How do you eat an elephant? My husband asks me this all the time, because all the time I am overwhelmed with overly long “to do” lists created by enormous projects that are part of my business growth plans (and often personal goals as well). The answer: one bite at a time. And even though I know this answer, Mike asks me this question frequently because I forget that the best way, the only way, to eat an elephant, is one bite at a time. Projects are a lot like elephants.
I’d say one of the most common questions I am asked (besides “how do you groom an aggressive cat?”) is “how do you do all that you do and keep up with everything?” In fact, just today, in an email someone asked me how I keep up with so many projects going on and not let things fall through the cracks. To be honest, I do let things fall through the cracks. I do try, however, to make sure they aren’t really big, important things.
In 2015, in the midst of a chaotic frenzy of too much to do and not enough time to do it all, I had a breakdown moment. You know the kind where you cry a lot and say you’re going to crawl into a hole and give up even though you really don’t mean it? In the middle of my tears and angst, my dear sweet husband (again coming to the rescue) told me about a podcast he listened to not long ago whereby the speaker told of Ben Franklin saying something to the effect of “you can only do 6 things a day.” That may not be the actual quote, but it’s what I heard, and it’s what stuck in my brain. At first I dismissed this. “Ha!” I exclaimed, “Ben Franklin didn’t have my life, that’s for sure! There’s NO way I could get very far by doing only 6 things a day!” Well, I was wrong. My 6-things-a-day days have truly changed my life. I’m less stressed because of 6 things. I’m more productive because of 6 things. I’m more organized and more FREED UP with 6 things. (Thank you, Ben Franklin!) So how does this work exactly?
I have no idea how this worked for Ben back in the day, back before we had cell phones and apps and iclouds and such. But I can tell you how this works for me.
Step #1 – Write down goals
This may be goals for the year, goals beyond 1 year or goals for the coming month. I typically chart out my main goals for a year before the end of the previous year is complete. The goals list always grows along the way because I come up with new ideas, or an employee shares a fabulous idea, or things change. But the idea here is to come up with some general goals (not super specific at this point.)
An important part of goal charting is to also include a “due date” of sorts. In other words, when would you like to accomplish said goal? By the end of the year? By July 15? By next week? Whatever. You decide. Make it realistic though. Don’t set a goal to lose 20 lbs by the end of February. That probably won’t happen, which means you are setting yourself up for failure right from the start. Instead, set yourself up for SUCCESS!
My example goal on 2016 list:
Transition workload from cat grooming instruction to full-time photography
Sub goals (or tactics to help facilitate primary goal):
Transition blog from NCGIA to 4DP Photography
Transition travel from cat-related to photography related
Step #2 – Plot out goals on calendar
You can do this on paper or do this on a computer. The main thing is to write it down. I’m going to say that again…..WRITE IT DOWN!
I prefer to use iCal to print out blank calendars 2-3 months ahead. If I print my filled-in iCal months they are too full of appointments and things so for the goal charting I print blank monthly calendars that are free of clutter.
Using my example goal above, I made a list of blog topics that are fitting for my transition period and charted them out over the next 4-6 weeks. I will add more to keep up with the pace, but for now I don’t want to get ahead of myself and eat more than a bite of elephant at one time. I also have a calendar for travel, which is pretty much mapped out and slam full for the cat grooming thing through the rest of this year, but I can begin to focus on adding in the photography shoots as time allows. The visual of what my travel time looks like helps me stay focused on the objective. This makes it easier to say “no” when I need to say “no” and “yes” when it fits my objectives.
Step #3 Make a “6 Things” list
This is where Ben Franklin comes in. I used some 8 1/2 x 11 laminated sheets from our homeschooling years and used a dry erase marker to write headings, one for each day of the week. This means I have a total of 7 laminated sheets. On each sheet, I wrote out numbers 1 through 6 so I can list each of my 6 things for any given day. These sheets change week-by-week to fit the needs of the day and the goals I have set for that specific date.
Now it’s time to go back and reference my calendar with the goal mapping on it. If, for instance (going back to my example goal given earlier), I have a blog post due on Monday, it will be one of my things on the 6 things list. If I have nothing on a given calendar day for that week, then I do not transfer any calendar “to do” item. Instead I still have 6 openings for things that day.
Next I add in other things from my daily calendar that MUST be done on a given day (i.e. appointments of any variety, kids’ events, etc). After that, I add in what I want to do for me. If I want to exercise or read or take a nap, I put it on the 6 things list. What I’m doing here is prioritizing. First, the things that help me accomplish my goals. Secondly, things that MUST be done (appointments and the like). Thirdly, things that are good for my health and well-being so I can keep eating that elephant. And then……….wait for it…….the other tasks of the day that really should be done. The last items, things that should be done, fit into the remaining slots on the 6 things list in order of priority based on time sensitivity or importance. Did you catch the order of priorities here?
So the question then is…..what constitutes a “thing?”
That is a great question. It is one I had when I first put some thought into Old Ben’s quote. It took some tweaking to figure out just what a realistic “thing” is for my lifestyle. But I have mastered it and nailed it just about every day since.
NOTE: There are some amazing apps out there to make goal planning and 6 things lists easy to do. Or an old-fashioned notebook or super cool Moleskin will work just fine. Not long after writing this post, I was introduced to the Michael Hyatt Full Focus Planner. It is now my go-to for daily planning the 6-things way. In addition to that, I love the Noteshelf app as my online note taking, list-keeping, idea jotting app (it syncs to all my Mac devices so I have access to my notes pretty much all the time).