4 Tips to Staying Organized & Focused when Deadlines & Projects Pile Up

Hey Everybody,

How’s it going? Hope you’re doing well and having a great week so far! I know my week and even 2018 so far has been a really busy one and I’ve been working to keep up with everything at my day job, at home, and on the blog. I hope you’ve been enjoying all the new content and have been able to keep up, if not, be sure to check out some of the new posts!

Keeping up with a busy schedule and multiple deadlines kind of leads me to today’s post, where I’m going to share and talk about some of my favorite tricks and practices with regards to staying organized and focused not only as a designer but in day to day life as well. It can be tough to stay on top of everything in our industry, multiple clients, projects, and changing deadlines can add a ton of complication and stress to our jobs above and beyond the act of actually designing and drafting. This is why it’s important to have a few tricks and practices up your sleeve to help keep yourself focused and organized when you have those feelings like you’re overwhelmed and lost.

These are a few of the things I do and/or try to do more to help keep me organized, focused and on top of things:

† Use a Notebook! – Seriously, this one is huge, it will save you a ton of time, prevent missed deadlines, forgotten requests, and just aide in better planning overall. Whether you like to use something simple like a plain legal pad or something a little nicer like a Whitelines Notebook or the Leuchtturm 1917 Notebook I’m currently using and love.
(side note/disclaimer: I was recently sent some notebooks from Leuchtturm to try out and review for the blog since I’ve been a fan of them since school and reached out to them to highlight some of their new products for the Coffee Break Series)
Although I do really like my Leuchtturm books since they’re well made and work great with the drafting pens/pencils I use, it really doesn’t matter which notebook you use as long as you’re using one or even an app equivalent like Evernote. I will say though that I recommend using pen and paper as your main notebook. There’s something about the feeling and ease of using pen and paper that makes keeping lists/notes a little more fun as well as keeping you in writing shape which I find can be tough nowadays since everything has gone digital. It also helps to keep you off of your phone and focused on the task at hand when time is of the essence.


† Prioritize and Keep it Simple with Lists – This one goes with the Notebook point, I like to keep a running list of all my projects, tasks and to do’s in my notebook which I will then check of/cross out when I finish each one and add new tasks when they come up. I’ll also jot down a few small details about each task like a small description and the deadline or target. This prevents me from completely forgetting about a task as well as helps me plan and schedule for mid to long term with regards to giving new deadlines and estimates for upcoming projects. Now, this main to-do list is great for know all that you need to do but it can be tough to focus and kind of intimidating to look at, especially when you’re already stressed and need to just get things done.

This is why you need to keep it simple by creating a short (I like a Top 3 at most) goals list at the start of each day or work session. When I start my day I will quickly write down my top 3 goals that I can and want to finish that day, these goals should be somewhat detailed and can be broken down pieces of a larger project or even a whole smaller task. The key is that they should be accomplishable in the time you have. I’ve found that using this system can give you a clear path to finishing things in a day as well as rewarding you as you go by being able to see progress and cross off completed goals, kind of like a checkpoint in a video game. In cases where I don’t finish a goal, I’ll then add it to the top of my list for the next day or session and if I finish early I’ll either add another goal or grab a coffee and get organized for my next task.

Today’s Top 3 Goals…


† Use Short Breaks to Stay Focused – I’m a big proponent and pusher of using the Pomodoro technique when it comes to AutoCAD and computer/desk work in general, if you don’t know what I’m talking about it’s worth a quick read at the link above but here is the basic process from Wikipedia:

There are six steps in the original technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.

I like this technique, especially for what we do since it can be easy to kind of zone out when working and staring at a screen for long periods of time, not to mention how hard it can be on your body and eyes being in the same position all day. I’ve found that these small micro breaks can help with productivity and hitting your goals especially if you plan your timing around completing small tasks within your design or goal rather than an exact time. IE, taking a break after finishing a grading or corridor design etc.. These short breaks can be as simple as standing up and stretching, looking away from the screen, or getting a coffee or water refill and by the end of the day you’ll almost certainly feel better and have more energy than if you didn’t take them.

Here are a couple easy to use timers to get you started:
Browser based: Tomato Timer: https://tomato-timer.com/

Downloadable App: http://monkeymatt.com/bigstretch/


† Keep your Workspace and Folders Organized – I think this one’s pretty self-explanatory but I think it is definitely worth mentioning and pointing out since I still have a tough time keeping my desk and work space free from clutter, old papers/drawings, and various other junk. It’s no secret or anything that it is easier to get work done when you have an organized and clean space to work in so take a couple minutes every few days or even once a week to tidy up your desk and area so you can find your Notebook (See point #1) and pencils easily.

This same process should apply to your digital desk and files as well, I’ve already written pretty extensively about how much I believe our CAD and project folders should be organized so I’ll point you there for more info: How to Keep Your Folders Organized.


That’s going to be all for today’s post, I hope these tricks and practices will help you stay focused and organized when you have those feelings like you’re overwhelmed and lost.

As always thank you all so much for reading and don’t forget to let me know some of your tips and tricks for staying organized and on top of deadlines in the comments below!

Oh and if you haven’t already, make sure to check out Episode #2 of Coffee Break my new series that highlights and reviews cool tech, products and gear for Designers, creatives and engineers! Read it Here
PS. Thank you again for visiting and don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter to keep up to date on new CAD news, tutorials and tricks: Subscribe here


Also published on Medium.

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Brandon is a Civil Designer, Aspiring Blogger/Creator, Husband, Father to two Amazing Kids and Tech Aficionado from a small town in Canada. He has been obsessed with design and technology since he can remember and working as a Civil Designer for nearly as long. Brandon’s blog and Youtube channel, CADIntentions.com has been his outlet and excuse for keeping up with new tech and trends in the CAD design world for the last 10 years growing to more than 60,000 subscribers and over 15,000,000 views, while also being the source of many great friendships and unique opportunities. If you would like to Sponsor CAD Intentions or Work together in some way, Please visit my About Page and send me an email: http://cadintentions.com/about-me/