The lack of an effective system for managing tasks and time can leave you feeling over-whelmed and under pressure. It amazes me that time management (or task management) systems like Seven Habits or Getting Things Done are not taught in school as the positive impact that they can make on someone’s life is immeasurable.
I have been using the same system for fifteen or more years and it can be summarised into three simple rules. These rules will change your life.. they will help you become more productive, less stressed and contribute towards a more harmonious work/life balance.
This is not some crazy self-development seminar, this works and works in the real, every day world that we all live in.
Rule #1: Write Everything Down.
One of the main contributors to stress is the effort that you have to make in trying to remember everything you need to do. It wastes “spare cycles”. It prevents you from relaxing. This is the main contributor to stress in your life. Don’t remember it. Write it down.
The type of device you write it in doesn’t matter providing that it is ALWAYS in the same place and that you have complete faith in its reliability. Pen and paper? OK – providing that the same pad never leaves your side. Electronically? Absolutely (and it is my preference) but you need a platform that is reliable and a device that is always accessible.
My recommendation – is a website called Toodledo.com. This is an excellent online task management system that has become a platform for other tools as much as a web interface for todo list management. You can get versions for your phone, integration with Outlook – so that your todo list can be made available to you anywhere, any time, any place. Perfect.
So write everything down. Every idea, every thing you need to do.. at any point in the future. Completely outsource the storing of “things I need to do” to Toodledo or whichever platform you choose.
When you write it down, it is useful also to categorise the task into work related tasks ( e.g. marketing, sales, project X, etc) if appropriate and personal related tasks. Remember this is about changing your life – not just your work life – and so personal tasks should also be recorded in this system. Also be sure to assign a due date – for me, this is when you should be doing the task and not necessarily when it is “due”.
Rule #2: Review Every Morning.
At the beginning of your day, you need to review your todo list. The purpose of this review is to re-assess the tasks assigned for that day and decide what can and will be done that day.
There is absolutely no point in having a to-do list that is unachievable. You should sort your task list so that it ONLY shows you tasks that are due today (and perhaps overdue tasks, but if you follow my three rules you will never have any). Most, if not all, todo list systems like Toodledo support views / filters like this.
There may be tasks in your list for today, that you scheduled a few weeks back – hoping that you will get to them today. You may have tasks in your list for today that are scheduled reminders. You may have several tasks that are simply low priority tasks and moving them will have no impact on your productivity. So move them.
At the beginning of every day, review your task list and ANYTHING that you will not realistically accomplish that day, reschedule – to tomorrow, later in the week, next week, next month, whenever.
Your goal is to arm yourself with the most important tasks that need be – and can be – accomplished on that day. Anything else is a distraction.
Do this every morning. Without fail.
Rule #3: Clear It at the End of Every Day.
At the end of your working day – just before you go home. Clear out your to-do list completely of any and ALL work-related tasks. You are not to go home until this has been done.
You thought you could accomplish what you had on your list, but you didn’t. There is no point in keeping them on today’s to-do list if you are not going to get them done. Reschedule everything that is left – either to tomorrow or another day that will be more appropriate. When you leave work – you don’t need to think about what is on your to-do list.. it is now empty.
If you are keeping personal tasks on your to-do list, then leave these for now. But before you go to bed – at the true end of the day, once again – clear out your to-do list. Before you go to sleep, make sure that your to-do list is empty. You should NEVER have over-due tasks.
Nothing in your todo list, not stress. You should not underestimate the relief of having an empty to-do list – even if you had not accomplished everything you had hoped (that happened anyway). You can be at home without dwelling on work-related tasks which will lead to an enhanced work/life balance.
So – there you have it. Three very simple rules for increasing your productivity, reducing stress, and improving your work life balance.
1. Write everything down.
2. Review and reassign your daily task list first thing, every morning.
3. Clear out and reassign your task list at the end of each day (work day and full day).
Follow these and I promise that it will change your life – immediately.