Is your daily to-do list too long and out of control? Or have you simply given up trying to keep a current to-do list? Don’t give up; get your to-do list under control to compliment your time management strategies.
For starter, you need to understand that a to-do list is a “hot list” not a planning pad, wish list or long term idea planner. It’s not an epistle or journal, either. Your to-do list is for tasks that must be accomplished in 48 hours or less. For anything further ahead, use advance planning list or add the items to your day planner for the appropriate due date.
Start by writing down every task you need to complete on individual index cards. Get everything off your mind. Then arrange the cards in three piles: Must Do Now, Need to Do, Want to Do. The “Must Do Now” pile is the tasks that have to be completed in 24 hours. Go through each of the items again and decide which pile to put them under.
Take any “Must Do Now” items that could wait an extra day and place them on the next day’s to-do list. These are what some time management systems call the “A” level tasks. Next sort the “Need to Do” or “B” level tasks. These are important to do in the next day or two but not as imperative as showing up for a presentation or catching a plane.
Finally, deal with the “Want to Do” or “C” level tasks that could be done any time in the next several days. Some time management systems suggest that you toss out the “C” tasks or add them to a “Someday” list for when you have extra time.
Of course, that’s humorous since you need a time management system because you are already overscheduled. If you want to include these, just make sure they don’t serve as a distraction from necessary items. For example, you might enjoy surfing the net for collectible books but you don’t need to do that “C” item when you have an “A” list report due in four hours.
How many items can you manage on a daily to-do list? It depends on whether each item is a one step process or multi-step process. With complex tasks, you may only be able to reasonably complete 3 or 4 “Must Do Now” items in a day. As you are adjusting to this time management technique, make a note by each item about how much time you expect to spend on this task.
You can create a paper to-do list or one on your computer, just as long as it’s easily accessible during the day. When an item is done, cross it off, make a check-mark beside it or in some way be able to see what’s done from what needs to be done.
If you use an electronic to-do list, you can add color background for each level. The advantage of color-coding items is that you can quickly see how many yellow highlighted Must Do Now items are left compared with the green highlighted Need to Do items.
At the end of the day, transfer any remaining important items to the proper category on the next day’s to-do list. When you finish the day and see most or all of the “Must Do Now” items finished and crossed off your list, it’s a great sense of relief and motivation to keep your time management system working for you.
Always remember this: the whole essence of time management program is productivity. However you organize your to-do list, ensure that at the end of the day, you have made substantial progress toward fulfilling your short and long-term goals.
What matters is not how long your to-do list is, but how many of the items in your list are completed efficiently. Success only comes by having sustained and consistent successful days and weeks.