It appears to me that there are broadly two sorts of people – those that have task-lists and those that don’t. I’m in the first category, and this blog talks about to-do lists and the like, and shares some tips and ideas on what I’ve found works well.
However, let me start by considering the second category, in an attempt for me to share my understanding of how they get through life – which they do, often with less stress than us list makers. Frustratingly. I know one person who is quite brilliant, insightful, creative, technically superb and great at making new friends. But doesn’t ever use any form of task list. The words “I’ll sort that tomorrow” generally mean “you will never hear from me on this matter again, but I will get annoyed when your buzzer goes off to remind you to chase me”. This is a self-managing priority-based method of getting stuff done, i.e. if it doesn’t wake me up thinking about it, it can’t be important and won’t get done, thus freeing up my brain for useful creative stuff instead of “buy more bin liners tomorrow” or whatever.
I could never cope with that but I am quite jealous of the freedom and creativity it enables.
For the rest of us, I commend you to look at David Allen’s GTD Getting Things Done – for which I have my version as a simple flow diagram:
May I also offer up one extension and one point to emphasise.
I have adapted the “3D’s” initial step. Let me explain. As soon as you find yourself evaluating an incoming item (email, call, thought, action, etc), ask yourself the 3D’s question
Decline – do I have to do anything with this or can I just get rid of it or say no? Unless you’ve optimised your filters, most emails fall into this, together with surveys
Delegate – OK, so if you can’t decline it, could you delegate it? Which could be automation, allocate to someone else, or get an external service/person to do it for you – for example, how about topping up the kids’ pocket money if they shred that pile of papers for you?
Do – if all else fails, then I’m afraid you have to just DO it – and that takes you into GTD…
A point to emphasise: if there’s one thing to have as your banker, I would suggest it is “next action”. No matter what you’re working on – whether thinking about summer holidays or planning how to sell your business in 10 years’ time, it will progress if you give it a “next action”. And when you’ve done that, do another “next action”.
And before you know it, you’ll have had had 9 great summer holidays leading up to the sale of the business.