Answering three simple questions will clarify your intentions and make it more likely that you’ll accomplish your goal.
- What is the next step?
- When will it be done?
- Where is it’s home?
Let’s examine each of these questions and how your answers can increase productivity and diminish stress.
Before we begin, you’ll need to prepare by collecting your thoughts and prioritizing your responsibilities. This might sound difficult, but it’s really just capturing everything that is tugging at your attention. What is your brain fluttering around again and again? Gather all your little post-it notes and reminder emails you sent yourself. Make a list. Like you’re catching those thoughts in a big net.
Group each of your thoughts by project name. For example, birthday present for Cody, finish report for new client, write my novel, get muffler fixed, dentist appointment. Some of these tasks will need to be scheduled and some you’ll want to do as soon as possible. Either way, you can process the task with three simple questions, which will make the next step clear and enable you to focus on one thought at a time.
What is the next step?
What is the very next action you need to take to move the project forward? Think small. What does the next minute of work look like? Write the next step down clearly and include how long it will take.
Some actions might not seem like actions. For example, the next step might be waiting until a certain time. Waiting is an action. Another example is delegating. If you need to hand off part of the project to someone, doing so is an action.
Make sure that each task is genuinely how you want to spend your time. Does it make you money or make you happy? If not, disengage.
When will it be done?
Focus on the step you wrote down. Ensure that you have included how long it will take.
- If the next step can be done in 5 minutes, do it. Scheduling the work, switching, and returning to this will take longer than finishing now.
- Tasks that will take between 5-15 minutes and don’t need to be done at a specific time go on your task reminder checklist. These are things you want to do as soon as you have the time.
- Calendar the longer tasks and anything that is time-sensitive.
Where does it live?
We can do our actions now, put them on our reminder checklist, or schedule them for a convenient time.
The information and other resources associated with these actions will also need to be processed. Everything needs a home, and no visitors are allowed.
Get yourself 3 bins and label them: This Week, Work, and Personal. Process the notes, documents, and physical objects you are responsible for. Handle them only once as you sort. When in doubt, throw it out. The point of all this is to eliminate your pile of stuff by processing it.
Once everything is sorted into these three gathering points, you can attribute them to individual projects.
Use a filing system with hanging folders. Each folder should have a sorting tab with a letter of the alphabet. Label a manila folder with your project name, put the associated documents inside, and file it under its letter.
For time sensitive items, like financial documents, create 12 more folders corresponding to each month of the year.
Digital storage is getting cheaper every day. Also, search capabilities are improving. With digital files, “When in doubt, keep it.” Even without a stable organization system, you can find things quickly with a search.
3-layer digital organization
- Create a “Personal” folder and “Work” folder
- Create broad categories that apply to these areas of your life. For example I have finances, writing, clients, coaching templates, etc.
- Create one more layer of subfolder with specific project names. In this folder, also create a folder called “old” where you can keep drafts of documents.
The first time you process your life, it will take a long time. Don’t get discouraged, it’s much easier to stay on top of things after the first time. You should schedule time to process all the tasks on your capture list down to zero at least once a week. This will help clarify what’s next, eliminate worrying about focusing on the wrong thing, and improve your outcomes.
The process described in this article was developed by Dave Crenshaw. He offers productivity classes and is diagnosed with severe ADHD. I am not affiliated with him in any way and I highly recommend checking out his site where you can find his extremely helpful products and services.