I find there are about three ways I start most days in my office:
- Launch into some task I was working on at the end of the last day,
- Rifle my way through email, floating from task to task as they were requested or at random,
- Review my to-do list and calendar, and then make a game plan for the day.
You can probably imagine which of the three options results in my most productive days of work. My best workdays always begin with a thoughtful review of all that's been asked of me and a decision about how I'm going to spend my time in between meetings and appointments with prospective students. Here's my plan for making the most of your day using a to-do list.
- Seek out a to-do list manager that works for you. Okay, so I feel like I've tried them all, and although Things for Mac has emerged as my application of choice, some of my other favorites include: Google Tasks (accessible in both Gmail and Google Calendar), Remember the Milk, Flow (gorgeous web and native apps, but pricey), Nozbe, and for the true power users out there, OmniFocus for Mac. Or, you could even go analog and use something that's paper-powered like an Ecosystem Journal or Behance Action Book. Yes, I know I've just given you a number of suggestions, but don't get hung up on the tool! Just use something that works for you. Remember, the goal here is not to just polish your list, but to actually get things done.
- Add tasks to your list as they come in. I do this in a few different ways. First, I drag an email message from Sparrow (my mail client of choice) into Things, and new to-do dialog pops up, including a link to the email (a similar option is available in Gmail + Google Tasks). Then I archive the email and retrieve it only when I absolutely need to. Second, I transfer to-do items from my paper journal to Things after each meeting I attend (I find having my iPhone in meetings can be a real distraction). Finally, I often think of things when I'm away from my laptop, so I use Things for iPhone (including syncing via the Things Cloud beta) to add tasks when I'm at home or on-the-go.
- Review your tasks at the beginning of each day and make a plan. This is really critical for me. I find I'm so much more focused and so much less overwhelmed when I know exactly what I'm working on and what's coming next. Each morning I identify what must be accomplished that day and what should come next if time allows. I've found major success and a more positive outlook at the end of the day every time I've done this. The best part? It really only takes just a few minutes to make it happen.
There's always going to be more work than hours in your workday. We just have to accept it. The trick is creating a list of tasks for your day that, no matter how short, will leave you feeling as energized at the end of the workday as you were when the day began. The bonus? Well, if you're anything like me, the energy you gain when checking an item off your list will propel you forward as the day progresses.
So, this is my starting line. The day could end up being a 100-meter dash or long like a 10K, but at least I'm off the blocks and heading in a consistent direction either way.
How do you begin your workday?