Evidence Management Webinar: 5 Critical Steps to Being Organized
May 10, 2021
In this webinar, Ben Townsend, the founder and CEO of Tracker Products, discussed the five critical steps to being organized, as part of his Leadership Series to help promote personal and professional development for evidence managers.
He began by saying, “Today we’re going to cover organization. You may think, What does organization have to do with evidence management? And I would suggest organization has everything to do with everything.
We could talk about evidence management, we could talk about running a software company, I could even argue that running a gas station requires organization. The ability to organize and prioritize things is absolutely crucial. To me, the definition of organization is priorities; understanding priorities, organizing priorities, and disciplining yourself to keep up with it.
I’ve got a couple of quotes I want to start out with. The first one is: If you need something done, find a busy person. A long time ago, someone needed me to do something. I have always inundated with things to do. And I asked, Why did you call me? And she said, Well, if you need something done, find a busy person.
My question was, Why is that true? Why wouldn’t you find somebody that’s got time, and isn’t busy? Well, the reason you find a busy person is because they know how to get things done. Generally, they get a lot of things done in consecutive order. They don’t get overwhelmed by having extra tasks to do.
The next one is a John Maxwell quote. Most of the content that I’m showing here today is out of my favorite book in the world; John Maxwell’s ‘Developing the Leader Within You.’ This is one of the chapters we’re covering today: Organization Priorities. His quote is: Success is the progressive realization of a predetermined goal.
People that are successful, don’t just accidentally come upon success. In fact, a lot of people think that overnight success just happened. I’ve heard Dave Ramsey say he’s: An overnight success… 20 years in the making. Generally, success can take a long time.
Okay…organize or agonize? One of the most fundamental things in organization is the ability to create priorities out of a list of things. For example, I try to break things down into four different categories of priorities. There’s the highest priority, a high priority, a normal priority, and a low priority.
When I really dig into how I organize all of this stuff, you’ll see that those category names show up in the way that I list tasks. For me, the highest ranking things are ones that have high importance and higher agency. And then, high tasks are things that are of high importance, but there is low urgency. You can see as I go down the list… things that are low, generally need to be done, but they’re low importance and low urgency.
Being able to take tasks and break them down in one of those four categories becomes very important. It’s not how hard you work. It’s how smart you work. Someone said that the difference between organizational leaders and followers is… leaders initiate, followers react. Leaders pick up a phone and make a call, while followers wait for the phone to ring. Leaders will spend time planning and anticipating problems. While followers will spend time living day-to-day. Leaders will invest time with people. Followers spend time with people. And finally, leaders fill the calendar by priorities, whereas followers build their calendars by request.
Parkinson’s Law says Time deadlines and emergencies force us to prioritize.
I want to read you a little excerpt from John Maxwell’s book. It defines what Parkinson’s law is. We find this in Parkinson’s law… If you have to write one letter in a day, it will take all day to do it. If you have 20 letters to write, you’ll get them all done in one day.
When is our most efficient work time? It’s the week before we go on vacation. Why can’t we always run our lives the way we do the week before we leave the office; making decisions, cleaning off the desk, returning calls.
Under normal conditions, we are efficient doing things right. When time pressure mounts or emergencies arise, we become effective doing the right things. Efficiency is the foundation for survival. Effectiveness is the foundation for success.
And here’s a really good analogy…On the night of April 14th, 1912, the great ocean liner, the Titanic, crashed into an iceberg in the Atlantic and sank; causing a great loss of life. One of the most curious stories to come from the disaster was a woman who had a place in one of the lifeboats. She asked if she could return to her state room for something and was given just three minutes.
As she hurried through the corridor, she stepped over money and precious gems littering the floor, where they had been dropped in haste. In her own state room, she ignored her own jewelry and instead grabbed three oranges. Then she quickly returned to her place in the boat.
Just hours earlier, it would have been ludicrous to think that she would have accepted a crate of oranges in exchange for one small diamond. But circumstances had suddenly transformed all the values aboard the ship. The emergency had clarified her priorities.
Another John Maxwell quote… Hard work is the accumulation of easy things you didn’t do when you should have.
So, here are my five critical steps for organizing your work and your life. I’m lumping it all together, because to me, there is no difference in organizing your work and your life. If you are disorganized in your life, you’re going to be disorganized and your work and vice versa. In fact, I would say people who are highly organized, their entire lives are highly organized. And people that are disorganized, their entire lives were highly disorganized.
