Header photo by Pedro da Silva
In the last few years I’ve tried a number of different ways to be more organised. Paper todo lists updated daily, Trello boards, OneNote lists, Bullet Journals both paper and digital. Even an overly complex notion database list with different views based on category and time horizon - to be fair I do really like this but I just don’t use it daily. Each has it’s place but I’ve never found something that sticks long term as a truly useful productivity tool. While I wouldn’t say I’m disorganised, I am prone to procrastination and with a busy dynamic day job and two kids at home, increased productivity can always help!
Over the last couple of months I’ve been focussed on finding ways to drive my own continuous improvement, which has meant more things on the todo list. I happened to run into a video on YouTube called This Is How Successful People Manage Their Time and one tip really stuck out - ditch the todo list and manage your time with your calendar. A particularly striking statistic was the 41% of all things that land on a todo list never get done! I don’t think my strike rate is that bad, but there are definitely a few tasks on that list giving me side eye right now…
After watching I realised that 4-5 years ago that’s exactly what I did.
I was working in presales for a small business on a crazy growth curve so there was always more to do than time to do it. I was really filling 3 distinct roles, as you tend to in smaller companies. Tasks varied across the gamut - meetings, catching up with internal teams to work on problems, customer workshops, investigating new tech to support product development, and focus work like designs, internal process improvement and proposal writing. At that time I started using the calendar method primarily to protect my own time for focus work, but I can see it being a great organisational tool as well. You can reprioritise tasks by moving them around quickly and easily. If a new task comes in, you can see if there is time to slot it in and give reasonable expectations to peers and customers. It also gives you a mechanism to block time out for less structured focus time that tends to get lost in the rush to tick off the day to day distractions.
My two month challenge
While we’re coming into Christmas and businesses are slowing down, there is still plenty to do. In fact I’d suggest in a lot of ways the ‘quiet period’ at end of year has become a myth. I’m looking to take advantage of what down time there is to knock over some other goals both personal and professional as well as spending time with family. What better time to get organised?
So over the next two months I’m setting myself the following challenge to try out this approach to productivity:
- Use the calendar to schedule important work and personal tasks, being sure to leave appropriate slack time for the realities of life and work. I remember a Project Manager I worked with suggested there are only really 5 productive hours in a day. Over scheduling is a recipe for failure as you start to fall behind dealing with the day to day phone calls, emails and emergencies. Finding the sweet spot will be part of this process.
- Stick to the schedule. The problem with a todo list is it’s not time bound. I’m already feeling the benefit of the calendar schedule having an target completion time - writing this was my first scheduled task!
- Maintain the todo list for longer term goals, but only engage with it weekly. Each week will involve breaking down larger or longer term items into specific tasks for the calendar, or moving parked items from the list to the schedule.
- Come back and write up the results, to keep myself honest!
A note on Goals
Some time back I found and article by Tom Mendoza, then at NetApp as President and Vice Chairman, on his system of 90-Day Goals . I really like this approach and try to use it myself, with varying success over time. These goals will be the basis of the todo list that I do maintain, with a weekly review to break down the longer goals into new tasks that belong in the calendar over the next fortnight.
Here we go
You’re reading this so the first task on the calendar got done, even if a little behind schedule. I expect to be back mid February to either brag about well it’s gone or put another task management approach on the rubbish heap!