2 Tips to Keep Your To-Do List from Overwhelming You

Apr 29, 2014

One of the benefits of working with an experienced consultant and facilitator like Gary Gzik (besides his endlessly exuberant personality and the fact that he signs off all his emails with “Enthusiastically”) is the fact that he always has useful tips and tricks.

His method for managing time is one I’ve always liked. We’re all busy and I know I can spend an entire morning doing things and then look at my to-do list and realize I’ve accomplished nothing on it because I got distracted by non-essential tasks.

You know the ones I mean – responding to emails, chatting with co-workers, making calls, reading an article or two, doing work that probably could have waited but is simple enough that you could just take a minute or two now to do it…

It’s the busy work that gets us every time. The things that make you feel like you are making headway while you’re doing them, but that really just leave you in the same place or further behind and scrambling.

When Gary teaches his time management course to organizations, he likes to give people two useful tips to combat this busy work and ensure that more of the important work gets done.

I’m going to pass them on to you because I’m sure you can make use of them.

What Are You Spending Your Time On?

The first tip concentrates on what work is getting done. Create a to-do list for your day if you don’t already have one (or two or three if you’re like me). Next, create a four square chart like this:

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Divide your work amongst the four squares following these guidelines.

1. This is your most important, time-sensitive work. This is the work that if you don’t get it done you’re going to be panicking.

2. This is important work that isn’t time sensitive. This is the work that often gets pushed off because it isn’t urgent. It’s easier to put other work ahead of it, especially if it isn’t something that inspires you. However, it is work that will move you forward.

3. These tasks require your attention, but are not important. These are often things like emails, calls and many of the meetings people are required to attend.

4. These are tasks that are neither urgent nor important.

You want to be spending the vast majority of your time in the first and second areas. These are the tasks that will have the most impact.

Try as much as possible to stay out of the third area. At times it is necessary to be there, but it will just make you feel busy and not like you’ve accomplished anything essential.

The fourth areas is where the least amount of your time should be spent for productivity’s sake.

If you work this system, the bulk of your time will be spent working on essential tasks.

When Are You Working on Important Tasks?

The second tip Gary gives for managing time is gaining an awareness of when you do your best work – when you are most alert, energetic, creative, etc.

This is different for everyone, so you need to pay attention to when you are most productive during the day. Also, you might find that this differs for the type of task.

For example, you might do your best creative work in the morning, but have more concentration for reading reports in the early afternoon.

In general, I do my most productive work in the late morning/early afternoon. However, I find it difficult to write articles at these times. First thing in the morning is generally when I reserve time for writing.

When you gain this awareness, you can take the tasks in the first and second squares of your chart and schedule them into the times where you’ll be at your best.

During the times when you feel the least alert and energetic, do the low impact activities in the third and fourth squares.

The key is to not waste your best time on “busy work” and not work on your most important tasks when you are in a slump.

There you have it, two simple tips to super charge your productivity and help you check off a few more tasks from that never-ending to-do list.

Now, get at it.

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