Photo by DEMerzIII
Your productivity system is probably a work in progress that gets adapted as you learn and try new techniques. Of course, if you have a system that is working great for you, there is no reason to change. But for the rest of you who struggle with finding a method of organizing all of your tasks so that you can stay productive and fight overwhelm, I want to share a new method that is working great for me over the next couple of weeks.
This system allows me to focus on what needs to be focused on each and every day and not get overwhelmed by all of the things that I am not doing.
Your Projects List
I try to get everything that I need to do out of my head. From the big gigantic projects that may take a few years to really tiny things, such as taking out the trash. Getting these things out of my head and onto paper allows me not to worry about these tasks and therefore to focus on what is right in front of me.
This principle of getting everything out of your head and onto paper is one of the fundamental principles in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. I have found that this technique works really well. If I keep too much in my mind, I find that I forget to do stuff or worry about things getting lost, and this distracts me from the work that I need to get done.
The first step to being productive is to write out everything that you need to do. You can do this by following these steps:
- Brainstorm categories of tasks that you need to do. Some possibilities include business tasks, personal/hobby tasks, and life tasks, but don’t limit yourself to just these. Use whatever categories are useful to you. For example, my categories are Programming Work, Writing Work, Personal Projects, Life Tasks, and Other.
- Pick the first category and brainstorm all projects or tasks you need to do in that category.
- For each project, write out the status of that project and as many tasks as you can that you need to do to complete this project. You might not list out all of them, but get as many as you can. Be sure that you get the first couple of steps you will need to take.
This process will take a really long time the first time you do it. I took 2 solid hours to do this the first time. It took long to really make sure that I actually got everything that I need to do.
Don’t try to put all of these projects into a task management system when you are brainstorming. Just open a blank text document and start listing. The structure of the task management system could be distracting or limiting and could cause you to leave out things. I tend to do this with an intermixing of description and tasks which really need a freeform entry method. If you are a Mac user, I recommend doing this in TaskPaper. For Windows users, OneNote works great.
Once you complete this, congrats, you now have a big long list of all of the various things that you need to do. It may be overwhelming at first, but don’t let it trouble you. We’ll get to that soon.
Go and dump all of your projects and tasks out of your head and on to paper (or into your computer). Next week, we will look at how to process and use this huge project list in such a way that it won’t overwhelm you.
Let me know in the comments how the process of project dumping went for you?