Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Taking your to do list from daunting to do-able

Recently we have looked at the benefits of and tips for mind mapping and list writing but we've not quite finished with this topic just yet, oh no, there is more...

So if you've brain stormed your ideas into a mind map or made a list of things you feel you have to get done, hopefully you're now feeling ready and motivated to get started and tick something off...brilliant...off you go!

But what if the feeling isn't one of eagerness to get going but m
ore one of "now I've written it down there's just so much to get done, I'll never get through it".  It's a list of things to do taunting you from the page, turning any scraps of motivation you had into a feeling of panic and anxiety.

So how can we manage our to do lists and make them, well...do-able?

Gini Trapani of Life Hacker suggests that there are two personalities involved in a to do list; 

your boss personality who is in charge of what instructions go on the list and
your personal assistant personality who is going to be actioning those tasks. 

Trapani reasons that if you write your to do list as if it's instructions directing someone else then you're less likely to be woolly and vague and more likely to create a list of clear, concise, do-able tasks ready to be actioned.

If your to do list is a mile long and you're feeling overwhelmed, have a look through my "daunting to do-able checklist".

Only put tasks on your to do list, not projects
David Allen, author of Getting Things Done clarifies "projects are not tasks; projects are collections of tasks".  For the sake of our to do lists, projects need to be broken down into tasks so that we only include items on our list which we're definitely going to do.  This also throws up the need to differentiate between plans and tasks.  Personally I plan at some point in the not too distant future to revamp the website for another venture I'm working on.  It's definitely something that needs to be done but it's a project not a task.  My boss personality needs to give this some more thought before I can give a specific task for my personal assistant personality to action.  It's a future project of mine that I have every intention of actually doing but at the moment it doesn't have any business being part of my to do list.  I do however have an "ideas book" where I freely jot down ideas, plans, blue sky thinking items but the difference here is that I'm not clogging up my to do list with these items.

Like me, you may well have grand plans like thinking I need to give the house a jolly good sort out.  However, writing "clear out the house" in my boss personality on my to do list may very well make sense to me at that point and I understand my rationale and aim, but for my personal assistant personality reading this later on it's very vague, it's huge and there's no actual task.  It would need to be broken down into specific tasks like "clear out the children's art draw to make space for their new arty birthday presents". This task has a start and finish point and a goal to achieve meaning I would get the satisfaction of knowing when I've finished the task.

Separate work and personal to dos
Not only is it a good idea to try and keep some separation between work and personal life for our own worklife balance but combining the two onto one list is surely going to create a rather long, unwieldy and possibly quite confusing list.  By all means have two lists and put both lists through this checklist but for the sake of your wellbeing and clarity of mind, keep them apart.

Add the needed details to complete the task
By adding the details needed to complete the task you're making this item on your to do list easier and most likely quicker to do.  So rather than  putting "phone dentist" on your to do list, try "phone dentist (01234 567891) to re-arrange check up appointment from 7th November to end of month".  It's all there, ready to do and ready to tick off.  Your Personal Assistant personality can get straight on with this task.

Use definite active verbs
Using active verbs tend to demand an action when on a to do list rather than hinting at what needs to be done.  "Print off a list of local personal trainers" is more specific and directional  and demands action than "have a look for a personal trainer".  "Email Julie in accounts for this week's sales figures" is more active enticing than "sort out sales figures".  "Find a new hairdresser" is vague but "text Kerry to ask which hairdresser she uses" is action ready.

Prioritise your tasks
Many to do list fans use Urgent and Important as a way of sorting out their to do list tasks into different prioritises categorising the tasks into one of the following criteria; Urgent and Important, Urgent but Not Important, No Urgent but Important, No Urgent and No Important.  Personally for me this crosses the bridge into being too complicated but if it floats your boat then go for it.  I tend to use a less scientific method of circling the tasks on my to do list I deem to have a high priority, two or more scribbled circles around a task means it's even more important or urgent!  It works for me.

Another idea favoured by some is the 1-3-5 method.  Look at your list and identify 1 large task, 3 medium sized tasks and then 5 little tasks which you feel are do-able in the time you have.  Be realistic.  You may need to play around with these ratios to suit your type of work.  The idea being that we can do anything but not everything.  Depending on how we work, we may favour tackling the biggie first so we've got a potentially difficult task under our belt first off. Or we might prefer to get the 5 smaller, quicker tasks in the bag first so we can tick off a higher number of items.  It's a case of trying it and seeing if it works for you.

Keep your list short
In the world of to do lists various numbers are battered around about the maximum number of tasks that should make up a good to do list.  Personally I don't really buy into a specific number because I think it depends on the type of tasks on your list.  We've talked about ensuring items on your to do list are tasks and not projects but still some tasks are bigger than others and will take longer to complete. Therefore we may still feel quite comfortable with a longish list if it contains numerous small, quick win tasks which we can whiz through and tick off.

So a rule of thumb, if it feels overwhelming then you've probably got too much on your list and you might want to see if you can delegate any tasks. Also ask yourself if there and any projects, ideas, aspirations or future plans that have sneaked on to your to do list trying to disguise themselves as tasks that need to be captured else where?

Weed out and update your list
Regularly making time to review your to do list focuses your attention and energies on the tasks and gives you the chance to clear out any tasks that have become unnecessary now.  Get rid of any dead wood and add in new tasks that have either cropped up or that are specific tasks from larger projects.

Celebrate your successes and achievements
We spend a lot of time focusing on what we haven't done yet and still have to do and quite often forget about all the fabulous things we've actually achieved and accomplished.  Prove to yourself how much you've done by moving completed items and tasks from your to do list to a "I've done it list".  Not only does this have a really great feel good factor which can motivate us to keep going but it's a very practical thing to do to.  We can use this as evidence to show our manager what we've achieved and how we've used our time as things can go unnoticed or get lost in a busy work environment.  It will also provide evidence of our achievements for appraisal purposes.  This is especially effective if we try and do this regularly.  It can be pretty tough trying to think back to what we did last February and still do ourselves justice without forgetting or missing something.

I'd love to hear your tips on making your to do list, do-able.  What works for you?

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