Just when you were beginning to relax, it’s Monday again. Maybe you didn’t carry a lot of organization skills over from last week. Most of us are now our own administrative assistants, and we can use some help organizing our day. Maybe even our week. Here are some tips from some of the people who organize best.
1. Write everything down on one to-do list. One master list that combines personal and work items is much better than two or three lists that make you believe you have more time than you do. And while you are at it, write down all your fears and worries as well. The more you separate work, worries, events, appointments, the more your brain has to scramble to sort and repeat it. It’s called a rehearsal loop. (Daniel J. Levitin describes the neuroscience in his book.) That repetition makes the worries and work seem like its more and worse. You don’t need the stress.
2. Once it’s on a list, divide it into four categories. I got this great idea from Getting Things Done by David Allen:
- Do it
- Delegate it
- Defer it
- Drop it
Now take those items and sort them using the Eisenhower method. Yep, that General who became President in 1953, before you were born. He is supposed to have said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” That’s how he got to be a General–he knew the difference between urgent and important. How do you divide urgent and important? Here’s the chart Eisenhower used:
3. Don’t read emails first. I know, you have been trained to do emails first thing in the morning. When you read emails, you make someone else’s work more important than yours. It’s like opening your front door and having random people come in and ask for help. You wouldn’t dream of doing that. So don’t start the day with other people’s work. For the first hour at work, pay attention to your own work.
Using the chart above, and do two items from the “urgent and important” box and some action to move one “important but urgent” item one step ahead.
Bonus tip: Break down the whole chunk of work into smaller segments you can do in 20 minutes. That’s what goes down on your to-do list. If you see, “Write presentation for convention,” you will not know where to start. If you see, “brainstorm three ideas for presentation,” you will tackle it.
4. Send some emails. Your inbox is filled with other people’s urgent (but not important) work. Don’t fall for it. Fill up someone else’s inbox with what you consider urgent to your day. This doesn’t have to mean a direct report. Someone who is better at that task that you will do nicely. And say “please” early on.
If your boss has trained you to be available and ready to jump at the slightest notice, just open the boss’s emails and put them in one of those four categories.
Do not allow your boss to plan your day for you. You won’t have a decently planned day, and your own priorities will be confused. Pay attention to every request before your urgent list, and your life will turn into this quote. (One of my favorites.)
5. Use your smart phone as a timer and reminder. Set your timer so you won’t be late for meetings and appointments. Use the same timer to divide your time so you can move several projects ahead. Think of it as a circuit workout at the gym–two minutes on 10 different machines builds better muscles and burns more fat than half an hour at one machine. And fat-burning mode is great for Monday morning work.
Trying to work on one thing for a whole day will just turn you into someone who cleans their desk, makes four pots of coffee and stirs the office gossip pot. One of the best way to avoid getting caught up in office politics is to be busy getting your own work done. And you’ll feel virtuous.
There. Now you and I have both done something worthwhile on Monday morning.
— Quinn McDonald is a writer and corporate trainer who teaches business writing.