You arrive at work. You open your email. 52 new emails populate your inbox. The red light on your phone glows indicating you have new messages. There are more Post-It notes on your desk than there are paperclips. A pile a paper demands attention. And you are trusting your memory to recall the other 14 items you are responsible for today.
If the above scenario sounds all too familiar, you should use the 15 Minutes Per Day method to start your daily to-do list. If you have already used the Think On Paper strategy mentioned in the previous blog, this should be fairly easy.
Let’s jump right in by discussing 4 steps you can take to simplify your day. After reading this brief post, spare 15 minutes to give it a try.
- Select a calendar system you can trust.You should trust your system. Find a system that works best for you. It could be Outlook, Google calendar, a paper calendar, etc. Feel free to synchronize your calendars. The point is, you should have one (and only one) system that you can rely on and helps you better organize your life. No calendar = no organization.I prefer to use Microsoft Outlook to organize all of my daily tasks. I do not use the task list, however. I find it a redundant and unnecessary feature. Whereas, the calendar can hold all of the information (and documents) I need. In addition, if a reschedule is required, Outlook’s calendar feature makes it easy to make adjustments.Also, I make sure to leave 15 to 30 minute gaps between appointments. Why? For a bio break. After all, I am human. Sometimes, I need to go to the bathroom, stretch, refresh my coffee, communicate with some humans, etc. People who plan back-to-back-to-back meetings are doomed to failure from the start of the day. Leaving bio break gaps definitely makes my day less stressful.
“Remember to treat your calendar as sacred ground.”
Remember to treat your calendar as sacred ground. Any time specific actions or appointments are entered into the system. If your calendar gets cluttered by actions that could be carried out in other days, you will fail to achieve a realistic workload. A quick glance at your calendar should indicate actions you truly can complete in a day. Do not put on your calendar what you ‘hope’ to accomplish. Put what you ‘can’ accomplish. Keep it clean and simple.
- Determine your priorities.As I mentioned in a previous blog, it is impossible to get everything done. With that said, select your top 10 priorities. (Not sure of what you should start with? Ask your boss or team.)In our personal and professional life, new tasks creep into our schedule. Sometimes they are related to the original tasks and some other times they are random occurrences. When you are confronted with these tasks, ask the following questions:
It is important to realize that you don’t have to do everything that comes across your desk. By asking the above questions, you are putting the request into context and are asking yourself whether you really have to deal with it. Successful people have a great habit of knowing when to do an action themselves, when to delegate, and when to say ‘no’. Those who master this art are usually more successful than others.
- Number items according to the order in which you will handle them. Number your top 10 priorities in the order or importance. Indicate which items may need more time than others. Are approximately 2 out of 10 items on your to-do list the most important? Then do those first.The Pareto principle might apply. Named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, the principle states, roughly, that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.For example, vacuuming 20% of the carpet—the high-traffics zones—removes 80% of the dirt. Likewise, focusing on your top 2 priorities might eliminate a lot of other tasks sitting on your desk or inbox.I am all about transparency at work. I feel this is a highly effective work habit, one I will discuss in a later blog about acting like a professional. How does transparency apply to your to-do list? I simply love it when one of my direct reports hands me their to-do list to review. I can verify that they have their priorities straight and discuss adjustments as needed.
Likewise, if my boss or other colleague asks for my attention, I enjoy sharing my to-do list. I can say, “I do have some other priorities on my schedule today,” then ask, “May we discuss what I can juggle around to accommodate?” All too often, my team members (boss included) will determine that their ask is something that can be done on a later day or, better yet, delegated to someone else. Ah! Time management!
- Check off each item as it is completed.
DO NOT remove the item from your electronic calendar. Find another means to mark it as finished. Otherwise, how can you go back and celebrate your accomplishments?Carry off unfinished tasks to tomorrow’s list. And tomorrow start back at #1.If you follow this process you will have created your time log. My next blog talks about the practical benefits of keeping track of how you spend your time. Prepare to have less stress in your life.
Okay. So now I’ve left you enough time to start on your to-do list! Get to it.
(This blog series begins with 5 Mental Techniques to Master Time Management. And for more on my personal heroes, productivity tips, and articles on leadership visit 15 Minutes Per Day.)