How a Chaos Demon Gets Things Done

People think that I am organized. Ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha HA! No. No, I am not organized.

Here’s what it looks like inside my brain:

But here’s what I AM good at: creating a system to keep my chaos under control, and then reliably getting tasks done on time. A friend asked about my task system the other day and her eyes got wider and wider and she said, “You’ve made it like a GAME! You should tell people about this.”

After the third time this happened, I decided to sit down and post the details here, in the hopes that it will help my fellow Chaos Demons.

Three important points before I begin:

1. Everything that follows is just a suggestion. Customize away, find the tweak that works best for you.

2. What I’ve found in experimenting with different ideas is this: really, every system is just a way to make willpower fun. Following the task system rules – no matter which one you use – is vital.

3. Everything here is offline on purpose. It works 24 hours a day. You never have to charge it.

So. How do we start?

Gather your ingredients.

* notebook
* loose paper
* pen
* timer that beeps

Step 1: Category List

Decide what you want to get done. I’m a professional storyteller, so my list is all about stories. Yours will be, you know, stuff like Veterinary School and Kindness to Strangers.

Example Category List
* practice French
* promote my business
* write stories
* household chores
* rehearse stories
* work on my storytelling workshops

Now, rearrange that list with the most important category at the top and the least at the bottom.

1. write stories
2. rehearse stories
3. work on my storytelling workshops
4. promote my business
5. practice French
6. household chores

Step 2: Break Down the Categories

For years I struggled with my task list, and that’s because it was incredibly broad. The first task would be something like, “Write a 30 minute story about North Korea to perform,” and then whenever I got to that task I would think, “AAAAH! THAT’S MADNESS!” and pretend that I was too tired or too awake or too hungry or needed to go to the movies too much to do the task.

Eventually I got it: I wasn’t afraid of writing a 30 minute story to perform, I just needed to break down the tasks into tiny bite-size chunks. So, instead, I wrote, “go to the library and get three books about North Korea”. When I finished that, I wrote, “read North Korea book for 15 minutes, while making notes”. And so on.

So that’s the next step – you’re going to take one of your categories and break it down into specifics. Since we’ll all have household chores on our list, let’s use that one as an example.

Turn to the first page in your notebook and write down “Household Chores” at the top. There should be at least three items on this list, but there could be as many as 100.

Example Category Break Down
* clean catbox
* take out the recycling
* wash the dishes
* clean the bathroom sink
* scrub the walls because the cat with herpes has sneezed on them (No? Just me?)

When you’ve broken Household Chores down, turn to the next page in your notebook and write down the title of your next category, break it down, and continue until you’ve run out of categories.

Step 3: Category Squares

Download the Category Squares template PDF by clicking here.

Print it out. (I use thick cardstock that I buy at an office supply store because I’m persnickety like that, but any paper will work.) Remember the category list that’s in order of importance?

Now you’re going to decide how many Task Squares each task gets, out of a total of 18. The higher your category is in the list, the more squares it gets, so then you make sure that you’re giving priority to the most important tasks.

1. write stories – 4 squares
2. rehearse stories – 4 squares
3. work on my storytelling workshops – 3 squares
4. promote my business – 3 squares
5. practice French – 2 squares
6. household chores – 2 squares

Write down the categories, then cut them up into pieces.

Step 4: Task Sheet

Download the Task Sheet template PDF by clicking here.

Print the template, then set your timer for 15 minutes and start it.

Shuffle the category squares, close your eyes, and pick one randomly. Oh look! You picked “Household Chores”. Now look at your break down for Household Chores. Pick one, like “wash dishes”.

When you finish, fill in that square on your Household Chores category breakdown page.

If you finish before the timer goes off, pick a second chore and do that one. If you run out the timer, great, it’s time to randomly pick a new category.

And that’s it. Keep going until you have filled the entire Task Sheet. Then start all over again.

But do a happy dance first, because GREAT JOB!