Lists! This topic came up in our family last weekend and actually relates to a title I already had for the How To Guide so I thought now is the time to dive in!
The thing about lists is that we tend to be VERY attached to them. They make us feel secure yet stressed, in control and yet strangely never in the driving seat and organised yet overwhelmed. Everyone has unique ways of managing their lists too…coloured pens, scrappy paper, full notebook, on the fridge, 3 lists (!!) or even a digital version.
But…how are you really using them? Are they making you more productive? Are they task managing lists or brain dumping areas? Are they even useful to you?
Let’s first deal with the difference between a task management system and a brain dump.
Using a list as a task manager can help you remember a task, prioritise a task and plan some time for that task. A brain dump is a general ‘re arrange the office’ or ‘start a blog’ vagueness. These have not time frame, they involve multiple tasks to complete and they sit on our lists forever!
If your list is very long or you have multiple lists (yes you!) then perhaps your lists are about emptying your head of everything that’s in there. Often this create lists for your business, for the home, for an upcoming event and some Birthdays thrown in.
Therefore, I thought I would share some tips to help you revolutionise the way you list, task manage and empty your brain - they might be different things all together!!
Understanding what you're actually doing
First up is understanding what you're actually doing with your lists. Separating out what needs to be done and what is an idea/thought/future project is important. Start by observing yourself in the coming week as you use your list....is it stressful, is it all mixed together, is it never ending? A task list should be short, achievable and there should be an end point (then you make another). Ideas, thoughts, pondering or future projects go somewhere else!
Assess how long each of those tasks take
Once you have an idea about what are tasks...you now need to properly assess how long each of those tasks take. Yes really. Use a stopwatch on your phone or maybe an app like Clockify. For example if it's bookkeeping or uploading stuff to your website or even how long it take to send out a parcel, check everything! This will unlock a deeper understanding about what you're trying to fit into a week and what your time landscape looks like. Note: you might even find out you need to delegate or get help.
Prioritising tasks is key. Remember a task is an activity and please put aside anything that looks like 'remember Mum's Birthday/paint the shed/tidy the office etc. These are ideas not tasks yet. It needs to be slotted into a piece of time. If you're like me and maybe have several projects or parts to your work/life, then there are several areas of task to be covered. Start by carving up the time in the week. Time for work, time for home, time for you in blocks or zones. You will then know you have 20 hours of work time perhaps, and you can start to prioritise. You know you have allotted enough time for a project for that week. Then you can use some prioritising methods to focus. TIP - a task list should be short. Once you have completed the tasks, the list is dumped, deleted or even ceremonially burnt! It is done and you move on. NOTE: to make a difference, you need to spend the majority of your time in your 'zone of impact'. If your day is full of 'walking the dog' tasks (important but not a business priority) then your time slots might need to be re looked at to allow more time for doing the juicy stuff.
Try the 1-3-5 method. Each week or each day write down one top priority (tax return, website launch, application) that not only needs to be done but will also feel stressful if not done. Then write down 3 important tasks to complete. Again these might have a deadline, or will clear the way for other things or might even be regular tasks. Finally write down 5 relatively quick, important tasks that, if they don't quite happen, won't end the world but would be great to achieve.
Try the task sheets in the Member Hub which uses a paper block system where you can write down what's the top priority for the day or week, what comes next and some 'do not forgets'. You might add your daily walk/yoga/fresh air moment here.
Go digital with something like Trello. You can create lists/tasks and then drag them about to prioritise and tick off. You can also show progress on different tasks. For example if you're working on a longer project, instead of it just sitting on a list that is forever incomplete, you can show how you're getting to the end.
The difference between urgent and important
Remember the difference between urgent and important. Urgent is remembering to send a Birthday card on time. Add it as a task in a day if you like but first prioritise the important task - something that drives your business or life forward and helps you achieve your goals. For example, I would prioritise your important planing time or meditation time or website updating time over sending the Birthday card. The card will get sent by the last post but it won't accidentally become a distracting priority.
The other stuff...where does that go?
You might have found in and among your lists lots of things like - reorganise the office, paint the doors, plan for Bob's Birthday, walk the dog, make a hair appointment, start a blog. These aren't really tasks, they are brain dumps that are swilling around your brain. Let's start to work out where they go:
Use a notebook for plans, ideas and goals. I like one with no lines so I can draw, illustrate and doodle. You might have this in the kitchen or by the bed and you can work up projects. If you want to re arrange your office and decorate it, make this a project page in your notebook where you plan it, think about a task time slot you might allocate to it etc. When that time slot comes around (you planned a long weekend in October for example) then it might go on the task list for that week.
Try using Pinterest as an ideas place. Create secret boards where you can add to your project ideas. If you have a constant task on your lists that says 'start a blog' then it's not really a single task - but a general goal. Use the notebook/Pinterest board to pop in ideas for topics, layout or design that you like. You are working towards a goal in your pondering moments without it sitting in your task list not done. When the time slot comes up you might then start to create tasks like, build the 1st 3 months content list or write the first post.
Use apps like your notes area on your phone or something like the Pocket app. This is a digital version of your notebook idea. If your task list unwittingly has 'eat more veg' on it or 'make some reels' then you can prepare and ponder ideas for those ahead of 'doing the task' to complete the job. Pocket allows you to 'pocket' something you've seen online into an area in the app. I have areas like recipes, blog ideas, sustainability latest thinking and things to recommend. When I have a task on my task list to write a new blog post, I can then refer to this area.
Allocate some time for your list overhaul!
Ironic eh? Perhaps each evening or each Sunday night, allocate a half hour slot to prioritising what's in your head into tasks, notes and ideas. Remember that if the task list is getting long again, stop and reconsider if some of it is brain dump. Over time this sifting process will hopefully mean that your brain has more space to be creative when you're adding to a notebook, saving a podcast into Pocket or creating an ideas board on Pinterest while achieving the most important tasks in a day or week. If an idea need to be acted upon and become a priority, allocate the time slot and add it to the task list!
Make your organising as creative and as fun as possible - this keeps the whole process more creative and 'lighter' for your mindset and brain. I'm talking colour coding, coloured pens, lovely new notebook, sitting in bed with Pinterest and a brew, wall chart etc etc.