Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, January 2009


January is the month we like to make a fresh start.  Getting organized is a very popular New Year’s resolution and this month I would like talk specifically about how to stick to the goals we set.  These goals can be as small as focusing on “simple” errands or as large as creating a website.

Shop and awe.  So you’ve got your shopping list, you know exactly what you want, then you step into the store and KERPLUNK, your focus is sunk!  Sound familiar?  Well, I’m delighted to say I’ve discovered that the same system for restoring my focus in the home office works in the store. If you are serious about getting things done, your approach must be active, not passive.  The multitude of distractions that attack your senses and compete for your attention in a store will overwhelm a passive approach, every time.  Since the distractions are many, your focus must be singular.  Obviously you don’t have that luxury if you are shopping with young children, but the point is to have just one compelling place to return your focus, so you can get out of the store as fast as possible.  So what kind of “compelling place” do I recommend? What works for me is a two pocket clear folder available at jampaper.com. It has enough structure to stand up in the front basket of a shopping cart.  In the front I put a page of the day’s plan.  There will be fixed events like “4:00 meeting” and flexible goals like “buy Post-its and Sharpies”.  I like to write down these flexible goals on little Post-it notes with something bold say, oh I don’t know, a Sharpie.  I use the pockets for coupons and gift certificates I want to make a point of using and receipts I need to collect.  It’s critical to empty these pockets daily.


 Getting closer by stepping back.  Sometimes the best thing to do when you feel like you’re not getting any closer to your goals is to step back from them.  That may sound like a contradiction, but refreshing your perspective may be just the thing you need to get more focus.  If you trying to get a project done at work, refreshing your perspective might be as simple as stepping outside and taking that lunch break you typically deny yourself in the interest of getting more done.  It’s the equivalent of taking the time to sharpen the saw.  When you are sharper, you will cut through more.  OK, so you’ve cut through all the To-Dos on your work list AND your personal list and you STILL feel like you’ve gotten nowhere.  It may be time to reevaluate your priorities.  If everything is important then nothing’s important.  This reevaluation can happen on the train home while the thoughts are still fresh in your head, or during that half hour between your two favorite TV shows, or while you’re unwinding before bed.  Struggling to get a lot of things done can feel like getting tied up in an elaborate knot.  To untie a knot, sometimes it’s helpful to work it from both ends.  To get perspective it’s helpful to not only to list your top priorities, but also recognize the time wasters that compete with them.  For help with this, I highly recommend looking at Dr. Stephen Covey’s approach with the Time Management Matrix.  Back in the trenches you will feel better about doing the boring tasks that bring you closer to your dreams and find it easier to say “no” to the urgent but unimportant tasks that get in the way.

Divide and Conquer.  Traditional to-do lists tend not to work because of the natural temptation to take care of the quickest goals first.  The more we cross off the list, the more we feel like we are getting things done.   We don’t feel satisfied, however, because we don’t see ourselves any closer to those big important goals.  So how exactly do you stay on top of daily projects & errands and accomplish big important goals at the same time? The short answer is divide and conquer.  I offer a more complete description in my July newsletter under the final tip, “To Do List.”  Let’s say that one of your big goals for the year is to update your website.  Obviously this big goal consists of LOTS of little goals.  What is necessary to manage all these little goals are two separate elements that are missing in the traditional To-Do list:  a place to collect little goals and an plan to prioritize them.  The Project Corral allows for both.  Collect the goals as you think of them on little post its in a clear envelope and distribute them on your daily to-do lists every week. 

This brings us full circle to the first tip, where I talk about using the To Do list in a store.