Turbo-Charge Your To-Dos
A few months ago I found myself in a position that I’m sure many entrepreneurs find themselves in. I was working 10+ hour days and jumping quickly between disparate tasks. I was simultaneously working in quality assurance, technology consulting, project management, account management and sales as well as working as Setaris’ COO. With so much to manage, I was having a terribly difficult time remembering what needed to be done and by when. Even worse, when I reflected on my progress at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but feel as though nothing actually got done. If that doesn’t break the spirit, I don’t know what does.
Over the years, I’ve read a number of books on time and project management. The expert advice is that, in order to achieve optimal efficiency, I should provide my employees (and myself) with an environment that allows them to focus on a single project. As an owner of a young business, however, I find that I do not have the luxury of performing a single role and, while my engineers can often focus on a single project, the complexity of many of our projects rarely warrant a full time tester, graphic designer or user experience analyst. So, the single project ideal ignores the reality of the situations that many of us face. If we accept that reality, we’re left with these questions that I hope to provide some answers to: how do we end our days with a feeling of satisfaction and how do we make sure our time is put to good use?
In order to end your days with that feeling of satisfaction we all seek, we need to provide ourselves with definitive proof that we were actually productive. To put our time to good use, we need to construct realistic goals that can be met. Both of these terms can be met by maintaining a to-do list.
To be able to feel accomplishment at the end of the day, we’ll want our to-do list to be completely (or at least mostly) checked off by the end of the day. For a long time, I maintained a single list and I found that, at the end of the day, I had more unchecked items than I started with. I also accidentally delayed things things by arbitrarily placing new items on the list without first reviewing the items that were already there. To mitigate these problems, I moved to a two list model: one for the current day (i.e., the today list) and another for everything else (i.e., the later list). I’m excited to talk about some of the techniques I use for keeping my today list maintainable. However, I’ll leave that as fodder for later articles in the interest of keeping this one brief. For now, let me present this list of simple rules that will help to make your days more manageable and, ideally, more fulfilling.
- At the beginning of each day, construct your today list using items from your later list. Be realistic about what you can accomplish and start small. It’s always good to under promise and over deliver.
- If something comes up and you need to complete a given task on that day, go ahead and put it on your today list. Remember, however, that your today list already reflected a full day’s work. So, you’ll need to remove tasks so that your list remains realistic. While I’m sure we all wish we were starring in Out of This World, the reality is that we cannot pause time and only have so many hours in a day.
- Do not let yourself be bothered by e-mail, Twitter, Facebook or the like while you’re working on a task. Leave that stuff for between tasks. If it’s a long task, planned breaks are fine but maybe you should stand up and stretch instead. Believe me, Facebook will be there once you’re done and you can make your social time a mini-gift for having been so productive.
- When you’re dealing with e-mail, try not to spend more than a couple minutes on a given message. If it’s going to take longer, add a task to one of your lists. If you add a task to your later list, I recommend that you let the sender know that you got the message and intend to respond within the next couple days. They’ll appreciate that.
While we can make this whole process much more complicated, I urge you to remember that a simple process is a maintainable process. Only once these steps are second nature does it make sense to add complexity. And it only makes sense to add complexity if you expect a commensurate return. So, give it a try and let me know how it goes. Good luck!