There’s no doubt about it. Life is busy, and it seems there’s never enough time for everything. If you have difficulty getting organized, tend to procrastinate, or just feel that you don’t accomplish enough, the following 7 steps, when followed on a regular basis, are guaranteed to help you get more done and may even make your life easier.
1) Make a list.
It seems simple, and it is, yet making a list is an important step that many people ignore. You want one master list, not twenty small lists that can be stuck in pockets and lost. Start by brainstorming and write down everything you can remember that you need to do. Be sure to leave space between items so that you can write down related tasks for each item as you think of them. Don’t worry about the number of items — you might have 50, or you might have 10. It doesn’t matter.
Once you have written everything you can remember, post the master list on your bulletin board, on your desk, on your refrigerator, your palm pilot, cell phone calendar, or any place that makes it easy to refer to on an ongoing basis.
Do it now. It only takes 10 minutes.
2) Decide what’s most important.
Look the list over and circle the two or three things you think are most important to accomplish that day — no more than three. Then, put an asterisk by small items that you think you can complete in five minutes or less.
For a hypothetical example, the three most important things on my list for today include: 1) writing and submitting an 800-word How-to article for a magazine, 2) take my son to the doctor, and 3) finishing a major editing project for a client. I also have several other items on my list that can be accomplished in five minutes or less — call daughter-in-law to make arrangements for Thanksgiving, respond to client e-mails, open and sort mail, for instance.
3) Break tasks into smaller, manageable sub-tasks that you can do in 15 minutes or less.
If any of the items on your list will take more than 20 minutes to accomplish, break it into smaller parts.
In my example, I need to write an 800-word article for a magazine about how to transition to a vegetarian diet. I can break that down into six sub-tasks: 1) list the main points for the article, 2) write a paragraph explaining each point, 3) write opening and closing paragraphs, 4) edit, 5) edit again, and 6) submit to publisher. Each of these sub-tasks will take no longer than 15 minutes and can therefore be done, if necessary, over the course of a day. I won’t feel pressured to sit down and do it all at once.
4) Use every available minute.
This is where having everything broken into 5-15 minute jobs begins to pay off. In my case, while I’m at the doctor’s office waiting for my son, I can use my cell phone to respond to client e-mails. I can also jot down the main points for my article, to finish later, when I’m in my office. And I can make phone calls between projects, or any time I need a break from what I’m doing.
5) Cross it off & shed the extraneous.
Whenever you complete an item, cross it off the list. Not only does crossing things off help you to stay on track, it’s enormously satisfying.
Each time you cross something off your list, decide what you will do next. Then, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can someone else do that task for you? If so, take 5 minutes to delegate, and then cross it off.
- Can you decide not to do it at all? Sometimes, thing we think are important when we make our list become unimportant in the context of the day. If you don’t really need or want to do that task, cross it off and consider it done.
6) Save the best for last — for every task you undertake that you don’t want to do, undertake something you do want.
This step is the secret to conquering procrastination. For each item you accomplish that you really don’t want to do, you get to do something you want. Again, in my hypothetical example, let’s say that I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I don’t want to spend time discussing who’s going to bring the turkey and the salad. I mean, there are more important things on my list, right? But, I can reward myself for getting that phone call out of the way by taking 10 minutes to meditate — something I really love to do.
7) Assess your progress and repeat, starting at step 2.
Each evening, before you sit down to relax, or before you go to bed, review your list. Acknowledge yourself for everything you got done, even if you didn’t accomplish as much as you wanted to. Then, you can either use your same list or rewrite the list, adding new items that may have come up during the day.
You’ll start your next day at step 2, with a fresh list, and fresh motivation.
When you feel stressed and things seem to be coming at you faster than you can respond, write them on your master list. Then, follow steps 2-7. In a very short time, you will have accomplished more than you ever thought possible, and you may even have enough time to reward yourself with that extra game of golf, or an evening out. Your friends and family may want to know how you accomplish so many things. If you’re feeling generous, share this article with them.