Just as people are different, so are the time management techniques that work most effectively for them. We review the merits of a de-cluttered to-do list, and the alternative of scheduling rather than listing.
Quick takeaways if you’re in a hurry
- To-do lists are really good at capturing everything that needs to be done, but they need to be proactively managed to make sure they don’t grow out of control
- Simple de-cluttering techniques can make your to-do list reflect your company’s goals
- Scheduling allows you to focus on individual tasks and take into consideration the time required to achieve them
- Scheduling works well if you apply it to everything from major to minor tasks, and take the time to schedule in personal commitments as well.
Read on: Which time management techniques are right for you?
(estimated reading time: 8 minutes)
Being productive requires you to do more than simply list everything that needs to be done: it also requires that you find better ways of focusing on the things that matter. Running a to-do list can often feel like you are listing out everything that you aren’t achieving, rather than focusing on what you are. So how do you improve the effectiveness with which you manage your outstanding tasks?
We’re going to look into two time management techniques and explore how they can be used to improve your productivity. Your to-do list is a great tool for listing out everything that needs to be done, but it can become too long, too detailed, and too difficult to achieve. We look at the positive impact that de-cluttering can have. In contrast, scheduling into a diary the tasks that need to be done ensures that they are given both the focus and the time needed to complete them. We explore the importance of scheduling as a task management tool.
The to-do list as a tool is loved because it provides the ability to capture in one place everything that needs to be done. The problem is that without careful management it can expand beyond your ability to achieve it. A to-do list needs to be reviewed regularly to make sure you give priorities to the tasks that matter, and manage off your list the ones that don’t.
A de-cluttering exercise
Like everything in life, to-do lists become zones of clutter if they are not regularly reviewed and cleared out. Carrying out a de-cluttering process can make managing your to-do list much easier.
The first stage in de-cluttering your to-do list is to bring your focus back to your company’s goals. You can use your company’s business plan to make this really targeted. Avoid going into too much detail for tasks you haven’t yet begun – you can break them down into individual actions once you start working on them.
Remove it from your list if it’s not important
It’s important to regularly review your to-do list so that you can remove any tasks that should no longer be on it. Their importance could have changed because they have dropped in relevance, or perhaps they can be deferred to a later date. Don’t let guilt get to you when you carry out your review. If you feel a task should be given more focus then prioritise it up your list and work out what needs to be done to make it happen.
The art of delegation
Delegation is an important part of successful business. If you don’t have your own staff to delegate to then you can look to your wider business network; i.e. consultants and external partners. Your to-do list is an important part of the delegation process. If you don’t have either the right skills and/or the time to get things done then you can investigate delegation as an alternative.
Be positive about the process
If your to-do list has become longer than you would like, and you’re having to perform a cull, don’t let yourself feel negative. Referring back to your business plan will help you to reflect on the positive impact that some additional focus will have. You will be both confirming your priorities and focusing your energy on the tasks that matter most to your business.
Running a to-do list works well for many business people. However others can become frustrated by time management techniques that don’t capture the amount of time a task will actually take.
Why not schedule your tasks?
If you’re challenged by the failings of the to-do list then you might like to schedule your tasks instead of listing them. Scheduling not only allows you to capture the things that need to be done, it also allows you to allocate the time in your diary to make it happen. If you find that your top to-do list items can take so long that the urgent is often reprioritising the important: then you might like to look into scheduling.
Break your time down
If you make the decision to schedule your tasks, the first step is to break your calendar down into small blocks. Most scheduling tools will break your time into 30 or 60 minute slots, so you will need to adjust this. To maximise the time available in your day you will want to drill down further into blocks of 15 minutes or less. This will put a focus on being more efficient in your use of time. Meetings don’t need to last an hour if they can be completed in 45 minutes.
Save time for what’s important
Now that you’ve set your schedule to think in small chunks of time, it’s time to start populating it. Start by entering the events with the highest priority, and remember to think across both your personal and working life. It’s important to make sure that you prioritise the piece of work that will yield the biggest rewards for the business, and it’s likewise important that you don’t miss your anniversary dinner because you scheduled in a phone call instead of leaving the office on time.
Fill your calendar
One of the benefits of working from a schedule is that you can allow yourself to focus on individual tasks with fewer distractions. When you fill your calendar take some time to think about when your highest energy time of the day is (usually morning) and reserve this for the more challenging tasks.
Then you need to take time to schedule everything into your day. This isn’t just a tool for large jobs and meetings. The power of scheduling comes from your ability to structure your time and avoid wasting time on small or unimportant jobs. These small jobs – checking and answering emails, making phone calls, etc. – can take a short time individually but can cumulatively suck up a lot of your day. If you adopt scheduling you can plan in to check your emails at set times of the day, and timetable exactly how long you want to spend responding to them. All of which allows you to prioritise spending the majority of your day on the tasks that matter and have the biggest impact on your business.
Keeping a record of outstanding tasks can be very challenging. Different people find that different techniques work for them: there’s no right or wrong way to stay in control. If you find a to-do list works for you, then why not take time to regularly de-clutter it. It will help you stay focused on actions that drive your business forward and delegate tasks away where possible. If, however, you’re tired of your to-do list and need an alternative: take a look at scheduling. Adding in the dimension of how long a task takes could be just the change you need to get your to-do list on the right track. Or perhaps you might like to explore combining your to-do lists with scheduling and getting the best of both worlds?
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