It’s 7:30 am, and you’re at your office desk with a pen and clean sheet of paper, poised to list down the tasks you need to accomplish today. Then looking at the 25 items in your to-do list, you think, This is going to be a very productive day. Or so you thought.
Using to-do lists to keep track of all the tasks you need to do is not effective. The greater the responsibility you hold in your business, the longer the list becomes, and the less likely you will get to the bottom of the list. And so it becomes more of like an inventory of all the things you want to do, but couldn’t get to.
Here are four reasons why this “productivity” tool is problematic.
- It doesn’t account for the complexity of your tasks. Your tasks vary in complexity — there are the small routine tasks that could take 2 minutes to complete, and there is the real work that takes 2 hours to do. You will tend to focus on the shorter tasks because it gives you a rewarding feeling of ticking something off your list. And the real work — which is more important — gets shoved to the side, postponed for another time.
- It doesn’t help you classify priorities effectively. Some of your tasks are urgent, and others are important. With to-do lists, you tend to accomplish the urgent ones first and ignore the important ones until they become urgent.
- It doesn’t provide you with the proper context. Too often, items in the list are simple two to three words in a single line. It doesn’t show the key details you need to do your task effectively — like how long it will take for one task to be completed and, most importantly, how much time you have available.
- It contributes to stress. Unfinished tasks in the to-do list can cause mental tension. In psychology, this is related to the Zeigarnik effect. According to psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, we remember interrupted tasks best. So imagine the kind of frustration when you only finished 15 out of the 25 tasks you committed to do at the end of the day.
So What Works?
Daniel Markovitz, author of Building the Fit Organization: Six Core Principles for Making Your Company Stronger, Faster, and More Competitive, suggests that to compensate for the complexity and nature of your work, you need to start “living in your calendar”.
Living in Your Calendar
Instead of writing them down on a sheet of paper — which could get lost within all your paperwork — put in all your workload for the day or for the week in a digital calendar.
You will have a vivid idea of all your time commitments. A calendar is finite, Markovitz points out, as there are only a limited number of hours in a day, and this becomes evident when you try to squeeze in 25 tasks into this limited space. You just can’t. So it’s easier for you to determine whether you’re capable of accepting a new project or not.
The New Business Podcast host Chris Ducker, also an entrepreneur and a bestselling author, shares:
I simply put everything on my schedule. That’s it. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis gets put on my schedule. 30 minutes of social media — on the schedule. 45 minutes of email management — on the schedule. Catching up with my virtual team — on the schedule…Bottom line, if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done.
So how do you start managing your time using the calendar?
First, get clear on what’s really important in your life and reserve times for these. This might include driving your partner to work, exercising, doing key daily priorities, reviewing new business models, having a weekly one-on-one with your team members, and even your time off.
Second, make sure to schedule everything — from checking and replying to emails, to taking lunch, to returning phone calls, to creating projects, and so on.
In today’s age of fast-paced living, your calendar is one of your powerfully effective tools that help you make use of your time well and get stuff done.
How about you? How can you be more effectively productive at work? Let us know in the comments.