Recently I was working with a client, and at the end of the session I suggested we record some “to dos”. She grabbed a scrap of paper to write down what I suggested…and I balked. Little pieces of paper are handy for scribbling a phone message, wrapping up a piece of gum, or tearing into smaller pieces of paper for confetti. They are NOT good for “to do” lists.
Why not? There are a couple of reasons. First, we tend to lose them. We write a list in the kitchen, then get in the car and realize we left it on the counter. Or we write a list and then can’t find it in the paper piled up on our desk. They are small, easy to misplace, and easy to accidentally throw away. Secondly, they are inconsistent. One day we write on the back of an envelope, another day on a piece of scrap copy paper and another on a post-it note. The problem is, because our “to do” list is not an easily identifiable object, it is easy to misplace or forget. Third, scraps of paper are discrete and disconnected. Since our “to dos” are scattered on various slips of paper that we can’t find when we need them, we tend to keep starting new lists! The result is typically multiple incomplete lists scattered through our lives.
Here is a better solution:
1. Designate a “to do” book. This can be as basic as a composition book, all the way up to a fancy leather-bound planner. It can even be an electronic “book”, as long as it has the ability to have a “page” for each day.
2. Date the pages of the book. This is perhaps already done for you if you are using a planner or an electronic medium.
3. At the beginning of each day, review today’s list. If you have difficulty staying on track, prioritize your list and attack tasks in the order of priority (NOT the order of “what I most feel like doing”!) Another option is to categorize your list by noting which are calls, errands, computer tasks, etc.
4. During the day, as you work through your tasks, note your progress in your “to do” book. For example, a completed task gets a check or a filled in box. A task you have taken a step toward completing but now must wait on (e.g. you’ve left a voice mail), gets a different notation, such as a half filled-in box. Tasks that you decide during the day are not going to get completed get moved to another day (perhaps an arrow in your box). Some tasks you might cancel altogether, and they should get an “x” or other notation which indicates they have been removed from your list.
5. At the end of the day, review your progress. Move any uncompleted tasks (along with their notation) to the following day’s list. At this point, you will be looking at tomorrow and mentally getting ready for what is coming next.
This system is not only helpful with today’s tasks, but is ideal for handling what’s coming down the road. Many times you will need to remember to do tasks which are days, weeks or even months away. This system allows you to easily flip forward and assign them to the proper day. For example, you can flip 2 months ahead and remind yourself to schedule an appointment. Or go through at the beginning of the year and note all of the birthdays you want to acknowledge.
As you use this tool, in conjunction with your calendar, you will become more efficient with scheduling your tasks for days and times when you will be most productive.
What’s your system for keeping track of your “to do” list?