Plan & Organise
Wellbeing | Productivity | Technology
This section will help you take control of all the things you need to do, at home and at work. The brain is for having ideas not storing them, so it’s essential that we develop systems we can trust that do all the hard work for us. Getting organised isn't just about productivity though, as it's also a great way to reduce stress and anxiety.
It’s all about getting ideas out of your head and into a system, so you don’t forget them and can focus on what’s important. This can help you silence all that mental noise and stop you getting caught up in things you really don't need to be thinking about. It also feels great when you know everything is taken care of and you can work smarter, rather than harder.
How to Plan & Organise
I think the first question you need to ask yourself is why you'd want to get organised. It takes a lot of effort to set things up and maintain them, so surely it's not worth all that effort?
I suggest you consider the consequences of not setting up an effective system if you think you don't need it.
Urgent issues will probably appear, you'll be overwhelmed and there's a good chance that you'll forget things. None of this is likely to have a positive effect on your mental health either.
I think the first mistake people make is to consider productivity something that just relates to work. I can tell you from experience though that it can also be an important part or your personal development.
Your brain naturally wants to finish things, so putting everything in place naturally helps you feel better and be confident you're in control. This can help you reduce stress and anxiety as well as the risk of nasty surprises appearing.
People can also fall into the trap of thinking they have an effective system and have things under control when it fact, they could be making their lives a lot harder than they need to be due to simple mistakes.
The trick is to make it as simple as possible and create something you can completely rely on.
Setting up Your System
I’d like to start off by helping you set up a solid and reliable productivity system that helps you get things done and takes all those nagging thoughts out of your head.
I consider this one of the most important parts of The Simplicity System and because of this, it’s the largest setup exercise. When it’s done though, everything should be very easy and of course, simple.
I concentrate on the practical stuff here, rather than the way you approach work and individual tasks. I do this to focus your attention on creating a firm foundation and intuitively picking up good practices you can develop later on.
You may be doing a lot of this already as well, but it's a good chance to review and test your system. When you're ready, simply follow the steps below to take control.
Identify Where Things Come In
Let’s start by looking at where things coming in.
I’d like you to simply identify where all the things you have to do arrive in your world.
There should be roughly four type of things that come in and they are:
- Physical items (like letters, business cards and flyers)
- Verbal instructions (like your boss asking you to do something)
- Digital messages (like email, texts, and instant messages)
- Your brain (like getting a great idea or noticing something that needs doing)
It’s essential that you know where everything is coming in so nothing gets overlooked.
Now we’ve looked at what comes in, we’re going to look at how you collect it. This is a great chance to not only think about how you collect things, but also look to see if there are any gaps in your current system.
You need to make sure you have a collection tool for to all the things coming in.
If you can, try to narrow it down to something like the following:
- Notepad (digital or paper)
- Physical in-tray
- Email inbox
- To-do list
So many people don’t think of having a collection tool for what’s probably our most important resource, our brain. This is where you can address that and think about having a device or notepad on hand to get ideas out of your head and into your system. This obviously means you won’t forget that great idea you've just had and your mind can move on to other things.
I think this whole collection process is also the most important part of your system, as it’s the one that’s likely to buckle under stress. Some people also make the mistake of using some of their collection tools to store things and they soon start to overflow.
So, things have come in and you’ve collected them but where so you store them? You obviously can’t do everything immediately, so where does it sit so you don’t forget it?
Do you have specific email inboxes for new messages, a single to-do list and calendar and do you use apps like Trello? Do you also have an in-tray where everything you need to do is waiting for you?
To process these tasks and make sure they get done, I suggest you get yourself the following if you don’t already have them:
- Physical in-tray
- Email inbox folders
- To-do list
- Something to keep track of projects
You may be thinking, that’s pretty much just what he said before minus notepads and that’s the whole point. You’d never store things on a notepad as you’d have to keep flicking though to find what you had to do.
Although you’ve used some of the tools above to collect the things you need to do, this is all about storing it until you’re ready to do it.
Your To-Do List
I think the most important thing by far is a to-do list. If it needs to be done, it’s on there unless it’s a specific appointment, event or slot, and that’s entered on your calendar.
The most effective piece of productivity advice I can give you is the 'Four Folders' idea.
This really represents what The Simplicity System is all about, as it helps you focus on what’s important and stops you worrying about the rest of it.
You simply divide your to-do list into four folders:
This simple step really lets you focus on what’s important and be assured that everything else is taken care of.
At this point we should look at projects, which in terms of planning is a task that requires multiple steps to compete. Putting them all on your to-do list will probably overload it, as you won’t see the wood for the trees. Just listing the main objective won’t help either, as you won’t know what you have to do.
We need a place to store these type of tasks. I personally use Trello to keep track of all my projects, but you could also use another to-do list app or a spreadsheet.
The main thing is that you keep your to-do list in focus at all times and really concentrate on individual tasks, or the next step in a project.
Finally, in the ‘real world’ I have a physical in-tray with three sections. The first is for things that need attention and are waiting to be done, the second is where I’m waiting for something to happen before I can process it and the third is where I store things I’ll need to quickly access in the near future.
It’s so easy to overlook this essential tool today as so much is digital, but you’re really going to benefit from a physical in-tray at home and at work.
Your Email Inbox
It’s also important to think about your email inbox and just use it as a collection tool if you can. You often see people with overflowing inboxes full of random messages and coloured flags and it hurts your head just to look at this. You also have to take time to adjust every time you see it and it doesn’t feel good.
I suggest you look at my ideas for how to structure you email inbox in the ‘Own Information’ section and set it up if you can.
This will help you achieve ‘inbox zero’ more often and give some breathing room.
