Today, I’m going to cover a few essentials to ensure you have a year surpassing all others.
Don’t feel like you need to implement everything now. Simply take note of where there might be a missing in your processes and get into action when you’re ready.
1. To-Do Lists
In 2023, many “gurus” are going to tell you to throw away your to-do lists. Nothing could be more ridiculous. Your to-do lists are key to keeping your daily activity aligned with your goals.
You will need to prioritize your list, of course, because it’s easy to waste time on lesser tasks while ignoring the big, scary ones.
But if you’re guided solely by intuition, you will make mistakes, drop the ball, waste time, or worse.
If you prefer to create digital to-do lists over hardcopy ones, I suggest ClickUp.
In 2023, many “gurus” are going to tell you not to set goals. Nothing could be more ridiculous.
At all times, we should be crystal clear on what we’re aiming for in business, creativity, and life. We need a target. We need to know where the bull’s eye is if we have any hope of hitting it.
So, set goals and put them somewhere you will see them every single day.
Don’t be discouraged by failures or resolutions not kept. Close the chapter on 2022 and start fresh.
3. A Timeboxed Calendar
Your to-do lists and goals must be reflected in your schedule. Otherwise, your goals will be reduced to wishful thinking.
If you want to write a book, for example, block an hour in your calendar, every single day, to write and edit.
If you require examples, and a step-by-step process for creating your own timeboxed calendar, refer to Nir Eyal’s article on timeboxing.
4. A Notion Page
Is there a central space your team can go to see exactly how a project is progressing?
Even if you’re a freelancer, solopreneur, or independent artist, there is massive value in capturing the key details of your projects and updating them as you make progress.
If anyone can look at your Notion page and know exactly what you’re up to without having a single conversation with you, you’re on the right track.
Notion is a simple to use tool that allows you to display and organize a variety of information. I can cover how I organize mine in a future article, but either way it should not take you long to set up a new account.
With the amount of journaling I do, I’ve found my iPad and Apple Pencil to be the best tools for the job.
Whether it’s for note-taking, goal setting, or brainstorming sessions, your journal entries can form the foundation of new strategies, content, discussions, and more.
Your mind is not a great place to store information. So, get in the habit of capturing key information in your journal as your days unfold. Don’t forget to review your entries as well (sometimes, there is gold hidden in there).
In the digital age, our reliance on digital tools grows.
But there can still be tremendous value in paper-based tools like notebooks, yellow legal pads, index cards, and of course, desktop calendar pads.
I have been using a desktop calendar pad to organize my life since 2016, and when I don’t have it, I almost feel naked.
The calendar pad gives me a bird’s eye view of what’s to come this month (as well as the months ahead). I have used this function to plan meetings, gigs, social gatherings, vacations, and even social media posts.
Although most digital calendars do have monthly views, they are often cluttered and harder to make out. I like the immediacy of the calendar pad.
Step #1 – Log All Upcoming Events
You won’t necessarily be using your calendar pad to plan your routine or what you’ll be doing hour to hour. This is something digital calendars do better.
But all calls, meetings, interviews, social events, and other activities and commitments should go in your calendar, along with the times at which they are to occur.
Don’t forget to keep adding to your calendar as new events are booked.
This is the most obvious use of the calendar pad, but the benefits that come from planning out in this manner might be unexpected.
For instance, twice per month, I have an early call on Wednesdays. But on Wednesdays when I don’t have these calls, I can work on something else. Or maybe even sleep in.
When you have a bird’s eye view of your month, you can easily make snap decisions about your day. Although I have a high degree of flexibility in my life already, I have always found this freedom exhilarating.
Pro tip: Plan your vacations well in advance and put them in your calendar. Otherwise, something will always come up and you’ll never be able to get away. You’ve got to prioritize yourself.
Step #2 – Log Income Sources
This is optional. In saying that, anything beyond the first step is optional.
On my calendar pad, there is a substantial “memo” section on the right side. Sometimes, I use this for ideas. But most of the time, I just log my income sources.
And that’s my system for creating an income ledger. I may transfer the data to a spreadsheet later (for income tax purposes), but I like to keep things simple, and this works for me.
