It’s always the same. When people want you to do one more thing, generally something that is more important to them than you, they suggest you do it right before you go to bed. I now start going to bed at 5 p.m. just so I can get all those last-minute things done by midnight.
A few of my coaching clients tell me that they hate writing to-do lists. The reason, they say, is that it is a roll-call of failure. Items that don’t get done reproach them daily for being lazy. Being lazy is not a bad thing. Often lazy people are very bright, and they develop smart shortcuts that help them accomplish things quickly, efficiently and with accuracy, giving them time to do what they choose.
How can you make “lazy” work for you? Take a look at that to-do list. It’s probably filled with big, clunky projects that you don’t want to do. Maybe a few small things that you can do quickly. So you do those. If you are like most people (including me), you’ll put a few things on that list that you have already done, or do automatically (like brushing your teeth), just so you can get something checked off.
1. Write down those things you need to get done. Big, small, write them all down. That will not only keep you from forgetting, but also take a weight off your mind. That alone makes a list worthwhile. I like index cards for this, so I can keep the list in front of me, but you can use whatever makes you feel comfortable. It is easier to use a piece of paper you don’t have to re-write constantly–a page you can move in your notebook.
2. Create the list at the end of the workday. It preps you for the next day, and is a good way to wind up your time in the office. You’ll set priorities while they are fresh in your mind.
3. Circle three things that have to get done. Just three. The things that make the most impact, have the highest priority, clear the widest swath of time in your day.
4. Take another 3 index cards. Writing just on the front, put one item on each card and jot down the steps needed for each. People you have to call, meetings to set, research to be done, things to look up. Some lists will have one item on them, for example, “Call Jason Pierce for article interview.” Others will have several steps. That’s it. Walk away from your office.
5. The next morning, once you arrive at work, pick up one of the three index cards and get to work. Don’t check your emails first. Checking emails is a sabotage of getting work done. Don’t take phone calls until you get the items on the first index cards done. If one of the items is to do an interview, pick up the phone and get it done. If you haven’t made an appointment, get that part done.
6. Once you have accomplished the steps on the first index card, you can look at your emails or pick up your voice mails. Don’t get sucked into your emails. Answer the most important ones, but if there is a task to do, it goes on your to-do list. Most people waste an enormous amount of time reading and answering emails in the order they receive them instead of in the order of importance.
7. Tackle the second index card before lunch and the last one by mid afternoon. Getting three items accomplished well and completely is not as common as you might think. You’ll have to fight off interruptions, the drifters who come in to waste your time, and the drama people who like to create emergencies so they can be heroes and solve them. Tell them you are busy right now. It’s true, and it works.
At the end of the work day, repeat the to-do list process. You’ll find your to-do list shrinking and your email list manageable. Many emails are simply people commenting on your emails because they feel they have to.
Once you get into the habit of doing three important things each day, and doing them well, you will find yourself less stressed, less crazy, and more productive.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who develops and teaches business communication courses. You can see her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008 All rights reserved. Image: Einstein’s to-do list: http://www.curiostudio.com