Are your to-do lists out of control? Do you have so many to-do lists (on paper, on your PC, on your mobile phone) that you can’t keep track? Do your to-do lists get lost in your diary, notebook etc? Well, to-do lists are one of the most common time management tools but when they aren’t used effectively, they end up being time wasters rather than time savers.
Electronic or Paper?
This is a personal choice and while electronic to-do lists have the advantage of added functionality like setting due dates, alarms etc., old-fashioned paper to-do lists work pretty well too. Either way, decide which you are going to use and stick to it. Don’t fall into the trap of having multiple lists. You will end up needing another system to keep track of all your lists!
Prioritise your list
To-do lists need to be prioritised for maximum effectiveness. Many people use rankings e.g A,B,C or 1,2,3 to rate high, medium and low priority and if this works for you, then continue doing so. Personally, I prefer a simpler ranking system, a to-do list that is split into “Must Do Today” and “To Do”. Prioritising your list will help you focus on the most urgent tasks and keep you from the temptation of completing non-essential items on your to-do list just so you can feel better about crossing something off!
If your “Must Do Today” or high priority items are regularly not getting done, you need to review a couple of things. Firstly, are you categorising your high-priority tasks appropriately and are you being realistic when setting the number of tasks to complete in one day? Secondly, is something else happening that’s interfering with your day e.g. are you procrastinating, are there too many interruptions? Stay tuned for further posts in this Time Management series that addresses some of these issues.
Short term, not long term
Only items that need to be done in the near future e.g. less than a week should go on a to-do list. Anything with a longer timeframe should be on a weekly, monthly, or yearly planner. This keeps your to-do list focussed and current.
Review and update
It probably goes without saying that to-do lists should be reviewed and updated, however, how many of you are guilty of makings lists and then only looking at them when you remember?
Many experts recommend doing to-do lists in the morning. I prefer doing mine at the end of the of the day mainly because it is a mind-clearing exercise and helps me leave work issues at work. Rarely do things crop up between close of business and the start of the next business day and when they do, there’s no reason why the list can’t be updated in the morning. With the list done the evening before, I’m free to start my day without having to think too hard about it. Morning or evening, whichever way works for you, choose one and be disciplined about sticking to it.
By the way, this exercise shouldn’t be taking more than 20-30 minutes. I’ve read articles on time management that estimate 1.5-2 hours to prepare task lists. In my humble opinion, this completely defeats the aim of the exercise and is probably a bit of “over-cooking”.
“When I was a CEO of a super fund, working 4 days per week and juggling motherhood,
time management was an absolute necessity, not a luxury.” ~ Mi
- Time Management (Part 2) – The Email Trap
- Time Management (Part 3) – “I don’t have enough time”
- Time Management (Part 4) – Beating Procrastination