One of the things that I’ve discovered is that many people are great at planning–thinking about how to change processes or things to produce better outcomes. However, when it comes to reducing their plans to projects or actionable tasks, they get stuck. If you tend to fall in this group, spending your days thinking about what you need to get done, but never seem to launch out of thinking mode, then read on. I’ve got good news for you in the form of lists and schedules.
Actionable lists can help you define your projects and move you from thinking about what needs to get done to working on identifying tasks that will get you there. Lists provide visual cues and reminders to do the work. Having said this, just writing things down and being reminded to do them won’t get you there, either. What if you forget to look at your list regularly? This is where schedules can help.
Schedules keep you on track. When you know what needs doing (from your action list), use your calendar (I use my email calendar) to schedule time into your day (every day) for every single thing that needs to be done. Think of a schedule as a reminder of your action list.
When scheduling work on a project, try to schedule the same type of work at the same time of day. For example, if you need to provide a project update report to your boss, schedule it for the same time each week (or day) as the case may be. This provides consistency in work and you are more apt to do this task if it occurs at roughly the same time. The nice thing about scheduling consistently is that the more you do the same thing at the same time, there is a point at which you won’t need to look at your schedule to be reminded to do the work.
When working on tasks, work in short bursts. Typically, we tend to be very focused for either the first 20 or last 20 minutes of our tasks. If you can focus intently on your work for those 20 minutes and then take a break (look away from your work–perhaps look out the window, make a phone call, review your email, anything other than the task you are working on), you will be more productive than if you slogged at the task for hours. Using this short burst method, you will also develop better quality work.
For difficult tasks, schedule them during times of the day when you are most alert. If you’re high energy in the morning, then work on your difficult tasks in the morning and leave your afternoons for other tasks that allow greater flexibility in deadlines.
What’s on your action list this month? A better question may be: where is your list? Is your list physically (or electronically) written in a place where you can easily find it? Or are you thinking about it? Remember to dump that list from your mind to create action items that can be scheduled. This is your stepping stone to success, no matter what you’re working on.