Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The #1 Way to Stay Organized and Be More Productive, Even If You're Working For Yourself

As anyone who's ever seen my desk or apartment knows, I'm not what you'd call terribly "organized."

Papers and files everywhere... stuff all over the place... if left to my own devices, pretty much any environment I inhabit for an extended period of time starts to look like a "Museum of Clutter."

Unfortunately, back when I was freelancing, this disorganization extended into what I would work on in any given day.

I had a bad case of what's technically known as "shiny object syndrome." I don't know how many different projects I started that never amounted to anything.

I'd work on a book... and then a new website... and then an idea for a startup... and then a client's project.

I was hopelessly all over the place--and worst of all, I never got anything done!

How Working Remotely Helped Me Develop My Best New Habit

Eventually I got into Content Marketing, and even then I didn't feel like I was "firing on all thrusters." For a while I worked for a golf improvement company... and I'd get sidetracked with side projects, new ideas, and other assorted things that didn't ultimately matter.

When I got my current position, I knew I'd need a way to stay on-target. After all, we had 2 Google Hangouts calls daily so that everyone could check in and we could make sure we were all getting things done.

And since what I was about to work on didn't even exist yet, there was a TON to do. I didn't have the luxury of exploring potential "side projects" or anything like that. It was just (quickly) research the best way to do something... and do it. Make it happen.

Fortunately, my boss gave me a book before I started called Work the System. It's about a guy who owned a telemarketing company who suffered from a similar "shiny object syndrome" to my own.

Even more coincidentally, he never seemed to have enough time to finish what he was working on... and his company basically lived "paycheck-to-paycheck" from the checks that came in from outside vendors.

One day, this guy had enough. He decided that chaos wasn't working for him... so he'd look for something more orderly that could give his life more consistency.

And for him, that "something" was the idea of systems.

These "systems" were little more than checklists for common tasks that needed to be repeated frequently for the business. 

They were so simple that anyone could do the task in question. Which meant that this guy could hadn more of these tasks off to his employees... and he'd have more time to work on bringing in more business for his company.

Eventually (spoiler alert), he "systemitized" pretty much every aspect of his business. He started working 10-15 hours a week (since all of the "busy work" was handled by people who were using these systems). 

His quality of life improved drastically. And his business made a TON more money!

This all sounded GREAT to me! And it was honestly exactly what I needed at just the right time: something like a system to keep me on-track. 

As far as I could see, there was only one issue:

What Kind of System Could I Develop to Stay Organized and Productive?

Part of the beauty of these systems the author of Work the System created was that they were simple.

They didn't have many moving parts... and if one of the systems proved to be "broken," he'd just rewrite the step that was broken and try it again.

So when I developed my system to stay "on-task," I went with what I already kind of knew:

I started making daily task lists.

It was kind of an extension of my old job as an attorney where I had to keep track of my billable hours (shudder!). 

For that, I'd keep a list of times that I worked on things and work out the hours at the end of the day.

Of course, my old disorganized self often turned "day" into "month," which could lead to some tracking down documents and whatnot on the day time was due.

I hated billing my time for a variety of reasons. It was inconvenient. It got me out of my "flow" state. It was administrative work, and I'm not afraid to admit that I hate administrative work.

But honestly it was the only kind of system I knew at the time. With one caveat:

Instead of tracking hours, I needed to track what I was doing.

So within the first week, I started writing down what I had to do for the day, longhand. As I completed something, I checked it off the list. Pretty simple, right? Nothing too revolutionary.

Of course, within the first month, problems started cropping up in my system. I'd lose a page of notes (in my Museum of Clutter), and then be forced to ad lib what I'd done for the day.

Much as the author of Work the System noted, if a system is broken, fix the broken part and try it again.

So I started keeping my daily task list in a word document with this format:

Wednesday 2-1-17
-Check the traffic and sales numbers
-Contact expert regarding article
-Write Thursday blog email
-Edit Writer's article for Friday
-Get Optin plugin up-and-running
-Work with developer to get squeeze page up and running
-Finish writer payment report

etc.

