If effective meeting planning were a breeze, anyone could do it. Few, however, actually can do it and do it well. Organization skills are vital.
To handle the array of items competing for your attention, and to get and stay organized at the same time, collect everything on your desk and elsewhere that needs need attention. Stack it all up in front of you in a quite temporary pile. It doesn’t matter how high it gets. In fact, the higher the better. You’ll have a much clearer idea of what you’ve let accumulate and what you’re up against.
Now, in 30 minutes or less, rip through that pile. Without sentiment or hesitation, put each item in one of four locations — an “important” pile, an “urgent” pile, an “interesting” pile or the recycling bin. Caution: Don’t do this when you’ve just come back from five days on the road or are tired or not fully alert because the process will overwhelm you.
If an item is urgent and important, put it near the top of the “important” stack. If it’s simply urgent, put it in that pile. If you’re not sure, the item goes to the bottom of your largest stack — but just for now. On the second encounter, you have to classify it.
Operation Clean Sweep leaves you with three semi-neat piles. Rank the items, then rearrange them in each pile. Downgrade or toss anything you can. You now have three smaller, more precisely arranged piles, “important” (in accordance with your priorities and professional responsibilities), “urgent” and “interesting.”
Starting with the “important” pile, estimate how long it will take to complete each item. Add all your estimates and multiply that number by 1.5. Do the same with the other piles. As the number of task hours before you climbs into the hundreds — as it may — you can rather dramatically see that there’s no point in continuing as you have. Your solution will vary based on the nature of your work, the available resources (such as helpers) and other particulars.
What doesn’t vary is the ever-present opportunity to get meaner, leaner and more focused. What else can you chuck? What can be combined, ignored, delayed, delegated, done in multiples, automated, otherwise systemized? The more items you can downgrade to “interesting,” the further ahead you’ll be. Interesting can be relocated away from your desk.
Items that can be handled another day can be slipped into a daily or monthly tickler file. If the materials are too big for that, put a project note in the file and neatly house the materials elsewhere — but away from your desk and out of sight.
As each new day or period of high anxiety ensues, repeat Operation Clean Sweep and remember to include the items in that day’s tickler file.