Effortless efficiency via automated alerts and tasks
Looking for how to be more organized making sure to waste less time is a constant struggle, especially for people who are very busy.
There are countless books and thousands of articles that cover “Getting Things Done” (GTD) principles. But for many people, the ideas and principles of GTD can feel like so much work that when you’re done organizing you won’t have time to actually accomplish any work.
That’s why it’s important to set up apps and automations that perform many of the GTD principles for you. Or at the very least the way you use those apps should make getting and staying organized and efficient effortless.
Free Your Mind of Clutter With an Inbox
When you want to get things done, an “inbox” is critical. Not an email inbox, but a task inbox.
The most important way to help your mind stay focused and be more organized is to remove the clutter. Clutter means those ideas or moments when you recall tasks you need to get done. By tossing those fleeting distractions into an inbox, you can get them out of your head and avoid distraction.
It doesn’t matter what to-do app you use for this, so long as it features an inbox. It’s best if the app includes both a web-based tool and a mobile app, so that you can collect these ideas no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
Take this a step further by integrating your inbox with your email account. For example, you can install a ToDoist for Gmail Chrome plugin that integrates ToDoist with your Gmail account.
With this plugin you can select the ToDoist icon at the top of an open email, and use the Quick Add Task feature to add the email to your inbox as a new task.
This lets you avoid wasting time performing small tasks while you’re trying to get your email inbox taken care of. Just set aside emails that require your time as a new task, and move on.
With most to-do apps, there’s usually also a Chrome extension for the browser.
This lets you add a new task based on information you’re reading on a web page. The idea is to provide yourself with quick and easy ways to add ideas to your inbox so that you don’t have to try and remember them later.
One of the best ways to be more organized is keeping your mind clear and free.
Keep Your Calendar Organized
Too many people try to use their calendar and their inbox for the same thing; to track tasks. That’s not what a calendar is for.
Your calendar is where you schedule only time-related events. Not all tasks. Your calendar should only include the following items:
- Time specific appointments and meetings
- Day specific events like all day training, business travel, or important events like birthdays
- Focus time, which are set blocks of time every day where you focus on the tasks in your todo list.
Those “focus time” blocks should not be task specific inside the calendar. This is what your to-do list is for, and your to-do list is where you’ll decide which task you work on next during those focus time blocks.
Beyond recurring events, appointments, and focus time, the rest of your calendar should remain open for meetings or other unexpected tasks.
If you have time available, you can always fill those in with more focus time for your tasks. If meetings get scheduled over focus time, then shift it around as needed.
You’ll notice the calendar above has Task Staging every morning, and Weekly Task Review on Fridays. These are where you sort out your inbox, and plan and prioritize your projects as described in the sections below.
Cull Your To-Do List With Changing Priorities
Life changes quickly, and those changes can change your priorities.
Any to-do list you use should be organized with top level projects that represent those life priorities. For example, the top most important areas of my life that I focus on with my tasks include:
- Online Writing
- Day Job
During your weekly task review, you want to scan through all of your task areas and make sure that the tasks you’ve included in all of these projects are still relevant and important.
You do this by either changing the priority level of the tasks, or deleting them entirely.
One of the most important principles in GTD is getting rid of things that are no longer important. These are tasks that are just taking up space and creating clutter. Getting rid of this clutter is one of the best ways to be more organized.
When looking at each task, follow three steps.
- Is it no longer relevant? Delete it.
- Can someone else do it? Delegate it.
- Whatever’s left, prioritize.
An easy way to make sure you do this weekly is to use the to-do mobile app and review tasks and priorities while you’re relaxing at home. Sit out on the deck, have a coffee, and scan and re-prioritize your tasks.
Plan Projects Properly & Over-Estimate Time
Spend time each morning working through your to-do inbox and planning two main components of each task.
- How much time should it take to complete?
- How critical is it to complete?
The time estimate is simply a judgement about effort. If you were given one entire session, would it take 5-15 minutes, 15-30 minutes, 30-60 minutes, or over an hour? Create colored labels for these timeframes, and apply them to each new task.
When estimating time that tasks take, always slightly over-estimate. Otherwise you’ll constantly find yourself running out of time with tasks not finished.