I’m not saying that these five things are the gospel law, but I think they’re important. Number one: Having a Task Management System. In the evidence world, the most critical component of an evidence management infrastructure is the evidence management software. It’s not the end all, be all. A task management system will not fix all of your organizational problems, but it is an absolutely great place to start.
I want to show you an example of what a software application for task management looks like. I’m not a salesman for Wrike, I just happen to like the Wrike software application. If you want to get into a task management system, but you don’t have a budget for it, Wrike has a free version. And, there are other systems out there that will do this.
There’s one called Trello. And, I’m sure there’s a dozen others out there that will let you get started for free. To me, task management is being able to look at all the things you have to do in a given day, and being able to organize them. I want to show you some of the basics of that.
I’m in the right product right now. I’m going to walk you through a couple of different scenarios when using a task management system.
Your day is made up of maybe dozens or many dozens of tasks. These could be: Hey, I have to drop some laundry off the dry cleaner. At work, it may be, I’ve got things to drop off to the crime lab, or the chief is expecting me to give him a report. To me, task management is getting all of this in order and being able to see what’s coming up today, and in the coming weeks. So, we’ll start out with a blank canvas here and I’m going to go in and create a new task.
If you were in an office like Tracker Products – where we have 26 different people – I may assign that task to somebody else. But, for what we’re trying to accomplish today, I’m just going to assign a task to myself. And when is the due date on this? Maybe it’s due tomorrow. So I’m going to put tomorrow as the due date on this thing. I may have the start date today, but the due date is tomorrow. When I save it, I just created my first task.
Maybe you have a weekly task to drop stuff off at the crime lab. You may say, I always remember dropping things off at the crime lab. But, the reason I put that in here is so that when my day starts, I can look at all of the day’s activities. For this, I’m going to set this up as a recurring task. Any good task management system will let you go in and say, Hey, I want this to come up every week and I’m going to start today.
Next week it’ll automatically generate another task for me. So, on Wednesday morning, when I’m looking at my daily tasks… there they are. Now you’re going to go in and you’re going to start building these out.
Again, any time somebody says, I need you to do something, you’re going to go in and create a task. It may be something that’s due next month. That’s great. Go in and put the task in there and say, Hey, this is due in one more month. That way, you’re starting to organize all of your lists of priorities.
Now, let me show you what this looks like when this is built out a little bit.
This is how I use Wrike. Now, keep in mind, we’ve got 26 people in this company. So, I’ve got hundreds and hundreds of tasks going on now. Not necessarily all of them today, but I’ve got my screen set out in such a way that in the very first column, I see everything I’ve got to do today.
In the next column over, I can see every task I’ve assigned out to somebody and what’s going on with it. Look how these things are categorized. On the left, I’ve got everything broken down by color-coded priority. I can see things that are of a high priority. And I’ve got a couple in here that are a low priority.
Odds are, I may not get to the low priority tasks. For example, I’ve got something I need to do for one of our clients that’s not important. I’m going to kick that out to Friday. So, I just go in and change the due date. Now it’s going to show up on Friday. When you have everything you need to do laid out, you’re going to be far more efficient than you are right now.
So, that’s the basic overview of task management. My purpose here today is not to sell you on a task management system, I’m simply saying that if you want to take your organization to another level, get in one of these free products and learn how to use them.
Again, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t just have my business stuff in here, I put personal things in here. For example, I’ve got a backpack trip that I’m going to take with one of my buddies. So, I’ve got that as a to-do for today. I need to do some work on that and talk with him to start getting a date planned.
Another one of my tasks is my Wednesday webinar. Well, that’s going on now. This thing’s all planned out, so I’m going to kick that a week down the road. So…I’m not thinking about these Wednesday webinars for another week. But next Wednesday, I need to start thinking about that next webinar; what it’s going to be, and start laying it out, so that I’m ready to go.
So, this is how my day goes, looking through this list to see what needs to happen. I’m in a position where many times I can say, You know what? Somebody else needs to do that. And so I can reassign that task to somebody else.
Again, a critical step for organization is a task management system. If you’re insistent on using paper, I would rather have paper than nothing at all. And so maybe you start out every day and you lay out all your tasks. I’m just telling you the task management system makes it significantly easier.
Number two: Email Under Control. You might ask, What the heck does my email inbox have anything to do with organization? Here’s what I would say about that. If you want to know what is most important in somebody’s life, look at their bank statement.
