When you approach your desk on a Monday, are you faced with a tangled clutter of papers, cryptic notes about things to do and a mass of post it notes all stuck together? Do you spend half an hour sorting everything out before you can even begin? Trying to remember where you were at with tasks you didn’t have time to finish?
There is another way. All you need is a notebook and pen. Old School but it works for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that you recall more if you physically write it down.
So, are you ready to begin getting a handle on your workload and smash your To Do List every week? Get hold of a cheap notebook, Filofax, diary or fancy-pants planner, what you use is up to you. The important thing is how you use it. Personally, I like the book to either fit on a stand out of my way, or sit flat on the desk, out of my way. I don’t want to waste time messing with the book to make it stand up, stay open or get out of the way of my mouse.
Divide the page into two down the centre. One side for appointments. The other side is for your To Do list. If you are using a Filofax with day to a page inserts the page is divided into time slots already making your planning even easier to do.
If you are just using a notebook, scribble the appointments in time order on one side. Make a page for every day of the week.
Now you know the shape of your week and the shape of each day and can see which days you have time to do time consuming tasks and which days you need to schedule quicker wins and you can take that into account on your To Do list. Add tasks to the days, taking account of deadlines and priority.
Large tasks are best broken down into smaller elements because otherwise you will never feel you will have time to tackle them.
Small tasks can be grouped together, particularly if they are similar, and tackled all in the same time slot.
I like lined paper in my books and a good trick is to write your To Do list on every other line initially. This gives you space to add incoming tasks between the planned ones in order of priority if your day gets really busy.
For every task, estimate a realistic timescale. Will it take an hour? A day? A week? Allocate a timescale to each task and then quickly tally up to check you don’t have more tasks than you have hours in the day. If you do, move some of the tasks that aren’t time critical to another date.
Don’t forget to allocate time for personal stuff. The dog still needs to be walked and both it, and you, need to eat. Maybe you go to yoga on Thursday, or really want to watch your TV serial at 9pm. Put these down too. A To Do list is not confined to work. We are all well rounded people who have interests we want to pursue and these can, and should, have time allocated to them.
It’s a live document and it’s there to keep you on track. So check back each time you finish a task and cross it off the list (so satisfying). Pick the tasks from your list in order of importance. It can also be helpful to highlight the key tasks that you absolutely must do that day. This can help you stay focused on the important items.
Setting the timings and prioritising tasks is the key to getting the most critical tasks done. Every list has something on it that is a nice to have but not critical. Try asking yourself whether the task will bring you money, spark joy or cause an issue if it isn’t done. If it doesn’t do any of these things should it be done at all?
It can take a little while for you to find your rhythm. At first you will probably underestimate how long some tasks will take. Once you get better at setting the timings for tasks your plan will become more accurate and effective.
And guess what? No one completes all of their To Do List. If you achieve 80 – 90% of it, and that percentage includes the critical tasks, then you are winning.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed by tasks then you may be reaching the point where it is time to outsource some of the routine, time-consuming tasks. By reviewing your past To Do Lists you can often see a pattern; certain tasks will be moving from list to list, week to week without getting done. These are the areas that people benefit from outsourcing. And of course, if the tasks that are not getting done are admin-related, you can always get in touch with me to discuss ways you can streamline or outsource tasks so you can concentrate on generating income rather than paperwork.