If you write a to do list and you check things off, kudos that is a great habit! However, I recently discovered a way to make it better.

I have begun to see that I have too little time to do and accomplish everything I want to do. I feel like there is so much I want to do in a day I stay up late and get up early and at the end of the week there is a still a big list of all the things I wanted to accomplish and didn’t achieve. This is true of my hobbies, home life, personal goals (hello, working out and eating right!), and work. So I have started a new habit to make sure I accomplish the most important things and truly prioritize my work accordingly (many times I have ended up crossing off lots of little things–usually busy work–from my to do lists without hitting the most important tasks). If you have big tasks that you feel are daunting and overwhelming (as these things often result in procrastination) you can read my blog here on breaking up your work into manageable chunks.

  • Pick out the top 3-5 things you want to accomplish that day based on your priorities (I usually put my lists together the night before or that morning when I get into the office).
  • Time box each item. For example if you want to search for new leads for 1 hour, then put that on the list.  By setting a time limit on each task (especially ambiguous ones that can take as much time as you are willing to put into it) you are effectively ensuring you make some progress.
  • Put the time on your calendar.  If the time is scheduled like any other appointment or meeting you are more likely to set aside the time to do it (as I feel like it is much too easy to get sidetracked with things like email, websites, chit chat with coworkers, etc).  If you know you can’t concentrate on your desk then go to a place where you can concentrate (this is often the case for me with any sort of writing since our office feels more like a carnival a lot of the times than a place where people actually do work).
  • Track your progress.  At the end of each day (or at the beginning of the next day) assess your achievements.  What interrupted you?  Were there any distractions or stumbling blocks?  Learn from your mistakes and try to get the very most out of your days.

As you can see you are setting aside work, and scheduling,it, which should ensure you make progress on the important things every single day.  In addition you have built a feedback loop into your process so you can continue to improve and maximize every minute you are in the office.

If you find that you are more reactive, and spend the majority of your day handling firedrills (unless of course you are a firefighter and then that is to be expected) then you need to spend some time on sorting out your priorities.  You should look at your position and break it into its pieces and make calls on how much time you should spend doing each thing.  For example, if you want to spend 30% on product vision, 20% on strategy, 50% on people management then you need to make sure that week over week that is how your time is allocated.  That means if you have 5 people on your team you should be spending 20 hours on people management.  This seems like a lot at first glance, but using this time in an effective way can actually save you time down the road.  This time allocation could translate into team lunches, reviews, one on ones, office hours, book clubs, etc.  If your team knows you set aside time for them every week it is unlikely you will have as many interruptions because your meetings will be regular and they will know what to expect.   This exercise of budgeting your time will also make sure that the important (but possibly not urgent) items end up on your to do list.

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