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RECHARGE :: Alan Hargreaves
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Tuesday
Nov012011

Want to be more productive? Trim the to-do list

Ever get that feeling you can’t do it all?

You’re right. You can’t. When most of us build a “to do” list, it becomes  an inventory of ideas that physically just can’t be done in the time we give it.

I plan a month in advance. I write all my brilliant ideas on a white board and stand back at look at it. I think “wouldn’t that be a great result?” If I stop there, it’s not long before it’s a rod for my back. There are just too many things on it.

Either consciously or sub-consciously, I know I can’t do it all. The list clutters my mind. It creates distraction, which in turn leads to procrastination. The end result is inertia. No wonder I can’t do it all.

That’s why I take a second step. I discovered this when I made an estimate of how many hours it would take to complete each item. I added them up and came to 270 hours. That’s nine hours a day, for seven days a week, for every day of a 30 day month. Forget lunch, family, sport and pastimes. This was workaholism on a roll.

Here’s what I did

I made a conscious decision to work a sensible week. I took the simplest option: 40 hours. It didn’t matter what days or what hours. It gave me a “time budget” of about 180 hours a month. I stripped out 25 hours for interruptions, leaving 155 for my list.

The next bit was the most important. I applied a simple priority scale to each item: one tick for something I wanted to do; another for something that would have a real impact. Some had both ticks; others one; some none.

I scrubbed off anything with no ticks. I was still over budget but down to 196. Then I scrubbed off items with one tick, alternating between those that scored on motivation and those that scored on impact. The end result: 152.5 hours.

The real result?

Clarity. I did not feel overwhelmed. I was motivated to get on with it. I had clear priorities and an uncluttered mind. 

There were other payoffs. By choosing things I wanted to do, I implicitly chose the things I was good at. I did them quicker and better.

For things with just one impact tick – like essential admin – I made an appointment with myself for the requisite number of hours. When the time came, I took the phone of the hook, shut down the email, closed the office door and did nothing else till it was done. If you want to feel good about admin, try doing it. 

Another interesting thing sometimes occurs. Good stuff happens without me planning it at all. More spiritually advanced friends say this is because I have let go and given the universe a shot at running my life. Might be something in that.

The big surprise? I got more done than when the list was longer. 

There are lots of books about getting it done. The reality is you can’t do it all and it’s even counterproductive to try. 

For a simple recharge, be realistic. De-clutter your way to clarity.  My children call it getting a life. I know they say that because I see more of them.