Generally, you can classify your to-do items in one of the following categories:
- A task or appointment that must be completed at a set time.
- A project or task that must be completed by a set time.
- Rolling responsibilities or chores that need to be done regularly, but with no deadlines.
- Things you'd like to do, but will only do if you have time.
Let's analyze each of these types and determine the best way to address them:
- It should be somewhat obvious that tasks or appointments which need to be completed at a set time (taking the dog to the vet or meeting friends for dinner) should go on your calendar rather than another type of list. If you are using an electronic calendar, be sure to choose an appropriate block of time to cover the duration of the appointment. Don't put things too close, and make sure you plan any travel time in between.
- If a project or task must be done by a certain time (such as a departmental budget due September 1), then you should to dedicate time to work on it before the due date. (I can almost hear you procrastinators complaining. Remember, the hardest part is getting started!) For to-do items in this category, I suggest a combination of adding this item to your to-do list, as well as allotting one or more time blocks on your calendar to work on the project. Depending on the scope, you may want to dedicate a regular time slot for this work, say Thursday afternoons for four weeks. This is particularly helpful if you have to consult others and wait for them to get back to you with answers (since you will probably end up calling them and reminding them).
- Rolling responsibilities can be subtle time-wasters, and can possibly even cost you money. Ran out of milk and have to make a special trip to the store? When you get there, are you just going to buy milk? Probably not. (Cha-ching!) It's likely that you may not need or want to create a list with these rolling items on it, for fear of seeming too regimented. However, may I suggest you consider planning these tasks for certain days of the week? For instance, in local Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, Monday is wash day. You could assign Tuesdays for cleaning the bathroom, Fridays for dusting, and so forth. If the item doesn't happen on the day it normally does, it's no crisis. However, having a plan and completing a few tasks every day will prevent things from all piling up. (Don't forget that you can dust and clean bathrooms while talking on the phone!) My opinion is that as much as possible, the weekend should be for family and relaxing. Planning will help you preserve that family time.
- Things you'd like to do should still go on your to-do list. It's so tempting for me to say, "I'll get around to that sometime, when things calm down a little." Just like that departmental budget (see item 2), setting aside some regular time for your personal interests is important. It's easy to let dance lessons, sketching out an idea for a novel, or even a pedicure take a backseat. I can guarantee when you are 80, you won't be asking yourself why you didn't spend more time at work.
Here's to crossing some items off your list today!