Long to do list“The very idea of writing a to-do list sends shivers down my spine… I mean, how much time have you got?!”.

“If I had the time to write a list, I wouldn’t need to be in a workshop on time management!”.

Both of these quotes came from participants in a time management workshop and both received warm acceptance by most of the other group members. It’s as if we can all associate with those feelings at least some of the time.

Yet for me, a to-do list serves a very simple function. It frees up my brain space for doing something rather than worrying about remembering stuff.

The simple act of scribbling things on a piece of paper or on my task list means I don’t have to waste active time, effort and energy remembering to do the item later – as long as I also have the habit of checking my to-do list frequently!

So how do I use my to do list to organise my time?

First I start with a book. This can be a notebook, a diary, an agenda. Personally I’d advise it to be more substantial than a sticky-note or loose sheet of paper – though do keep the sticky-notes close to hand!

I write out the major things I want to do, usually what I want to get done in the next week or so and I try to be clear about a focus on the achievement or outcome I need as for most of the things I’m involved with right now the outcome or end-goal is more valuable than knowing I’ve been busy.

For example “Spend two hours answering emails” isn’t as helpful a task description as “1) Reply to Ella confirming venue reservation. 2) Send finalised workshop quotation to Bridie. 3) Write thank-you emails to speakers for Tuesday’s seminar.”

Much of the stuff on my to-do list involves work for other people, or at least, where someone else is waiting for the outcome of my work. I have scheduled phone calls, times when I’m delivering workshops, meetings with coaching clients. In between times I’m writing two new workshops so am creating PowerPoint slides and handouts to accompany them which need to be sent out before delivery. I can use those agreed time lines to prioritise my work schedule to a large extent.

There are also things that frequently don’t get written on any list as they are things I know I need to do for me. Right now my personal list includes things like “Take a 30 minute walk”, “Finish writing the book”, “Write new workshop descriptions to update training brochure”.

Why have these items been omitted from my list? Probably for two reasons. Firstly because, in my mind, these last three items are not yet important or urgent enough to rate against work that’s for other people and secondly, because they involve ongoing activities that won’t be completed in a single sitting.

Bad move though. If they’re not on my list, they won’t get done any time soon.

Often people omit important things from their to-do lists and frequently these are things that are most important for their personal or professional development, things that it sometimes feels selfish or self-centred to prioritise.

One simple way of dealing with this dilemma is to create a habit of Priority Time. For me as a morning person, I take the first 60 to 90 minutes of my day as Priority Time. I then work on less urgent but more important projects that would otherwise get drowned out of my daily to-do list. Right now it’s about writing content for workshops, for books or idea development which can involve a combination of reading, reflecting and jotting down possibilities. This is the material that will drive my creative development, grow my business, inspire me. It’s important stuff. By creating Priority Time the important stuff gets done and it’s done first.

Afterwards, the rest of the world as it features on my to-do list can take the rest of my day.

And if there’s too much on your to do list? Well, that’s a separate blog post!

How do you organise your day?

Do take a moment to share your top tips by adding a comment below!