In this episode we will be looking at how to prioritize your tasks and gain clarity of mind that will allow you to move forward.
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Before we start though: have you been actioning the word NO from last week’s episode? I started with NO for good reason – it’s going to stop you sliding down whatever slippery slope you are on. Whatever time consuming rabbit holes you have found yourself in. This week’s topic is prioritizing because saying NO to the wrong things means that you can start saying YES to the right – Saying NO liberates you from non-essential commitments and makes much more room for you to say yes to what is meaningful and important to you. It opens up free time by giving you choices. NO being one that will stop the influx of new commitments, MAYBE which will buy you time to think about a commitment and YES which comes from knowing that commitment is something that furthers your end goals something you really want to do or perhaps just something that pays the bills.
But how can you decide what’s important and what is not?
I nearly called this episode WHITE NOISE AND HOW TO NAVIGATE THROUGH IT as that’s often how I feel when I get bogged down in my THINGS TO DO list – It’s a foggy buzzy place where I can get lost and sometimes I find myself obsessing over things which when all are said and done, are just not important.
That fog, no matter how driven you are, can drop down and, in productivity terms at least, hide from you what is important, and cause you slow down and meander into a rhythm of un-productiveness.
About a year ago I picked up 6 retro VHS camcorders from a college that was getting rid of them. I had them sent to me and all in it was about £200. Great deal, and I had a plan for them. I was going to give them to fellow filmmaker friends with a challenge, I’d give them a camcorder and a single tape which costs about £2, the means to capture from them which was another £10 and I was going to ask them all to make a short film to a deadline with a prize of keeping the camcorder and something more for the winner – It would be fun right? Wrong. I ended up chewing over how I would do this for months, and it was always on my mind. I had a Ton of other far more important things to do, fight contracts that required constant attention, relationships, I had just got a puppy, I had my own films I was trying to develop and a load of house related problems and personal matters that needed my time and time. When I stopped for a moment and looked at what I had on my to do list it was probably 6 months later and I was drowning.
Within two minutes of assessing what I had to do I realized I had to dump this camcorder idea. As I stopped and took stock I realized it was a total waste of time and money. I mean if I’d been a millionaire playboy with plenty of free time maybe I could have done it with my friends one weekend, but I’m no millionaire. By simply eliminating this task not doing it I was able to:
1. Save a load of money.
2. Save a load of hassle - communicating and organizing an idea which other filmmakers would likely not have the time to actually do anything with. These people have businesses and families.
3. Save a load of time. This project wouldn’t have taken 5 minutes. It would have taken weeks and possibly months of time I didn’t have.
4. Free up my mind for more important things.
Getting what’s on your mind and onto paper, or on to a white board as that’s my preferred medium, allows you to honestly assess what is important and what was not. My time consuming altruistic camcorder idea which would ultimately led to me giving away my those camcorders just didn’t fit with what I was about at that time. I only realized that though when I stopped and assessed all that I had on my mind.
Prioritizing starts with what I call a BRAIN DUMP. Get a whiteboard or a just a piece of paper, but whiteboards are cheap and really give you a good chance at tackling this sort of thing. I actually have 4 large whiteboards in my office and one at home for doing this sort of thing. Get that whiteboard and Dump whatever is on your mind onto it. Get it all out there. Any incomplete task, anything that’s on your mind and anything that is slowing you down. If you’re using a whiteboard and run out of space you can always photograph it and type it up and start a new board btw.
Now the task of getting everything onto a whiteboard or a piece of paper starts to make a difference to your mind. That working space that’s been holding these ideas and worries starts to free up. That RAM or head space can be put to better use than remembering all these incomplete tasks. Just having that host of tasks in your head will actually tire you out.
In 1927 a Russian psychologist called Bluma Zeigarnik found that waiters remembered orders only as long as the order was in the process of being served.
When we hold multiple things in short-term memory, we have to rehearse them continuously, otherwise they would disappear. This requires a lot of cognitive effort, and the more things we are rehearsing the more effort. The Waiters had better recollections of still unpaid and incomplete orders but after the completion of the task — after everyone had paid — they were unable to remember any more details of the orders.
This trick now known as the Zeigarnik effect is very well applied by soaps and serials. The episode ends, but the story doesn’t. Thus you get stuck in a cliffhanger. Software designers do the same things with games. The point is that this is a thing, it’s been understood for years and it’s something you can deal with.
HOW TO SAY PRIORITIZE
So now that we know that we have gotten these tasks out of our short term memory and on a white board or a piece of paper we can now apply one of several systems to help us to prioritize.
The "Eisenhower Method" stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: who said "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." I’ll detail that system in the show notes but my preferred system is Rory Vaden’s focus funnel.
The way this works is - If you can imagine a funnel wide at the top and getting tighter as it goes down, you would run your to do list through this. This dilutes your list into a priority list.
• ELIMINATE – What can you get rid of. For me it was, amongst other things, the camcorder thing. It was an incomplete task, or loop in my head and it took up space for no good reason.
• AUTOMATE – Examples
• DELEGATE – Dog Walking.
• PROCRASTINATE – till a later date
• CONCENTRATE – This is the dilution of what is important.
The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. Stephen Covey
I’ll look at the bigger questions of life purpose and life goals which will in turn inform your priorities in a later episode but the combination of a Brain Dump and the Focus Funnel system will help you to navigate your way through the white noise of everyday life and work and start to get back on top. Straight off the bat, decide what of your to-do list can be eliminated – combine that with a bit of honesty in yourself and the word NO I talked about last time, and you are well on the way to escaping that overburdening feeling of obligation you may have gotten yourself into.
CALL TO ACTION
Lets get that white noise out of your head and onto a piece of paper, or a whiteboard. Apply the focus funnel, which again will be shown as a diagram in the show notes and you will soon get back control. Remember that you are driving the bus, not some unimportant commitment or incomplete task.
Thanks again for listening - Next episode I’ll be talking about PERFECTIONISM and why it’s a really bad thing.
Good luck in the week ahead. Buckle up, take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’ and join me next time on Film Pro Productivity.
· The music for this podcast is Adventures by A Himitsu.
· You can view the show notes for this episode at filmproproductivity.com/episode3
· If you’re struggling with something you think I can help with or would like to tell me how you are getting on then please get in touch via the contact page on the website. Alternately you can get me on Twitter @fight_director or follow the show @filmproprodpod
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Thanks: A Himitsu, Stephen Rowan, Dave Bullis Podcast, Podcraft.
Main Photographs taken on the Giordano UK shoot by Bryan Larkin.
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