I keep coming back to lists. Complete lists. This means writing down all the things that need to be done. Whether things need doing now, next week, next month, or next year, they need to be on your list. Why? Because if they’re not on a list, there is a good chance that you will forget about them. And when that happens, you have a crisis on your hands.
If you’re “fighting fires” regularly at work, it’s not because the crisis suddenly arose (granted, sometimes there are true crises, but these are few and far between). The crisis arises because the important items that needed to get done were ignored in favour of higher priority items. So the important simmered; then boiled out of control to create a crisis.
I have been in many organizations where the attitude of dealing with undesirable (or less important) work is to “ignore it and it’ll go away.” Well, the fact is, work doesn’t go away. It comes back and keeps coming back until it’s done. That’s why it’s called “work.”
There are many advantages to keeping lists. This includes:
- Improved memory. When you write things down, you get them out of your head. Think about this: our short-term memory can only hold about seven things at a time. With each successive “thing” kept in short-term memory, the ability to hold onto it diminishes. If you have more than seven things to do and you don’t have a list, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
- Improved productivity. Lists help you to focus your energy on tasks without the distraction that comes with juggling to-do’s in your head. Without lists, your mind works harder than it needs to, but with lists, you gain sharper focus allowing you to improve your productivity.
- Improved organization. Without question, this is a key reason to make lists. Lists help you plan your time so that you work more efficiently. Spending 15 minutes on planning gives you an hour of time saved.
- Increased motivation. Lists help you to clarify goals. When this occurs, you gain motivation to work toward your goals. And each time you accomplish a goal and strike it off your list, your motivation improves even more.
- Reduced stress. By prioritizing all of the things that need doing, you are reducing your stress by giving things a place in your life, rather than a place in your mind.
If you need a to-do list template, here’s one from Microsoft that may help (there are others, but this one is simple and free): http://office.microsoft.com/en-ca/templates/to-do-list-TC102425922.aspx. The template is an Excel spreadsheet with table columns. It uses built-in filtering controls, so you can quickly sort or filter projects by their due dates, priority, and status.
Update your list with all of your to-do’s. Then get ready to be more productive, more organized, more motivated, have better memory, and reduce your stress. I don’t know about you, but keeping lists sounds like a “no-brainer” to me. Where’s your to-do list?