Did you know there is a right way and a wrong way to use to-do lists? Actually, there are more wrong ways than right, so we won’t focus on them in this article. Instead, we’ll discuss the best ways to use to-do lists to help your business stay on track. For that, we submit to an expert in the form of author David Allen, who wrote Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Penguin Books, Dec. 2002).
In Getting Things Done, Allen sets out a series of systems to manage all those little tasks and big projects in our lives that cause what he refers to as psychic clutter. With chapters named “Getting Control of Your Life” and “Getting Projects Creatively Under Way,” the author promises a complete organizational strategy that many reviewers swear really works.
Here are three of his best tips.
1. Do a data dump.
Do you remember Keanu Reeves in the 1995 film Johnny Mnemonic? He was a data courier who retained vast amounts of data in his head and had to dump it before it killed him.
If that sounds like you sometimes, you need to download all the little bits and pieces of data. The trick is not to let it accumulate. Write it down as soon as you think of it.
Allen suggests having a notebook, post-its, or whatever works best for you, handy at all times to write down those thoughts as they come in to your head. While you were in the shower this morning, did you remember about the refund you have to process for that client in Singapore? Write it down as soon as you get out, and you can forget about it mentally. Get it out, write it down, clear your mind. In that order.
Allen suggests creating three lists, entitled To-Do, Projects, and Maybe/Someday. The To-Do list should contain a maximum of 20 items that are easily attainable within a week. For example, submit expense report, call two new clients, etc. The Projects list should be made of projects that are more long-term, such as redesigning the conference room or creating a new ad campaign. The Maybe/Someday list is for things that may or may not be followed through on, or you haven’t decided if you want to do yet. Examples would be, consider merger, look for new HR head, etc.
Don’t let it come to this.3. Don’t get bogged down with trivialities.
The day-to-day tasks that need to be managed so we don’t drown in a sea of trivialities include email and telephone call management. Don’t let the persistent ding of new email arrivals or inconvenient telephone calls get in the way of productivity.
There’s an old trick that executives use to keep from wasting time with small talk on telephone calls. Make your calls early in the morning before offices open, so you can leave voicemails. Second, don’t return phone calls until after hours when offices are closed. That way you can leave the chitter-chatter behind and get down to the brass tacks of business.
There are lots of ways to organize your time and tasks. But be careful. Some of those are time-wasters in themselves. Experiment a little with tools and methods to find which ones mesh with your style. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Kate Supino is a professional freelance writer and small business owner who writes about best business practices, how to find quality Texas real estate, and more.