After several years of trying to be more intentional with to-do lists and productivity methods, I’ve come to realize that it seems like something works well for a while then the effectiveness seems to wear off. At which point, I’m drawn to a new thing which then spurs my energy and intentionality in planning. It’s sort of like alternating therapies. For example, hot and cold compress or switching antibiotics so your body doesn’t become immune to one or another.
Perhaps it’s just my personality, but I have found that I have to embrace changing up my methods now and then. It helps me to keep on top of things in work and life stays fresh and fun.
Here are some of the ideas I have heard about and many, some with more success than others, I have tried:
Write out the next day’s plan
If I take a few minutes before leaving for the day and just write out my plan for tomorrow, it really does help on two fronts: 1) it allows me to be mentally free when I go home and 2) it helps jump-start the next day. I usually write this out on my digital to-do list.
I have been using the Wunderlist App for a couple years. This to-do list app is probably not unlike others in that I can access it from my phone or log in on my computer at the office. I have a variety of to-do lists and reminders programmed in to help me focus during the day. Some of these reminders include prayer reminders such as praying for my wife and kids, church family, ministry, other ministry leaders, etc. I also have other reminders in there of things I want to keep on the front burner – playing music with my kids, sending notes to people, etc.
Post it note list
I typically will take a little post-it notepad to a meeting and make notes. I heard one time that your to-do list should be no longer than what fills up a post-it note for the day. For a while, I tried this on a regular basis, but my desk just got filled up with sticky notes. So, now I usually just use a post-it notepad on my desk to make quick notes to myself.
Old fashioned to do list
Every once in a while, when I’m really overwhelmed, I will pull out a piece of paper and revert back to an old-fashioned to do list. I’ll list everything out that I need to accomplish, then segment them into little boxes (categorized by church, Harvest, family, personal), prioritize them and then work from the paper for the day.
Though certain seasons get muddled with everything going on, it helps me to mentally segment my days of work. I typically schedule early Monday morning for administrative tasks, take a break on Monday afternoons and then have a church staff meeting late in the day. Tuesdays are typically focused on Harvest Ministry, Wednesday is focused on church, Thursday is focused on conferences and prep and Friday and Saturday are off, unless we have a ministry event. If we do have a ministry event, I try to find another day to take a break.
Nozbe task list
For a while I used Nozbe, in much the same way I’m now using Wunderlist. They are somewhat similar, but for some reason, i just switched a while back.
I first got the idea of an ideal calendar from Michael Hyatt. Later, I heard Carey Niewhof talking about a fixed calendar. Both of these are pretty similar. The idea is that barring any unusual circumstance, you can organize what your ideal work week (and family/personal time) would be, put it down on paper and as much as possible, try to live into it.
This little app has been great for team communication. Again, it works across all platforms and we use it for both the church office team and with Harvest Ministry.
Write your top six things you want to do during the day, then get in the office, begin with the first one and do not move to item number two until you are done with item number one. I once heard a story about a CEO that tried this with the whole company and got amazing results. I sometimes do this when I’m overwhelmed and have to get a solid starting place and some motivation to get a project finished.
Deep work first thing
The book Deep Work resonated with me. I realize how easy it is for me to get distracted. I also know what it’s like to be in the zone of really getting stuff done. Since reading the book, those zones have become more frequent. The art is setting yourself up for deep work more often. I will often name the day’s biggest project and highest priority “deep work” on my to-do list for the day. I do my best to try and get that done in the first 90 minutes without any other interruptions. It’s amazing what can be done with focus and with your phone set aside.
I use google calendar to keep track of schedules and events. We also use the calendar app to share information about those schedules. I use google calendar for church and Harvest.
In my phone notepad, I will make any quick notes that come to mind. Then, when I have some time to kill waiting for something, I will just buzz through the notes and delete what has been done. Most often, I don’t even refer back to the digital notepad, but just the act of knowing it’s noted helps me remember it more clearly.
Habits and routines
After reading several books on the power of habit, I have become convinced that everyone has habit and rituals, the trick is to focus those toward a great outcome.
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