A Simple Solution to Greater Productivity and Less Distraction

As we expand professionally and personally, we develop more skills, greater knowledge, and have much more to offer the world. Though, this also means we will have more things to do and keep organized.

Despite the preparation and organization, if you have simultaneous projects, there will be unfinished business, which can lead to worry or preoccupation with these tasks.

In this sense, what used to work for managing time may not quite be cutting it. For myself, as I work on my blog, go through graduate school, work on professional certifications, start writing a book, begin recording an EP, and work numerous part-time jobs, I need a system to separate these projects. You will need more than simply prioritizing and writing out a to-do list if you want to eliminate the distractions and stress that come from a multitude of projects. Specifically, you need to get things out of your head and onto paper. In Getting Things Done David Allen provides a wonderful guide to set-up a weekly system that examines what needs to get done, and how we can establish the next action to make sure the tasks on our to-do list our specific and actionable. If you have many diverging things grabbing for your attention and causing distraction, it’s time to clear your mental shelves by reevaluating how you manage time. Below are ideas adapted from Getting Things Done that offer a simple solution to distraction and stress.

1) Develop a Project list

Consider all the projects and activities that you are currently working on, and get everything laid out for a big picture view of what needs to be done. List each project separately with space below, where you can begin assigning specific tasks that need to be completed. By first looking at the big picture, it makes it much easier to organize the details for each project, and helps keep a much more organized list of things to do.

2) List all the tasks for each project

Once you have each major project listed, you can begin listing the tasks that fall under each project. In this way you begin to establish a clear and organized list of what needs to be done according to a specific project. The tasks you mark down should be physically measurable and behaviorally defined. For example, if your task is to work on the copy for your website, the tasks should focus specifically on which section of the site, what research needs to be done, if you’re starting with an outline, etc.

Here’s another example of projects with coinciding tasks:

Work on Book                                     Work on Blog                                      Attend to Classroom 1) Write introduction                        1) Research next article                           1) Grade assignment 2) Research forgiveness                  2) Finish guest post                                 2) Post discussion questions 3) Outline chapters                         3) Review bootcamp material                    3) Respond to student questions Even these tasks can be broken down into more specific actions, but regardless it would certainly be easier to review this list than one gigantic list of tasks to be completed.

3) List things to do today

Next, review each of the tasks and decide what you will do today. Narrow down the numerous tasks from each project and decide what needs to be done first, and what a more long-term task is. Find another document to write down everything that you plan on accomplishing today, and use this as the focal point for your daily activities. The goal here is to eliminate distractions and concern that come from the many other things that need to be done at some point, but which you know won’t be done today. A calendar or planner that you can carry with you may be a good system. Just make sure to only write down what you plan to do today.

4) List follow-up tasks and things that can be done later

Make a list of what you can do when finished with today’s activities. This list provides a place to organize things that need to be done but aren’t urgent. Having a separate list means you can drop the task from your mind, but won’t forget about it in the process. By writing down what you can do later and putting it in a separate and organized location you can eliminate the worry and stress that comes from thinking about everything you could be doing, instead of  focusing on what you intend to do today.

5) List things to do someday

I have numerous projects and ideas that I would love to complete someday, though if I focus on all of these I’m distracting myself from significant progress in many other areas. We only have a certain amount of attention that can be devoted to the many things we do each day, so it can be helpful to selectively attend to what is most important. Having a “someday maybe” list provides a place for those creative ideas that you might get around to when you have more time and immediate priorities are met. These are items that really shouldn’t cause a distraction, but often do if you find brainstorming and creating exciting and fun. Unless you actually plan on doing some brainstorming, don’t let these projects side-track your immediate progress.

It’s as simple as that!

Hopefully this offers a simple solution to the many roles and responsibilities you are trying to fulfill. If you plan ahead and write down the tasks that are on your mind, you can decide if you need to deal with them now or later. If they are immediate projects, write out all the actionable steps that relate to this project. If they are to be dealt with later, write them out, set them to the side, and don’t worry about them. Focus on what you need to do today. Every week review your project to-do list and make revisions as necessary. Questions: What other suggestions do you have about effective time-management? What helps you minimize distractions and stay organized? What helps you manage the multiple tasks you get done each day?