The Art of Doing
Your super list to getting super organized
Written by Kenny Williams
Firstly, I will start off by saying that I never used to be as organized as I am now.
I was your classic case of ‘good intentions, but can’t get his shit together’. I had no idea how to prioritize, treated everything as urgent and tried to multi-task everything.
Here are 12 points that have really helped me and I hope they help you too.
1. Focus your time AND energy
Choosing how to spend your energy is just as important as choosing how to spend your time.
Matt Mayberry of Entrepreneur.com says, “You could be the world’s greatest planner and be very careful about where you spend your time, but if you mismanage your energy it does you absolutely no good”.
Spending an enormous amount of energy on low-value tasks is wasteful and not the best use of your energy, because when it comes to the bigger tasks you need to handle you have no energy left for them.
Before choosing your tasks, consider which are going to require the most energy to complete (hint: they’re usually the ones you don’t want to do).
These are tasks that you know are going to take up a significant portion of your time or have the most importance and urgency. These should be at the top of your list, not the ones you think “oh, this is easy, I can just do this quickly”.
Think about Olympic runners — if they spent all their energy on the warm up, they wouldn’t have enough energy for the race. So rather than applying all your energy to menial tasks, save it for the big tasks that matter most.
2. Have a To-Do list
Before you skim past this one thinking “yes of course I know what a To-Do List is and yes I do have one”, your To-Do List may not be as effective as you think.
Do you get overwhelmed by thinking how much you’ve got to do?
Or perhaps you struggle to sleep because you’re already thinking about everything you’ve got to do tomorrow?
Write your To-Do List today before tomorrow comes.
You’ll clear your mind, then you can just go into work the next day and get straight into what you need to do.
Neuroscientists agree that having a To-Do List stops you from ‘mentally juggling’ everything; rather than being distracted by all the things you have to do, you’re focused on doing them.
So get those things out of your head and write them down, you’ll feel a lot more calm and clear about what you need to do and how you’re going to achieve them.
I use Todoist for my To-Do List, it’s online and it’s free to use.
This is good for tracking your progress so you can see what you’re good at, what areas you need to improve on, and how many tasks you’re completing each day which is great for your motivation.
You’ll even get a little message that congratulates you on how much work you’ve done!
3. Shorten That To-Do List
Is your To-Do List never ending?
The most common problem is for those who add too much to their To-Do List: no matter how much they think they’ve done, they never seem to get enough done.
They get to the end of their day and don’t feel good about themselves because they’re weighed down by how much they haven’t done and have to do.
Checking things off your To-Do List can feel great.
While it is important to feel good about yourself and your achievements, unfortunately it can be misplaced if you’re not doing it right.
Most of those things checked off are too easy to do and add very little value.
These tasks don’t do much to really push the needle of the business and in turn they’re not effective at doing their job.
Here’s what you can do to help:
- Write down everything that’s on your mind, personally and professionally, that you need to take care of. Take no more than 5 minutes.
- Once you’ve done that, select three of the biggest tasks. Just three.
- Think about your business goals, make sure they’re the tasks with high impact that are going to drive better results.
Some of the most successful people choose three high level tasks to do each day.
- Now, put the piece of paper away where you won’t have to look at it.
This is just a brain dump to clear the noise from your mind, so you can focus on the three tasks at hand.
Just doing one of these tasks will make you feel really good about yourself and fuel you for the rest of the day to tackle other challenges!
You’ll also get it done before you’re bombarded by distractions (I’ll get into ‘distractions’ in a moment).
4. Do one thing at a time
“I’m good at multi-tasking” is something you hear a lot from people that claim to be productive.
When actually, multi-tasking doesn’t make you more productive than you might think. Good task management is about quality, not quantity.
What you do when you multi-task is you split your focus between everything, getting little bits of each task done.
Rather than giving one task 100% of your focus and ability, you’re constantly switching between tasks and giving them 8% each.
You’ll actually save time by focusing on completing one task done really well before moving on to the next task.
What you can’t do or don’t have time to do? Delegate.
Trying to do everything yourself can actually do more harm than good to yourself and to your business.
If you can, outsource for help by hiring freelancers who are expert in their field, so you can focus on doing what you’re really good at.
Even interns can be valuable, who can help with the menial stuff and eventually train up to handle the bigger tasks.
Otherwise, get help by delegating tasks to other team members who you know are capable. Anything to lighten the load.
Future thought: make time to upskill in what you’re not good at by seeking tips from those who are better at that type of task than you are (you never know, you might find an easier way of doing it).
6. Work uninterrupted
That sounds like a dream, right?
Working in such a busy office without being interrupted?
But how many times a day would you say you’re interrupted at work?
