Look at your to-do list… How does it make you feel?
The idea of productivity is addicting.
I don’t mean the actual act of getting stuff done (because we would never procrastinate if that were the case), but looking at Pinterest for productivity ideas, googling and reading about HOW to actually get more stuff done…
At some point though, we have to put on our grown up panties, roll up our sleeves and actually get to work.
Speaking of, this post is a 5,000 word monster that goes into crazy detail about every step of how to plan your day.
But sometimes, it’s impossible to figure out where to start because EVERYTHING feels important and instead of doing SOMETHING, you decide to do absolutely. nothing.But sometimes, it's impossible to figure out where to start because EVERYTHING feels important and instead of doing SOMETHING, you decide to do absolutely. nothing. Click To Tweet
… and then you end up on YouTube watching random videos about aliens (or maybe that’s just me).
In the past few weeks we’ve been talking a whole lot about productivity. The post about prioritizing did so well that I wanted to expand on it and get into the nitty gritty details about how to execute on the things you’ve prioritized so that you’re actually putting all of this into action and not just learning for the sake of learning
What Is Sprint Planning
If you think of a marathon, it’s pacing yourself to go a long distance.
In terms of getting stuff done, being able to go the long run is definitely helpful but looking at it as a marathon makes it infinitely more difficult to get focused.
When you sprint, you’re focused on going a short distance, as quickly as you can.
In terms of productivity, we break our goals into two-week mini projects and focus on getting those done. We don’t worry about the two weeks after the sprint that we’re in, we are solely focused on our current sprint.
Update June 2018: I now only do one week sprints and it actually helps even more.
After all, distraction is the enemy of productivity.Distraction is the enemy of productivity. Click To Tweet
Through my journey of trying to figure out how to get through this monster of a to-do list, I’ve learned a few things about myself:
- If my to-do list gets above 7ish tasks for the day, I get overwhelmed.
- I like to work based on my level of energy at the moment.
- I can’t function unless my workspace is organized.
- Don’t even talk to me about relationship building until my admin stuff is done.
- The higher the priority, the more I find myself NOT wanting to do it.
Why is all of this important?
If you don’t know what works for you, you’ll never find a system that works… and truthfully, it’s an ongoing journey of polishing and refining so you can ACTUALLY get stuff done.
What works for me may be the complete opposite of what works for you, but you’ll only know that if you are constantly analyzing your systems and tweaking them to make sure they are working for you.
Find Your Tools
I’m obsessed with powerful platforms that are INCREDIBLY easy to use and have a beautiful interface so I use ToDoist to organize my tasks.
In fact, a lot of people complain that there’s TOO MUCH white space.
I like it.
Truthfully, you can do most of the features I’m going to mention here on a few other apps, but ToDoist has become part of my workflow and I’m just totally obsessed because of some of their smaller features that I didn’t even know I needed until I had them (more on that later). The only caveat is that to get access to all of the features, you’ll need to upgrade to premium which is $30/year.
Honestly, this is my third year upgrading and I continue to because I love ToDoist… I’ll happily pay the $30 if it’s going to save me HOURS of stress and frustration.
In addition to having a to-do list app, you’ll also need to use a calendar. They don’t work independently of each other, they work in unison like the right and left hand to your productivity machine. If you need help getting your calendar in order, this post will be helpful for you:
Organizing Your To-Do List
I’m going to get into the nitty gritty detail of how I plan my to-do list and I don’t want you to get overwhelmed… At the end, I’m going to walk you through a few really simple steps that I’ve figured out to maintain this and how to categorize your tasks so your brain always stays organized.
At it’s very core, you need to group tasks together based on the goal they’re working towards… That, my friend, is a project.
I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve restructured my projects and how I organize them, but I’ve been using this system for awhile and it REALLY seems to be working for me
My first category of projects is called “Grind”.
These are repetitive tasks that you have to consistently keep doing to grow and sustain your business… They’re annoying but they have to get done. These are things like lead generation, marketing, checking in with the virtual assistants that make this organization run, existing business and networking action items.
Grind projects are important because they keep the wheels of your life and business spinning and are often the first ones you’ll delegate when you’re able to hire help.
