We’ve been trying to keep up with our four zucchini plants — which means we now have a year’s worth of pickle, and have been making a lot of zucchini fritters, as well as finding a way to include zucchini in every other possible dinner.

I don’t know about you, but my working life has felt like an ongoing rush of zucchinis lately, with multiple projects on the go and the need to deal with something quite substantial every few days before moving on to the next commitment. I just get one ready for harvest, and there’s another zucchini booming towards becoming a marrow.

I’m not alone in the need to manage multiple commitments — all council staff I know are in the same situation, with the need to meet Long Term Plan deadlines over the next few months.  Here are some really basic tools that are helping me to stay on track, that might also be useful to you, if you need to write some hefty LTP-related documents over the next few months in between your other responsibilities.

  • Next steps lists
  • Mind maps and outlines
  • Half hour walks
  • A laptop for portability and getting first drafts onto the page
  • A daily success journal
  • A weekly review
  • A weekly plan
  • Contact and non-contact days
  • A monthly planner

Next steps list

Here’s one of my ‘next steps’ lists which was for a project I had progressed a certain distance, but then needed to drop for 10 days. This list made it much easier to pick up from where I had left off.

NEXT STEPS – xxx – 7 FEB 2020

  1. Make changes to xxx (see handwritten edits on the pages)
  2. Create summary of other councils’ approaches using the raw data saved at xxx.
  3. Draft questions for staff
  4. Use initial overview notes and other docs to draft the xxx (using the outline from the prewriting process).

It looks kind of obvious when I read it over now, but not needing to figure out those next steps while I was cold to the project made a huge difference to getting underway and getting this work finished on time.

Mind maps and outlines

Creating a mind map is a fast, simple way to get to the guts of what you need to include in your document, whether it is a report or something much larger, such as a chapter in an activity management plan or a long policy document. If you are updating an existing LTP-related document, it might involve reading the 2018 version then mind mapping what stays and what needs to change.

Then you can transfer those unwieldy drawings into headings with bullet points — which naturally breaks down the huge, and potentially overwhelming, work into a list of achievable tasks. (My blog on policy writing includes more details about this technique.)

Laptop

A laptop gives me freedom to work differently. I find it particularly good for generating first drafts, because it seems easier to get free of the critical part of my mind when I’m sitting casually on the sofa bashing out a few ideas. I bought a really basic laptop that doesn’t have the power to multi-task. The annoying whirring sound created when I click on the internet while having a Word document open makes it easier to resist this temptation!

These first drafts generated on the laptop give me something to work with when I come back to my ‘serious’ desktop computer.

If you work in an open-plan office, a laptop will give you the opportunity to work somewhere else if you need to spend time in deep concentration. Where can you do uninterrupted work – is home a good option, or would you be better in a library or a quiet space within your office building?

Walks

I did say this was a basic list, didn’t I? Giving yourself permission to walk away from your work, even when you have too much to do, can save you a huge amount of time and effort. It does double duty, just like a four-day working week that gives you gives you both a long weekend and a shorter working week. A walk gives you a mental rest from concentrating on the document, but it also creates the mental space to come up with new ideas related to your project.

A daily success journal

While there is always more to do, it can be really helpful to write down what you actually achieved in a day. I highly recommend this if you are prone to worrying about getting everything done on time because it helps you to pay attention to what has actually been done.

A weekly review (Friday)

This is a more extensive chance to notice what you have completed and to identify what are the next best things to be doing. Here are the four review questions:

  • How did I get on with last week’s goals?
  • What went well this week?
  • The challenges I faced this week … and potential solutions
  • Goals for next week

A weekly plan (Monday)

Start with the list of goals from the Friday review. Then, for each day of the week, note down what you’re going to focus on, and what else you need to do on those days (e.g. meetings and any other commitments). It will be easy to see where the opportunities are for sustained, uninterrupted work, which is where you want to put your hardest tasks and when you might want to plan to work somewhere quiet.

As things change over the week, you may end up putting a line through some of the goals, or moving around some of the topics you had planned to work on, and that’s fine. It’s your list! But it will help you to see what’s doable, so that next week’s goals can be more realistic … reducing the risk of overwhelm.

Schedule non-contact days

There’s nothing like a non-contact day for getting the hardest work done. It means you can be gentle on yourself … do the easiest things first, or the hardest things first. Follow your nose or follow a strict list … luxuriating in the knowledge that you have the whole day to figure something out, or to deliver on your word count.

If people don’t know it’s a non-contact day they’re likely to send you meeting requests on that day. So you need to block it out on your calendar and stick to it. Depending on your situation, these might be the same days each week, or need to vary.

A monthly planner

List the names of the months to come. Note down what projects you’re going to be working on, and how many hours you estimate they will require. This will change over time (and all the time!), so you need to include the date of your latest update for version control.

This schedule also needs to be realistic, and if new things are added into a month, look at where you have some flexibility to move something into the next month and which actions absolutely have to happen at a set time.

All the very best for a successful and sane LTP season! And please email me if you’d like a zucchini pickle recipe …