Thoughts on Organization: Prioritize Prioritizing

A recent conversation with my friend Gabby got me thinking about the little things that I do to help keep myself organized. I should preface this post by saying that for being as entrenched as I feel like I am in the digital world, this part of my life is about as analog as it can be.

I start my work days pretty much the same–I wake up sometime around 6am and get myself ready enough to take our girls and drop them off at their respective locations for their respective days, and then commute back to my office to get into the swing of work things.

Before I do anything else, however, I grab my trusty pen(cil) and 8.5″ x 5.5″ notepad and plan out my day. I always start with the date, and then I write down all the meetings that are taking place, as well as the friendly reminder to fill out my time sheet, and then I write down all of the daily tasks that I’m working on. I’ll frequently check with the previous day(s) sheets to make sure that I’m not forgetting anything that may not have been completed or that may bleed into the day.

I’ll also quickly look around at the whiteboards around my office and look at the stack of various mail items, and then at the unread items in my Inbox to make sure that I include any personal items that also need some attention.

Throughout the day, I scratch these items all off when they’re completed.

That’s really it.

I’ve tried using tools like or Things or OmniFocus or countless others to help me manage tasks. The more I’ve experimented with various tools over the past decade or so, the more I’ve come to realize that starting in analog helps keep me on-track and on-task.

I can’t say when and where this behavior started for me, but maybe it’s worth attributing to my mother. She used to have a weekly calendar that would show Sunday through Saturday with just a handful of lines on it. For each day, she’d keep a brief, yet succinct diary of events that took place–from whether or not she got an oil change to what hours I worked at my job or anything else of note. The only real difference is that she used her pencil in paper to document the days, and I’m using mine to try and predict them.

For me, this is a good habit to be in. It allows me to focus and, well, get things done.

Coincidentally, as I was on a recent flight, I started reading David Rock’s “Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long“, which was recommended by Stephen Anderson. I learned that Rock calls this “Prioritize Prioritizing”. By making the act of prioritizing the very first thing I do (in my day or at any other time when my mind is at its freshest), I can free my mind’s energy to tackle the other items on my list.

I highly doubt that pen(cil) and paper are the magic artifacts to make this work–if you are able to find a digital tool that allows you to manage priorities, and you’re able to prioritize prioritizing, then the tool you use will most likely matter very little.

One Response to “Thoughts on Organization: Prioritize Prioritizing”

  1. Hi Russ —

    I stopped doing “To Do” lists with pencil and paper, when I married my wife. My wife created a “Honey Do” List for me, where the bottom item is “ETC”.

    I feel like I do not get anything done because the list is never ending. My hatred of the “Honey Do” list spilled over into my prefessional work, too.

    I use these digital tools:

    – Email Calendar for Daily Meetings
    – Shared Drive for Daily Work
    – Google Documents for DFW-UPA Activities
    – Dropbox for Organizing Big Design Conference

    I use pencil and paper to primarily sketch and doodle.


    PS I still get “Honey Do” lists from Lovely Bride of 13 years. These lists disappear, as soon as I can get the work done. These lists never get past 5 items (for the sake of our marriage and my sanity).


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