Trello, Checklists & The Principle of Clarity

In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at the principle of clarity. Clarity drives action and the better you can understand and observe this in your own life, the more powerfully you can apply this principle.

Done right, you can use clarity to basically get rid of the impulse to procrastinate completely. In this lesson, we'll also take a look at how to break tasks down into small steps inside Trello and one of my favorite features for re-using checklists in Trello.

Milestones & The Uncertainty Adjusted Timeline

In this lesson, we're going to build out what I call the Uncertainty Adjusted Timeline. This is a principle I use to plan roughly 12 months ahead.

We're putting this into practice inside Trello, where you'll also discover the one and only power-up I truly recommend you install for this app.

Creating this timeline is what translates your long term goals and the priorities you've set in previous lessons, into an actionable, realistic plan that you can work on, day to day.

The Personal Productivity Board

In this module, we'll take a deep dive into how to manage your projects, tasks and day-to-day work. And we'll do this primarily by using Trello as our central task management system.

We've already used Trello a couple of times to determine our work types and priorities. In this lesson, we'll create your personal productivity board - the board you'll spend most of your time working with. The lessons in this module will also tie together many of the aspects we've been building up and working on up until now.

Note, if you have seen my video on creating a personal productivity board in Trello, that I posted on the blog a while back: don't skip this lesson! Since I posted that video, my system has evolved and I've made several improvements to it, that you'll learn about in this lesson.

The Mantra Document – Your Daily Reminder

In this lesson, we'll develop what I call a "mantra" document: a daily reminder that will become part of your morning routine.

Using the concept of "self marketing", complete honesty and pulling from the goal setting and value finding exercises we've done so far, you'll be able to develop a document that you can read in a few minutes and that will do wonders for keeping you on track and keeping the flame of motivation alive.

Example from my Archive

To give you a better idea of what a mantra document can look like, you can see an example from my document in the video below. I walk you through the statements in my daily reminder from about 5 years ago and show you how it evolved over time:

Define Your Top Priority

It's time to take the concept of prioritization to it's ultimate conclusion: you need to get clear about what your nr. 1, undisputed, top entrepreneurial priority is.

This doesn't mean that you can only ever work on one goal or one project at a time. But you must have a clear, top priority, so that you always know what comes first. You must be willing to sacrifice everything that isn't your top priority, in order to make real progress on what matters most.

In this lesson, you'll discover concepts for applying "leverage" to your goals and priorities. This helps you decide what your top priority truly is.

The exercise is simple: write out what your top priority is, in great detail.

Trello Priority Board: Declutter Your Goals & Projects

Do you always have too many projects going on at once? Constantly seeing new opportunities all around you? Can't decide what your top priorities are (or change them from one week to the next)? I've created a Trello board for you, to fix that.

Click here to access the Trello board and make a copy of it.

This board is a way for you to process all your projects, businesses, websites, ideas, plans and so on. If you're like most entrepreneurs, you always have too many things going on at once and you have a hard time saying "no" to exciting new ideas.

You have several websites (some of them unfinished), you have multiple business ideas, you like to start projects and you want to write a book or five.

The reality is, you can't do all of those things at once. And the more you spread yourself out between multiple projects, the less likely any of them are to succeed.

With this lesson and the Priority Board, you now have a system for bringing order into the chaos.

Exercise: Develop Your “Big Picture” Vision

This lesson is a guided writing exercise. The purpose of the exercise is to get all of the ideas of your goals and ambitious out of your head and onto paper.

Click here to get the guided questions document.

Like in previous lessons, this is a Google Doc. You can open it and either make a copy of it to your own Google Drive, download it in one of many formats or copy the entire content and paste it wherever you want to work with it.

Note: some of the questions prompt you to really spend time and answer in great detail. That means you need time and space to go through this exercise and really get the most of it.

The questions guide you through a process that helps you translate your goals and wishes into specific components like The Pulling Force, The Pushing Force and The Process, as discussed previously.

Introduction to Goal Setting

In this module, we'll do some work to develop a clear vision of your goals and identify your top priorities.

Unfortunately, most goal setting advice is pretty useless or even misleading. The missing component is usually action. 

Here's what I mean: setting clear, meaningful goals is motivating. But that motivation is extremely short lived. Doing a goal setting exercise might be action driving, but only for a few hours or days at most.

In focus & action, we break goal setting into 3 components:

  1. The Pulling Force
  2. The Pushing Force
  3. The Process

This is our system for actually translating goals into action and lasting motivation.

The Survey

One of the aspects we'll be working with in the goal setting module is your strengths and values. The better we can align your goals and your daily work with your strengths and values, the easier it will be for you to feel motivated and get more meaningful work done.

You can take the VIA survey here, to gain some insight into your top strengths and values.

You may find some of the results surprisingly insightful. Unlike many an online survey, this one is run by an actual research institute and the results aren't designed to please you or make you share them on Facebook. This is actually designed to provide you with scientifically backed insights about yourself. Go ahead and take the (free) survey and you'll be able to reference back to your top strengths as we develop your goals.

The Problems With Positive Thinking & Visualization

One of my favorite researchers on the topic of positive thinking is Gabriele Oettingen. She has studied this extensively, written a book called Rethinking Positive Thinking.

