How to Get Things Done Part I: Ideas and Focus


    As somebody who has spent quite a bit of time already getting things done, while also being a little bit of a productivity/wellbeing junkie, I’m surprised I haven’t written something like this already. I have mixed feelings about the idea of productivity and dedicating your life to getting things done (which you can read about here), but I also am a pretty ambitious person, driven by a sense of urgency informed by my awareness of the need for justice in this world. Because of these converging viewpoints, I am coming to a place in my life where I am very aware of how to efficiently get things done, but equally aware of the importance of rest, breaks, and valuing being over doing at certain times. 

     From this point in my understanding comes this handy-dandy guide I have constructed on how to get things done! Below are steps 1-3. Part Two, Planning, Action, and Reflection, contains steps 4-7. Rather than a linear step-by-step with an end point, I recommend looking at this more as a cycle that you will continually engage in throughout your life. While I think it’s helpful for me if I have the cycle go in this order, the order (and even the steps!) might look different for you. Plus, life is crazy and things rarely work out in their exact order. Just take this guide and run with it and use what helps you 🙂

1. gather ideas

     The first step to getting things done is knowing what it is exactly that you want to accomplish. For example, maybe you are feeling bored and want to find a way to spice up your life. Maybe your issue is more specific, like you want to figure out how to organize your closet. Or perhaps you have a million things you feel like you could be doing and need to pick out a few (if this is you, skip to the next step). 

     This step is kind of the “research” or “inspiration” phase. Look around for ideas on what you need to do, whether you do this on Pinterest or by looking at an issue and figuring out what needs to be done about it. So, for example, I work in a co-op marketplace, which is currently very messy (although less messy than it was). Sometimes I am very overwhelmed by the mess, but if I start writing down all my ideas and actionable tasks to solve the mess, I get closer to solving the problem just by identifying ways to do that. Another example is, sometimes on the internet I come across lots of really cool, inspiring ideas. In this phase, it’s important to record these ideas and write them down!! 

2. braindump

     So, now you’ve got ideas. Great! The next thing to do, if you haven’t already done so in Step 1, is to write them all down and conduct what some call a braindump. Erin of Gingerous conducts braindumps on a weekly basis to create a to-do list for the week. I like to do braindumps on various categories or in response to certain issues, like for my work or when writing New Years’ Resolutions or goals. All you have to do to conduct a braindump is just get a piece of paper and write down all your ideas on a topic, whether it’s just a giant to-do list or something more focused. 

3. focus

After you’ve done this, pick out a few tasks on the list to focus in on.

  • If you’re doing a braindump for the week and writing a daily to-do list based on that, pick out just a few of those tasks. My magic number for to-do list items is 3. It may not seem like a lot, but you need to give yourself leeway for rest, breaks, meals, unexpected interruptions, LIFE. Plus, you are more likely to get all the things on your daily list done if you put fewer items on there, and that feels really good!
  • If you’re doing a braindump for a list of goals to set, or a plan to solve an issue, pick out the most important ones to you, and again, only pick out a few! Make your list manageable so that you’re able to accomplish what you assign yourself, rather than overwhelming yourself and feeling discouraged. 

     When narrowing down lists of either type, I find it’s important to consider these two ideas. The first is a rule of permaculture design called “stacking functions”. When looking at a goal or task, ask yourself how many functions it serves. For example, cleaning your house might serve the practical function of cleaning your space, while also increasing your mental clarity and decreasing stress. The act of cleaning might also be a meditative task, or (if you are mopping or sweeping really vigorously) provide some physical activity. Right there are four functions that the task “clean house” serves- seems like it’s an efficient use of time! Conversely, exercise that is done purely for exercise’s sake alone, and not also for mental or spiritual wellbeing, serves fewer functions and is a less efficient use of time. That’s why you won’t catch me doing sit-ups very often, but I love going running and doing yoga because both aid my mental and spiritual health, along with my physical health. I also do a lot of biking because on top of providing exercise, fresh air, and mental clarity, it also is a method of transportation that gets me places – a very efficient use of time. Tasks or goals you identify as serving larger numbers of functions (in some permaculture circles, the goal is for anything to serve 3 functions or more!), are more worthy of your focus when you are narrowing down your list. 

     The other idea is something referenced often in productivity circles: the Eisenhower Matrix. Here’s a picture: 

You can assign any task or goal a place on this graph. Based on the quadrant it lands in, you can decide whether you want to do a task right now, later, or just discard it. Tasks that are urgent, and urgent and important are the most favorable things to focus on when narrowing your list. 

That’s all for now! Check back on Wednesday for steps 4-7, and in the meantime, try these out if you like 🙂



Images: Cheyenne Barton, Josh Medeski

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