Abby Marks Beale

Article Summary:

Strategies for organizing your to-do lists and business tasks.

Keeping Track of To-Do's

In this age of mega-choices, who doesn't have an overflowing to-do list?! Just making a list of movies I want to see is overwhelming because I have no realistic idea WHEN I'll actually get to see them.

Just as I have a lot of movies I want to see, I also have a LOT of things I want and need to do for my business, for my family and for myself. Keeping track of them all gets overwhelming at times, but when I stick to these four simple principles, they get under control again.

1. DO ONLY WHAT IS TRULY IMPORTANT TO YOU.
By making sure you are spending your time wisely, make sure you know what YOU want or need to do, and learn to say "NO" to those things you don't. Frequently doing things because others want you to will not allow you to get to the things YOU want to do.

2. WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING you want or need to do. Some time management folks might bristle at this but I keep three to-do lists: a running list of to-do's each day/week, one for short-term to-do's and one for long-term.

  • The daily/weekly list consists of things that typically need to get done on a certain day or this week only. The tasks are important, time- sensitive and sometimes urgent. This list gets re-written weekly as so many things get crossed off I need to start over!
  • The short-term list includes things like calls I need to make to clear up a billing problem or research I need to do on comparing computer costs. They are important, but not time- sensitive, yet. When they become time sensitive, they get planned on the daily/weekly list.
  • The long-term list I think of like this: "If I find the time or think this is important enough to make time for, I'd like to do . . . .?" This is the list where most of my movies reside. I also have a family photo project I want to work on before my elementary age kids go off to college so I have a few years to get to it!
By reviewing your lists frequently, you will be able to move the items around and finally get them done, IF they are truly important to you.

3. CARRY YOUR DAILY/WEEKLY LIST WITH YOU.
Or have some index cards or paper to write on with you at all times including in your car and your pocket or purse. If a to-do comes into your head while away from your list, write it on the paper and then transfer it to the appropriate list when you get in sight of it. Avoid the post-it note community that might reside on your desk.

4. KEEP YOUR EMAIL INBOX EMPTY(IER) BY PLACING YOUR ELECTRONIC TO-DO'S ON YOUR TASK LIST . . . AND ALWAYS PUT A DEADLINE ON IT! In MS Outlook and other business software programs, you can drag an email into your task list (or even better, your calendar) and schedule it to remind you about it when you want to be reminded. Remember to revise the subject line to reflect what you are reminding yourself to do. If the reminder comes up and you're not ready to deal with it, then reschedule it. Sometimes you get lucky and find you can delete it. At least it didn't get sucked into the proverbial rabbit hole, never to be seen again.

Here's a final thought: When you die, the average person leaves 200-300 hours of important things that still need to be done. Why not leave the more unimportant to-do's to others and enjoy your life a little more now?!

Abby Marks Beale enjoys helping busy professionals work smarter, faster and just plain better. She is the founder of The Corporate Educator and is a well-received conference speaker and corporate trainer offering content-rich programs on the topics of email management and etiquette, speed reading, and time and stress management. Abby is the author of 10 Days to Faster Reading, Success Skills: Strategies for Study and Lifelong Learning, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Speed Reading. For more information, please visit The Corporate Educator website.

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