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“The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” - Stephen Covey
When you work in an office setting, there is one office supply you will see in nearly every workspace – the sticky note. Almost everyone you work with will have a few of them hanging off their monitors or lined up on their desks. You might even be the person who scatters them up throughout pages of your notepad as ideas come to you.
I have been guilty of keeping sticky notes longer than I should. I used to use them for every idea that would come into my mind which I wanted to enter into my task management system.
The problem is sticky notes lose their “sticky” after a while. And they tend to get lost. Even if you tape them to something, they never seem to stay where they belong. I used to keep them for all kinds of reasons.
Then one day, I realized it was time to stop. You and I cannot keep sticky notes full of ideas, thoughts, contact information, and other important info all over our desks, computers, and walls. Clutter never leads to productivity.
What’s more, we have better programs, systems, and ways to manage all of this information. We need to focus on keeping information organized.
When I started with my current company, I learned how all of our notes, contact information, and important items go right into our company’s designated software program. And anything that didn’t fit in there was added to Microsoft Outlook.
I complied with the traditional methods of use for Microsoft Outlook for the longest time:
· Calendar Appointments
· Unimportant Tasks
· Contacts I never really needed
For years, I struggled with the best ways to use these programs to increase my workflow. But one day it all started falling apart and blowing away like sticky notes in the wind.
Most jobs provide basic tools to help you get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. If you aren’t familiar with such tools, there are a lot of different programs available. However, whatever options you choose, we need to learn how to use them efficiently.
In this chapter, I want to share a few tips to use your tools to the fullest and stop trying to remember everything on your own.
The Productive Task List
We live in a digital age. We can have large amounts of information at our fingertips. We can buy a hundred books and keep them all on our tablets. They no longer take up space on huge bookshelves. And so we buy hundreds of books!
While looking at the old task management software on my computer from a few years ago, I counted all the tasks I had entered into this application. There were over four hundred tasks recorded. More than half were supposed to have been completed the month which I stopped using the program!
If I was listing those tasks on paper, it would have taken several pages of legal sized paper. And that was only one month. Task management software even has the ability to create subtasks, items that no one really needs to list.
However, because the program allowed it, I created those extra tasks, too. Almost all of those four hundred tasks had at least two to three subtasks.
If I put each task and subtask onto an index card, I would easily have a thousand index cards. And the thought of so many cards and tasks being left undone or needing prioritization can cause me a minor panic attack.
In order to create a task list which encourages us to get things done and be productive, we need to change our thinking about lists.
To Do vs. Task List
The phrase “to-do list” should be retired. Thinking of a task list in this way makes everything on the list sound like a far off adventure which we will get to someday. However, when we create to-do lists, they are not to complete tasks someday, we intend to complete them in the here and now. And so, to-do is not an accurate way of describing our lists.
On the other hand, when we keep a “task list,” we plan to complete tasks throughout the day, and we can always refer to what needs to get done. Our list is comprised of important things we need accomplish for our end goal.
In order for your task lists to be effective, there need to be a few different task lists. These different lists help us to get things done daily, weekly, and monthly.
Monthly, Weekly, Daily
After hours of research and personal experimentation, one of the best systems for task lists focuses on a three list system. They come in the form of monthly, weekly and daily lists. This system is like three buckets. A large bucket, a medium bucket, and a smaller bucket. The tasks which fill the largest bucket, drip into the other buckets in order that we get them done.
The first list or bucket we work with is the Monthly Task List. It is where you keep everything you NEED to do or MUST do in the month. Not what you WANT to do or SHOULD do for the month. It matters because we focus on Important (Need) and Urgent (Must) tasks.
At any given time, there should be about 20-50 tasks on your monthly list. Remember, these are focused, next action tasks. If you have a big project that takes months to plan, then the use of a monthly task list focuses on your next actions for the month.
You may keep all the tasks that extend beyond the month somewhere else, however, your monthly, weekly, and daily lists are not the place for them. Tasks which are kept over a period of months can be kept in a special project list or with your project materials, but not in these lists.
The second list or bucket is the Weekly Task List. These come from the monthly list and are the tasks you are going to complete in a week. This list may have 10-20 tasks at any given time. This helps us focus on what we need to do on any particular week without overwhelming us with the rest of our tasks from the monthly bucket.
The third list or bucket is your Daily Task List. It is your top three to five tasks plus three to five additional support tasks that are necessary for other aspects of your day. There should be no more than 10 tasks on this list. This list drives the thing you need to accomplish and provides evidence to you at the end of the day that you are being productive.