Tax day came and went and nothing could have stopped that train from coming. Each year I feel like I get a little better a dealing with this frenzied week but there is still a lot to figure out. The major lesson I've learned is that you have to stay organized and you have to have a system. Nothing like finishing my taxes motivates me more to organize everything else in my life.
The system I subscribe to is described best in the book entitled "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. I would recommend reading it as opposed to listening to the audio book because you'll want to use it as a reference guide after you're finished reading it. The following steps will greatly organize your life so that you're only taking one thing on at a time versus trying to do it all at once.
Create an inbox
Here is the long and short of the idea. When some "thing" comes into your life whether it be a piece of paper, a bill, a task, or a keep sake; this goes in your "inbox". I have both a digital and physical inbox. My physical inbox tends to be paper work, instruction manuals and keep sakes. My digital inbox is mostly comprised of tasks, ideas and plans. This info graphic will give you a good idea for what I'm talking about.
What is this?
Whatever "thing" presents itself in your life it goes directly into your digital or physical inbox. When something comes into your inbox you have to ask, what the heck is this? Once you figure that out, you have a couple of options for what you do next.
Is it actionable?
No - Reference, Someday Maybe, Trash
If there's nothing you can do about it then it may be a reference item, something you hold onto for later or it's garbage. Reference items are important documents like tax records, bank statements, manuals, insurance policies, medical records, etc. For some of these reference items you may want to categorize them by year. For most things of importance, keep 3 years minimum. Other things you may want to keep longer or for less time. Something you would hold onto for a while might be a keepsake; which is fine to hold onto as long as you have dedicated space for it. Lastly, trash is anything you don't use or need and realistically won't ever use. Even if it's functional, put it in a garage sale or take it down to the goodwill; but get rid of it. I am the all time worst at this. (My grandpa was a pack rat; I got it from him.)
Yes - Do it, Delegate it, Defer it
If there is something actionable about it and the item takes less than 2 minutes to complete, it goes into a "Do It" folder. This would be answering an email, putting something away, etc. Just really short stuff.
If the "thing" takes longer than 2 minutes you then have the option of delegating it or deferring it as a multi-step project. To determine if delegation is appropriate, you need to decide whether it is a task that only you can do or not. If it's some task that you find yourself doing often in a similar way then it's probably best to create a system and have someone else do it. (This works best if you have employees under your supervision or children (For chores; clearly!)). Once the task is on someone else's plate you just wait for the due date and check up with them. For a lot of small business owners or parents it's difficult to have the patience to allow others to complete tasks for you; especially, when you think the task would be done better if you did it. Don't fall into that trap! In the long run you'll only end up with employees or children that can't do anything for themselves. But empower them to be as capable as you and they will become your right hand. I generally default to the position of delegating. It took some getting used to but now much more gets done simply by me butting out.
If the task can't be delegated and it's truly something only you can do because it's more dangerous or requires some sort of certification or there is literally no one else then you must defer it to a time where you've blocked out and scheduled enough time to complete the task. Until you have found and empowered the right people, who have captured your vision, you'll find yourself wearing a lot of hats and completing fewer tasks than you had hoped. When it is a project that's totally all you, then you'll want to divide it into smaller tasks to be completed at either a specific date or just to be completed when you have time.
I really like using the to-do list app Wunderlist because it allows you to set up lists, tasks and sub-tasks. The bonus is that you can set up due dates, reminders and write notes about the task so that when you have a stroke of genius you can quickly write down your initial thoughts and then pick up where you left off when you have more time to devote to the project. The older I get the more boring my app collection gets. I'm finding the more "things" that complicate my life the more I seek out apps that can do the heavily lifting of storing thoughts and objectives. As a result I don't really think about much other than what's in front of me and then a reminder comes along to tell me to start thinking about something else. It's a little scary to be that reliant on technology but, if it means I can free up my mind to focus on what's in front of it, I'll take it!
Nothing can quite take the place of a good old fashioned filing cabinet. I try to organize my filing cabinet in terms of home vs work (separate them if you can), actionable vs. reference, and filed-by-year. So, I try to have three distinct drawers. Home/Work - Actionable, Home/Work - Reference and Home/Work - Filed-by-Year. I also make folders for literally everything. I have a huge box full of manilla folders and when I take something from my inbox, if it doesn't already have a folder that it can go into, I'll create a new folder. I'm talkin' folders for days! I don't think you can have too many folders.
Once you've completed the task you can check it off, file it away or toss out the dross. If you have to check on something for reference, now you know where it is. If you have some task that needs done you can do it, delegate it or defer it.
I probably read Getting Things Done a good year and a half before it clicked with me. I think I just got to the point where everything was all too much to handle and I somehow reached back into the mental reservoir and it all made sense. I hope you can find this useful as well in organizing your life!
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