it. Do the work.)
WELL, THAT’S ALMOST IT
Tomorrow, I’ll share my real secret with you. Prepare to be amazed.
Additional Reading: Before you get back to work, check out Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine
PS: Organizational Yoda would make a great band name.