The next category I call “growth”. These are mini projects that are going to take a week or two to complete. I only work on one at a time and I recommend that you do the same — it’ll give you a greater sense of completion once you’ve finished the project.
Remember when I said before that this post gets super detailed and technical?
Don’t scroll along without implementing… You’re just going to get more overwhelmed.
Brain Dumping and Prioritizing Your Projects
You know when you commit to a new project and you get super excited about it so you start obsessing over it and thinking about all of the possibilities?
Start by making a list of all of the projects that you want to work on.
Make sure that each project is small enough that you can complete it within two weeks. I find that being able to complete something every week or two really does WONDERS for your sense of accomplishment and your motivation.
When you create the project, dump all of the action items into the project. Don’t worry about giving them dates or anything, just make a list of everything you’ll need to do to make it happen. This serves two purposes:
- It gets it out of your head so that you’re not obsessing over it.
- It gets you into the mindset for action and possibility rather than thinking about all the reasons why it won’t work or can’t be done.
Our brains are thinking machines, not memory machines… and when you force your brain to be a memory machine, it gets overwhelmed and stressed.
Just get it out of your head and you’ll feel like you just went through a mental cleanse.
After you’ve made your list, pick the top 3-5 projects you want to focus on and put them in your growth section while the rest can go in the “mid-term growth” section (more on that in a few).
Here is where I highly recommend you go check out our guest post about prioritizing because as you’re going through this activity, you’ll likely face a point where you start feeling like multiple projects are equally important.
Remember you can get everything done, just not all at the same time.
Ask yourself the focusing question, “what is the one thing that I can do right now that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”You can get it all done, just not at the same time. Click To Tweet
Your highest priority and most urgent 3-5 projects are your growth projects.
I like calling them “growth projects” because they are the things that will keep you out of a rut, keep you learning and implementing new things in your life and business.
These are the things that should be top of mind.
Within each project, start listing off all of the things you’d need to do to make it happen… It doesn’t have to be perfect, you’re sort of just brain dumping at this point.
Once you’ve picked the first project you’re going to focus on, give those tasks dates that you’ll do them. Remember, this project should be able to be completed within 2 weeks. If it’ll take longer than that, find a way to break
it into two separate projects.
Just to be super, insanely clear… You are ONLY assigning dates for the project that you’re currently working on.
Forget about the other projects right now… Your only focus is to get that one done.
While you’re assigning dates, make sure that it’s in alignment with your calendar. If you know that you’re going to be going to an event or have a big meeting on a specific day, you’ll probably want to lighten your workload for that day.
One of the single best things I’ve implemented into my life is to half my workload.Cut your workload in half if you want to double your productivity. Click To Tweet
That means if you think a project is going to take a week, give yourself two weeks to complete it. By doing this, you allow yourself “white space” to be creative, regain energy and deal with fires as they come up.
That means if you gave yourself 3 tasks for that day, put the most important one for that date and leave the rest for another day.
Will you get less done?
I know, that sounds counterintuitive but I promise it’s literally changed my life.
Now, I find myself going ahead of schedule because once I finish that one task, I’m already on a roll and am ready to knock out a few other quick ones.
Whereas before, I always felt like I was behind and was putting so much pressure on myself that I was getting way less done because I was overwhelmed.
Here’s an example of one of my Growth Projects:
In this project, I’m planning a workshop series for our Miami chapter.
Because this will take me two weeks to complete, most of the days only have one task from my growth project assigned to it and the days that have two tasks are because the other task will take less than 10 minutes.
Since I started implementing this, I’ve actually been able to gain some work life balance back and really start enjoying my life again instead of slaving away working 24/7.
Before you raise your pitchforks and start fighting for your right to multitask, think about something for a second…
Let’s say you have a 1 gallon jug to pour from into 10 cups.
If you distribute it evenly, none of the cups will fill. If you’re lucky, each cup will end up 1/2 full.
However, if you fill one to the rim, then go to the next, you probably won’t get to all of them, but you will have successfully filled a few of the cups.
This same concept applies to productivity.
When you’re filling 10 different cups (projects) halfway, you’re never actually finishing anything. Your mind is constantly scattered between each of the projects so your brain has no white space, is constantly fighting to figure out what the priority needs to be, you stop being creative because your brain goes into overload and you’re constantly working but feeling like you’re never actually getting anything done.
