As I have written about before here, I like to use 3×5 note cards to keep track of the items I need to do each day.
One of the problems with this technique is that it’s easy to add tasks to the list without considering the time it will take to complete the tasks. I can add 10 hours’ worth of work to my to-do list quite easily, and without a plan, there isn’t any realistic hope of getting all that work done.
You likely use some form of a To-do list, and they are great task-capture tools. They do a fantastic job of getting open loops out of your head and into a system. They are terrible, however, at prioritizing those tasks, keeping you moving forward on your goals, and keeping you Effective.
Here are three steps I used to take those to-do lists and increase my effectiveness at work and home.
STEP ONE: Schedule Your Priorities.
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.Stephen Covey
Unlike many of my creative heroes, my daily work demands a tight calendar. As a full-time anesthesiologist in a busy tertiary hospital, I live in a task-driven, time-intensive environment. The days start early, and non-clinical tasks and meetings get wedged in-between patient care. Every hour needs to be spoken for each day.
When I get home from work, our children have their activities for their growth; they need encouragement, support, and what seems like, most importantly, transportation to and from.
You likely have more things to do than hours in the day. The first step to increasing your effectiveness in 2023 is to PUT YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS ON YOUR CALENDAR.
This one thing makes you:
- Decide if this task is more important than what is already on your calendar.
- Figure out how long this task is going to take to complete.
- It reminds you that there are some things that you may need to stop doing.
STEP TWO: Break large projects into smaller bites
When I would add a task to my list and I saw that it would take 2+ hours to accomplish that task, I quickly realized that I had very few 2+ hour blocks of time available on my calendar.
To squeeze that piece of work into my day, assuming it was important enough to bump other items, I would need to break it into smaller pieces of work to be done.
This forced me to think of the actual actions that make up that task and list them as separate 30min steps. Those smaller blocks of time were something that I could get done.
STEP THREE: Let Go of the Unimportant
About half the items that I write down on my notecards never get done. Either the task wasn’t that important, or there were other priorities that day or week. AND THAT’S OK!
I have found that many people have problems if they don’t get things done or don’t get to cross them off the list. I am here to say it’s OK.
Learn how to separate the majors and the minors. A lot of people don’t do well simply because they major in minor things.Jim Rohn
In my system, I have a separate note card for each day. At the end of the month, I go through my stack of 30 cards, and I put all the actions left to do in a master list in Evernote. This master list serves as a tickler file and historical reference for me. When I review the list at the end of the month, many of the items are still relevant and will get dealt with when they become a larger priority. Some were time sensitive and got scratched through, never to be done. I find that scratching through the items that were never important enough to get done is almost as satisfying as getting them done.
I’m a big believer in simplicity. Don’t make things more complicated than they have to:
- Put your priorities on the calendar. Low urgency but essential items like exercise and healthy meals are critical to include, or you will find they get out-competed by the urgent but unimportant.
- Break your projects into smaller Next-steps. Most careers don’t have the luxury of large blocks of time to accomplish their tasks. By breaking your priorities into smaller Next-steps, you make a big project more manageable and actually create time to get it done.
- LET GO of the unimportant. Many things in the day don’t “have” to get done. Get comfortable with letting minor things fall. Not every idea is a good idea. If something keeps coming up on your to-do list day after day, Eventually, it will become the priority, or it will get cut by no longer being relevant.
Being Effective doesn’t have to be a major “thing.” If you stack together these three steps for most of your days, you will be surprised at how quickly the number of “to-do’s” starts to diminish and the “done” start to stack up.