We have all had moments when we juggle so many tasks at once that just having to remember the time of day takes a huge amount of effort; and no matter how busy you were during the day, it feels like you hardly accomplished anything.
Enter the simplest time management tool: The To-Do List. Brilliant in its simplicity, easy to master, and keeping stressed people sane since 1921.
A word of warning before we proceed: Compiling a list of tasks could give you a false sense of accomplishment, since you’ve already written it down. This is only the first step; you still need to complete the tasks on your list. Do not let a To-Do list become a form of procrastination.
First, let’s have a look at the benefits of using lists:
Organizing your tasks helps you differentiate between the “done” and “not done.” In addition to saving time, you can also keep track of the important tasks that still need a plan of action.
Using an external memory aid, like a To-Do list, will help you to keep track of everything, and increase productivity since you don’t have the mental strain of having to remember everything.
Being mentally distracted means being inefficient, but having a to-do list means you can concentrate on the important tasks.
Second, when compiling a To Do List:
The 2 minute rule:
If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, do it now. There’s no need for tasks like these to go on the list, it will only lead to clutter and decreased productivity.
Big tasks seem overwhelming; break your task down into tangible pieces and be specific with regards to the actions you need to take, deadlines, etc. Even if your list gets longer, it will be more efficient and precise.
Compile a comprehensive list and divide it into the following categories:
- Projects: If I may use a personal example: Our Fleet department is busy with a Fuel Efficiency Project. All my tasks (obtaining quotes, company profiles, contact information) fall under this catergory.
- Events: Meetings, Deadlines, etc.
- General Errands: Any day to day tasks.
- Correspondence: Phone calls to make, e-mails to send, etc.
Alternatively, color code your tasks. As an example, when I use the task function in Microsoft Outlook, I assign all quotations as Green, Invoices/Expenses as Yellow, Urgent tasks as Red, and so forth.
Keep it updated:
Review your list(s) daily or weekly to keep track of your progress. Delete items that are no longer applicable, carry incomplete tasks over to the next day, and so forth. I set 15 minutes aside at the end of my day for list review. This way, I know exactly where to start the following morning.
Use a format you’re comfortable with:
Some people use good old pen and paper, or a note book. Alternatively, go digital. There are a variety of applications available that can be integrated across different platforms. Dropbox, Evernote and Remember The Milk can be accessed from your PC as well as your mobile device.
Don’t try to add everything that comes to mind on your list. Be realistic; cramming an entire month’s tasks into one day is not going to help you one bit. Rather, dedicate a section of your list to notes, thoughts, ideas, etc. Anything you don’t want to forget, but that isn’t a top priority task.
There are many different ways to use lists, play around and see what works for you. By utilizing a to-do list in one form or another, you will be more organized and stress free.