“My to-do list is so long today!”
How many times a day do you hear that? If you work in any business/corporate setting, probably a lot. People with long, neat to-do lists are important. They are on top of it. They are who you want to be.
Too bad this is such a facade.
The to-do list has become more of a symbol for being organized and productive than an actual tool to aid in productivity. People write long lists and take care of a bunch of the little, lower-level tasks that are quick to handle, because it looks “cool” to have a lot of the boxes checked or tasks marked through.
But at the end of the day, the important tasks are often left unattended to. Sure, you may have updated your email signature, nominated a co-worker for an appreciation award and updated your profile on LinkedIn. However, the PowerPoint for your presentation needs to be ready tomorrow. The baby tasks are done, yet the most important presentation of your week has been relegated to being finished in panic mode.
The issue here is not laziness (for most). It is a lack of prioritizing. You may think that simply by making a to-do list, that you are prioritizing. But you are not. Just having stuff to do does not make you a master of your time. If you are a living, breathing human with a job and any resemblance of a family and/or social life, you have stuff to do. Join the club. The people who are productive at doing that “stuff” are the ones who prioritize. A great place to start practicing prioritization is with your to-do lists.
1) Bucket your list
If you are not assigning some sort of importance values to items on your list to indicate their importance, the to-do list has become a laundry list of maybes. I like to write out a do list and highlight the most important, highest value-add items for the day. Other people but an “A” “B” OR “C” next to tasks to indicate which ones are most important. Find the method that works for you. Just make sure you have clearly identified what is truly most important. Time is finite, especially time for work, and your goal should be to always be completing the tasks that add the most value at that point in time.
2) Be open to change and shifting priorities
Just because something was the most important task yesterday does not mean it is the most important task today. Even though one purpose of a to-do list is to help your focus in, you still must retain the ability to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. What is the long term goal for this project? What is the strategic direction for the company? To some people, especially entry-level employees like many of us, this may seem silly. I mean, regardless of the strategic direction of the company for the next year, my boss, who writes my review, still needs this report today. That may be true, but being so zoomed in on the day-to-day tasks means that you will never be aware enough of the big picture to contribute when the discussion is surrounding the larger strategy. Anyone can be an excel king or queen. You can add the most value by handling those “smaller” tasks well AND being able to gleam clear take-aways for yourself from larger-picture discussions. Be ready to change the priorities on your list as major shifts occur in the larger scope of work.
3) Do it
This seems stupid, but has to be said. You can have the perfect to-do list: prioritized and full of tasks that relate directly to major projects or initiatives. But if you don’t buckle down and do it, and do it in a timely manner, you have wasted your effort in even creating a list. Figure out what you need to do to block distractions. Do you need music? Do you need to hide your iPod? Do you need to install software that blocks Facebook, Twitter or Instagram ? Do you need to close your e-mail for an hour, to get a block of uninterrupted work in? Test and learn, figure it out, and watch your productivity go through the roof.
How do you prioritize your to-do lists?