Ask most people about how they manage their 'to do' lists and you'll find that few use lists (if they have them) in a way that gets the best results.
Most begin with the easiest tasks. Why? 'I like to cross things off'; 'It gives a sense of satisfaction'; 'I'm getting up momentum for the harder jobs' .... the reasons are many.
Problem is, at the end of the day the 'easy things first' operators typically run out of time for the big or more difficult jobs.
The following very simple process helps maintain focus and clarity, reduces distractions and gives far better results. (You can do it on both digital and paper calendars. Personally I prefer paper - it's fast, simple, and I'm quite visual. However, there is no 'right' way - use whatever medium works best for you.)
1. At the beginning of the day (or the night before), make a list of everything you want to do, in no particular order
2. Then identify the top 5 tasks. Number them 1 through 5, wherever they are on the list. Don't bother to number the rest - just the top 5.
3. Start at No. 1. Don't stop until you've finished, gone as far as you wish to go (you may have set a time limit), or as far as you're able to go.
4. When interruptions come, as they always do, ask yourself, 'Is this more important than the activity I'm working on?' If not, add it to your list, put it out of eye-range so it doesn't distract you, and stay focused on the more important activity. However, if it is more important, put the other task aside, work on the new job, and when completed go back to your list (considered and thought about before the day started bossing you around!)
5. Each time you move down the list, review it quickly. If something that's jumped on the list is of higher priority than the activity you'd planned to do, give it lead position. The others won't go away, but because they're on the list instead of jostling for mind space you can keep them under tight rein - they won't distract you.
6. If there's any day left once the top 5 and relevant queue jumpers have been handled, go back to the list and number off another 5. This saves time at the beginning of the day prioritising things you may never get to.
Innis, a young manager, has a slight variation using time slots instead of sequential numbers. He achieves great results too. He says his planning methods used to be poor. 'I kept everything in my head', he said. 'I'd change priorities and activities as I went. Consequently things got a bit out of hand.'
These days, at the beginning of the day, he writes everything down he wants to do, allocates specific times, and keeps the list nearby as a prompt. The big benefit is clarity. It's easy now to prepare. He's on the road a lot, so now makes sure he has all the paperwork and gear he expects to need for the day.
There's no more chasing around for forgotten items. Benefit - he's got more time to get on with things. However, if he's under-estimated the time needed or something really urgent comes up from left field, he doesn't get stressed. He knows he's done the best he could.
This simple planning technique has changed his previously somewhat haphazard management into an effective and profitable method. Just a small amount of thought at the beginning of the day has generated huge benefits.
Keep your planning simple, but most importantly, do it every day.