Mindmapping and Productivity

We are trained early on to think that lists must be linear – one item after another, with cute little check boxes next to each. But what if your brain isn’t the linear type? Many people, especially creatives, have trouble thinking in a linear fashion. Forcing themselves to create To-Do lists in a traditional manner makes them feel stifled and bored, precisely the wrong mindset in which to do your best thinking. Fortunately, you’re not graded on your To-Do list. There is no one “right” way. In fact, some of the most productive people don’t use traditional To-Do lists at all. They use mindmaps.

MindMap

By Danny Stevens (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mindmapping is a visual way to get information out of your brain and onto a page, which also can create fully functional action “lists.”

The basics for mindmapping are simple. There are computer programs that can assist you (google “mindmap software” for suggestions) and many people prefer those, but really all you need is a large sheet of blank paper and a pen. Start with a main idea in the center of the page, and brainstorm all the possible related topics around the edges of the page, with lines connecting each thought to the center. Chains of thoughts will link one idea to the next, and indicate patterns and possible links. The idea is that you’re not forcing your thoughts into a pre-set format; you’re allowing yourself to get all the information out of your brain before trying to group and organize it.

Mindmaps are also useful for figuring out project timelines. Here’s how it would work…

1. Start with the goal in the center (For instance, “Send new customers the latest autoresponder series.”).

2. Ask yourself, “What would have to happen before I reached that result?” (“I’d need to load the series into my email system”)

3. Keep asking that same question, over and over. (“Before that, I’d need to write the series.”).

4. Keep going until you get to the first thing you need to do TODAY to get moving towards completion. (“I’d need to create a new list in my email system and load the new contacts into it.”).

5. Then add that item to today’s list of activities.

Where people fall down when using mindmaps is they never finish. They create the map and think they’re done. But you have to actually take that information and add it to a strategy that includes tasks and deadlines. Otherwise, it’s like pulling everything out of your closet and spreading it across your bedroom. Your closet is not clean and  organized until you create a plan for the space and put everything according to that plan.

Mindmapping can be a fun and effective way to create sophisticated strategies and project plans. The key is to allow yourself free rein to get everything down on paper, and then go back and instill logical structure around those ideas.

Urgent vs. Important and What it Means to Productivity

Do you feel like your day is spent in “fire man” mode – putting out one emergency fire after another? You can easily spend eight hours or more at the beck and call of the urgent activities on your list: The phone call that come right when you’re sitting down to do some much-needed strategic planning, the unexpected invitation to contribute to a blog round-up, the desperate plea for a last-minute speaker on an industry teleconference. While these all might be worthy tasks, they’re not necessarily related to your high-level goals. And as a result, the time you’ve set aside for your important activities can be usurped by the tyranny of the urgent.

urgent v important

Yes, it’s hard to ignore a ringing phone or a full email inbox. But if you want to move your business to the next level quickly, you need to have a system for focusing on the important tasks instead of the urgent ones.

Here are five tips for keeping your attention in the right spot:

1. Know what “important” is. You have to have your high-level goals in front of you, literally and figuratively. You must know what you’re trying to accomplish this month, this week, today, so you can filter your activities accordingly.

2. Create zones with no distractions. It’s not practical to turn off your phone ringer for 8 hours straight, or to check your email only once a day. But you can set up zones where you limit outside interruptions. Start with a quiet time first thing in the morning for one hour. Get one big item off your To-Do list before you check email. If that works well, add another quiet zone in the afternoon, maybe right before you quit work, so you can put your planning together for the following day.

3. Set expectations. You train people how to treat you and what to expect from you. If you always respond to their emails immediately, they’ll grow to expect immediate answers. Slowly wean them from expecting you to be on-call, 24/7.

4. Create systems to support your new habits. Email in-box filters that shuffle non-critical newsletters and group emails to another filter for later reading will help keep you from getting sidetracked. Removing all non-essential programs and icons from your computer desktop (and from your physical desktop, too!) can keep you focused. Figure out where you’re getting derailed and create some boundaries to keep you on task.

