Getting Stuff Done

How’s your to-do list looking today?

A few weeks ago, I had the luxury of sitting down with each and every attendee at the 2011 Web Intensive for a one-on-one meeting to discuss their goals for the year and what help they needed to achieve them.

I use the word "luxury" because it was such a rare opportunity to sit face to face with AWAI members and have the time to help each person on an individual level.

Yet, even though these meetings happened privately and before the event even started, I found that many people faced the same challenges as their fellow attendees.

So I figured since you and I aren’t able to sit down face to face and talk, this week I’d share with you some of the things that were frequently discussed in these meetings so that you can benefit too.

And then we’ll be able to continue the conversation both in the comment sections on the AWAI website each day, as well as on Facebook – where I speak to and help AWAI members every day. (If you’re not connected to me yet on Facebook, you can find me here.)

For today’s conversation, I’d like to tackle something that came up a lot at the Web Intensive but also comes up again and again on the AWAI forums and website …

Getting it all done!

With so much to do, and other areas of your life competing for your attention, how can you find the time to get it all done?

In the past, I’ve written articles about setting goals, creating to-do lists based on those goals, and even drilling down to daily tasks …

But if you don’t have a good system for managing your time effectively, getting it all done can feel like an impossible feat.

People often joke with me that I must never sleep because I seem to do so much at any given time.

But I’ll tell you a secret …

I’m no good without my full eight hours of sleep. I don’t work 14-hour days anymore (even though I used to when I first started out). And I’ve never been one to “burn the midnight oil.” I’m simply not productive enough after a certain point to make giving up my precious sleep worthwhile.

Yet I’m still as productive – if not more so – than many people I meet.


Because over the years I’ve studied my own habits, identified my weaknesses, and worked to create a system that helps me manage my time.

And today I’m going to share some tips I’ve found to be effective, in hopes that you’ll be able to create your own system too.

Keep in mind that we’re all different, and what works for me may not work for you. But by going through this process, you’ll quickly start to identify your own habits and create a system that works best for you.

We’ll start with what I’ve found to have the biggest impact on my productivity …

Plan your day the night before.

At any given time, I have multiple lists going in various notebooks. I have my professional to-do list in one notebook, my personal to-do list in another, and a list of ideas in a third.

Writing down every single to-do item is the only way I’ve found to be effective. And that goes for goals too.

Now at any given time, my work to-do list is scary. Much like your own list may be for starting your new writing career. The key I’ve found, though, is to not try to approach the master list in the morning.

If you sit down at your desk and face that scary to-do list, you’ll waste too much time deciding what to work on first and get overwhelmed by all that’s there.

Instead, write down what you realistically can do the next day on a post-it note.

I’ve learned that if the day’s list can’t fit on a post-it note, it’s usually impossible for me to get it all done.

Stick that to your computer, and the next morning, you’ve got your plan.

If you finish early and want to tackle something else on your master to-do list, great! Go ahead. And if for some reason you don’t finish the post-it, write anything you didn’t finish on the next day’s post-it, fill it up with a few new items, and start again.

I’ve been using the notebook system for years now, and the post-it note for about 6 months. And I’ve yet to find a better system for actually making forward progress on my to-do list … and therefore towards my goals.

Now that you know what you’ll be doing the next day, you need to make sure you have the focus to get it done. And that leads me to my next tip …

Get rid of time-wasters!

Email, Facebook, instant messenger … time-wasters are everywhere.

And the first step to taking control is identifying what they are. Sometimes this takes a few days of monitoring yourself.

I started clocking my hours for a week to see where I was wasting time, and for me, it was email. I would literally hit the send and receive button on my email whenever I had a case of writer’s block or was feeling overwhelmed.

My biggest distraction was me!

I’ve since developed some excellent strategies for managing email that you can read in an article I wrote called Stop Your Inbox from Killing Your Productivity.

Then came social media …

When I started clocking my hours, I found out I was checking Facebook almost every hour! And Twitter was a whole other issue. Now I’ve learned to schedule my social media time each day.

Which leads me to my final tip …

Set up your home office for success.

I used to brag about my multitasking ability. In hindsight, I was really just working harder than necessary because of it.

Fortunately, I’ve picked up lots of tips from super successful writers like Nick Usborne and Bob Bly over the years that have helped me nip that multitasking habit in the bud …

When you’re working on a project – surround yourself with stuff from that project ONLY. Don’t have your to-do lists, other project materials, smartphone, etc. out where they can distract you.

Also, consider getting a second computer …

This may seem counterintuitive, but it helped increase my productivity – especially my writing projects – a lot.

I write on one computer, and check my email and social media accounts on another. That way when I’m writing, I’m writing. Nothing distracts me.

And finally, let your family and roommates know that when you’re in your office, you’re working. Sometimes it helps to hang a sign on the door or close the door altogether. But whatever you do, make sure that everyone knows that just because you work from home doesn’t mean you’re available.

Although … I’ve yet to figure out how to keep my two dogs and cat from obeying that rule … and if you’ve been on a few teleconferences with me, you may have heard Abbey – my Doberman – voicing her opinions in the background. :)

So if you’ve been struggling with “getting it all done” lately, I’d like for you to take this week and audit your current process, home office, and how you spend your time each day. Look for ways that you can improve all of them by trying some of my techniques or developing your own.

And if you have some tips you’d like to share with your fellow readers and me, I invite you to add a comment here.

Together we’ll create the most complete and effective list of tips for getting it all done!

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Published: March 21, 2011

9 Responses to “Getting Stuff Done”

  1. I just typed a message and didn't do the shadow characters right and lost it.

    Anyway, thanks for the great tips.

    Guest (Karen Cioffi)

  2. The idea of two computers is great, but there's a more cost-effective way to do the same thing. On my PC, I have 3 profiles. One is for my personal life and email. Another profile is for my business, with separate email accounts and preferences. The third is for the book editing I do, a side business that I want to keep separate. Since "switching user" takes time, it make me think twice about going over to the personal profile when I'm supposed to be working on my business profile!

    Guest (Nancy)

  3. I've found that it's important to schedule my writing/creative time in the morning; too easily, it can get edged out by email and phone calls. Unless I'm expecting something important, I don't check email or social media until after lunch.

    Guest (Laura)

  4. When I got frustrated with program procedures I didn't understand or didn't do correctly, I found myself cooling off in "Games." Eventually, I realized I needed to eliminate the "Games" that easily wasted hours every week. I deleted that distraction from my writing computer. I like your post-it list. I'm implementing it today. Thanks.

    Guest (Stefan)

  5. If I start out checking Facebook or email, I get lost in it and my productive time is wasted. So I have 2 rules. One: I go straight to my current work (which is finishing the "Accelerated Program for 6-Figure Copywriting"). Two: I Follow One Course Until Successful (which I learned from a great AWAI article recently!). Only when I've reached my self-assigned goal for that work session do I give myself a break to "play" online. When I stick to this, it's amazing how much I accomplish!

    Judy Andrew

  6. Rebecca,

    Thanks for writing such a terrific post.

    In fact, I think a lot of newbies, wannabes and amateurs can learn from your personal challenges, struggles.

    Your schedule reminded me of a similar idea I had learned earlier from the great Michael Masterson.

    Like you, he is also in the habit of planning the night before for the following day.

    For peak performance, it also helps to wake up early and get a good workout in the early morning.

    That can enhance your energy and focus too. Cheers.

    Archan Mehta

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