Are you spending so much time running around trying to get things done that you can’t even fathom taking the time to sit down and come up with a better strategy? Are you flitting from one task to another in a real life version of whack-a-mole with your to-do list? Do you even have a to-do list? Is your writing the first thing you sacrifice when life gets crazy?
This day-to-day hamster wheel can quickly become a habit. In fact, if you’ve been in this cycle for a few weeks, then it is a habit – and not a very helpful one at that. If this has become your new normal, read on.
Sometimes to get things done, we just need to stop. If your hair’s on fire, the best response is not to keep running and give it more oxygen. If you are overwhelmed by everything that you have to do and not getting to the most important things in your life, such as your writing, then you need a strategy. And the only way to get that strategy is to Stop, Drop and Plan.
Ugh. The “P” word again – planning! I don’t have time to plan! I’m here to tell you that you don’t have time not to plan. If you don’t plan, you won’t work on your priorities, and you’ll even work on things that don’t need to be done – at least not by you. Those people who just ooze productivity don’t just wake up and see how their day is going to go. They take control of their day and steer their own ship, starting with their own road map.
To make this easier, we are going to do this in chunks – four 15 minute chunks to be exact.
Chunk #1 – Write out every single thing you have/want/need to do
Take your notebook or agenda, or just a pad of paper, go to a lovely cafe on your way to the office, or some other nice productivity-enhancing venue (i.e., away from people who can interrupt you) and write out everything that you have to do – EVERYTHING – from watering your plant before it starts to look like a cactus, to writing that great American novel, to buying a bra that actually fits. This is what David Allen, productivity guru, calls a mind sweep. David also has a great trigger list that can help you with this brainstorming activity. If you have more than 15 minutes and really want to do a deep dive, you can also check out Jessica Abel’s restart worksheet.
Chances are that once you have gotten all these thoughts out of your head and down on paper, other things that you need to do will pop into your mind during the day at odd moments. Write them down – on a sticky note, on your smartphone, in a voice recorder – whatever works for you. Just make sure that you put them all in once place before proceeding to Chunk#2.
Chunk #2 – Categorize your mind sweep list chronologically
Divide your list into three categories: (1) MUST DO NOW (2) HAVE TO DO THIS WEEK (3) CAN WAIT UNTIL NEXT WEEK. Really, really think about this. A lot of times, we think we HAVE to do something immediately, when really it can wait until tomorrow or even until next week. For more detail on how to divide up your mind sweep list into these three categories, see my post on the Three-Pronged To Do List.
Chunk#3 – Plan your week.
Notice that I didn’t say plan your day. You can’t know what you need to do today, if you don’t know what you need to do this week.
Take your list of MUST DO NOW and HAVE TO DO THIS WEEK, and prioritize it. What has to get done first, second, third, etc.? Then divide up all of those tasks into a weekly day grid Monday-Friday or Monday-Sunday – whichever you prefer.
Chunk#4 – Plan your next day
Finally! This is where you take the tasks that you want to do tomorrow and you put them on your calendar in specific time slots. This is your reality check and perhaps the most painful part of the process. Once you put aside time for commuting, meetings, bodily needs, hygiene and sustenance, you won’t actually have a lot of time left over to get your writing and everything else on your to-do list done. We tend to think of days in terms of 24 hours or 16 hours or even 8 hours. You will never have 8 straight hours in a day to write unless you rent a cabin in the woods and seclude yourself from modern society or somehow defy the laws of human existence and find a way to never sleep and still remain upright and coherent. If you have 2 hours, that will be a lot.
Estimating the time it will take to do each task and slotting it into a specific time slot helps you to be realistic and is a contract with yourself to get those most important tasks for the day done.
That’s it – four chunks, one hour, and then 15 minutes a day to a more organized, more productive, less-stressed life.