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Making a List & Checking it Twice

December is here, the decorations are up, and 2018 is nearly behind us. As everyone looks to finish up those lingering projects, the holiday season has a way of putting our organizational skills (however strong they may be!) to the test. While we don’t have a troop of elves to send over and help whittle away at your to-do list, some solid tips can help you check that list - not once, but twice! - and start off the new year a master of getting stuff done.

New Habits for a New Year

1. One list to rule them all

Whenever we have someone new join our team, one of the first things I do is apologize for the amount of tools they will have to learn. There are so many great tools out there today, all with different features and benefits, and every tool we use has a real purpose. Call us crazy, but there is a method to the madness.

So, how do we stay on top of it all? Make one list the most important. Your to-do list should be your one-stop-shop to plan your day. Yes, you’ll have meeting notes, emails, and phone messages to address, but you can narrow your to-do list to one tool. After all, what’s out of sight is out of mind and probably won’t get done.

I have one Trello board just for myself, and one list I need to look at. I have to-do items in almost all of our many tools, but I make sure that my one list tells me what my priorities are. Just got 5 more to-do items in your notes from a meeting? Put a reminder on your list! Every detail doesn’t have to make its way onto your main list, but this one point of reference can help you remember everything you have going on.

Quick tip: If your list has room for comments, leave yourself a note with the last activity so you can pick up quickly where you left off.

2. Make time to make time

This tip I learned in college has stuck with me into my professional career. It’s really pretty simple, too! Think about this… we all have days when we arrive at work, and it’s non-stop from the moment you walk in. Whether you have back-to-back meetings, or fires to put out, you know off the bat it’s going to be one of those days. When these days happen, our organizational system will either bring us through, or show it’s flaws.

To make the best of every day, and alleviate the stress that can come with those crazy ones, I have planning check-ins to “make time”. Just 10 minutes in the morning when I start, and in the evening before I leave sets my day up to be more successful. Here are my key points in the day to plan my time (and check email!):

  • Monday: Check meetings and priorities for the week. What can I accomplish this week?
  • Each morning: What is new today, and what am I aiming to get done?
  • Before I leave for the day: Is there anything I intended to get done today that I didn’t? What does my day look like tomorrow?
  • Before I dive into a new task: Am I on track? Did something new happen that I need to address now?
  • Friday: What must I get done before the weekend, and what does next week look like?

The keys here are to be intentional, and flexible. Intentional planning helps me see clearly what I need to get done, and what I can do in the time I have. Being flexible is crucial because even if I make the Greatest Plan That Ever Was, something will always happen that I didn’t see coming.

3. Red alert: Deep work time!

Deep Work is a concept I first came across in a book of the same name by Cal Newport. In a nutshell, deep work is dedicated time without distraction for you to get stuff done. That means phone is off, Slack is shut down, emails will be read later, and you’re either by yourself, or your headphones tell your co-workers that now isn’t a good time.

Ideally, we integrate deep work time regularly, even daily, to stay on top of our tasks and projects. Figure out when you’re at your best - Early in the morning? At the start of your workday? Post afternoon coffee? - and dedicate that time to deep work.

My deep work is often more of the RED ALERT variety. After I’ve moved that deadline again and again, or that hard deadline snuck up on me, I know it’s time to get away from my desk for some deep work. I’ll set an actual meeting on my calendar for a few hours of deep work. If you’re able to work from home, or get away from your desk to a private space, make the effort! That intentional time to just tackle a project, work on strategy, or just chip away at your long to-do list can really help you catch up or even get ahead.

Get Your List Going

If you’re looking for a little holiday sanity, and aren’t sure where to turn, here are a few tools that might help out, curated straight from the HighRock team!

Trello: My personal favorite, and a go-to for many HighRockers. Trello is both robust in features, and user friendly. If you’re a fan of post-it notes and lists, but want to take your planning digital, Trello should be your first stop. Check out their full list of features on their website,

Other tools that are also great: Wunderlist, BusyCal, and Simpliday. There are tons of time management tools out there today, and these are just a few of our favorites. It’s a good idea to try out a few, and see what features work for you.

Calendar or Planner: Whether you’re into paper planners or your electronic calendar, both are a great option to plan your day. Not only are you reducing the tools you need, but you’re able to plan your day very effectively. Use a checklist feature in your calendar, or simply set a meeting for yourself to get that task done… just don’t double book yourself with an actual meeting!

Evernote: Did you know Evernote has a checklist feature? It’s simple, effective, and can be found right next to the bullet list feature in the Evernote toolbar. This, or even a good old fashioned paper list are a simple and clean way to check that list done!

Have a project you’ve been meaning to get started? Kick off the new year with a satisfying checkmark, and contact us to discuss your new project!