Clear your mind and get organized with this 9-part to do system
The goal of task management is to help you move from a state of being completely overwhelmed to one where you feel in control and organized. This applies to both your personal and professional life. Since your personal and professional lives are ever-connected you should be aware that an unstructured personal life may result in decreased productivity at work (oh no!).
Setting up an automated flow that provides you peace of mind and space to concentrate on the things that truly matter is the aim of efficient task management.
My 9-part system for task management
Over the course of the past 10 years I’ve carefully crafted a system consisting of 9 parts to tackle tasks every day. My system is heavily influenced by authors David Allen and James Clear.
It’s important to understand and accept it will take some time to get used tonew systems of any kind. And changes are it may require a few iterations before you're totally comfortable and efficient. For optimal effectiveness make sure to customize this system to your preferences.
1 — Don’t rely on your brain
The first thing you need to do is stop depending on your brain to remember and store knowledge. Instead put your attention on quickly dumping all the information to a so-called second brain. Whether it’s a notebook, a to-do app or something else. Anything can function as your second brain. Transfer knowledge to Brain 2 (a tool) so that Brain 1 (your actual brain) can focus on its main task.
I fully recommended setting up automated and quick procedures to accomplish this. Create shortcuts for things like adding new tasks to your to-do app or keep a notebook and pen close at hand. Lower any thresholds and make it super easy.
2 — Create useful habits
Habits are an effective method for speeding up and simplifying tasks. Try incorporating routines like brain dumps, planning ahead, or crossing things off to create a system that runs smoothly. Because a habit will eventually feel effortless, you will be able to refocus on the important tasks.
💡 You don't think about taking a shower, instead your mind can drift to other ideas, this is where the magic happens.
If you form habits of being organized you don't have to think about it anymore.
3 — Automate your (digital) life
Find as many repetitive and tedious tasks as you can that could be automated in your daily life. You accomplish tasks more quickly and easily with the aid of numerous tools, like Keyboard Maestro and Raycast. Instead of wasting time you’ll never get back on the boring and repetitive tasks,spend your time learning how to use these tools effectively.
You can also get extensions for tools like Gmail or use Zapier for automation. A strong extensible to-do management app I prefer to use is Todoist, and includes a ton of automation for free.
4 — Use the right tools
Find a tool that works for you. And by tool I’m not just talking about a software application. Start by creating a simple list of things you'd like your tool to have, here are my key requirements:
Ability to undo
Easy to use and intuitive
Cross-Platform and sync
Don't write off analog tools right away, they could be the perfect tool for you. Especially with a template like this from author Michael Hyatt. This template gives you a quick overview of all the things you'd like to achieve today. Simply repeat this template each day and you’ll have structured way of ticking off tasks.
5 — Look into the future and plan ahead
You can feel more at peace if you plan ahead. Even though it's one of the most difficult things to perform well, it's better to attempt and fail than to never try at all. It can intimidating at first, and you'll probably make a lot of mistakes but you'll become better with practice.
Work towards being able to create a Master List that includes all the tasks in your life. The best method to achieve this is to start from the bottom up. Plan your day a few times, then include the next day, then look at your week, include a month and eventually compose a fully Master List.
6 — Choose and prioritize your tasks
Proper planning all boils down to choosing and prioritizing. It’s about when do you do things, and when DON'T you do things.
💡 When you're doing things, you're saying no to other things.
But sometimes that’s easier said than done. You have to choose what matters to you, that's planning. But how do you choose what matters to you? Here are some questions you can take into consideration:
- What are my personal goals?
- What are my professional goals?
- Where do I want to grow?
- Are there deadlines? Should there be?
If you keep postponing certain tasks, you can ask General Dwight Eisenhower for help. Dwight (I can call him Dwight) developed the Eisenhower Matrix to help prevent procrastination and do things quicker. Put your tasks in any of these quadrants to help yourself choose what to do, and when.
How much time do I need?
The amount of time it’ll take for you to complete tasks can be extremely difficult to estimate, but experience will educate you. As you work more you get a better sense of who you are and how much time you require for various jobs. Start making educated guesses for yourself, and keep improving.
Don't worry about change. Things will happen and they *will* mess up your whole plan. That's just life. Your system should be flexible enough to adjust for these things and just "pick things up later". Be sure to focus on "what is important to me NOW" and avoid distraction from colleagues, email, notifications, etc.
Define one MIT every day
No, I’m not talking about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when I’m talking about MIT. Your daily MIT is your Most Important Task. Be sure to plan at least one task that will make you feel happy that you've completed and you'll start your day on a good note.
7 — Review your system and progress
Reviewing is a great opportunity to learn, feel good and improve. I suggest adding two reviews moments; one daily review and one weekly review.
At the end of the day, plan about 10 minutes to review your to-do list in hindsight. Ask questions like:
- What did I do?
- What should I re-plan?
- What can I improve?
- How were my estimates?
On your Sunday or early Monday morning, grab yourself a coffee or tea and review the big picture. Ask questions like:
- What are things that happened last week?
- What'll happen next week?
- Should I prepare for something?
- Am I working towards my goals?
8. — Utilize the 1-2-3 strategy
The 1-2-3 strategy makes it easy to plan each day with a simple set of to-dos that'll give you the feeling of accomplishment, and ensure that you learn to prioritize well. Any given day you focus on completing:
1 big mission
2 medium tasks
3 small tasks
9 — Avoid multitasking at any cost
Plenty of research we get less done if we take on many things at the same time. Learning to focus on onething is what'll make you productive and efficient. Learn the power of a Deep Work session and try to create as many as you can.
Break up big tasks to smaller tasks
Learn to break up bigger tasks to smaller tasks so you can check off more, smaller and managable things. This allows you to be less overwhelmed and get a better grasp on estimates. Think of it like this: what do you think is easier to estimate: "Design a website" or "Design a website footer". Exactly!
Batch types of work together
Rather than having many scattered types of tasks on your day, I’d advise you to group similar tasks. This will put your mind into one state and keep a flow going. Grouping can be done based on:
There you have it: a system of 9 components to be the most productive and efficient as you ever will be. Remember to be flexible and keep tweaking this whole system to your personal preferences for maximum effectiveness.
Quick tip: How to write a good task
The best ingredients of a good task are like this:
Bonus: 3 must read books on task management and productivity
If you’d like to pick up some more reading on the subject, be sure to check out the following 3 books:
Free to Focus - Michael S. Hyatt
Amazing book that really focuses on giving you practical tools. Less reading, more doing and using.
Atomic Habits - James Clear
No brainer, but it really gives you the basic understanding required to be really effective in your life.
Getting Things Done - David Allen
The original in our industry, read it to get advice from the creator of the GTD system.