Brad Feld

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Staying Organized

Oct 07, 2007

Ok – enough of that announcement stuff on a Sunday morning (although I can’t resist inviting you again to the CSIA DEMOgala 2007 event.) 

I regularly get emails that ask questions like “I wanted to ask if you ever considered writing a post on your blog about your method of keeping your priorities organized, deciding where to spend your time, and your ability to accomplish so much. If only the rest of us could be as productive as you!  I thought of it as I read in your Q3 post, “this past year has required unyielding focus.”

I was pondering this in the background as I went through my daily morning routine.  It’s currently 6:51am and I’m about two hours into my “wake up, feed the dogs, make a cup of coffee, clear my email inbox, read my daily web stuff, read my RSS feeds, write a blog” cycle.  I do this almost every day (Monday through Friday + 1 weekend day) and use it as my daily “stay organized” anchor.

As I reflected on this – and the question posed above – it occurred to me that “staying organized” and “staying focused” are two entirely different things.  Rather than try to tackle them both, I’m going to only riff on staying organized this morning.

I’ve never used any particular organizational tools or methodologies.  Rather, I’ve created my own and borrowed from whatever interesting trends appear.  For example, a long time ago (twenty years?) I heard someone say “don’t ever touch a piece of paper more than once – do something with it immediately.”  This concept has evolved and is often embedded in many self-help books, but it’s at the core of how I stay organized. 

I have a long list of tactical stuff that I do such as always have an empty inbox (e.g. don’t use your inbox as a todo list), schedule everything, use a task list rather than email folders, and process all paper immediately, but I realized as I thought about this that the most important construct that I use to stay organized was non-tactical.

Specifically, I believe in rhythms.  Short term ones (daily / weekly), medium term ones (monthly, quarterly), and long term ones (annually, deca-annually.)  I use rhythms to stay both organized and focused – the short term ones are all about staying organized and the medium / long term ones are all about staying focused.

I’m a morning person, so my days usually start at 5am (unless I’m fried) and end around 10pm (when I’m basically useless to the world.)  I use the first four hours of the day to do three things: (1) sit quietly in front of my computer and do my daily information processing routine, (2) run, and (3) connect with Amy.  I try to use the last hour or two of the day to connect with Amy (e.g. no email or calls after I get home at night, unless something is previously scheduled.) 

I aggressively schedule the balance of my day so I know what to do next.  I have a “random day” every other week to meet or talk to folks I don’t really know but want to spend time with.  I make (and take) very few unscheduled phone calls throughout the day so I leave myself room to get through my schedule.  I schedule everything for a minimum of 30 minutes so I have plenty of slack time (most things take 5 to 15 minutes) to respond to email, make calls, chat with my partners when things come up, or deal with the classical “urgent high priority” things that inevitably appears independent of one’s schedule.

If I have to write something that will take more than 10 minutes, I schedule it.  I don’t fantasize that I can squeeze anything in – over the last 20 years I’ve learned that approach merely results in endless procrastination for me.  I clean up on weekends – my best weekends are ones where I don’t have much cruft from the week sitting around and I can just chill out.

I realize everyone is different.  Some folks operate (at least in their minds) effectively at the other end of the spectrum – namely “no scheduled meetings.”  I can’t deal with this – I love the comfortable rhythm of “a day.”  While each one is different, the basic structure gives me plenty of touch points that help me crank through an enormous amount of stuff.

Remember – this is about being organized – not about being focused.  I’ll deal with “staying focused” separately in some other post.