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Organizing Work

This lesson is a part of an audio course Organize and Prioritize Your Life by Austin Churchill

In our previous lesson, you learned that organizing and prioritizing is important if you want to deliver on your highest value work. Now, let's talk about how to set your foundation by organizing work. Let's think about this as the "what" you need to do.

Just like in our last lesson, let's start out by checking in with Employee A from Company XYZ.

Employee A has a busy day ahead of them, and they don't know if there is enough time to get it all done. Their boss emails at 9:00 am asking for Employee A to complete a new high priority task by the end of the day. Employee A is concerned that they cannot finish everything they have committed to today. What should Employee A do?

Your first thought might be to jump on this new task immediately. While this might be your highest priority task, there is also a high probability that it is not. Many of us fall victim to what is called recency bias, which favors recent events over historical ones. When we give greater importance to recent events, we neglect the important tasks we have planned for.

Not only is recency bias, a common pitfall in this situation but also authority bias. This is when we give greater importance to the opinion of someone in an authority position. Managers often do not know all of the tasks that their direct reports are working on at a given time. This is why it is critical to make them aware of the other tasks that you have on your plate. That way, you and your boss can determine where in your priorities this new task lies.

Now that we are aware of potential biases and pitfalls, we can properly organize our work. Before you go straight into prioritizing your work, it is important to first ask yourself what you are doing. Relying on a mental to-do list will lead to completing the first thing that comes to mind. As we learned in lesson 1, this is often not aligned with your highest value work.

Here are a few tips to get you organized:

  • White everything down. Take notes in your meetings to ensure that you remember the action items you take away from them. Your notes act as context for your action items. This is critical to help you when you revisit your action items at a later time.

  • Break down your tasks. This concept is known as micro-productivity. By decomposing large tasks into small micro-tasks, we make them more approachable, thus reducing the propensity to procrastinate. When we have large tasks, the tendency is to not know where to begin. The effort of micro-tasking not only makes the task more approachable, but it also helps us to better understand the task.

  • Store your tasks in a central system that works for you. Whether your preference is to physically write your work down or use a computer software program, it is important to choose one central place to track your tasks. There are many free software programs that allow for flexibility to shuffle your priorities and easily make modifications to your tasks. Whatever you choose, make sure that it is something that you know you will stick with.

Once you have all of your tasks in one central system, it is important to regularly bring them together to create a big picture of all of your work. Take time at least once a week to compile all of your notes and tasks into your central system. This will give you a comprehensive view at your work and ensure that you have not missed or forgotten about any of our tasks.

Your Task: Identify the system that you are going to use to organize all of your work. It is important that you give this some thought. The system you chose needs to be one that works well with your type of work and is something you can see yourself using daily. After choosing your system, upload all active and future work into the system.

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Written by

Austin Churchill