The title may seem daunting, but the idea behind it is simple: You must set yourself up in advance so that you can keep yourself from simply going through the motions every day — which is really what you’re doing if you’re using a simple to-do list. I call this building An Achievement Structure. In order to really achieve, you need to spend some time working on your approach and structure well before you get down to the day-to-day tasks and projects you need to take action on.
So…what’s the first component in getting your front-end work done? First, you need to pick your tools and — more importantly — get to know them. Having a tool you don’t really know how to use all that well will result in substandard work. Think about it. Using a hammer to bash screws into wood will have less than ideal results. But if you use a hammer to tap in the screw and then grab the right tool to get it into the wood (a screwdriver), then you’re building things better. Further to that, you need to make sure that you pick a tool that can support other tools when required.
The first tool you pick should be a larger tool — one that can scale with you as your work, life, and ambitions around those two elements grow and evolve. Now when I say larger tool, I’m generally talking about a task management solution of some sort. (And I’m not talking about an email application when I say this, either. That’s another post for another time.)
Whether you choose a paper-based tool or an electronic tool, you need to get acquainted with whatever you’ve chosen before you can really get the most out of it. That means less productivity for a few days while you begin to adopt the tool, but you’ll get that time back in spades the more you use the tool. (Above all else, resist the temptation to go back to simply using to-do lists once you realize how seemingly daunting the idea of taking on a task management solution is. The front end work is never easy, but it is rewarding.)
One way to think about it is in the real-world sense of going camping. When you first arrive at your empty campsite, the first thing you’re going to do is set up your tent. That way you can enjoy your camping experience knowing that you’ve got a place to sleep at the end of the night — or a place to go if it starts to rain. Setting up the tent frees you up to do the things you really want to do on the camping trip; waiting to set it up keeps your mind just a little bit captive until you do.
Another way to think about it is that when you begin with an app that allows for you to create your own structure within it (i.e., use a system that makes you comfortable — either because it is familiar, effective, or both) it is incredibly tempting to start to fill with stuff right away without thinking of where it should go within the app. Apps like Flow, Asana, and Trello allows you to certainly throw things into it right away, but it further allows you to create places (workspaces, projects, boards, etc.) so that you can be more specific with where your stuff goes. You can get even more specific by putting those lists into folders so that you can place lists in areas that are interrelated (Home, Office, Website, etc.). Folders can act as overarching projects, locations, or roles you have undertaken — the choice is yours.
You can’t underestimate internal features like contexts (also known as tags in some apps — like Evernote and Asana, for example) when it comes to adding to your system through front end work. Contexts can be used to signify location, energy levels or even things that are emotion-based or quality-based. For example, keeping a journal would be a task that could use the context of “Writing” or you could go one step further and use a context like “Gratitude” instead. You simply need to use contexts or tags that resonate with you the most. These can also change over time, so don’t go overboard with them at first. Instead, be thoughtful (aka mindful) about your contexts so that you can be more thoughtful — or mindful — about the tasks associated with them.
Ultimately, it’s those internal tools that makes app like these so powerful…they are flexible and versatile. That is exactly what you want in your larger tool — scalability and power.
Let’s get back to talking about some of those other tools I mentioned earlier. These tools can exist within the larger tool or can be external ones used to augment or enhance the larger tool. There are plenty of tools out there that can add things like fostering habits (and tracking them) as well apps you can use to house reference material. These tools can be used in conjunction with a digital solution or an analog one. I know a lot of people who’ll use a lot of apps for things like keeping tabs on the hours they spend on writing but still use their trusty paper planners to map out their days. I also know people who will capture like crazy on paper all day and then move it into their digital apps so they can be dealt with in that medium. Again, the choice is yours. It doesn’t matter what sort of structure you set up, as long as you set up something that supports you and you can support.
Once you’ve created a workflow built upon the structure of the larger tool you’ve chosen as well as any internal and external tools you have decided to use to augment, then you’ve done the bulk of the front end work and you’ve created that much sought-after Achievement Structure. It’s that work — and that structure — that really allows you to get the things that you need (and want) to do done efficiently and effectively, which means it’s that work that will enable you to really achieve.