Pretty much all of us create some sort of daily list for the tasks we need to do. I personally prefer to use Todoist as my overall task management application but there are plenty of options that work just as well, so I urge you to use whatever works for you.
The thing is, if you’re like most people your task list isn’t actually a task list but is more a collection of things you hope to have time for in a week.
You may feel like you’ll get more stuff done if you build an ambitious task list, but chances are, you won’t.
To illustrate what I mean, think of your life as a highway, and all the things you need to do are the travelers on that highway — the traffic on the road.
When you’re running at about 90% capacity, everything works smoothly (the traffic flows smoothly). For teams/projects, studies show they’ll run smoothly at about 75% capacity. But when conditions change and one project takes a few days longer or you need to take a sick day that small change creates a huge productivity cascade if you’re at more than 75% capacity. This is a part of Chaos Theory called The Butterfly Effect, which holds that a small change in one area has huge consequences in other areas.
When you’ve got a
task wish list that’s scheduled to capacity this is exactly where you sit. A 10-minute delay in starting your day means you won’t get to your first task as planned, which affects your second task…and all other tasks. By the end of the day you’ve got at least two hours of work still to do, and you felt rushed/flustered all day.
The problem is, your task list wasn’t based on an objective approach to your available time in the week.
When filling out your weekly calendar, start with your highest-priority items. Once you’ve set up your big items you can start to fill in the little things. Remember to leave about 25% of your week open, which will give you the flexibility to deal with the distractions that will inevitably arise.
How do you define your highest-priority items? You’ll have to decide, but typically these will be your top 2 or 3 goals for the week. By example, here are my 2 main goals for this week:
- Finish the little extra items from Client #1
- Launch Client #2
That’s it. If I get those 2 things done, my week has been a success.
Then daily use these 7 tips to have a productive work day.
If you’ve left 25% of your capacity open and unscheduled, then you can embrace the distractions that come up. For example, if my wife is in the vicinity of my office and she decides to stop by with the kids, 90% of the time I can take time out and enjoy a few minutes with my family.
If my wife is sick I can come home early, or take most of a day off with no negative impact on my overall goals for the week.
This is because I build in proper margins for the week from the outset. Interruptions are like taxes — you know they’re coming, so plan for them.