"How to stay on top of my big volume of tasks, and not feel overwhelmed?"
Think of tasks and information just like physical clutter: how do you solve that problem? Solution: Everything important goes into the right place. Put it there, and have system for reminding you where it is. Eliminate everything else that’s unimportant.
Here is how I organize my ideas, my wishes, my “don’t forget to”, and other random things I might want to do:
Capture > Categorize > Calendar
Write it down. Park it in a system. Have a reminder to work on it at the appropriate time.
Otherwise, you can be in constant overwhelm trying to keep everything in your head and not forget about things. It’s the source of much anxiety.
Capture > Categorize > Calendar … This practice will end the question of "When are you going to work on this?"
You will never again feel like something is falling through the cracks.
It will now be in a system you can trust.
STEP 1: CAPTURE
Our brains are, instead, brilliant for activities like: pattern recognition, improvisation, relationship, problem solving. We do better in these areas than most supercomputers.
But what about memory storage and accuracy of recall?
“The palest ink is more reliable than the most powerful memory.” --Chinese Proverb
Albert Einstein himself wouldn't bother to remember his own phone number. He didn't want to waste his brain on that.
When we try *not* to forget something, we are using precious mental resources that can instead be used for creating, or processing ideas subconsciously.
Want to be smarter? Write down what’s important so you don’t have to use your brain to remember it :)
I have multiple documents where I’ve written down my processes and refer to frequently. One example is my daily reviews.
Capture all your ideas. Work with them later.
The very moment of thinking of an idea, a task, a problem, creates an illusion that it’s important RIGHT NOW.
It’s an illusion. Very few things are actually urgent, but the immediacy of an idea deceives us that it is.
Instead, remember this:
Distance creates perspective.
Any idea that comes to you in the moment, a task you might want to do, new information, new challenges… they all need to be put in their proper time and place to later integrate, or solve.
Capture all your ideas… and then work with them later.
Even in the shower, I capture ideas. I use AquaNotes.
Everywhere else, I capture it into my Todoist app, which is available on the web, or on smartphones. I capture ideas in the “Today” category… then at the end of the day, I categorize everything from the Today category into its own categories, so that Today becomes clean.
One of the main reasons people are anxious and unable to complete projects, is that they allow themselves to be driven by internal whims, or external demands… going here and there, forgetting to sync their moment by moment actions with a self-generated, long-term purpose.
Imagine that you respond to every single email as it comes in. (I hope you don’t!) Instead, you know it is more efficient if you let it collect in your inbox, and then deal with in one batch during your email time. (You can read more about my email productivity process.) Similarly, capture your ideas to accomplish them at the proper time.
Practice capturing your ideas all throughout the day.
As mentioned, I use Todoist -- if you want to try it, but you’re already using another task management system, the simple solution is to go to Todoport which allows easy import from other popular task management systems.
A lot of people swear by Evernote, so you might try that as well.
1. What tool will you use to capture your ideas? Pick something that you can have with you at all times, whether it’s Todoist, Evernote, or just a small pad of paper that you write in.
2. Practice capturing ideas, all throughout the day, for 1 week.
3. If you’d like to report on how things go for you, add a comment below, sharing which tool you chose, and how it felt to practice capturing your ideas.
STEP 2: CATEGORIZE
Once or twice a day, move your tasks and ideas from the main category of "inbox" or “today” (where you have been capturing them) into a proper "category" that you can work with later.
In Todoist, a category is called a “project.” In Evernote, it’s called a “notebook”. Both Todoist and Evernote also have “tags” you can use. I recommend keeping it simple, though, and don’t use tags until you first master the practice of categorizing things into Projects or Notebooks.
If you don’t use a task management system, you can simply capture your ideas in a blank Google Doc, and then categorize them into different Google Docs based on projects.
You need to define what categories are important to you, what “projects” you are working on. In my business, these are the categories:
A simpler example:
Here is a spreadsheet that gives you a system for categories.
(Be sure to look at the tabs on the bottom, to show you my examples.)
Consider your categories to be your "big rocks". If you’ve never heard that time management parable before, check it out here:
Categorize your ideas once or twice a day.
I do my categorization once at the beginning of my day, and once at the end of my day.
Here’s how I do it:
1. Can this idea / task be deleted? (We carry too much around with us, cluttering up our lives very quickly.) Does the idea bring me joy and energy? Will it significantly help someone else? If not, I try to eliminate it.
2. If I can’t eliminate it, then I put it into a Category and remove the due date.
3. If it’s so important that I don’t want to risk forgetting about it, I put a future due date on it, so it pops back up into my awareness at a later time. (However, if you do the next step of Calendaring, you will always have time to look back at the un-dated ideas you’ve categorized.)
STEP 3: CALENDAR
Don’t schedule every task that you have — that would be too much. Instead, calendar every single “category” you have.
This way, no project (or category) will fall through the cracks. Your calendar is your assistant, so let it assist you!
For example, if you never calendar in your Marketing, no wonder your business has very little visibility...
Example: I schedule time each week to create content. The videos don’t make themselves, the posts don’t write themselves!
I use Google Calendar.
It's free and reliable. I’ve been using it for more than 10 years. There's also a corresponding app on iPhone and Android.
This means when the time arrives on my Calendar to work on a Category, I simply open up the corresponding project/notebook, and then work on what's important at that time.
Here’s a key -- You don’t have to do things in order. Once you are following your calendar, and working on your Project and looking at a list of tasks or ideas, just do the task on the list that feels important or energizing right now. Let your intuition guide you at this point.
In other words, be left-brained about categorizing and calendaring. But when the actual time slot arrives, open your list of ideas/tasks for that category, and then be right-brained about it, doing what feels right.
I have an idea right now. I want to add a new feature to my Client Group. I’m excited about it. Do I set aside everything I planned today and work on this new feature? No... I take a moment to write down the idea. At the end of the day, I categorize it into my project called “Client Group”. I also make sure that I have time on my calendar to work on Client Group tasks. When that time comes up on my calendar to work on Client Group, I then work on the new feature I was thinking about. By then, the idea will be more refined because my subconscious has been working on it for days.
When you write down your ideas, your subconscious mind starts to work on it right away, even when you don’t consciously think about it. This way, by the time you get around to working on that idea, you’ll have the benefit of a more refined idea. Distance creates perspective.
Consider this: you can also enjoy the anticipation. It’s like when you plan a trip somewhere, you experience the pleasure of thinking about it, looking forward to it. This can be true of any ideas you write down. You can enjoy anything, if you intend to.
Back to the importance of Calendaring -- If I don’t schedule to work on a project, that category often gets neglected.
So there you have it: Capture > Categorize > Calendar
Go ahead and try it out. I look forward to hearing about how you are applying this practice, and how your life/business improves as a result.
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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