Business Ninja Skill: Productivity

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I’ve been asking for - and getting - a lot of feedback from readers and peers about what you guys want me to write about each week. One of the most-asked questions I’ve gotten is basically, “how do you get everything done?”

So this week, I’ve got that answer for you (along with a free worksheet to apply my method to your own to-do list - you'll find that at the end of this post).

Here’s my super simple approach to getting things done and getting ahead.

First, I divide my workload into overarching categories. For me, these categories are: work I do for Up Up Creative (including client work, mentoring, blog writing, etc.), work I do for Skipt Paper Co., work I do for Minted, and other licensing work.

I chose those categories because they make sense to me and they encompass everything I do. You could just as easily divide your work into categories by activity: writing, painting, marketing, client work, meetings, phone calls, etc.

But you’re going to want to keep the number of categories fairly small (say between 3 and 5) because in my experience, using more than that starts to make your prioritizing and organizing a little too nitpicky. In other words: it’s too complicated.

Next, I write those main categories across the top of a page in my notebook each Monday, creating columns for each. In the templates I provide at the end of this post, I’ve included templates for 3-category, 4-category, and 5-category versions.

Then, I create two rows beneath those.

In the top row, I list anything that needs to be completed immediately. Deadlines, orders, meetings, calls, etc. Those go in the top row. Those items are non-negotiable and are the first things I tackle.

In the bottom row, I put anything else that I would like to get done this week in each category, and I also list any future deadlines I come across as I’m gathering my to-do items (this is to save having to find them again later more than anything).

Anything in this bottom row, then, is what I work on when the top-row stuff is done.

I try to keep the items on my list as actionable and achievable as possible (so instead of writing “update website” I might list things like “research new templates for website” and then “load new template” and then “update CSS on website.” I do that because I’m a sucker for crossing things off, and also because breaking projects down helps keep me from feeling overwhelmed.)

As the week goes on, I make damned sure that everything in the top row gets crossed off, and I try like hell to get much of the bottom list crossed off.

As things come up throughout the week, I add them to their appropriate box on the chart. Then the next week, I start again (transferring anything unfinished from the week before onto the new week’s chart). Simple as that.

What makes this method work so well for me comes down to four things:

1 - it’s super simple;

2 - it helps me focus on the must-do details but also think about things I need to get done in the next few months;

3 - it helps me see the broad scope of my business so that I’m not focusing all of my attention on one or two categories; and

4 - it helps me prioritize and organize what would otherwise just be a long and potentially random to-do list.

A note: When you sit down to fill out the chart for your first week, it may take you a little extra time to gather all of your to-do items. Go through your calendar, your inbox, your orders, your iPhone reminders, etc., and also spend a little time thinking about what progress you want/need to make in each category of your business in the coming weeks and months. But once you finish that first week and sit down to do week two, it should go much more quickly for you. As the weeks go by and you keep doing this, you’ll see how simple this is and how productive it can help you be.

So now here's where you can download my productivity worksheet. I'd love to hear if you try it out.