Getting on top of your to-do’s

I was talking recently with a friend who commented that he doesn’t feel that he is achieving enough. He sat down at the start of the year and made a list of all the things he wanted to get done. This list included ideas for 2 new products and improving his skills. He is half way through the year and he realises he has made about 20% progress.

We talked through the list and his approach to completing the tasks. As we spoke, I made a number of suggestions to him about how he could improve. I think these suggestions will apply to many people so today’s blog post is focussing on tips for improving success at getting on top of your
to-dos.

1. Review how you are spending your time.

The key questions here include

  1. are you working on the important stuff. Stephen Coveys Urgent/Important Matrix is helpful here?
  2. are you doing stuff that would be better done by someone else eg admin tasks?
  3. are you working effectively – do you stop/start items; do you do match your work to the time of the day?

2. Prioritise

I often quote Jim Collins’ phrase “if you have more than 3 priorities, you have none.” The key thing is to identify for top three priorities for now. You should set these for a reasonable horizon – 8 to 12 weeks is a good timeframe. However, it depends on the size of your priorities. Maybe you need to break them down into bite size chunks. So if you have a large project, break it down into elements and decide what elements you want to achieve in the next 8-12 weeks.

3. Work a system

There are a lot of suggestions for systems out there – many of them quite complicated. But they all have a few key components.

  1. Declutter your head – dump all to-dos out of your head and onto paper or some system. Update the dumped list weekly. It can be useful to use a notebook or an app to record new ideas as they occur and save them for processing later. Your list will contain everything and will be big – essentials, nice to dos, sometime items etc. You can sort and process those later. For now, just record them.
  2. Identify your overall priorities for your selected time period keeping in mind that you will have no more than 3 priorities. You will still have day to day things to get done but they tend to look after themselves.
  3. On a weekly basis, schedule your week to allow time to work on your priorities while spending time on your other routine but necessary activities. You may want to work on your priorities for a little time every day or it may make more sense to block out a large amount of time on a single day to work on them. Decide on that at the start of your week. Decide what you really need or want to go done and schedule that. If you haven’t enough time for them all, decide on the priorities and consider if you can outsource etc.
  4. On a daily basis, schedule your day so that you make time for your priorities. Your day will be made up of meetings and calls and work on specific projects. Schedule your day so that you get to work on those tasks at the most appropriate/productive time for you.
  5. Mark off as complete the things you get done. This makes your progress visible and gives a great sense of satisfaction. Review your day and learn from it. Did you achieve all you wanted to achieve? If not, what should you have done differently?

This system can be made to work for you. You won’t stick to it all the time at the start. There will be time when something pops up that sucks you in but as you review the progress you are making with the system and you realise that working the system gets more done, you will find it easier and more natural to adhere to it.

Have you any comments on the above. It would be interesting to hear your comments and to develop a pool of best practice ideas/suggestions.

If you have any questions on this feel free to email me at jim(at)accountsplus(dot)ie.

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