Getting and Staying Organized In 2021 - An Ongoing Thread

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For years I have struggled with getting and staying organized. I will spend a weekend putting everything in its place, then spend a week screwing it up. Or even worse - I will start an operation with ZERO consideration for how to organize the project. Its a terrible habit that I want to break this year.

I suspect after years of collecting digital detritus many of you have the same problems. Having more tools than ever before does not help either. And since I have yet to find an adequate course on organizing your work as an online builder, I figure we should have a landing zone here to share our personal strategies and chum up some solutions.

Here are some specific frustrations I am looking to resolve

1. Keeping track of Virtual Assistant Candidates
When I am sorting through Virtual Assistants on platforms like 99Designs or Fiverr, I will blast out 90 emails and then sort through responses as a way of vetting a potential hire. This makes a mess for me. How do you all organize your candidates and follow up with them?

2. Getting into workflow faster and more intuitively

My workday starts like this: close 500 tabs from yesterday, open Trello to see 100 overdue tasks for today, work on one thing I feel like working on and push the other tasks around like peas I dont want to eat. I am solving for this with a 'Jump Start' Google Doc. The intention is to have that document as the only open tab when I wake up. The doc has a checklist organized into my optimal workflow with links to other parts of my working manual (media kit and style guide, marketing flow for the day, etc). I dont adhere to that document because it is not a habit. It is not a habit because instead of forcing myself through my mandatory daily flow I turn my attention to the urgent matters or tasks I want to do instead of tasks I have to do. Anyone else struggle with this? How do you organize and adhere to a solid daily workflow?

3. Reducing redundancy and legacy tools

I have 18 separate google drives between 3 different projects, a million email addresses, a dropbox account, an Evernote account, Notion, Trello, Todoist, and all the 'tools' associated with Wordpress (Mailster, etc). Its all a bit bewildering and it would take me a month just to close, cancel, and migrate data from redundant or legacy tools into my 2021 system. Am I the only one? How do you keep your tools from managing you and staying organized in the process?

My goals are to eliminate distractions so that I can focus and get into flow with less resistance than I currently experience.

Any advice is more than welcome. How do you organize your daily workflow? How do you manage your 'legacy' data - the stuff you dont use but dont want to delete?

I will also share my systems and lessons learned here so if you are getting started maybe I can save you some sweat.
 

Ryuzaki

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Less is definitely more. I can't even think clearly with a messy desk, room, home, or even digital desktop. It causes me great anxiety because I feel like basic chores are more fundamental and need to be taken care of first. Discipline in my non-work life has been a big factor in cleaning up my work life.

I think there's no better tool for organization of information that the basic spreadsheet. Especially when it comes to stuff like managing VA candidates or keeping track of all the tools I'm subscribed to, when they renew, the logins and passwords, etc. Getting everything into these "master files" as I call them makes it easier to see what the hell is even going on, and then deal with migrations, cancellations, etc.

But when it comes to workflow stuff, spreadsheets don't really work. I prefer Trello for "task storage" and then I pull things out of there into a text file I keep open that's a "notes & to-do" for the day list.

As far as knowing what to do and when to do it, that's always tough and I always compound the issue for myself by creating "these tasks need to be done daily" which obviously I fall behind on. These are things to outsource or hire for. Otherwise, we can use the "first things first" quadrant:


Trello is nice because you can color code, tag with color tags, and arrange in boards and in columns in boards. You could easily have a column for each quadrant here, color tagged by type of task, and organized vertically by order to complete.

In my own business, I'm working to eliminate Quadrant 3 and 4 entirely. I have already wiped out Quadrant 4, but #3 is the one I have to make all the operating procedures, training videos, and hire for. Once that's done, most of my problems related to organization and efficiency will be solved.

I've seen all kinds of methods to try to manage this, from Pomodoros and time blocking, to eating the frog (works great), to doing things that take less than 5 minutes immediately (works good but you can lose the whole day to distractions).

I think every day needs to have one high priority task from Quadrant 1. That'll likely zap your energy and the rest of the day can be spent picking at Quadrant 2 stuff. Rinse and repeat. I also pull these tasks out of Trello into a text file so I don't get overwhelmed by seeing the massive list and I don't get lost in the minutia either. I create my own daily bird's eye view of the day and work on getting that done. Anything that doesn't stays in the text file and is carried over to the next day. Eventually I pull in more tasks so the text file is never empty.

