You shouldn’t have to add “Fight To-do System” to your to-do list.
Planning your workday should be simple and stress-relieving… not inducing.
After all, when your manager asks for an update on your work, you can’t just say, “I finally got my contexts and to-do list in order! Let the real work begin!”
Probably not going to fly well.
I’m going to show you two different systems for managing your workday, making sure you get the essentials done even in a distracted environment, and ultimately go home feeling more confident in your contribution today.
THE PROBLEM WITH MOST PRODUCTIVITY SYSTEMS
When I teach systems, I find it VERY important to also teach why the system you have now may not be giving you the results you want.
Let’s start by addressing the problem. I’m sure you’ve already tried a few systems to no avail. You’ve probably even blamed yourself for not sticking to those damn systems.
Now with any new system, you often just have to buckle down and try it for a week or so to see if it vibes. However, there’s something to be said about a productivity system that just wasn’t meant for it’s environment.
Most productivity systems are created by entrepreneurs, not employees
As far as systems go, each one of these tools & systems work.
You may exacerbatedly ask “Then why doesn’t X-SYSTEM work for me right now?”
The truth is simple:
Not every system is meant to survive every environment.
Think about this. A car is an intricate, yet incredibly powerful system. Want to take a road trip to the next state in 1/10 of the time it would take you to walk there? Take a car.
Similar to how a productivity system will help you get work done in 1/10 of the time, right?
A car is an awesome system.
Now… try driving it up a mountain range to get to the top of a mountain as quickly as possible. How far would you get?
“I blame myself for not having enough discipline to get up there!”
Same car… same system… different ENVIRONMENT.
Here’s the thing: Just as most cars are tested on tough roads, dirt roads, winding roads, and ultimately just roads, most productivity systems are also developed by entrepreneurs and tested in an entrepreneurial workflow, rather than an employees. *
The most common advice given in productivity is “Don’t ever let the urgent overshadow the important”. It’s great advice to be sure — it’s just that entrepreneurs and employees must use different STRATEGIES to get there.
The truth is, when compared to entrepreneurs, freelancers, and work-from-home employees, employees have two truths working against them:
- Your choice of workflow comes from your manager, not you.
- Urgency, not importance, rules the workplace.
#1 means that planning your day hour-by-hour is a recipe for failure. By definition, the manager has a higher level view than you do and so will change your priorities as the department requires. Rather than mope at this fact, let’s embrace it into our system.
#2 means that as important as Most Important Tasks are in your day, you’re GOING to have days where you couldn’t finish your 3 MITs only because there was something more URGENT to do.
Now these two points sound like bad points for an employee. But in fact, the best strategy is to just accept the rules of the environment and build a car to traverse it.
TWO SYSTEMS BUILT FOR EMPLOYEES
Currently, there is an endless number of systems that would work for employees. However, you’re here to quickly pick up a system to test it out for your urgent need, so we’ll keep it simple for now.
The systems are:
- The Master Your Effectiveness Now Template
- The Focused To-Do List
The Master Your Effectiveness Now Template
The ‘Master Your Effectiveness Now’ template is a tool I created a while back, inspired by Tim Ferriss’s post on “”Productivity” Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)”.
I suggest you go over it, but I’ll give you a brief summary. Essentially, you start by focusing on the top 5 things that are really draining you EMOTIONALLY. Eight out of ten times, the reason you’re not feeling productive is because you have a subconscious emotional need that you’re not addressing. (The other two times are because of physical or spiritual energy needs, like sleep, vacation, or a hobby. **)
I found it very difficult to implement his advice regularly. Not because it’s ineffective, but because there were barriers to using it — I’d have to go to his website, scroll down to the steps, take out a piece of paper, and start writing according to his system.
Worse, I’d have to *gasp* MEMORIZE it.
And the worst way to change your behavior is to expect you’ll just REMEMBER the right thing at the right time
That’s why I created this template to implement his system. It’s great for employees, because it will ensure you’re focusing on at least ONE task that’s moving you forward.
The Focused Short List
This is my most common go-to solution, which I learned from Earl Nightengale’s Lead the Field. Granted, it assumes you have a list of to-do’s already laid out or some system. That said, don’t let the absence of a to-do list deter you from getting started. Go ahead and try it.
The system is simple:
- Before you leave from work for the day (or right now, if you’re in the middle of the day), take a piece of paper and fold it in half 3 times.
We’re going to write tomorrow’s short to-do list on it — we purposefully make the paper this small so you can’t write an infinite number of tasks like you could on a digital to-do list.
Remember this well: Long lists don’t get done.
- On the left-hand side, draw 6 boxes.
- Next to each box, write down a task that either MUST get done tomorrow, or you would WANT to get done tomorrow (i.e. it will make your work easier, it will get you ahead in your career, it will be fun to do, etc.)
I have a special to-do list system that I NEVER work directly off of. Instead, the list is in priority order (Urgent Now, Most Important Tasks, tasks for the week, etc.) and I take smaller lists like these off of it to induce focus.
Again: Because long lists don’t get done.
- Number the boxes from 1 to 6 in order of how you will complete them.
My list today.
- Leave it at your desk in front of your monitor when you leave for the day.
- The next day, take that paper and start at #1. Don’t change to another task until you’ve either finished #1 or taken it as far as it can go.
- After you’ve finished #1 or you’re waiting on something for it, move on to #2.
- The Most Important Thing to Remember: If you get to the end of your workday and you don’t have all six tasks completed, don’t start feeling guilty and go down a downward spiral. It’s okay. In fact, due to this system being so simple and straight-forward, you KNOW with confidence that no other system would’ve helped you get more work done faster.
If you get interrupted by your manager, co-worker, or a phone call, write down the new tasks on your to-do list and continue working on your focused task.
If you MUST tend to the “emergency” given to you, then get it done quickly — but then take a deep breath and return to your short list.
For some simple tools to make focusing easier, I highly recommend Freedom and going through my exercise to get yourself to WANT to work.
Freedom has received a considerable upgrade from when I first wrote about it.
LEARN TO SET YOUR BORING DESK WORK ON AUTO-PILOT
I was promoted back in November of last year, which did two things for me.
First, it completely shook my day-to-day schedule, which made it difficult to continuously write here.
(Although I have kept up with some of you via email in that interim and have LOVED hearing your success stories… and even those frustrating sob stories you have to get off your chest.)
Second, it’s destroyed some overly complicated systems in my life, yet successfully strengthened and pressure-tested new systems & automation tools that can put your desk job on auto-pilot.
If you’re ready to take your job to the next level, take on more responsibility, and automate the boring out of your career, sign up below.
* Yes, many systems were built by entrepreneurs while they were employees… but not many of them keep their system as-is as they become entrepreneurial. This makes it hard for the end user (read: us) to use them in different environments. Not impossible, just harder.
** Don’t fact check me on the statistics. Just trust me, I’m pretty close. Probably.