With the ‘back-to-school-Autumn-weather’ atmosphere settling in, it is time to look into some organization tips to make sure to return from Summer with a clear plan and fresh ideas! In this blog I put together my main takeaways from a very simple technique which was presented by Max Cherepitsa on his webinar “How to get your to-do list organized”. Max positions himself as a self-management coach and consultant. For further references (everything in Russian though) go to http://www.selfmanage.ru and http://www.brainhack.me. In the mean time, let’s review the technique according to four main questions you should ask yourself before getting started: ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘when’.

1. “WHAT”

What do you need to get done? Just write down everything you have to do. This step is very similar to the first step of GTD workflow processing “capture“, as well as Marie Kondo’s “dump all the stuffs to the floor” advise. It’s simple – jot down everything that’s in your mind, anything that bothers you, any pending tasks.

Ask yourself the following questions: “What must I do?” “What do I want to do?”.  Notice how many “wants” or “musts” there are. Add some “wants” – something you don’t have actually to do, but really want such as watching that movie your friend mentioned or just take a nice long bath .

For every “must” think/do – What is the reason? Is it important for you? It might be that you don’t even have to do it at all after all! So think it through.

Sort out your items by projects (work, personal, health, family, etc.). Be mindful of any imbalance or missing category that seems important to you (i.e. you have only work tasks and no personal ones). Add whatever you think should be there.


2. “WHY”

Why do you need to get these tasks done? Find the most complicated, tricky issue/task that is on you agenda, which really disturbs you because you don’t know how to approach it and start writing. Free-writing is a powerful technique through which you can continuously write your concerns, questions, ideas, write why you want to do something and what resources you need for it, how will you find those resources, etc. Time it (like 30 minutes) and write regardless spelling and grammar, without stopping. If you’re stuck write: “I am stuck, I don’t know what to write”.

The result of free-writing is the list of clear questions you have to find answers for. Now it should be much easier and much more manageable. Afterwords is the so-called “receiving feedback from reality“: you reduce uncertainty by making very small steps (googling, calling, asking people around, posting, etc). Yes, it is painful, but pain is minimal and definitely bearable. At least, you start acting instead of thinking and doubting. Transform the feedback and your experience to conclusions.


3 – HOW

How are you going to accomplish these tasks? Based on your conclusions determine your next steps: what you have to do in order to achieve your goal. Consider these two questions to make sure you stay focused on small actionable items:

  • How exactly will I do it?

(I will do 2 more exercises to improve my Dutch, I will write an article during 1,5 hour, I will run 5 km.)

  • How would I know that I succeeded?

(The site is running. The thesis plan is ready.)

Metrics matter. Often people continue doing the same things for years without any result. You need to understand whether your approach is successful or not.


4. ‘WHEN”

Last, but not the least: decide when (which month or day or time) will you accomplish your tasks. The ability to estimate the time needed for a task it is a real art and it only comes with practice. Doing little is by little is OK, so do not try to fit all your tasks in the first month or you will likely fail at reaching your goals and get frustrated. Start from the minimum. It’s like buying groceries: you don’t try to squeeze all your shopping in one single bag, do you? Instead you’re better off taking 2 or 3 (reusable!) bags and allocate. The same logic applies to strategizing tasks and projects – allocate them by weeks or months.

I hope this review was helpful and wish you success in your future projects!