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Do you feel too busy to breathe, never mind to write? Here’s information about a great productivity tool that could change your writing life…
By Ann Gomez
Margaret, a busy communications executive, and mother of three, was constantly racing from one meeting to the next and fielding emails on the fly. She managed to carve out a bit of time for her own work each day, but she always felt stretched thin. As a result, Margaret often wrote after putting her kids to bed, but still felt like she could never get ahead.
I think many of us, at one time or another, can relate to Margaret.
Do you find yourself running here and there, trying to keep up with your day? Are you constantly jumping from one urgent task to another? Do you lie awake at night ruminating about everything you need to do and trying to decipher the nagging feeling you are forgetting something?
In last week’s post, we spoke about the importance of having three core priorities. These priorities help us focus on what we value most.
But of course, each of these core priorities has multiple tasks, deadlines, goals, and commitments. If one of your core priorities is to serve your boss, you might have 10 clients on the go, each with roughly five discrete tasks. This adds up to fifty (50!) different steps you need to track. And this refers to just one of your core priorities! It’s not surprising that most people feel as though their head is spinning.
If you are like most people, you use a variety of tracking systems to keep track of all your work.
I invite you to reflect on whether you use any of these options to serve as reminders:
Not surprisingly, having multiple task-tracking systems leads to chaos, extra time spent looking here and there, and forgotten tasks.
Navigating multiple systems might have worked in the past when you were less busy. But I’m guessing it isn’t working as well as it used to.
You need a better system.
You need a priority management system.
Introducing your MAP
Think of your Main Action Plan, your MAP, as an upgraded to do list. Your MAP is your priority management system, and it is your most essential productivity tool.
Your MAP fulfills three essential functions:
- Captures all your work: your MAP is the record of all your tasks, deadlines, goals, and commitments in one central location. It includes the things you want to do now and in the future. Goodbye disparate, incomplete lists. Hello one central tool.
- Manages expectations (yours and others): your MAP helps you to gauge your capacity and evaluate new deadlines and commitments. This helps you pace your work and prompts you to streamline or seek help as needed.
- Prioritizes opportunities: your MAP is a clearly ranked list, with all tasks listed chronologically by deadline. This provides you with a simple way to decide what comes next. It is incredible how calming it is to avoid the constant feeling of “which fire do I turn to next?”.
Simply put, your MAP helps you focus on what is most important now, while allowing you to track all your other work.
Here is an image of a sample MAP, which you can build in a variety of tools. If you work for a large organization, you might set up your MAP in Outlook Tasks, To Do, or OneNote. If you have fewer firewall restrictions, you might use one an app such as Todoist, ClickUp, Trello, or Asana. You could even set up a simple list in Notes or Word or Excel. This comes down to your personal preference.
I suggest you grant yourself 30 minutes to build your MAP. I know your day is full, but your MAP will make you more efficient, strategic, calm, and reliable. I like to think of pausing to build your MAP in the same way as Stephen Covey describes the power of sharpening your saw; it’s a way to renew and refresh yourself, so you can put forth your best effort and achieve your best results.
As you’re building your MAP, you’ll want to corral all your disparate lists into this one central record and align each of your tasks to their corresponding priority.
Grouping your work by categories helps it feel more contained, and this helps you feel less overwhelmed. You’ll then rank these tasks chronologically using clearly identified deadlines. This helps you calmly work through your list without worrying about forgetting anything.
You can also set up a category for personal tasks and any other supporting tasks, as well as future priorities. Supporting tasks and personal tasks all represent work that needs to get done — but doesn’t align to your core priorities.
Once you have clearly established your priorities, I encourage you to add a compelling “why” statement to each category. Answering the following questions will help you craft your “why” statements:
- Why is this type of work important to you?
- What motivates you to invest time in this work?
- What is your overall goal or vision?
A compelling “why” statement will:
- Keep you inspired during challenging times
- Keep you focused on activities and decisions that support your overall purpose
- Help you feel less overwhelmed by all the details
I like to think of this part as taking your car for an oil change: you don’t get much out of the activity on its own, but it’s vital if you enjoy having a car that drives well.
When we link a mundane chore with a bigger goal, it is easier to see the value in the minutiae. We start to see how it is a critical step in our overall journey.
Now, let’s come back to Margaret. I checked in with her a couple of weeks after helping her set up her MAP. She shared an update that brought immense joy to my heart. Margaret said her MAP helped her feel so much calmer and in control. With a clear task ranking system, she felt more strategic and prepared to pull in help as needed. After a couple of weeks working with a solid MAP, she couldn’t imagine going back to the chaotic, haphazard systems that she had been limping along with.
Like Margaret, my MAP is the tool I use to help me manage overload while still pursuing all the things I love. I hope this post inspires you to build your MAP.
I’d love to hear about your current task-tracking system, and I’d also love to hear about your new and mighty MAP, which is going to level up the way you operate.
For more information about setting up your own MAP, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.