Post No. 2 for The Comparison Project

Laurie is back today with the second post for The Comparison Project. You can read part one HERE.

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In last week’s post I introduced the beautiful vintage personal Belmont Filofax I’m using for this project and sketched out how I’ll approach my comparison of inserts and methods for time management and getting things done. This week I’ll describe my set up in greater detail – focusing on the to-do lists –  and let you know how well things have worked this past week.

The dividers I’m using for my To-Do, Notes, Goals are Review Sections are made from the simple brown card dividers from Muji.  At $1.50 for a pack of 5 they are a great deal – and they have upper/lower tabs, which I love because it allows me to see so many tab headings at once.

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As my goal with this project is to compare methods of time management and distraction avoidance, I kept these plain dividers simple and unadorned except for the section title, which I simply wrote in marker.

The To-Do sections are all top-tabbed and are divided into:
1. On Fire – for tasks that must be done RIGHT AWAY – no excuses, no delays. That section simply has an acetate flyleaf with sticky notes on it because no task should stay there for long and I expect it will change rapidly!  I also use a Frixion pen so that I can make quick changes as needed.

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2. Must Do Today – The title is self-explanatory but I am working to keep this list very realistic. If something could be done a day or two later it should not here.  This list can contain both work and personal tasks (though I do keep a separate binder for work)

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3. This Week – for tasks with some flexibility in deadline – but ones that I really must accomplish in the week.

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4. Saturday and Sunday – for weekend tasks and activities like yard work or running a 5K, having dinner with friends.

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5. Month – for tasks with much more flexibility – but that will eventually need to be moved to the front burner as the month goes on.

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6. Someday – This is where I’ll put things like “paint interior of house” and “clean out garage” or “re-learn French” I’m serious about them but can’t have them clogging up my brain when there’s not time for them.

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Review of To-Dos:  
I can readily understand it if some people might look at my many categories of to-do lists and think I’m nuts – and while the jury’s still out on that, I think it’s working for me. One of my organizing issues has been that I find my to-do lists simply overwhelming. They typically have so many tasks on them that I find it hard to get started – this task? that task? the other task? Pretty soon brain freeze.  Then it’s tempting to indulge in a bit of self-sabotage and avoid looking at the list at all.

So far, breaking down my tasks into levels of urgency tagged to deadlines has worked so much better for me. It’s kept my daily to-do list realistic and manageable and given me a place to put things that must be done but not right this very minute. I enjoy flipping through the sections and moving things up from month to week to day – it gives me a sense of being in control of what I have to accomplish.  I try to avoid having a to-do catch fire – but when that happens there’s a place for it can’t avoid seeing.  And just in front of the On Fire divider is another flyleaf – which I can use to post “Meltdown” tasks if I’m ever unlucky enough to find myself in that situation.

Make It Work: ‘get to work’ and ‘wrap it up’ procedures

Distractions can also delay or derail me from settling into my workday– social media; personal emails or phone calls; a sudden faux-need to clean out a file drawer – I’m sure you know the drill.  Similar to a Hitchcock “MacGuffin” it doesn’t really matter what it is that is distracting — just that it holds my attention and in this case, keeps me from focusing on what’s really important to do.

To combat this, I developed a list of procedures named after the beyond fabulous Tim Gunn and his famous phrase “Make it Work.” Instead of putting the procedures in a section, I will laminate them on a card and keep it in the front pocket of the binder.  One side of the card is “get to work” procedures and the flip side is “wrap it up”

Here are the get to work procedures:
Get to desk with second cup of coffee and take 15 minutes to enjoy coffee, run through personal emails, check FB and blogs. Just 15 minutes – time it!
Shut down Facebook; silence sound alerts for new emails – unless you are expecting something work related that you must see the very instant it arrives.
Review Diary for appointments and ‘On Fire’ and ‘Must Do Today’ lists for high-priority tasks.
Work on the On Fire tasks and finish them – and move on to the Today tasks.
Every 90 minutes give yourself a 10-15 minute break – for coffee, social media, making a dentist appointment (some break) or whatever. Time it! And back to work.
Take at least a half hour for lunch – it will help you recharge and freshen your brain.

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And here are the wrap it up procedures

Prepare the next day’s On Fire and Must Do Today lists
Clean or straighten up the desk so that it’s ordered, neat and welcoming for you in the morning
Run your back up system
Leave the office, go home, and enjoy conversation, food and wine with your spouse.

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Next week I’ll show you the different diary inserts I’m using for this project and compare the effectiveness of the first two varieties I’ve used during the first 2 weeks. I’ll also report back on how my multiple to-do list method is working.

I welcome your comments and thoughts – either on the ideas I’m trying out or on the methods you are trying!  

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