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Prioritize, Progress,

I have been working on increasing my productivity during the summer, which is my slow time at work. I have been reading blog posts, considering my workflows and organizational systems and how to improve them, tweaking my daily To Do list sheet, and just spending a lot of time thinking about how I attack tasks, what slows me down, and how I can eliminate those barriers.

I got the idea for Paper Clip Tasks (PCTs) from a James Clear blog post. I identify my three most important tasks for the day, and I remove a paper clip from my ToDo list each time I complete one of them. The goal is to remove all three paper clips by the end of the day, and the purpose is to provide a visual reminder of what you should be focusing on and a little reminder of what I have accomplished. I started trying this in mid-June, but by the middle of July,  I was not as pleased with their impact and I decided that I needed a stronger reason to get those three tasks done every day, so I promised myself a reward for hitting a 15-day streak of accomplishing all 3 PCTs. And that has been very motivating. The other day, the process revealed itself, and I had one of those “light from the sky, angels singing” kind of moments.

About a week ago, one of my PCTs was “Sync CSR Dropbox”. When I started that task, I logged on to Dropbox and immediately realized that I did not have the permissions that I need to do the job. Chris is the owner of the folder and had already emailed me that day to tell me he was out of the office, so I knew he couldn’t make the change needed that day.

Instead of crossing that task off the list and replacing it with something less urgent or settling for only completing two PCTs that day, I did as much of the task as I could do without Chris changing the permissions. I copied the spreadsheet of the committee members to a new sheet, added columns for syncing the list with the current Dropbox permissions.

I had allotted 45 minutes for the task, and when I was done, I had a record of who is already on the Dropbox, whether they were “View Only” or “Can Edit”, who doesn’t have access to the Dropbox; and who is on the Dropbox and shouldn’t be. I could sort by names, organizational roles, and even Dropbox status.

Do you see where this is going?

On Tuesday, Chris changed the permissions, but I was out of the office at a “Managing Multiple Priorities, Projects and Deadlines” seminar. This task was item #1 on my PCTs on Wednesday, but I started at the bottom of the list that day (because I’m still working on this prioritizing thing, apparently), and when I got to that item it was, no joke, 5:56 and I had told Rob I would be leaving at 6 or 6:15.

So I started and just decided I would see how far I could get before I had to leave. The first part was the hardest: I had to search for each name in the spreadsheet to check it against the current Dropbox permission to see whether it needed to be changed to View Only or stay the same and update the status in the spreadsheet to record that it now matches the spreadsheet. I got through that in about 4 minutes.

Then I sorted my sheet and selected the email addresses of the people who needed to be added to the Dropbox as View Only, pasted it in the Dropbox field, wrote a quick explanatory message and clicked send. I did that once more for the Editor permission people, went back to the spreadsheet, and dragged-to-fill the updated status, clicked CTRL+S to save the file, and I was done. The whole thing probably took 7 minutes.

Then I added a comment explaining my Dropbox status codes, saved it again, wrote an email to Chris because there was one group of people we hadn’t discussed (people who had access to the Dropbox already but were not on the CSR list), sent it and I was done with the whole task in 9 minutes.

When I looked at the clock, that was my “light from the sky, angels singing” moment. It feel so good.

Why? Because I had done the hard part that I didn’t know was going to be the hard part when I originally had the task as a PCT. Because I have a bright line rule about those PCTs right now: do them ALL for 15 days in a row or else. I have to spend at least the allotted time working on the task, or work until I cannot do any more.

I had stuck to that and I set myself up for success.

I learned several things from this exercise. One is Nike; JUST DO IT.

The second is that if I thought when I made my ToDo list that a task was important enough to be in my top 3 priorities for the day, I need to make some progress despite road blocks; I might not know how much I can actually get accomplished. Originally, I made some great progress, but still didn’t have the deliverable that my client wanted, and I felt a little deflated… until I picked the task back up.

And the third is that if I prioritized an important task, but find when I start working on it that I don’t have something important that I need, I have to stop and figure out if there is any part of the task that I can do without that thing I need, even if that thing I need seems very important at first glance. Maybe it isn’t as important as I originally thought, and I can still work on the project, can still work around that important thing.

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