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Taming Your To-Do List

Aug 17, 2007
The worst thing about to-do lists is they seem to breed every time you look away. Just as you think you're getting somewhere, another task needs to be added. It's downright depressing. You might be forgiven for wondering if there is anyone on earth who actually manages to tick off all the items on a to-do list before the end of the day.

Take heart. It is possible to tame your to-do list - and not by taking a pair of scissors to it to cut it in half. What you need to do is look beyond the list, at the way you handle your time.

Don't worry. This is not just another 'time management' lecture that you've heard a thousand times before. It's a simple, workable approach to taking back a measure of control. By following 4 easy steps, you can introduce more flexibility into your working week - and finally tame that list!

== Step 1. Think in Terms of Tasks, Not Hours ==

In an effort to control the way we use time, most of us allocate a certain number of hours to our 'working week'. If you work outside the home, this may be imposed upon you. If you work from home, you decide your own hours.

Then what happens? In comes the out-of-control 'to do' list. You make a list of all the things you have to do. Then you add more. You try ranking them in order of importance, and the lesser things never get done. Worse, some of the semi-important things keep getting bumped down the list. You work all the hours you have set yourself, and more - but the list just keeps growing.

What to do?

Start thinking in terms of tasks to be done, rather than total hours to be worked. You'll find that some tasks can be grouped under a general 'project' heading. You might end up with two or three projects to be completed. (Leave yourself some time for repetitive everyday tasks - email, customer service etc.)

== Step 2. Establish A Pool Of Hours ==

Now allocate a "pool of hours" to each project. Don't use up all the hours in your working week when you create this pool of hours (or several pools). The whole idea is to build in some flexibility, so you don't feel overwhelmed.

How many hours should you allocate to each project? Naturally this will vary according to the complexity of the tasks. Some projects might take only 3-4 hours. Others might need 15 hours, or 30. Estimate the likely time to completion, based on your previous experience. Then look at your deadlines. If Project #1 is due in two weeks and you estimate it will take 12 hours to complete, allocate 8 hours per week to that project. This gives you a couple of spare hours per week. Always allow yourself a small buffer, so you won't panic if it takes longer than you expected.

== Step 3. Start With A Sprint ==

When you begin each project, start by 'sprinting' through a rough outline. This will get you off to a fast start, and the psychological benefits of having an outline completed quickly can last throughout the entire project. Set a time limit to brainstorm the outline - thirty minutes, an hour, whatever works for you.

Then divide your project outline into chunks and start working on one 'chunk' at a time. Be flexible about how you divide your hours. If you're in the mood and everything's going well, you can use more of your pool of hours for this project in one day. If you're hitting a roadblock and you need to let it 'simmer' for a while, put it away and turn to a different project and start dipping into a different 'pool'.

== Step 4. Wrap It Up and Reward Yourself ==

If you've estimated your time correctly, then you'll usually finish your project on time or with hours left over. This may well be a whole new experience for you! Instead of feeling panicked that you are ticking off an endless list of tasks without ever getting to the bottom of it, you have the satisfaction of completing a project when you planned to. If you have a few leftover hours in your pool, you have a choice - transfer them to another project, or use them as 'bonus time'.

It's a nice feeling to actually have a few hours that you can use to reward yourself instead of diving headfirst into yet another job. You'll find that this is a great motivator to avoid distractions - we all work better with the prospect of a couple of hours free to do something we enjoy.

Bottom line: Become task-oriented rather than time-oriented; work from a pool of hours; start with a sprint, then reward yourself by taking some time out using any leftover hours. You'll enjoy work more - and tame that to-do list in no time!
About the Author
Kevin is the publisher and editor of besuccessfulnews.com , a site that provides information and articles on how to succeed in your own home or small business.
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