Staying On Top of Your Stuff

It’s no easy feat staying on top of your stuff if you’re juggling more than one assignment, project, or social engagement. At times you may feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, or that it’s impossible to finish everything you want to do. Those that have allowed themselves to sink into the abyss of failed time management in the past know just how easy it is to lose sight of things and succumb to procrastination, denial, and giving up.

At times I may have as many as six different projects I’m currently working on. Though it seems like a lot to handle, I’ve come to realize that there is a way to ensure that all projects are completed by their deadlines. This, of course, also ties in to giving each project the time and effort they need to be fulfilled to the best of my abilities. Hopefully some insight to how I stay on top of things can help others who wish to do the same.

The rule of three I like to live by is to organize, visualize, and compartmentalize.

Organize

A desk that is neatly organized and tidy.

Organize: arrange systematically; order. Coordinate the activities of (a person or group) efficiently.

It should go without saying that organization is key to staying on top of all of your projects and assignments. If you’re unorganized, you’re likely to miss a deadline or forget something entirely. Clutter is not your friend, and will not only keep you from easily finding and understanding projects, but will also create time-wasting pits by making you dig through everything to find the one thing you’re looking for.

Imagine this: you play soccer and basketball for two local teams. Instead of having all of your equipment organized, you decide to throw all of your gear for both sports in the same gym bag whenever you go to either practice. When you arrive at one of your practices, you have to dig through the entire contents of your bag to find what you need (cleats and shin guards for soccer, shorts and sneakers for basketball, etc.). It would also be difficult to know which items need to be cleaned/placed back into the bag at the end of the day because you won’t easily be able to take stock of what’s where.

This isn’t to say it’s impossible to keep everything for two separate sports in one bag. If you exercise proper organization, you can very well save yourself from buying another bag. Perhaps put a divider in the middle of the bag, or use specific pockets/sleeves for different sports gear. With the right level of organization, even the most complex projects can be laid out in a manageable, easy to understand manner.

My organization skills extend to both my online documents and my paper notebooks. I have a few notebooks I keep with me that have information for current and future projects in them. When working or planning for a project, I just open the corresponding notebook, jot down ideas or updates, and then put it back in my bag or keep it out to reference while I work. For my online files, I make use of folders to label my work, which can extend into folders in those folders, and even folders in folders in folders in folders (you get the idea).

In short, I make sure that every project has a dedicated space either physically or online where I can access the information without trouble. I also keep physical and digital documents outlining all current and future projects that I can refer to whenever I need. Such levels of organization might not be needed for everyone, but I’ve found that – for now – they work for me.

Visualize

A team is visualizing their project to better understand what needs to be done.

Visualize: form a mental image of; imagine. Make (something) visible to the eye.

Another great tool for staying on top of your stuff is to visualize your projects. Visualizing your projects can greatly help you to understand what will be needed to complete them. By knowing what your endgame is and what you hope to achieve, you’ll have a much easier time working towards such a goal than just moving forward without any real idea for what you want to happen.

There’s a reason why builders and developers create blueprints before they get started on projects – having a visual representation of what you’re trying to achieve is a helpful way to stay on top of your stuff. You don’t have to follow your blueprints to the letter; sometimes you may find that by visualizing a concept you can see a fatal flaw much easier and avoid it entirely.

By writing down my series in notebook and outlining what I want to happen in them, I can visualize how each story will play out and make changes if necessary. Sure, I could probably get away with just having a sentence or two describing what I want to happen in the entire series and just write from that, but without a more solid structure to the story I might get lost, distracted, or derail from the main story entirely. That’s not to say that I outline every single detail (and I have derailed from a major storyline before), but having major events and plot lines planned out visually allows me to make such changes with ease.

Overall, seeing really is believing in terms of understanding your project. Outlines, drafts, sketches, beta phases – there’s plenty of ways to try and visualize what you want to accomplish to allow you to finish your projects in a timely manner.

Compartmentalize

A board shows a compartmentalized project

Compartmentalize: divide into discrete sections or categories.

Okay, you’ve got your projects organized the way you like and you’ve made some rough outlines, but you’re stuck on what you’re supposed to tackle first. How much is too much for one draft? Should you write a certain word count, page count, or chapter count before checking the contents? Should you sketch one character, a scene, or an entire action sequence before seeing if they all work together? These questions (and more) are generally solved with compartmentalization.

By compartmentalizing a project, you’ll give yourself smaller, more manageable goals and benchmarks that will help you reach your desired outcome before time runs out. I’m sure if I didn’t compartmentalize my goal of writing 12 series in 2 years, I’d never go through with the project! By breaking it down and seeing my goal without the blinders of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that went into it, I was able to take things one step at a time and stay on target.

For me, I found a good deal of success by setting a daily goal for myself during each month that I designate to write series in. Depending on how much I’ve been slacking or getting ahead of my deadlines, I tend to stick to a chapter a day. Each of my series has 21 chapters (at about 3,000 words per chapter), so that leaves a few days for two edits of the drafts before publishing. The best method I’ve found to work for me is spending one month planning and outlining and the other month strictly writing and editing. This larger compartmentalization is broken down over the months into cover creation, marketing, formatting, writing, editing, and publishing, giving me manageable mini-goals within a larger project that keep me on schedule.

There’s many different ways to compartmentalize, so it’s important to pick which is best for you. I like to go by word and chapter count compartmentalizations, but other may like going by hours spent on a project, part completions, weekly schedules, and more. Regardless of how you split up your work to make it more manageable, it should always be in a way that is more convenient for you. If you find you can’t complete the compartmentalizations you’ve set for yourself, it might be time to look at alternative ways to group your tasks.

Overall

Though I preach these three practices that have helped me reach my goals over the years, there’s a good chance one or more of them won’t be as helpful for others. If you’re a naturally disorganized person who prefers to work through the chaos, then go for it. If you hate outlining your projects and prefer to just see where you end up, that’s great. If you prefer working with your entire projection’s completion as your only goal and hate splitting things up, that’s fine too.

Even so, if you’re having trouble staying on top of your work and want to see if there’s anything you can do to better yourself, give organization, visualization, and compartmentalization a try. You just might find that one or more of them are the exact thing you need to add to your routine to become more productive in your work.

Hopefully we can all continue learning and growing to be as productive as possible in all current and future endeavors!

How do you, personally, keep the things in your life together? Do you find your strategies work well overall, or do they need to be tweaked? What do you still struggle with? What do you excel at? Let us know in the comments below so we can all learn and grow together!

Happy reading, writing, living, and working!

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