Saturday, January 10, 2009

Basics - Organize to get your own job done

(photo credit: ifindkarma)
How and why you have to organize to get anything done.

Suddenly hit me when I was all sour about the stuff I had to get done compared to what I wanted to get done.

It wasn't some mystic/spiritual attitude adjustment I needed to do, but rather simply following my own advice.

For many years, within that corporation I was part of for so long, I was very (VERY) good at consulting and counseling. But the key thing I kept dealing with in other peoples' lives was their lack of organizing. And that corporation had some definite instructions about how to organise, and as an internal consultant, I had narrowed down those instructions to just a few issues. And applied them myself to my own overloaded/undermanned scene so that I lived a fairly comfortable existence (within their pretty bizarre corporate structure).

The problem is that I threw out everything I had been following when I left that corporate structure, figuring that if and when I needed some data that was actually vital, I'd simply be able to pull it back up again and start applying it. Meanwhile, I was going to go out on my own and see what the rest of the world (did I mention this was a corporate cult?) had to say about how to get things done.

All these books I'd been studying and serendipitously discovering - they all kept saying the same things:
  • Concentrate on your goal
  • Discover your own purpose
  • Develop a "burning desire" and devote all your energies toward that end.
  • Plan your work, work your plan.
And as I meandered around, I saw that the more I didn't apply those few datums, the more I kept having to do something else for someone else. Unhappiness continued to surface.

Looking back to times where I was getting things done, showed that (regardless of the corporate mess I had gotten myself into) - there were times when I was actually getting things done and making some progresss, at least toward their goals if not my own.

The conflict between their goals and mine finally reached a peak and I left.

Now I just had my own goals to discover, sharpen, and achieve.

At this particular point (today), I find that I now know all I actually have to know to make a success online (which is the cheapest and most recession-proof of getting things accomplished.

So why aren't I rich already?

Because I'm not following my own advice.

Here's the advice I use to set out for others:
  1. Figure out what you actually should be doing, producing, or presenting.
  2. Figure out what your ideal scene or situation should be.
  3. Work your production sequence out backwards from your final product to where you start. Include all the sub-products you need to create along the lines.
  4. List all the hats/jobs that need to be done to get your production actually done.
  5. Work out a schedule in sequence so you can get these all done. This will be daily/weekly/monthly - as not all jobs have to be done every day or every week.
  6. Write a plan for yourself to get this organization in.
Now, here's the basic policy we used to use in that corporation - which really has quite a reputation for getting things done (even if what they were doing was a bit "tetched" at times):
  1. Evaluate your scene based on the ideal you want to achieve. Find the key point that, if handled, keeps you from achieving that ideal scene.
  2. Write a program which will move you from where you are to where you want to be - within the existing resources you now have.
  3. Now, write a weekly To-Do list which starts getting that program done - includes everything you really need to get done this week.
  4. Every day, write a daily To-Do list which gets that weekly list done.
  5. At the end of the week, review your progress, as well as production metrics, to see if you are getting closer or further away from that ideal scene. Also look to see what steps on your To-Do from the week before actually got done - which means what steps of that program got done.
  6. Write a new weekly To-Do for the new week, which has steps to correct anything which moved you into the wrong direction and actually gets your programmed production done.
  7. When that program is done, or close to done, evaluate your current scene against the ideal you want to achieve and find what key steps you need to take to move you forward again.
  8. Then, start writing you weekly and daily To-Do's again to get this done.
Organization by folders
As well, there was a physical organization that went along with it.

They had corporate administrators which oversaw production. And they reviewed and handled production for several different areas and had to keep things straight. So they used folders for each area they had to handle. I used a version of this personally.

In that folder:
  1. Inside left cover: current evaluation write-up with program on top. Stapled in or under a binder-clip.
  2. Weekly To-Do on top of that, under a paperclip.
  3. Right inside cover: Daily To-Do's. A copy of the metrics were kept just below the DTDs - this was on graph paper, ran on usually a quarterly basis (at least 12 weeks) and was updated by hand. A new daily To-Do was made out every day and put on top of the old one (usually paper-clipped together by the week.)
  4. At end of week, these were collected and stapled together with the Weekly To-Do on top.
  5. Analysis of last week's progress was in a short paragraph at the top of the next week's To-Do.
  6. Program was updated with all the steps marked off as done.
  7. New weekly To-Do was then slipped under the paperclip on the inside cover and the first daily To-Do was written and placed on top of everything else on the right side.
Using a clipboard for mobile organization
Now, I used to keep all this on a clipboard if I had to move around a production line - and then clean out that clipboard weekly and filed it in that folder. This is so you can track several different production areas.

On the clipboard:
  • Bottom - program with current steps you're working on on top.
  • Next up - the weekly To-Do
  • Next - A grid for the week of all the key metrics you were tracking. These were set up so that you set production goals for the week on every metric and then broke them down into what needed to be accomplished that day. For five days, if you had a 200 widget goal, you'd have 40 widgets being produced each day. And you kept this marked every day, finding out from that area what they had accomplished the day before. So you knew if something was not on quota and could concentrate on figuring out how to debug that area. I also marked in last week's production by days, so I could see if I was ahead or behind in what I needed to produce.
  • Above that, your daily To-Do with the steps you needed to take to get that production and accomplish that program.
Daily, I'd write that day's To-Do against the metrics and the weekly To-Do. Then follow that daily To-Do. Best was to write it out first thing in the am.

