From a very young age, I’ve always had an obsession with organizing and keeping a list. Write it down. Do the work. Check it off and on to the next.
Now I have many daily projects to juggle. Some days my to-do list is so long it feels more like a wish list. I struggled with finding a way that helped me get all of my to-do’s out of my head and clearly organized but didn’t leave me feeling overwhelmed and ineffective. I’m a very visual person with a love for simplicity. So when it comes to organizing and planning, I need things to be written down and displayed in front of me – preferably in bright colors to grab my attention. I need order. I need to be able to easily swap my thoughts and ideas and prioritize them when and how I see fit even if those ideas change 20 times.
So naturally, the Post-it® system works best for me. My purse, desk, planner, and car are always littered with random “to-do” notes. I created a work wall to help organize the chaos and then condense everything into my daily planner so my ideas can go with me.
Start writing your to-do items – one item per Post-it®. This now becomes your ongoing to-do list that you can add to as you think of things and rearrange priorities as needed. You may even want to try using different colors to categorize your items by subject (home, work, family, etc.) or by urgency. Then stick the notes on a large area like a blank wall, a door, or an empty tabletop. This makes it easy to move things around as you think through your ideas and begin to create a workflow. Then organize the sticky notes in your planner as you see fit. Once each item is complete, remove, and discard that Post-it®.
There are tons of smartphone apps available to help get you organized. I prefer the ‘pen to paper” method. Writing things down helps me remember things more. Staying organized is as much about what you choose not to do as it is about what you decide to do. One of the biggest struggles of being self-employed is wading through the information overload to figure out what’s the next step and what you should be doing with your time. Every time you look at your phone, dozens of alerts and notifications fill the screen. Everything seems urgent and equally important. So we spend the entire day, week, or month approaching such conflicting demands without prioritizing the most important.
Take something as simple as a grocery list. We throw items into our shopping cart, check them off the list, and hope we didn’t forget anything. The end goal is to cut through all the distractions and only work on the core tasks that will move the needle on business. If you don’t take anything else from this post, know that life is not a to-do list. There’s no reward in merely checking things off of your list just for the sake of going through the motions. Your day shouldn’t be a collection of random tasks, and everything isn’t an immediate priority. Once you understand this concept at the core, life gets less stressful, and business gets a little less complicated. Many new entrepreneurs confuse “motion” with progress and work on things that don’t move their business forward. I laughed as I type this because I’ve made this very mistake many times over. I used to do things to make myself feel productive and accomplished, but at the of the day, I wasn’t making much money.
When I started my very first business Re: Cast Productions, an event planning company, I rushed to open a business checking account with no money to put into it. Having that debit card made me feel official. I agonized for weeks about my business name and logo. I had no product. I finally ordered 5,000 business cards with the logo that I agonized over and later realized I hated the logo and the company name. The truth is, none of this makes a difference in the beginning. It took me two years to realize that my actions were to inflate my own ego and sense of accomplishment. All the while, I avoided the real work such as researching and sending inquiries to suppliers, connecting with my network to find potential customers, and creating good content before launching my social media pages so that I’m attracting my ideal customers on day one.
Doing the real work isn’t the sexy part of being an entrepreneur, but it is the part that makes you money. Focus on tasks that result in you getting paid and building meaningful relationships. Yesterday I did a brainswarm to help prioritize my workload:
– Write Playing in Dirt (my second book), for two hours uninterrupted.
Plan out the new She Swank fall selections
– Organize content for Facebook ads.
– Improve user experience at sheswank.com.
– Follow up with editors.
– Virtual lunch date with a friend.
Notice how the three tasks directly related to generating income are first on the list. To get things done, schedule your day with this level of prioritization so that even on an off day, which for some is rare, you’re still making progress and still making money.
Bottom line, you have to schedule your time. Not just what’s appointment-specific, but all of the things that matter to the bigger picture. You can accomplish this by scheduling time blocks. Whether you finish three out of six tasks of the day or three out of three, you’re still completing the same amount of work. It’s not always about completion but mostly about making progress.