Getting Organized: Big Change Starts with a Small Step

If you’re like me, staying organized and on-task does not come easy. I tend to fritter my time away on things like photography forums, Words With Friends, Facebook, random computer searchs – masquerading as research – and whatever I can do to keep from accomplishing whatever tasks I may have on hand. The irony is that each morning, I wake up resolved to be more productive and get my business on track. Today, I’m going to make it all happen!

Of course, once I sit down at the computer, the procrastination begins and I repeat the cycle all over again. There’s a way out however. Though I’m far from perfect in this area, I’ve managed to introduce a measure of discipline in my work and feel better about my efforts. The best part is that I’ve done with little effort on my part. No major life change here, even though my life has changed – and definitely for the better.

My secret is that I’ve introduced the simple To Do list into my life. I’ve tried this for years, but now that it’s on my ever present iPhone, it’s finally stuck. You’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal in a To Do list?” Stick around and I’ll tell you.

I use the Things app for the iPhone. I first purchased it for my laptop, but despite my best intentions, I never stayed consistent with it. Once I purchased the iPhone version, I never looked back. Here’s how I use it:

– Every single thing that I have to do goes in the To Do list. It doesn’t matter how big or how trivial, if it’s needs to be done, it goes on the list. My list often includes: pick up dry cleaning, call my friend Joe, edit photo shoot, respond to client email, update blog, look up movie times, and talk to Bob.

– Whenever something pops into my head, I pick up the iPhone and immediately pop it onto the list. I’ll do this even if start the task immediately. Just because I may start something right away doesn’t mean I’ll finish it right away. Besides, as I’ll talk about in a second, I want the glorious reward of checking it off the list.

– Everything on the list is of equal importance and value. I give myself the freedom to do anything on the list. Indeed, everything on the list must be accomplished. If calling a friend is on the list, then I do it guilt free.

– Crossing stuff off the list is rewarding and makes me feel productive. The more productive I feel, and this is the key, the more productive I become. I may start out with easy stuff on the list. However as I begin to cross them off, I feel more empowered and motivated to tackle the more serious tasks on the list. Initially, I may not want to tackle a tedious project, but once I get going, I’ll do anything to be able to tick one more thing off my list. Once you get the ball rolling, you’re likely to find it hard to stop.

– Put things you like to do on your list that you may not normally get around to. For example, put “Go photograph Spring color” on your list if it’s something you’d like to do. Most of us get bogged down in the tedium of processing files and dealing with clients. It’s too easy to put off getting out and doing some shooting for yourself. When you put it on the list, you force yourself  to make time for it.

– Whenever you start to drift into endless Facebooking, return to the To Do list for guidance on what to do next.

– When I’m done with the stuff on my list, I can go home or do whatever I want. By creating a set of tasks that I’m obligated to do, I also create an end point for my work. The desire to finish up and get out of the studio is a powerful motivator for working efficiently. Without a list of things to do, everything is something to do and there’s no end to what you should be doing or when it should be done. The end result is way too much time in front of the computer. The To Do list helps you to break that cycle.

In any given day, we’re lucky to get five things done. It doesn’t matter what those five things are, just that they get done. On most days, I’m doing well to cross five things off my list – some days it’s more, some days it’s fewer. Some things will be easy – make a phone call – while others will take more time – edit a photo shoot.

Once you break things down, monitor your progress (by ticking things off your list) and create realistic expectations for what you can accomplish, you’ll be amazed at how much better you and your business will run. The main thing is to first try using the To Do list (using whatever software you choose) and then stick with it. Before long, you’ll be saying goodbye to your slacker self and hello to the newest titan of industry!


About johnmireles

Photographer, writer, thinker, climber, outrigger canoeist, bad guitar player and even worse singer.
This entry was posted in Knowledge. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Getting Organized: Big Change Starts with a Small Step

  1. Just started using “Things” again myself a couple of weeks ago when I noticed they’re now doing a cloud sync between the iPhone / iPad / OS X versions. You are so right about productivity building on productivity and about how much time we can waste in the run of a day. Awesome read! Thanks John!

  2. Tanya says:

    Love the advise John! I can not tell you how many times I THINK I am being productive to realize I didn’t get enough completed for the day. I like the idea behind placing activities on your To Do List that I would normally feel guilty about doing like “Go photograph Spring color”. I am going to put study for the certification test on mine. I like the sync thing too Alex.
    First thing on my To Do List for tomorrow is break down and go ahead with the purchase of the IPhone! 😉

  3. tiianorsym says:

    This is my NUMBER ONE issue in life and with my business. Thanks for the tips. I think I have this app on my phone, but I fell off the horse using this one, just as writing a to do list. I will give it a try again! Thanks!

  4. Thanks for the tips… I’m always battling what I can do versus what I need to do.
    Used Things for a while and tried the beta cloud sync. Love it and might go back to it…
    Right now trying WunderList with free sync (iphone, ipad, iMac) at the request of a fellow photographer.
    In any case, a portable List Maker of some sort is necessary to success.


  5. Very timely article, thanks this is a BIG help, it also makes me feel like I’m not the only one out here struggling with this!

  6. Paul says:

    Hi John…very helpful article…thanks for sharing it…I would also second Rob’s suggestion of WunderList…I’m started to use that vs. Things…pg

  7. Great article, John. I use Toodledo on my iPhone and web for recurring tasks, but for things that I have to accomplish on a daily basis, I’m a little more old-fashioned. I carry a small notebook in my bag because I like the permanence of writing on paper, and the satisfaction of using a fancy pen to cross the tasks off when they’re done. It’s also handy to have for taking notes or making journal entries. It’s really cool to be able to look back a couple years and see how my priorities and goals have changed or been accomplished.

  8. sue says:

    Well, I was using a journal and being very disciplined in my tasks and daily self-assigns, but this iphone app is PERFECT for me! I installed it and started to use it immediately! THANKYOU for this share! I have one more thing to cross off my list now

  9. Erik says:

    Cool, thanks. I’ve had Things for awhile but have not used it because I was overcomplicating it. I like your advise to just put things on the list, big or small. You have inspired me to get it going.

  10. Matt says:

    Great advice John! This is the approach I follow and it really is effective. I used Things for a while and then switched to Wunderlist. Both ultimately achieve the same thing, I just like that Wunderlist is free 🙂

  11. here says:

    After I start your Rss feed it appears to be to be a ton of nonsense, is the problem on my part?

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