In a flexible work environment like the Fool, we leave it up to each employee to create a system to help them organize their time. Some people get a thrill from checking items off on a to-do list, some email themselves reminders, some block off time on their calendars to work uninterrupted…and some operate with no system at all!
But no one works in a vacuum – you often set out hoping to accomplish a certain amount of work in a day, only to get derailed by last-minute requests, non-stop phone calls, and other distractions.
Recently, the Fool brought in a consultant from McGhee Productivity Solutions to teach a daylong, hands-on seminar called “Take Back Your Life”, where you use features of Microsoft Outlook (which we use as our email client) to organize and categorize your tasks. I’m not here to give away their secrets (though if your organization is looking for help in this regard, I recommend this seminar!), but I’ll share with you one tip that’s helped me whittle away at my to-do list, both at work and at home:
Break your to-do list down into smaller actions.
Here’s an example: I keep my home quite presentable, but my walk-in closet was my one messy space. I didn’t parade party guests through my bedroom to show them my secret shame or anything, but I use that closet every day, and picking through a disorganized space stressed me out. So “reorganize closet” was on my to-do list. As you can imagine, looking at that item every time I set out to clean my home made me feel overwhelmed, so it never got done.
Instead of writing one general item on your list, break that task down into small steps. In the case of my closet, I started by buying a shoe rack, which cleared up the floor. That paved the way to sweeping the floor for the first time in three years (there’s a reason I called that closet my secret shame, remember?), picking out some clothes to donate, and then rehanging the clothes I wanted to keep in a more organized way. But it all started with a shoe rack I had been meaning to buy for a while.
So, you have a project at work to get done. “Get project done” isn’t a good to-do list item! Start with something small. Do you need to set a deadline? Get some questions answered by a colleague? Set up a preliminary meeting to make some plans and prioritize tasks? Do those things first, and the project will seem a lot less daunting.