Have you ever had this happen to you?
As you are falling asleep after a long day, a thought unexpectedly pops into your head. Maybe it’s an item for your to-do list or a creative idea for a project. Whatever that thought may be, it is not letting you fall asleep. You try counting sheep and imagining your happy place, but this new thought has taken over your entire mind.
I know some brilliant people who remedy this problem by always having a pen and paper by their bedsides. They simply write their thoughts down on paper and fall asleep shortly thereafter knowing they will pursue and develop these thoughts the next day. Pretty simple, right? The same concept of writing these brilliant ideas down to get them out of our heads can be applied to our waking hours. Yet most of us never do this!
What can we do when we feel that we are about to explode from the pressure and the stress of everyday life? Write it down!
You may not realize it, but, more than likely, the reason you are so stressed is that you are carrying all your responsibilities, all the to-do lists, and all your brilliant ideas in your head. Just worrying about forgetting one of these brilliant ideas could make you anxious, and that’s something all of us want to avoid.
To that end, I have established a shockingly simple 7-step program that allows you to be more productive and less stressed. This will leave room in your head for creativity and growth. Once you have put in the initial investment of time and effort, you will be rewarded with a sense of control, increased productivity and time to do whatever you want!
Now let’s get to work!
Step 1: Keep a schedule
For one week keep a schedule. As you go through your day, write down what you did, when, and for how long. No need to plan your day in advance at this point. Just write down what you have already done.
Step 2: Build your master list
As you go through the day you will have random thoughts that pop into your head. Write all these down in a master file. Since I am always on the go, I prefer to use an app on my iPhone, but you can use whatever format works best for you.
Examples of some thoughts you will write down are:
- “I should read Book X some day to help me improve my management style”
- “I need to order flowers and a birthday card for my mother-in-law”.
Step 3: Categorize all items in the master list and schedule
As your written schedule and master list builds, start categorizing each item.
Here are examples of commonly used categories:
- Repetitive To-do’s: daily/weekly/monthly: something that needs to be done on a regular schedule
- Example #1: Writing a summary of overnight financial development in the markets
- Example #2: Ordering dog food once a month
- Situational items: activity that occurs as a result of another activity or a unique project
- Example #1: sending Welcome packet to a new client
- Example #2: responding to an advertising opportunity
- Longer-term project with a set deadline:
- Example #1: Studying for the CFA and taking the test – The test is your deadline
- Long term project with no set deadline
- Example: Writing your first book
- Brainstorming: Anything that is not a specific activity but a thought of how to do something better, or a creative idea for a business or project
Step 4: Automate all your repetitive tasks.
In Step 2, you identified those responsibilities that are repetitive. Now you need to automate as much of them as possible.
- Are you ordering your dog’s food every 2 weeks? Set up auto shipment of dog food every 2 weeks.
- Are you using the same 5 market indicators when writing your financial morning commentary to clients? Build a spreadsheet that automatically gives you these indicators and their changes on day percentage
- Your business is growing and companies want to advertise on your website. Automate a reply email with pricing/informational details. If you don’t do this, you will be wasting time writing a new email every time. Not very productive, is it?
Step 5: Divide and conquer
Divide the bigger projects into smaller projects and add them to the appropriate to-do list with specific deadlines. This is especially important to those projects that have no concrete deadlines. You will never do it unless you start working toward completion.
- Remember that book you had plans to write? Have you brainstormed the plot line or structure? Ok, but have you written all this down in an organized manner? Have you establish a deadline of when you expect to finish the first chapter?
A large project can seem overwhelming. When you break this project into mini-projects with concrete deadlines, you will be much more likely to complete the project sooner and with a lot less stress.
Step 6: Review your schedule
Where are you wasting time? Are you jumping from project to project, and if so, why? Would it be possible to complete a project before jumping onto another one? It is a good idea to do this in the middle of the day. If you had a productive day, it will make you feel good. If not you will have a chance to remedy this at lunch time and make the rest of the day more productive.
Step 7: Never stop writing it all down
Luckily everything is mobile now – download a few organization apps or simply use the notepad app on your smart phone. As soon as something pops into your head, write it down!
Examples of my favorite apps:
- Simple Mind
Results: Write it down = Get it out
You will be less stressed out! You will feel more in control of your schedule and your responsibilities! You will have more free time to do those things that make you happy!