With all that being said, my Trello and text file is a complete mess. But I clean all that up at the start of every year (it's in my text file to do it!). Maintaining the organization of our organization methodology is extremely important or there's no organization at all, just chaos.
 

bernard

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I use Google Sheet master files like Ryu talks about. I have all my business info in one huge spreadsheet, I import data from GA and GSC and earnings. I have my content plan, I add the content and track its performance, I have link opportunities, logins etc.

I use Asana for planning the projects. This is what I find the absolute most difficult, because I have several sites. If I had only one site, my method of working on what I can do most efficiently and creatively, would work better.

Instead, I have learned to delegate the important stuff into early hours of the workday. Smaller tasks for the evenings and in the weekends I do creative work, like launching a concept site for learning something.
 

eliquid

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I struggled for years on this.

I had all the same problems you and others have mentioned already.

I had to learn it was a steady improvement over time, a marathon. Not a sprint. That's what helped a lot.

Then I did a full self evaluation over several years of time honing in on what I should and should not be doing. Mostly tied to my personality, core values, mission statement, priorities, and goals which if taken seriously, can change your life.

I also had age on my side. I went through the productivity porn stage for years trying everything. I always kept coming back to a pen and paper, which I eventually moved fully to OneNote 2016. That also led me to killing a ton of apps and subscriptions and ignoring all the new shit that comes out that is just like it ( like Notion and others ).

In the end, you have to be comfortable with who YOU are and how you do things. This is a major part of it. Most productivity seeking is done because people are not comfortable in who and what they are, or how they do things.. which in many times is just perfectly acceptable.
 

secretagentdad

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I'm not very efficient or organized.

This thread is triggering my inferiority complex.
 
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I also had age on my side. I went through the productivity porn stage for years trying everything. I always kept coming back to a pen and paper, which I eventually moved fully to OneNote 2016. That also led me to killing a ton of apps and subscriptions and ignoring all the new shit that comes out that is just like it ( like Notion and others ).

In the end, you have to be comfortable with who YOU are and how you do things. This is a major part of it. Most productivity seeking is done because people are not comfortable in who and what they are, or how they do things.. which in many times is just perfectly acceptable.
So true.

I just write to-do's on a 3x5 card. One card for one task. Then, when I start my day, I pull out tasks to work on. If not, the other ones get placed back on the table. After so long, I just re-read the tasks and throw out stuff that's no longer important.

As for emails, I only answer important emails that day. For the rest, I answer them all in one sitting, which drives everyone else at the company insane as they have to wait 1 or 2 weeks for a reply but, hey, they got their reply :smile:. "Catch up on emails" would be an item on a 3x5 card.

... and that's it! When I'm done with a 3x5 card, I put it in the done pile so that I can stare at my done pile and feel good about myself. Simple things are the best things sometimes.

Less is definitely more. I can't even think clearly with a messy desk, room, home, or even digital desktop. It causes me great anxiety because I feel like basic chores are more fundamental and need to be taken care of first. Discipline in my non-work life has been a big factor in cleaning up my work life.
Ha! Same here. I also like cleaning my room so that I can do something else for a minute. It helps me get up, move, and allow me to do something other than focus on my work. It's pretty nice! I also like going for walks around the block too. Focus and productivity is only possible with breaks and rest. Doing it for too much without brakes and rest becomes self-defeating.
 

BCN

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I do my "to do"-lists in retrospect. I keep a (long) Google doc of reflections that I finish in the evening of every day.

What I did that day - did I do the things I planned? Why? Why not? What made me productive? What distracted me? Long term tasks remaining (those things you got hanging over you that are still not done). Goals, how I feel that day, etc.

It helps to align my thoughts and reflect. I.e. I can see what I estimated I could do in a day, and how much work I did.

No set format, but basically bullet points of good and bad things. It also helps as we've been on lockdown since March, so the days blur together.

Sometimes I scan through it to see that I'm improving, which in itself is motivating.

I use Google for email and docs, Dropbox for all files, and Joplin (stored encrypted on Dropbox) for notes (it's like Evernote, except its open-source and doesn't suck). Joplin I use to take notes of procedures and different things I'm learning, i.e. notes on landing pages for new campaigns, or interesting code things.

Stuff I need to get done that day I keep on a paper and just cross it out once it's done.

Books I reconcile once per month, and taxes are filed every 3 months by my accountant, so not much to do there. All invoices/expenses I just forward to my accountant.

I use Google Calendar for meetings, or if there's anything important I need to do that day.

