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Organising the Chaos

By Steph Corking

How are we all feeling?

Did we all survive ‘Blue Monday’? (Of course we did!)

Still basking in the smug glow of January good intentions?

Still clinging on to dry January, Veganary, doing your 10,000 steps a day and hitting the gym 3 times week?

Whether you are a person who makes new year’s resolutions or not, January is a time when we typically get our ducks in a row. The chaos of the festive season is behind us, the decorations are packed away until the end of the year, we’ve finally eaten all the cheese, our body clocks adjust… back to life and back to reality!

For some, this time of year brings about many opportunities to finally GET ORGANISED. There’s something about the start of a new year that helps even the most disorganised amongst us in the mood to make a plan.

For me, personally, even buying a new diary helps me feel more organised. Pages and pages of white crisp paper to be filled with new business opportunities, exciting weekends away with friends, holidays and fun festivals in the summer. I start to make lists: of things I want to achieve, tasks that needs starting / finishing, and pretty much within an hour I’ve (mentally) redecorated the whole house, moved to another country and set up two new businesses! (oh and I’m a size 10 and practice yoga every day too, obvs.)

Soooo there is nothing wrong with dreaming big and writing down aspirational goals for the year ahead, but let’s get realistic… statistics show that nearly 80% of all new year’s resolutions fail by February.

It’s when the stress of not getting everything done starts to impact that we know we have an issue. The pressure we are putting on ourselves to achieve unrealistic goals is counterproductive and will leave us feeling despondent and unmotivated.

However, getting organised and writing down realistic goals with achievable milestones is a healthy way to manage ourselves more efficiently and effectively.

According to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator tool, we have a preference of how we like to organise ourselves.

See if you can spot any of your own preferences – which description feels the most like you?

 

Myers Briggs Type Indicator Tool Preferences

 

Carl Jung, who was the inspiration behind the MBTI preference tool, says that we all have a preferred way of doing things, and this certainly applies when it comes to getting organised and completing tasks. Within the MBTI framework, preference #1 above is categorised as a Judging preference. For these people, the stress doesn’t come from getting more planned and organised, they are brilliant at that! Stress often arises when plans are not in place, or the plans change and the goalposts move. If this is you, when faced with a change of plan, try to welcome it rather than fight it. See the new direction as an advantage that may bring fresh energy or make the eventual outcome richer, rather than an obstacle to be overcome.

Next time when someone suggests an alternative, listen. It may save you time and pain, but you’ll never know if you dismiss it before they’ve finished talking. There’s plenty to be gained by borrowing attitudes from our spontaneous cousins including less tension, greater opportunities and more ideas. In today’s ever-changing landscape, great leaders are valued as much for reacting fluidly to changing circumstances as for having a great plan in the first place. 

If you felt that preference #2 was more closely suited to your style of organisation, then this would be categorised as Perceiving, the more spontaneous types. If this was you, try making a plan!! It doesn’t have to cover every detail and you don’t have to stick to it but at least you will have a clearer idea of the scale of the challenge. And it will help other people know what to expect too. 
It’s worth recognising that it can pay to stick with the original plan even if you’ve thought of something better. Check that the effort of changing, not just yours but everyone else’s, is sure to be justified by the benefit of your new approach. You can minimise the impact of being ‘last minute’ and reduce the stress by taking time at the beginning of the week / month to organise yourself. Stress comes from not being prepared and constantly feeling rushed and late. It may feel like effort but it will be beneficial in the long term.

 “Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having to much to do, it comes from not finishing what they started” David Allen

David Allen, author of the best-selling book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, frequently talks about the art of ‘writing it down’ he recently commented, “write everything down, you cannot do it all (in your head). Your head’s a crappy office. It does not give you the ability to regenerate”

This is Allen’s first and most important tip when it comes to to-do lists. Our short-term memory can only hold between seven and ten items, so it can become difficult to remember every single thing you need to do without making a written list. Rather than getting stressed trying to remember everything, making a list will help you focus on what you need to do, as well as reducing anxiety levels. 

Try our other tips for getting it out of your head:

Choose your System: whether it’s a notebook, paper diary, outlook, BaseCamp… Choose a system that works for you. You may want to also consider what your company and employees are also using to make communication more efficient and effective. There is no point in using BaseCamp for all your tasks if no one else in your department has even heard of it!!

Get specific: Allen calls to-do lists ‘next action’ lists. Rather than putting vague terms such as ‘presentation’, ‘meeting’ or ‘holiday’, be specific about what it is you need to do. Your list should state exactly what action you need to take, or take next (for more complex tasks) such as: ‘create slides for presentation’, ‘organise venue for meeting’ or ‘search for flights for holiday to Spain’. To help you do this, start each item on your list with an action verb such as ‘call…’ or ‘determine…’ or ‘present…’. This will get you thinking about the action you need to take to complete the task. If you need to make a phone call, include the person’s name and number on your to-do list. This means that when you have spare time (e.g. during your commute) you can still complete the tasks on your to-do list

Lose the big stuff: There is no point putting big goals like ‘get a promotion’ or ‘lose three stone’ on your to-do list. The point is to break large goals down into manageable bite-size chunks. The best to-do lists focus on tasks that need to be completed on that particular day. Rather than putting big goals such as these on your current to-do list, Allen recommends creating a separate ‘Someday/Maybe’ list, for tasks which don’t quite fit into your life at the moment, but which you want to keep track of for the future. 

Have a priority list: Having a daily priority or A-list with the most important tasks right at the top can vastly improve your productivity. Anything else can go onto a lower priority, rolling B-list. When putting together your A-list, remember to factor in other commitments such as time spent at meetings etc. If you complete your A-list tasks, then start work on the B-list. As you work through the A-list, transfer items across from the B-list to keep things moving. 

Don’t list everything! Finally, however useful to-do lists may be, don’t let them completely take over your life. Having too many lists can actually be counterproductive and stressful. As a guideline - only around 20% of your life should be on a list at any one time.

And for those of you who love these ideas, but want to wait until tomorrow to get started with them, here is a neat little podcast on overcoming procrastination!