I have forever had a scandalous and unstable relationship with to do lists. One week I am trying out the latest app to manage my to dos. The next week, I’ve reverted to old fashion pen and paper. And after that, I’m creating complex spreadsheets to track the many moving parts of my day (only to abandon it a week later).
I just can’t stay committed to one to do list and I always have my eye out for something better.
But what I’ve realized is that no matter what app or technique I use to track all the things I need to stay on top of, certain lists rise to the top. Certain lists need to be managed, pruned and worked on in order to keep my objectives rolling over. For me, there are seven lists. No matter if I’m using an app, Excel or pen and paper (my current weapon of choice), I review these lists when planning my day.
In addition to detailing these seven lists below, I’ve added pictures so you can see what they look like for me. If any of this works for you, create it in a way which you think is best. I prefer everything appearing on one piece of paper that guides my day – but that’s me. Figure out what works for you.
#1 Time Commitments
Every morning I look at my calendar and see meetings I need to be a part of. I’ll jot down a quick list of all the commitments I’ve made. I like this because it forces me to think about how much time in the day will be mine versus will be spent in meetings. It also gives me a chance to rearrange any meetings if needed and make sure that I’ve prepared anything I need.
If you can, chunk your meetings into one part of your day so you have a longer period of time to focus on getting through your day.
#2 Top Three
Once I’ve figured out how much time I have to work during the day, I write out my top three. These aren’t the top three things that I must do because they are on deadline or they’re urgent. These top three things are those that push me closer to my objectives. These are the projects, the new ideas, the product development, the big things. By prioritizing these items and making sure I do them before my day runs away, I get closer to achieving my goals.
#3 Repeating Tasks
The next thing I focus on are my repeating tasks. Repeating tasks are, as the name indicates, tasks you do on a repeating basis which are important to keep your position running. It could be circulating sales reports or checking that the bank account still has money in it or monitoring inventory levels or updating your homepage. Repeating tasks happen on a schedule that you determine – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually.
I have an existing list of these items by day of week or week in the month and I print this at the beginning of each week. That way, each morning I know what repeating tasks need to be done for that day.
#4 Should Do
This is my ‘catch all’ list. Should Do items are the medium to high importance items lurking on my lists. Everything from next steps on projects to paying invoices gets captured in Should Do. I aim to complete items on the Should Do list after my Top Three and Repeating Tasks.
I don’t list tasks in any particular order – I simply use this list as a place to catch all the other things so I don’t forget them.
#5 Waiting For
So many projects die not because you failed to do something but because you failed to follow up. If you lead a team or work amongst a team (as most of us do), your work is tethered to someone else, or in many cases, a variety of different people. Keeping track of what you’re waiting for reminds you when to give a nudge or reminder to keep something going.
I try to organize my Waiting For list by person. It also keeps things top of mind for me to follow up, check in, or manage expectations as to when something will get done.
#6 Current Projects
I like to keep a running tab of what projects I’m working on at any given time. By intentionally making this list each day, it forces me to jog my memory on what next steps I need to take and, equally as important, when.
Projects are easily passed over for urgent, pending items. But if you’re not making any time to work on projects, you or your company will slip behind. Therefore, it’s important to choose projects that will genuinely push your objectives forward (not just create a new color coordinated labelling system!). Keep this list short so you can make progress on your projects.
#7 The Shit List
Yes, my seventh list is labeled, “The Shit List” and I’m not bashful about it. This list captures all the thankless tasks and annoying requests that land at your feet which once you’ve completed them, do nothing for moving the goal post. But you’ve got to do them.
The Shit List is the seventh list because it’s given the lowest priority. While some of these tasks need to be handled in an efficient manner, if you spend all your time working on this list you’ll get nowhere. I usually work on these items towards the end of the day.
BONUS: Weekly Goals
If you are loving this and thinking that it might change the way you run your days, try this. Every week I make a list of three to five weekly goals. Like my repeating tasks list, this sticky note follows me from day to day so when I’m deciding what my top three, time commitments and things to follow up on our, I keep these in consideration.
Having this list also gives you the opportunity to reflect at the end of the week: Did you achieve these goals? What worked? What didn’t? What will you focus on next week?
So that’s it. All in all, this process takes me five to ten minutes each morning and it starts my day on the right foot. I add to my lists as the day goes on and use that as a basis for the next day.
You don’t need to absorb this process 100%. Instead, you may find particular tips or practices that you can incorporate into your current routine. What I suggest is keep trying different things until you settle on something which works for you.