To Do or Not To Do

Have you ever had problems managing, or even believing in, to-do lists? Often the bane of everyone who works is their to do lists. They come in many varieties: blackberry notes, post-its, written note pads, and even mental. Some people have more than one list!

Having a to-do list is great: everything gets a priority; you'll have a plan for the day; there's always a place to put new tasks (on the list). There is one problem however... they don't work!

Great theory though, everyday you start by writing down all the tasks for the day. Next, assign some level of priority to each task. Now you can take a look at the list and decide what to do first.

But why don't they work? Well, have you ever noticed that you are only able to get about 30% of the list done? And, what about those new things that keep being added to the bottom? How can you manage a list never decreases? Even worse, those unfortunate items tagged as "less important" never seem to get attention at all.

Maybe we're going about this list thing all wrong. Maybe the place to start is not what priority the task is assigned, but is it even something we need to do? Could it be delegated? If not then it needs to be done, period. In the words of Jedi Master Yoda, "Do or do not, there is no try."

It's time to get in control of the list. Here are some ways you can manage your list and get more done.

First, use paper. On a computer the list will be easily filed or hidden, mental lists easily forgotten. A notepad on your desk is visible and will command your attention much better. There is a great degree of satisfaction when crossing items off the list as well.

Be sure to put all the elements of the task, not just to complete project X, but what are the steps to completing project X that you need to do personally? Each item needs to be listed.

Once you start the list, don't permit yourself to write it over the next day. By having one list that you add to each day you'll be better able to track the age of the items on the list and that alone should motivate you to close out the older tasks first. Whenever you complete a task or return from a break review the list from the top down again.

Take care not to include delegated tasks or extremely low priorities on the list. Put on the list only those items you know you'll be able to do yourself in a timely manner. If you won't have time to complete a particular task, that's a sure sign you need to enlist the aide of an assistant.

New ideas get their own place of honor, not on the to-do list. They are important and need to be reviewed for possible actions so keep a separate notepad for these ideas.

Resist the urge to prioritize. If you assign a level of importance to the items that implies that the other items are less important. Less important items have the tendency to be set aside and not done. The best way to organize the list is the way in which the items came to your attention. First in, first out.

While you should always start at the top, there are times that a particular item requires immediate attention. And, it's human nature to do only those things you really enjoy leaving the others "for later." That's okay to a degree but always review your list from the top down so you'll be seeing every item that is still outstanding and you'll have a better sense of how long it's been on the list.

If you follow these tips you'll quickly find your list is manageable and edging closer to completion. If you enjoy crossing items off the list you'll really feel great when you get to tear up an entire completed page!

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