How I get things done SeriesI’ve been asked many times how it is that I get all the things that I do done. Let me tell you a secret:

It isn’t easy.

I have a “productivity toolbox.” It’s a set of tools, theories,  and techniques I use that allow me to keep track of my current projects, client work, ideas for future projects, and general obligations.

It’s important to note that what works well for me may not necessarily work well for someone else. Productivity systems are really personal. I’ve found that I’ve married together several different systems to find something that works really well for me. In this series of posts, I will talk about how I organize my life so that I’m the most productive, what methods I find helpful, and what tools I use in order to track my obligations. Before I get into all of that, I think it will be rather helpful to first discuss what all needs to be coordinated so that I can be as productive as possible.

All of the pieces of a well-oiled productivity system

When thinking about how to put together a system that allows me to get things done in the most efficient way possible, it’s necessary first to discuss what sorts of things I need to track. As a freelancer and entrepreneur, I need to track all of my different projects. I need to keep track of my clients. I need to track my individual tasks and deadlines. But those aren’t the only things that I need to track. Here’s a rundown of what needs to be managed.

Roles

When talking about productivity, it’s really important to first define the different roles I play/different sectors of my life. Doing so helps me maintain balance in my projects, particularly since I’m mostly working from a home office. It is all too easy to focus only on client work and marketing while turning my back on creative projects and educational work. Here’s a quick list of the roles/life-sectors involved in my life:

  • Career
  • Community
  • Creative Expression
  • Education
  • Family
  • Finances
  • Friends
  • Fun
  • Health
  • Home
  • Parenting
  • Romance
  • Spiritual

Your list may look different depending upon what roles you have in your life. If you don’t have children, you won’t need to track your parenting goals – but you may want to add a “mentoring” category. Take a moment and think about the various roles you have in your own life and jot down your list.

Goals

I need to track my various goals. I always set a few goals in each life-sector. Rather than waiting for the new year, I do my goal-setting quarterly. It’s important that I have a system that allows me to link my projects to my goals so that I can remain on track for success.

Projects

Some things that I need to do take more than one step. These are my projects. I like to link my projects to goals as much as is possible. I’ll talk more about that later, but for now it’s important to note that I need to be able to do this in my productivity system.

Tasks

Naturally, I need to keep track of all those “to-dos” associated with all areas of my life. This list can get quite extensive, so my system needs to be robust enough to keep track of it all and keep it all organized while still being simple enough to be easy to maintain.

Contacts and Clients

When I need a phone number, an address, or an email, it’s really important that I can find it easily. I like to keep this information with the rest of my information. Who wants to look 5 different places for the information that is needed?

Calendar

I need a way to track all of my time-bound obligations and deadlines. From meetings to blog tours to pattern testing deadlines, if it has a date and/or a time, it goes into the calendar.

Time-tracking

I need to be able to keep track of how much time I spend on client work, but I also like to keep track of how long different tasks take so that I know what I can accomplish in limited amounts of time. I also like to perform a time audit every couple of months to ensure my time spent working is as productive as possible.

Ideas, books to read, and other lists

I have a lot of ideas, all the time. I always come across books and articles to read, events to sign up for, attractions to visit, things I want to purchase, etc. I need a way to track all of these lists so that I don’t lose a single precious idea or forget about that new book I really wanted to check out.

An archive of past projects and lessons learned

I like to keep an archive of things I’ve worked on with notes. Was the client happy with the project? Was I happy with the project? What could I have done better? Do I have ideas for future projects based on what I did? How can I talk about what I did? When should I check back in? How did the project come to be? Etc. I also like to keep all my research and interview notes.

Checklists and routine schedule templates

It’s good to keep checklists and routine schedule templates available. For example, every day, I have to work on social media. Checklists for doing so help me to remember what I’ve done and what I’ve needed to be done. Menu planning helps so that I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner. Cleaning checklists help when I need to delegate responsibilities.

More Considerations

Whatever system I use has to be flexible. I have two children under 3 and a teenager. Working at home means that things can change at the speed of life. Knowing that something takes 5 minutes vs 45 minutes means that I can work on the 5 minute task while kids are playing and save the 45 minute task for when they nap. When I share my system with you, you will see why it works well for me. I wear a lot of different hats, as you can see from this website, and I need to be able to track a lot of different areas of my life.

In Part I, I talk about the theories I put to use when using my system. In Part II, I will talk about the system I use for tracking my obligations, and in Part III, I will talk about how I put my plans for action into action.

I started the system while I was a graduate student, and I just added in more nuanced ways of keeping track of things as I went in order to meet my needs. I can’t wait to share how I get things done with you over the course of these posts. How do you get things done? Post your thoughts in the comments.

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