Self-Organization: Capturing Items and Managing Projects

In an earlier blog entry, I talked about the beginnings of getting organized, including organizing your files, creating a tickler file, and processing through everything in your inboxes every day.  Now, let’s look at capturing and managing all projects you have on your plate.  Remember:  the idea is to get things out of your head, through your inboxes (physical and/or email) and into your organization system, so they can be handled timely and by the right people.

1. Have a capture tool with you always for work and personal items.  A capture tool?  That’s just a fancy way of saying that you need to be able to record every thought about something that needs to be done when it occurs to you.  You probably already have a grocery list on your refrigerator – that’s a capture tool.  As soon as you notice you’re out of milk, you put it on the grocery list, so the next time you’re at the grocery story, you don’t forget to pick up milk.  Have you ever gone to the store thinking you’ll just remember all 6 items you need, but once you get to the store, you can only remember 5?  Yep.  Should have used a list (a capture tool).

Your capture tool can be a small note pad and pen, the electronic memo or task function on your PDA or cell phone, or a voice recorder.  Whatever works for you and is portable.  So, when you get home from work and remember that you need to call Joe Schmoe tomorrow about the Smith account, you can write it down on your note pad, type it into your PDA or cell phone task list, or record the reminder on a voice recorder.  (Only one method required – not all three.)  The idea is that if you “capture” the thought, you won’t fret all evening or lose sleep trying not to forget to make the important phone call the next day.  Capture it and forget it until you’re where you can deal with the item.  And don’t worry about keeping personal and business items separate.  Capture everything together.  You might need to pick up a birthday card for Aunt Martha during your lunch hour, so get it down somewhere.  The timing of when you can complete personal projects and business projects overlap much of the time because business hours needed for information or service for your personal projects are the same business hours you’re at work.

2. Create a Projects List that includes both personal and work items.  A project is anything that takes more than 1 step to do.  For example, “Clean the house on Saturday” could involve these steps: (1) check for needed cleaning supplies, (2) vacuum the carpet, (3) dust the furniture, (4) clean the bathtubs, (5) clean the sinks, etc.  Now even if you write down, “Clean the house on Saturday”, chances are you will become overwhelmed thinking of the project as a whole.  Ugh!  But if you break it down step by step, you need only muster up the energy to do the next piece, which usually isn’t so bad.

So, your project list might include both personal and work items:

  • Clean the house on Saturday
  • Get cleaning supplies
  • Vacuum carpet
  • Dust furniture
  • Clean bathtubs
  • Clean sinks
  • Create new employee appreciation program
  • Call to George at XYZ Company to find out what they do for employee appreciation
  • Talk to HR about doing an employee survey
  • Invite Bob, Mary, Jim, and Sue to be on an employee appreciation committee

Don’t be surprised if your project list has 50+ projects on it.  Take the time to capture it all, so you’ve identified all the balls you have in the air.  It will feel good to get everything down where you can see it.  And again, your Project List can be on paper or electronic.  Don’t worry if you can’t think of EVERY step required for each project.  As you work through the steps of the project, you’ll see what you need to add.  That leads to the Next Actions list.

3. A Next Actions list contains those things that are ready to be done.  This list contains those things that must happen as soon as you can do them – personal and professional.  From your Inbox, Tickler file, and Projects list, you can determine what your Next Actions are for the next week or so.  Next Actions that must happen on a particular day and/or time can go on your calendar.  Other Next Actions may not be time sensitive, in which case, you’ll keep them on your Next Actions list until you do them.  Again, the Next Actions list can be on paper or kept electronically.

If you have more than, say, 25 items on your Next Actions list, you might want to categorize them to make it easier to manage.  Categories might include:

  • Phone Calls
  • Errands
  • Computer Work
  • At Home
  • Agenda Items (for people and meetings)
  • Read/Review
  • Waiting For (anything you’re waiting for someone else to do)

Use categories that make sense for you.  You’ll need to review your Projects and Next Actions lists at least once per week to make sure you’re on track.