Her research (as well as other's) has shown that positive thinking by itself is often counter-productive. As in: people who positively visualize the outcomes they want are less likely to reach their goals than people who do no such visualization.

This doesn't mean that positive thinking or visualization are always bad. These things can be effective, but it really depends on how we do them and in what context.

I've designed the writing exercise in this lesson to embed the "positive thinking" part within a context that makes it as useful and action-driving as possible.

Discovering Your Peak Focus Times

Doing deep work is very powerful. But it can also feel frustrating and draining if you don't do it during your best times of day. I call your most awake, most energetic times of day your peak focus hours. In this lesson, you'll learn how to identify and modulate those peak focus hours.

The Deep Work Session

In this lesson, we look at the 3 components of the optimal deep work session and the 1 document you'll use to manage and gradually improve your sessions.

If you aren't yet convinced that pure, deep work is a good thing to do - if you're reluctant to truly cut yourself off from distractions in order to do your best work - then the book Deep Work by Cal Newport is a good read.

Examples of My Journal Entries

To give you some guidance, here are a few entries from my own deep work journal.

Here's what I would call a "typical" entry, with brief answers to each question:

Title: Homepage History Post

What am I working on?
Updating the rapid landing pages course.

What’s the goal of this session?
To finish the replication of the first lead gen page and log any changes needed before I can record the video.

Why is this important?
This is our highest performing lead magnet and showing the new UI in it is an important improvement.

30 minutes to finish the test page. So far so good. Don’t feel like continuing, though.

I call this a typical entry because I usually don't explain anything in great detail in my entries. They aren't meant for anyone else to read and as long as I know what the notes mean, they're clear enough.

  • For example, the meaning of goal of the session is clear to me, but probably not obvious to someone else.
  • In the "why is it important" part, I also don't elaborate why updating our best performing lead magnet is important, because that's immediately obvious to me.
  • Note how in the "review" part, I describe how long it took me to complete the task and I mention that I didn't continue the deep work session. This was a short session because the goal was reached before the minimum time was up.

Here's another example. This is an example with slightly more elaborate descriptions:

Title: Homepage History Post

What am I working on?
Analysing the homepage snapshots, headlines and so on, to collect some data to turn into content.

What’s the goal of this session?
To have some data and notes with non-obvious observations that will form the basis of the post content.

Why is this important?
I think this could be really useful and popular content. Good for the business and good for our audience. If this goes well, I can document the process and delegate this kind of content creation in the future.

Very exhausted after 58 minutes or so. For posterity, I should mention that it’s past 10 pm on a day where I got up at 6 and have been travelling all day. It’s good that I managed to get this session in nonetheless. Interesting work, for when you’re actually awake and alert.

This was one of several deep work sessions I did to complete this epic blog post.

  • For the first 2 questions, I again make no efforts to explain this to someone who isn't me. What's important is that I can still remember what this was about, when I revisit the notes. Detail beyond that is unnecessary.
  • In the "why is it important" part, I'm tying my work in with one of my top priorities at the time: getting better at delegating. I make it part of my goal not just to create this post but to lay the groundwork for other people to create posts like it, in the future.
  • In the "review" part, I deliberately left notes for "future Shane". I'm adding context about things that I knew I'd forget about and it's this kind of information that helps me work out my peak focus times and ideal schedule.

Finally, here's an example of a "minimum version" of deep work notes:

Title: Homepage History Post

What am I working on?
Work on the presentation slides for the Thrive Optimize launch webinar.

What’s the goal of this session?
Finish the slides and share them with Hanne.

Why is this important?
The better the webinar, the more sales we’ll make.

62 minutes, slide 14, but only about 20% into the presentation. Gonna be a long day.

  • Here, I'm not elaborating anything, but the notes are still clear enough that they make sense when I review them in the future.
  • For the "why is it important" part, I'm simply tying my work to a clear business goal: sell the new product.
  • In the review notes, you can see that in this example, I ran out of steam once the hour was up. I was hoping I could power through the whole presentation in one go, but I was far off target with that. This shows how useful it is to have the minimum time + goal in the session. Trying to stubbornly finish the presentation anyway would not have been productive on this day. But without the timer, I would probably have given up after 30 minutes or so.

Work Types Tool 2: The Trello Board

This lesson covers a second work classification tool, with the same purpose as the quadrant from the previous lesson. We're putting the concept of The Prison & The Fortress into practice with this tool, as well.

This is also the first lesson in which we use the project and task management app I recommend: Trello. If you don't have a Trello account yet, you can create one for free, here.

Once you have a Trello account, you can make a copy of the board I show in the video, by clicking here.

You can then work in your own copy of the Trello board, just as I demonstrate in the video.

If you're unfamiliar with Trello, sit tight: we'll cover exactly how to use this tool to manage tasks and projects, in future lessons.

Work Types Tool 1: The Quadrant

Deep work is a cornerstone of the focus & action system. It is how you optimally design and manage a work session to get the most out of it. It's the kind of work that, once you do 2-4 hours of it per day, will move you towards your goals in leaps and bounds.

Deep work is specific and specialized and not all kinds of work can or should be done in deep work sessions. In this lesson, you'll discover a simple tool to help you classify different kinds of work you do. Once you have this overview you'll know what does and what doesn't belong in a deep work session.

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