“I always look for ways to get more things done in the time I have.” We hear this sentence a lot, particularly from leaders. It sounds good but it’s not quite right. What we’re really looking for is that warm fuzzy feeling of satisfaction. The satisfaction that we got things done, that we moved things forward, and that those things mattered the most. The satisfaction that we gained insights and now have more clarity. That makes us happy, at least a little bit.
The good news is it only takes 3 steps to experience that wonderful feeling after most days’ work:
- Write down all your tasks
- Prioritize them relentlessly
- Complete the one at the top first
The bad news: doing it once does not help. It’s like working out. We need to turn it into a habit, something we do over and over again. And we all know forming new habits is just as hard as breaking old ones.
Now, let’s look at each of the steps.
Write down all your tasks – Our former team had a saying “If a task is not written down it doesn’t exist.” It refers to the fact that if you don’t write it down you’ll forget about it eventually. So, when something comes to mind record it immediately. Write it down no matter when or where it pops into your head. (If you figure out a way to make it work under the shower, let us know.) Try to find a setup that is minimally disruptive. The switch to jotting down a task and back should be fast and painless. Also ensure that all recorded ideas and tasks end up in the same place. Otherwise it’s hunting season again.
Prioritize relentlessly – Recording everything is one thing, bringing order to the chaos another. Your goal is to know your top 10 to-dos. Always, no exception. You can choose a different number but don’t go below 5. (If you choose 100, write down “Find a meetup for people with decision-making deficiency” and move it to the top of your top-100 list right now. ) Make sure you have a clear understanding of every single to-do on your top-10 list. You should have a clear picture of how to approach each to-do and approximately how long it will take you. The more work a task entails the more likely it is you are off with your estimate of how long it will take. So, split big ones into smaller ones. There is no tie between tasks. You need to make a decision which one comes first!
Complete the task at the top first – The to-do at the top of your top-10 list is the most important one. You said so. Now, trust yourself and tackle the one at the top. Finish it before you go to the next one. Once you completed a couple of tasks make sure you return to prioritizing in order to replenish and re-assess your top-10 list.
We told you it’s only three steps. We didn’t say it’s easy.