I’m a young entrepreneur (just turned 25) with a full time job at a startup, a husband and two animals, several freelance marketing gigs, and a side hustle that keeps me extremely busy. I have a lot of things to accomplish for my side hustle, but it’s hard to prioritize them and know exactly what to work on.
I used to just list out a lot of ideas and try to tackle them all. I quickly realized that didn’t work as I was just running around in circles wearing myself out. I knew I needed something better to focus my efforts and help me actually accomplish my goals, rather than just put a lot of effort in a lot of places.
A little over a year ago, I created a process that actually worked for me, and I’ve been iterating and improving it ever since. It has helped me to go from “what am I doing with my life” to “dang! look at all that i’ve accomplished!”.
Here’s why this process has worked so well for me. It’s helped me:
- Prioritize. (I don’t have to spend time every day and every week sorting through hundreds of ideas and potential projects…. I already know what’s important, I just need to pick from a small list and run with it.)
- Focus. (I have the motivation of a deadline to get things done in a certain time period, which makes me want to work as efficiently as possible and laser focus on my goal)
- Avoid distractions. (I am less tempted to add things to my to do list for the day or week, because I have a system to store that for later and retrieve it when I’m ready. I don’t have to be distracted by it now.)
- Make significant progress on projects. (I am able to see a project’s status immediately and know how much work I’ve done on it. I can tell how close I am to completing it, which is fantastic for any client work or even just keeping myself accountable.)
- Quantifies the work I’m completing. (Instead of just saying “I did a lot of work this week”, I can actually say “I added this much value this week” and compare that to how much value I added the last week. I can quantify my work and make sure I’m doing valuable things.)
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS
I want to walk you through an example of how I set up this system and how you can make it work in your life, too. I’ll show examples and actionable tips on how you can go from an idea to completion in 90 days by focusing, prioritizing, and eliminating roadblocks in execution.
There are a few critical elements involved in this system:
- Understanding what agile methodology is
- A tool to manage your sprint (I prefer Trello and have found it to be BY FAR the best tool to help me do this… nothing else has worked quite as well.)
- Willingness to spend 20 minutes a week on a weekly review to achieve your goals
I’m going to show you how to do and use all of those things in this blog post.
The first critical element is understand what agile methodology is. You might be familiar with this in other terms like scrum, Kanban, sprints, or something else. Here’s how cPrime defines it:
“Agile software development refers to a group of software development methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.”
Although the definition specifically refers to software and business teams, taking a few steps back you’ll find a system in which you do the following:
- create a backlog of projects to be completed
- define a sprint time frame (often 1 – 2 weeks)
- pull projects into the sprint to be completed
- move projects through phases so you can see progress at any given time
- Give projects “story” points (a number assigned to a project to estimate how much effort will be involved)
- review projects completed at the end of the week and add more for next week
Where the magic comes to life is taking this process and using it with best tool I’ve found, which is Trello!
Here’s how it works.
First of all, I create a board in Trello (call it whatever you want – I prefer the term “Life Dashboard”.) You can get a Trello account for free . Creating your first board is easy – just click the plus sign at the top right of the page.
I used to be a big fan of life planning, and if you want to read all about why I quit, read this post.
Instead, I now plan my life and business goals in 90 day increments, and I find that’s a perfect block of time to create a tangible list of goals to accomplish.
Here’s where I create my first list in my Trello board. I call it my “Backlog”, and I add cards within that list. (Cards are individual tasks in a list.)
I think about my major projects and goals, and then break them down into smaller chunks.
For example, if one of my goals is to get 50 blog subscribers, I might break that down with smaller tasks, like this:
- write blog post each week
- promote blog post each week
- set up opt in pop up on blog
- create lead magnet for opt in
- research best practices for getting subscribers
I go through this for each of my goals and list out all related tasks in cards. My goal is to get everything in enough Trello cards that I could drag a card across and complete it in a week (i.e. – if it would take more than a week to complete, then I break it down into multiple cards).
Next, I start assigning “value points” to items.
You might remember that earlier that I said agile systems assign points based on the anticipated effort involved in a project or task.
