But hyper-organization can also be a flaw. For example, I will—happily—spend hours reorganizing my ‘to do’ lists. I’ll also never forget the time I spent a full day learning a piece of organizational software that I used for less than three months. I can fritter away more time thinking about how to maximize my day than actually doing anything about it.
In recent months, I’ve been in the habit of trying to identify my “frogs”—those important but non-urgent jobs we all prefer to avoid. Like, say, non-deadline writing. Then I try to “eat” one every morning. (The idea of important but non-urgent jobs comes from Stephen Covey. The memorable image of “eating frogs” comes from Mark Twain by way of the title of an excellent book by productivity guru Brian Tracy.) Unfortunately, I didn’t always succeed.
Somehow, eating frogs had slipped off my menu. It was time for some self-analysis!
On examination, I realized that until about a month ago I had always started my day with “getting organized.” I’d spend a total of thirty minutes working out what I wanted to accomplish that day and then immediately turn my attention to a checklist of daily “accounting” jobs. These tasks ranged from updating my voicemail, to tracking my website stats, to double-checking my bank accounts, and thinning my email. All important tasks—but I was doing them in my precious early-morning hours.
Suddenly, it hit me: I needed a new game plan.
So, without further ado, here are the tweaks that have turned me from a writer who worked too hard and who didn’t get nearly enough done, to someone who is working fewer hours and accomplishing more. I can’t guarantee this will change your life as a PR professional, but I’m certain you can become better organized by adapting these ideas to a system that will work for you.
Step 1: Always celebrate what you have accomplished. At the end of every day, I now write down at least three things I achieved every day—and I keep this list on my hard drive so I can refer to it all the time. Reading it, I always realize that I’ve done a whole lot more than I thought.
Step 2: Always write your “to do” list the day before — not the morning of. I’m slowly trying to move up the time at which I write this list. Currently I tend to do it at 6 pm (or even later!) the day before. I’m now trying to get it done by 4 pm.
Step 3: Do your most important stuff first. Now, instead of beginning with my “accounting” work, I start with my meditation. Then I spend a pomodoro on back exercises. Somehow, despite having severe back pain, I could never fit in these exercises. Now I’m doing them every single damn day!
Step 4: If your first task wasn’t a writing frog, eat one now! After the meditation and back exercises, I spend another pomodoro eating a frog (which, of course, I’d identified the day before.) When I wrote my popular book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better, I always wrote first thing every morning. I can honestly say I would never have finished it otherwise. If you’re writing something important, make that your frog and do it early in the day before clients start phoning.
NB: I generally eat my frog well before 9 am, and certainly before a shower or breakfast.
Step 5: Get on with the rest of your day. Finally, with the frog under my belt, I switch to the job that used to be number 1—my mindless “accounting” work.
Thus, I begin my day—already having accomplished a lot.