I have always been a list maker.
When I was a child, I used to play a cleaning “game” with myself using a deck of cards. I would make a list of what I needed to clean, and assign each chore to a specific card. Then, I would draw cards to determine which tasks to complete first. For example, drawing a King might mean that I needed to put away my laundry.
This “game” may not have been the most efficient method for cleaning, but it did encourage me to be productive. I made a list of what I wanted to accomplish, and then I accomplished the tasks one-by-one.
As an adult, I have stopped playing the cleaning “game”. I no longer use a deck of cards, but I am still a list maker. I know that lists do not work for everyone. Some even advocate that lists harm productivity.
Lists do, however, work for me. I have used lists both professionally and personally, and I follow a few general principles to make my to-do lists more effective. My principle are as follows:
List Items by Day in Order of Importance:
James and I use to-do lists in our personal lives. On a weekly-basis, we sit down and plan out our week. We map out all of the items that need to be completed, and assign them to a particular person. The list itself is ordered by date. We also break out tasks into categories to see how much time we devote each week to different tasks. Examples of categories we use include: work, leisure, dog-related, household, etc.
From a professional standpoint, I integrate my to-do lists with my work calendar. It is very important for me to consider the length of time each project will take, and its level of importance. An effective work to-do list should consider priority (or due date) and time commitment required. I also generally schedule when I plan to work on a project on my work calendar.
Break Tasks into Manageable Pieces:
From a professional standpoint, I often did this when I worked in public accounting. Frequently, I had large projects that I needed to complete. To make the projects less overwhelming, I would break the project up into smaller, more manageable pieces. For example, instead of listing a task as “complete business registration”, I would list each component of the registration process individually on my to-do list.
From a personal standpoint, I break projects into smaller tasks. Instead of writing “clean house”, I will list individual tasks (within reason) that need to be completed. Common tasks include: cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming, etc.
Include a Few Easy Tasks:
1 + 1 = 2
I find it encouraging to have a few easy tasks on my to-do list. It feels good to cross something off, and it sometimes gives me momentum!
Have a “Future/Upcoming” Section:
I don’t generally do this for personal to-do lists, but I find it is very important for work-related to-do lists. As a public accountant, planning billable time was very important. It was also important to complete projects in a timely manner. So, each week I completed a weekly plan of work that mapped out my billable and total working hours. I also had a section for upcoming projects that listed the due date and expected time commitment.
Prepare it Electronically and Be Flexible:
I find it best to complete my to-do lists in an electronic format. The reality is that life happens and things change. Your priority ranking may change. Your calendar may change. Thus, your to-do list may need to change.
I found this to be a frequent occurrence in public accounting. I would often have client emergencies that would change how I allocated my time during the week. I would review my weekly plan of work, determine what needed to happen based on the due date, and then prioritize my work accordingly.
Why Use a To-Do List?
For me, a to-do list is a visual representation of my week that allows me to plan, prioritize and feel a sense of accomplishment as the week progresses. – Kristin
Are you in favor of lists? If so, how do you use them?
If you are opposed to lists, how do you manage your time?