Who doesn’t like to get stuff done? Getting stuff done feels great because it takes you a little bit closer to achieving your long term goals, and it allows you to cultivate a feeling of being productive while making a difference in the world.
There’s a certain feeling of achievement that comes from checking off each item on a to-do list, sort of like vanquishing your enemies before declaring victory over your day. At the very least, it stops you from feeling like a useless couch potato.
I have been slightly obsessed with getting stuff done since before I was a kid in school, planning out my days with the precision reserved for most aeronautical engineers. However, as I grew older, my daily to-do lists grew larger and less manageable.
Today, the story is different, and I rarely manage to complete all the tasks I’ve outlined. Unfortunately, try as I might, I rarely make it through the monumental to-do list I have made in my notebook.
While most of us try our very best to get work done in a timely way, we often struggle to accurately predict just how much time individual tasks might take. We may complete some tasks in the blink of an eye, while other activities may take twice as long as initially predicted.
Thankfully, there is a way to systematically divide your to-do list into segments so as to improve the likelihood that you will get the most important activities, often called “high value tasks,” done before moving on to other tasks of less importance.
First, if you haven’t done this already, practice writing out a list of activities that need to be done. Below we’ll go over the four categories you can put your tasks in:
1. Urgent and important
Look at your list of to-do’s and highlight which ones are most important and urgent. You should try to highlight between 3-5 activities which are so urgent that they need to be completed right away. If you need help, try asking yourself these questions: What do you need to do right now? What needs to get done in the next 24 hours?
Think about what barriers are keeping you from reaching the next stage in your personal growth or development. What tasks need to be completed to get you more information or allow you to take action? Maybe you need to speak to someone about a product idea, or perhaps you need advice on how to respond to a client.
This list of activities should include things that are so important that you literally cannot do anything else without completing them first. This may mean working on a report that is due today or sending a follow up email to a boss or client who is waiting for a reply.
“Sometimes our stop-doing list needs to be bigger than our to-do list.” – Patti Digh
2. Time sensitive but less important
Next, look over your to-do list and select the activities that are time sensitive but are less important than the 3-5 “urgent and important” activities. This may be updating your CRM system, planning sales calls, or arranging a marketing campaign. These activities are still necessary to achieve your goals, and they have a definite timeline. Try to keep this second group to between 7-10 activities.
One thing to be wary of when developing this list is to avoid tasks that are simply “busy work.” This type of task should be delegated or automated as much as possible to avoid burnout and allow you to focus on strategic, higher-level activities.
3. Important but not time sensitive
These activities are just as important as those in the first group, but they may require more time and more effort than those urgent and important activities. This may include reworking your business plan, developing a new product launch strategy, or arranging to hire new employees.
“I made a huge to do list for today. I just can’t figure out who’s going to do it.” – Anonymous
4. Not important and not urgent
Activities in this group should be considered “like to have” tasks. These are activities and tasks that would be nice to make time for, but aren’t required for success.
No matter how you approach your daily activities, tackling your tasks in a way that allows you to prioritize what is most important to you will be key to developing a deeper understanding of how you work and how you can make yourself more effective.