I don’t claim to be an expert on organization, but I have learned a few things in the last 39 years about getting stuff done. Here are four keys.
1. Get it out of your head and on paper.
Years ago, I read a book by David Allen called Getting Things Done. That book launched something of a movement in the productivity world, but it was quite a simple concept that revolutionized the way I got stuff done. David Allen taught me how to get something out of my head and on a sheet of paper (or a digital version), putting it into a flow and sequence of activity.
There’s something powerful about writing it down and getting to it later. It keeps me from thinking about something when I’m supposed to be working on something else. It keeps me from thinking about something when I need to rest.
This isn’t complicated, but it’s incredibly powerful. I used to use a Day-Timer, but today I use an app. Others keep track of stuff on post it notes or sheets of paper. No matter how you do it, write stuff down and get it out of your head.
2. Take time off.
It might sound counter productive to say taking time off is a key to getting things done, but it really is. Doctors, psychologists and Moses all say so.
Time off is good for the mind, body and soul. We were not made for endless amounts of never-ending work. We need time to rest. Like sharpening an axe, taking time off will give you more energy and more brain power to get things done during the week.
I’ve seen this first hand. When I go non-stop, my productivity decreases. I’m busy; I’m doing things. But I’m not getting things done. I’m active, but I’m not effective. But when I’m properly rested, it helps me get properly focused.
If you’re a person of faith (and I am), honoring the sabbath is on the same top ten list as don’t kill people. Resting and practicing the sabbath is literally commanded by God. If you want to be more effective six days a week, take that seventh day and rest.
3. Make appointments with yourself.
I started doing this a few weeks ago, so this pointer is relatively new to my work flow. But it’s worked really well so far so it’s worth mentioning.
Instead of making a list of a bunch of stuff i need to do, I block time off on my calendar to work on key projects. I treat these like appointments that I cannot break. They are appointments with myself – pre-determined time to work on projects. If have a big writing deadline, I block off two hours, and treat them like time in a meeting. With a block of time, I know I can’t schedule meetings (and so does my team).
4. Only use a few tools, but use them well.
Don’t be tempted to try out the task app that syncs with your microwave – pick a solid system and use it. The tools you will use daily are better than new tools, no matter what new features you use. Make it a part of your work flow. You’ve got to get all zen and become one with your system.
Despite all the options out there, I only use a few tools on a regular basis. They are:
- A moleskin notebook. It’s old school, but I carry it with me nearly every place I go. I take notes from talks I hear, dream on paper, and jot down things.
- I use a software tool called Evernote to store notes of all kind. Anything I want to keep goes in here – blog posts, meeting notes, feedback, and more. Evernote syncs with my phone, and it’s super easy to get stuff into Evernote. Here’s a blog post I did on how I use it.
- I use a task program called THINGS. Anything that requires action gets put into this tool. I keep an inbox there of running stuff I need to do, and assign dates to everything. Evernote stores notes and ideas…Things keeps track of tasks. Those are three primary tools I use to get things done.