There is this huge misconception that being successful is somehow difficult or not within your reach. That’s crap. Being successful doesn’t mean you need to be a rocket scientist. It just means you need to work on a few basic skills that will allow you to achieve your goals.
There are only a handful of these skills, none of which are mind blowing or difficult to master, but I think most people lose sight of them in their day to day life. Today we’re going to talk about organization.
Being organized is paramount to being successul because achievement is the culmination of many little steps that amount to a single, big accomplishment. Quit dragging your feet and get organized already!
Write Down Your Ideas and To Do’s
What do you do with your thoughts on the way to work or crazy ideas that come to you in the shower? Don’t tell me you squander them because that would be wasting valuable brain juice.
It’s been proven that our attention is limited and that you can only demand so much of your brain per day; breach that limit and it basically shuts down.
Since your brain juice is limited, I think it is a terrible thing to waste and that’s why you need to have some sort of platform to brain dump to.
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 and in that case the Hipster PDA is definitely for you. Maybe you’re like my buddy James Altucher and you prefer Waiter’s Pads.
Personally, 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 because organization to me is difficult and I hate to waste my limited brain juice repeatedly thinking about the same thing over and over so I don’t forget. I would rather think of something once and write it down. When I have time to do something about it, I’ll just review my notes to see what was on my mind.
No matter what you choose to be your brain recording tool of choice, it’s absolutely necessary to keep track of your good ideas. Not only is it terrible to waste good ideas but you’ll never achieve your full potential if you don’t let some of your best ideas see the light of day.
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. Only if you’re lucky will you get rewarded. You will fail many more times than you succeed, but that’s a post for another time ;)
A great example of this is in the book The Happiness Project. Gretchen (the author) breaks down, step by step, what she does to ultimately achieve happiness. Personally, I think happiness is the ultimate goal of life but you can use her approach to achieve any goal.
The point is she breaks her goal into multiple steps and then breaks it down even further until she has a bunch of tiny easy to accomplish tasks. Everything you do already follows the same approach that Gretchen uses, you just don’t realize it.
If you want to achieve financial freedom, first you have to do your research (reading blogs) and make note of the ideas you like. Then you need to action on them one by one, track your progress and adjust according to your results.
It’s a lot of work and it will not be completed overnight, however in 2-3 years you may find yourself in a great financial situation and it wont be because of some quick hack but a steady dedication to your cause. Achieving tiny piece by tiny piece.
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There are Great Calendar Apps, Use Them!
We’re busy people, we have to go to 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, pay our bills, it’s a lot of stuff. No normal person can keep all of that information in their head and even if they could, they really shouldn’t.
Trying to remember our commitments is another great example of how we waste valuable brain juice. Say you’re meeting your friend at a restaurant 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 didn’t forget and then again today so you could actually show up.
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!
If you’re like me, you’re going to want something digital that reminds you of your events automatically. Google Calendar is nice and Fantastical is even nicer. I’m sure you can find something you like. Just find something. Stop storing all that crap in your head already!
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 some sort of 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 big with all those little steps we are taking.
I think the ultimate goal should be a system where it doesn’t matter if you are at home, at work, on a bus, whatever and decide that you have some free time and would like 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. Personally I like the GTD approach where my tasks have various contexts like Home or Work so when I’m at that location, I just look at things that are geared towards being completed there. It’s up to you how you would like to organize your tasks and break them down and as long as it works for you, that’s all that matters.
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 just supplement with Evernote for ideas which 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.
Don’t Forget to Brag
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 actually 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.
Listen to all 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 slowly undo everything you’ve worked so hard for.
One of the main reason to brag beyond feedback is to network. When you discuss your work with someoen, they talk about 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 own project. Networking is super important and one of the main ways of drawing people in is to talk about the interesting things you’ve been working on or to offer help or advice on the 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 is a right way and a wrong way to do it. It’s all in the delivery and if you don’t know how to do it, well, practice makes perfect ;)
And Finally… Get Organized Already!
I just wanted to mention that any progress you make should be measured in baby steps, not mountain leaps. To accomplish anything meaningful takes time.. a lot 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.
If you have any questions on this post, ideas, etc, please leave them in the comments below. I promise I read all of them!
Featured Image Photo Credit: “File Cabinet.jpg” by rrafson on Wikimedia Commons