How Big is Your To-do List and What do you do About it?

Peter B. GiblettStarred Page By Peter B. Giblett, 10th Mar 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Business>Leadership

What tasks can you complete in 15 or 20 minutes? How often have you had spare time during your day, perhaps whilst waiting for a meeting, before lunch, just before you go home etc? All too often we waste this time when we have other, more important, things to get completed.

This article was originally published on Triond, but has been updated with modern thinking.

Hundreds of Things To Do

Truth is that for most of us, even if we ignore the everyday work tasks for one moment, have a massive list of incomplete or outstanding items on it, we may rationalise it for the sake of easing our day, but the truth is that we still have a lot of things that we are expected to, or wish to. complete.

Everything goes on it; including:

  • Work tasks
  • Non-work things that are best completed at work
  • perhaps tasks relating to seeking a new job
  • Organisation of future social activities
  • Things you need/wish to buy

Ouch! What a list that is going to be yet we probably have a list for each of these groups and a few more besides. In addition we probably have our very own bucket list of things that we must do before we die, but most of these are unlikely to be completed in a given 20 minute period.

Yet when we have such spare time we rarely think about tackling one of these minor tasks, but that is precisely what we should do, and we can feel so much better for having done precisely that.

Software versus the Task

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to tasks software systems all seem to lack that ability to manage simple things, because they concentrate on complex projects, and let's face it not all tasks were created equal. As a consequence we list those minor tasks on post-it notes, or perhaps in our diary - but in time it is easy to lose track of them.

The simple task of calling George, should be ticked of as complete once we speak to George, but what if he is not available, or when he answers the call but has not time to talk about the problem at the current time. Yet it may also raise other tasks depending on the answers received, or indeed it may need regular attention, e.g. needing a regular call to gain up-to-date information, thus the simple becomes complex and conversely the complex can also be made simple through working with others.

One challenge of using software to manage our tasks is that we spend all of our time managing the list but not completing tasks on that list, no wonder the list grows and grows, you have probably had a headache from everything on your list on more than one occasion. Indeed one of the major problems of complex project management software is that we leave things on the list that are 90% complete (for example the task has been completed but does not have the manager's approval), when what we should do is mark that item as complete and create another task for the remaining element (the approval) which can be ticked off at a later time. Yet this article is not intended to discuss complex projects, merely how we can be more effective at completing the things we need to.

Getting Things Done

Most of what we need in order to get things done actually relates to the little things, the invoice that needs to be raised by the 20th, paying the accounts on time, etc. None of these tasks are in themselves high priority, they simply have to happen on a particular day in order that life continues smoothly, the actions to complete them may actually take 20 minutes (or less) yet we cannot raise the invoice before the 20th because we do not have a record of the hours spent by our team members on the specific customer projects before that date, yet delaying till the 21st means a long delay in payment. thus a project is simple but must be completed within a finite time. Do it right and everything goes to plan, do it wrong and it is painful, yet it is frequently these little tasks that seem to matter most.

The truth is that I have spent all too much time thinking about lists and how to manage them. Possibly only one person has done more thinking about the humble to-do list and that is David Allen in his international best seller "Getting Things Done".

Those Mini Projects

Some time ago I thought to my self that if I just completed 4 tasks per day then I would be moving in the right direction, it does not reduce the overall size of the to-do list, but it does force you to prioritise. Over time I have stuck by that idea that accomplishing just four key tasks per day is vital and these are the tasks that are not directly related to your work deliverables, but that may include the product list you promised to send to the Operations Manager last week, you committed yourself to providing it so it must be done or you will look bad in their eyes and in order to achieve this you must either do it yourself of delegate it.

When you have spare time it is important to keep going and tackle these mini projects from your list, if it can be done quickly do not procrastinate, simply do it, indeed this can be one of many small steps that we can take towards achieving any goal that we may have in mind. Many of us complain that we never tackle the ever-growing list of things we have to do yet when we have 15 or 20 minutes spare before lunch we waste it by the water cooler chatting. Now talking to colleagues often has value, but frequently it is time we are never going to get back and completing a mini-project will be more satisfying because we no longer feel that we have left something undone.

