Three Ways To Make It Work
One of the most common questions I hear when someone steps into a larger role is, “How do you get it all done on time, without anything slipping through the cracks?”
This blog post will give you three options for better organizing your work. The three most effective ways I have found to organize tasks are:
The Four “Ds”
First: Know Yourself
Back in the olden days when I took my first big step up, I enrolled in a Franklin Covey week-long course on how to keep tasks organized. It offered solid, helpful ideas–but even more than that it gave me confidence that I do have the skills and resources to be successful at this new job.
By the end of the week, I had chosen a leather binder, calendar inserts that expressed the real me, refillable notepads, and more. It was all there, just waiting to be filled in. And for several years, I happily bought my refills each year, and added/removed monthly pages once every thirty days, carefully placing old calendar pages in their original box so I could review them at a later date.
But when they discontinued the calendar type I was used to, I stopped using that system.
More recently, I have looked over so many shoulders at meetings watching people work on their Bullet Journals. I covet bullet journals. I love the beauty of all the colors, and the freedom of the blank page you make your own. I imagine myself to be a person who carries around a nifty mesh bag with all my colored markers, and at home I would have a well-organized shelf of journals where I could find anything I’m looking for in an instant.
But the truth is that I am disorganized in both big and small ways. I’m left-handed so drag my hand across my paper as I draw and smear and smudge once-beautiful lines. And my handwriting is so bad I can’t even read it myself a half-hour later. So Bullet Journals are only in my dreams.
The great thing about the three organizational systems in this post is that they work equally well on paper and digitally. Each is easy to learn and apply. So let’s get started!
Option A: Urgent/Important Quadrant
Organizing your tasks using the Urgent/Important Quadrant method is the most effective method when you want to ensure you do the most crucial tasks first.
Basically, you create a grid that is 2 rows by 2 columns. This is easy to do both online as well as on paper. When I was using this system, I bought a 12 inch by 15 inch white board. I used permanent marker to make a line running down the middle of the board horizontally, and one that ran down the middle vertically. In the top left corner, I wrote “More Urgent/More Important.” The top right was “Less Urgent/More Important.” Bottom left, “More Urgent, Less Important” and bottom right was “Less Urgent, Less Important.”
Tasks like returning the boss’s phone message went into More Urgent/More Important. Setting goals for the next quarter landed in Less Urgent/More Important. Deciding about whether to enter the office pool (registration due tomorrow) went into More Urgent/Less Important, and things like “choose new wall color” fell into Less Urgent/Less Important.
I loved using a whiteboard for this method. I took five minutes each morning to create my task quadrants for the day, and then worked on them in a way that made efficient sense. Erasing a completed task gave me a momentary boost. And as time went on, sometimes tasks moved from one quadrant to the other. (When the painters were due in 3 days, choosing the paint color becomes more Urgent.) On occasion, I was able to erase every task on my Urgent/Important board. When I did, I gave myself a cheer and took a moment to enjoy the blank slate in front of me.
As I said, this method works equally well on paper/whiteboard or digitally. It is ideal in situations where you have a lot of control over your own time and the ability to choose what you work on when.
Option B: Time Sorting
When I became a mother, time suddenly became a much more precious commodity. I needed to find a system where time was the main organizing principle, and created this easy method to organize tasks. It, too uses a quadrant system (although I suppose you could use lists just as effectively). You simply create boxes or lists for “5 minute tasks,” “15 minute tasks, “30 minute tasks” and “Half-day tasks.’
Writing a quick e-mail, making a doctor’s appointment, or cutting your nails (as a harried new mom) are all 5-minute tasks. Putting the dishes in the dishwasher, organizing tasks for the day, and reading a saved article all go in the 15-minute pile. 30 minute blocks are good for processing e-mail, a call or efficient meeting, and some errands. Half-day blocks are especially important for longer writing tasks, for visioning and long-range planning, etc.
The great thing about this system is that you can fit your work to the time you have. Do you have 10 minutes before your next meeting? Tackle a couple of those 5-minute tasks! Do you notice you have several half-day tasks on your list? Make sure to block off time in your calendar now to fit them in.
This system is especially great for multi-taskers, those who hold multiple roles or jobs, and people who have noticeable changes in their focus and attention span depending on what is going on around them.
Time Sorting also combines really nicely with the Urgent/Important Quadrant. If you prefer planning a week or month at a time, start with the U/I Quadrants, and then create time lists within each quadrant. You’ll be amazed at how much you are able to get done, and how all the important things actually get done on time!
Option C: The Four Ds
The method I use now is the Four Ds organizing system. It, too, is based in boxes. This time, you create two columns by three rows. This can be done digitally, on paper or on a whiteboard.
Label the top left box, “Work Tasks” and the top right box, “Home Task.” Label the boxes in the middle row, “Done” and “Deleted.” Then label the bottom boxes, “Delegated” and “Deferred.”
The thing I love most about this system is that each month I challenge myself to both delete and delegate a certain number of tasks. This gives me permission not to do every tasks that someone wants me to do, AND it encourages me to share tasks with others who can also do them competently.
Each month I brainstorm all the Work Tasks and Home Tasks I can think of, and put them in the appropriate box. I add to these lists throughout the month. Then, as I do each task, I get to move it to the appropriate box in the middle or bottom section. Made that dentist appointment? “Done!” Decided the task that has been on this list for the past 5 months is just not something that must be done? “Deleted!” Asked my administrator to create next month’s schedule? “Delegated!” The grant due in three months? “Deferred.”
This system works best digitally. Or…if you have a blank wall and a unseemly love of post-it notes, I could imagine a really beautiful, tactile system with each task on a colored post-it and moving the post-it notes to their designated spaces when dealt with. If you use the post-it note method, please send me a picture of the system in action. It’s glorious in my mind!
Give it a try!
So pick a system and give it a try. Or plan to try each of the methods over the next several months to decide which works best for the kind of work you do, in your current phase of life, given your personality. Let me know what’s working, or if you have a system you love even more.
And now I’m off to move “write blog post” to the Done! Box.