Organized and Productive in 5 Steps: The New You
There's lots to get done. It's tough to remember it all. Listen to M.O.M and your life will change.
You've got a lot to do. We all do. So much to accomplish and never enough time to do it all.
If you’re like many people, you probably have a long list of things you want to get done and day after day you get side tracked and maybe, if you’re lucky, you cross out one thing from that list, but add three more. It’s like a carousel that never stops.
At this point, my priority to-do list is four pages long. That’s just the priorities! Don’t even ask me about my to-do list for all the non-priority stuff. When I look at all I have to do, I’m like a deer in the headlights except that, unlike the deer, I feel like the car is already running over me.
There are two big problems with this (on top of, you know, the whole run-over-by-a-car feeling):
No sense of accomplishment: if you always have more to do, it’s hard to feel like you accomplished anything at all.
Lack of strategic focus: continuously trying to put out fires can cause you to lose sight of the big picture.
People tell me that they don’t understand how I get so much done. Though that’s nice to hear, I too believe that I can do more than your average person. In my continued desire to be more and more productive, I’ve delved into organizational theory. I want to share a couple of these ideas with you because, well, I’m writing and you’re reading.
There are many different theories about organizational habits. Of course there's the tried and true checklist method, there's the "wing it" philosophy and there’s the "sit around and wait until somebody tells you what to do" tactic.
Frankly, all of those will lead you to the same soulless place of feeling no sense of accomplishment.
On the other hand, there are two organizational methods that I've found to be the most valuable in getting off this carousel: GTD and Covey’s Quadrant.
Getting Things Done
Getting Things Done (or GTD for the hipsters out there) is based on the book of the same name, written by David Allen. In a nutshell, the book talks about how to break down your to do list into essentially two elements:
Overall projects you need to accomplish
The steps needed to complete each project.
Then every day you select the 3-5 most important steps you can accomplish that day to help you in completing the projects.
(Before you hardcore GTD’ers jump all down my back, I know I’m simplifying the concept. It’ll be ok.)
The Covey Chart is based on the four quadrant philosophy of Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Basically everything is broken down into one of four priority levels:
Important and Urgent
Important and Not Urgent
Not Important and Urgent, and,
Not Import and and Not Urgent
You spend 1-2 hours each morning on the Important and Not Urgent, then spend the rest of the day on the Important and Urgent.
(Same message as above for you crazy Covey conservatives.)
So which method do I use to keep myself organized?
Well, more accurately, I use both. Kind of.
Let me explain.
The Organizational Methodology of M.O.M.
I’ve blended the concepts of GTD and Covey together into a delicious smoothie of a process that helps me organize my days better than any other method. I call this Matlow’s Organizational Methodology - or M.O.M.
When I listen to M.O.M., I stay focused on doing the right tasks.
When I adhere to what M.O.M. says, I feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
When I follow M.O.M.’s advice, I don’t sacrifice strategic growth for being a fire putter outer.
When I follow M.O.M.’s orders, I feel like a better person.
As a leader, the ultimate goal of organization is to focus on the things that are most critical for the growth of your business. These are often different than the most important things you have to do in any given day. A single days top priority could very well be something like fixing your internet connection. Though that is a top priority and must-do for the day, it is not an overall strategic goal that will drive the company forward.
How This Organizational Method Can Work For You
Let's do a simple exercise:
Write down one thing you want to accomplish in the next 6-12 months to grow your business. It could be anything. Let's say it's "land a big sale".
Now right down the steps you have to take to get there. It could be things like:
Outline our current product offering
Define the ideal type of big client
List potential sales targets
Prioritize each target
Create a pitch deck
Find appropriate contacts at target accounts, etc.
If you haven’t already, put each of your tasks in the order in which they need to be done. For instance, you can't contact a target account until you figure out who the target accounts are. If you have a specific deadline for completing your goal write that down too.
Now take the top item on that list and put it on your checkbox to do today.
Add 3-5 other things to your today list.
Now get those 4-6 things done today before you do anything else.
That’s basically it.
5 Steps to Staying Productive
There is of course a lot more to it and I encourage you to either read the books or listen to them on Audible at 1.5x speed while you run, like I do. That aside, let me give you more details on what I do every day when I abide by M.O.M.
1. The application.
I use an application that supports the GTD philosophy. This is my task list - not just for the day but forever. There are a few programs worth reviewing:
+ Things (this is the one I use and recommend)
In my application I create separate sections for the most important projects I need to accomplish (e.g. I Am Jeff articles). I also create general sections for tasks that aren’t necessarily project-related. Things like Marketing, Sales, HR, Finance.
Break each project down into individual tasks
Enter all of the items you need to do in each of the relevant projects or general sections
d. Today vs Anytime
Your application should have at least two folders. One is marked “Today” and another is “Anytime” (or “Not Today”)
For every task and to-do item, add one of the following tags:
+ Important and Urgent (impacts business and has a deadline date)
+ Important and Not Urgent (typically your strategic items)
+ Not Important and Urgent (fires that don't grow business)
+ Not Important and Not Urgent (mundane tasks you’ll do if you ever have time. Which you don’t).
2. Organize Today
First thing every morning (or the last thing you do every night), look at your “anytime” list and select the 3-8 most critical things to accomplish that day, based on the tags of what is most important. Move those items - and those items alone - to your Today list.
It is important that you only move those important items to your Today list and it is important that you NEVER have more than 8 items. Ideally it’s 2 to 5 items, depending on how time-consuming they are.
3. Get Stuff Done
Your daily to-do list should never be more than 8 things (did I say that already? I think I said that already.) Your daily goal is to do everything you committed to doing that day, knowing that it is driving your business forward.
You may start with 1 item on the list, and that’s fine.
There is no greater sense of accomplishment than focusing on the most important items to grow your business and checking those items off your list.
I know what you’re going to ask. You’re going to say “Well what about all the emails I have to answer?” I’ve got your solution for that too, Ms Smartypants.
Go through your emails 2 to 4 times per day. Anything that takes less than 2 minutes should get a response right away. Any email that requires more than 2 minutes to address, it needs to turn into a task in Things (or whatever task management system you use). Make sure you tag its importance level and then put it in the relevant project/general section.
Then put the task in the Anytime/Not Today folder and prioritize accordingly.
5. The Week
Every Sunday night or Monday morning I make a list of the three or four things I need to get done that week. Those go on my priority list. Those items are usually a little bigger and may even be an entire project. I then ensure that each day I prioritize the tasks to set myself up to successfully accomplish the weekly goals.
I know it takes a little bit of practice but, trust me, it will help. When I listen to M.O.M., I know my priorities and I feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of every single day.
Now stop reading this nonsense and go get something done.