What needs to be done? How do you decide?
This devolves to personal choice. Some people like the Covey Planner. Others swear by GTD. Some people like to-do lists; some write everything on their calendar. Some (fortunate few?) delegate it all to personal assistants. Some just trust that if it’s important enough, they’ll remember what all they need to get done.
Because I’m always juggling more tasks than I have time for, I’ve played with all kinds of systems and ideas, from the A, B, C priorities to the Not To-Do list. (I’ve even written an article on productivity tools.) Most of them have something in common: Write it down. I have a pretty good memory, but especially as I have more and more things to keep track of all the time (kids getting older, in different schools, with activities and friends and paperwork and fundraisers — in addition to all of my own projects, from freelancing to writing to publishing to making Christmas presents to running, plus housework and taxes and paying the bills and remembering when my husband has late meetings at work and on and on and on), I find that getting things down in a concrete form — any form — is the first step.
That’s what — write it down. Look at what you’re doing, what you’re supposed to be doing, what you want to be doing, what you say you want to do but have never made time for. This step is overwhelming, and I almost never actually manage to complete it. Write down all of my writing projects? The ones in progress, the ones that are stalled, the ones that are just ideas? How about all of the books I want to read? All of the things I’d like to think of around the house from floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for my office to a fruit orchard in the backyard? And there’s more.
But — when it’s written down and I can see it, I’m more likely to spend time on it, to make a note on my calendar to follow up on researching an idea, to drop something in my tickler file for pricing fruit trees, to actually do it.
So once you know what you need to do, how do you pick and choose from all the things you have written down? How do you avoid paralysis?
Oddly enough, productivity tools address this, too. Productive Magazine has articles and interviews with all sorts of tips and tricks. David Allen talks about the value of contexts in GTD — but when 90% of my contexts are “sitting in front of the computer,” that doesn’t narrow it down any. The Cult of Done argues that it’s not so important what you’re getting done as that you are doing things — because as you get more things done, you get in the habit of “done” — from the manifesto:
The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done. . . .
Done is the engine of more.
The calendar is where I start. Some things just have to be done at a specific time. Yesterday, the dog had an appointment at 9:30, so I knew that had to be dealt with then. There’s a 5K race coming up in October that I want to do, and I learned about it 9 weeks beforehand — just enough time to start the couch-to-5k running plan up again, which tells me what I need to block out time for 3 days a week. Work comes with deadlines, and time span for specific projects always gets entered into the calendar.
Beyond that? To a certain extent, the Cult of Done has it right. It’s more important that I do something than that I spend hours deciding what I should do.
At this point, I might point out Stephen Covey’s four quadrants — urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent and unimportant, neither urgent nor important. Anything with a real deadline probably falls in the urgent and important quadrant — work projects, taxes, and so forth. So do medical emergencies and car accidents, but you probably don’t need to figure out when those have to be dealt with. Once those are ticked off your list, though, what else do you do? Focus on the important things — Where do you want your career to go? Work on the next novel. Do you want to go back to school?
For me, the important things might include writing projects, planning writing, looking at getting my work into print, or even some time on social networks or writing blog comments to keep in touch with people. I try to pick specific things to work on each week or month (the new story I want to have up for sale, a short story to submit to a favorite market, cover art . . . ). Each evening before I go to bed, I jot a to-do list for the next day. My to-do list includes the simple things that I know will get checked off (make sure girl is up and dressed), appointments and errands, and maybe even what’s for dinner. Then I put in things based on my weekly or monthly plans — work deadlines, stories, cover art, blog posts, whatever. I don’t always get everything on my list done. I spend time in the not urgent and unimportant quadrant (Bejeweled Blitz, a lot). Some of that’s indecision, some of it’s available energy — but there’s less indecision when I have my list of things I want to get done. As for energy, I’ll talk about that next week when I get to barriers and obstacles.
What about you? How do you go about deciding what to do next?