Yup, I’m one of those people who writes to-do lists even when on vacation. I like to think it’s because I take R&R seriously – my husband on the other hand thinks it’s neurotic.
Finger pointing aside, having control over our time places us in the seat of power of our work-life.
As you think through those words, keep in mind that leading an efficient life need not be restrictive or painful. I find that it can feel liberating. Simply because when you control your time, you own your life. For the skeptics in the room, I’ll admit that there are things that are outside everyone’s control. Think Warren Buffet. He’s the 2nd richest man in the world (or the first, depending on what day of the week you check Bill’s stock portfolio). Like many, he also couldn’t prevent getting stung by the recent market downturn. Even so, that’s not a solid reason for relinquishing all of your control.
Here’s an un-painful process that will help you to manage your time – and claim control over your work-life:
1. Identify. What’s keeping you from achieving the important things at work? List every interruption you can think of, self-inflicted and otherwise. Is it a compulsion to check your inbox every 5 minutes? Are you taking longer than you should to get things done because your desk is a mess? Is it client phone calls that you could batch for a certain time during the day – and reduce the stop-and-go? Is it a chatty colleague who insists on being a time-leech? Just because your time is slowly (but surely) leaking away from you, does not mean that it’s not critical to stop it. Why wait for a haemorrhage to take action?
2. Dump. This a pre-to-do list. For some this could seem like a bad case of OCD. However, if you skip this step and jump straight into developing a to-do list, you risk ending up with a messy list – one which is hard to follow and one you may not feel inclined to refer to as often as a neat one. (think Zen garden vs Times Square)
3. Un-do. Make a list of things you need to stop doing. As important as knowing what you need to do, being aware of those dead-end things that you’re doing is important. Drop those bad habits – doing so will make room for ones that support your goals.
4. Prioritize. Now you know what needs to get done. It’s time to determine what’s most important and most urgent. Mark those as you’re A items. Then mark the important, yet less urgent tasks with a B. Finally, mark those nice-to-haves with a C. If at the end of this screening exercise you find that you have a disproportionately high number of A-items, it’s time for a dose of self-honesty. Review your most important goals. Which tasks support those? Which don’t? Those should not be marked A-priority.
5. Plan. Take a step back and identify which tasks may be clustered together. Which things can you take care of in one go? What needs to be done first?
6. Schedule. Now you’re ready to create a to-do list (ah, the moment I’ve been waiting for). Starting with the most pressing A-item, work down your planning sheet. Personally I find that numbering items on the list gives me more control over my time. If there are 50 things on my list, I like to know. If there are 10, I also like to know. Also, I tend to list the most challenging tasks first. Getting them out of the way takes away the edge from my day.
7. Remember. Keep your to-do list close by. Refer to it often.
8. Track. Check-off tasks as you complete them. It might be because I’m easy to amuse, but doing so gives me a rush, which actually energizes me to start working on the next task.
Now you can check-off ‘learn time-management’ from your to-do list.
That wasn’t too painful, right?