Similarly, looking at your email, lets me know how organized you are. So I’m going to flip you to my email inbox.
This is Ben Townsend’s email inbox. How many of you have six emails in your inbox? I’ll bet none of you. I bet none of you have days when there are zero emails in your inbox.
If I get a sense that somebody in our organization is feeling very disorganized. I’ll just simply ask them to hop into their inbox. If you’ve got 200, 500, 10,000 emails in your inbox, then I would say you are a fairly disorganized individual. It’s just true.
I use my task management system to help with my inbox. So, I end the day with zero emails in my inbox.
How do I do that? I look at every email and I either respond and it’s done. Or, if it’s a to-do, I create a task in my task management system. For example, yesterday, I got an email from one of my contacts. His name is Allen. I need to get back to Allen, but I didn’t want to keep that email in the inbox. So, I created a task and it’s listed as a high priority.
That’s how I keep my inbox clean. I think it is an absolutely critical way to stay organized. And it doesn’t have to just be your email inbox. Maybe it’s your voicemail inbox, maybe it’s any other way people communicate with you. Clear that stuff out. Start out with a task management list that has all of your to-do’s in it.
Let’s get into what I think is the third most critical step in your day: Planning for Tomorrow. I’ve listed some things here that I think are critical things to do at the end of every day.
- Respond to emails that can be responded to, make tasks out of anything that takes work, and then delete the email. By the way, notify that person that, Hey, today’s not a good day to get back to you. I’m really busy. I want you to know I got your email. I’ll get back to you tomorrow.
- Clear out your voicemail. Better yet, disable your voicemail or tell the person to text or email you. I hate it when people leave voicemail. Voicemails are a real pain in the butt, but I clear those out at the end of every day, I don’t leave those things piled up where they become disorganized.
- Clean off your desk and work area. I won’t show you my desk here, but I don’t have a lot of crap laying all around. It’s very clean and organized on my desk.
- And my last tip in this area: Finish the dishes and have a clean sink. To me, there’s no better way to start the next morning than knowing you don’t have to deal with dishes.
Number four of my five critical steps for organization: be an early riser. I have a quote here…. You can’t soar with the Eagles in the day, if you’re hooting with the owls at night. I heard that from my dad. He said that all the time when I was a kid and it used to frustrate me. Now, I really love that quote. I certainly want to go to bed at a decent hour because at 5:30am that alarm goes off and I’m up and moving.
Number five. My last step for the critical steps of organization is: Start your day by planning for the day. Now, if you did step number three, everything’s cleaned up from the night before you’ve gone through your email. That’s cleared out. You’ve gone through your voicemails. That’s cleared out. You don’t have any text messages. You should be able to start the morning out with the tasks that are already laid out for the day.
Most mornings I’ll take a quick look through my emails to see if there are any new ones that have come in overnight, to make sure there are no major disasters or new priorities. I’ll clear all that out and get my task list organized and be done with my email inbox for a while. And that doesn’t take long because I cleared it out the day before.
The last thing I’ll do is look through that task list. I’ll look at the totality of all the things I’ve got to do today. I’ll organize them by highest and high and medium and low. My goal every day is just hammering away at tasks that need to be done. And I promise you, when you have a better view of your tasks, you will find out that your day is far more effective.
Certainly, plan on unexpected events. Don’t pack your day so tight that you don’t have to deal with them. If there’s a major problem going on, sort of like the Titanic, maybe that becomes your new, biggest priority in the day.
My last quote is by John Hancock… All worthwhile men (and women) have good thoughts, good ideas and good intentions, but precious few of them ever translate those into action.
You may hear this message today and you’re going to be like, That’s awesome. I’m going to start doing that. That’ll make my life better. Then you will hang up this call and you will get slammed by whatever the next big problem is. And, all of a sudden you’re back struggling just to get through whatever the next big thing is.
So maybe wait until tonight, get some quiet time, sit down, get that free task management system going. Even if it’s just for yourself, do it for yourself. If you’re part of a team, it’s even more important that you’re communicating with everybody via tasking.
If you happen to be a client of our SAFE software, tasking is a huge component of what we do. You should be communicating with people via tasks so that you don’t email or call and lose track of all of that stuff. When you get organization in your life, and it becomes a central part of what you do, you’re going to find out that these successes start to build up. And all of a sudden somebody is going to look at you as, Oh, you’re an overnight success.
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