I have always been a fairly obsessive list-maker. Over the years, I have found that what drives me is a completed list. When I was younger, I would sneak in extra lines of what I just worked on and then cross them off, feeling very accomplished. Lists can be powerful, but only if they are well organized, prioritized, and manageable. This is much easier said than done. At the request of one of the developers on our staff, he wanted to know how I managed my time and moved ahead with bigger goals in the business despite all the little tasks that keep popping up each day. I have a system, and when I am really following it, I actually can get a lot of productive work done. But I am curious about your systems too, so I hope this sparks a dialogue.
Not everything needs to get on the list. Stick to the two minute rule. If you can do it or delegate it appropriately in two minutes, don't put it off until later and put it on the list, just do it now. Sort through the mail, forward that email to the correct staff member, run that report quickly, answer the email on the subway between stops. Many of our tasks are quick items that are better to just get done at the moment one is thinking about it. Thanks to Jennifer Berson for the inspiration. This has helped me reduce how much ends up on my list and allows me to get it done.
Make the list and stop worrying about forgetting things. There are some nights that I am tossing and turning worrying about little tasks at work that need to get done as well as longer-term initiatives that I want to make sure I follow up on. I often get up in the middle of the night, add a few things to the list, and then once they stop flying around in my head, sleep comes much easier.
Prioritize the list. Santa has it right. He makes his list and checks it twice. For me, this is about prioritization. You check once to get things on the list and then you check twice to really think about the importance and value each item has on that list. I have a ritual twice a day. At the open of business or when I first wake up, I check my list and I review the priorities for the day. This gets me motivated to work. At the close of business, or admittedly sometimes right before I go to bed, I look at what is coming up in the list (due dates help me keep upcoming items organized) and order my priorities for the next day. The developers commit to their sprints on our teams. I commit to my mini-sprints each day.\ \ My list often look like a few quick and urgent tasks to get me in the groove the first hour of the day and then a big task that adds business value (like a blog post, or fleshing out a marketing initiative) followed by a few more important items that are less urgent. If I need to stay very focused for a block of time, I block it off in my calendar as well, hibernate in a conference room, or work from home part of the day so it just gets done. I align my priorities with the goals I have for the business. I try to spend at least half of my day addressing the big-picture important items each day and less time on the urgent but not business-critical items. This provides clarity and a real sense of accomplishment as the business moves forward tangibly over time. When I was younger, the longer the list, the better. Now, it's the quality of the list that gets accomplished that I appreciate.
Be realistic. This, along with strategic prioritization, is the most important thing for me to remember. Each day is filled with some meetings (planned and unplanned), many quick conversations, and a new list of requests, some of which are urgent. I found that I was regularly checking off half my list and feeling defeated. This went on for months. Having a list that is perpetually unrealistic is defeating. My morale was low, and I wasn't getting to the important things fast enough because the daily list was too long. I cut it in half. Now I am checking off the same amount, but the important items get prioritized and done, and I feel so much better at the end of each day. I am consistently more enthusiastic about my job and work harder to get the shorter list done than get a few more tasks through a list I couldn't finish. I realized that I can't keep my day interruption-free. That is a large part of my job, to be available to my staff and remove blockers quickly with them. And new requests will keep coming in. I adjusted my planning to accommodate for the few extra unplanned items that may need to make it on the list each day.
What is my preferred listing application? I use Asana for most work things. Asana works great because I can assign or switch my tasks to other admin staff, and they can just toss the recurring ones back to me or someone else while on vacation so we don't forget. I like how I can put due dates on items and they magically appear in my to do list for the day when they are due. I have created an Active and Waiting section to the Today list. When I get my part done and I am waiting on a response from a client or to hear back from the team on an issue, I move the item into the waiting short list and carry on with my active list. I review the waiting list a few times a day to see if I need to follow up or if I can definitively check it off the list. The iPhone app is handy too.
So, no matter what type of listing software you use, or if it is on a piece of paper, remember to prioritize to move toward your goals, personally and professionally, and keep the list short. Happy Holidays from the whole team at Stack Builders and may your lists keep you merry and your work bright!