I’ve had several comments and calls about a previous post where I offered the time management tool of sorting through your workload by using a Johari window of Important vs Urgent. People ask me how to make sure they take action on the things in the Important but Not Urgent quadrant. They say, “These things are big. They just sit on my to do list and never get done”. I keep offering the same follow up tip. Here it is.
I call this the “next step planning process”. Here’s how it works:
Look at your “to do list”. Chances are there are two types of things on there; Jobs and Tasks. And oops, sometimes you also have full blown projects on your to do list. This is rare because they usually live in a different part of our organising brain that requires full-on ‘planning’, not just ‘doing’. It’s more common to see just two types of things on our lists; the jobs and the tasks. For the purpose of this exercise, I define Jobs and Tasks as follows:
Jobs - Large things that will take hours or days and involve multiple steps with others.
Tasks - Manageable things that can be completed in one go.
Giving consideration to the definitions above, you need to separate the jobs from the tasks. Once you have identified the jobs which have been masquerading as tasks, you need to give them their own list. Write up the jobs on a white board where you can easily update them.
NOTE: I often find with my coaching clients that the “Jobs” are the important things as opposed to the urgent things. And it’s common to see these Jobs pile up because they are too complex and will take too long. So they get ignored until they become urgent. Then we complete them with the added STRESS of an 11th hour deadline.
Once you get a job onto the “job list” you need to spend about 2 minutes, no longer, to jot down any of the steps that are required to complete the job. Simply jot down the steps that pop into your mind. Don’t go digging for the full list.
Caution: Some of these steps are full jobs too. If this happens, then what you have on your hands is a full-on “project” and that is a completely different beast. But it’s certainly better to know now that you have a project with inherent jobs on your to do list.
Assess your available time over the next two or three days. Pick one of the steps that you can or would enjoy completing and move it into the “next step” position. Now move this on to your “to do list” as just a task.
I know this will be hard. We want to get the whole thing done. But trust me, I do this for a living with dozens of clients each month, so if you just complete the next step you will be subtly moving this job onto the front of the stove and the small tasks you are undertaking and completing will contribute positive energy toward a better outcome for the job.
Move another step into the “next step” position.
Scan for more “next steps” to add to the list. As you go, the steps will organically begin to sequence themselves, so there is no need for Gantt charts yet, unless you have a full blown “project” on the go.
What the “next step planning process” achieves:
Helps with any procrastination tendencies
Breaks down jobs and goals into manageable bite size pieces
Begins to engage your brain on the “important” stuff
Being kind to yourself and breaking the cycle of stress
Some closing thoughts about us, the creative types, and the planning process.
In my experience we resist and don’t like planning because it feels so abstract. We much prefer the physical and the concrete. We also don’t like it because it feels somewhat in the future, and we prefer dealing with the here and now.
The strange thing is, as creative people, we are excellent planners. We deliver shows on time and on budget. We are intuitive planners; a sophisticated process of timelines, tasks and communications are managed quickly and seamlessly.
Extracting this process from our internal proven and comfortable method can be awkward. However, there are situations where our internal method is not the best. Often we need to collaborate with others in planning and need an external process that we can share. And regularly we have far too much on and need to manage the things we have on the go.
The fundamental reason for lists and this process is to free up some brain space to work on the “bigger picture” while also quickly managing the little tasks.