5. Remind yourself you can’t do everything. Admitting you can’t read every book and newsletter, you can’t keep up with every blog, you can’t personally correspond with everyone on your mailing list, can go a long way to helping you see your limits. Suddenly, you realize you’re only human, and if you can’t do everything, you have to be strategic about where you do spend your time. It can be very uncomfortable to leave things undone, or to choose not to respond to certain invitations or requests. Remind yourself of the big picture, and hold fast to that vision.

Outsourcing and Delegating to Increase Your Productivity

Once you’ve figured out the high-value items on your To-Do list, you may be wondering how you’re going to do all of those other tasks that you haven’t listed as critical, but that are still important to the maintenance of your business.

outsourcing and delegating

Here’s the short answer: You don’t.

Someone else does!

Oprah doesn’t film her own show (heck, she doesn’t even choose her own clothes!). Tony Hsieh doesn’t answer the phones at Zappos.com. And Jay Leno doesn’t write all his own jokes. These powerhouses know the secret to their success is to focus on what they do best – the things only THEY can do – and pass the rest onto someone else.

Before you hand your company passwords and your Rolodex over to your 16-year-old son and head out the door for that long-desired Tahitian vacation, let’s review some of the basics of delegating and outsourcing.

First, what’s the difference? “Delegating” typically refers to handing tasks off to someone else in your organization, while “outsourcing” generally means you’ve contracted someone outside your company to handle specific tasks. You might delegate responding to e-mail to your assistant, while you outsource the janitorial services to a private firm. The distinction isn’t a big one, but it’s important because the cost structure is different.

If someone’s already part of your organization, they can take on additional tasks without having to be compensated for each and every one. But if you’re outsourcing, passing more activities to another, outside party will mean you’re paying more.

If you’re a work-at-home entrepreneur, you’re likely flying solo, so you’ll be doing more outsourcing than delegating. (You’ll be hiring contractors rather than hiring employees who work for your company.) But the same principles still apply. Here are five questions to ask before you pass a task on to someone else:

1. Does it really need to be done?

What would happen if NO ONE did this particular task? Would it impact your business’s credibility, profit, or customer service? If you can’t answer “Yes” to at least one of those categories, then you might want to think about crossing this one off the master list and letting it go undone.

2. Can someone else do it as well as or better than you can? If so, then this is not your core competency, and you should pass the activity on  to someone else. Let other people do their thing while you do yours.

3. Will you ever have to do this again? If this activity is a one-time deal (installing software, creating an RSS feed, registering a product with Clickbank.com), there’s no value in you working your way up the learning curve. Let someone else do it for you.

4. How much will it cost you to outsource? We often overestimate how much we’ll have to pay someone else to do the tasks that we can’t or don’t want to perform. Get an estimate before you write it off as too expensive. You may be pleasantly surprised how quickly and cheaply an “expert” can handle those tasks that are languishing at the bottom of your list.

5. Do you enjoy it? If you don’t like doing it, find someone else to take it off your hands, pronto. Life’s too short to spend your time on activities you detest. And even more important, your displeasure will show in the end result. Do what makes your heart sing and leave the rest to someone else.

Entrepreneurs are do-it-yourself types, and you may be tempted to keep everything under your own control. But by trying to do everything with your own two hands, you’re actually stunting your company’s growth. Let others help you out, allowing you to concentrate where you add the most value. It’s the fastest and best way to grow your business.

Batching Tasks for Speed and Efficiency

Pull out your new and improved To-Do list. Look it over and I bet you’ll see some commonalities and patterns.

batch tasks together to save time

You might find there are types of tasks that are all performed similarly. How are they similar? Maybe you complete these tasks while you’re in the same mindset or while using the same equipment. They might be tasks that are call-related, tasks that need to be done in the same software on the computer, tasks that require extended thinking, etc. By grouping these tasks together, you can save transition time between activities – and, of course, get more done in less time.

These are the types of tasks that are perfect for batching:

Tasks that occur or can be scheduled in the same physical location. By grouping tasks in the same environment together, you save time moving back and forth. For instance, if you’re meeting a client downtown, arrange several other meetings in the same general area. Other ideas: Mailing/shipping at the post office, doctor’s appointments, running errands, even daily tasks in your house (when you’re in the kitchen cooking breakfast, put away the dishes in the dishwasher, too).

