Something for your toolbox . . .
Posted by: suzanne on 21 July 2014
To-do lists are something that every single person I know has an opinion on – some people hate them, some people live their lives by them – organising your workload is a very personal thing, and so how you go about it needs to work for you and not against you.
In my opinion, to-do lists are an invaluable tool – they can really help to not only organise your working day, but help you easily mark your progress. The key is getting the balance right; finding a technique that works for you, which makes your working day easier and not more complicated.
Below are 10 top tips to help you on your way…
1 - Add a few things on that you can tick off straight away
A very common tip, and a very useful one – a sense of achievement is a great motivator, and one of the key reasons for having a list is being able to mark and celebrate your progress by recognising when things have been completed.
2 - Keep everything in one place
Whether you like to write on a notepad, post-its, or create an excel spreadsheet, a to-do list will only be effective if it is ready to use, and you don’t have to gather together all fragments and piece them together before you can even begin – you can only see the whole picture when the jigsaw is in one piece! Don’t create more work for yourself by having to assemble it first.
3 - Keep it up-to-date
An incomplete or outdated list is useless, so make sure you keep it up-to-date. If something changes, make sure you add it as soon as you can. It may also be helpful to rewrite or refresh your list every so often; removing completed items and tidying it up a bit will make it easier to keep a focus on the things you have left to do.
4 - Review it regularly
Any professional working environment is dynamic; things are constantly changing, and your to-do list will change accordingly – constantly review your list and reprioritise things depending on your changing workload. It might be useful to have a master list that includes everything, which can be reviewed periodically to create a smaller list of immediate priorities. This also has the added bonus of looking a little less intimidating than a list a few pages long!
5 - Make it accessible
For those of you who move around a lot for work, having access to your list even when you’re not in the office is essential. Whether you access and update it electronically, or carry a notepad around with you, make sure you can get to it when you need to. This will make it quick and easy to review and update, and will also remove the necessity to start a new one!
6 - Manageable chunks
The beauty of a to-do list is that you can use it to reduce even the most daunting of projects into manageable ‘bite-sized’ chunks, allowing you to dip into different things if you need a change of pace or a break from something in-particular you are working on, without losing sight of your progress or forgetting where you are up to.
7 - Be time-aware
Whether you include this information on your list or not, never forget the timescales you are working to for each individual item. Colour-coding can be a useful way to distinguish between items with a different priority level or timescale (for example, items with weekly or monthly deadlines, larger projects, urgent items that require immediate attention).
8 - Remember, you’re not psychic
Try not to predict what your workload might look like tomorrow. Work with what you know now, and be flexible to the possibility of things changing. Working with certainty is a lot less stressful than working with an unknown. If you are unsure if a piece of work will come your way, then don’t add it to the list until it does. If you can’t start making progress towards getting the work ticked off your list then is it counterproductive to include it, and it will only hang over you.
9 – Keep it focussed
For those of us who like to maintain control over every aspect of our lives, a to-do list seems like a very appealing solution; but try not to lose focus - adding items like ‘pick up stuff for tea’ or ‘nip to the post-office after work’ will draw focus from your work and you’ll soon find you spend most of your waking day adding things to it until it becomes unmanageable –if you find it useful, then have a to-do list for non-work items so that they don’t become a distraction while you’re in the office.
10 - Your inbox will never be empty
When I was new to the world of work, the thing I found most stressful about organising my workload was the internal pressure I put on myself to strive towards the elusive goal of having no more work to do, because everything on my to-do list was finished. The more I tried to achieve this, the further away I seemed to get. It was as if a great weight had been lifted when I realised that this was a completely unrealistic expectation of myself and the stress immediately dissipated. So don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to get it all done; having a series of attainable goals can be just as, if not more, rewarding!
As we touched on in the last blog, being adaptive can be very beneficial, and it is a great skill to be able to recognise when structure and organisation is being helpful, and when it begins to hinder you because it becomes habit rather than a tool you use as and when it’s appropriate to do so. A to-do list is one of many organisational tools available to you. So only use it if it is useful for the job at hand!
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