At the end of the week, the clipboard was cleaned out, a new metric-grid printed off and filled in with the week-before's production and quotas for this coming week. New Weekly To-Do, new daily To-Do.

Use 3-ring binders for an individual online freelancer
Now - to apply this to your own daily scene, and to adapt it for the individual freelancer - we would make some changes.
  1. Keep everything in a 3-ring binder, punching holes in your papers to keep everything in.
  2. Inside left - your program, with weekly To-Do on top of that.
  3. Inside right - daily To-Do. Grid of your metrics below that - week to week for online business.
  4. Assemble your daily To-Do's with your Weekly To-Do and put these all in sequence, maybe clipped together by each week for the last few weeks - whatever works and doesn't get in your way. You need to be able to quickly see what you'd done in earlier weeks for your analysis.
But where you get other data, like nifty print-outs of stuff online - or production notes - or brainstorming -- put these into the back of that binder (behind a divider) or into a separate binder. Date these, but organize by type and use - so you can find what you need again. Use post-it's as tabs is one idea, particularly colored ones. With two binders, one is straight, hard-core production. The other is bright ideas and stuff to do to improve your scene. This latter one will be used when you write your new program.

Writing Programs
Essentially, you are doing weekly and quarterly production analyses. You'll also do fuller analysis when your program finishes. Your To-Do's are mini and micro versions of your program, designed for that time period immediately ahead of you. The program should be designed to last about 3 months, but can last as long as it takes.

Now, this doesn't mean you can't update your analysis and program as needed - particularly if it looks like a program is bugged and will need special handling to get it back on the rails.

If you aren't doing a major re-write, just a debug - then simply put this debug program on top of the other program and orient your To-Do's toward getting this debug program done first and then get back to your original program. Retire the debug program behind the original program when it's complete.

Once a program is fully complete - or replaced by a new program, retire the program with all it's To-Do's into a records binder. And when that records binder gets too full, empty it into a labeled file folder and put that into a file cabinet or banker's box so you can refer to it if you ever need to again. (And keep these for five years or so, then chuck. Five years is an eon in Internet time.) You'll have something like four folders a year (one for each quarter), and something less than 100 sheets in that folder. So one banker's box should hold all your archives.

And this is also why you keep your bright ideas separate. Those stay in binders and go on to your shelves if you find yourself too full and not referring to them much. These give a different way to anaylyze what you've been doing.

Advantages of Weekly and Daily To-Do's
Really, this allows you to concentrate on just what immediate targets you should be taking.

The program can get overwhelming when you try to get a grip on everything you want to get done over the next few months.

Get inspired once a quarter or so, and write that long-term plan to make your goals.

Then only focus on what you can realistically get done that week, while taking the steps needed to set other actions in motion which will be needed later.

Like cooking a meal. Not everything is best clunked into the microwave. And you also have to clean dishes on a daily basis. Food preps and shopping are also steps you need to take - but these are best done when the prices are lowest and it is most convenient for you. So you might set a stew or roast going in the Crock-Pot before you head out the door, but taking a sandwich and fruit and a thermos of tea with you for lunch. (Breakfast was something simple, like oatmeal with milk and fruit.) Then, when you get home, you dish out some stew with vegetables and some sliced bread with butter and jam. Pour yourself some fresh milk. While you have all the day's dishes in the dishwasher, you put the rest of the stew into small containers in the fridge or freezer so you can warm them up again on a later day. Put the dishes away before you go to bed so everything is set for the next morning.

From the above, you can see what steps you have on a Daily To-Do in order to feed yourself. Of course, you don't write these out - but that example shows you how something could be organized for immediate and future actions.

How to start this
You probably already have some piles of paper sitting around. Some are partial programs, some notes, some inspired ramblings.

  1. Simply gather all of these up, punch holes in them, and put them into a binder - behind a divider. Fresh start.
  2. Write a comprehensive program in sequence of what you need and want to achieve.
  3. Print that program off and put it under a binder clip in the front left of that binder.
  4. Write a To-Do for the next week (even if you only have a few days left) and clip that in front of that program.
  5. Write a To-Do list of targets to get done today and hole punch it - put it in the rings on top of everything on the right. Note what metrics you need to achieve - or that you need to figure out some metrics that will help you track your goals as a target for the week.
  6. Start getting that daily To-Do done.
  7. Tomorrow, you'll check off your weekly To-Do and then write another Daily To-Do, hole-punch it, and put it on yesterday's To-Do - then work that one for the day.
If you don't have a binder and 3-hole punch, put it on a clipboard. No clipboard? Find a paperclip and a stiff piece of cardboard. And then when you can, get to the store and buy your needed supplies. Make a list of them and then note down what day you should do your shopping. Then work that list.

Know your goal. Plan for that goal and then work your plan. Break down your actions and track them daily and weekly. Review your goals progress quarterly. Keep track of your metrics to see how you are or aren't achieving your goals.

Use binders and files to keep yourself organized and focused.

And if you have people working for you, see if they can't profit from the system you work out.

There's a lot more to organizing than this - but the principle is the same: break larger areas down into smaller ones so you can concentrate on just those smaller parts.

Luck with this!

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