Getting Things Done

Getting Things DoneSometimes life can seem incredibly overwhelming. There is so much to do and so little time. Life is moving faster than ever, yet we are only human and there are only so many hours in the day. It’s so easy to finish a day and wonder what you actually did. Did I achieve anything at all? And of course that dreaded feeling as you drift off to sleep as you remember something really important that simply MUST be done. Jolted awake you manage a half hearted attempt on whatever it is, so you’re not only feeling stressed but also a bit guilty you could have done better if only you had allocated more time. Or at least remembered in the first place.
Then there are the things that you remember but just don’t have time for. That realisation at the start of the day of all the things you must do and knowing right at the first moment that they will not be done. There are just too many things. This is a (slightly) better situation to be in because it means that, given the right mindset, you will hopefully prioritise what is important. We’ll get to that in a minute.
The most challenging one for me is the realisation that you can’t do too much more of Task X because you need to do Task Y first. Good old dependency management. And sometimes it’s the darnedest things. A recent example for me was needing to send out a newsletter for my website. It was overdue and I had lots of, well, news to share. My MailChimp was still set up using an old PO Box that is no longer valid (a friend kindly let me use it when I first set up my MailChimp). So I had organised a post box of my own a few weeks ago. But for some reason, I could not find the address of the PO Box. It had been written on the Australia Post receipt but the receipt had vanished. So, here I am on Sunday, looking forward to writing my newsletter, and not being able to because I knew I couldn’t send it.
We can think of a billion reasons for not being able to get things done. And it’s a wonder sometimes how anything gets done with all the stresses of modern day life, not to mention the distractions of social media, the latest episode of the Veep and my attention sucking kittens.
So here are some tips that embrace some Agile principles that will help get things done.

1. Accept that not everything will get done

While not strictly an Agile principle, more of a common sense principle, there comes a time when you just have to realise that long to-do list is not going to get done. Simply accepting it and knowing that only a portion of what you need to get done will get done results in a kind of inner peace, and allows you to go to a place of forgiveness, embracing your own human-ness. Something like that anyway. Accept and move on, it’s for the best.

2. Break things into small chunks

Please don’t do this step until you have done step 1. Without the acceptance, this task can be hard. It would be like trying to carefully fold and pack items to put into a box you know already is too small. Breaking things up into workable chunks is the best way to approach work. It’s less overwhelming and also allows you to see visible progress for your work as you go. Something that motivations specialist Dr Jason Fox says is essential to keep us motivated and on track. In Agile projects, the team tracks their work visually on a Kanban board, and checks progress daily.

3. Celebrate wins – even small ones

How many times have you achieved something then moved seamlessly onto the next thing? I know we’re really busy and there’s lots to get on with, but taking the time to celebrate is critical. Because if we don’t celebrate, we are telling our unconscious mind that what we just achieved was not valuable. And when we celebrate, we tell our unconscious mind that what we did was great, and we should do it (or something like it) again. This means that as you work hard toward your next achievement, your unconscious mind is onboard with you, doing some of the heavy lifting – like sorting out your memories while you sleep and helping you with motivation. Just finished a 10 kilometre run? Celebrate it! Be proud of what you did, and I guarantee your unconscious mind will wake you up refreshed and ready for your next training run. It’s true.

4. Focus on high value tasks first

Very much an Agile principle. Once we accept that not everything is going to get done, we need to make sure that the really important things get done. For me, exercise is important, so I rarely schedule it for the end of the day. If I do it first thing, it means it’s done. And yes, other things might not get done, but I don’t want to sacrifice exercise for balancing my income and expense spreadsheet.

These are just some tips that will help you get the things done that need to be done. Our lives are like one big project, with lots of sub-projects sitting underneath. How we get on with these projects determines the success in our lives. Why not do it really, really well?

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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.