Worse than herding Cats
I admit it. To my thinking, one thing is worse than herding cats. It’s wrestling with the things I have to do. In my world, a To Do List can quickly get overwhelming. It can be filled with things I don’t know how to do, little things that are labor intensive, and too many things that are unrelated yet need getting done in the same time period. It always seems that part of the list is extremely URGENT and can’t wait for my learning curve. I can’t get to done that way.
How to Master an Overwhelming To Do List
To Do items are in the flow of things when there are only a few. When there are many, I have to get out of the details to where I can see to move them into a organizational groups. These are key steps to mastering a To Do List.
Every item I write begins with a verb. When appropriate, they begin with “Learn to” to remind me that they need more time and more steps.
- Brain dump. Write all of the items down a list in any order. Do it first thing in the morning, or last thing — to be able to hit the ground running when a new day begins. Get them out of your head and on paper or on computer. A spreadsheet works nice. It allows one item per box, and they’re easily movable.
- URGENT Sort. Group those things that are URGENT. Define URGENT as something of high consequence will be impaired, if this action does not happen in the next 24 hours. Calculate the amount of time these actions will take. If the time to do them is less than the time you have, get help now. Set the rest aside until the URGENT list is under control. Looking for URGENT items should be routine. Finding them should be rare.
- Action Sort. Sort all projects three ways to get things done. Group actions that are better done together. Two criteria rule this step: time sensitivity and power to make things happen.
- HOT List. Sort everything about the most time-sensitive (HOT) project. List all related actions that need to be executed in the next 2-3 days. First apply these two questions to the HOT project. Then apply the questions to the whole list you have made.
- What can I do in a few minutes that will get someone else working when I move on to the next item? List these so that you can do them first. Two people working move two parts forward.
- What similar things can I do in series to save time? List like activities together, if doing them that way will save time. Blocking time to make all phone calls or writing all email related to the HOT project can save bundles of time. When is the best time in your day to do each type of task?
- Quick Hits List. Sort short 5-10 minute tasks that are not HOT!! but need to be done in a timely fashion. This list is one to keep close. When a few minutes open up, or a piece of writing gets stuck, you’ll be able to grab the list to move something forward. Then switch back to regularly scheduled programming.
- To Do List. Sort the remaining items. List them by their importance and time sensitivity. Then schedule them into the next 2-3 days.
Attend to the HOT List immediately. Attend to the Quick Hits as time opens — carry it with you to take advantage of opportunities wherever they arise. Attend to the To Do List when you have scheduled each item. Turn off interruptions when you’re working. Revisit your plan every morning to sort, list, and schedule the day.
You might think that three lists are more work than one, but in fact, three shorter lists allow focus and save time when scanning for the next thing to do. The key, of course, is to list everything that needs doing and doing everything on the lists.
Did I just confuse you?
–ME “Liz” Straus
To follow the entire series: Liz Strauss’ Inside-Out Thinking to Building a Solid Business, see the Successful Series Page.