Mastering Your To-Do List For Greater Productivity
It’s Monday morning and your weekly to-do list is already long enough to swallow up every hour between now and Friday. Your boss asks you to look at something else urgently, and then there’s your inbox. The to-do list, whether in digital or handwritten form, remains essential to daily productivity. So when things get busy, knowing how to plan and prioritise is crucial.
Get it all in one place
If you have some task notes jotted down in a notepad, sticky notes everywhere, some projects in your calendar and then a couple of other things somewhere up there in your short-term memory, it’s impossible to see clearly what needs to be done. Write down or type out every task that requires your attention and when it’s due, and then estimate the number of hours each will take. That way you have a starting point to see whether your workload is achievable in the time frame you have, and if so, what should take priority.
If you have a number of projects on the go and little idea how to approach them, break each down into bite-sized pieces, task by task. If you set yourself short-term achievable goals, you’ll experience less overwhelm.
Especially if you report to a number of people, or to external clients, you may find that you have competing or vague deadlines. Be very clear with everyone about your workload, and ask for clear and specific deadlines from them. If you have a lot of work from one boss, ask them to specify which initiatives take priority. Most managers will appreciate that you are considering the business’ needs and will welcome the chance to clarify, rather than have deadlines missed down the track.
Consider ‘passive time’
This will depend on your line of work, but when you’re looking at your list, consider which tasks may require some passive downtime. Perhaps you need to allow time for others to review or wait for results to be processed. In these cases, get the first step done as early as possible so that the work can go through that passive phase and you can get on with other tasks until it bounces back to you.
Build in a margin of error
It’s easy to trip up if your schedule depends on everything going smoothly. Deliverables change, flights run late, computer systems crash and people fall ill. It’s not always possible to deliver as expected, so give yourself some breathing room to allow for issues that are out of your control.
Once all of the above has been considered, build out your weekly schedule to keep accountable.
Review your priorities daily
If your work moves fast and you have multiple big projects on the go, priorities can change daily. Therefore, reviewing and reprioritising will be crucial for productivity. Tasks on your to-do list should be achievable within seven days. If an item has passed this expiry date, do one of the “3 D’s”: drop it, delegate it or do it right now.
Do you believe the traditional to-do list is still as relevant as it was 20 years ago? How do you manage your work load to ensure on time delivery and productivity?
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Entrepreneur, Informa