Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of organizational and business books. The problem with the majority of these books is that they regurgitate the same information or have eight updated “new common sense” editions; “How to Organize Your Business! — 8th edition, now including Working off Lists!” (facepalm)
For the most part, the organizational books all have very similar methods for classifying and arranging everything in your personal and business lives. Normally, this process begins by creating and working off a To-Do list–prioritizing and checking off items as they are completed. This process has two man-made, deep-rooted problems:
- There are too many items to complete on the list; and
- There is not enough time to complete the items on the list.
Notice I said man-made problems. I say this because your list should first be filtered, then prioritized. So, let’s look a little deeper into these two excuses…
There are too many items to complete on my list.
When we create lists, we tend to be under dramatic (not stressing the importance of the task enough) or overdramatic (the opposite of what I just said.) Do all the items on your list need to be accomplished today? Are their items on your list that have low priority? If so, remove them. Place those items on the reverse side or on a completely separate list. The goal here is to accomplish the items that need completion by a certain time or day. If you find an item that is neither important or time-sensitive, remove it.
Another good rule of thumb is to create the list with enough detail so others could follow it. If you need to replace a light bulb in your bathroom and know that the only place close enough that sells that particular lightbulb is Home Depot; then on your To-Do list write:
- Go to Home Depot;
- Purchase replacement lightbulb for master bathroom vanity;
- Go home;
- Replace burned out master bathroom vanity bulb with the newly purchased replacement bulb.
Some would call these directions anal-retentive. However, remember what I said earlier: Create the list with enough detail so others could follow it. Some could argue that step 3 could be eliminated. Fair enough. But leave it on the list because I’ll show you how it’s relevant in a few moments. Moving on…
There is not enough time to complete the items on the list.
Bluntly speaking, there are 24 hours in a day. If you can’t accomplish a daily To-Do list in 1,440 minutes, you have bigger time management issues than you think. I understand that life intervenes and things don’t always work out as planned, but you’re probably wasting more time than you think on items that you shouldn’t be.
Prudently, we all should plan for the upcoming day the night before. This allows us time to collect all our thoughts on the subject at hand without wasting precious time the day of trying to create and prioritize lists. If I need to leave the office and run errands, I try to include drive time, completion time, etc. So if I have to run to the post office to pick up an item, I would calculate 15 minutes (including traffic), 5-8 minutes in line, accepting the package, then another 15 minutes driving back to the office. Now underneath that item is where I start creating another list: My To-Don’t List. In this instance, my To-Don’t list would include: Don’t stop at Starbucks! Similarly, if I have to do Internet research on a specific subject: Don’t log into Facebook!
Now, do you remember my light bulb example and how one could argue that step 3. (Go home) could be removed. What if you didn’t go straight home and stopped off at a friends house or went to the driving range. In doing so, you were late getting home, and didn’t think about replacing the burned out bulb in the bathroom–even though you purchased a new bulb that very day. Would you consider this item as completed on your list? No.
We take small deviations during the day that add up to time we should have spent completing our tasks. In reading organizational book after organizational book, I found they do a good job in explaining how to identify and protect your time against “time suckers” such as email and walk-in coworkers. However, these books fail to explain the biggest time sucker is actually yourself. This is where having a To-Don’t list comes into play. After creating your prioritized To-Do list, create a separate list of things you will not do so you can maintain your commitments and complete your To-Do list. It may seems silly to write down items you don’t plan to do. However, it’s been my experience that the items we don’t plan to do take up the most time.
Michael D. Alligood,
Partner Communications Manager
ExchangeDefender | Shockey Monkey