How to Prepare to Get More Things Done
Do this before you work so you can work better
In the American south, there is a colloquialism; fixing, usually pronounced without the G sound, as in fixin’. It means you are about to do something. Some people mistake it for a synonym of preparing, but it is more of preparing to prepare. You are about to do something, but you have done nothing yet. Or, as they would say, you ain’t done nothing yet. I’m fixin’ to cook dinner. I’m fixin’ to go to the store.
I’m fixin’ to get to work.
And that’s what I want to talk to you about today, and I promise I'll leave the jargon behind soon. I want to talk to you about the work you do so you can get to work and get more things done. Part of it is traditional preparation, and part of it is the mental gearing up, similar to fixin’.
So, let’s get to it.
For many people, the span between not working and working is the time to sit down behind a desk. One minute they’re not working, the next they are. And if you are just coming back from a break, which I highly recommend, that may be okay; we’ll get back to that in a minute.
I’m talking about when you first prepare to start work in the morning, or whenever you begin your work period. Just like I’ve described in my morning routine and end-of-day routine, linked below, I want you to develop a routine to begin working and to end working. I promise you, it will help you get more done and in a less stressful manner.
So preparing you to begin your workday, I first need to cover the end of the day. How you leave your workspace when you quit work will determine what state it is in when you begin. This will be very hard for some of you, but if you practice it, like any other skill, you will master it.
You know who you are. You sit down to your computer, which has 18 programs running, including at least one browser with 47 tabs open. You have to move a pile of papers off of your keyboard to do anything, so you place that pile on the larger stack next to the monitor. You brush the crumbs off your mouse pad and begin clicking away, trying to get to where you need to start.
Your desk is cluttered, your mind is cluttered, and you are getting off to a terrible start.
End your day
So, I want you to end your day like this. Scan your email. More on that process in the Begin the day section. Go through your task management software; again covered later. Close every tab in your browser. If you need to remember where you were, that’s what bookmarks are for. Close the browser and every other program that is running. This next step will be the most difficult, but it is essential for success. Ready?
Shut down your computer.
That’s right; just shut it down. I know you haven’t done this voluntarily since you bought the thing, but it will make this process so much better. In addition, it will clear your computer’s memory, so when you start tomorrow, your computer will run much faster.
Next, clear everything off your desk. There will be a future article about going paperless, but let’s not try to do too much at one time. Baby steps. Organize every piece of paper into functional areas and file them away.
In a drawer.
Out of sight.
The first day, you need to schedule some time to do this. Maybe half a day. But the effort will be worth it. You will discover a lot of paper you don’t need anymore, so trash it. You will find paper that didn’t need to be paper; printouts of websites you can easily bring up on the computer. There will be papers for projects, you haven’t touched in weeks, if not months. Create a file and put them away. Make yourself a note to add something to your task management system (You do have one don’t you) for future reference. Finally, create files and put away current projects and tasks.
Look! There’s your desk. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
Continue by putting everything else away. Ideally, what I’d like you to see is your laptop or keyboard, a monitor (or two), and your mouse. At most, a notepad and pen. That’s it.
And that’s how I want you to end each day. Desk clean and computer off. Now you are ready to begin a new day.
Begin the day
Before you get to your desk, I want you to have followed your morning routine. Breathe and stretch. Eat and have some coffee. Exercise. Breathe and stretch again.
When you get to your desk, you are relaxed, with a clear mind and ready to work.
Sit down at your desk and just think for a few minutes. Let your mind wander. Because of where you are and how you ended the previous day, your mind will eventually focus on work. It’s inevitable. It’s what you’re there to do.
But by just sitting a few moments first, your mind achieves clarity. It also allows you to get ready to work, so that starting work is the logical next step and your mind goes there unbidden, rather than you having to drag it there kicking and screaming.
Now. It’s time. Turn on the computer.
When it boots up, I want you to do three things. The order doesn’t matter, but I want you to do them in the same order every day.
Scan your social media
Scan your email
Look at your task management and calendar software.
You will do it, so you may as well incorporate it into your schedule and get it out of the way. But set a timer. Ten to twenty minutes. That should get your fix in. Then, close those tabs and turn off social media notifications unless your job depends on them. Later, when you take a break, you can check again.
You can find hundreds of articles on inbox zero, so I don’t want to go into details here. But you will have gone through the same process at the end of the day, so you are only seeing emails that came in overnight. Delete the trash. Schedule and file the things you need to do later. Answer or handle anything that you can do in less than 2 minutes. Inbox Zero.
Again, there is plenty of information out there about how to manage your tasks, along with many methodologies for handling them. But whatever method you use, use it. You can do this at the end of the day or the beginning, but do it at the same time every day. Look at what didn’t get finished yesterday and reschedule it. Check your priorities and make sure everything is in order. Schedule tasks from your email and calendar. Before you begin work, you need to know what to work on and in what order.
Now, your mind is clear, your desk is clear, and you have your direction plotted for the day. It’s time to get to work. For some of you, these habits will be tough but stick with them. They will pay off. End your day clearing your slate and begin each day with a clean one.
But there is one more subject I wanted to talk about and that is taking breaks.
Take them. Lots of them. Short ones and long ones. Schedule them and prioritize them so they don’t get left behind. They are as important as the other tasks, so treat them that way.
I suggest taking tiny breaks, one minute or less, two to three times an hour. For those, leave your desk as is. But I also suggest taking longer breaks periodically and at least a one hour, preferably two hour, break at mid-day.
For those, follow a mini version of your end of day routine. Anything that is finished, close it, and put it away. Anything you are still working on, organize it, and make sure you have it in the right priority. Also use the longer breaks to check email and social media.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s the end of my day.