The criticality of each task is how soon do you need to get it done? Did your boss say to get a report done by Friday? That’s a “Priority 1” that you should highlight in red. Is it a chapter of a book you’d like to write some day? That’s a “Priority 3” and highlighted in blue.
Specific colors don’t matter, so long as you understand what the colors mean.
Combine Tasks With Things You Love To Do
Not everything has to feel like a chore. In fact, the more tasks you can combine with one another, the more time you’ll free up.
Here are a few examples.
- Watch a training video for work while you’re walking on the treadmill during your workout.
- Do your weekly task review while you’re in the waiting room at your doctor’s appointment.
- Use an app like Voice Notes to dictate the first chapter of your book while you’re driving for 3 hours on your business trip.
With a little creativity, you can combine many of the tasks in your to-do list and complete multiple tasks during overlapping hours in your schedule.
This kind of creative time management is key to being super-efficient using GTD principles.
Prioritize Using Time Rather Than Importance
When you do prioritize tasks, don’t think of them in terms of how important they are to your long time goals. Think of them in terms of urgency.
How urgent must you get that task done? What would happen if you took another day, or another week, to accomplish it?
The only tasks that should be a “Priority 1” are those that have a hard deadline in 24 hours. If you have another few days (later), then make it a “Priority 2”. For any tasks that you’d like to finish “someday” if you have time, make it a “Priority 3”.
Every morning, review your daily schedule to ensure that it’s balanced and realistic.
If there’s a lot of red, glance at your time estimates for those tasks and make sure they can fit inside your blocks of focus time. If they don’t, then you need to contact whoever made the deadline for you and either ask for a later deadline, or delegate to someone on your team who has the time.
You should be dealing with everything in terms of “time”. Importance means “how little time do I have left to complete this task?”
Once your focus time arrives during the day, close everything else (including email) and start working through those tasks.
Use Reminders Effectively
Reminders can be extremely annoying if you aren’t using them effectively. You should only set reminders for time related tasks like appointments or meetings.
You don’t need reminders for work tasks, because you have dedicated focus time in your calendar to deal with those.
You should also set the reminders to occur on the devices you’ll be using when that event occurs. For example:
- End of day gym reminders on your work office computer (Microsoft Outlook calendar)
- Reminder to pick up a Valentine’s gift on your way home (Google Calendar or Google Assistant)
- Reminder to take your headphones with you on your business trip (Google Home)
- Reminder to pick up a list of items at the store (Google Calendar or Google Assistant)
Always think about where you’ll be just before you’ll need to complete the task, and set up the right reminder on the right device and app accordingly.
Use Focused Work Sessions Effectively
So, focus time has arrived. What now?
Make sure your environment is conducive to focus and productivity. Close the office door. Play your favorite soothing music. Sit at your computer and start focusing only on the task at hand and nothing else.
Focus time is your time to shine. It’s when you finally get things done. Your ultimate productivity at the end of the day depends largely upon how well you can actually focus during your “focus time”.
Want to boost your productivity? Use an online Pomodoro app to make sure you take short breaks at regular intervals. This will help you stay even more refreshed and focused.
Remember To Focus On The Big Picture
At least once a month, you should be reviewing your big-picture goals to make sure that everything you’re working toward is aligned with your big life goals.
Not sure what those goals are or how to break them down into smaller pieces? I highly recommend using a goal planning app like Goalscape.
This is a creative way to visualize your important life goals at the inside of a circle. Branching out around that circle are the things you need to accomplish to achieve those big goals. The further outward you go, the smaller the goals are. The outer rings form the blocks that contain the tasks you’re currently working on.
Reviewing your goal circle every month as your life changes can help you remove things that no longer matter to you, and add new things that do.
Use these larger goals to direct how you go about decluttering and prioritizing the tasks you’ve set up in your to-do list.
If Goalscape doesn’t work for you, there are plenty of other goal planning apps to choose from.
Don’t Overplan Or Over-Organize
Most importantly, let the tools do their job. You should be spending only your review sessions to organize and plan, but don’t focus so much time on planning and task organization that you never get any actual work done.
This is why scheduling daily, weekly, and monthly review sessions is how to be more organized. These are the times devoted to managing your GTD routine. Outside of that, it’s all about…getting things done.
What tips do you have about getting things done? Anything which we haven’t already covered here? Let us know in the comments.