This article addresses how to get things done by managing your to do list. In the previous article, Getting Things Done – Clutter Control, I recommended an exercise to identify energy zappers in your life. Energy zappers are nothing more than:
- things we need to take care
- things we want to do to enhance our personal lives
- tasks we want to do to grow our businesses
- clutter piling up in our homes and work spaces
- commitments we’ve made that we really don’t want to do
- people in our lives that are a drain or don’t support us
We also have everyday tasks that are ongoing that we must do, like eat and feed our family, do laundry, pay the bills, take care of the children, work in our businesses, to name just a few.
In the article, Getting Things Done – Clutter Control, I asked these two questions: Do you struggle with how do get things done in the course of a day? Do you have an overwhelming to do list that seems to only get longer rather than shorter? Well I answered “yes” to both of these questions as most of you probably did too.
I recently read the book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. I highly recommend this book, especially if you work from home like I do. Working from home requires a lot of discipline (topic for another day to help manage stress).
After reading the book and having already created my list of energy zappers I decided to go back and create a Master Task List of all the things I needed to do or wanted to do, both personally and professionally. I categorized my Master Task List into these eight areas.
- Business Ventures (one section for each business venture)
- Family and Relationship – Child’s Education
- Financial – Things to Sell or Donate
- Health and Fitness
- Personal and Professional Development
- Household Repairs and Projects
- Auto Maintenance
- Social and Community
For each of these areas I divided it into two sections: Ongoing and One Time Tasks
I then prioritized my list of things using the “ABCDE Method” recommended in Eat That Frog! (refer to chapter 6). Here is the breakdown of prioritizing each item on your list based on this method:
- A = Something that is very important; that you must do. Will have serious positive or negative consequences if you do it or fail to do it. An example would be preparing for a presentation you have scheduled.
- B = Task that you should do, but only has mild consequences. An example would be checking your email or returning an unimportant phone message.
- C = Something that would be nice to do but for which there are no consequences at all. An example would be working a puzzle or having lunch with a friend.
- D = Something you can delegate to someone else. When we delegate tasks to others this allows us more time to spend on what we have to do.
- E = Something that you can eliminate altogether and it wouldn’t make any real difference. Things that were once important and continue to be done from habit.
The goal should be to do first the things you must do rather than the things you should do. The more “A” tasks you focus on and complete the more we accomplish and the better we will feel as a result, which equates to less stress and greater happiness overall. You may wish to highlight your top three tasks in each area.
I refer to my Master Task List each week along with my calendar as I set up my weekly schedule which includes all my appointments and what I want to get done each day – my daily to do list. Since I’ve been doing this I find that I more quickly accomplish tasks and when followed I get more done in the course of a given day and week.
Six advantages of managing a to do list
- A to do list helps us know the different things that have do be done so that we do not overlook anything.
- A to do list is more dependable than our memory.
- Once we have a written list of the things that we have to do, we can prioritize and decide which tasks should be done first.
- Sometimes one or more tasks may require that we go to another room or location. A to do list helps us to be more efficient with our time. For example, if we have to drop off something at an office and make a bank deposit, which are in the same area of town, both these tasks can be handled at the same time. It saves us the time, energy, and effort of going to the same area twice. But only if we have a ‘to-do’ list can we know in advance that there are two tasks in the same location.
- A to do list enables us to cross out the tasks which have been completed and towards the end of the day when we see the list of things that we have crossed out, it certainly will give us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It also will remind us if nothing at all has been completed and crossed out.
- If anything remains on today’s list, it can be carried over to tomorrow’s list. That is a great way of preparing a to-do list for the day, by examining the ‘to-do’ list of yesterday and carrying over any task that has not been completed.
Now, when preparing a to-do list, there are two important points that should be considered.
- The ‘to-do’ list should be realistic.
- It is not enough that only daily ‘to-do’ lists be prepared.
The daily list should be realistic because it should include only things that can be accomplished in a day. There is no need putting items on your list that include tasks that can only be done over a period of time. And it is here that it becomes relevant to maintain a master task list for all the tasks we’ve identified previously, not just what’s planned to be done today.
It is best to keep the master task list updated and use it to select specific tasks to work on daily or over the course of the week or month. A very important point to keep in mind is that the tasks to be completed over a week are not something to be done on the last day of the week and over a month is not something to be done at the end of the month. This is what most people do.
So on your daily to do list be sure to include a small step(s) toward the larger task that is to be completed at the end of the week or month. This should help you meet necessary deadlines and help eliminate stress and anxiety.
To your good health,
PS: Here is the form I created for my Master Task List. I hope you find it helpful too!