Time Management – Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work

“Hey, I use a to-do list! So what’s the problem with my to-do list?”

That’s like asking, what’s the problem with giving your spouse an anniversary card to show your love. That’s great, but if it’s the only way you express your affection, then your marriage is in trouble.

Using to-do lists is better than not using any system to manage your tasks and responsibilities. But when it becomes the cornerstone of your time management system, you’ve got a problem. And if you’re reading this, then clearly your to-do list is not giving you the results you want.

Here’s why: Daily to-do lists don’t discriminate between what’s important and what’s not. Even when you prioritize your to-do list, you tend to give priority to the most nagging and urgent tasks, whether or not they’re important. Important things like exercising, spending quality time with your family, or nurturing business relationships rarely ever make it onto the to-do list.

The solution is to plan by the week, not by the day.

Using the week instead of the day as your time management building block forces you to look at things differently–literally. Get a planner with a week-at-a-glance format so that you can see the whole week at once. This has two main advantages over the daily to-do list.

First, you’ll be able to see how your different appointments and tasks relate to each other from day to day. You’ll feel more motivated to complete these tasks when you’re crystal clear on how things fit together.

Second, your eyes will open to windows of opportunity when you’re planning your week. You’ll identify blocks of time on any one given day–or small block-patterns spread across several days–that lend themselves to important, non-urgent activities like exercise and relationship-building.

Once you have your week-at-a-glance planner, follow these steps at the beginning of each week:

  1. Identify your top weekly goals for each role and responsibility you have.
  2. For each of these goals, ask yourself, “What actions do I need to take to achieve this goal?”
  3. From this list of actions, schedule any time-sensitive appointments first. This will reveal blocks of “open” time that you can use to complete actions that are not time-sensitive.
  4. For actions that are not time-sensitive, assign them to the days where they fit best. Certain actions may seem interchangeable from a scheduling perspective. Use this to your advantage. For example, say you scheduled a two-hour block on Wednesday for returning phone calls and a two-hour block on Thursday to prepare for a meeting. If the meeting was moved up a day, you could simply swap the two time-blocks on your planner without missing a beat.

Imagine a whole year of scheduling and completing the most important actions in every major area of your life each week. Kind of makes the to-do list look like kindergarten, doesn’t it?

Goethe said: Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Weekly planning shifts your focus so you can confidently say no to the things that matter least and enthusiastically say yes to the things that matter most

Copyright 2007 Curtis G. Schmitt 

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