Let’s face it, as Entrepreneurs – we have A LOT going on at any given point in time!
Our to-do lists are long, our priorities fluctuate with industry needs, our cup runneth over with great ideas, products, offers, you name it.
Throw in a federal holiday, gimmicky “National Something Day” or a new trend and we will never catch up!
The worst feeling in the world (for me at least) is something falling through the cracks or a missed opportunity because I was too buried in other things to get to it.
When I first started out, that happened more often than not. Luckily, I attended a training that taught me a concept that helped me get organized and I still use it to this day.
If you have ever heard of Alan Lakein, you may have heard of his ABC Method.
With his original design, ideas are split into three sections – A – Must Do, B – Should Do, C – Like To Do. His idea was later blended with Steven Covey’s Urgency vs. Importance Idea – i.e. four quadrants to determine if something is Urgent and Important, Urgent and Not Important, Not Urgent and Important, or Not Urgent Not Important.
The training I attended presented the hybrid concept the ABC 123 Method.
While the training was beneficial, it didn’t meet my specific needs.
Yes, in an ideal world – I would love to have that little “C” column to tuck things away in; however, I am a realistic and I knew that would just become a long, overshadowing list that would eventually put me right back where I started.
For me, I took the idea presented in the training and adapted to my own needs. Simply put, my tasks were organized not on what could be completed as a whole (meaning an overarching to-do list that would be completed over time) but within my current day.
With this idea, the “C’ column was not something that was off in the future, something that would eventually be done, it would roll over to the next day but migrate to the “B” column.
So here is the ABC 123 Method adapted for me.
Disclaimer: I am positive with 8 billion people on the planet (if you are shocked by that number, apparently we reached it November 2022) and 582 million of those people are entrepreneurs, what I am about to share is no way original but if you found it here first – I hope it helps you get organized!
ABC 123 Broken Down
On any given day, I organize my business and client needs based on A, B, C:
(A) Must be done today
What this looks like for me: Items that must be done today based on either deadline, client priority (for me – Retainer client work is done before anyone else’s), or connection to other tasks (the task is the foundation that other tasks are built upon).
The amount of time the task will take may also play a factor into where it is placed if a consolidation of hours can get it done (i.e. if I have to build a complex automation that will take a few hours, I may place it in the C column to get other tasks out of the way so I can bunch the hours and then dedicate it to that single task).
What this may look like for you: These are the tasks that should be taken care of as soon as possible, and it is likely that your intuition is telling you that they shouldn’t be pushed aside.
They are of the utmost importance and should not be delayed.
In other words, when you sit down for the day – these are the items that are done FIRST.
The best way to know what should be considered an “A” task is acknowledging the consequences if it is not completed. Ask yourself “If this particular task is not done, what ramifications await me tomorrow?”
This shouldn’t be an “I believe” moment (I believe someone will be looking for it, I believe this person would have liked it sooner) – this should be a knee-jerk reaction, wake up in a cold sweat when you realize this task was not done kind of moment.
If that isn’t the outcome from missing the task, it shouldn’t be in column A.
(B) What I would like to get done today but if it is completed tomorrow, it isn’t the end of the world (but it better get done tomorrow).
What this looks like for me: These are usually tasks that are at the beginning of my promised turn-around time for clients (work that has just come in that day and has a 48 hours turn-around time, emails that just came in and have a 24 hour response time, task management requests that have a pushed out deadline set by clients, work/project inquiries that need to be pushed through my project management system).
What this may look like for you: “B” tasks are slightly less important but still need to be taken care by the end of the day, if time permits. If not, they are moved into the A column the following day to ensure they do not fall off your radar.
These may be tasks that fall into the “believe” column that was mentioned before. There is something driving the need for this task to be done so while they are not the priority of the day (like those in A column), they can’t be the third interviewer on a talk show either (easily bumped for time).
(C) If time permits, I will get to these today – if not, they will migrate to the B column tomorrow.
What this looks like for me: The C column for me IS NOT a throw away column with tasks that I will get to eventually. Those tasks go into a place called a “parking lot”.
A idea adapted from project and meeting management systems, a parking lot is the place where tasks I “want” to do are stored and pulled out as I have free time.
Those “parking lot” tasks do not have relevance to anything important and are done as again, free time permits (social media engagement, writing blog posts, creating newsletters, responding to HARO queries, etc.)
For me, column C are tasks that if time permits, will be done today but if not, they are migrated to Column B tomorrow – ensuring they do not fall off my radar.
These could be non-client emails that need a response, project inquiries or meeting requests that did not go through the proper channels, client requests that do not have a designated due date, essentially tasks that can be completed within 72 to 96 hours without consequence.
What this may look like for you: “C” tasks are the least urgent tasks.
These are the types of tasks that you can easily leave until last, or put off for a later date, if necessary. They likely won’t cause any real consequences if they aren’t taken care of right away.
For you, these may include “parking lot” tasks but I warn again that including parking lot tasks within Column C will only cause your list to continuously grow.
Limit your Column C to tasks that still need your attention and shouldn’t be forgotten; but, can be completed by the end of the business week, migrating from the C column to the B column in an attempt to stay in your sightline.
Organizing tasks into ABC is the hardest part.
After that, it is simply prioritizing those tasks within those columns from 1 – Most Important and must be done at the start of the day to 3 – least important but must be done before moving to the next column.
How do you know which tasks to make 1, 2, or 3?
Again this is going to vary based on your particular niche and/or your method of staying motivated when inundated.
For some, tackling their most time consuming tasks in their Column A first takes priority. It allows them to knock out the item that may act like a time “blackhole”, allowing them to plan the rest of the day with less time demanding tasks.
For others, it is the “eat the frog” method – doing the least favorite task in your “Most Important” column first, moving on to more enjoyable priorities for the rest of the day.
For me, my work is prioritized by my client structure so my 1, 2, 3 is a little easier than some.
As I mentioned before, this is a daily creation.
To remain effective, I close out my day with my ABC 123 list for the following day. It gives me a mental check of what my day will look like and the opportunity to organize myself for the best outcome.
It also allows me to really think about the list to ensure what is in my ABC column SHOULD be there and how I have ranked my priorities IS correct.
Again, this is why having a “parking lot” is important.
Are your creating an elongated list to simply look busy, feel important or are the tasks you have included actually pressing?
Be honest with yourself when it comes to the items on your list, especially if you do not have outside factors like clients/customers driving it, and take off anything unnecessary so you are not overwhelmed.
Is This Method Truly That Effective?
While it has been a back and forth on whether the ABC 123 Method is effective, especially when it was heavily implemented into the Franklin Planners, my thoughts are this – any process is only as effective as the commitment attached to it.
Just like learning a new habit, sticking with a diet, or mastering a new skill – it takes time and dedication for a concept to reach fruition.
If you believe you are going to master this tomorrow, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
ABC 123 is going to be a trial and error process until you start to trust yourself and learn your rhythm of what is important vs. what can wait.
Even if you doesn’t work for you in the end, there are plenty of other time management, organization concepts out there. While I found mine with this method, I am positive you will find yours and wish you the best of luck on getting organized!
PDF: Three Ways to Think about Prioritization from the Learning Center at The Academic Success Center of Oregon State
Photo by Paico Oficial on Unsplash