Working on a continuous list of tasks is tedious. However, for most of us, keeping a list of “to-do’s” has become a habit. I am a bit anal retentive because I keep my list on my computer, in my written day planner, and on a whiteboard. Typing to-do’s using the “task” assistant in outlook is easy. Scheduling/blocking time to do the tasks in my planner requires me to prioritize and plan. I write each task in my planner because this helps me think through the actions needed to complete each item and gives me an opportunity to consider whether I can delegate specific steps to others. This is harder but worth the time. Finally, I write the tasks on my whiteboard using prioritized headings as a visual reminder and because I LOVE to mark them off as I get them done. This step also helps guide my assistant each week. She can see what I have on my list, and many times she offers to help me get things done. Without having my to-do’s visible, she would be less informed. By the end of my planning, which takes about thirty minutes, I have a clear vision of the week to come and enter Monday feeling less overwhelmed.
As I coach, I find teaching lawyers how to manage their “to-do” list better and plan their time is critical to their short and long-term success. With so many balls in the air, it is difficult to figure out what to do first, and sometimes balls drop. I developed a system to prioritize my time using three keywords: Have to, Need to and Want to. Each Friday, I print my outlook calendar and take time to think through the things I have to get done next week. These items are things that if left undone will cause me to lose a client, miss a deadline or hurt a key relationship. These items may be business or personal. I list these on my whiteboard under the have to heading.
Need to items include things that I need to start on but might not be due until next week or even further out. These items are important but not urgent at this point. Many times, the need to heading on my whiteboard contains a list of things that will enhance my business or projects I need to complete in the coming weeks.
Finally, want to tasks are things I would ideally like to get done in the coming week, but if left undone will cause no pain and suffering.
My goal is to have five have to tasks or less at the beginning of each week. Over the weekend, I block time on my calendar, just as if these are appointments, to get these have to tasks done. Many of these tasks are not fun, but they have to be done or else. Understanding that I do my most focused work in the afternoon, I try to block time during the afternoon to get these tasks done. If you are a morning person, you will do these tasks in the morning. I spread the have to tasks between Monday and Thursday. This allows me to have Friday’s to take care of the have to tasks that popped up during the week not known at the time I did my initial planning or to finish the have to or need to tasks. I may even find time to tackle some of my want to tasks.
In summary, the keys to time management consist of the following:
- Identify and prioritize the things that have to get done, need to get done and add a few things you want to do.
- Block and schedule time in outlook to do the have to tasks at your higher productive time and allow little to interrupt this time. Work the need for tasks during the week, understanding they are essential and require time, but should not be done during the time you have previously blocked for have to tasks.
- Write these tasks down in a paper planner if you use one. This reinforces what needs to be done and helps you think through whether you or someone else can do this task.
- Keep your list of have to, need to and want to tasks visibly available to you and anyone who is assisting you on these tasks. A whiteboard works well.
- Work your task list and celebrate your success by going home early on Friday and spending time with your friends or family.
- Accept the reality that despite your best planning, you will get sidetracked by unexpected tasks. Plan to spend fifteen minutes at the end of each day resetting your calendar to allow you to complete your have to tasks.
- Create a habit of weekly planning. Your life will be less frantic, and you will get more done. It takes time to create a habit, but the time spent will add invaluable peace of mind to your life and those around you.