Time Management Tip #1: Have a To-Do List that WORKS!

Jan Zaragoza’s Time Management Tip of the Month

From her workshop:

Managing Chaos! Tools to Set Priorities & Get Things Done

What is the main way not to just have a to-do list, but to have a to-do list that WORKS?!

(First of all, if you don’t keep a to-do list every day at work, you’ve got to start! This is what keeps you focused, keeps you from following the shiny ball of whatever crosses your desk or pops up in your email, and allows you to accomplish what you need to accomplish. It’s your plan for the day. It might change as the day goes on, and that’s OK, but you have to have a plan.)

Alright, so you have a list, now what is the biggest mistake people make with their to-do lists? Answer: They don’t have the items on their list broken down into manageable tasks. A task on a to-do list should not be: “Write report.” “Do performance appraisals.” “Clean office.” Why?

THESE TASKS ARE TOO LARGE. You’re going to procrastinate because you don’t know where to start. Each item on your list should be a manageable task. It should be the NEXT STEP in your project or task, not the project or task itself.

As time management guru David Allen writes, “Your list should consist of your clearly defined next actions.” (David Allen also says — which I love — “A to-do list should be an inventory of the REAL WORK to be done, not an ‘amorphous blob of undoability.’ “!!!)

This is one of people’s biggest downfalls in getting things done. They don’t know what their very next action should be. For example, rather than “Clean Office”, what should be on your to-do list is the FIRST STEP in cleaning your office. Maybe it’s buying file folders. Maybe it’s clearing out a certain pile, or drawer, or shelf. Maybe it’s putting together a plan of what order you are going to clean things out. But “Clean Office” is not an item that should be on your to-do list. It’s too big (and too vague).

Another example: Rather than having on your list: “Do report”, you should have the steps you need to take to complete this report. This may change as you do the project, but get down what you know. Who do you have to call? What figures to do you have gather? What software do you have to learn? What meeting do you have to call? Then, what will you do first, second, and so on. And, finally, how many of these steps will you do today?

So that’s your ACTION ITEM for today: If you begin breaking down your to-do list into manageable tasksfirst steps — you’ll see an immediate decrease in your procrastination and increase in the important tasks that you get done!

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