As part of my morning routine, I cruise LinkedIn to find interesting articles about the workplace. One day, I came across Forbes’s 15 Surprising Things Productive People Do Differently and one tip stuck out to me.
Secret #3: They don’t use to-do lists.
Throw away your to-do list; instead schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out only 41% of items on to-do lists are ever actually done. And all those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and then work and live from that calendar. “Use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15-minute blocks. It sounds like a pain, but this will set you up in the 95th percentile…”, advises the co-founder of The Art of Charm, Jordan Harbinger.
Now, I don’t subscribe to this entirely. I still use a physical to-do list because writing down my tasks helps commit them to memory and prioritize what needs to be done. However, I do schedule my to-do’s and let me tell you, it’s a game changer.
1. Forces you to set aside time to actually do work. Too often we get caught up running from meeting to meeting that we forget that we have tangible work that needs to be completed. Having your to-do’s live in your calendar prevents you from missing items and BONUS! prevents you from being overbooked.
2. Increases your ability to properly time manage. As you designate time frames to work on items, you may find that tasks take more or less time to complete than you originally thought. Thinking that an expense report would only take you 20 minutes and seeing that it actually takes you an hour will help you better allocate your time in the future and identify areas of opportunity in your skills.
3. Helps you analyze how you spend your time. Many jobs require us to play multiple roles at a time. By scheduling to-do’s, you can visually analyze where you are spending the majority of your time and if the need arises, speak to it with real data.
4. Keeps a record of projects. How many times have you gotten to your annual review and forgot most of the stuff you did that year? Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep track without having to manage yet another document? Surprise! Your calendar holds the key. Scheduling your to-do’s creates the record without creating more work.
5. Helps you keep your word and prioritize. We’ve all uttered the words, “I’ll get it to you by (insert day of the week here).” Suddenly, the day passes and there’s the dreaded email/phone call/message asking if you’ve had a chance to complete the work you’ve promised. My schedule of to-do’s gives me a visual analysis of my workload so I don’t over-commit myself and saves me from the embarrassment of forgetting. I can just plop a reminder into my calendar to send so-and-so that thing on a date prior to what I promised them and TA-DA! I’m Ms. Reliable/Dependable/On-Time/Go-To/Get-It-Done. Additionally, if I’ve promised four people something by Friday and see that I don’t have the capacity to complete all of the work needed, I can have the conversations to courteously reset expectations well ahead of time.
Scheduling my to-do’s has been a lifesaver in the workplace. It allows me to be an effective, reliable, highly-productive member of the office without increasing the burden of record keeping or documenting on my part. The extra bonus (because there hasn’t been enough of those) is it severely reduces my stress level. I no longer worry that I’ve forgotten to do tasks or if I have enough time to complete them. I’ve carved out the time and documented what needs to be done, so I’m all set.
Give this a try and let me know how it works for you!