Which organizational method works best?

A friend of mine at last night’s Artist’s Way gathering said she was having trouble getting organized and asked for some advice. You know my ears perked up at that. She pulled a few examples out of her bag of various spreadsheet attempts. All had different sortations looking at a mix of times, days, and tasks. She said nothing was working.

And here’s the thing: She’s retired and has a problem many folks face. When you have too much time and lots of stuff you want to do but don’t have to do it’s hard to get motivated and it’s hard to stick to a task that has no deadline.

Here’s the advice I shared.

Write everything down
Take 20 minutes and write down everything that’s knocking around in your head. This includes stuff you have to do (appointments, bills to pay, taxes), and stuff you love to do that may or may not be in your current plans. Then I’d take another 10 minutes to just ponder. What else in this wide world would you like to get done before you die? What do you have a passion for? What sets your heart singing that would be really cool to work on?

Now take a pen and mark anything on the list that’s an “A” priority to you. Something might be an A because it has to get done (taxes!). Something else might be an A because it touches your heart the deepest. When you’ve selected your As, look at the list again for Cs. This is stuff you may have thought about for a long time but somehow it isn’t a top priority now. Mark anything left on the list as a B. this is organizational guru David Allen’s method. I’ve used it for years and I can tell you it works!

Now look at the As on your list and decide which is your A1 priority. What’s A2? What’s A3, and on? Even if you have 10 or 15 As, rank each one.

Figure out the first step
Before you jump in on your A1 priority, decide if it’s something that can be done in a day. If it is, leave it “as is.” This is what you’re going to work on tomorrow. If it’s something more complex, like cleaning out the basement, writing a book, or building a house, break it down into a series of baby steps. What do you want to get done in the long run? What can you get started on this week? And what can go in your planner today?

Get to work
Now you have focus. You’ve chosen your task with intent. And because the other many tasks you’d like to do are safely written on a list, you can stop thinking about them and focus on your A1 priority. When A1 is done, celebrate! Then move to A2. Then to A3.

If you get through your As and still have energy, rank your Bs and start down that list. And please know that Cs rarely get done and may need to be moved to a “someday” list. You’re not saying you’ll never do them – they just aren’t a priority now.

I find this method helpful when I’m not busy at all – and when I’m super busy with a long list of stuff that feels heavy. Choosing one thing off the stack that I have my heart set on (even if its taxes!) is a much lighter and more manageable place to be. And if you’re not busy, focusing on your A1 priority gives you a sense of clarity and what feels like a deadline.

The trick is that your list and your priorities can change daily – so you still have to think a bit each morning. When you wake up and are ready to work, you want to look at the list again and decide: “Is this still my A1 priority?” And the cool thing? Sometimes completely random stuff bumps A1 off till later. But you’ve still made a decision about the most important thing to get done. Trust yourself that you’ll get back to it.

I hope this helps. Happy organizing!

We’re still the frozen north up here in Maine, but the sun is warming!

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