Work no longer has clearly defined boundaries. Organizing the constant inflow of information is a challenge many of us face today. If you don’t know how exactly you will store and use the information coming to you, you may become the victim of information (reactive behavior) or you may not be able to use it altogether, which could mean missing out on that big business deal or an important idea you thought while taking bath.
In simple terms, organizing is about storing information such that you can find it at the right time at the right place in the right context. If you can’t find the stuff you are looking for in less than 60 seconds, you are not organized.
Let’s get started and master the art of staying organized.
Organizing like a Pro
In the first practice, you collected every single piece of information in your physical or psychological world. Now you are going to process and organize it. Any kind of information fall into two broad categories:
- Actionable Stuff – You can do something this information such as writing an email, researching on your holiday destination, making a phone call or starting a project.
- Reference Stuff – Things in which no action is required but it is useful for future use. This could be statistics, reference content, design, links to websites and lot more.
Once you know the category of information, you can organize it further.
Let us deal with the Reference material first.
You can store all your reference material in a common location or a folder in your computer. I use Evernote to store all my reference material under a notebook called ‘References’. Evernote has this awesome capability to store just about any type of information in the form of a note.
You can probably do something similar using Dropbox or Google drive but there is no reason not to use Evernote. Use appropriate Notes (if you are using Evernote), folder structure or tags as needed. But keep it simple.
The next information category is ‘The Actionable items’. This can be further organized into two types:
- Projects: Anything that requires more than 2 action steps to complete is a Project. A project therefore is a collection of actionable items necessary to achieve a specific outcome. It could be as big as restructuring your organization or as small as seeing your dentist.
- The “Next Action”: These are physical, visible actions you can take. Examples – Making a phone call, searching on internet, creating a document, brainstorming, writing notes, meeting someone.
Make two separate lists – one for all your “Projects” and another for all your “Next Actions”. Here is how you will organize your projects and next actions:
- Break down each project into a set of actionable steps – it represents a list of “Next Actions” entered in logical or linear fashion. You can track each project and corresponding to-do items within this list.
- There are some actionable items which needs to be done on a specific date or specific time(e.g. seeing a doctor on Friday) – add those To-Do items to your calendar and set a reminder.
- Many items in your list will fall into ‘Someday/Maybe’ category. These are your dream projects – a cool new idea you want to try out or a hobby you want to pursue, but you don’t have time right now. Get them inside your ‘Someday/Maybe’ list. Eventually some of it will mature and some of it will go away.
- Now you will be left with two major pieces of information. ‘To-do’ items which belong to a project and random ‘To-do’ items such as household chores, making phone calls or taking your kid for the music class. You can Prioritize these items appropriately and take actions.
- Another important consideration is “To-Do” items you can delegate to others. You can actually put all To-Do items which are important to get done by you have delegated to others in a separate “Follow up” list. You can refer to this list regularly to follow-up with others on tasks assigned to them.
To sum it up
Organizing your information into Reference and Actions is the key to being productive. A clear distinction between Project and a To-do item is really important to understand. If you treat your Project as a To-do item, it will look like an unclear task and it may never get done. Remember the golden rule – Project is not actionable, To-do item is actionable.
Back to the fun part – Your Assignment. (I know you hate em’) but I love the assignment as much as I love you. So here you go:
Step 1: Download Evernote and spend some time getting used to it
Step 2: Capture Everything in Evernote:
From the first practice, you have formed the habit of capturing every piece of information somewhere physically – on paper or in computer (If you have not done it, do that first). Create a notebook in Evernote called ‘Incoming’ and collect all your incoming stuff in there. Evernote can capture E-mails, photos, web urls, videos, voice memos, to-do lists and so on… Freakin’ awesome!
Step 3: Create 2 other notebooks in Evernote as below:
Step 4: From your Incoming notebook, copy all Non-actionable notes into References Notebook you just created in Evernote.
Step 5: Inside the Projects Notebook (created in step 3) create two notes as below:
- All Projects
- Someday/may be
Step 6: Transfer the all Actionable Information from your ‘Incoming’ folder as below:
- Copy all your projects and corresponding tasks in the ‘All Projects’ note
- Copy all your Someday/may be tasks or projects in the ‘Someday/may’ be note
Step 7: (Is’t there)Relax and have fun!
Keep practicing organizing this way on a daily basis until it becomes your second nature. Mastering productivity is a skill and you need to install this habit to master it.