BY CANDACE MOODY
FOR MANY people, the hardest part of
being organized in business is deciding
what’s most important. Owners are sometimes paralyzed by the fact that they simply don’t know where to start on a project.
Julie Morgenstern is the founder
and owner of Task Masters (juliemorgen
stern.com) an organizing firm based
in New York City, and the author
of best-selling books, including Making Work Work:
New Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the
Office (Fireside, ;;;;;
not available at Costco).
Her method for figuring
out what’s most important is the
same whether you work for your-
self or for someone else: Work as
close as you can to what she calls “the
The revenue line is the point where
you’re actually making money or saving
money. Delivering a product or a service is
one step from the revenue line, as is bill-
ing, since that’s how you get paid. Speaking
at a conference to build your reputation,
writing marketing materials or posting on
a blog might be two steps from the revenue
line. Filing and doing expense reports
might be three steps away.
As you prioritize what to do next, think
about your tasks in terms of how much
time you should invest and what the payoff
will be. Spending a long time to perform a
task with a small payoff means you should
probably work on something else instead.
Morgenstern suggests that you focus on
“the joy of completion” to motivate you.
Instead of dwelling on how much you dislike the task, focus on how good it will feel
when it’s done.
If you’re still stuck on where to start,
maybe you have confused a project for a
task. It’s easy to make the mistake of put-
ting a giant project on a to-do list as a sin-
gle item: doing taxes, for instance. Because
it’s such a big job, you might put off getting
started. The secret is to break down the
project into a series of doable tasks. Your
task list might look like this:
• Sort receipts into categories (medi-
cal, business, charitable donations).
• Make sure all W-; and ;;;; forms
are received and in order.
• Download or purchase the latest version of Turbo Tax.
By breaking down the project into
tasks that are specific and short, you can
start to “Swiss cheese” the project. Prioritize the tasks based on how much time
you have right now, or on which tasks will
take care of problems holding up the whole
project (request another copy of a missing
receipt or form, for example.)
Morgenstern also suggests that when
you do the most important things first,
you get some breathing room for the rest of
the day. Not only will you have done the big
things early, when you have the most
energy, but you don’t have to worry as
much when interruptions or emergencies
intrude later in the day (and they will).
When you finish dealing with the crisis, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing
that the critical items are already done;
what’s waiting for you on the other side is
the easy stuff.
Trust me, you’ll be glad you did the
first things first. C
Candace Moody is a blogger and columnist
Prioritizing can pay off, literally
GETTING THINGS DONE
• Capture to-dos as they occur to
you. Use your phone to record a quick
message or ask Siri to remind you.
• Group similar tasks, like calls or
purchases you need to make. You’ll be
able to prioritize them more easily or
decide which one you can accomplish in
the time you have right now.
• When you make a note to make a
call, add the number or other information you need. You’ll be able to make
calls when you’re waiting for an
appointment, because it will take only
• If something will take less than five
minutes, do it now. Your to-do list won’t
become cluttered with small tasks that
can add up to big chunks of time or provide an excuse to procrastinate.—CM
same whether you work for your-
ST EV EN
First things first