“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” ― David Allen
Have you ever noticed that when you’re not stressing about how everything is going to get done, things seem to flow and actually get accomplished?
When we have less on our minds, it’s easier to focus. Putting a system in place that supports you in managing your “to do” items opens up the way for flow and creativity.
The truth is, work piles up. Whether it’s a report to write, invoices to get out, a meeting to organize, or emails to answer, we’re all moving faster than ever. It’s easy to feel bogged down and overwhelmed.
Recently, I read a book called Getting Things Done – the art of stress-free productivity, by David Allen. One of my biggest takeaways was how putting in a system to organize all that’s coming in ultimately frees you up to do the work in front of you. It gives you more space for new ideas, allowing you to get things done with greater ease.
In thinking about this, I realized that when I get new ideas it’s rarely in the thick of my busy day. My most creative times are when I’m relaxed—taking a walk or lying in bed, just letting my thoughts come and go. In other words, the times when I have less on my mind.
Today’s post is about creating a system to organize incoming “to-dos” until you’re ready to do them. This will support you in keeping your mind free for creativity.
Focus and Engagement
Often when I’m feeling busy and stretched, my way of dealing is to add what needs to be done to my “to do” list, or put things in a pile on my desk. Throughout the week the pile grows. And although things do get done, I feel stress about the things I haven’t dealt with that are waiting for me.
The first step of putting a system in place is to take the time to focus on each item. Take all the requests, emails, projects, etc., and determine exactly what they are, the urgency around them, and what you want to do with them. Rather than waiting to do it later, take the time to assess the level of importance and what the next steps are for each item.
The Two Minute Rule
In his book, David Allen suggests that if you can do something in two minutes or less, get it done and move on. If it takes longer you can choose what the best next step is. This one thing can make a big difference in your day. There’s something gratifying about knocking something out in the moment. It feels good when things get handled right way.
Even if your decision is to defer something to another time, you’re still dealing with it. You’ll know what the next step is, when you’ll get back to it, and where it is.
If you can’t do it two minutes or less, take the time to decide where it goes. One option is to calendar it. This is perfect for appointments, meetings, events, phone calls, etc. Things you need to know about by a certain date can also go on your calendar.
Use your calendar for reminders of what is coming due so that you know when you’re 2 weeks out or 1 week out for completing something.
Create Action Steps
Every item that you assess has an action step.
- Do it and complete it
- Delegate it
- Defer it to a different time
- Throw it away if not needed
- Reference it
As mentioned above, if you can knock it out in two minutes or less, do it. Or you can delegate it to the appropriate person, or defer it to another time. If you don’t need it, get rid of it. And If you want to keep something to reference at a later time, you can also create a file for it.
Things that are getting deferred to another time (however large or small) get a file where all the information related to that item goes. Your files should be easy to access. That way, when you’re ready to work on that item, everything you need is there.
You can use real-life, analog folders or binders. Or even better, you can use one of the may online systems. Evernote and Trello are great systems for this. The key is to organize information so you can find what you need quickly. If you’re using an online system, you want to be able to tag your files so that you can always find what you’re looking for, without taking a lot of time to search.
As you file items away, determine what the next steps are, and add them to a “next actions list.” There may be one step or a series of steps. These actions should be specific, rather than broad. They tell you exactly what needs to happen next in the context of what you want to accomplish. Once you have them down, you can assess when they have to be done and in what order.
Calendar anything that’s date-specific. If an item is a big project, you may schedule the time to focus on it and map it out. Just getting the initial steps down where you can access them creates momentum.
The Last Step
Review your calendar and action lists weekly so that everything stays updated and current. The key is to create a system that you will use. Once your system is setup, it should be easy to organize and track all the different items you’re working on and their next steps.
It’s Your System
The beauty of creating a system like this, is that it will not only increase productivity, but also free up your mind for new ideas and creative flow. And remember—it’s your system, so own it.