It could be someone needs your thoughts on a work project. You may get distracted by a phone call or perhaps something really interesting is happening on Facebook or Twitter, which you know about because you got an alert on your phone.
A study shows it can take around 23 minutes to fully return to a task after being interrupted — not just interruptions from other people, but self-interruptions like browsing the web (you can usually find me tweeting up a storm on Twitter).
Not all interruptions are bad if they are few. Some interruptions are minor and quick, that don’t require a lot of your attention and brain capacity to solve a problem. Other interruptions are necessary, like the ones that may relate to the task at hand.
It’s the culmination of interruptions that are counterproductive.
For your internal interruptions, write them down so you can get them out of your head.
Here’s how you can limit your external distractions:
- turning off push notifications from apps on your phone
- turning off email notifications on your computer and phone
- listen to music through headphones (without being offensive, say you don’t want to be interrupted for the next half hour or so)
- limit social media use to once or twice a day during work hours
If it’s really crucial that you don’t want to be interrupted, try working remotely from home, the library or a cafe (I used to go to a pub with free wifi, but you didn’t hear that from me).
We’ve actually crafted Syngency for the purpose of mobility and working on the go — modeling and talent agency people can take their office with them, all they have to do is sign in online to resume their office work.
There are plenty of cloud applications that can allow you do work remotely, such as Google Docs.
There is a significant amount of stress that comes with being interrupted, the feeling of not being able to keep up with your work, and so you take your work home with you.
Correcting these things so you get enough done during the day will mean you won’t be working “invisible hours” when no one sees you and you’re exhausted for work the next day.
7. Check your email less
Your Inbox can be a black hole that sucks you in — before you know it, you’ve lost half of your morning responding to emails.
Use the first hour of your morning to complete your biggest task, then check your email.
I only check my email twice a day and allow one minute per email to respond (up to 10 minutes) — once in the morning at 10am, once in the afternoon at 3pm. If it’s truly urgent then they will call, because anything that’s really urgent shouldn’t be in an email.
8. Know when to say “No”
The person who says ‘Yes’ to everything is most likely the person who keeps letting everyone down. Why? Because they’re overpromising and under-delivering.
Saying ‘Yes’ to everything comes from those who want to please everyone, and ironically they end up pleasing very few because they take too much on and then fail to deliver.
Saying ‘No’ when you need to means you’re taking your time and the time of everyone else more seriously.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew, learn to say no (and refer to point 5. Delegate)
9. Set deadlines that are realistic
Being realistic and honest about how long it will take you to meet deadlines is a great step in time management.
Not meeting deadlines is plain bad. You can blame how busy you are, but really it’s up to you to take ownership of your time and your priorities.
It’s bad for business to be known as unreliable or overambitious.
You want to be the one who follows through with their word, who gets things done. You don’t want to be the one who’s full of excuses.
“I didn’t realize it would take so long” isn’t a reason, it’s an excuse.
If you say “Yes, I’ll have it to you in 5 minutes” then make sure you get it to them in 5 minutes — if you don’t, chances are that will become 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and then an hour goes by, you’re stressed and running late and letting everyone down, including yourself.
I used to work at an advertising agency and I’ll be honest, I was the worst with deadlines.
But I worked on myself to become better at managing my time and meeting expectations, and that happened after crashing and burning out which was completely preventable, had I managed my time and energy more efficiently.
Those who manage their time carefully know how much time they can afford to give and how long it will take for them to meet promised deadlines.
Keeping promises keeps everyone happy.
10. Take care of yourself
Don’t forget to look after yourself. Take your breaks when you need to, eat properly and keep hydrated. It can be very easy to delay these things when you’re on an urgent deadline but nothing is more important than your own health.
You won’t give your body a chance to recharge if you’re constantly working or thinking about work, so it’s important for you to switch off on your breaks and get down time.
If a task is really big and time consuming, split it up into mini tasks that you can check off and take 10 minute breaks in between.
11. Work it out by working out
Exercise is really important for you as it improves circulation and increases blood flow to your brain to help you think.
When you exercise you release BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein that helps grow neural connections to the learning and memory centres of your the brain.
You also release dopamine, the neurotransmitter of motivation, and serotonin, which makes you feel happy.
Just going for a brisk walk can do wonders for your brain.
12. Have a routine (and stick to it)
Having a routine will help you create better habits for yourself. Rather than blocking out your timetable for things that are task specific, block them out for activity specific blocks, e.g. “8:00am to 9:00am for Creative Strategy, 9:00am to 9:10am for Emails”.
Just make sure your routine is flexible enough for work / life balance — not all routines are made for all people.
You might find that starting your days earlier works better for you and that you’re more productive, or you may find that working late at night suits best.
Either way enjoy your new, productive life of making the most every minute!