In today’s constant-distraction-and-huge-todo-list culture, it’s extremely easy to get sidetracked by things that aren’t vital to achieving your goals.
Here are some simple tips for making sure you’re not wasting a large percentage of your time on things that don’t matter.
#1 Gather Your Todos
I use Remember the Milk to record all my todos. I group them by projects and then assign due dates and priorities. They also have a great iPhone app which syncs automatically with the web app.
Whether you use Remember the Milk or another tool, it’s super important to write things down as soon as you think of them. If you don’t, then you’ll constantly be plagued by the feeling that you’re forgetting something (I have over 500 tasks currently active in Remember the Milk).
#2 Organize Your Todos on Monday Morning
A sure-fire way to waste 50% of your time is to charge into the week without organizing your todo list and inbox. There will be hundreds of things shouting for your attention and you need to proactively choose which things are important to you – not things that other people say are important for you to do. As someone once said …
Your email inbox is a todo list that anyone can write to.
Here’s how to organize your todo list:
- Block off the first hour of every Monday to organize your todo list. Turn off instant messenger, close email and silence your phone. You need absolute silence so you can focus. I tend to do this from 5am – 6am on Monday mornings, before my wife and son wake up.
- Go through the todo lists for all your current projects (in Remember the Milk in this example) and pick important things that you need to do this week. Prioritize them and assign them a due date this week, or tag them with ‘thisweek’.
- Use a tool like TadaLists.com and create a list called ‘This Week’. It’s important that this is separate from your main repository of todos (Remember the Milk in this example).
- Take a deep breath and ask yourself “What are the things that I could work on this week that will get me closer to my longterm, important goals?”. (These things may not even be on your Remember the Milk todo lists.)
- Put several of these things on your ‘This Week’ list in TadaList and prioritize them by putting the most important things first. Make sure these are atomic, do-able things (not big concepts like ‘Increase signups by 3%’).
- Go back to Remember the Milk (or whatever tool you’re using) and filter it by tasks due this week.
- Pick several of the important ones and copy them over to your ‘This Week’ list in TadaList.
- Close Remember the Milk and only refer to the small ‘This Week’ TadaList for the rest of the week.
What you’ll find is that you had a ton of things that you were supposed to do this week (in your Remember the Milk list) but only 10 or 20 of them are really important. Those 10 or 20 items should be added to your TadaList. At that point, I’d close your Remember the Milk list, and only look at your TadaList for the rest of the week.
Another reason to distill your huge weekly todo list down into a smaller list is that it will keep you motivated and excited, as you’re consistently finishing your todos for the day, instead of having 15 undone items at the end of the day.
Here’s a screenshot of an example TadaList. Note that I’ve created a pretend item called ‘==== END TODAY =====’. This helps me see what I’m supposed to complete today, and feel good about it once they’re all done.
#3 Stick to Your Guns
The most important thing is to stick to your simple ‘This Week’ todo list (the TadaList in this example) and not get distracted when new things get thrown at you. Just remember that you have control over what you’re doing and whether it’s helping you move towards your longterm, important goals.
Don’t waste 50% of your time on things that don’t matter.