The 11 Principles to make your To-do List Work

‘Sathya! Thank you so much for re-iterating the need to create a daily to-do list to conquer the work day!’ started the e-mail from friend.

After the usual greetings, my friend finally revealed himself, ‘Despite my attempts, I still end up not getting what I wanted to do. At the end of the day, I really feel I still didn’t get myself around doing what I intended to do in the starting of the day. I am simply at lost.’

Basic RGB

Previously I wrote about creating a to-do list, I started getting inquiries. Most of us get the principle behind making a daily to-do list, but terribly fail in getting the process right. Even worse, some even go to the extend of blaming their failure to the tool itself – ‘Go with the flow!’ they suggest. And may be that’s where most of them end up at – with the daily flow of life and not particularly exercising their power to influence it.

 “Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.” ~ Peter F.Drucker

Few suggestions to master your daily to-do list:

1. Set up a weekly 20-minute meeting with yourself. Put it on your calendar, and don’t book over it—treat it with the same respect you’d treat a meeting with your boss. – Gina Trpani, LifeHacker blog

2. Review your day’s work. Spend the last 5 minutes of your day in reviewing what went well? what failed? challenges? successes?

3. Finish your day by making to-do list for tomorrow. It clears up your mind. More importantly you know what needs to be done that day because you made the list previous day itself.

4. Be mindful of boredom/ fatigue. Alternate between tasks – so that you keep yourself excited. I usually try to jump from a work in Sales to Training to Marketing etc..

5. Batch work: I prefer to batch my phone calls/ emails in a particular time. While most of us simply can’t deny being disconnected, we should try to the maximum extend possible to be connected, meaningfully. Few recommend to check e-mail only once/ twice a day. I usually don’t attend calls as it comes, I batch it and schedule it during my pause time. I prefer to be on my feet when I am on a call – first it shakes my nervousness, second it saves me from distraction on my laptop.

6. Differentiate between an event and a task: Whatever is an event, a meeting with your boss/ team/ client, phone call to the Regional Manager, con-calls, appointments, follow-ups but it on your calendar. Remember these are not tasks, but events and would demand scheduling. GCal works for me perfectly – it also allows me get notifications and add/delete events on my smart phone as well. Use it to the optimum advantage.

7. Know the difference between project and a task: I simply kept ‘Writing for blog’ on my to-do list for quite sometime. I went on migrating it from my daily to-do list day after the other. It went to the point that I felt guilty about keeping it on my to-do list and subsided to my emotion saying to myself that, ‘You know what, I am not made for writing’ and my ego even supported it saying, ‘I have got better things to do!’. As it is evident now, I got over it. The trick was knowing the difference between the task and the project. ‘Writing for the blog’ is a project which I converted to ‘Research for the article on ‘daily to-do list’ was on my daily to-do list. Notice that it is not even ‘Write the article ‘daily to-do list’ – it was just research. Chunking as it is usually called is a fantastic liberator for those confused.

8. Know the difference between goal and a task: Knowing that I had hit 30s while it gives a sense of responsibility to your life and it also sometimes feels burden. Particularly I realised that I need to take control of my health. But simply putting ‘Become my best physical self’ on my to-do list simply did not work. I need to break it down – practicing Kayakalpa after bath and after coming back from office. Either this chunking puts it in the habit list or my to-do list.

9. Make a separate Rituals/ Habits Lists: For quite some time, I have been trying to put habits that I need to do that on my to-do list. It unnecessarily clogged my to-do list. Now I have removed it and put it as my overall habits list like Exercising, Meditating, Drinking a glass of fruit juice, etc. I also have to consciously tell myself habit is quite different from my task list, because I got to elated of doing my habit as mastering my daily task list. It was not so.

10. 6 Boxes Focus Areas: This is one of the best secrets I learnt from Peter Bregman. Deciding upon my key functional areas in itself gave a lot of clarity. You can look up into your job description and your contribution to organization’s overall mission could give you an idea to decide upon your focus areas. I usually allocate my to-do lists to the focus areas on the 6Boxes template. This gives me tremendous amount of clarity and focus. Even among the 6 areas, I knew the priority areas like Sales where I have to proactively seek work

10. Pause: I get and walk out of the office once in half an hour or so. I take my phone and make the calls. Or simply walk out and check out what others are doing.

11. Finally, remember it not about getting things done, it is about getting the right things done. I highly recommend reading ‘HBR review’ ebook.


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