12 steps to getting things done


Am I the only one that manages to sail straight past the default diary tasks and on to the fun stuff?

Why is it that no matter how good our intentions are, how good our planning is, how good our stopwatches are, and how well we can isolate ourselves from distraction (like logging out of Facebook and Twitter or cleaning our desk for just a little bit too long)… we still can’t get some things done?

How is it that people, like Richard Branson, can build over 300 companies in 40 years, and even send people on a Galactic mission to outer space but we still feel like we can’t get things done?

How is it that many businessmen and women can build businesses that they can step away from – even go away on holidays for a month to somewhere that requires a passport – and leave people behind to do the work? How did they afford that? Did they borrow money first?

As far as all the textbooks go, I’ve been doing a lot of things right. I start by listing all my tasks each Sunday night, then prioritising them using Brian Tracy’s method of A, B, C, D and E. Then I prioritise all the As from 1 to 10, and so on (too often up to about 28!) I’m on my way…

Some of the most rewarding projects that I’ve ever dreamt of are still up there in the dream. They haven’t become reality. Or I’ve done what I’m doing now, documenting it as an audio, but that’s where it stays. How is it that I’m getting this task done? Is it because this is another form of procrastination? Is it because it’s easier to talk than to write? Is it because I’m riding my bike to work and I’ve got some free time where I’m isolated with no other distractions?

Knuckling down and getting on with my most important task – the “MIT” – is where I sometimes seem to fail. Maybe it’s just because I don’t make the best use of my time. I don’t always group my tasks together. As a business owner, I have the freedom and luxury of working when I want and I get to work when I want. I used to work from home. I’m not sure how many hours of work I actually use to get done, but there was peace and quiet, and a few hours of high priority task completion.

But, was it as productive as if I was at the office? Some Mondays, at the office, I used to isolate myself and power through a huge amount of work, with both productivity and efficiency. Perhaps this is the ticket.

On those days where distraction wears a bright shiny object, do you find yourself wishing that you had a school teacher come and grab you by the ear, and take you off to an isolated desk in the middle of a room? No internet, no distractions, just your tasks and the hours to complete it stretching ahead.

The times that I do find myself free to focus, without distraction, it’s often late at night when everybody in the household is in bed. Alternatively, I get up at 5.11am and try to achieve something before 6.45am, when our children wake and any attempt at focused effort dwindles with the interruption of sticky fingers and morning television.

So, what’s the solution that may work for me, and perhaps for you too?  I think I’ve discovered it…

1. Start with Why

Identify why you are doing this [task, project, dinner date] in the first place. What’s the goal, reward, outcome, achievement? Get clear on this, write it down, create a vision board and a set of affirmations.

2. Quiet Time

identify a Quiet Time [QT] in your day/night. If you don’t have a QT, create one. If you simply can’t find time in your schedule to make one, go back to #1 and start over.

3. Write a list

Nothing beats hand-eye co-ordination and pen on paper. You’ll get your ideas down faster than typing like ET on your mobile device.  Use a lined pad, or create a To Do List pad like we did for our clients. See our My To Do List here.

4. Prioritise

Now, prioritise your list using the Brian Tracy method.

5. First things first

If you are like me, you’ll still sail past some of the big elephants and go for the easy or urgent tasks. Stephen Covey wrote about this in 1994, and created the Urgent / Important matrix. Print this out and put it up on your wall, or screensaver, or mobile device – where ever you stare when you want to do something easy, but low priority [for you].

6. Put your own mask on first

Anybody who has flown in a commercial plane would know that parents are told to fit their own masks first in the case of an emergency. My mentor, Peleg Top used this phrase when asked how to deal with client urgencies getting in the way of marketing and self-promotion activities. Block the time into your Default Diary [the tasks that must get done in order to survive and thrive] and do it.

7. Delegate

Capitalise on your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. If you hate doing a particular task then outsource it or give it to somebody else in your team to do. If you run a team, then you probably have the power to make it somebody’s KPI.

8. 9-5pm is a myth

Don’t subscribe to the myth that you must work from 9-5pm in order to get your work done and be appreciated/promoted. Or that we need just 8 hours per day to achieve our objectives. We all work really long hours, but why not break it up into focused, energetic sessions? If you’re sitting around shuffling papers, reading emails, social networking or disturbing others just to get to knock-off time, then find something useful to do or go home, go for a run, sit in the sun or offer to help somebody else. Take some time out and pick up where you left off later. The fear most employees have is that if they finish their work early and announce it to their leaders then they’ll just get lumped with more work. Instead, they stretch out their tasks to fill their day, developing the bad habit of working slowly [and probably overcharging a client for the number of hours it took to perform that task].

9. Get away

Anybody who works from home and has a young family knows how hard it can be at times to concentrate in the home office. Equally so in a busy, open plan office. Its not an excuse, you are just not being resourceful. Tony Robbins once said that we blame a lack of resources for our failures, when it's actually a lack of resourcefulness. If you need quiet time, go find somewhere quiet. Make a breakfast date at a beautiful, inspiring hotel. Make it a ritual and do it every week. Others will get used to it, and even welcome it once you begin to show reward for the effort.

10. [Dis]connect

Get further away. We all know that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that we tend to appreciate what we have when we don’t have it. I traveled to the US twice last year, for personal and business development, and boy was the isolation and distance invaluable. I felt inspired to try harder, to focus and to create more opportunity for myself and my family. Those trips to LA and Phoenix were definitely turning points in my life. 

11. Productivity isn’t efficiency

Make sure that your tasks are even needed in the first place. What outcome will the task achieve and what if it doesn’t get done at all? Shifting 100 bricks from A to B in a world record time may well be very efficient, but was it productive? Did the bricks need to be moved? Did that long email need to be written? Did the book shelf really need all the magazines reordered by date, again?

12. Beware the email quicksand

Don’t get stuck in email for half the day, only checking it twice daily, at 11am and 4pm. Turn off inbox notifications and minimise email client. Email is the single biggest anti-productive mechanism under the sun.

If you suffer from device addiction then this book will work wonders–How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. Let me ask you this, do you sit at the dinner table, with friends, and check your phone? What does that say about your respect for the others at the table?

In closing, I should now admit that I originally wrote this article just for me. Like a blog or personal diary entry, I find that writing about my challenges often brings clarity – as indeed this one has. Therefore, I thought you may find value in it, too.

What works for you?

As always, I would love to know what you think and how you tackle these challenges.