Why Your To-Do List Is Not Working?
Not long before I simply kept ‘Writing for blog’ on my to-do list for quite some time. I kept on my daily to-do list migrating it from day after the other. It went to the point where I started feeling guilty about keeping it on my to-do list. I said to myself, ‘You know what, I am not made for writing.’ And my ego even supported me saying, ‘Sathya! You got better things to do!’
Eventually, I got over it.
The trick was — knowing the difference between the task and the project, and 11 other principles while making a to-do list.
Most of us get the premise behind making a daily to-do list, but terribly fail in getting the process right. Even worse, some even go to the extent of blaming their failure to the tool itself. ‘Go with the flow!’ they suggest.
I have been studying how to efficiently use a to-do list for improving my efficiency and helping others enhance their performance. Here are the 12 principles that could help you better design your to-do list.
“Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.” ~ Peter F. Drucker
12 Principles to Master Your To-do List
- Set up a weekly 20-minute meeting with yourself. First things first. Take time for planning, listing your master list and reviewing your actions, at least once a week. If required, put it on your calendar and stick to the commitment.
- Review your day’s work. Spend the last 5 minutes of your day in reviewing. What went well? What failed? On challenges faced, lesson learnt…
- 6 Boxes Focus Areas: This is one of the best secrets I learnt from Peter Bregman. Deciding upon my key functional areas in itself gave a lot of clarity. You can look up into your job description and your contribution to organization’s overall mission could give you an idea to decide upon your focus areas. I usually allocate my to-do lists to the focus areas on the 6 Boxes template. This gives me tremendous amount of clarity and focus. Even among the 6 areas, I knew the priority areas like Sales where I have to proactively seek work.
- If possible, finish your day by making to-do list for tomorrow. It clears up your mind. More importantly you know what needs to be done that day because you made the list previous day itself.
- Batch work: I prefer to batch my phone calls/ emails in a particular time. While most of us simply can’t deny being disconnected, we should try to the maximum extent possible to be connected — meaningfully, not otherwise. Few recommend checking e-mails only once/ twice a day. I usually don’t attend calls as it comes; I batch it and schedule it during my pause time. I prefer to be on my feet when I’m on a call. First it helps me shake off my nervousness, second it saves me from distraction on my laptop and third I get a quick workout.
- Avoid confusing an event with a task: This is common mistake we make. Meeting with your boss/ team, presentation to the client, phone call to the manager @ 11 am, conference call on Friday, appointments — those items that can be put on your calendar, should be put on calendar. These are events not tasks, and would demand scheduling. However, preparing a powerpoint presentation for the upcoming meeting @ 4 pm is a task. Know the difference. GCal works perfectly for me to schedule events. I get notification alerts and can add/delete events from my smart phone. Use it to the optimum advantage.
- Chunk the project into Task list: Anything that requires more than a single action step is a project. I learnt that ‘Writing for the blog’ is a project which can and should be broken into tasks list like ‘Research for the article’, ‘Make the first draft’, ‘Submit for editing and proofreading’ and ‘Re-write’ and ‘Publish on web’. Now ‘Research for the article’ is on my daily to-do list. Notice that it is not even ‘Write the article’ — it is just research. Chunking as it is usually called is a fantastic liberator for those confused.
- Know the difference between Goal and a Task: I recently hit 30 years old mark. While it gives a sense of responsibility and it also sometimes feel burdensome. Particularly I realised that I need to take control of my health. But putting ‘Become my best physical self’ on my to-do list simply did not work. I needed to identify my action item — eating healthy, developing a workout routine, meditating and others. Based on the chunking puts it in the habit list or my to-do list.
- Make a separate Rituals/ Habits Lists: For quite some time, I have been trying to put habits that I need to do that on my to-do list. It unnecessarily clogged my to-do list. Now I have removed it and put it as my overall habits list like Exercising, Meditating, Drinking a glass of fruit juice, etc. I also have to consciously tell myself habit is quite different from my task list, because I got too elated of doing my habit as mastering my daily task list. It was not so.
- Be mindful of boredom/ fatigue. Alternate between tasks– so that you keep yourself excited. I usually try to jump from a work in Sales to Training to Marketing etc.
- Pause. I get and walk out of the office once in half an hour or so. I take my phone and make the calls. Or simply walk out and check out what others are doing.
- Finally, remember it not about getting things done, it is about getting the right things done. While enough has been said about prioritizing — based on urgency, importance, or based on resource available. Always working on high-priority tasks gives me enough stress. I sometimes prefer to sneak in a phone call to a friend, a 2 minutes walk after lunch, a comment on an entertaining post I just read — to break from the monotony of work. In its strictest definition, these are unimportant tasks, but I find them rejuvenating.
I recommend you to apply each of the principles while designing your to-do list. It will not just help you perfect your to-do list, but improve your overall productivity by identifying the kind of work thrown at you, processing it and ultimately get it down effectively.