Illuminating the Path or: Figuring Out What to Do Next


The eternal productivity question: What now? I find myself asking that question all the time. Even when I have a lot of tasks to work on, it’s hard – so much to do, how do I know that I’m choosing the right thing to focus on now? Alas, I don’t think there are any easy answers. It’s a trial-and-error sort of thing – do something long enough and you’ll figure out whether or not it’s working. Still, some steps may make it easier.

  1. Consider the hardest task that you have to work on. There’s a good chance that if you’ve been avoiding something because it’s difficult, it’s the one thing you should do now. In productivity parlance, this is known as Eat the Frog. But how do you know what’s important? Unfortunately, that’s difficult for anyone but yourself to know. If you have a boss or manager, it’s a bit easier – they’ll let you know. But if you’re solo, like me, this is the kind of thing you have to figure out for yourself. One thing that may make this easier is figuring out what problem you’re dealing with. Is it sales? Then the solution is to find more users (in my case, readers). Work back from that – what can you do that will get you more users? It could be improving the product, doing that’s that don’t scale, doing more marketing, or anything else. Make that what you do first thing every morning.

  2. If you’re working on a large project, break it down into many smaller tasks. I had to do this for My Fellow Americans. Editing such a large book is not an easy task, nor is it something you can knock out in a day, week, or month. It took 11 months to complete from start to finish, and I’m still working on making it better. I was able to break it down into discrete steps, though: formatting the text, checking each inaugural address against authoritative sources (which I could break down into 63 smaller steps – one for each), emails essayists, including the essays in the text (which, again, I could break down into 63 smaller steps). While I was waiting on an essay, I could work on a different part of it.

  3. Getting Things Done is a popular methodology based on the book of the same name by David Allen. It’s a five-step process:

    1. Capture. Get everything you have to do out of your head and into a system.
    2. Clarify. Process what the captured item is. It might be something like edit a book – that’s a long-term project that’ll take a while to finish. Or it could be paying a bill; that’s something that can be done quickly. Or it could be waiting on someone else to get you something. Basically, you go through what you have to do and get clear on what to do with that item.
    3. Organize. This is putting things where they belong. I usually do this and step 2 at the same time; I’ll clarify something and organize it in my task system. I use Todoist. The free version should be enough for most needs, but they’ve a decently priced premium version, too. Premium has a few extra features, such as reminders, templates, labels, and filters. I like the reminders, and used the labels at one point, but not much anymore.
    4. Review. This is exceedingly important and should not be skipped. At the end of every week, you review what you’ve done, what you have to do in the upcoming week, and where you are. Reflection is important – it helps you sort your thoughts, consider your accomplishments, and figure out where your focus should be. I do this every Sunday for 30-60 minutes. I move, add, and subtract tasks as necessary, add dates to them, and prepare to do the work of the week.
    5. Engage. Or, as Nike says, “Just do it.” By this step, you should be able to look at your list and have an idea of what to do now. Of course, this supposes that you’ll just go down the line of items and do what you can. In practice, it’s not that perfect. You’ll have misgivings, worry that you’re missing something, not feel fulfilled, and more. There’s no easy answer. At the end of the day, work is work. It needs to get done. But it’s likely no one that can do the work you’re doing better than you can at this very moment. So let’s all listen to Nike and just do it.

I thought it might also be fun to give you an idea of what I do have to work on – for Librecron, as well as my other interests. So here is a lightly annotated screenshot of what I have in Todoist (and I’ll delve into my productivity systems & strategies in future posts [take a look at Blog – and those are just the ideas that I’ve finessed to some extent!])

A list of projects the author is working on, along with explanations for them.

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