I don't use my phone except sometimes in the evenings, I usually leave it off until 6 PM or so. If someone really wants to get ahold of me, like my family, they call my wife. Most other stuff people call about during a normal day isn't that important, and I don't take calls from clients unless they are scheduled.
 
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I cant thank you all enough for the great feedback. I have spent all February applying the advice above. Here is my humble contribution based on what I know works...

Plan the next period during the period before...

If I plan tomorrow today, or next month during this month, etc I have found I am more productive and organized by far. On the days I fail to plan the next day, I do so immediately after I wake up. Planning on the fly NEVER works for me, and I either fall into @Ryuzaki 's Quad 1 or Quad 4 above.

Pen and Paper is superior

@eliquid 's advice holds true - the more bells and whistles that new SAAS's release, the more distracting it becomes for me. Notifications ad nauseum and learning curves all contribute to lower - not greater - productivity for me. There are no notifications on my notepad. And I get the tactile satisfaction of physically crossing items off my list. I actually keep these in my journal so I can flip back and see the choices I made and improve on them. I always felt pressure to stay up to date with the latest prod porn, so thanks @eliquid for easing my anxiety lolz

Use a master document

I created a Goog document that I call my Daily Workflow. It has direct links to the online assets I need. It is also organized in blocks. My first block is what I call my 'Jump Start'. The last block is what I call 'Shutdown'. Shutdown, for example, looks like this...
  • Plan tomorrow
  • Meditate for 20 minutes using Insight Timer
  • Pack gym clothes and prep supplements
  • Clear all desktop items on computer
  • Delete trash can securely
  • Move all open tabs to Trello (click here*)
  • Organize my space so I can get up and go when the alarm goes off.
I will be adding to this as my productivity increases and my anxiety decreases (@secretagentdad )

*This is a direct link to my trello board so I dont have to click through other trello landing pages.

every day needs to have one high priority task from Quadrant 1

I forgot to quote this, but this is absolutely mandatory for me as well
 

Cash Builder

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Organisation has been a struggle for me for years, but in the end I figured it was best to just keep it simple.

I don’t use any fancy tools, just plain old spreadsheets.

Every project I have has its own folder on my PC, I just use the standard Windows folders for simplicity. Everything is in Dropbox so I can access it anywhere.

In each project folder I have a spreadsheet for each task, so I’ll have one for link building, one for social media, one for keyword research etc.

Each of these spreadsheets has my working data, instructions, any notes, etc so that I only need 1 sheet open at any given time.

On top of all that I have my daily plan sheet. This is the last file I look at before bed and the first file I open in the morning.

In this file I have a list of 20-30 tasks that need doing daily/weekly/monthly/yearly. Each night I’ll take the tasks that I will do the next day, and put them in my to do list.

The to do list contains the tasks that are essential, the tasks that are not essential but still need done at some point, and then there’s the things that would be nice to do but don’t have a huge effect on the business.

Each day I try and get onto the last group of tasks, it’s almost like a challenge. I work much better when I have a list of tasks to do, rather than trying to work it out on the fly.

close 500 tabs from yesterday

I’m glad you got this sorted out, almost had a panic attack reading that. There’s no way I could go to sleep without closing everything off and shutting down my pc!
 

bernard

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One issue I have with to-do task planning is the binary nature of it.

Even if you assign some priority to it, a task is still a task visually and mentally, and it can be difficult for me, to differentiate a small and insignificant task from one that has huge importance.

A better visual way to structure tasks would be to do like how you do in some video games, have a grid of tasks, where one task could take up 4 squares and another could take up 1 square. Then instead of clicking off a to-do list, you could have a board of tasks and a goal of clearing the board, beginning with the most important tasks, which took up most tiles.
 
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Discipline in my non-work life has been a big factor in cleaning up my work life.
You'd enjoy the book 'outer order inner calm' https://gretchenrubin.com/book/outer-order-inner-calm/. So true about keeping non-work life discipline!

I had to learn it was a steady improvement over time, a marathon. Not a sprint. That's what helped a lot.
So true - that's why a good task system is vital so you don't lose stuff & momentum.

Keep it simple.

My suggestion would that:
  • each month you think of 1 thing you'd like completed
  • each week we you think of 3 things you'd like done by the end of it.
Be it a new process, finishing up a training, etc.

Then try get that done. This gives you time and space to handle all the 'interruptions' without getting too stressed.

The other thing to try do is 'close tabs' mentally or close 'open loops' as @Ryuzaki said in another post. This will make all the difference and the above process helps me with that.