Join me in this week’s episode of The Productive Woman podcast as we discuss ways we can manage our ever-growing to-do list with simple and effective systems.
Using a simple to-do management system can help us stay productive
A lot of us struggle at times to stay on top of all the things we need and want to do. Some of this comes from the fact that most of us wear more than one hat and we have plenty of things to do in each of the roles that are important to us. As we discussed back in episode 215–Task Management 101, we face a couple of types of challenges:
- Keeping track of it all – As women, we often have not only our tasks to take care of but those of other people as well. We have to make sure the most important things get done–juggling multiple roles for family, home, job (and maybe a side hustle), volunteer projects, friends/social activities, hobbies and interests, and self-care.
- Taking on too much – We often have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, an unrealistic understanding of what we can do in the time available, and an unrealistic idea of how long tasks take.
In episode 215 we talked about the fundamentals of effective task management (check out that episode for more detail) and I thought this would be a good time to review those fundamentals.
1. Building the right habits- Anything that’s habitual uses a different part of our brain, leaving space for creative thinking elsewhere.
2. Understanding the key concepts-It’s important to distinguish between tasks and projects:
-A task can be done in one segment of time in one location with one set of tools.
-A project requires more than one step, one segment of time, a session of work.
-Your to-do list should have only tasks, which might (or might not) be organized by projects. For more info, listen to episode 130–What’s On Your To-Do List?
3. Understanding (and applying) the basics of the GTD (Getting Things Done) Approach- This is based on the teachings of David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done. The basic components of a high-functioning task management system are:
- Capture: Have a place to put everything you need to do and get it off your mind
- Make it easy – Have it with you and use a tool that makes it easy to get the task into your inbox (to be processed later)
- Be consistent – Always do it and put everything in the same place
- Go through all the emails in your inbox and put them where they need to be – categories, labels, deadlines, etc.
- Schedule regular brief times to do this – perhaps in the morning, afternoon, or evening
- Sometimes, the processing means deciding not to do it or not to do it until later
- Have effective ways to view your task list
- Block scheduling/batch processing
- Delegation: Maybe the things that need to be done don’t need to be done by you. Maybe you need a system to keep track of stuff you’re waiting for other people to do.
- Review: This is a key element of effective task management!
- Even if you’ve captured and processed your to-do list, if you never look at your list again, you don’t get to the “Do” step because you won’t remember.
I think the main thing when it comes to getting things done and being effective in managing our to-do’s is to rethink how you’re defining a productive day. It’s not about getting the most things done, but getting the most important things done. Only you can decide what those things are.
Let’s talk about setting up the simplest possible system for getting on top of your to-dos:
- Keep it simple – a notepad or notebook and a pen. Apps are awesome, and particularly handy if you move around a lot, but if the objective is to get immediate results, you can’t beat paper and pen. It’s readily and immediately available and has no learning curve.
There are two simple components to this system (this can work for personal or work-related to-do’s):
1. The mind-dump- Use it when you’re feeling like things are out of control. Set a timer and write down everything that’s on your mind. Don’t worry about organizing it or differentiating between tasks and projects; just get it all out of your head and onto paper. When you’re done with this, scan for anything that is an appointment or a day-specific event or activity that should get transferred to your calendar.
2. The daily or weekly to-do list- What goes on this to-do list will be pulled from the mind-dump page, but you do it on a clean piece of paper. This list will be your list for the day and will have three sections:
- Write down your ONE thing–your frog–something important that you’ve been putting off. Put it at the top of the list and do it first! Maybe it’s a phone call you need to make or an errand that needs to be done.
- Your top 3-4 must-do tasks (depending on how time-consuming each is). Remember, if everything is important, nothing is important, so make that executive decision on what truly needs to get done.
- The “nice-to-do” section–things you’ll do after you finish the primary things if you have time and energy available for more.
You can do the mind-dump and to-do list with an inexpensive spiral notebook or other notebook or notepad. But if you need somewhere to start, I’ve created a simple but usable printable To-Do List Template for the daily to-do list.
Now it’s time for the implementation:
- Do the mind dump whenever you feel the need; clearing your mind is so important.
- Cross things off as they get done (or as you decide not to do them!)
- Set your daily list up the night before if you can, so you can go to bed with a clear mind. Or as an alternative, do it as part of your morning routine.
- Be realistic–if you didn’t sleep well or were up in the night with kids or you’re sick or PMSing, this day may not be the day to choose a really big challenging thing for your one thing. Instead, choose something that’s achievable given your energy level, circumstances, and time available. (If this is your situation every day, put some thought into changes that will help you feel stronger and more energetic more often such as better sleep, better nutrition, more water, etc.)
- Do your ONE thing first. There is satisfaction and motivation in getting something important checked off first thing.
- Be consistent – commit to doing this daily for the next 3 weeks at least.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Resources and Links
- Episode 215-Task Management 101
- Episode 130-What’s On Your To-Do List?
- Off the Clock, by Laura Vanderkam
- Getting Things Done, by David Allen
- Eat That Frog!, by Brian Tracy
- To-Do List Template
The Productive Woman Planning and Productivity Retreat
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