I have all my calendar pads saved from 2016 onward.
Step #3 – Log What Matters to You
It’s possible to use your desktop calendar pad in a variety of other ways.
Earlier, I mentioned that you could use it to track your social media posts. Well, that’s where I got the idea to use a calendar pad in the first place. I’d read about someone who was using theirs to track their digital marketing activity.
Obviously, I use mine in a different way, but it still ended up becoming an invaluable tool.
Anyway, there’s nothing saying your calendar pad can’t be multi-purpose, and I will sometimes use it to track my scheduled posts (for my blog, Instagram, etc.).
It’s always nice to be able to work ahead and knowing when something is scheduled saves me the guesswork of having to log into WordPress or Instagram Creator Studio to try to figure out when my last post was scheduled.
Whatever you need to track, you can put it in your calendar to make your life easier.
The desktop calendar pad is most useful when used in connection with other tools (like a yellow legal pad for notes and to-do lists).
The best book on setting up a paper-based productivity system is David Allen’s Getting Things Done (affiliate link). Although I do not subscribe to the entire methodology, I have applied it piecemeal to my processes, and the habits have stuck with me ever since.
There may not be anything especially enticing about a desktop calendar pad, but as I’ve found, it can be a useful tool in helping you organize your life and boost your productivity.
I don’t know whether you do more meetings now than you did pre-lockdown. Personally, I have had far fewer commitments overall.
I still feel naked without my desktop calendar, so I keep one around regardless.
But the more you have to keep track of, the more you will likely benefit from incorporating a desktop calendar into your productivity routine.
This gives me a bird’s eye view of the week ahead and what needs to be completed.
When you’ve got a lot to do, and your energy is starting to wane, things can easily slip through the cracks.
The part that eludes many is that if they’d planned well, not only would they safeguard against forgetting important appointments, but they would also be able to make more time for meditation, rest, recreation, and sleep, which would ultimately make them more effective.
Yes, it sounds counterintuitive. Because planning feels like work. That’s because it is. But it’s an important work. Just like reading. And it helps you prioritize, create more time, and approach every week with a sense of peace and confidence.
I did not come up with the LifeSheet system. I first learned about it from James Schramko, who has a great training on it.
Schramko suggests setting up your LifeSheet within Google Drive, using Google Sheets, because of how searchable they are. This is my preference too.
I think it best to create a new LifeSheet every year and label them appropriately. This way, you can learn from each year past and avoid clutter.
Within Google Sheets, you can create tabs for anything you wish. I currently have tabs for Mission, Ideas, Concepts, Rules, Projects, Content Distribution, Post Ideas, Courses, and Medium Posts.
I could talk about each of these and share in detail what is stored in them. But suffice it to say, this is what has worked for me. And while I have taken certain ideas from Schramko, I have made my LifeSheet my own.
If you’re thinking about making your own, I would suggest doing the same. Customize your LifeSheet to serve you. That said, I’ll still offer some ideas and tips on how you can use your LifeSheet to stay organized. You can:
I have been using the same, physical, desktop calendar pad from Staples since 2016. Now I feel naked without it.
This is where I keep track of meetings (mostly virtual these days), appointments, important deadlines, and so forth.
I have never gone completely digital with my scheduling, though I certainly take advantage of digital calendar and scheduling tools as well.
Sometimes I will also log content I’ve completed in my physical calendar, so I know when to put together the next piece by.
There are other tools I use that help me stay organized to varying degrees. Here’s what they are:
Yellow legal pad. Perfect for tracking to-do items, especially admin related tasks.
Calendly. For scheduling appointments. I simply don’t have time for the typical back and forth on email. So, I use Calendly. I make Wednesdays and Thursdays available for ad hoc meetings and those booking can choose a time that’s convenient for them. I get notifications in my email and they are converted to local time.
iPad. This is where I keep my #StrategySunday minutes. I use my Apple Pencil to handwrite notes.
There are a few books that have shaped my organization habits and have made a tangible difference in my work life. They are as follows:
The 4-Hour Workweek(affiliate link) by Tim Ferriss. I blame Tim Ferriss for the de-prioritization of email in my life. I jest, but it’s kind of true. From him I learned that most communication is not life or death, make or break. It’s not urgent if it’s not urgent to you.
