How to organize your day on a napkin

RadReaders are a quirky bunch.

We have a hard time being lazy. (Especially on a 3 day weekend.)

We’re always trying to optimize things.

And we make things unnecessarily complicated.

Look no further than a simple to-do list. We obsess over capture speed. Zapier automations. Chrome plug-ins. And text expanders.

But what if we’re just over-complicating things? After all, the Oracle of Omaha has a litmus test for any of his investments: the analysis has to fit on the back of a napkin.

With age, I’ve realized that there’s a lot of anxiety built into over-complicating things.

And a lot of joy from simplifying them.

So as a RadReads first, I want to present you with our first (free) paper product. A one-page, printable task manager:

This is the actual list I use each day (although the snob in me recreates it on fancy Midori paper). Here’s the routine:

Step 1: Start with a new sheet every day

Yes, the mise-en-place is important. Just like General McCraven’s recommendation that you make your bed, there’s something energizing about literally turning over a new leaf. (Don’t worry, the backs get re-used for copious doodling.)

Step 2: Set up a simple 2×2 matrix

The matrix is adapted from the principles of $10K Work, yet simplifies the categories to make them more applicable on a minute-to-minute basis. After all, this list doesn’t carry over to the next day nor does it link to projects or goals. It’s just the dashboard for the day.

Step 3: Start with your $10K Work

In the top-left quadrant, write down your highest-leverage activities. These tasks will likely involve some element of thinking, energy and focus. The key here is to use constraints to manage expectationswhich is why it is capped at two. Throughout the day, your pull should be towards these two tasks. Nothing else on the page should matter until they are complete.

Step 4: The Get it Done List

In the top-right quadrant, you’ll focus on the things you need to do as a function of your job. You can think of this as the work you’re “paid” to do (i.e. your $1,000/hr work).

If you’re a marketer, it’s creating marketing campaigns.

If you’re an investor, it’s researching investments.

If you own a dental practice, it’s filling cavities.

These activities typically lie in the $1K bucket because they typically lack leverage. The majority of my day is spent in this quadrant.

Step 5: Low value

This is the $10 category of low-value work. A simple test for what belongs in this bottom-right quadrant:

Can I do this hungover?

Here you’ll find paying bills, rescheduling meetings, updating reports and cleaning up formatting. Yes, it needs to get done (as part of a portfolio approach), but by I implore you – please don’t waste your best energy on these tasks.

I often go a step further by covering its contents with a yellow post-it note so that I don’t get tempted by its (dopamine-inducing) contents.

Step 6: My team (and what people “owe me”)

The last quadrant is particularly salient for those with direct reports. Whether you’re checking-in, unblocking their high value work or mentoring them – this is the quadrant where you play air traffic control. What makes this quadrant different is that you typically aren’t the one doing the work. Instead, you’re responding. That’s why putting it in a separate quadrant helps protect your mind space.

Does your day satisfy the napkin test? Give it a shot – ease, joy and effortlessness lie on the other side.

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