Tasks that occur or can be scheduled in the same location virtually. When using certain websites or software online, you’ll begin to see commonalities where you can batch tasks. Setting up specialized software can be a time-eater. If you are sending emails, log in to your account and write and send a bunch at once. For instance, why not write a week’s worth of blog posts in your Word Processor and then copy and paste them all into your blog at once? You can do the same thing with article marketing. Write a series of 5 articles and then submit them all at once. Or perhaps your video creation. If you’ve got the software open to create one video, you might as well create several at the same time. Other ideas: Keyword research, uploading videos to Amazon S3, Uploading blog posts, conducting interviews on Skype, submitting articles to article directories. .

Tasks that are repetitive. If you were washing clothes, would you throw one sock into the washer, add detergent, turn it on, and let it go through the cycle, then take it out and add the next sock? No way! You’d do a whole load at once to save time, energy, water, and detergent. You can do the same thing with your business-related repetitive tasks. Doing research, creating a tracking sheet, and sending e-mails to potential JV partners can easily be batched at each stage of the process. Other ideas: Entering receipts into your accounting software program, paying bills, sending out requests for information, updating your blog security and plugins.

Tasks that have the same goal. Performing all your marketing activities during a set time period keeps your brain in the right spot – you don’t have to switch speeds from thinking about advertising and publicity to editing to bookkeeping. Other ideas: Brainstorming new product ideas, writing articles for submission, finding affiliate products to promote. One caveat: You want to perform high-value tasks, not just ones you can get done quickly. There is a huge difference between being effective and being busy.

Activities that can be batched – especially repetitive tasks – often fall into the “busy” category. They’re things we can churn out quickly, that make us feel like we’ve made good progress, and that we can cross off our list. But at the end of the day, we can find we spent our time efficiently, but not particularly effectively. That’s why it’s critical to evaluate what’s on your list before you even begin to find ways to complete your actions more efficiently.

3 Tips to Increase the Power of Your To Do list

One of my favorite book titles is, “Write It Down, Make It Happen” by Henriette M. Klauser, Ph.D. The premise of the book is simple: By writing down your goals and desires, you are much more likely to make those dreams a reality.

smartphone-to do list

How much more likely? Research shows that people who write down their goals are about twice as likely to achieve them as those who do not. And if you count those who write down their goals but don’t quite meet them, they still get a lot closer than they would have if they hadn’t written them down in the first place.

Therefore, you can see the strong case for committing to your goals in writing.

This research is true in long-term goals like building your dream house or traveling the world – but what does all of this have to do with daily To-Do lists?

Well, what is a To Do list but a list of goals for the day? That means by writing your daily goals list on paper, you’re more than twice as likely to make significant process towards checking those items off than if you just flew by the seat of your pants.

Here are some tips to help you create do-able, effective To-Do lists:

1. Make it reasonable. We’re all too familiar with the endless To-Do list, the one with dozens of items, more than you could accomplish in a week, let alone a day. While writing every single thing you have to do down on a list may make you feel like you’re getting your life under control, it’s actually counterproductive. Not only will critical tasks get lost in the muddle, you can become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things you have to accomplish. It may be more attractive to just take a nap!

2. Make it specific. One of the biggest problems with To-Do lists is that people write down projects versus tasks. Anything that goes on your list should be something you can actually accomplish, such as “Call Joe about product release plans,” instead of “Finalize product release.” If you write down projects instead of tasks, you can’t ever cross them off – they just sit on your list and migrate from one day to the next which is obviously very frustrating. On the other hand, basic Psychology teaches that rewards make us want to do an activity more – so every time we check off an item on our list, it motivates us to do more. You can only do that if the items are small enough to check off. However…

3. Make it important. I’ve been tempted to write down things on my list just so I can cross them off. And while this gives me a little momentary boost, it doesn’t do much to move you closer to your goals. So before something makes it onto your list, ask yourself if it’s critical to the completion of your goals. If not, don’t even write it down. (Trust me, you will remember to “eat lunch” even if you don’t have it on your daily list!)

When used correctly, To-Do lists are powerful tools that can help you to accomplish more in less time. By “respecting the list” and following these three tips, you’ll have a daily To-Do list that will harness your energy and help you blast closer toward your biggest goals.