There is a monstrous misconception that being successful is out of reach. Untrue. Being successful doesn’t mean you need to be a rocket scientist. It means you need to work on a few necessary skills. If you want to achieve your goals, you need to organize your life. Let’s get started.
There are only a handful of these skills, none of which are mind-blowing or challenging to master, but I think most people lose sight of them in their daily life. I’m talking about organization.
An organized life is paramount to success. Achievement is the culmination of many tiny steps that amount to a single, substantial (sometimes life-changing) accomplishment.
How Do You Become Organized?
There isn’t a single plan that’s a perfect fit, but below are the tools and strategies I use to run a multi-six-figure business, maintain a happy marriage, and raise two children.
1. Write Everything Down (Your Ideas and To-Do Lists)
What do you do with your thoughts on the way to work? What about the crazy ideas that visit you in the shower? Don’t tell me you squander them because that would be wasting valuable brain juice.
Our attention is limited. You can only demand so much of your brain per day; breach that limit, and it shuts down.
Since your brain juice is limited, I think it’s a terrible thing to waste, and that’s why you need to have a platform for brain dumping.
You may be more of a physical person, in which case a Mole Skin Notebook would be perfect for you. Maybe you’re from Brooklyn, in that case, you need the Hipster PDA. Perhaps you’re like my buddy James Altucher, and you prefer Waiter’s Pads.
I’m a digital guy. Between my iPhone, Mac, and iPad, I’m always connected and not far from an Apple Device. Since I like being digital, I use Evernote to record everything. It’s probably the only app I would recommend. Why?
Because organization is difficult, I hate to waste my limited brain juice repeatedly thinking about the same things. I would rather think of something once and write it down.
When I have time to do something about it, I’ll review my notes to see what was on my mind.
No matter what you choose to be your brain recording tool, it’s necessary to keep track of your good ideas. Not only is it terrible to waste them, but you’ll never achieve your full potential if you don’t let some of your best ideas see the light of day.
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2. Break Up Big Goals into Tiny Pieces
Nothing worthy of the word achievement comes easy – and that’s a good thing. An achievement is something you work towards, and only once you’ve sweated and achieved success will people recognize your efforts.
You will fail more times than you succeed.
A great example of this is in the book The Happiness Project. The author, Gretchen Rubin, breaks down, step by step, what she does to achieve happiness.
I think happiness is the ultimate life goal, but her approach works no matter what you’re attempting to accomplish.
She breaks her goal into multiple steps and then breaks it down further until she has several tiny, simple tasks. Everything you do already follows the same approach that Gretchen uses. However, you don’t realize it.
Procrastination is the enemy of achievement.
If you want to achieve financial freedom, you have to do your research and make a note of the ideas you like FIRST. Then act on them one by one, track your progress, and adjust according to your results.
It’s a lot of work, and you won’t complete it overnight. However, in 2-3 years, you may find yourself in a great financial situation because of steady dedication.
Only Think about Plans Once
3. Use Calendar Apps
We’re busy people. We work five days a week, attend birthday parties for friends and family(and shop for their gifts), we have to file our taxes on time, and pay our bills.
It’s a lot. Not even organized people keep all of that information in their heads.
Trying to remember our commitments is a first-rate example of how we waste valuable brain juice. Imagine you’re meeting a friend for dinner tonight.
You had to remember the details from the time you set the date a week ago, remind yourself periodically throughout the week (so you wouldn’t forget), and again today so you’d show up.
Now imagine if you only had to think of your plans once when you enter it into your phone or organizer – and then never again.
Once you unclog your brain from all those useless dates, you suddenly have so much more capacity to think and achieve!
I’m sure you can find something you like. Decluttering your brain increases mental bandwidth. Stop storing it all in your head.
4. Track Your Progress (and Re-Adjust your Path)
Ok, so hopefully I’ve convinced you to stop letting your great ideas escape you, to break down your crazy ideas into small manageable chunks and then use a planner (digital or otherwise) to help you track where you have to be, when things are due, etc.
Now we need to track our progress so we can accomplish something colossal with all those little steps we’re taking.
I think the ultimate goal should be a system where it doesn’t matter if you are at home, at work, or on a bus. Decide that you have some free time and want to get something done. Maybe it’s researching a website, replying to emails, or writing a blog post.
Whatever it is, you should have a ton of small meaningful tasks ready and waiting for you to take action. I like the GTD approach where my tasks have various contexts like Home or Work, so when I’m at that location, I look at things geared towards being completed there.
The decision on how to get organized is yours. As long as it works for you, that's all that matters.Tweet This
If you are interested in the GTD style, I would recommend Omni Focus as it’s been particularly helpful in getting me organized. Between the project level organization, ability to filter by context, and robust due date calendar integration, I have most of what I need in one application.
I supplement with Evernote for ideas that eventually get broken down into tasks and put into Omni Focus. For events, it’s half between Fantastical and Omni Focus, depending on if it’s a project-based event or a personal one.
Share Your Accomplishments Publicly
Look, you’re doing a lot of work. Hopefully, you’re humble about most of it and slowly work on your small tasks until you create something big. Then you can brag but only a little bit. While bragging by most can be seen as annoying, I think if we approach it differently, we can achieve something.
For one, you need to talk about all the work you’ve done since you’ve locked yourself into that cave of an office. It’s going to make you feel better, and between family and friends, you should get some positive feedback (or on-point criticism) that will help fuel your next round of frantic work accomplishing.
Take note of your feedback, good and bad. You don’t have to agree with it, but you do have to listen to it. The one thing you should be most fearful of when bragging is hubris. That’s when you no longer listen and undo all of your hard work.
One of the main reasons to brag beyond feedback is to network. When you discuss your work with someone, they talk about the work they’ve done. And who knows? Maybe the two of you find out that you should be working together.
Maybe you can help each other with things you have learned while working on your project. Networking is vital, and one of the main ways of drawing people in is to talk about the exciting things you’ve been working on or to offer help with their project.
I do think it’s important to note the loose definition of the word brag and the negative emotions that come with it. There are right ways and wrong ways to do it. It’s all in the delivery. If you don’t know how to do it, practice makes perfect!
Final Thoughts on Getting Organized
Measure progress in baby steps, not gigantic leaps. Meaningful progress takes a great deal of time. However, before you can accomplish anything, you must get organized.
I’ll be writing a few more in this series over time, like how to negotiate your raise (in three years, I went from $67k to $108k in the same company while bonuses dropped to zero) and The Lost Art of Negotiation.
Featured Image Photo Credit: “File Cabinet.jpg” by rrafson on Wikimedia Commons