How to Get Your Never-ending To-Do List… DONE!

Last Updated: Dec 11, 2014 | Executive Coaching

Do you have a to-do list that never finishes?

Do you find yourself wishing there were more hours in a day?

Do you wonder at 5pm (or 6pm or 7pm) where the day has gone?

You, my friend, need help with your schedule!

Here are my Top Ten Rules for Scheduling:

1. The fact is there are only so many hours in a day. Yet many of us have a fully booked calendar and a separate To Do List. Yikes! No fair! You cannot possibly expect to get through a full day that’s scheduled with back to back meetings AND get anything crossed off your list! There are two solutions:

  • Put EVERYTHING in your calendar, including “call Suzy,” “file yesterday’s papers,” and “email Joe for the list of participants in next week’s meeting.” This method is impractical for most, since we generally leave a meeting with a couple items to add to our action items list. Instead, try:
  • Put a time in your calendar for “To Do List,” “Action Items,” or “Admin.” This becomes your time to focus on that list. Make sure there is sufficient time blocked off every day to attend to the items otherwise you’re still trying to stuff ten pounds of stuff in a five pound bag.

Be reliable to honor your calendar. You’re probably great at showing up for others: if a meeting is in your calendar with the boss do you ever just blow it off without notice? Of course not. But we are terrible at keeping appointments with ourselves. Practice honoring your own appointments, too. If the schedule says “work on next year’s planning” on a Tuesday morning: do that rather than answer emails or return calls.

The bonus to this one is that not only do you get these items done, but YOU know that you honored your word and that will resonate in the other places you give your word. Plus, when you start to honor your own calendar, others will honor it as well.

3.  Block off planning and prep time in your schedule. If you have a project that requires preparation or multiple touches, put those in your calendar at the start of the project. “Prepare slide deck for presentation” may occur twenty times in your calendar prior to the presentation day to give you enough time to create the deck and practice it.

4. One task at a time. It takes mental energy to switch between tasks, so set up your work space to allow you to focus on one thing at a time.

  • Remove pop-up notifications. If you’re working on a project, emails will have to wait.
  • Put up a note on your door if you need quiet time and tell people when you’ll be open for spontaneous questions again.
  • If you’re a chronic internet surfer, set up a program to ban you from the internet for time periods you set. Try: Freedom or Self Control

5. Know your rhythms for work. If your peak time for big picture thinking is in the morning (it is for most of us) then set that time for long term strategic conversations or project work time. Save the short snippets of work for later in the day when your energy is waning: completing those then will give you bursts of accomplishment-energy.

If you work best in long blocks, great, set those aside for bigger projects. If you know that you can only work on one topic for an hour at a time, schedule multiple shorter time blocks rather than one long one.

6. Say no. You probably are not needed in every meeting you’re invited to, so decline the invites. If you’re the leader of the group, see where you can delegate to direct reports so that they learn to step up and you can step out. If someone stands in your door and asks if you have 5 minutes, say no if you don’t – and tell them when you will. This goes for ending times too – if the meeting is supposed to end at 11am, make sure it does, or at least that you are done by then.

7. Get some time back by being efficient. If you could cut 60 minute meetings to 45 minutes, you’d get hours back in your week! Same for 90 minute meetings reduced to 75 or event 60 minutes. Enroll your team members in shorter meetings – everyone is usually thrilled to get 15 minutes back! Psst… It helps if you set your calendar up in 15 minute increments rather than 30.

8. Be off when you’re off, and on when you’re on. We think that continuing to grind has us produce more but we need rest for many reasons that lead to more productivity. So take breaks, real ones:

  • Eat a real lunch, with no devices, NOT at your desk
  • Take 5 -10 minute walk breaks (taking stairs rather than elevator helps)
  • Turn your phone/email OFF after a set hour every night and on weekends.
  • Get enough sleep (a full eight hours)
  • Take vacations regularly…. and not working ones, and not just long weekends.
  • Then, when you’re working… work. Don’t distract yourself with internet shopping or overly-social meetings.

9. Be present. Much of our time is wasted because we are sort-of-kind-of-there, rather than 100% present. Certainly #8 above helps with this. Rather than sit back in the meeting waiting for the resolution, be responsible for bringing the meeting to a firm conclusion. Rather than answer emails during the conference call, be the one to speak up and offer suggestions. Not only will your presence help your to-do list, it will be inspirational to others (and looks good to the boss as well!)

10. Get a sense of humor. Most of us are not doing brain surgery, so it’s OK if you mess up. It’s OK if you’re not the top of your I-can-run-myself-more-ragged-than-you-class. When you’re lying on your deathbed, chances are you won’t be wishing you had done more paperwork!

Remember that life exists in the “dash” between your birthdate and death date. How you spend your time is all you have to fill in that space. Use it wisely and put things on your To-Do list that MATTER!

To clean off your plate, get some perspective, or figure out what you’d rather be doing than your To-Do List, contact us for a complimentary life satisfaction consult.

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