I confess: I can’t touch each piece of paper just one time. I can’t return every email within 24 hours. I can’t maintain a clear desk at all times. I can’t go paperless. Nevertheless, I’ve found some realistic strategies for getting things done that have helped me a lot.
One thing I know about myself is that an accumulation of tiny tasks, even if they aren’t particularly irksome in themselves, combine to make me feel overwhelmed and drained. If I can keep little chores from piling up, I feel much more capable of tackling bigger, more difficult tasks.
For that reason, many of my most important daily personal productivity rules are very low-tech and simple -- they’re aimed to help me accomplish the most basic tasks of my day.
1.) Follow the “one-minute rule.” I don’t postpone any task that can be done in less than one minute. I put away my umbrella. I glance at a letter and toss it. I put the newspapers in the recycling bin. I close the cabinet door. Because the tasks are so quick, it isn’t too hard to make myself follow the rule, but it has big results.
2.) Observe the “evening tidy-up.” I take 10 minutes before bed to do simple tidying. Tidying up at night made our mornings more serene and pleasant, because I’m not running to and fro like a headless chicken; it also helps me prepare me for sleep, because putting things in order is calming, and doing something physical makes me aware of being tired.
3.) Do a daily errand, or a bi-weekly errand afternoon. I keep a list of things I need to do (get a prescription filled, buy a new toner cartridge, return library books) and, each day, I do one of them. Doing one errand is manageable, and although it doesn’t sound like much, it adds up. My mother prefers to spend one afternoon every few weeks running errands -- perhaps a more efficient strategy in a place like Kansas City, where she needs to do a lot of driving from place to place, in contrast to New York City, where I usually do my errands while I’m walking someplace. And while I’m running those errands, I...
4.) Buy necessary supplies and keep them in order. Nothing annoys me more than spending time vainly searching for some obscure yet important office supply: a jumbo binder clip, an index card, a ruler, double-sided tape. I dislike running errands (therefore, tip Number 2), but having the right equipment, and keeping it organized enough so I can find what I want, makes a big difference to how much I can get accomplished in a day. Also my level of aggravation.
5.) Ask yourself, “Why do I need this?” before you keep anything. I have a friend who filed the stubs from her gas bills for years. “Why do you keep those at all?” I asked, when she was complaining about how far behind she was with her personal paperwork. “My father always told me to keep that kind of thing,” she said. That’s not a good enough reason!