I’ve tried just about every productivity system you can think of in some form or fashion during my professional life. Actually, it’s kind of obsessive. I have to constantly remind myself that efficiency for the sake of being efficient is a waste of time. That is, if I spend my time finding ways to be more efficient and don’t actually produce anything, all I’ve done is get better at doing nothing.
Part of many productivity systems is the infamous to-do list. These can take numerous forms and have many functions. I’ve got some I’ve liked and others that never worked so well. See, another of my issues with this kind of stuff is that it constantly has to change to keep me from being bored with my “new and improved” method of getting things done. My latest test is coming from a couple of issues I’ve found with my to-do list that I just couldn’t get past.
First, my to-do list would take up my entire day. Parkinson’s Law discusses that items will shrink or expand depending on the capacity that they are given. My list could be 3-5 items long (where I tried to keep it) and could easily take the entire work day. In contrast, I’ve had days where I’ve gotten 10 items crossed off easily. But the fewer items were the real driver behind this reason – especially if I didn’t think that those few items should actually take all day if I just sat down and got them knocked out one after the other. But what would I do for the rest of the day, then?
Second, if my list was especially full and an emergency came up, items would constantly get pushed off to another day. Guess what always got pushed back? That right – the stuff I really didn’t want to do. It’s awfully discouraging to see the same thing moved from one to the other (lists) several days in a row. That process almost made the anxiety over doing it worse than the act, itself.
The last reason I stopped using my to-do list is that I had little to no respect for my time. As long as I got my items knocked off, it didn’t much matter what I did with the rest of my day. My current role forces me to keep a timesheet so that hours are correctly allocated to jobs we are doing. My to-do list didn’t help me figure out where I had been spending each hour that week, either.
That’s a list of what I didn’t like about my lists – ironic, isn’t it?
Having to keep a timesheet was really helpful in determining where to keep my task manager. I now schedule everything I have to do on my calendar. That way, there is time throughout the day allocated to that task. I’ve found that I get more done – it’s on the calendar so it has to be done, right? I’m more respectful of my own time with scheduling meetings, etc. I also produce more content and valuable adds than I ever have before. That’s really fulfilling for me as an employee. My wife and I have taken to using our family calendar more as well and that really helps us stay on track as well. If an emergency comes up at work, that gets put on the calendar after the fact so I can look back and know where I spent my time.
No system is perfect. Find out what works best for you where you are. Go get some stuff done.