On the opposite hand, if you focus on one project at a time, you get into flow and are making significant progress on that one project. Since you’re finishing it before moving onto the next project, your sense of completion is high and you’re constantly experiencing little wins.
Success breeds success, so if you can create more opportunities to be successful, you’re building a habit of being successful.
Because after all, success is a journey, not a destination.
So seriously, raise your right hand and repeat after me…
“I, ___, solemnly swear, affirm or pinky promise that I will focus on ONE growth project at a time and will not move on until it’s done.”
Which now leads me to my next point…
Because you have two weeks to finish each project, it doesn’t give you time to be a perfectionist.
Perfection is the enemy of done.Perfection is the enemy of done. Click To Tweet
Finish your mini project for the two weeks and then move on to the next.
Mid-Term Growth Projects
Your Mid-Term Projects are all of the projects within the next 3-6 months that you want to work on, just don’t have a clear cut plan for yet.
You’ll want to create individual projects for each of these so when ideas pop into your head, you can add the task to that project.
Our brains are thinking machines, NOT memory machines so if you make a habit of getting stuff out of your head, your level of stress and anxiety will go down DRASTICALLY.
My mid-term projects for the next 3-6 months are all focused on getting our Empire Builder Academy launched.
You’ll notice some of the projects have a bunch of tasks while some of them don’t have any.
Once I finish my current growth projects, these mid-term projects will then start to take the place of those growth projects.
By separating the two (immediate growth vs. mid-term gorwth), it’s made it INCREDIBLY clear what my priorities are and I’m not distracted by every other shiny idea that I might have at the moment.
The key takeaway here is to get it out of your head and into ToDoist so that you can focus on actually being productive instead of all of the things that you want to do.
All of the projects under the self category have to do with my personal life.
For some people, they don’t like to keep their personal and professional lives together… I personally believe it’s impossible to balance your life if you don’t have them together.
The tasks that go into my self project are everything from having a recurring reminder to get my car washed, checking credit karma, picking up my dry cleaning or other things of that nature. We’ll talk more about this in a minute, but I also have a reminder to do my “Sunday ritual” so that I can keep everything together and keep all of the plates spinning without burning out.
One of the most important projects is the one where you focus on self-development.
In fact, studies show that 90% of people lose their growth mindset once they’ve settled into their careers… and yet 10% of the population maintains 90% of the wealth.
That cannot be a coincidence.
At the end of the day, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
This should include courses you want to take, things you want to learn and books you want to read.
We talked about our growth projects (top 3-5 mini projects) and our mid-term growth projects (mini projects within the next 3-6 months), so what do you do with all of the projects that you want to do but just don’t know when you’ll get around to?
Drum roll pleaseeeee….
This category of projects will keep you away from shiny object syndrome.
Come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about…
You’re sitting at a restaurant and you get this incredible million-dollar idea and your mind goes off on a tangent about all of the possibilities.
If you know that it’s not realistic for you to do it right now but you don’t want to forget about it, put it in your someday projects.
You’d be surprised how quickly you’ll get around to it when you’re crushing your priorities one step at a time.
If you noticed in the “growth project” section with our Miami workshop series, there’s little tags under each task like “relationship building” or “content creation”.
Most apps have some sort of ability to do this, they just might call it something different.
As much as I’ve played around with my projects, I think I’ve played around with labels even more.
I find that using them as “contexts” it allows me to batch my tasks so that I’m doing all of the admin work at the same time, all of the phone calls and so on.
Each of these tasks are aligned with how I time block my day.
Projects because projects are a group of tasks that are meant to achieve a specific goal while labels clarify where and when you’ll do that task.
These are your ritual tasks that you do first thing in the morning and might include reading or checking your calendar.
Admin tasks are pretty much any task that doesn’t require you to talk to another human.
These are your empire supporting tasks that keep the whole machine running… They’re generally the redundant, annoying tasks but they have to get done.
It’s also good to be clear on these because they’re generally the first ones that you’ll delegate when you’re ready to hire help.
These are things like responding to emails, prepping for appointments, wishing people a happy birthday on Facebook, scheduling social media posts, planning which networking events you want to go to for the week or cleaning up your desktop.