Getting Things Done(affiliate link) by David Allen. Allen advocates a paper-based system for organization and productivity. As he states in his book, you can take his system piecemeal and apply it to your own efforts, which is exactly what I have done. I don’t follow GTD to the letter. I just took the parts that made sense to me and left the rest alone. As noted earlier, I utilize both a desktop calendar pad and a yellow legal pad for the paper-based part of my system.
No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs(affiliate link) by Dan S. Kennedy. I have never come across anyone who better understands or values time as much as Kennedy does. if you want to know how to manage your time like a pro, this book is it. Kennedy’s book will also help you determine your value and exactly how much you would need to charge per hour to earn what you’re worth. The main thing I’ve done because of this book is ensure I have long blocks of “busy” time where no one can contact or distract me from my work.
The better organized you are, the more productive you will be. You will capture more ideas, prioritize better, make better use of your time, and more. As result, you will also make more.
How you organize is up to you. But I point to multiple methods and resources above that could be of tremendous help. I also publish on productivity every Wednesday, so for more tips, you can keep an eye on the blog too.
How do you stay organized? What methods have worked for you?
Let me know in the comments.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.
Take a moment and envision everything you’d love to accomplish in 2021. Then, begin to work backwards and figure out what actions you need to take today to bring about that result.
I remember sharing this with a showing agent who had never heard of this approach before. It kind of blew her mind.
Although crude, it’s that old saying:
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Although I forget the source, apparently actor Will Smith’s secret to success is biting off more than he can chew, and chewing until it’s digested.
There are little things you can do today to work towards desired outcomes. Start making time for them. Put them in your schedule. And be realistic about the amount of time and effort it’s going to take.
Which brings me to…
Schedule it in
If you don’t schedule it in, it doesn’t exist!
Don’t leave things floating around in your mind. Ideas should be captured. Goals should be written down. Priorities should be scheduled.
But whether it’s organizing your schedule, using a scheduling tool (like Calendly) to book your meetings, automating your social media posting, or otherwise, you can benefit a great deal from simple, basic systems that tame the chaos.
You can do a lot with a tool like Zapier. I’ve known about this tool for a long time, but I’m just beginning to recognize the possibilities.
At times, it may seem as though there’s nothing more uncreative than making systems but trust me when I say anyone with ambition will benefit from them.
Many entrepreneurs, like Quazi Johir, say they set out to accomplish three to five things per day, ignoring all else. Of course, knowing which three to five things to focus on is critical!
Do you find yourself trying to finish 10 to 20 things per day? Maybe it’s time to prioritize your list and make time for the few key things that will move the needle on your career or business.
Spend Less Time Watching the News (Unless it’s Part of Your Job)
Whether we like to admit it or not, 2020 is the year many of us spent glued to the tube.
And even if it wasn’t the tube, it was Flipboard, or YouTube, or Facebook. We kept an eye on the headlines, worried about what might happen next.
I don’t think 2021 is going to be any different. It will probably get worse before it gets better.
You should stay up to date, but not to the detriment of your mental and emotional health, which always ends up impacting your physical health too. Think of it this way – if you can’t sleep because of your worries, your physical health is already suffering.
Many people will say 2020 was a year unlike any other (because it’s a theme that’s been repeated in the media), but when you take a cold, hard look at the facts, it was a year much like any other. So, all that worrying was for nothing.
If you want to crush your goals, focus on them instead!
If something does not inspire you, motivate you, or excite you, it could be of some benefit, but it probably won’t yield huge results.
Now, I’m not talking about exercise or other habits that you may not want to do but benefit you anyway.
I’m talking about your projects and focuses. If they don’t make you want to jump out of bed every morning, they should at least prompt you to conscious and deliberate action. Otherwise, you’re off course and should reconsider.
Setting goals is great. But you must put some action behind them if you want to reach them.
Thinking, reflecting, and planning are all critical to your success. But all things being equal, action always carries more benefit. So, this year, develop a bias towards action!