Three simple steps for staying focused and getting things done

There are many things I want to do and I’ve been known to multitask (as recently as last week!). When time seems elusive, it can be easy to get caught in the trap of doing too many things at once.

Fortunately, I have a simple, three step process that helps me focus on one thing at a time and to be more realistic about how much I can actually accomplish.

Here it is:

  1. Write a short, specific list
  2. Create a realistic and reasonable plan
  3. Select a reward

One of the reasons this process works for me is because I enjoy writing to-do lists, and I usually get more done when I hand write them. I like apps like Toodledo (especially since I can set reminders), but I love crossing tasks off on a paper list. Like Erin, sometimes I put things I’ve already done on my list just so I can put a line through them.

Now that I have spring cleaning on my mind, I’ve created a list for my latest project: organizing the outside of my home. As a new mom, I put more effort in (trying to) keep the inside of my home organized, and there are times that I forget about the outdoor chores. But, now that this is back on my radar, I took a look inside our shed. It has been a bit neglected because we were so focused on the impending arrival of a certain little person. Needless to say, it needs some attention. As I looked around the yard, I also noticed a few other things that were crying out for a some tender loving care.

So, my first step was to make a list of some (not all) of the things I wanted work on. There are several helpful spring cleaning checklists that I could use, however, in this case, I decided to make a short list based on:

  • Things I think are important (i.e., need fixing and will make me happy).
  • The amont of time it will take for me to complete them.

The short list

Whenever I make a list, I include the top three things needed to complete each task. When I complete a step, I cross it off and move on to the next one until all tasks have been taken care of. I have also used “One Thing” notepads by

  1. Re-organize the shed
    • Remove obvious trash and recyclables
    • Re-organize shelves (keep like items together)
    • Sweep and annihilate cobwebs
  2. Add plants to pots at entry way
    • Buy potting soil
    • Buy perennials with color (perennials take less time to maintain)
    • Plant flowers and water them

The reasonable plan

  • I intend to finish all tasks by the end of June. I find that when I have a deadline, the likelihood of finishing my project is high. Without one, I can turn into a waffler.
  • I will work in 15-30 minute time blocks three days every week. I would like to work my plan every day, but I doubt I’d be successful at that. Short organizing sessions will give me enough time to get some chores done and still let me do other (unrelated) things.
  • I will pick one thing to focus on each day. By focusing on one item, I can keep feelings of overwhelm at bay.
  • I will ask for help. When there’s a second person, 15-30 minutes will double, I’d probably get more done, and finish my chores sooner.
  • I will think of a nice reward when my project is complete.

The amazing reward

I get little bursts of joy each time I cross something off my list, and I get the personal satisfaction of actually finishing what I set out to do. But, when I choose a fabulous way to pat myself on the back, that helps me get through my list because I have something amazing to look forward to.  I think a manicure and a massage are in my near future.

7 Comments for “Three simple steps for staying focused and getting things done”

  1. posted by Nicky at Not My Mother on

    I love this. Will you keep us updated on how you go? It’s inspiring me to want to do something about MY to do list!

  2. posted by Dede on

    At first I thought, duh, I knew those were the three steps. But I LOVE how you broke them down into more details. I really REALLY need things spelled out for me like that. “Cleaning out the ___” could mean so many things that itemizing WHAT it entails is so necessary. It reminds me of teaching my kids what “go clean your room” means. They had no idea, until I got a clue and showed them and we talked about how to do it.
    I am definitely printing this out and will be using the steps to declutter and reorganize. Starting with my desk….or maybe the kitchen cabinets.

  3. posted by Organizer nyc on

    Thanks Deb for those simple yet so very much briefed details with regards to organizing my home, they are quite inspirational thou everyday general tips.

  4. posted by Atlanta Storage on

    Toodle-do is one of my all-time favorite apps! I love it partially because with the iPhone version, it does feel as tangible (to me) as putting a line through something on a piece of paper. I also like how you can set goals and organize them into subordinate steps and then tasks.

    If you’re into apps of this sort, you should also check out asana. It’s more of a collaborative to-do list than a personal one (good for projects involving colleagues or spouses) and I think was created by one of the founders of Facebook.

    All in all, great post!

  5. posted by chacha1 on

    Get Rich Slowly has a post this week on the habit loop of cue-routine-reward. Useful way of looking at how we approach recurring tasks.

  6. posted by Deb Lee on

    @Nicky – I love how you’re keeping me accountable. =) Yes, I do plan to share my progress so stay tuned. Btw, what’s on your list?

  7. posted by Kate on

    …back to the posting after a 10-minute peek at the fun stuff on What was I reading about again? Oh, right. Staying focused…maybe I should start again from the beginning 😉 Thanks for the post, Deb. (I obviously need it!)

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