I have a love-hate relationship with productivity, like most writers. As a full-time author, I struggle with getting enough writing done during the day, especially when I’m also expected to publish books, market books, talk to fans, stay active on social media, maintain my website(s), keep my descriptions and metadata up-to-date, strategize, network with other authors, and put together a promotions schedule.
In all of this, it is hard to create on a regular basis.
I’ve tried a number of systems over the years, but the to-do list that has worked best for me is insanely simple.
Oddly enough, I have no idea if I invented it or if it’s someone else’s. But I do know that whenever I’m struggling with productivity, I come back to it—and it just works!
Here’s what you do:
Step 1: Get a small sheet of paper
The size I use is 4 inches by 6 inches.
Step 2: Create my “grid”
The grid is incredibly easy to draw. First, draw a horizontal line through the middle so there are two equal parts, a top and bottom. Second, divide the bottom rectangle into four equal parts by drawing a cross. Third, go to the box in the bottom right-hand corner and divide it into five sections by drawing four horizontal lines across.
The end result looks like this:
Step 3: Fill your to-do list in at the beginning of the day.
The large box: something very important that you estimate will take 2 hours or less to complete. (I put a writing or editing task in this box, typically.)
The medium boxes: three things that you must do, that you estimate will take 25 minutes or less to complete.
The small rectangles in the corner: five necessary admin tasks that you estimate will take 5 minutes or less to complete. (These could be things like posting a snippet on Google+, or responding to a nagging email.)
Now, you have four hours of work on your to-do list, which is the reasonable amount that you can expect to get done in a day working full time.
You can also visualize how important a task is by the size of the box. If you notice, the boxes are perfectly proportioned to each other (with a 5 minute break every 25 minutes, of course, per the pomodoro method).
Feel free to leave some of these boxes blank at the start of the day. In my experience, I’ve always filled them in by the end.
Why This Works
- It forces you to prioritize only 9 items to get done in a day
- It forces you to schedule loosely, yet still *finish* something
- It forces you to do a mix of work so you aren’t neglecting certain areas of your career/business
- It forces you to work in pomodoros
- It forces you to visualize your tasks, so getting five little things done is less satisfying then getting the big one at the top done
Some More To-Do Rules I Follow
- I force myself to stop working when the list is done
- I don’t allow myself to double up on any of the boxes
- I force myself to finish the list that day (after all, it’s only half the work I could have done, right?)
- I don’t put any daily or weekly to-dos on my grid—those are habits. After all, I wouldn’t put brushing my teeth on there! Habits require a different management system.
- I don’t add things that don’t sound fun to any place but the 5-minute task area.
What If I Have a Job?
If you have a full-time job or other obligations, you can switch the time lengths or (probably the better option) create one grid to get done for the entire week. After all, four hours a week to move your writing career forward is nothing!
If you have a productivity system that works for you, please leave a comment and share it with everyone!
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