Through completing a series of mini-projects you can often look the hero. when you have time to spare pick-up the highest priority task that can be completed within that time-frame and get it done. You will be grateful for having made this step, as will others. Believe it or not but others will notice and you will be seen as someone who gets things done.

What Needs to be done Next?

We all have some things we need to do next, what do you need to do right now? Consider this often by helping others you are helping yourself.

The following are some of the more recent articles that I have published on a variety of topics.

Each person has a unique voice and Wikinut is great a place for you to share some of your wisdom, insight and knowledge, you could start by adding a comment, but perhaps you need something more in which case should join Wikinut, write then become connected to others who share a passion for writing, supporting one another, and learning on Wikinut.

Tags

Big List, Getting Things Done, Headache, List, Mini Project, Outstanding Items, Tasks To Complete, Things To Do, To Do

Meet the author

author avatar Peter B. Giblett
Author of "Is your Business Ready? For the Social Media Revolution"

Social media consultant, with C-Level background.

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Comments

author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
5th Aug 2014 (#)

Good morning, Peter; we share similar thoughts on this subject. I look at my to-do the night before and decide the A-B-C-D or the four top items as you suggest in your article. I tend to not use software that requires me to manange it while I'm trying to manage me and my time. I can get defocused, as you point out maintaining the ins and outs of all the bells and whistles on the software - color coding, prioritizing, setting alarms, etc. Great tips in your article, Peter. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
5th Aug 2014 (#)

My to do list gets bigger and bigger all the time. I have very little time to get a done list going.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
6th Aug 2014 (#)

The annoying thing about my current things that need completing is how I cannot see well enough to complete many tasks.

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author avatar Retired
5th Aug 2014 (#)

Some excellent pointers we can all apply. Thanks for this, Peter.

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author avatar JayeByrd
5th Aug 2014 (#)

It is always good to be reminded of what can be done in a short time to work toward a particular goal. Excellent page.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
6th Aug 2014 (#)

Truth is we tend to waste those extra moments that become available when we should catch up on things that are incomplete.

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author avatar Retired
5th Aug 2014 (#)

You are definitely a "list person," Peter. Does doing 4 tasks per day ever get you to complete any of your lists?

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
6th Aug 2014 (#)

In relation to the "4 Tasks" if you focus on them then you tend to complete them and often more besides. The point being that without having "4 tasks" to focus on you often end up completing nothing because of a failure to focus.

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author avatar snerfu
6th Aug 2014 (#)

That reminds me, where is my coffee? It is always there in my list...I just have to look for it.

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author avatar Ptrikha
6th Aug 2014 (#)

In short, we need to focus on one thing at a time, rather than multiple stuff, as that might not help us much.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
6th Aug 2014 (#)

Ptrikha, I remember one researcher in this field suggested that us humans are not true multi-taskers in that we must focus on one thing at a time in order to succeed, we may put other things in our subconscious to consider, but that is all.

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author avatar Etc.
6th Aug 2014 (#)

I haven't read Allen's book, but I'll look into it. Truth is that I've 'developed' a 'system' that seems to work well for me. I'm about as organized as a busy, unorganizable person can be.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
7th Aug 2014 (#)

My biggest to do is tackling the reading and commenting of fellow Wikinutters. Were I smarter, I would read 5-10 while waiting in the car, now that I have a phone I can read articles on. I was better when Josh was doing his lessons. Hoping to return to that when he returns to school.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
7th Aug 2014 (#)

Thought provoking, thanks Peter. When the pending issue becomes burdensome I attend to it, but to complete the task I also need input from others and they let me down often. It is said we accomplish things according to the time available but, sometimes, we are left with few hours, then we do it, and then ponder why the hell we carried the needless burden of not completing the task earlier - siva

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
7th Aug 2014 (#)

Siva you hit two crucial things there - dependence on other people and when to do it

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author avatar Retired
23rd Aug 2014 (#)

At my age, the to-do list almost becomes a bucket list.

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