10.07.18

Project Design: Outsourcing your memory - part II

different coloured blank post-it notes pinned on notice board

Looking back at part I of this mini-series from April, I highlighted the importance of making a paper trial of everything (whether that be your to-dos, ideas, reminders, etc.). Now, we are going to look at just how to organise all these notes.

To get the most out of your paper notes you need to sort and order them – start by going through your ideas and deciding which ones are actionable. For these thoughts, come up with easy, specific, physical actions that need to take place to make that idea happen. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be for you to visualise and complete the task, so if possible, define a specific time and place where you will tackle it and keep your calendar free to facilitate this.

The actionable tasks should allow you to realise your long-term projects and goals by completing them. For instance, if you had initially written down “improve employee morale” you would first try to make this more concrete, defining the project as “organise regular team events.” This again comprises multiple individual actions, such as “book karaoke bar” (or your given team-building activity of choice) and “send out invites.” As before “improve employee morale” might only be a subset of an overall goal, such as “reduce staff turnover,” which is where this fits in the longer term project.

Organise your tasks into categories according to when and where you’ll do them. Now we have a long list of actionable tasks that add up in a meaningful way to achieving long-term projects and goals.

If you’re like most people, in addition to this list your desk is probably surrounded by Post-it notes, paper to-dos and reminders in digital calendars.

For this pile of tasks in their various forms to make any sense, they need to be organised and prioritised.

Start by dividing your actionable task list into three to-do lists: tasks to be done now, at a later time, or by someone else. The tasks in the first list are ones that can be done immediately, whereas those that go into the second will probably benefit from subcategories that add more context to the task. For example, the task “draft tender” could put it under the subcategory “Later – tasks for when I’m working on the computer.”

Or if you see something that you’d like to read but don’t have the time, you can categorise it under “Later – reading.”

The third list should contain the tasks that you’ve delegated to someone else with results that you are waiting for.

“Now you have several well-organised to-do lists. How do you maintain them?”

Once you’ve dealt with the actionable tasks, everything else should be stored for later use in separate lists. This stops them from burdening your immediate attention so you can focus on the essential. An example would be a note saying that one of your life goals is to “help those less fortunate” – such ideas should go on a “vision” list, or similar.

You can also have a “maybe” list where you add items that may become relevant in the future. For example, though it’s not the case at the moment, you may in the future be interested in collaborating with a third party, if circumstances allow.

Make time to maintain your lists and workspace regularly so you’re never overwhelmed.

Now you have several well-organised to-do lists how do you maintain them?

After all, it’s highly likely that you’ll come up with new ideas and tasks faster than you can take care of them, right? This means that your lists will keep expanding and eventually will be completely out of control, comprising pages upon pages of unfinished tasks…

So how do we avoid this? You need to review your lists regularly, and maintain them by cutting out tasks that are stale or no longer relevant.

You should spend up to two hours a week reviewing and updating the content of all your lists, calendars and projects. For instance, say you spent months and months looking for a new job and finally found that perfect position. This will have a huge impact on your to-do lists as you can now get rid of everything that was related to finding a new job, such as “search through vacancies.” At the same time you need to assess whether you need to move things around in the subcategories as your priorities change.

Just as important as maintaining your to-do lists is regularly doing the same for the physical places where you keep your tasks and ideas.

Clear out your inboxes every day or two to avoid them becoming cluttered, and make sure you keep a clear workspace as well by collecting all your documents into one place for processing.

Another, more drastic measure could be to move your office somewhere else. The major re-organisation required for this can often be highly beneficial by giving you a completely fresh start in a brand new place.

In the final part of this mini-series we’ll look at how to organise personal and professional goals to match long-term, high-level thinking.


Keith Jones studied Product Design at Central St. Martins where he graduated in 1996. Since then he worked in numerous high end audio outlets, culminating in owning and running his own successful AV installation company from 2001-2008. After a career break he started Jones designs in August 2009 which morphed into a Ltd. company called designflow, in 2015. Designflow aims to increase awareness of design in AV and help installers win more jobs and create proper documentation for them.