I was going to call this post “Managing Time,” but it’s not so much about time management as just getting the stuff done you need to get done.

I’m not sure about yours but my job demands focused creativity. This can easily be stymied, however, by the regular stuff I have to get done, some of which is people-related (communications, scheduling) or involves tasks (editing and posting sermon audio, preparing and printing production notes). I need to be able to block out time when I can think creatively, whether about music or graphic design, and not be interrupted by irritating reminders coming from my left brain.

I discovered a system a little over a year ago that people have been using for a couple decades called Getting Things Done (or GTD), developed by productivity guru David Allen. This from his website:

Sophisticated without being confining, the subtle effectiveness of GTD lies in its radically common sense notion that with a complete and current inventory of all your commitments, organized and reviewed in a systematic way, you can focus clearly, view your world from optimal angles and make trusted choices about what to do (and not do) at any moment. … GTD’s simplicity, flexibility, and immediacy are its attraction. Its ability to enliven, enlighten, and empower is its magic.

From reading his book, I implemented a workable system and began trusting it. Allen says our brains can only really handle one task at a time. So whenever you’re reminded about something that needs to get done, your brain is saying, We should be doing this right now. But if you file it away into a system your brain trusts, then you don’t need to worry about it. It’s like you’re saying, Yes, I know. Here, I’ll write it down. Now leave me alone so I can concentrate on my farm—or frontier, cafe, or whatever you’re building.

Pushing those things out of my mind has allowed me to focus and to hone my creativity in music and writing. I can only do this if my brain trusts the system.

Here’s what I use:

Appigo’s ToDo

  • To organize my tasks, I use Appigo’s ToDo iPhone app that syncs with their online service.
  • Tasks may be stand-alone or projects featuring multiple tasks within them. There are several aspects to the work I have to get done, so I list them accordingly: Admin, Communications, Music Practice, Worship Design, etc. I also have personal categories like Home Repair and Blog.
  • I may create a due date and time, if necessary, but I really limit these. I don’t need to be burdened for not getting done what I thought I’d do today but isn’t due for a week. ToDo provides a focus list, which features tasks that have to get done today or tomorrow (or whatever customized date range I choose).
  • I can also set the context for tasks, things I can only do at the office, for instance.
  • I don’t utilize the priority features, because I basically know what takes priority. Scheduling musicians is more important—or no one will show up—than working out the guitar riff on a particular song.
  • Saving me a lot of input time, tasks can be set to repeat however I need them to.

There are other apps (just search the app store) and online services (like Toodledo and Remember the Milk) you can use. Though Appigo’s app is pretty easy to use and the online service is great for inputting a lot of tasks, as in my review session (more on that below), sometimes it’s just easier to jot things down on paper.

Notebooks

I use two different Moleskine notebooks:

  • A thin, pocket-sized memo book for quickly writing down quick tasks I’ll add to my electronic system. These tasks may come to me as I’m sitting in church or in a meeting. In this notebook, I may write down blog ideas for further consideration, songs we could sing at church, even Twitter/Facebook posts I’ll share.
  • A larger, still somewhat thin notebook where I take notes at meetings, sketch out ideas, and list tasks.

I have to skim through these notebooks regularly and put into my system anything that belongs. If it’s a task I can get done quickly, I’ll just do it. If it’s an idea, I’ll input it into Evernote.

Evernote

I wrote about this in “A Beautiful Mind.”

  • Transferring my ideas and quotes and whatever else I write down into Evernote allows me to easily search for something, instead of flipping page after page.
  • I also highlight and make notes in my e-book reader, so I also transfer these into Evernote.
  • Evernote is available on many platforms, including desktop and online versions and mobile apps.

Review

My goal is to make my review session more consistent. Some recommend reviewing at the end of the week, so you have a plan for the next week. In this session, I’ll go through emails, my physical inbox, and voicemail to see what needs to be addressed further. Some things just need to be thrown out. I move emails, for instance, out of my inbox into just a few folders: starred, processed, CC’d, and a couple more. Similarly, I have just a few file folders on my desk.

These tools help me to be more productive, giving me uninterrupted time to be creative and meet with people. Instead of being overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done, I trust my system and get most of it done. Some things just need to be dropped anyway. Having a system helps me determine what those are, so the little things don’t trample what’s important.

Here’s to getting more of the important stuff done in 2011. (You can’t see me but I’m raising a glass. Maybe I should consider a video blog.)

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