Recently, while presenting my Smart Work program to a group of business leaders, I asked how many in the room kept a task list? Every hand went up. When I asked how many in the room kept more than one, no one raised their hand. It begs the question, is one list enough?
For years, the dominating question of effective time management has been “what’s the most effective thing I can be doing right now? I would suggest that a simple tweak to this question can make us even more effective, but will require new thinking when it comes to our task list.
To me, the question, “What’s the most effective thing I can do with the tools I have?” is a better question. The reason being, sometimes the most effective thing that I can do at a given moment requires tools that I don’t have. Maybe it’s an email I need to send, but I’m not at my computer, maybe it’s a discussion I need to have but the person I need isn’t in the office, it could be a phone call I need to make, but I’m not in a position to make the call. Tweaking the question will net me a better answer.
This is why I advocate breaking up task lists based on the tools available to complete the task. I learned this is David Allen’s Getting Things Done and it has forever changed the way I work.
Instead of making one giant list, I make a list of things that I can only do from my computer, at my office or at my home. I keep a separate list of errands I need to run and calls I need to make. Doing this allows me to accomplish all of the things that I need to get done, while I have access to the right tools.
It’s surprisingly easy to do with just a little thinking. For instance, I could technically write this blog post at any time with virtually any tool. I could use my phone, a legal pad or my work PC. Because I’m most effective using my personal laptop, “write Friday Blog Post” went on my “At Computer List”. Earlier this week, I needed to organize yard signs for our Rotary Club’s annual Pancake Day. This is a job that I could only do at my office. There was no point in even thinking about it when I was at home, therefore, it went on my “At Office” list.
Keeping multiple lists on either a legal pad, a software program (I use Google Keep) allows me to get right work rather than sorting through everything that I can’t do just to find the things that I can. It allows me to devote the appropriate amount of energy to the things that I can control rather than focusing on those things that I can’t. As far as I’m concerned, in order to be my most effective, one list just isn’t enough.