You’ve probably read something, somewhere, about cutting down on the time it takes you to do one thing or another. Maybe it’s building a Rube Goldberg Machine or Sam Carpenter’s approach to a systems mindset (or, my own translation, ‘Everything and its mother has a system”).

Now, I’m not saying we all need to be quite that level of hyper-efficient. The majority of us probably have more curveballs and unexpected things thrown their way throughout the day, especially when you throw in kids, pets, or even just enjoying some spontaneity. After all, you don’t want to have the daily rigidity of a worker ant. (The below video is my favorite clip to reference when mocking myself for the inability to cope when something throws a wrench in my planned day).

Since I’ve never found it realistic (in terms of my happiness/sanity) to be rigid about every detail of my life, I have systems in place for some things but not all things. I’ve found that there are some tasks I perform on a regular basis. Having a system in place for these tasks actually increases my effectiveness, which increases my free time. Win-win.

How to Create Tasks

The past few months, my life has been fairly rigid with scheduling, but it took me a while to figure out how to effectively juggle all the tasks I had to do in a given day. I’ve finally figured out a routine that allows for whimsical spurts here and there. Here’s how I finally got organized for personal tasks (this can be applied to professional, too).

  1. Write a list. What’s your daily schedule like? Are there tasks you find yourself performing on a regular basis? Weekly basis? Or, if it’s work related, what are the tasks you perform consistently? Like most people, my schedule varies day to day, but I always eat, run or some other type of workout, and go to work.
  2. Break it Down. Choose one or two items on this list and walk yourself through it, step by step. What needs to happen? It’s important to be realistic/honest here- sometimes there’s a discrepancy between what you think needs to happen and what really happens.
  3. Look for inefficiencies. Just by looking at the list, you can find time leaks in your task boat (apologies for the analogy reach). And, if it’s a business related task, another person might notice a way to make something more efficient. Or you may notice it makes sense to group things together (ex: updating a website’s software and publishing the latest blog post while you are logged in).“Unquestioned procedures can lead to inefficiency.” 
  4. Run with it. Start applying your new ‘system’ to the one or two tasks you looked at. Has it made your life easier? If not, are there ways to improve what you’re already doing? You may even want to ask someone else to try out your system for feedback and potential improvements.

You’ve probably noticed even a task that seems simple (ex: making a bank deposit) really requires multiple steps to accomplish (gathering the checks/cash, filling out the deposit slip, bringing it to the bank, balancing your checkbook). This is where procedure lists and documentation come in.

Procedure Lists/Documentation

A procedure list is a to-do list for a certain task. These especially come in handy for tasks that are business related, where completing all the steps and often in the right order is what matters, not just reaching a desired end result. An overly simplified example is laundry. An important step is separating whites and colors. You’d get the same end result (clean clothes) by skipping this step, but they might look a little different afterwards.

For instance, at Breaking Even we have documentation (a procedure list with screenshots essentially) for more technical items (i.e. website maintenance, creating payment forms, etc) so, in theory, anyone can jump in and complete this task. They are bit like a manual, with written steps and pictures. The bonus for procedure lists for businesses is that if you have a team, it ensures things are getting done the way they need to be. It makes it easier to perform a task if the person who usually does it is sick, on vacation, etc. This isn’t to say that person is replaceable, just that tasks can be performed as needed. When I was first hired at a law firm after college, the systems for various tasks (intakes for new clients, intakes for existing clients with a new issue, responding to emails, ordering coffee/paper/toilet paper, preparing invoices, etc) that were in place really helped me navigate the new position.

If you decide to create a procedure list for your company, think about ways to make it useful for employees with different learning styles. Some may be more visual (i.e. pictures or video), while others may prefer to read, and still others prefer hearing things explained to them. Trying to cover as many of these learning styles as you can in one list can motivate others to actually implement the systems. For instance, having a video with a written caption covers visual, auditory, and reading elements.

Systems for tasks will save you time, money, and headache. Something to keep in mind: Sometimes systems take longer to implement at first but once you get everything lined up… it’s on.

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