Relationship Building tasks
I’ve changed the name of this label a bunch of times but I find that I stick with relationship building because that’s the end goal and it keep me motivated to continue building connections.
These could be following up with someone you just met, touching base with a client lead, checking in a specific person, lead generating or in my case, reaching out to people who join our Meetup group.
Content Creation is exactly what it sounds like — creating content. For me, that means writing these blog posts and the weekly newsletter, putting together the social media promotions for all of this and our events, or recording videos for our diamond experience and online courses.
I don’t always have tasks in the lunch tasks section but I keep it as a reminder that if there’s something quick to do, I can just do it over my lunch.
For example, my printer has been acting weird lately so calling HP has been on my to-do list for MONTHS because it was in my admin section and I kept putting it off. I moved it to my lunch section and got it done the next day.
Sometimes we avoid tasks because we don’t know where to start or they don’t fit into our current workflow so just changing how you approach that task will change your entire mindset and actually get it done.
I know these labels are super creative and out of the box, so can you guess what “errands” is?
Yup, you guessed it. Running errands.
This filter gets used more directly than the others. If I’m out and have some time to kill, I’ll check my errands filter to see if there’s anything I need to do while I’m out because I know once I’m home, there’s no way in hell that I’m going to go back out.
Night tasks are those that I do when I finish up for the day. I had to add this in because I work from home and if I don’t put them at night, I’ll end up doing them during my working hours. These are things like checking my mail, ordering stuff off of Amazon (because who doesn’t love Amazon) and resetting my space so that I can work functionally.
Next Closing Tasks
Next Closing is one of my favorites because whenever there’s something that I’ve been looking forward to buying but can’t convince myself to actually purchase yet, I put it into this label.
Most of these tasks don’t have due dates, they’re just there so when I feel like splurging on myself or my business, I’m spending money on stuff that I’ve wanted for awhile, not just impulse buys.
If you want to have something like this, you could also do “next paycheck” or something along those lines.
Waiting On Tasks
Waiting On tasks are for things like waiting on a package to deliver or waiting on a response from someone. The waiting on tasks are for you to remember that you need to follow-up on something you’re waiting on.
Labels (as mentioned above) are the “where” you’ll do the task. Regardless of the due date, ToDoist will show you every task that’s within that specific context.
Filters on the opposite hand balance the where, what and when of the task.
There are literally dozens of ways you can use filters.
To give you an idea of how they work, here’s Todoist’s walkthrough of how to use them:
I use my filters VERY similarly to labels.
Again, labels aren’t associated with a date — If I select the “admin” label, it’s going to show me EVERY admin task, regardless of when it’s due.
Filters can be associated with a level of priority, due date or pretty much any other thing you want to.
I like to keep it simple by associating my labels for just that day.
My filters are exactly the same as my labels, except they’re only today’s tasks within that label.
By breaking up my to-do list into time blocks (or chunks), I can batch my tasks and do all of the similar tasks at the same time.
It makes it easier to stay focused, get more done and actually feel a consistent sense of accomplishment.
What does your typical day look like?
Is it different every day or do you have a routine?
What time do you check your email?
What time do you make your follow-up calls?
What time do you go to lunch?
If your days are scattered, you’re KILLING your productivity.
Focus on doing your similar tasks together and schedule them on your calendar.
I know what you’re thinking…
“I can’t do that, I need to ____ ASAP.”
If you communicate with those you work with and let them know what to expect when they work with you, I guarantee you that they will be totally fine with it.
The problem is that most of us never actually communicate what someone can expect when someone they work with us, so we are at the mercy of their whims.
Give yourself a daily schedule with time blocks and then match your filters to those time blocks.
Planning to make phone calls between 9-11? Awesome. Make a filter.
Planning to write between 1-3? You know what to do.
Filters work well with time blocking because they give you focus.
This slimmed down approach to having mini task lists for your day will make you fall in love with your life again because you’ll work more efficiently, have more balance and be able to switch between tasks faster.
Finding The Time To Complete Your To-Do List
One of the biggest challenges for most people is staying focused enough to actually get the tasks done and not getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks on their to-do lists.
