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To-do or Didn’t do list?


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In my first week in awhile of being more systematic about my todo list, I’ve decided to grade my effectiveness this week and it wasn’t pretty.  Of the 50+ items I had on there (some as simple as write and mail thank you note or email so and so), I probably completed around 50%.  In the past I used to make todo list items such as “launch website,” which really is a project and not a todo item. As a result the project was the item on the list I would avoid because it required too many steps before crossing it off.  A year after reading Getting things Done, I’ve gotten better at what I put on the list, but it is a work in progress.   If my todo list has been filled with projects instead of tasks, then I would have considered 50% very good, but I can’t use that excuse this time.  I simply didn’t get enough of my tasks going to make progress.  At least now I can see where I fell behind, and start to ask “Why?”  Some thoughts:

  • Email is a major time sink. I’ve know this for a very long time, I’ve even written about it, but I continue to fall for it.  There’s just something so satisfying about getting and responding to messages.  I also know that the constant flow of email helps to overcome the loneliness when you’re working virtually (and not in an office).  I would estimate that 30% of all email activity could be called “productive.”  The rest is really distraction.  And on that same thought, I would say that email unless controlled and managed properly, causes more harm than good.  I guess I’m an addict.  In fact thinking about how it feels to sit at my desk with my email closed, I can picture the anxiety and the sense unknown.  If there aren’t emails to respond to or write, then what in the world shall I do?  So my goal next week is to try some email rules such as only checking it at certain times of the day (a la 4 hour workweekI am going to test this firefox plugin to assist with this.
  • Task scheduling – We all have things we don’t really want to do.  I’ve found that by some strange coincidence, of the unfinished items on my list for the week, a vast majority of them I was not looking forward to working on.  I avoided them basically.  I avoided them because they were boring, or scary, or too hard, or in direct conflict with a comfortable habit.  The only time I ever really considered working on these tasks was at the end of the day, and then it was easy to say “well I do that tomorrow.”  There’s no doubt some of these items weren’t completed because frankly they were unnecessary, but for the rest of them I allowed myself to not do them.  In order to “set myself up for success,” I’m going to put reminders in my calendar to complete these tasks at a time in the day where I feel at my best.  I think for me the optimal time to “face the music” is between 11am and 2pm.  I will set reminders for 11am.
  • Too much wiggle room – I will pat myself on the back for creating a weekly todo and goals list on Sunday afternoon and really taking the time to think the week through, but I left out a very critical component of this: reviewing it daily.  My plan was to combine my weekly goals / todo list with my working system of writing daily tasks in a notebook each morning, crossing off completed items and adding notes throughout the day.  The interesting thing was I stopped using the notepad completely this week, almost as if I didn’t need that after doing the work on Sunday.  I’ve known for awhile that I can significantly boost productivity simply by creating my todo list the day before in my notebook, and then trying to complete as many tasks in the first hour of my day as possible before checking my email.  I’ve done this several times with amazing results, yet I keep reverting to old habits.  Next week a goal is to return to this system.  I’ll compare my paper todo for the day vs my google doc for the week each night / evening as well as prepare the next day’s list.

So those are some thoughts from my big push to developing my personal organization and task management system.  Perhaps I’ll keep updating as I refine and improve…in fact if I do (keep posting) then you’ll know I”m doing well with following my weekly goals.  A goal for this week was to get up at least 2 blog posts…this takes me halfway there.

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