Hello there, I'm back with part 2 to my getting things done guide, as promised. Part One, Ideas and Focus, is here. Here's steps 4-7, plus a few additional notes and some further reading. I hope y'all will find these helpful and assistive to your productivity, sanity, and balance. I have especially emphasized rest and breaks because I think it's a very important aspect of productivity that does not get discussed as regularly as the format of your to-do lists. So, without further ado:
4. plan and timeline
Now that you’ve got a narrowed-down list of your most important/urgent, time-efficient tasks or goals, you need to plan out how you will accomplish them. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Break the task or goal down into smaller steps. If it can be broken down, do it! This will give you a better idea of how long it will take to complete the whole task. For some things, like a weekly braindump to pull daily to-do lists from, it’s good to do this step while doing your braindump. For other things, like goals, this more naturally comes after narrowing your list.
- Schedule it. Plan by when something should be done and give yourself a deadline. If you want to do all the laundry by the end of the day, there’s your deadline. If you want to learn to ride a motorcycle by end of 2016, there’s your deadline. Write it in your calendar, planner, or whatever you use (bullet journals are my fave), and stick to that deadline. Don’t make it unreasonable. Only you know what you have room for in your schedule. Give yourself more than enough time to accomplish something, because chances are, you’ll need it.
- Timeline. If a task or goal is multi-layered or involves multiple steps, make a “backwards timeline” starting from the day the task is to be completed and going backwards in time towards the present, figuring out by when the individual smaller steps need to be accomplished. For example, if I want to host a party on Halloween, I need to send out invites two weeks before, and have ingredients purchased for food by the day of the party. This is an example of backwards timelining.
It may also be helpful to use a daily timeline to understand where the time in a day is going. Here are some great examples of a daily timeline used in a bullet journal. I use one on very full days, but not all the time. You can expand this idea to a monthly or yearly scale, designating weeks or months to accomplishing specific tasks. In any case, make sure you allot yourself enough time to get the tasks done! Doing so will ensure that you accomplish them, have time to do them well, and feel good about your productivity, meaning you are more likely to keep being productive rather than getting frustrated if you don’t get everything done.
5. schedule breaks and rest
Yes, this gets its own step because it’s REALLY IMPORTANT. Resist the urge to assign yourself 10 tasks for the day and instead balance your productive time with restful time. This balance will ensure that your level of productivity is sustainable for you and suitable to your lifestyle. It will ensure better mental health, which means a better, more enjoyable life overall!
If you are using a daily timeline, leave time for meals and breaks in the day. Do something like giving yourself an unscheduled hour in the morning and another in the evening, for warming up and winding down. When practicing this on a monthly and yearly scale, leave at least a few days every month (if not at least once a week) that are at least mostly unscheduled, and allow yourself the space to just be, and engage in unplanned, relaxing activities. Also cut out some vacation time for yourself every year, whether you actually travel, or just relax around your town for a week. Use your breaks to be social if you wish, but also to recharge and have some alone time, as both are important for your well-being!
If you take anything away from this post, please let it be this! Setting aside time for breaks, rest, and relaxation will refresh your mind and creative thinking abilities, alleviate stress, help you avoid burnout, and inspire you and have you looking forward to your productive “work time” rather than dreading it.
6. take action
Phew! Ok, you’ve gotten this far, you’ve planned and timelined and everything else out the wazoo. Now you just need to DO IT! The only tip I have for this part is to use the pomodoro method (which you can learn about here). It gives your brain a little break to look forward to and keeps it focused on one specific thing rather than attempting to multi-task. I use this all the time, especially when I’m having trouble focusing or doing something less-than-exciting. I use an online timer when on the computer and one on my phone when doing other types of work.
If you are doing something that might not fit into that 25 minute window but needs to be done all at once (like mopping the floor), use a similar principal by just promising yourself a break after you complete the task, and before going on to the next one.
7. reflect and learn
Yay! Look at you, you got something done! Congratulate yourself and soak in the sweet feeling of checking something off the list.
Now it’s time to reflect on the process you just engaged in. Answer this list of questions about what worked, and what didn’t work: Did you get everything done that you set out to do? Were you rushed, or did you have enough time, or maybe too much? Was the setting you were completing the task in suitable, or distracting? How do you feel? Rested, balanced, or overwhelmed and stressed? Did you plan well enough, or too well? (Yes, you can plan too well - there’s a reason I only use daily timelines occasionally. Sometimes they stress me out!). Answering these questions, plus anymore you can think of that might be pertinent, is an important part of the process. It might help to jot some of these notes down on paper, or discuss them with a friend.
Once you have reflected, implement what you have learned from your reflection. If you were rushed or bored and had too much time, timeline more in accordance with your time needs. If you feel stressed and have figured out why that is, eliminate that stressor from the process as best you can. Keep doing this, and you will come to a pretty good place of balance, sustaining the cycle of productivity in a way that works for you and your life!
a few final notes:
- You may have noticed that this whole process is designed with people who have time to take breaks in mind, but I recognize this is a privilege that not everyone has. If there is a way you can eliminate some of your responsibilities and commitments, do it. Use Step 3 to root out those things in your life which are not urgent, important, and time-efficient.
- Guard your time and do not take on too much. As someone who has made pursuing social justice and sustainability their life’s work, sometimes it seems to me that everything is important and urgent and I MUST GO TO ALL THE PROTESTS AND DO ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW. By using this process, I understand that I will ultimately be more effective at promoting justice if I only take on a few select responsibilities, focus on them, and do them well.
- In a culture where we are all trained to think of “time as money”, an ever-dwindling hourglass in the rat-race to our grave, I want to suggest a different idea. Time is our friend! Ultimately, when you are trying to get something done, time is what allows it to unfold and happen. Time is what allows us to move forward with plans and goals. You may feel an urgent need to do a hundred different things, and feel disappointed you haven’t gotten to them all yet. Remember that time is what will allow you to do those things, and that, because time is your friend, if you focus on what you want, eventually it will come to pass. Letting go of your sense of urgency in order to allow yourself to rest and be balanced, while recognizing that the things you want to accomplish will unfold over time, is probably going to feel better than trying to do them all right now.
- Lastly, remember that the utmost important thing about this process is that it’s meant to help you feel good! Accomplishing things this way is about feeling good, resting is about feeling good. Of course, life is about balance, including emotional balance - you’ll never feel good all the time, and that’s ok, that’s what allows you to feel good sometimes. But the goal of the way this is designed is to make being productive a positive, sustainable cycle. If you don’t feel good, try something new. Keep adjusting until you find what works for you.
Alright, that’s all folks. Go forth, and kick ass.
I definitely cannot take credit for creating all these concepts on my own! Here are some things that I have either based my own ideas on, or are very related good reads.
Thomas Frank on beating student burnout, Erin from Gingerous on Crafting Your Best Day Ever Part One and Two, Tim Ferriss on why you need a "deloading phase" (read: rest and breaks!!!), and because I mentioned bullet journalling a few times and it's one of my favorite tools for getting things done, here's an intro video to the bullet journal and the official bullet journal website.