Advertising
Advertising

Visualize Your Commitments

Visualize Your Commitments

Taking on a new job is a great time to spot-check the power of your organizing and executing systems. Mine came up severely lacking (as evidenced by how few posts I’ve sent to LifeHack recently). But with all things, “That which does not kill us…” Here’s what I’ve learned lately about my organizing needs, and here’s a few tips that might be useful to you, if you’re not already adequately dealing with managing your commitments and efforts.

Visualizing Your Commitments Helps

Advertising

I mean this in lots of ways, but in this specific case, I also mean at the baseline, consider having a software application (or you can do this in the analog world easily, too) that gives you a VISUAL sense, an at-a-glance, Heads-up-Display vision of all your commitments. How am I doing it?

I’m using the built in Mac software, Stickies. It’s good because I can throw a little collapsed Sticky on the screen for every commitment I have. I can change colors on them such that pink (there’s no red) means “DO IT NOW” and blue means “follow up later” and traditional yellow means “clear this off when you can.” But the workflow that goes with this is this:

Advertising

  • INPUT- Email or Voicemail or Phonecall – I get a commitment request. “Can you send me your list of 5 favorite tools?” If I can answer the input right away, no Sticky. I just do it and close out the input.
  • CAPTURE- Write the “to do” Sticky and leave it on the screen (under other apps until I’m ready). If there’s a date attached, use Google Calendar instead.
  • PROCESS- Use yellow for general, pink for right away, and blue for follow-up later.
  • PROCESS- Check Stickies once every 30 minutes as part of a sweep.
  • PROCESS- Clear Stickies when that’s the task at hand.

Variations on the Theme

Some of you are still gasping at the idea of using simple, low-data-value sticky notes. Sure, I love Remember the Milk and a million other to-do apps that have tons of great built-in power. But what I am digging about stickies is the VISUAL element of having my commitments in front of me in a visual way. I can drag groups of items together. I can place FOCUS items in the center of the screen. So, it’s a way to add visual nuance and gestures to what I’m getting done.

Advertising

If you don’t want an on-box application, try Stikkit or Thinkature. Stikkit is a great app by Rael Dornfest and team, and it’s got some additional functionality that makes it really useful. Thinkature is actually more of a mindmapping tool, but it can be used for the same purpose I’m describing here. You can stack data visually.

Why Visualize

Advertising

So, the reason I’m pushing the visual on this is simple: lists of lists and commitments stacked by 1,2,3 don’t always give your brain the right queue. It doesn’t say: your plate is full, or you’ve got lots of things to do in THIS area of life all of a sudden.

Those planning methods don’t often let you queue things in non-linear ways. Maybe you want to group by context *and* by priority *but without* some wildcard that only you can describe. I think the visual method of organizing helps in this regard.

What’s your take?

— Chris Brogan is community developer for Network2, a guide to the best FREE internet TV shows you should be sticking on your video iPod or Zune. He keeps a blog at [chrisbrogan.com]

More by this author

7 Uses for a Virtual Machine When Emailing Think Press Release Mail, BrainDump, Mail, Do Stretch Goals Matter You Had me at Insane

Trending in Featured

1 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 2 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 3 40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated) 4 How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone 5 How to Find Time for Yourself

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next