Kill your to-do

todoI can’t think of many things as useless as to-do lists.
That’s it. I’ve said it. Don’t shoot me just now, hang on a little longer.

Honestly, what is their point?
The classic to-do list of the managers I’m supporting is a never-ending, un-readable, depressing document, that they don’t much refer to except at the beginning and/or the end of the day. It does not guide them, it does not set priorities, it barely mentions what the deliverables really are…
You must use your time better? So you should do better than writing a to-do list.

There are many better tools out there, and you could adopt many different efficient and practical policies on the topic. Here are 3 guidelines to cover the basics on how to improve your time management at work.

1. Master your schedule
The always over-worked manager whose calendar is over-flowing with meetings and events is not doing his job properly. You have to be busy obviously, but it’s your calendar: you write what is in it or you accept the items which appear in it. That means you have control, if you just want to apply it.

Always block ‘me-time’ in your calendar. I advise you to have every day at least one untouchable event that you will use to work on what you need to deliver and/or to read stuff in order to know enough to be performing your duties well. Some people always block the same me-time, some don’t. But if you don’t have me-time in your schedule, don’t complain about how busy you are.

2. Practice FIFO / Quantify time
Tackling most of the tasks when they appear is a good idea but not always one you can implement. You can’t always proceed according to the sound philosophy of First In, First Out. The minimum you can do right at the start though, is to inquire about or decide on the completion date and assess how long you need to work on it to make it happen. This way you already program yourself to do it in a realistic manner.

3. Use a Priority Matrix & some Triage techniques.
All these tools and approach mean the same: all tasks are not equal.
You need to decide what are your priorities and what is not of your level.
To prioritize, adopt or adapt the Eisenhower Matrix. Read more about it here, but anyway know that it all boils down to comparing a new task with the others by answering the 2 following questions “how important is it?” and “how urgent is it?”
Use the triage techniques coming from Emergency Rooms: Can I do something for this subject? Is it something I have the power/authorization to make decisions on? Can someone in my team do this instead of me? You must make sure that what you will be working on are issues that you can really add value to and which are without contest worth it. Your time is precious to you. And your time costs to your organization. Do not waste it on activities beyond or below your pay-grade.

This will help you keep in mind the ultimate goal, whether you have set to complete 2 or 10 tasks this week: you need to deliver on them.

Instead of thinking about tasks: “I need to do this and that”, set up goals: “I have to solve this issue for the 10th of September” or “this target will be reached before the end of the month”.

Be responsible and shift your paradigm. Get rid of useless to-do lists. This is one of the very first issue we tackle in my managers performance mentoring programs.

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