Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Using To Do Lists Effectively

Task lists for what one needs to accomplish (commonly called to do lists) are effective ways to track items and not forget anything.  However, there are a number of strategies to improve on this old standby in time management and work organization.

  1. Consider having multiple levels of the lists: a daily list, a weekly list, a monthly list, a master list.  The master list is for items that need to be done some time during this semester but which have no definite timeline or deadline attached to them.  The monthly list captures all the items that truly need to be distributed through the current month.  The weekly list brings into focus the items that must be completed in this limited 7-day period.  The daily list delimits what can realistically occur today to bring one closer to finishing the week's tasks.
  2. Include a realistic number of items on a task list.  It is very easy to include two or three times as many tasks on the daily list or weekly list as can be completed by even superhuman efforts within that time period.  Depending on the complexity of the tasks, limit a daily list to 7 - 10 items maximum.
  3. Prioritize within the task list.  Most people will designate items into three categories: most important, important, and least important.  I know some people who designate Categories A, B, and C or 1, 2, and 3.  Prioritizing focuses attention on the most essential tasks so one does not fritter the day on barely essential tasks. 
  4. When considering the priority category for a task, focus on an honest appraisal rather than whether you like or dislike the task.  Ask the following questions to help you determine priority: Is this task really necessary?  Does this task have a major payoff for the time involved?  What will happen if I do not complete this task?  What is the deadline (if any) for this task?  Can this task be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps?
  5. Decide whether personal and school/work items go on the same list.  Some people prefer to have separate lists for each category. 
  6. Save your lists for an entire week and analyze how you did.  If each day shows a multitude of unfinished tasks, then you may need to be more realistic about how many items you can accomplish.  You may also need to consider what interruptions or obstacles occur for completing the list if the number of items was realistic: phone calls, walk-ins, too much time on e-mails/texts/Internet.  Make adjustments to how you formulate your lists and how you manage your interruptions or obstacles.
  7. If you wake up in the middle of the night afraid you will forget something the next day, keep a pen and pad on your bedside table.  Capture the task for inclusion the next day on a task list.  Then go back to sleep without the worry of forgetting.

Task lists are just one way to keep on track with work.  The lists can be handwritten or completed with electronic software.  Use whatever method helps you be more productive.  (Amy Jarmon)



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