Here’s how to improve organizational skills with one simple idea.
We want to spend our time on the most important things for sure.
But where do less important tasks fit in?
When I do them, it feels like taking time away from the more important stuff.
That is a big question for me and in this article, I explain how I’ve tackled this time management dilemma.
If you prefer listening to reading, here’s a companion podcast episode:
How to improve organizational skills with the third habit
In his book 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People, Stephen Covey explains that time management should be based on putting first things first (the 3rd habit).
The idea is doing things that are most important for our future.
And avoiding things that are unimportant.
That’s the foundation for improving organizational skills.
Courtesy: The Art of Manliness
Reason to ignore #1: For me, I always choose to work on my future.
I trained myself with this habit so well.
I like doing important things because I really feel they can have the biggest impact on my tomorrows such as building my business.
But the side effect of it is that I don’t like less important tasks.
When it comes to things like planning a trip or finding an apartment, I tend to neglect them.
Because at that point, I have so much momentum for doing important things.
So I have this tendency to ignore my less important tasks.
Reason to ignore #2: Let things resolve on their own
Another good reason that I always think of is that ignoring minor tasks leads to letting them resolve on their own, without my involvement.
One way I saw this work was in my previous business.
As a leader, people always came to me for advice.
But if I wasn’t there, they would tend to resolve their questions themselves.
Once, they needed to move to a new office.
At first, I was involved a lot.
And my manager kept asking me questions.
But then I removed myself from that situation altogether.
And then the manager was able to own this task and did everything by himself up to concluding a lease.
I’m like a yogi who stops caring about material things.
The difference, though, is how I stopped caring about minor things.
That’s not good because not all things would resolve on their own.
I started thinking about how to improve organizational skills while still staying in the framework of the seven habits.
Breaking the seventh habit
That’s when I realized that overdoing the 3rd habit, i.e., avoiding less important tasks altogether, leads to breaking the 7th habit.
The habit is sharpening the saw.
Whereas the third habit is about production, the seventh habit is about increasing my production capacity.
When I put off less important and not urgent tasks for too long, they come back to bite me in the ass in terms of wasted time and money as well as the quality of what I do.
And they also make me feel overwhelmed.
Let me explain this with a few examples.
Example #1: video studio
I have a YouTube channel with self-help videos like this one:
I used to have a good video setup with two softboxes and a background screen.
But then I moved from Russia to Canada where I didn’t have that kind of setup.
And I struggled with finding a place to shoot my videos.
At home, I didn’t like the background, lighting, or noise.
I would try going outside and spend hours looking for a good location.
But when I thought I had found one, it would turn out something was wrong with it.
Like unexpected noise.
Out of 3 or 4 hours spent on a video I would spend half of the time on preparation.
I shot about 10 videos. That’s 20 hours lost.
Whereas it would’ve taken me just a couple of hours to buy a video studio like the one I have now.
And the quality of my videos took a major hit as well.
Plus, I was feeling overwhelmed every time I set out to make a video.
In this case, putting off an unimportant task for too long resulted in wasting time, lower quality, and feeling overwhelmed.
Example #2: a light bulb in the bathroom
A couple of months ago, a light bulb burned out in a washroom in my apartment.
But I kept postponing buying a new one because I thought I had more important tasks to do.
After all, it was the second bathroom and I could use a flashlight.
But then I went to Montreal, I rented out my apartment to a couple.
And I felt embarrassed because there was no light in the bathroom.
In fact, so embarrassed that I went to buy a new bulb while I was waiting for my bus to Montreal.
But I didn’t have the time to go back to the apartment and install the bulb.
The point is that it was unjustified procrastination on my part.
Even though I was doing more important tasks, this small task did require my attention.
In this case, putting off an unimportant task for too long resulted in embarrassment.
Example #3: my driving license
I don’t drive a car often.
I do enjoy driving on highways but not in the city.
So after I had come to Canada, I didn’t get a driving license.
But when I had to move to a new apartment and buy furniture, I realized that a driving license would’ve come in handy.
Renting a van and driving it myself could’ve been much cheaper than renting a van with a driver.
In this case, putting off a seemingly unimportant task resulted in wasting money.
Example #4: renting an apartment
For a few months after coming to Canada, I kept postponing the task of finding an apartment for myself.
I would wait until the very last moment and then get a place on Airbnb which was too expensive or low-quality compared to a permanent place that I could’ve gotten.
So I spent, say, 40 hours on moving between these places.
But when I set out to find an apartment finally, I found it in about 20 hours.
In this case, putting off a seemingly unimportant task for too long resulted in wasting both time and money.
How to improve organizational skills with the 7th habit
Clearly, ignoring less important and not urgent tasks altogether is not a sustainable approach.
Yes, I need to put first things first which is the third habit.
But I can’t do that to the detriment of sharpening the saw which is the seventh habit.
Courtesy: The Art of Manliness
Even though I have more important things to do (production), I still need to take care of small tasks that will increase my production capacity down the road.
A solution that I’ve been trying is allocating one hour for them every evening.
For me, this is the time from 6 pm to 7 pm after dinner.
Because I work on them in the evening, after working on more important tasks during the day, it doesn’t feel like taking time away from those important things.
I also prioritize these smaller tasks to make sure I work on my most important unimportant task.
I try to spend more time on the weekend if possible when, again, I feel more relaxed and put less pressure on myself to focus on my most important tasks single-mindedly.
When I take care of smaller tasks, I keep remembering that this is me practicing the seventh habit so that it doesn’t feel like neglecting the important things.
Because in different ways, I increase my capacity to do a better quality of work and have a better quality of life down the road.
Whether it’s because I order something online that will help me work better or plan a great trip after which I’ll come back rested.
My goal is to prioritize minor tasks even further using a better system.
It will help me optimize the time spent on minor tasks that I do regularly such as buying groceries.
It’ll put them in perspective.
For example, I might be able to see that in the two hours that I need to buy groceries I’d rather do something more important.
So then I would buy groceries online, sacrificing money and quality.
But then I’d be able to spend the time saved on a more important minor task such as booking flight tickets in advance and saving more money than I could’ve saved by buying groceries at a store.
Here’s how to improve organizational skills right now
My goal for this article is showing you how to improve organizational skills by balancing the two habits.
So my one actionable tip would be to put first things first, but not forget to sharpen the saw.
That is, put away some time each day for those minor tasks.
A good time for this is 30 minutes to one hour each evening, after accomplishing your “first things” for the day.
Improve organizational skills with one-on-one coaching
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Book a free clarity session with me using this link.