Organize your thoughts. Organize a strategy. Organize a plan. Organize a schedule and organize your lists.
Before we get too deep into the analytical/organizational side of our brain, I want to ground us with a brief story about creativity and evaluation. My first experience of being hired to work was when I was 8 years old. My father was a fireman and worked odd jobs on his days off. One of his benefactors, Mr. Simpson, owned a farm. One summer, I tagged along with my father each time he was commissioned to work on Simpson’s farm. As I became accustomed to our tasks, I inadvertently pointed out how we might save time by slightly changing our routine. But Mr. Simpson, who had been born and raised on his farm, had an established way of doing things. He was not open to the compulsions of an 8-year-old, no matter how creative or relevant. I would later discover that, while the labor was hard, working at the farm was easy. I never had to make any decisions, rather just do what I was told and follow the routines that had been in place for years. There was no evaluation process.
A few years later, I was hired at Bill’s Custom Cabinet Shop. While there, Iearned that while I was still expected to follow instructions, I was also encouraged to do much more. Bill encouraged me to be creative and always evaluate. Sometimes that evaluation manifested in developing ways to save materials or time – in new ideas, even new products. On the farm, I was limited to manual labor and maintenance. However my new teacher and environment were supportive and innovative regarding ideas, perspective and change. I was taught to constantly evaluate possibility as well as efficiency. As a result, my curious and creative nature thrived. Not only did I learn to follow direction in an organized manner, I began to see things that were not there… yet. I learned to see the potential in what we were doing.
1 to cause to develop structure. 2 to form into a coherent unity or functioning whole: integrate.
3 to set up an administrative structure. 4 to arrange by systematic planning and united effort.
Inspiration and/or creativity may bring you to a certain point with your goals but time management is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Time management is the strategic planning of specific activities combined with schedules in order to achieve goals. In addition, it incorporates concentrated evaluation efforts to increase effectiveness, efficiency and productivity. Time management requires organizational skills as well as discipline. As with any skill, organization can improve with practice but discipline is required to create an effective program. This includes organizing, prioritizing, scheduling and analysis of time spent. An effective program combines all of these tools.
Once you have established a goal, a strategy should be developed resulting in a plan of action. From these come the lists of organized activities as applied to schedules. An evaluation of resources would also be critical at this point. This planning process should produce task lists with all activities scheduled as well as a calendar with deadlines. Periodical reviews should be scheduled to confirm timetables and completion of the various stages of the plan.
Priorities and Lists
The implementation and management of task lists are critical to achieving long-term goals. A task, or to-do list, is a documentation of the priorities to be completed. It should include all of the steps necessary in completing a project. This invaluable tool serves to optimize the use of time and other valuable resources and often involves more than one list.
- Task lists are often tiered. The simplest tiered system includes a general to-do list, or task holding file, to record all the tasks the person needs to accomplish and a daily to-do list, which is created each day by transferring tasks from the general to-do list.
- A daily list of things to do, numbered and completed in the order of their importance, is attributed to consultant Ivy Lee (1877-1934) as the most profitable advice received by Charles M. Schwab (1862-1939), president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.
- An early advocate of ABC prioritization was Alan Lakein in 1973. In his system, A items were the most important (A-1 the most important within that group), B, the second most important, and C, the least important.
- An alternate method of applying the ABC method to prioritize assigns A to tasks to be completed within a day, B, a week, and C, a month.
- To prioritize a daily task list, one either records the tasks in the order of highest priority or assigns them a number after they are listed (1 for highest priority, 2 for second highest priority, et cetera) which indicates in which order to execute the tasks. The latter method is generally faster, allowing the tasks to be recorded more quickly.
The Eisenhower Method
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa from 1942 to1943 and France and Germany in 1944 to 1945. In 1951, Eisenhower became the first supreme commander of NATO and from 1953 to 1961 he served two terms as the 34th President of The United States. One of his famous quotes states, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Eisenhower developed the following method of prioritizing for time management based on that philosophy. The Eisenhower Box helps evaluate urgency and importance. Items may be placed at more precise points within each quadrant.
All tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent and placed in according quadrants. Tasks in the unimportant/not urgent quadrant are dropped while tasks in important/urgent quadrant are done immediately and personally. Tasks in the unimportant/urgent quadrant are delegated and tasks in important/not urgent quadrant get an end date and are done personally.
- Important and urgent – Such tasks are time sensitive and urgent. These priorities must be completed as soon as possible. Examples could include anything with upcoming deadlines or issues that might expand the budget if not performed efficiently. These concerns would affect the bottom line.
- Important and not urgent – These tasks will be considered second priority. They are less time sensitive, but should be completed immediately after any concerns in quadrant one have been solved. Good examples may include growth opportunities or organizational planning.
- Not important but urgent – This category can be less obvious to identify. It might be hard to consider something that is urgent not to be important but it is a common occurrence. Most repetitive activities such as maintenance or administrative tasks might belong in this category.
- Not important and not urgent – This category might often include tasks that are not related to the bottom line. While they should never be a priority over any other category, they warrant being on the list as they are tasks that need to be done, but without specific deadlines or sense of priority.
One rainy weekend several years ago, my children and I were home alone when I came up with an idea for teaching them planning skills. We searched the Internet and found a business for sale on eBay. I chose a small marina with a restaurant, campsites, cabins, recreational facilities, slip/boat rentals, et cetera. Since we were avid travellers and campers and had stayed in similar places many times, my kids were very responsive and enthusiastic about the concept. We began discussing what it would be like operating the marina. It was not long before we got out a pen and some paper and began to organize a plan. We set out to determine the potential revenue from each profit center, as well as all the potential resources, staff and expenses that would be required to realize those profit centers. We calculated everything from restaurant sales to RV hook-ups. We also researched how many seasonal or good weather days we would potentially be open for business. While we never intended to buy a marina, we had a very exciting and educational experience evaluating a strategy and a plan.
Take an idea or ambition that you are passionate about. Organize a strategy and plan of action. Organize lists and document how you can achieve your objective. Evaluate the pros and the cons. Document the resources that would be required. Think about how you would feel about the challenges and the opportunities each step of the way.
I am reminded of the importance of journals. As planning and time management are important to achieving goals, proper navigation is key to resourcefulness and taking advantage of the efficiency that experience can provide. Journals are a valuable tool to document progress as well as error. Evaluations and evolutions of process often take clear shape when journals are compared to schedules and lists. There are countless electronic tools to organize, plan and document your intentions and your progress. But remember, as I have mentioned in previous articles, your creative mind is stimulated when you pick up a pen and set it upon paper. Alternatively, your analytical mind is more stimulated with the keyboard and monitor. Both tools add value to the process and each of us will have different preferences of how to use these tools. I recommend using them both consistently.
While there are many ways to organize, there remains even more ways to adjust the process to increase efficiency and results. The ultimate benefit of organizing is the management of opportunity and resources. Combining opportunity and resources with the tools of Motivation, Goals, Priorities and Planning – begets true empowerment. Organizing these tools with strategy and effective resource management creates the maximum influence over results. Our next part in this series discusses Initiative. This is where our true test begins... as we put our ideas into action.
William Strunk is the publisher of DERMASCOPE Magazine, founder of WES Publishing Co., founding partner with Avalon Media Group and a partner with the International Congress of Esthetics & Spa. As an entrepreneur for over 30 years, an author and lecturer, Strunk conducts motivational seminars and results oriented workshops on successful business practices. Having started his first business as a teenager, he shares successful behavioral practices that are not taught in business schools. Rather, learned from a lifetime devoted to motivational training and developing relationships with hundreds of other successful entrepreneurs.