I usually tried to keep the more important things at the top of the list, but it didn't REALLY matter what order they were in. 

In fact, I still kind of enjoyed jumping around the list a bit--it built in a tiny fraction of the "chaos" I formerly enjoyed into the system without compromising performance.

As I completed things, I'd start "tabbing" them over. And I'd introduce a bold "ROD" (for "Rest of Day") into the list. So that by the time of a call, the list above would look something like this:

Wednesday 2-1-17
          -Check the traffic and sales numbers
          -Contact expert regarding article
          -Write Thursday blog email
          -Edit Writer's article for Friday

ROD:
-Get Optin plugin up-and-running
-Work with developer to get squeeze page up and running
-Finish writer payment report

To prevent these documents from getting too long (and becoming too sluggish), I'd start a new document at the beginning of every month.

That's pretty much it!

How These Lists Helped Me Boost My Productivity

Over time, I started to notice something weird:

My lists started to get longer. 

Like a lot longer.

It's not that I was parsing things out more, but rather that I was getting more done!

I think subconsciously, I'd get a little hit of dopamine (the "pleasure" chemical in your brain) every time I'd move something over.

More than that, I'd get a sense of accomplishment. I was making progress! I was moving forward! My self-confidence would soar: "I'm organized! I'm a doer!"

But a funny thing happened as I got more and more confident:

My lists started to get SO long that I couldn't finish them each and every day.

I started to worry. Was I doing something wrong? How could I fix the system?

Ultimately there wasn't an "Aha!" moment here either. Over time, I started moving less important tasks lower and lower in the list... 

(And here's probably the most important part):

I gave myself permission to not finish EVERYTHING on the list in a given day if the deadline wasn't that day.

This was big psychologically for me. I don't like having "stuff to do," so I want a clean plate when I go home at night.

But I also like stretching myself and "aiming high." I made a conscious decision that it was MORE important to push myself than to worry about "closing out the list."

And I had a simple fix:

If there were things on the list that I didn't finish that could wait until the next day... 

Then I'd just put them at the top of the list the next day!

Simple enough, right? Nothing fancy.

And as I started to have appointments and interviews days ahead?

I'd create that "day" in my list document... and put the interview or appointment under that day so I wouldn't forget it!

My System Evolves to Become Indispensable

Over time, I've come to rely on this system so much that it's a little scary.

But I still had one issue to overcome:

I used these lists at work to great success.

But in my personal time at the beginning or end of the day... I just became a potato.

I'd sit and watch TV... movies... play video games... whatever.

That all changed recently when I read Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. 

As Tim is so good at doing, he reminded me that we only have about 26,000 days on this planet... and that's assuming we make it to 70, which is no guarantee.

Not only that, but I'm roughly at the halfway marker now. Only 13,000 days left...

And how many of those days will truly be productive?

Hence why I've tried something new: 

Keeping these lists for my side-projects too!

This is why this site suddenly came back to life... why I'm waking up an hour earlier to work on my fiction again... and I have some other projects coming to life as well.

All of this is possible because of these simple, copy-able lists that anyone can make.

Don't have Word? Keep them in a free Google Docs file.

The point is, if you're reading this, you have access to this tool right now.

It's a powerful tool that's boosted my productivity any given day by at least 50%...

And if that doesn't help you adopt this system, think of it like this:


In the coming weeks and months, I'm going to talk about all of the hard work that goes into making an "automatic cash machine" online.

The more you can get done every day... the less time it's going to take to build that same machine.

If you can double your output... you'll reach whatever goal you've set for yourself that much faster.

If you this system... and the other ones I'm going to show you in short order... you'll double your income in half the time.

That's MORE time your site can generate income for you... and LESS of those worrying months at the start waiting for it to take off.

It's win-win... at least from my perspective.

And I hope this helps you as much as it's helped me!

-D.J.

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