Let’s take a moment to pay homage to the almighty To Do List. It is the quintessential organizational mechanism in the How-to-Get-#$%^-Done tool kit. I know people that live and die by the list. You know them too. They get a high from checking off the boxes; they add things to the list they just completed so they can have the thrill and satisfaction of crossing them off. These people are very organized, and God bless them because they are accomplishing a lot of important work.
Then there are the rest of us. You, me and Charlie in sales who have every good intention of getting it all done, but staring down that list brings us more hopelessness than happiness. The To Do List is overwhelming for our brain types. Where can we start? How will we ever finish? Oh wait, here’s an e-mail, I’ll just respond to that now and get to this list later. Oh no, now it’s 4:45pm and I still have a lot on my list. Better put some work into figuring out what needs to be done tomorrow—it’s a vicious cycle.
For us, the challenge of the To Do List is that we end up writing a long list of 15-20 tasks that need to get done that day. If we are lucky, we manage to at least start most of those tasks. At the end of the day, the result is that we have started (and rarely finished) 15-20 important tasks.
“Tell me about what you got done today,” our supervisor asks. “Well I started this, worked on this, and got very close to finishing this,” seems to be all we can say for ourselves. It’s an awesome way to show how we are not follow through material, a.k.a. ready for advancement.
To that end, I offer a simpler tool for the more easily distracted, slightly less organized among us. I use it myself and have recommended it to coaching clients as a way to jump start productivity. Most importantly, it ensures that on a daily basis, I get the most important things done. Here’s how it works:
Every day (either the night before or first thing in the morning) I write out my To Do List. This is my 15-20 items that I want to accomplish that day. After that, I put a star next to three and only three items. The starred items represent the three most important items to complete that day. They are not to dos, they are must dos. These three items bring the most serious consequences should they not be completed by the end of the day. If I do nothing else that day, I commit to doing those three items. Anything else on the list is considered a bonus.
That’s my productivity secret, and it works. I figure that the majority of professionals are writing a good long list of things to do for the day. Most of those individuals are putting in a good amount of effort to starting those items, but how many can really say they ever fully complete even a fraction of the list? With that in mind, I figure if I can complete three tasks each day that means I will complete 21 items by the end of the week. That’s 84 items each month. The point is, that three completed tasks a day adds up to a heck of a lot of deliverables by the end of the month.
“Tell me about what you got done today,” your supervisor asks. “Well I completed the Turner Report, managed to get those follow up e-mails out from the Fletcher meeting, and I made a point to Tweet about our new product launch next week.” Your supervisor makes a mental note that you have started to show some real progress and responds, “Keep up the good work, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you accomplish tomorrow.”