05 Dec Quick Tips: Notes to Your Future Self
One day, when I write a book on organizing, it will be titled Letters to My Future Self. Writing notes to your future self is probably my most popular tip, and clients seem to pick it up quite quickly.
Here’s how it works: when processing paperwork or opening mail, and you come across something that needs to be dealt with later, take 30 seconds to write some key words or quick instructions so that when you come back to the paper you don’t have to re-read it and waste time figuring out what it is you have to do a second time. Alternatively, you can highlight or circle certain keywords instead of writing them yourself. If you don’t want to mark up the original paper, use post it notes. Since you’ve already read it once, and are in the mindset of the task, the quick note to your future self will help you be more efficient when it comes time to tackling that task.
Once a client has this skill down, I bring in two additional components. First, I ask them to determine when the task needs to be done: immediately, this week, this month, this quarter, etc. If possible, I then ask the client to write a due date down on the paper by which the task should be completed. We may also schedule a reminder on the calendar so that the task doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Second, I ask them to determine how long they think the task will take (in minutes) and write that on the paper. Adults and kids alike are not very good at estimating how long a task will take. Ask a kid to organize or clean and they complain it will take forever. As adults we also don’t have a clear idea of how long tasks actually take. Case in point, me doing the dishes.
I admit it, I’m like a lot of you and while my home is very organized there are times when I, too, have laundry all over the floor or a sink full of dishes (it’s called Sunday, my only day off). Unfortunately, I don’t have a dishwasher, so more often than not my sink has a pile of rinsed or soaking dishes. I look at the sink and think to myself, “this is going to take 20 minutes,” and I walk away. Finally, when I complete the task, I find it’s only taken me 5 minutes, if that. My point: we often overestimate how long a task will take. Asking clients to write down an estimated amount of time they think the task will take helps them to realize how long it actually will take. It builds a different, unique muscle.
The other way it helps, is by providing a guideline. Say you only have 20 minutes to complete a task before you have a phone call or appointment. You can look through your ‘to do’ pile and see those estimated times you’ve written down. You can select an item that you estimated would take anywhere from 5-20 minutes and get that done, rather than starting a task that could take 30-60 minutes and only get half way through.
In conjunction, writing notes to your future self, putting a deadline on a task, and estimating how many minutes a task will take to complete, will help set you up for efficiency success. Remember it takes a few weeks of consistency to make a habit. You can implement one of these at a time for a few weeks before adding in another step. Stick with it for 12-28 days and these will become second nature. Efficiency and productivity skyrocket when tasks can be done on autopilot.
What tips or tricks do you have for keeping yourself on task or becoming more efficient/productive? Please share in the comments below.