06/16/2014 09:26 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2014

Develop a System You Trust (Principle No. 3 of the 7 Principles of Personal Effectiveness)

This blog is about Principle No. 3 on your way to better personal effectiveness, "Develop a System You Trust," originally introduced in the blog "The 7 Principles of Personal Effectiveness." It is important that you are working through each of the seven principles, and highlighting any point that represents a gap for you, or challenges your current beliefs or practices.

Don't rely on your memory: Your brain is not a system you can trust. You need a system that does the heavy lifting for you. The steps below take time and focus, but once you build your system, you will never look back.

I. Capture all of your projects/tasks in one electronic system (e.g. Microsoft Outlook Tasks, Task Task, Remember the Milk, Google Task, Wonderlist, etc). This should be your primary tool for getting things done.
II. Classify each task by category (your roles from the 'Define Success' principle); that way you can instantly see whether your tasks are in balance (e.g. eight tasks in your Marketing role but no tasks in your Coach role may bring in lots of new business, but your team will be ill-equipped to cope).
III. At the end or start of each week, go through the whole master list and select the priority tasks for the week ahead using the date function. Even though you may have dozens of discrete tasks on your list, you should only choose a small percentage of these tasks to focus on in any given week.
IV. A "small percentage" is obviously highly subjective, so here's a simple way to prioritize: If you had exactly $100 to spend on your tasks this week, how would you spend it. If you're like most, you won't put $5 on 20 different tasks, but rather will spend it across five or sox tasks including a couple of big bets of $30 or $40. How you metaphorically spend this money should guide what tasks you prioritize each week, and how much time you spend on each.
V. Along with the category and date, also determine the outcome for each task and the very next step(s). Any notes related to this task should ideally be included in the body of the electronic task. If it's a big task/project with lots of documentation, you can link the documents to the task for easy access.
VI. Aim to have the bare minimum amount of paper on your desk at any time. Classify these materials by category so they match your electronic system.
VII. If you're a visual person, color code your calendar, tasks and hard copy folders. For example, everything related to your 'Marketing' role may be red. This will allow you to see the balance or imbalance in your focus instantly. If your Marketing role is critical, but you have no red in your diary or task list for the coming weeks, this can act as an early warning sign.
VIII. Create a tidy workplace -- physical and virtual -- so that you can get messy and immerse yourself in a particular task when you need to.

How did you go with this activity? If you have 'Developed a System You Trust', my following blog will help you take the next step with the fourth principle of personal effectiveness; 'Recruit Your Stakeholders'.

For those of you who are interested in some further reading in this field of personal effectiveness, here are the key books and authors that have inspired me;

  • First Things First by Stephen R. Covey

  • Getting Things Done by David Allen

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  • Man's Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

  • The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey