So I’m a huge fan of productivity hacks – partly because I work in a Large Faceless Corporation and am subject to the usual administrative nightmares that face employees of Large Faceless Corporations (in case any of my colleagues are reading this, I actually like my job. Seriously, I do. But more on that later). But yes – productivity hacks – I’ve found a few that have actually made a real difference in getting more stuff done, with less stress, and time to catch a movie after I knock off. I expect to be blogging more about them in due course, but today I’ll start with one of my favorites: the old-fashioned To-Do list.
Now I can hear all of you groaning at my complete lack of creativity (I mean, seriously, I call my To-Do list a “To-Do” list.. I don’t have any bright ideas when it comes to names). But hear me out. I’ve seen enough colleagues (and bosses) go through each day, using their friggin inbox as a to-do list. They check their emails (or blackberries) 10 times an hour, thinking that every email that pops up requires their immediate attention. And every task that is emailed to them is treated with equal priority, on a first-come-first-served basis. It doesn’t matter if the email is an instruction to finish a Really Important Report that could earn their company millions if actioned on immediately, or a reminder to send out the invitations for the upcoming Christmas party. It pops into their inbox, they spend two hours crafting that perfect Christmas invitation and send it out, only to find that they don’t have enough time to do that Really Important Report and they stay back till 10pm to do it, wondering why the hell they never have enough time to do anything.
Screw all that. I recommend doing up a To-Do list, listing just ONE major thing that you have to do tomorrow, and probably 5-6 minor things that need your attention, but really aren’t that urgent/important. The major task at the top of your To-Do list should be that one thing that actually matters, that adds directly to your core functions and values, that will impress your bosses and get you promoted if you do it well, that when completed will solve 80% of your worries. It may change from day-to-day, but for any particular day you should only have one of those items to tackle. If you have more than one, decide which is the more urgent one and tackle that one first. The other 5-6 items are for things that you owe other people but nobody would die if you didn’t give it to them immediately, or just those annoying little things that you need to get out of the way but don’t really help anybody except to cover someone else’s administrative ass.
That one major item on my To-Do list gets the priority of my attention, and that’s the one I start off with first the following day, probably spending up to 40% or 50% of my day on. You may have different working habits, but I’m the most efficient and clear-minded in the morning, buzzing with caffeine, so that’s how I treat that item most effectively. Once that’s out of the way, or at least partially done and can wait till the next day, I don’t have to worry about it anymore and can focus on working my way through all the small annoying tasks. I usually save that for after lunch, when I’m sleepy as hell and couldn’t care less about sending one-line emails to get annoying colleagues off my back.
And here’s the catch – you’ve got to do your To-Do at the end of the day, right before you leave the office. Leave about 15 mins at the end of the day to consolidate your thoughts, and come up with your To-Do list, no matter how much you just wanna slam your laptop shut and get the f*** out of there. It usually only takes me 5 mins or less, with the remaining 10 mins strategizing on which tasks I should tackle first. If you’re writing 20 items in there, you’re being too ambitious. Most people write their To-Do lists at the beginning of the day, but I’ve found that writing your To-Do list at the end of the day ensures that the day’s events are fresh in your mind, so you don’t have to spend time recalling them the next day, or worse, miss them out altogether. There’s also something very Zen about writing all those tasks out on paper, and psychologically leaving them there till the next day, so you’re not burdened with trying to remember them outside of the office.
And when you come back to the office the next day, it becomes a tactical matter of actually working your way through that list, rather than a matter of strategizing which ones you should pay attention to first, which can be pretty damn demoralizing the first thing in the morning. So you hit the ground running, doing actual work and getting stuff done, while secretly laughing at your colleagues who spend 40% of their day running around like headless chickens, wondering how the heck they’re gonna clear their bursting inboxes.
If you’ve tried this out, let me know how it works out for you 🙂