This system, like any system, will definitely require some maintenance to make sure that it KEEPS working for you.
I don’t like when my to-do list gets above 7ish tasks (that’s not a random number, that’s usually how many tasks can fit on my ToDoist dashboard without me scrolling) so I’ve had to edit my system to make sure that my regular day doesn’t get above that.
Pay attention to how you feel about your systems and you’ll figure out where the little tweaks that need to be made are.
You’ll also find that as you grow in your career and as your roles and responsibilities change, so will your approach to productivity.As you grow in your career and your responsibilities change, so will your approach to productivity. Click To Tweet
As I mentioned before, your “grind” tasks are those that are generally repetitive while your “growth” projects are those mini sprints.
Every Sunday evening, I’ll look at the next 7 days of tasks alongside my calendar to make sure that I don’t have any days that are going to be crazy overwhelming and I’ll assign dates to my growth project for that week.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to NOT assign dates to every single project, no matter how tempting it is…
Because if you fall behind a day or two, you’re going to be stressing out like a crazy person to catch back up.
Self care is INCREDIBLY important and making sure that you take time to get your ACTUAL house in order will save you an insane amount of stress throughout the week.
You know what I’m talking about… Throw a load in the laundry, “reset” your home (clean up so you can actually find stuff in the morning), give yourself a manicure and a face mask.
I know what you’re thinking, “really?”
Maybe manicures and face masks aren’t your thing, but commit to at least an hour or so of pampering on Sunday evenings…Me time will recharge you enough to deal with all of the stresses that the week will bring. Click To Tweet
That little bit of “me time” will recharge you enough to deal with all of the stresses that the week will bring.
Make a commitment that you’re going to give yourself 2-3 hours on Sundays to get your life back in order, which leads me to…
The Compound Effect
If you’ve been following the blog for awhile, you’re VERY familiar with my obsession of human behavior, habit formation and personality styles.
I’m also naturally an “all or nothing” type of person, which means that I burn hot for a little while and then burn out.
Instead, I’ve really embraced the compound effect… Doing the small, seemingly insignificant tasks over and over and over and over and over and over again, even when you don’t think it matters and even when you don’t want to for the pursuit of teeny tiny incremental improvements.
Since adopting that philosophy, I’ve worked out 5x per week for the past six months, had my best year of real estate and have completely changed MEB.
There’s nothing sexy about doing the little things consistently, but it’s the only way to continuously grow without burning out.Consistency is the only way to grow without burning out. Click To Tweet
If you struggle with this, I highly recommend you read the Compound Effect, the Slight Edge, the Power of Habit, Grit, the Miracle Morning and the 12 Week Year.
I know that sounds like a lot, but if you read those six books back to back, you will come out a different person on the other side.
I’ve written EXTENSIVELY about how important reading five books within a topic is and you can check that out right here:
Tasks Without Dates
Don’t be afraid to leave tasks without a specific due date.
If it’s something that isn’t urgent, create the task and add it to a project with a filter but it doesn’t need to have a date.
That way, you’re not overloading yourself with tasks that aren’t necessarily time sensitive and when you get around to them, you get around to them.
This works especially well for errands that you need to get around to but don’t have a specific deadline, like getting alterations done.
Remember, life happens so you don’t want to book yourself solid with tasks and then you don’t have any room for life to show up.
ToDoist Quick Add
As a quick last note, this feature alone is why I’m in love with ToDoist.
When I’m on my computer and I need to add a new task, I simply hit CMD+Shift+A and a bar pops up so I can quickly add a task.
From there, it reads natural language and I can file it away to it’s rightful place in literally five seconds flat using their “cheat codes”
- Date: the date accepts natural language so you can type things like “in 2 days”, “every first Monday” or “next week.”
- Project: as you’re typing, hit the pound key and then start typing the project, so for example #self would file it away in the self project.
- Filter: what kind of task is it? Admin? Relationship Building? When you start typing, use @ to add it to a filter. It would look like this, “@admin”
- Priority: I don’t use these often but if something is super important, you can type p1 and it sets it as priority one. There are four priority levels and the fourth is the default so really there are three.
When you’re done typing, here’s what it’ll look like:
Your productivity system will be a never ending work in progress, but you can get it done.