If you’re organized at all, you make and use ToDo lists. I’ll bet most machinists and engineers are pretty organized in this respect. I know I’m an inveterate list maker, and have it down to a fine art. While I’ve tried using a lot of different software for the task, I have found Excel to be the most convenient. My ToDo lists consist of an Excel spreadsheet with a few simple columns:

  • Description of the Task
  • Priority
  • Area: Helps me group tasks together
  • Purpose: It helps me to know why the item is on the list.
  • Note: There’s often some comment, web link, or extra information that I want in a separate column from the Description
  • Due Date: If there is one. Most are blank.
  • Completion Date

That’s it, but it’s enough. I can sort, re-prioritize, group things together, and stay on top of why I’m doing what I’m doing. I used these lists in that format to organize all of my activities. For example, there are lists that track what needs to be done next for G-Wizard, CNCCookbook marketing, article ideas, Honey-Do household items, and so on. I know, it sounds scary and obsessive compulsive, but the lists are so freeform it really is just a way of staying organized.

In my shop I keep steno pads and Sharpies everywhere. There is always a blank page available for a drawing or a little list and a Sharpie nearby to write with. I buy boxes of both and scatter them around so there is no way to ever be without one.

Lately, I have added a new kind of list to go alongside the ToDo’s. It’s a STOP-Doing list. This one is short and doesn’t change very often. It’s for helping me to avoid the things I do during the day that soak up a lot of my time without giving back a lot of value.

The trouble with computers is they offer you a lot of possibilities that are seemingly productive, but that in reality, have to be carefully monitored. I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to dash off at the first distraction that seems quasi-justified when I’m staring down the barrel of solving some hard problem that involves real work. Perfect example:

I have to close my email window while I’m programming. No choice. I will check it constantly and shoot the breeze with whomever is sending me mail. I can’t help it and need to be protected from my own worst tendencies. Facebook, Twitter, and any kind of Social site (Practical Machinist and CNCZone for machinists!) are the same deal. There’s always something interesting to be seen there, and it is good to see it. But if you let it, it will drain away your productivity.

The STOP-Doing list is all about setting some limits. Do your email and online chit chats once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Set them 3 or 4 hours apart and don’t just dive on every message that comes in.

I’ll bet you’ve got a list of things you could put on your own STOP-Doing list to radically improve your productivity and stay focused. Give it a try!

 

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