What Are Your Rules for Getting It All Done?

I have a high rate of throughput. I write a lot, I offer online and in-person workshops, I have coaching and consulting clients. I’m busy, just like you.

One of my clients asked, “How do you get it all done?” He paused. “I bet you have rules for getting it all done. Care to share them?”

His first assumption was that I did get it all done. Uh, no. Not at all. I have a parking lot a mile long and more projects than I think I could do in my lifetime.

I’m kind of happy about that, because I know I have plenty of work :-) I don’t have to worry about running out of work. That is not the problem.

I am just like you. I have to pick and choose what to do and when. I don’t know anyone who gets it all done.

I had to change my perspective before I could increase my throughput. I knew that everything I was trying to do was important. It all took time. I had to be perfect before I delivered it.

Here’s what I did to change my perspective. I changed my rules into guidelines:

  • Instead of knowing everything was important, I asked myself: What is most valuable right now and how long is it valuable?
  • Instead of knowing that everything took time, I asked myself: What is the smallest piece of value I can release now?
  • Instead of knowing that I had to be perfect, I asked myself: What is good enough for me/my clients/my students to use?

That changed my perspective. I changed my perspective on the other two rules I had, although they were not as hard as my perfection rule.

If you haven’t seen a rule transformation before, here is how you do it. I’ll use the perfection problem because I see that most often:

  1. State the rule, as precisely as you can. In my case, it was “I must always release a perfect product.”
  2. Change must to can: “I can always release a perfect product.” (Now, do you believe that? I have evidence I can’t :-))
  3. Change always to sometimes: “I can sometimes release a perfect product.” (I believe this.)
  4.  Three or more circumstances when you can:
    • “I can release a perfect product if it’s small.”
    • “I can release a perfect product if I ask for enough help in the form of review and feedback.”
    • “I can release a perfect product when I know enough about it.”

You might have other circumstances. These are mine.

Notice what happens when I change my rule like this. I have now given myself permission to iterate, to work in small chunks, to ask for feedback and to continue learning. I give myself other choices. I practice.

You’ve noticed I practice here. I practice writing and how to explain all these questions rolling around in my head. I practice in my other writing and I practice with my books. You see the final result, but I do practice.

I derive my actual techniques from these circumstances.

That is the question this week: What are your rules for getting it all done?


15 thoughts on “What Are Your Rules for Getting It All Done?”

  1. Thanks Johanna . Love the way you have changed a process to change your behaviour. And I guess your culture! Best way to do it. I’ve shared with our company community as we are going through that mindset shift now….

  2. My rules have been to find large chunks of time and try to get into the zone/into a flow. I’ve been trying to do that for years. Either I can’t find the time or I can’t find the flow.

    So I’m experimenting with breaking off discrete chunks of large projects that I can achieve in some box of time: 15/30/60/90/120 minutes. So for writing I’m trying 15-30 minutes (thank you very much!) and for my home-improvement project I’m trying 90-120 minutes.

    1. Jim, glad you are finding the 15-30 minutes for writing helpful. I had 20 minutes before breakfast this morning and wrote 500 words. For *me*, the focus of the short timebox helps me focus and get it out.

      I think home projects are different. At least, they are in this house. Mark has to get out all of his tools, measure, complain a little, measure some more, draw marks on the wall, swear a little, and then he does it. Very few projects here are less than an hour. More projects have several steps that include looking at the space, looking at a catalog, measuring and some possible swearing. The swearing isn’t a lot, but it tends to be loud. And, Mark is fanatical about cleaning up. Regardless of his progress, everything is clean even interim-project.

      1. I find that the short writing timebox gives me permission to just freewrite, which gets more ideas out. I’m still working on breaking my perfectionism and letting the words just be, at least during the freewriting phase.

        I’m not so persnickety as your Mark on my home projects but there is setup and teardown time with each time box and it can’t be discounted. I try to bite off pieces that can be done done in that time box. Like scraping and sanding my wood six-pane windows. And then priming them. And then painting them. Each is about a two-hour job. At the end, I can show (and feel) progress.

        1. For me, the shorter the timebox, the more I free write. I know I won’t have time to edit (or, sometimes even cycle), so I want to get the words out.

          Projects such as house projects might require some iteration during, but it seems as if much of the iteration is in the design/planning. Yes, you can change the design/plan once you start and that’s more expensive.

  3. I never get anything done, is my thought in the first iteration.
    Then I look upon what worked. 80% are post done. More like brilliant.
    But not the chores that make up work.
    I get done like 45% of my to does in a running week/month. That is a lot.
    45 out of 100 Ideas from which most have been running for a long time, but also like 60 or seventy of them are new and urgent.

    Getting it all done?
    Naw. There is always so much more.
    Sure, motivation is a big part of it. Like you state.

    I like your Idea about how long is it valuable? But You do not elaborate there.
    Back to business and todos…

  4. Sascha Demarmels

    Thank you for those inspirations. I like the idea of iterations. But… When it comes to my free writing, for me it isn’t just to let it out. It’s not about the output but also (and perhaps even above all) about the writing as a process or the flow. I want to write because I like to be in that flow (I am almost never in flow when I am doing my earning-money-job). And therefore, small-time-iterations are not satisfying for me to write my own stuff because somehow they miss the goal. But there mst be a lot of other things I can put in smaller timeboxes.

    What I am wondering though: Using even small chunks of time for things you want to do, doesn’t it take up all the time (also the time for resting)? I am asking because right now my todo-list is overfull and the only things I can postpone are the ones that are the most important for me to make me feel good. I try to squeeze in as much as I can (unfortunately no flow there…) but sometimes I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to just sit there for 15 minutes and do nothing but breathe and let the thoughts come and go. How do you deal with these “resting moments”? Do you put them on the backlog? Or do you simply not need them?

    1. Sascha, for me the key idea is about value. What is most valuable for me, now? I didn’t sleep well on Friday night, so on Saturday I took a pre-lunch nap. I don’t remember doing that at all, but I was tired and it was the most important, valuable thing I could do. After lunch, I actually got some writing done, but not as much as I’d hoped.

      If you like the writing time because you enjoy it, I might ask myself, “How do I get more of this time?” As for your other question about resting time and idea-getting time, let me separate them. I read (fiction) at night when I’m too tired to do anything else. I like reading at night, and always read just before bed.

      As for idea-getting time, I have more ideas than I can handle. I add them to my “idea-bank” (I explain that in the writing workshops) and work on them when they pop up to the top of the list. Or, if I remember them and I want to write about them now.

      For *me*, writing has nothing to do with looking out the window. Writing is the sum of all the acts of writing: idea-banking, fieldstone capturing, writing-down, cycling, editing, and publishing. I’m finishing a book (with any luck this week), and I am past the idea-banking and fieldstone-capturing. I’m in the writing-down and cycling parts to make sure I didn’t miss anything I wanted to say, and then I’ll edit along with my editor.

      The cynical part of me says “How can you make your earning-money-job more enjoyable?” Either, by changing the role you currently have or by creating a new role, there or somewhere else? Hmm, maybe that’s something else for me to write about.

      1. Sascha Demarmels

        Thanks johanna :-) I have to think about value a bit more. It probably is the key to everything. It sounds so much easier than it acutally is… Value for whom? Direct or indirect value? (What happens, if you don’t value a thing that might backfire later?) And what about “emotional value”? At least for me, there is a lot left to think about.

  5. Pingback: How Do You Value Your Time? – Create An Adaptable Life

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