Today, I want to share three strategies for getting things done.
I decided to address this topic because several of you have remarked on my level of busy-ness so far this year, and it’s true. I don’t remember the last time I had so many things going at the same time for so long.
I’m guessing a lot of you are experiencing the same thing, and wondering how in the world to keep everything on track! So let’s talk about three things that help me stay on top of my work load.
I’ve already written about finding enough time for art, so lets talk about studio life (and life) in general today.
3 Great Strategies for Getting Things Done
Before I get to those strategies, let me set the record straight on one thing: Balance.
There’s a rumor that you need to balance work. I’m not sure what that means to you, but when I hear that word, I see a pair of scales. You know. The old-fashion, scales of justice type scales.
The theory so far as I understand it is that you must give equal amounts of time to each area of work or each task every day. Nice theory. Not practical.
At least not for me.
Most days, one of my tasks requires the bulk of my attention for a short period of time. A week or maybe two. I must set aside other things until that task is finished in order to meet a deadline. In the old days, portraits often demanded my full attention. These days, I dedicate the last week to ten days of each month to finishing and publishing the magazine.
I simply cannot “balance” all of the things I want to do every day and get that Must Do thing done on time. Something has to give, and it’s almost always “balance.”
So if balance doesn’t work, what does? Here are the three most productive strategies I use for getting things in a timely fashion.
Strategy #1: Prioritize
The first strategy is prioritizing: Looking at the things I need to do, and deciding the in order in which they need to be done.
Prioritizing happens at several levels. Some tasks—like the magazine—can be prioritized on a monthly basis. I know when I need to give my full attention to layout, design, and publication and I block those days off on a monthly basis.
Some things are on a weekly cycle. The weekly blog post and newsletter fall into this category.
And then there are daily priorities. Usually cat chores and house chores, but also drawing or sketching.
At the beginning of the work day, I look at what needs attention that day and list those items with brief descriptions. For example, on Tuesday of this week, part of my list looked like this.
I know the blog and newsletter needs to be finished, proofread, and scheduled by the end of the day Friday. It’s possible to do everything in an afternoon if necessary, but I prefer to take my time and be more careful.
I could have added a number of other things to that list, but they weren’t priorities on Tuesday, so would have presented distractions.
When I finish the priorities, I move on to other things.
How Do You Get Started?
Take a look at what you need to do this month, this week, and today.
The absolute best way to do this is to have an ongoing or long-term list. Why? You probably have things that need to be done on a repeating basis and other things that are accomplished over a period of time. Long-term things may become lost in the day-to-day without a long-term list. It’s happened to me!
Block out time to do the things that Must Be Done this month.
Set aside a specific amount of time each work day to work on that project, or block out a few days dedicated to that project. Do the same thing across multiple months for those projects that are too big to finish in 30 days or less. Give priority to projects with a specific due date, like portraits.
Block out time week-by-week for weekly work.
Do the same thing for weekly tasks. I know a blog post is due every Saturday, so I automatically plan writing, editing, illustrating, and proofreading a blog post into the weekly routine. Usually, I give a little bit of time three or four days a week to various parts of it. See more in Strategy 3.
Block out time each day for daily work.
I include cat chores, house chores, and sometimes yard work in this category. I do these tasks every day regardless of whatever else is waiting, so I set aside an hour or so at the beginning of the day for them.
Some basic business-related tasks also happen every day. Checking for blog updates and doing social media, for example. Once done in the morning, and they’re finished for the day.
It’s always most productive to prioritize the big things first, then fit the little things in around them.
Strategy #2: Discipline
Discipline is also important. Prioritizing your work does no good at all if you lack the discipline to stick to your priorities.
I confess. Discipline is my weak link. Prioritizing is easy because a lot of what I do includes a deadline. I know how much time most of those things take, but I have difficulty preserving that time. It’s kind of like preserving the highlights in a drawing. I tend to work right over them!
How Do You Get Started?
How you implement discipline depends largely on your daily routine and your personality. If you work best under a little pressure, set a timer when you start a task, and stop when the timer goes off. You can use an egg timer or a digital timer. The type matters less than having a timer of some kind.
My best advice on this is to figure out how you work best, then devise your routine based on that.
Maybe you work best in total silence or with music in the background. Or maybe you like a visible list posted in a prominent location, reminding you what still needs to be done.
The key is finding the method that works best for you and using it faithfully.
What helps me most with discipline? A 15-minute task list.
Strategy #3: 15 Minute Task List
One of the most helpful things I do is what I call a 15-minute task list. Repeating tasks (like checking websites for updates to install) are on the 15-minute task list.
So are things that take a week or more to accomplish. When I work on a book, for example, I give 15 minutes a day five days a week (and sometimes six days) to writing. 15 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time to finish anything, but it’s amazing how those minutes add up.
What’s usually on my 15-minute list? Checking for blog updates tops the list. I write home every month, so adding to my letter also has a place on this list. When I need to write a freelance article, that’s on the list.
But you don’t have to do 15 minutes. Any short length of time works.
Right now, I’m trying to set aside 30 minutes a day to do a quick sketch or work on a more involved project. When I’m able to do that, my projects make progress. Plus, it’s more satisfying to spend that half hour a day and make a little progress, than to wait for a larger block of time and make no progress because that big block of time never happened.
How Do You Get Started?
Identify the things you do every day or the things that could progress if you worked on them a little bit each.
Set a time limit for each thing. You can start with 15 minutes like I did, or ten or twenty.
Work on each thing on that list for the set amount of time. When the time is up, move on to the next thing.
Those Are My Strategies for Getting Things Done
These are the three that help me most, but I know there are other strategies, as well. What works for you? Share your tips in the comments below!
Looking for more strategies for getting things done? I’ve written a more in-depth article on EmptyEasel on getting things done. Read How to Get Things Done Even When You’re Swamped.