Getting stuff done is a matter of attacking each day like it’s an obstacle course in a mud run. Because that’s pretty much what it is.
You can attack your day any way you like, based on the way your brain is wired and your own personal style of getting stuff done.
Today I’ll toss out for your consideration the way I attack each day. If you see some ideas that might work for you, feel free to use them or adapt them to your own way of doing things.
I manage my tasks and projects in Evernote. (A “task” is something you can do in one sitting. A “project” is a collection of related tasks that may take days, months, or even years to complete.)
Evernote is great for keeping track of all my pending tasks and projects. Each task or project can be in its own “note” that can be assigned to a “notebook” of pending tasks or projects. When they’re completed, they can be moved to a new notebook of completed items.
However, for keeping track of what I actually did in my life, I keep a work journal in Scrivener. Scrivener is a word-processing tool in which you can work on many text files, folders of text files, and folders of folders, as a single project.
I have a 2017 folder at the top level which contains a folder for each month. Each month’s folder has a text file for each date, and in that text file, I track what I planned for the day and what I actually did.
Scrivener has a very nice template feature. You can create text file templates that are structured exactly the way you want them. I have a template named “Daily Plan”. Every day when I sit down at my computer, the very first thing I do is open my work journal and add a new text file to the current month, using the “Daily Plan” template. Then I fill it in, based on what current tasks and projects I have pending in Evernote.
My thinking is that a Daily Plan needs to give you context on the big picture of your life. So my Daily Plan has some standard things to remind me of exactly what my big picture is. Here are the five items that show up in my Daily Plan:
My Life Theme
My Learning Project
My Monthly Habit to Build
My Plan for This Quarter
To Do List
Let’s talk about each of those in turn.
My Life Theme
You should know what it is you want in life. When you die, what do you want people to say you achieved?
You need to spell this out in words. A simple statement that reminds you every day why you’re here.
My preferred way to do this is with a sentence that goes like this: “I want to be the best ____________ on the planet.”
Fill in the blank with whatever’s appropriate. If you want to be the best writer of Amish vampire science fiction novels on the planet, then fill that in. That’s a nice tight niche. (A friend of mine seems to already owns that niche, so find your own.)
My Learning Project
I’m a strong believer in continuous improvement. In constantly learning some new topic to the level of mastery or at least a high-intermediate skill level. Every month, I choose a new learning project. Sometimes this carries over to the next month.
I like to have a reminder of my current learning project in my Daily Plan. Just to remind me of What This Month Is All About.
Some months, I abandon the learning project if it seems to be going nowhere. But other months, I keep at it the whole month.
Your learning project can be anything you want. This month, I’m studying a book on nonlinear dynamics. Yes, really. No particular reason, other than it explains lots of things about the way the world is, and because it’s math and I like math.
I suspect you’re not so interested in nonlinear dynamics. No worries. Find something you are interested in and GO GET REALLY GOOD AT IT.
My Monthly Habit to Build
There’s a sense in which you are the sum of your habits. The truly exceptional people I’ve met all seem to be people who work hard at creating habits that make them better people.
They don’t rely on motivation, which is nothing but a damned fickle emotion that will only carry you for about three days, if you’re lucky.
They rely on habits. When your motivation is dead, your good habits will carry you through without effort, because a habit is by definition something you do routinely, without thought or effort.
Every month, I choose a new habit to build. This may be a new exercise habit or a new work habit or a new leisure habit. Whatever. It’s something that I want to do every day that will make me a better person.
In the best case, it takes about a month to build a new habit. So ideally, you can build twelve new habits in a year. In theory, that would be incredibly amazing.
In practice, it can take longer than a month to really get a habit rooted in place. But it’s worth it. If you were to create even six new habits each year, in five years you would be an amazingly different person.
My Plan For This Quarter
I wrote about the value of creating a quarterly plan in this e-zine in October, 2016. The title of the column was “How to Keep Focused”.
I strongly believe this is a powerful way to keep you on track. Every quarter I make a new list of a few projects that I want to achieve in the coming quarter. I’ve learned not to get too aggressive in this plan, because that gets discouraging.
Once you make a quarterly plan, you need to keep that in front of you. I do this by writing it up as a text file in Scrivener. Then I embed it in my daily plan using a Scrivener Link.
Every day when I fill in my daily plan, I see a link to my quarterly plan. I can click on that and a small document pops up to remind me what I’m trying to get done this quarter.
That serves as a constant reminder that I need to keep making progress. Small steps every day, or at least most days, will get you there.
To Do List
The very last item in my Daily Plan is a skeleton To Do List. This is actually not a list of tasks, but a list of projects, and it’s normally filled in with the three big things in my life.
The first of these is writing. My Daily Plan tells me I need to be writing two hours every day. That’s my quota. Once in a while I miss the quota. Most days I make it. Some days I exceed it. Writing every day is a good habit to build. In my journal, I track how many hours I worked and what my current total word count is on my project.
The second project I work on (almost) every day is my day job. Most writers I know have a day job. Mine is demanding and intellectually challenging, and I like it that way. It also puts bread on the table, and I like that too.
The third project is labeled “Total World Domination” which has the coolest label because it has all the things I have a hard time getting done. Administrative stuff and web stuff and marketing stuff and yard stuff.
It’s not that I can’t do these or I dislike doing them, once I’ve got started on them. What I don’t like is starting them. I have a high “activation energy” as one of my biochemistry friends puts it.
I usually write in several subtasks under Total World Domination to let me know the things I’m going to work on today. Usually this is not a long list, but I want to know the high points.
The Automatic Journal
It can be useful to know what you did on any particular day in the past. The way to know what you did is to keep a journal. My Daily Plan is not just a planning tool—it also gives me a pretty good idea of what I did on every single day since I started keeping it, which was in 2013.
There’s no extra work involved here to keep a journal. I just keep the Daily Plan, labeled by its date, and I automatically have a journal.