This post is sponsored by Visa Business. For more information, please see the end of this article.
It seems that the fast-paced busyness of modern life has everyone clamoring for organization. An entire industry has spawned to help us meet our organizational needs – to get it all done and stay sane.
As small business owners we wear so many different hats, that the sheer organization of tasks can become a job in itself. Donning the additional hat of Organizer can leach an incredible amount of precious time, focus and energy, leaving you with inadequate time to actually accomplish the mountain of tasks you have “organized” for yourself to do.
So what’s the solution? Surely organization is an important facet of any successful business venture. Yet the process of organization is often disproportionally time-consuming.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with an organizational approach focused less on doing more things and more on doing important things well. I realized I was spending so much time trying to organize my many disparate goals that my compulsion to be organized was keeping me from getting important work done.
In my recent post “Be Your Best Self In Business” I described a task triage system that I use to organize my weekly to-dos. The tips I’m sharing today build on that system and focus on the organization of the mind.
Organize Your Business Around What Matters
There are 3 imperatives in my organizational approach. They are simple and seemingly obvious. The challenge is to follow them consistently. When I manage to do so, the result is a greater sense of calm, fulfillment and accomplishment.
1. Schedule What You Tend to Avoid
Doing the urgent at the expense of the important is practically a truism of our times. We know we should make time for the important things. For most of us, the desire to make time for the important things is what drives us to invest in one organizational system after another in a continual search for the holy grail of ordered days and efficient methodologies.
The thing is, doing what’s important is very simple. You don’t need anything you don’t already have to make this happen. As Jose Ortega Y Gasset famously said, “Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.” For many of us, a reflection on what we pay attention to reveals discrepancies between our goals and the seemingly urgent tasks that cram our days.
Who we want to become — and the possibility of actually arriving there often lies in doing those things that we find daunting, the things we never quite get around to. It’s what Stephen Pressfield calls “Resistance.” It’s the pinnacle of procrastination and self-sabotage. But most importantly, it can be simply and immediately remedied by a practice of scheduling regular times (daily, weekly, twice weekly, whatever works for you) dedicated to the task you most like to avoid.
For many of us, the avoided element is sales and marketing and all the beefy, revenue-driving work that our business growth depends on. Or perhaps it is due diligence. Or research. Or bookkeeping. Whatever it is for you, by setting aside a regular time slot in your week exclusively for this well-intended but never executed work, you take a big step in unpacking the fear surrounding it.
You may even realize just how little momentum you’ve generated, when you arrive at the scheduled time slot and have nothing in the works. In that case, don’t indulge the impulse to move on to something else. Write out 5 tasks, however minor or preliminary, that will take you in the right direction, and use the time allotted to complete them. With time, you will begin to cultivate ideas and solutions, which in turn will increase your competency in the weak area.
2. Do One Thing at a Time
The key here is not only doing one thing at a time, but in bringing your full faculties to the task at hand. It’s about leveraging your personal power to accomplish something significant. It’s about FOCUS.
I know it seems obvious, but in my experience as a business owner/household CEO, this idea came as the biggest organizational epiphany of all.
It didn’t come easily because, like many of you, my numerous roles force me to multitask. I’ve become good at it, and sometimes it feels like the only way I can manage. This is what I call the ‘Multitasking Trap.’ There is an alluring illusion of accomplishment and control in doing several things at once. The problem is, the work suffers; and more importantly, things get so frenzied that I no longer enjoy my work.
There is a time and a place for multitasking, like cleaning the house while I listen to an audio book, or answering emails while I wait at the dog groomer’s. But I have found that, for the core work of my business, multitasking hurts more than it helps.
3. List Less, Do More
I’m not saying there’s no place in your business for lists. Lists are an excellent way of taking a wide-lens view of things, of grappling with the overall picture. But lists are anathema to the act of doing. Especially heinous, are those to-do lists that we create and carry in our minds.
With so many effective and easily accessible organizational tools, software and programs out there, is mental list-keeping really a good use of your own precious cranial real estate? It is easy to trick ourselves into thinking that by keeping mental lists, we are actively “working” on those tasks at all times; when, in fact, all we’re really doing is “worrying” about those tasks at all times and draining our potential energy for accomplishing them.
Instead of working from standard to-do lists I propose the following: Take some time to reflect on the types or categories of time that make up your days. For instance, at what time of day are you most creative/inspired/efficient? What days or times of day are you most likely to have a lengthy, uninterrupted block of time? Do you have very short windows of highly focused time or longer windows of more distracted time? Do you have small increments of time spent waiting which aren’t being capitalized on?
With these questions in mind, make a time slot inventory for yourself documenting approximately how many windows of each type of time you can expect to have in a given workweek. Then pick the one or two of these time allotments and designate them for the task(s) you avoid. Put them in your calendar and give them the priority you would give to a meeting with a potential investor. These are now the immutable pillars of your workweek going forward.
At the beginning of each workweek, update your to-do list, making sure it is informed by your business values and priorities (as opposed to loudness and urgency). Make sure the items on your list consist of only one task each; if a given task can be broken into three discrete parts, do so.
Then write each of these tasks on a separate Post-It and place them in the appropriate quadrant of your Task Triage poster board, and forget about them. Seriously. Don’t hang on. They will be there tomorrow right where you left them. If you can reign yourself in from the urge to mull over to-do’s incessantly, when the time comes that you can actually do something about them, you will do so with unparalleled focus, energy and creativity.
During the week, when you have time to work on your business, resist the urge to revisit or (God forbid!) recompose your to-do list or to waste time assessing where you are in the big picture of your week. This kind of big picture assessment, while important, should be limited to periodically scheduled sessions (ideally once a month or once a quarter). Instead, go straight to your poster board and grab the task that is best-suited to the time slot you have ahead of you and your energy in that moment. And do it. Right then. From start to finish. When that task is complete, go on to another.
As you approach the end of your week, check in once more with your list and reconcile it to what you have accomplished thus far. I think you will be surprised to find that in letting go of the obsessive urge to track progress or check and re-check lists that you reached unparalleled productivity.
While this organizational system has already been transformative for me, it is very much still a work in progress. I would love to hear your reactions and suggestions in the comments!
I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.
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