Organizing the long list

If you did the exercises in my post about “Getting Started”, you brainstormed a long list of everything you have to get done, added big projects, and honestly thought about what might be missing in your life. That’s great. And here’s the bad news: You can’t get it all done.

As my favorite organizational guru David Allen famously says,

You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

So now you have to:

  1. Figure out where to get more time
  2. Prioritize the big list to decide what you are going to work on
  3. Make some cuts

How do I get more time?
Good question! We all have 24 hours a day to sleep, work, eat, and play. In my Getting Started blog, I suggested doing a time audit to look at how you currently spend your time. Pull out that sheet again and decide what you can cut. Remember: You can do anything – but you can’t do everything.

How much time do you spend on Facebook? Reading blogs? 🙂 Surfing the web? Watching TV (which includes Netflix, etc.)? Reading magazines? Reading newspapers and epapers? Shopping? Going to movies? Going out to dinner? Hanging out with people you don’t particularly enjoy… ? Now look again at your list of what you have to get done and at the list of things you want to get done before you die. And look at your “balance” list of things you need to do to feel good and balanced.

How are you spending time now that doesn’t show up on your lists of what you want and need to get done?
If spending time with family is tops on your obit list and balance list, and you spend time with your family cooking dinners, going to movies, or watching TV, then don’t cut those. But if doing any or all of those isn’t adding to your long-term goals, then cut them – at least for now.

When I did the Obit exercise about 25 years ago, tops on the list for me was to write a book. I love books; they have totally shaped how I think and who I am, and I wanted to contribute to the greater pool of books. The problem was I had two little kids at home and worked a demanding job with a long commute into Boston. Still… I wanted to write a book. So I cut TV, going out to movies, and reading magazines – those were easy for me. But I also cut reading novels which was killer. My substitute was to do research at night for the novel, so I was still reading, but now I was reading with a specific focus. The book took a LONG time to finish, but I did it and love that I finished. After I finished, I went back to reading novels again at night.

Prioritize your list
Now you’ve found some time, but you still can’t do everything so you have to prioritize. There are a number of ways to think about and get your list into priority order. And you need to mark things so you don’t think about them twice. You can use letters (A, B or C priorities), numbers, colors/highlighters, stars… Mark up your big list in a way that works for you and don’t worry about how messy it’s getting. The big list is going to go away soon.

Look for deadlines
When I prioritize, I look first at deadlines – what’s due and on what date. If something isn’t due for awhile, is there an intermediate task I need to do to get it done on time? This will apply specifically to some of the larger tasks on your Obit list.

Break larger projects into smaller tasks
If you want to save money, learn a language, or star in a Broadway show, you need to think in smaller, baby steps. “In order to save $1000 by the end of the year, I need to save $2.74 today.” So save $2.74 goes on the list for today. If you want to learn a language, you need to decide which one. Then you need to buy a book or find a class or on-line source to teach you.

Set deadlines
Deadlines help! If you want to star in a Broadway show, what can you do today to move toward that goal? Find an acting class? Start voice lessons? Go to a Broadway show to be inspired? Think baby steps but start moving in a direction.

Look for commitments
After looking for deadlines, I look for commitments. Did you tell someone you’d have something to them by a specific date? Then it’s a priority. The same is true if someone is waiting for you to finish something before they can start.

Look at financial impact
I also look at the financial impact of doing something or not doing something. This pertains to work specifically. If you need billable hours and one of the things on your list is to finish a project for a client, then that task becomes a top priority. Paying bills or taxes on time also has financial implications.

Don’t minimize the work you love
As you prioritize, don’t short-shrift the things you love. It’s so easy to put everything ahead of “write a novel” when there is no set deadline, no commitment to anyone, and no definite financial impact. But if writing a book is vital to you like it was to me, then taking the first baby step is a top priority.

Whew! That was a lot of work and a lot of thinking. Nice job! In my next post, I’ll talk about taking your newly prioritized list and getting it into a workable format that starts to create a bit of zen in your life. Till then, enjoy these crazy Maine flowers.
Tracy's weird flower




One thought on “Organizing the long list

  1. If you begin a “project” identify the end result – break it down into its parts. When you have identified a part work on achieving that part. Forget about the ultimate goal which will only distract you until you have successfully achieved the goal of this “part”.

    Don’t be too anxious to reach the ultimate goal as it will only distract you. Example: When training for a marathon build up your distance until you have completed 6 miles-10 miles etc. Don’t start out running 26 miles or you will lose enthusiasm. Once you have run 6 miles successfully then set a goal for 10 miles etc.


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