Six steps to Stress-free Productivity

This is quite simply the best technique I know for staying focused on your priorities. If you want to feel more organized, more effective, and get more done, try this approach:

Step 1 – Set up a Weekly Master Task List

This process uses an old-fashioned journal, so head to the store and find a properly bound notebook (ideally A4 sized across two pages such as a Moleskine). Congratulations – this is your master task list.

On the first double page, write today’s date at the top left. Every week, you’ll use a fresh double page to compile your master task list. The left-hand page is for work projects, the right-hand page is for personal tasks.

Step 2 – Put all your projects and tasks down on paper

Start with the work page (the left-hand side of the book). Think of every project or area you are involved with and write a heading for that on the page.

Under each heading write in the specific tasks that you need to complete. Don’t be shy about throwing everything in your mind down onto paper. Keep going until you run out of ideas.

Now repeat this process for your personal tasks on the right-hand side. Get as detailed and specific as you can – the aim is to be complete. If you need to buy a lightbulb or return library books, put that in. Also, put in things you enjoy such as exercise and socializing.

The objective here is to get all of your tasks out of your brain and onto paper so that the worry goes away.

Step 3 – Prioritise tasks

Now go through EVERY task on the page and write a priority next to them. The priority scale is:

A- Mission-critical – this must be completed this week

B- Important – this would be nice to have for this week, but not vital

C- Trivial – small and annoying, however, if this is not completed, no big deal

Step 4 – Set days for completion

Now we get specific. Look at your calendar for the week and determine how much time you have available each day for working on these tasks. Go through your A-rated tasks first and assign a day of the week for the completion of these tasks. Do the same thing for the Bs (don’t bother with the Cs).

Step 5 – Daily actions

Every morning, consult your Master Task List. Identify the A and B tasks scheduled for the day. Take a Post-It note and write out the tasks you will accomplish and the order you plan to do them. As you work through the list during the day, cross off each task. At the end of the day, go back to the book and cross off all completed tasks (this feels good).

During each day, if new tasks arise or your brain remembers something that was missing from the master task list, add them in to keep the list up to date and prioritize as above.

Step 6 – Weekly refresh

At the end of every week, or the beginning of a new week (according to your preference), you need to refresh the Master List. Start a fresh page and transfer over all remaining tasks from the prior week and add in any new ones. If a task has been hanging around for a while and not getting done, consider if it is really important. If not, don’t roll it over. Now follow the process for prioritization and scheduling for completion as above.

This simple process has helped me to create a sense of calm and assurance that nothing important gets missed. Surprisingly, I’m not a natural list person and didn’t think it would work for me. I’m by no means perfect, however, it has certainly helped me to be much more effective and focused. Give this a try next week and see how it helps you – and don’t forget to share your tips about getting focused by leaving a comment.