I started out doing this, but quickly found that all it encouraged me to do was to work harder to get more points. This wasn’t really helpful, as it’s the opposite of productivity. Productivity isn’t working harder or doing more… it’s doing the right things and doing them well; it’s about adding the most value.
I realized if I kept focusing on how much work I was doing, I was just going to start working on things mindlessly and burn myself out. I decided to tweak the system and make sure I was doing the right things, instead of just doing a lot of things. I started assigning each task “value points”, an estimated number representing the value a task would bring.
It’s a pretty subjective number, but it makes me think about what is adding more value and that is what’s important. Here’s how I do it.
I pick a task, let’s say “writing a blog post” , and I give it an estimated value of 5. (I work on a 1-10 scale, but you can use 1-5 or any other scale you want!) Then I look at the next task on my list, and ask myself if this task is more or less valuable than the previous one, and I ask myself how much more or less valuable.
So I would give “promote blog post” an 8 in value points, because writing a blog post is important, but it will be even more important to promote it so other people see it. If I spend hours writing a fantastic blog post but no time sharing it with people, then what’s the point?
I continue to go through all of my tasks comparing how valuable they are to each other to define the most valuable (and least valuable) tasks.
This helps me understand where to focus. When I have to make a choice about what to work on, I start with the highest value items.
I also prioritize my tasks by adding labels. I group my priorities as labels in Trello. (To do that, just click the labels tag, pick a color, and type!) I have labels for Project 1440 (my side business), Consulting (freelance work), Personal Development, and Fitness. If you want to focus this just on your business, then you can have labels for types of tasks, like admin or marketing or content development.
Giving every task a label ensures that I only work on things that are a priority. If I add a task but I’m not sure what label to use, there’s a chance it’s probably not a priority to me and therefore I might want to reconsider if I should do it or not.
WEEKLY TO DO LIST
The next list I make in my system is my weekly to do list. This is the list right next to my backlog, and I call it “To Do – Week”.
Every week, I spend about 20 minutes in my favorite coffee shop reflecting on the previous week and planning for the upcoming week. (More on that later.) Thanks to my backlog and my points, this is pretty easy.
I decide what to work on by looking at any tasks with upcoming deadlines, and then by value points. After all, I want to get a lot of value points each week, so I should choose projects with the highest value, right? Then even if I do less tasks, I can still end up with more value points!
I drag over a reasonable amount of tasks for what I think I should be able to accomplish. I’m never 100% right. Sometimes I overestimate and don’t get everything done, and occasionally I underestimate and finish my week’s tasks a little early.
Just try your best to guess and roll with it. You’ll get a little better at estimating every week.
TO DO TODAY
The next list you’ll add is your “To Do – Today” list. This one has been game changing for me. Instead of writing out my to do list each day, I just drag some cards over from the “To Do – Week” list.
Similar to weekly planning, I do this at the end of the day to prep for the next day, and I consider my schedule and availability for the next day.
I also consider what tasks are still sitting in the next list, which is….
This is the next list after “To Do – Today”. This holds tasks that have been started, but not yet completed.
Tasks can end up in this stage for any number of reasons. It could be a long task that you can’t accomplish in one sitting. It could be something you’re collaborating on with others and you can’t move forward until you get something from another person. It could just be that you’re stuck and need to take a break and work on another task.
Another way I like to use labels to identify why something is in “doing”. For example, I’ll use the “waiting” label to know that I can’t move forward on that project, because i’m waiting on something from another person before I can do anything else with the task.
DONE + YAY
Things move out of your “Doing” list once they’re complete. My (almost) last list is called “Done” and that’s where everything sits once it’s complete.
I clean this list out once a week in my weekly review (more on that in a second), and if there are any noteworthy tasks, I drag them into my very last list called “Yay”.
Although it might sound weird, I’ve found this list to be really inspirational and encouraging. Whenever I review my tasks in “Done”, if there’s anything that stands out that I want to remember, I’ll move it to “Yay”. I’ve included things like the first blog post I wrote for Project 1440, the first podcast episode I recorded, the day I ran my first (and last) 5k… It’s the only list that I never empty out, and I look back on it regularly.
