How to Get It All Done in an Easy and Relaxed Manner
How do you go about your days? Do you feel hurried and pressured, or do you have a relaxed sense of control over your work? Do you feel guilty when you take time off because there’s so much work to do? Do you worry about the task you’re accomplishing at the moment because you’re afraid you should be doing something else more important?
There are three basic tenets of good task management: Planning, list keeping, and action. Leave any one of these out and you’ll be crying the “I’ve got too much to do in too little time” blues. I’ve addressed these three concepts separately many times on this blog, but today I’d like to bring them all together to really illustrate their power, and the power behind a system.
It’s really not that difficult. Anyone could easily figure out that a good plan with no action is useless, and nearly everyone I know has learned the hard lesson of performing a bunch of tasks without a plan only to have to start all over on the project due to a lack of planning.
The list is something that tends to elude most people. Why do so many people resist lists? I don’t get it. Sure, they might keep a shopping list or a values list, or even a projects list here and there, but few people I know keep a list of everything they need to do within a certain time frame, or even everything they need to do to complete a project. Most lists I see when working with clients are completely filled with general ideas and vague concepts. Don’t get me wrong here, any list is better than no list, but a detailed list filled with actionable items, things you can actually do, is always the most powerful.
Where does such a list come from? In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen says:
“After years of working with thousands of professionals down in the trenches, I can safely say that virtually all of us could be doing more planning, more informally and more often, about our projects and our lives. And if we did, it would relieve a lot of pressure on our psyches and produce an enormous amount of creative output with minimal effort.”
When I read that, I said, “Amen!” I’ve been preaching from that belief for years, but have never put it quite so eloquently. Thank you, David.
A good list comes from a good plan. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that I and other time management instructors have made is to give this process the term “Strategic Planning.” See, for those of us who are the Type A, go-get-‘em kind, the idea of a war-like attack on projects, goals, and desired outcomes feels great. But most of the world is Type B – laid back, and anti-war on all fronts. So most of the world sees an article like “Strategic Planning” and thinks, “that’s not for me – I’m not like that.”
In reality, planning is nothing more than thinking about what you’re going to do before you do it so that you have a better shot of getting it done right the first time. Most people, no matter what their personality type is, would like to accomplish that. It doesn’t take as much time as you think – sometimes as little as 10 seconds. So why don’t more people do that type of thinking more often?
I’ve learned that most people don’t want to be in control of their lives. Organized Christianity teaches people that “God is in control.” Well, ultimately yes. But if God wanted day-to-day, direct decision-making control over our lives, why did He give us free will? Or a brain for that matter? Is it not your choice of control over your life that either honors or dishonors God?
Most people believe that control is a bad thing due to some experience with a “control freak” who they witnessed go berserk when the McDonald’s drive-thru messed up their order. We’ve all had someone in our lives at some time or another who was so adamant about being “in control” that they drove everyone around them nuts.
True control is being able to handle whatever is thrown at you in the way that you want to handle it, while not throwing you too far from your intended path.
I remember learning about Type A and Type B personalities in Psychology 101. The instructor gave us the assignment of evaluating ourselves and announcing in the next class which type we were. When my turn came, I proudly stood and announced myself as “a perfectly controlled Type A.” To which my teacher replied, “Only a true Type A would describe herself as ‘perfect.’”
What I was trying to say, and what I have been trying to achieve and maintain for most of my life, is a balance between my naturally strong drive for success and the all-too-typical “whatever” attitude. I don’t want to be either one of those people who gets to the end of their life and thinks, “I wish I’d tried a little harder,” or, “I wish I’d enjoyed life more.” I simply want to be proud of my accomplishments and able to enjoy them at the same time. So far, the method I’ve found that helps me, or maybe even makes me, strike that balance, is the Strategic Plan.
From that well-thought-out strategic plan, you create your lists of actionable items. I keep many lists and work from most of them throughout the day. Sometimes I have a list of things that simply have to be done. I set aside time to plow through those. Planning my day, week, and month, helps me realize when I’m trying to do too much, and helps me focus on what is really important to me. When I look at the time required to complete a certain project and realize it’s not going to fit within the necessary time frame, I’ve discovered it in time to have the project, or certain aspects of it, assigned to someone else.
My daily list has only the things I should be able to accomplish in that day. I have a “must do” list, and a separate “if I get time today” list. I can relax even on the must-do’s because it’s all under control. Everything that really need to be done will be, and I’ll like have time to do more, but if something comes up I can handle it. Most importantly, I’m not just sitting around waiting for something to happen; I’m moving forward in my life the way I intend. And I’m doing the stuff I planned to do, not whatever someone handed to me when I walked in the door. I am in control. I make my own decisions, and that is very freeing. No one can argue with me as to whether or not I’m doing the right thing, because I have my plan. It’s well-thought-out, prioritized, and moving me closer to my ultimate goals. If it is part of my job to do the things someone else determines for me, that’s okay, too, because that’s in my plan. That sense of control helps me relax and take everything in stride.
I like to use this analogy for balanced project planning. Let’s say that you suddenly got a strong craving for chocolate chip cookies. What would you have to do? You would have to find a recipe, check your pantry for the ingredients, possibly make a trip to the store, assemble the ingredients in the proper order, prepare them properly, and then what? You’d enjoy eating them, right? You wouldn’t say, but I worked so hard at creating them – let’s just leave them on the table and look at them. Or, well, if we’re just going to eat them anyway, why bother making them in the first place? Or, and this is my biggest pet peeve, “you know you can buy them already made at the grocery store, don’t you?”
To me, life is worth getting in there, getting your hands dirty, and making things from scratch. Sure there are plenty of ways to get by, but the rewards are never as delicious as the real deal. Plus, the harder you work for it, the better your recipe, the more you enjoy it in the end.
Now, go bake some awesome chocolate chip cookies.
Here are a couple of tools to help you get on the path to relaxed productivity:
Wake Up and Create the Life You Want: A Guide to Self-Empowerment
Eliminate Clutter and Organize Your Life E-book
Until next time,
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