Being an avid planner and organizer, lists are a way of life for me. I keep grocery lists, packing lists, lists of restaurants to try, movie to see, and books to read. But the most important list of all is the to-do list. I’ve found that keeping a running list is what works best for me. I’ll add items as the week goes on, and roll over anything not done to the next week on Friday afternoon. Some people would rather list their items on a calendar, attached to specific times by which they’d like to get them done. Others still have little notes all over the house with random tasks listed.
The big question is less about how you maintain your list, but rather how to you tackle the items on your list.
There are several popular methods out there to help you clear that list in no time. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully something will inspire you to start checking things off and moving them from to-do to done.
Know Your ABC’s
…and 123’s. The idea behind this method is simple: brainstorm and list every single thing you have to do. Then, go back and notate each item’s important with an A (for extremely urgent items), B (somewhat important), or C (not as important). Then, go back again and rank each letter with A-1, A-2, etc. until everything has a letter and number assigned to it. Once you are done, you will have a clearer picture of the order in which you should complete things, and you should complete the items in numerical order, beginning with A-1.
The main problem I have with this method is that it can place more significance on what’s urgent versus what’s important. What I mean by that is, just because an item is “due” sooner, does not necessarily mean it’s the best use of your time to complete that item first. Also known as the “Eisenhower Principle,” urgent tasks normally help contribute to someone else‘s goals, while important tasks bring you closer to your own goals. Now, if you can use that notion when ranking tasks in the first place…
Eat the Frog
Originally published in 2001, Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracey changed the way a lot of people looked at their to-do lists. Is there an item or two that just seems to roll over from page to page, day after day, week after week? I’d like to introduce you to your frog. Are you guilty of this? Because I know I am. The goal with this method is to deal with that frog first. Do the thing you’ve been putting off doing, and then do the next most dreaded thing, and so on.
While this isn’t my favorite way to look at it, I find that I have unconsciously set up my schedule around this very idea. The tasks that I don’t enjoy very much are front-loaded in my day since I know that first thing in the morning is when I get the most done. Then once those less-than-desirable jobs are out of the way, I can spend the rest of my day working on things that I enjoy, and therefore take a lot less motivation – like writing and research.
If you’ve ever heard of or read any of Dave Ramsey’s stuff on finances, you’ve undoubtedly come across the notion of the “debt snowball.” In that, you list out every debt you have from smallest to largest and go right down that list in paying them off. It’s the notion that once you pay off that first little guy, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and motivation to attack the next one. When it comes to your to-do list, the initial listing is similar to the ABC method, but rather than tackling the most important item first (or your least favorite like with the Frog), you should begin with the quickest/easiest one to get done.
In theory, once you mark that first item as done, you’ll have more energy to devote to the next item, plus the confidence that you have already been able to get something done. Admiral William McRaven gave a keynote speech at the University of Texas at Austin that he recently adapted into a book called Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life ...And Maybe the World. Among several nuggets of wisdom, the idea of the titular point is that making your bed is a way to start your day with something accomplished right off the bat. This is the same idea.
What about YOU? How do you go about tackling your to-do list? Do you even have a to-do-list? What’s one thing you can get done right now? This week? How can I help you?