How to you get so much done? What is your secret?
Whenever I send out the Empress of Dirt newsletter, I get emails asking how I manage to get so much done (projects, gardening, blogging…). I always laugh at first because, from my viewpoint, I’m always thinking about how much more I would like to accomplish. But, when I look back over a few months of blog posts, I see that yes, I do manage to get stuff done. It helps to be a person who doesn’t like to sit still, but I think the essential key is realistic planning.
This post will show you what I do. There’s no secret organic sauce but I promise you, this process works. If you want it to.
If you’re dealing with money problems or mess, there’s more tips at Debt-free Living and Decluttering 101: How to let it go and get on with it.
Making Goals Happen
I have a very full life as I’m sure you do too and that is where it may seem impossible to carve out the time and energy needed to take on one more thing. But it can be done.
And the wonderful news is, besides actually achieving the goal, this method is as stress-free as possible.
Let’s get started.
Mapping the Journey
First, forget the overwhelming feelings of a seemingly huge project and instead just think of your goal as a destination. Somewhere you will go. To turn a goal into a reality, you will need to map out how you are going to get there and allow sufficient time for the journey.
It sounds totally obvious but the most common steps that people skip right over are the ones that will actually get you where you want to go. Change takes work and time. The sooner you get real with time, the better off you will be with your goals (and any tasks you want to get done).
Instead of being too vague about your goal (I want to write a book), make it fairly specific (I want to write my second Empress of Dirt Garden Art & Ideas ebook this year).
The ultimate goal I want to be rich is much more likely to happen in the long run if the working goal is I want to earn an extra $10,000 this year with my freelance writing and put it in savings. Work with goals and plans, not wishes.
First, we map things out.
Here’s how I do it.
1. State the goal
I play two roles in this process. First, I’m the boss. The boss is the one with the big dreams who knows where she wants this ship to sail.
For example, knowing I want to write another Garden Art DIY book, the boss (me) will decide the desired overall look, feel, and size of the book, who the potential audience is, and how it can be marketed.
I start out by brainstorming the big picture. I review all of the ideas I’ve jotted down over the past months* and have a free-for-all writing and doodling any ideas that come to mind.
*You’ve got to capture those ‘great’ ideas the moment you think of them or they will be forgotten just as quickly. I use little notebooks plus phone and computer apps including Trello and Google Keep.
Next I summarize everything with one phrase = the goal.
I’m using the book writing example but this process is the same for any goal including weight loss, saving money, decluttering the house, letting go of negative habits or relationships, or anything else you want to accomplish. First start with the big picture and envision what you want the destination to be. Boil it down into a single phrase and you’re ready for the next step.
2. Identify the path to the goal
This is known as reverse engineering. Envision the finished product and then figure out everything needed to get from A (where you are now) to B (where you want to be).
In the book writing example, I map out every step of the process (research required, DIY projects to prepare, book chapter outlines, images needed, marketing plan, etc.).
I lay them out in the order they need to happen and that is the skeleton of my work plan.
Depending on the goal, this step may take the most time. Knowing what we need to do is half the secret to getting stuff done. The other is making time for it.
3. Map out Deadlines
If you have an end date or deadline for the project (either your own or one imposed on you), you are going to have to map out mini deadlines along the way to keep yourself on track. For example, if I have 6 months to write 12 chapters, I know I have to write two each month, or a half chapter each week.
There’s also goals that don’t need final deadlines (or shouldn’t have them), but instead simply become habits. This would include goals like eating a healthy diet, exercising on a regular basis, keeping in touch with old friends. The accountability for those types of goals is daily or weekly. Forever. Mwah-ha-ha!
I like to work in that middle zone where there’s a self-imposed deadline that gives me a bit of pressure, but I’m not working like such a mad dog that I feel like life is passing me by.
If life throws a curve ball (or two) and your schedule is thrown off, just resume it when you can. Any steps in the direction of your goal are better than none.
Clutter problem? Here’s how I got real with clutter.
4. Schedule your work time.
How much time can you afford? For me, a project like writing a book is going to have to fit on top of my regular work schedule without causing me to burn out.
I like to set aside 20 uninterrupted minutes a day and assign the time in my calendar/planner. It’s a manageable amount of time that doesn’t make me want to procrastinate. Choose what works for you. It’s amazing how much work can get done in short period of time if your work environment is distraction-free and you have a ready-made plan.
My long range plan is based on working 4x per week, but in reality I like to work daily on goal projects. It’s a really juvenile psychological trick (that works for me): if I manage to work 7x per week, I get ahead of schedule and feel great. If I get side-tracked, there’s elbow room without blowing the official schedule.
I also put some congratulatory notes in my work plan (Step 2) so that, when I reach some milestones such as being 75% done, I’ve got the cheerleading squad built right in. It’s like being called into the boss’s office to be told you’re doing a great job. Silly, I know, but I find it very encouraging, especially when working alone. I like my boss. She’s very nice to me!
Also, track how much you get accomplished in each work slot. This will help your future planning to be more realistic.
This is where I take off the Boss hat and become the worker bee. I no longer have to think about the big picture and can just do the tasks at hand. I take things one section at a time, or bird by bird as Anne Lamott called it.
If you are a fan of To Do lists like I am, this will be your golden time. You’ve prepared a detailed work plan, step by step, and now you will work through it and check stuff off as you go. Love.
6. Stop and Review now and then
Measure your progress! Every so often you have to put the Boss hat back on and make sure what you’re working on is indeed leading you where you want to go. If not, revise your plans and then carry on once again as the worker bee.
It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other. In the right direction.
7. You did it.
Congratulations. Now, what’s next?
Summary – How to Make Goals Happen
1. State the goal.
Brainstorm the goal with as many ideas as you can. Summarize it in a phrase.
2. Identify the path to the goal.
Figure out every single step needed to achieve your goal. This part may take the most time.
3. Map out deadlines.
Your end date will tell you how much time you have to achieve each of the steps. Be as realistic as possible with some pressure thrown in to keep you focussed.
4. Schedule your work time.
Add your project time right into your schedule. Allow some padding for life to throw you some curve balls.
It’s paint-by-numbers at this point. You’ve got your task list in order. Follow it, one step at a time.
6. Review and refresh.
Everything on track? Great. If not, do some fine tuning and get back at it.
You did it.