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Stay on Top of Your Pile

Stay on Top of Your Pile.

Stress occurs when you feel out of control. The easiest way for me to feel out of control is by not doing all the things I need to. By this I don’t mean blowing deadlines. I mean all the other things that I put off while I’m working on a deadline. Bookkeeping; that annoying little project for a “friend” that you know will only take you half an hour but you can’t bring yourself to start it; cleaning out the inbox; getting through that “stuff to scan” file, or the “Stuff to shred” pile… you know what I mean.

Running a business means you have to stay on top of these things. And not only do you have to stay on top of these things, you also have to stay on top of all the things in your personal life that require – at the bare minimum – your time: laundry, dusting, groceries….

“Enough! When does it stop?” It stops when you learn to get control of it.

For me, this is an ongoing process and most likely always will be. I’m always looking for new ways to be more productive and more efficient in my “busy time” so that I can enjoy more free time when I’m done with what I need to get done.

If you’re a procrastinator, you might want to tackle that as your first to-do item (and you can read my blog about that here), but assuming you’ve banished that demon already and just want to be more organised, here’s my current method:

  1. Make a list. Make 10 lists if you have to. Personally, I prefer one because know where it is at all times. For this I use Asana. It lets me put categories, projects, deadlines, subtasks… all in a relatively intuitive interface once you spend a bit of time reviewing it and getting used to it – but plain old paper and pen work just as well for making a list.
  2. Prioritise your list for the day into two categories: Things you can do quickly in under 15 minutes; and things that take longer. I tend to power out the “things I can do quickly” in the morning over my coffee, and schedule the “things that take longer” into my day the night before. For the longer tasks, don’t just add them as “Build Massive Website for New Client!” – you’re destined to fail that way. Set up larger projects as groups of smaller, manageable tasks and milestones, and work those into available slots in your day’s schedule. I also tend to break my list down into “things I can do today” and “things I can do this week” – with the goal of completing the dailies, daily and the week’s tasks by the end of the week. This gives me flexibility for things like schedule changes and meetings that pop up.
  3. Learn how long it takes you do to things. The biggest roadblock you can throw in your own face is to overestimate how efficient you are. We aren’t all Elon Musk and we can’t all build rocket ships and electric cars and still have time to go invent new solar panel roofing tiles before lunch. You know you, so be true and realistic with yourself. And then add about 5-10% to that time estimate.
  4. Plan out your day and stay focused. This one’s super-important! Bold face, blinking, all caps important. Without creating and sticking to a plan for your day, you’re going to fall off track. Someone’s going to call, text you, barge into your office with their own emergency, social media will bleep at you, or any number of other things will distract you and the next thing you know, you didn’t get through half the things you’d wanted to for the day.
  5. Review your list at the end of each day and week. How much did you get done? Congratulate yourself! What did you not get done? Beat yourself up for being a total fail… er.. I’m kidding. Don’t do that. Look at what you didn’t get done and either move those items to the next day/week, give them a more realistic time to complete, and/or ask yourself “do I really need to do that or can I just delete that from my list?”

Give it a whirl and let me know how it goes, or what you do to stay on top of your pile of things to do.