My Secret to Continued Productivity?
Posted on April 17 2015
There are some things that can't be achieved in a few days or weeks, like organizing all your finances for taxes, working with press, and writing a book. These require tireless persistence, focus, and dedication.
I have none of these things. Not. A. One.
When I was on Adderall (prescribed for my ADD, not recreational), it wasn't so bad. But that made me irritable, and in the interest of keeping peace in the household, I had to give it up.
Enter: The Checklist of Doom
(I would have made that blinking with Vegas lights if I could)
I've developed a weirdly non-technical way of managing these tasks over long periods of time, but it works, so now I am on something like version 8 of the Checklist of Doom. Every time, I refine it a little to account for changing priorities and lessons I learned from the previous Checklist of Doom.
Sometimes the checklist includes personal things, sometimes it includes only business, sometimes it includes fitness. I thought about making a printable version of it to syndicate, but there really is no way to systemize it, so you're on your own.
Here's the philosophy behind the The Checklist of Doom:
We all have long to-do lists that we carry around with us, either physically or digitally. These are good for managing short-term tasks that can be achieved and crossed off. The truly Great Things, however, require months of dedication. Like eating an apple, if you try to shove the whole thing in your mouth at once, you'll choke. The only way to eat the apple is bite by bite.
You have stuff to do!
Accounting is the perfect example of this. How many of you scramble around for the week before taxes, frantically itemizing everything before you can send it to your accountant? (probably more applicable to small business owners than W-2 employees)
Not me. I exported my P&L and sent it to my accountant in about 5 minutes.*
I also manage my press and retail contacts as items on the checklist, because there is no immediate reward for writing press, it takes literally weeks of follow-ups to even get a response (if you ever get one). Without the checklist, this activity feels endless and futile.
You have to do some stuff more often than other stuff.
Depending on your priorities, you might have to update Facebook and Twitter several times per week, where as you only have to send out your newsletter every two weeks.
The checklist is cool with that.
How does this all work?
I use a big piece of butcher paper because the list has to be in my face AT ALL TIMES or it doesn't get done. I tried 8.5x11 paper and ended up losing it. Go Big.
1. Make a list of the things you think should go on the list.
Here are some thought starters:
- House cleaning
- Press / Retail contacts
- Any kind of stats analysis
- Calendar review with a partner/loved one/boss
- Writing (know how to write a book? One week at a time)
- Blog posts
- Social media
- Attend an event with strangers (that's a big scary one for me, so I have to put it on the list)
If you forget some or come up with ones later, no big deal. Just write them on the bottom of the list to include on the next list. Remember, this is always evolving.
2. Next to each item, list the frequency you need to do the thing.
For example, I need to update Facebook five times every week, but only need to send a newsletter out every other week.
Only put the MINIMUM you have to do every week on the list.
This was hella tough for me. I think I can do a thousand things, but if I put a thousand things on the list and I don't get them all done week after week, I feel like a failure. You'll notice that I blog more than once every week, but I must blog at least once per week. It goes on the list as once per week.
And no, you don't get extra credit if you do more than the minimum. You just get the personal satisfaction knowing you're moving the needle.
3. On your big piece of paper, make a graph.
See the picture of the list for an example of what the graph should look like. Don't worry about filling in the boxes or making frequency yet.
4. Fill in your tasks on the left.
Leave the top row blank for schedule notes that might disrupt business as usual or that you want to remember (eg. "Mother's Day").
5. Write the weeks along the top.
I try to have no fewer than four weeks, no more than eight, on any given Checklist of Doom. This is because, as I said, the checklist is always evolving and you don't want to be locked into one tack for too long.
6. Break out the weeks into the preferred frequency.
Just put little lines so the boxes are broken up (see the example). If you have something that should be done every few weeks, block out those weeks.
I have started scheduling ads and contests in the checklist so I don't forget to run a contest, but that's a new thing and we'll see how it goes. But in case you wonder why there are orange and red outlines on some of the boxes, that's why.
7. Put this somewhere conspicuous.
You want it to be in the center of everything. Mine is literally on my fulfillment table. I fill all the orders while staring at the list.
8. Do the things.
Huzzah! That's it!
I fill in the boxes with yellow and make a blue star when I complete a task. I don't know why that is fulfilling to me, but it is. I tried stickers and they didn't really work for me. Something about filling up the paper brick-by-brick is very satisfying to me.
In my example, you'll notice that the "Featured Customer" boxes are filled in for weeks in advance. This is because I scheduled those posts out until that date. It was easier for me to batch that activity and do them all in one day than it was to make a new post every week. In that way, I have completed the action far into the future (hooray!).
There it is.
* Side note: I did that, but she came back with taxes I owed, which made me realize I had not properly itemized things for maximum deduction. So if you are going to have tasks over months or years, make sure you're doing them correctly. At least the fixes are easy, because the things that aren't itemized correctly can just be re-itemized as a category. Phew.