Although I like to include this in Trello, you’re welcome to include it somewhere else. This is one extra list that I have on my Life Dashboard. It’s called “Next Quarter” and it’s where I store my ideas of projects or tasks for the future. It’s for things that I don’t want to focus on this quarter, but might consider in the future. This helps me store these ideas so I can reference them later, and they don’t distract me from focusing on my goals for the current quarter.
You understand agile, you know the system and how to use it with the tool, but the last critical element is the weekly review. You have to be willing to spend about 20 minutes a week or this system won’t work.
Here’s what I do:
- Look at the things in “Done”, pause and celebrate and move anything significant over to “Yay” (also count up how many points are in “done” and logging that in my weekly value tracker before archiving all cards in the list)
- Look at anything left in the “To Dos” or “Doing”. Figure out why they weren’t completed and see if this is a trend, and something I need to address to prevent tasks from being undone in the future
- Drag over new items from “Backlog” to “To Do – Week”, carefully considering the amount of time I’ll have and highest value tasks
You can do it in less than 20 minutes, and it will literally show you the progress on your goals. It’s pretty awesome to watch all your 90 day goals move from the “Backlog” to “Done” and maybe even “Yay”… you’ll see your backlog slowly disappear because it’s all been completed.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, if you want to see a live example of the Trello board, click here.
HERE’S WHY THIS PROCESS IS THE BEST
This is really the best system I’ve found. Nothing beats it because anything else has one of the following problems (you’ve probably noticed these in some of your systems, too).
- Too complicated. (A lot of other systems are just too complicated. There are too many rules and it’s just as much work to manage the process as it is to get your work done. With my process, I spend more time actually doing my work and let the process take care of everything.)
- Steep learning curve. (So many other tools are just too hard to use. They’re not intuitive so it takes a while to figure out how to use them. Not Trello. It’s a powerful beast, but you can make it as simple or complicated as you want. It’s a digital whiteboard with digital sticky notes. Can’t get any simpler than that.)
- Too expensive. (Other tools might charge you a lot of money to force your to learn a complicated system and a difficult-to-use tool. Not worth it. Everything I’ve outlined in this post you can do for FREE on Trello, but you can do even more with it with the paid version that’s only $5 a month.)
PRO TIPS FOR THE SYSTEM
Intrigued and want to know more? Now that you’ve got an overview of the general system, here are some ways you can really take it to the next level and make it even better.
If you google “chrome extensions for Trello“, you’ll find a myriad of options. One of my favorites is Pro For Trello, which has a lot of cool features. My favorite of which includes displaying full-sized labels. I can’t always remember the colors of my labels, so I like to be able to read the titles.
Another great one is Scrum For Trello. This also has a lot of features, but the one I find most useful is that it will add up the numbers I put in [brackets] in a card’s title , and tell me how many total points are in each list. Makes it easy to see how many value points I’m aiming for each week, and also how many have been completed in my “Done” list.
Calendar Power Up
I don’t usually have a lot of tasks that have specific deadlines, but when I do, I have found the Calendar Power-Up in Trello to be very helpful.
It opens up a view where you can see your cards by their due date, sorted just like in a calendar.
Card Repeater Power Up
I have a few tasks that repeat every week. Things like “get rid of a bag of clothes” and “review a book”. Instead of manually adding these cards every week, Trello made a handy Power Up called “repeat” where I can set cards to clone themselves and make a new version each week.
I can specify when I want it to be repeat, and where I want the cloned card to go.
Email Your Board
Every Trello board has a specific email address to which you can forward emails and they’ll be posted in a card on a list that you specify.
While I don’t do this often, this has been helpful when I get an idea of something I might want to work on in the next quarter, especially if the idea is in my Inbox. I can just forward the email and it becomes a card in “Next Quarter” that I can look at whenever I’m ready to plan for my next 90 days.
I’ve found this system has helped me tremendously to prioritize, focus, avoid distractions, make significant progress on projects (and complete them), while also helping me quantify the work I’m completing.
I’m excited that I discovered a system that has worked so well for me, and I’m really excited to share it with others as well! I love to learn what others are doing and help people find ways to make this system work for them.
Comment below with questions, thoughts, or ideas!