Important Things to Remember
The main thing to remember when storing everything is that you should use your to-do list to keep track of it all.
Everything you need to process should also be in the daily folder so there’s only one place you have to look when it’s time to sit down and work.
This can all go horribly wrong though if it’s not managed and maintained. Important tasks that are part of projects can remain hidden in long lists and monthly and yearly to-do’s can be out of place and out of mind when you need to focus on them. You can also find your calendar and to-do tasks are mixed up or duplicated if you don't clearly define them.
Finally, it’s time to think how you archive things you’ve done in case you need to reference them quickly. Thankfully, this is really easy and very straightforward.
It’s very important as it helps us clear out completed tasks to make room for what we need to focus on.
It also lets us find things quickly if we need them again. For email, just create really logical inbox folders and try to store them in the cloud so they’re everywhere.
For paper, get yourself some files or storage boxes and simply keep things together in a logical structure. You probably won’t even need labels to do this because if your car insurance documents are next to your car registration documents, it makes sense. If these are then with your house insurance documents it fits in, and you can then have a box or file of household bills.
I’ll let you work this out but a few file dividers can help as well. It’s also helpful to mark or label each section for quick access if there are a lot of them. This is all great though until we’re in a hurry or are very busy and don’t have time to file things. We either let our in-tray overflow with completed tasks or we just shove it anywhere in our archive boxes and send the whole thing out of control.
Your Limbo File
My solution is a ‘Limbo File’. I have a box file where I place completed tasks and file them later, normally once a month, when I have time. I also keep it close to hand and in a rough basic order so I can grab anything I need immediately. This is great at home but in a busy office, you many need more of a structure. It still helps though, and you may need to refer to a lot of things within a few weeks of doing them.
Keep Track of Everything
Having a great system is one thing, but you have to keep on top of it. Take a look at the ‘Your Slots’ area of this section as it suggests what time you need to set aside to oversee it all and stay in control.
The Simplicity System
So to sum it up simply, if you want to get organised you should:
- Identify where everything is coming in
- Have something there to collect it
- Store it in as few places as possible
- Archive it so you can quickly access it
- Divide your to-do list into four folders
- Keep on top of your system
When you've set up a reliable system, a lot of things should naturally fall into place. You should find yourself worrying a lot less and getting a lot more done.
Good luck with everything and I hope it makes a difference. I’d also be very interested to hear any feedback you have as The Simplify System will always need to evolve and improve.
Your Plan & Organise Resources
Follow the links below to learn a lot more
Your Plan & Organise Golden Rules
Work out what tasks get things done
It’s often the case that around 20% of what you do accounts for around 80% of what you achieve. If you can identify the things that really make a difference, you can get everything else moving and really get results.
I integrated the idea of creating ’Slots’ into The Simplicity System to do just that, but I think that every project or big task will have key areas you can concentrate on.
Manage your energy and attention, not time
Most people think you just need to divide your time up effectively to get more done, but there’s more to it than that. If you really want to achieve more, focus on your energy and attention.
Anyone can force themselves to sit in front of a computer or notepad for a set period of time, but the whole point of doing this is to achieve something.
Your focus needs to be on your work, or else you lose concentration or become distracted. You also have to ensure that you’re feeling up to the work by doing what you can to be at your best. This includes working at known peak times, ensuring you're rested and that you’ve eaten and drank the right ammount to have enough energy.
Eat the frog
You may have heard this before and got a bit repulsed, but it’s all about doing the worst, and most challenging, things first. It’s actually based on a quote by Mark Twain where he states that if you start the day by eating a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of showing that that’s probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you.
Most of us will try to hide from these challenging tasks and spiral into procrastination, but this feels terrible and gets very little done. I just suggest you think about this, try it and see what happens (not the live frog bit though, as that's just a metaphor).
Have a single collection point
One of the best ways to ensure your system works is to make sure everything is collected in one place. This means you won’t lose track of anything and you can instantly see what you need to do.
You probably can’t get everything stored in a single place though but if you can, make sure you just have one to-do list folder, one email inbox for your important messages and a single in-tray shelf for documents.
Every minute you invest in productivity is one you lose working
This is such an important thing to consider. It’s all very well having these great systems, but it’s easy to spend more time setting them up and maintaining them than actually working.
I think it’s all about balance though and making sure the time you invest in your system is as effective as possible. Once you’ve taken the time to set it up and ensure it really works, it should be easy to maintain and let you get a lot more done.
Your Plan & Organise Slots
At the end of your day, you should get in the habit of planning for the next one. In terms of your productivity system, this is simply a matter or checking everything is up to date.
Are all your daily tasks done, do any need to be rolled over and what has to be moved from the weekly folder into the daily one?
It’s also a good time to clear out deleted email messages, check your folders and try to 'zero' your inbox. Remember to check your calendar as well in case anything needs your attention.
I suggest you sit down once a week and really get organised. This involves reviewing what you’ve done and planning the week ahead.
I think it’s important to take a good look at all your storage points as well and make sure everything is where it needs to be.
It’s so important to do this once a week to make sure nothing gets overlooked. You can also review your calendar and think about the 'Slots' you’d like to fill it with.
I think it’s a good idea to sit down towards the end of the month and take a look at the big picture. Take a look your version of ‘The Road’ document from the 'Be Ready' section and also focus on the key tasks in the month ahead.
This is a great time to think about what’s coming up and what you need to do to make it happen.
I suggest you take time every 3 months to go though your version of 'The Road' document from the 'Be Ready' section and update all your systems. Everything that’s a red 3-month task should either be on your project planner or main to-do list.
The whole point of this task is to make sure your short-term objectives are in sync with your long-term goals. Breaking everything down like this will help you tackle these challenges.