One of the business owner’s or manager’s greatest challenges is completing a never-ending to-do list. Our calendars and task lists can be daunting, even scary, and can easily overwhelm and paralyze us as we try to make forward progress.
But good news – there are ways to get the monster under control and get it all done. Here’s how…
The greatest efficiency and effectiveness improvement opportunity most busy professionals have today is to stop keeping their to-do lists and calendars in their heads. The fastest way to feel overwhelmed is to not be able to see how many commitments we actually have. You can see this at work when you feel stressed, make a list, and feel better. Applying this practice more often is a huge way to get some relief and clarify where to get focus time and effort.
Define Outcomes and Actions
Another way to get some relief and clarity is to define both the outcomes of multi-step commitments and the next physical, visible action that moves us closer to those outcomes. I like to keep two separate lists (actually, more than that, but let’s keep it simple): a “Projects” or “Outcomes” list that anchors the goal of a multi-step commitment and an “Actions” list that tells me what to actually do to complete those goals.
Group Actions by Context
The greatest limiting factor on what tasks to complete is the physical context where the action takes place. There is no point in seeing a list of tasks that you need to complete at home or at a store when you’re at work. You may want to be home, but since you’re not, you can’t do those things. I said I have multiple lists, and that’s because I separate my next actions by context so I don’t have to waste time sorting through a big list of stuff I can’t do where I am.
Commit to Less
I know this one may seem easier said than done, but it encapsulates a lot of things busy people can do better. Without an externalized list of all our commitments, it’s hard to say “No” and still have integrity. If you know, though, that you could point that person to the list of all your commitments, it’s a lot easier to say “No” kindly. We also could all delegate and outsource a lot more. No, other people may not be able to do things as magically perfect as you, but if your time can be better spent on things that only you can do, it’s worth letting someone else do some of your tasks in a “good enough” way.
The list could go on and on and on of ways to get commitments under control, but these few tips are great starting points that can yield huge gains for many people. If you’re interested in diving deeper into some of the ideas above, check out David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) book and company.
Now, get back to work!
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