Regardless of vocation, maximizing productivity is a worthwhile endeavor. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t quite sure how to get thing done. While each of us functions differently, everyone benefits by having a system for each of the three legs of the productivity stool:
It is important to acknowledge that these are three distinct entities, that you need all three, and that the three need to work together. Let’s look briefly at each one.
Everyone needs a calendar, and preferably one calendar where all appointments, meetings, classes, conference calls, practices, rehearsals, etc. are recorded. Your calendar is where you keep track of anything you need to “show up” for, whether in person or remotely.
An effective calendar can be either electronic or paper. This is a matter of personal preference, as both options have strengths and drawbacks. The key is to select a method you trust, will faithfully use, and will have with you at all times. In addition to recording the name and time of your commitments, maximize your calendar’s functionality by noting helpful details, such as meeting location, party address, or conference call number.
It is critical to have a method for keeping track of what needs to be done. “I will just remember” or “I will leave this out so I don’t forget” are systems designed for failure. Forgetting is part of the human condition, and items left out often get piled upon. Random scraps of paper aren’t much better, as they are easy to lose and lack consistency.
An effective “to do” system allows you to track:
- Your “master list” of large projects or long-term tasks (e.g. clear out the attic)
- Today’s prioritized list of tasks, scheduled into blocks of time on your calendar (e.g. call insurance company, write term paper, research suppliers)
- Future tasks that must be completed on specific dates in the future (e.g. follow up with Sally after she gets back from vacation next Tuesday)
There are many options for capturing tasks, including a simple notebook, an online tool such as Outlook, or an app like Any.do or Todoist. As with the calendar, each approach has advantages and disadvantages, so select one that you feel comfortable with.
When using your system, be sure to:
- List each task in a clear and concise manner (e.g. “Call Joe to reschedule 4/12 meeting to 4/14, 555-123-4567” vs. “Call Joe”)
- Prioritize what you will do TODAY vs. A FUTURE DAY. If you need to call someone next week when they return from vacation, flip ahead and record this task on the appropriate day.
- Mindfully schedule each day’s tasks into your day. Look at your calendar and identify when you will do each task. If you have a full day of meetings, don’t plan to work on a task that requires hours of solitary time.
- Consider tagging items by type (e.g. “C” for call, “E” for errand, “P” for “Paperwork” etc.), and then grouping like items together to help you be more efficient.
- Track your progress throughout the day, noting what is completed, in progress, cancelled, or needs to be moved to another day.
The calendar and task help manage what you need to do when. In order to carry through, you need to have convenient access to needed supplies. These will vary widely depending on the work you do. For some it may be a computer and a phone, for others a toolbox, for others a series of files, or for others sports gear and a car.
A few key points about materials:
- The materials are NOT the list. We don’t need to see them to remember the task because we’ve recorded the task in a “to do” system.
- Supplies should be conveniently located in a reliable spot. This is where organizing is especially critical. Every supply you use should have a clearly designated home, so when you need it, you know exactly where to look.
- Items you use frequently should be nearby, while those you use less often can be stored in a more remote location.
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Just as a stool with 2 legs cannot stand, a system lacking one of these three elements will collapse. Each has a unique, but intertwined role…
=> If you have a wonderful list, but can’t find your supplies, you may run late.
=> If you have your list and tools, but didn’t take your calendar into account, you may have insufficient time.
=> If you free space in your calendar, but lack a prioritized task list, you are likely to waste valuable time.
Getting things done isn’t easy, and many feel there is more to do than can realistically be accomplished. While you can’t always lighten your load, establishing a strong productivity framework will alleviate stress and help you work as efficiently as possible.
What tools do you most rely on?