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TO-DO lists are typically looked at with angst. We detest the very sight of them. They are distressing and endless! However, for most of us, to-do lists are also indispensable. They keep us on track and ensure we do get things done. If you want your TO-DO list to be a productive tool, though, you need to keep it manageable.
The question then becomes: How do you trim your TO-DO list?
The wrong thing to put on your list
If you want to tame your TO-DO list, you must remove repetitive items. When you stop entering tasks on your list that you complete on a regular basis, you will see your list shrink dramatically. Culling your list in this way makes your TO-DO list become your welcome friend rather than fearful foe.
Removing the routine items
Cyclical tasks happen on a cycle. For example, you might prepare a program schedule every week and review your budget once a month. These intermittent, but regular items do not belong on your to-do list. Routine items should instead be entered into your schedule.
Book appointments with yourself
Most leaders only use their agenda for meetings and appointments with others. They may list other things they need to do during the day in their agenda, but only as bulleted points. What I am suggesting instead is that you enter routine items into a time slot in your schedule with a beginning and ending time. The routine task should be entered into your schedule as an appointment with yourself.
The dreaded monthly stats task
Let me give you an example. Many managers need to do monthly statistics and quarterly reports. This means that every month you pull together a bunch of charts, forms, and spreadsheets. Laying them all out on your desk, you compile data into a report that goes off to the powers that be.
For most leaders, this data compilation is not a fun task. Leaders put it off and delay doing it until the last moment. I venture to guess that most leaders tend to get it done by either staying late or finishing it on the weekend.
This chore gets done on a manager’s own time because the manager never placed it a priority. Oh, I know they may put it at the top of their TO-DO list! But that didn’t mean it came before other fires needing put out. Since the monthly statistical collection wasn’t put in as an appointment, it did not get completed during the regular daytime hours.
Move it from TO-DO list to your agenda
These kinds of routine things need to put into your agenda. You need to schedule a regular appointment with yourself to get done the things that need to get repeatedly done.
Set it up as an appointment
But what if something more important comes up?
If something else comes up and you can’t do the task during that time, then you need to rebook the time.
If you erase it, then you must replace it.
Rebook it if you can't do it
That means if you cannot do the work when you said you were going to then you must find another time slot in your calendar to replace it with. Again, routine tasks should not be something that you then take home with you for homework.
A manageable looking TO-DO list
What this leaves is a manageable TO-DO list for you to prioritize. It won’t be quite as scary to look at the items left. When you have 20 minutes of time, you can scan the list and see what can be done.
Remember to schedule routine tasks
Keeping your TO-DO list to a manageable size requires you to be mindful of what you enter on to it. Schedule routine items into your agenda. That way regularly occurring tasks will get done on time. This will also leave your TO-DO list smaller, more inviting to scan and way easier to keep up with.
How many items did you move from your TO-DO list to your schedule? Does your TO-DO list look more manageable now?
My book is out!