“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
So goes one of my dad’s favorite sayings. And I agree. I also agree that if you plan to not organize and document your plans, you plan to watch 3 consecutive episodes of Gilmore Girls while catching up on Google Reader instead.
Not that I would know firsthand.
I find that organization and documentation help goals progress in two different but equally important ways. The first one is obvious: accountability. It’s harder to not do something you committed to doing when you know you’ll have to face an empty page/journal/check mark at the end of the day. There’s nothing like the fear of failure for a good, healthy motivator!
But that’s what the second one is for. Keeping track of my progress keeps me from thinking that I’m not getting anywhere with my goals. When I can’t see that I actually have done something, it’s easy to believe the lie that I haven’t done anything. Seeing the proof in black and white is a huge motivator.
For this year’s goals, I decided to overhaul my Gmail calendar and use it as a multipurpose work/schedule/goal recorder. Each “section” of my life became a different calendar (and therefore a different color) so that I can easily see how much I’ve accomplished on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
See? And that’s just on January 1st! Think of how full this baby is going to be come the end of the month!
I mentioned this briefly in a rant a few months ago, but another calendar-related thing I’ve been doing consistently that has been ENORMOUSLY helpful to my productivity (and general well-being) is listing a Daily Top 5 using the Tasks bar in Gmail. This has seriously been such a lifesaver. Every night before I go to bed I pick the Top 5 things that need to get done the next day. Five and only five – no more and no less. If I know it’s going to be a fairly free day I’ll add a bigger project to the list. If I know I’m going to be gone from 8am-8pm I’ll only add things that can be reasonably accomplished, like answering a long-hoarded email or stopping at the bank.
This system works really well for me. It helps me get a realistic number of things done every day and keeps me focused on what I actually need to do. Otherwise, this happens: I come home after a long day, visualize an overwhelming mental to-do list, and decide to do nothing instead of something because it feels too daunting to tackle anything when you don’t even know where to start. It also helps me expedite the to-do list items I’m dreading for no reason in particular (whether it’s a bill to pay, a call to return, a decision to make, etc). That email that’s been suffocating on the bottom of my inbox for weeks on end? It’s so much more painful to realize, “Oh, I really need to reply to that” for the 50th time…and then not reply, again…than it is to just open up the email and write back already. Add it to the Top 5 and get it done. Over and out.
Then, when I’m done with the day’s essential tasks, I’ll wind down with a little Google Reader or a magazine I’ve been wanting to dive into. It makes me feel like I’m legitimately spending time doing something I enjoy instead of feeling like I’m borrowing time from getting other priority items done because I’ve already accomplished what I set out to do for the day. Everybody wins!
And if that weren’t enough…there’s more!
I use the Gmail system to keep track the Top 10 2012 goals and the Top 5 tasks that keep things swimming along productively (I’m starting to sound like a late night talk show). It’s a great system. Two thumbs way up.
But then there are the little things. The daily disciplines that so frequently slip through the cracks. Things like washing the dishes and making the bed. And do they really need to be organized and documented? Probably not. But I already had this graph set up on my fridge: