We’ve been writing down tasks, completing some of them, and adding more to lists for thousands of years. It seems like a rational way to accomplish the things one must accomplish – and it probably was, beginning from when humans made their first mark on cave walls.
But now, the world is faster, more connected and much more complex. We have appointments to keep, children to pick up from school, yoga classes, football games, Facebook and Netflix. There’s shopping to be done, roads to be driven and parties to attend. With all of this going on, for ourselves and everyone else in our lives, simply writing down everything we have to do and hoping we squeeze it in between everything else we have to do, is just not enough.
The to-do list fails because it makes no distinction between tasks that may take fifteen minutes and tasks that may take three hours. It also assumes that these tasks will magically be completed in the amount of unscheduled time available on your calendar.
So, how do we ensure we get things done? One effective strategy is time-blocking your daily schedule.
Keeping a schedule is not a new concept for successful people. Chances are you already keep a schedule of meetings, appointments, vacations and other important events. Some of these events you allocate an hour to, some half a day.
Consider time blocking everything you want to accomplish. Here’s how to start:
- Look at your current to-do list and assign an amount of time to each task. Be reasonable and realistic. Can you really write that proposal in an hour? Can you really cut back and forth across town in 30 minutes?
- Prioritize. Are there tasks that must be completed before others can be undertaken? Are there tasks that can be delegated to someone else on your team? Do external deadlines determine when certain things must be done?
- Put together your daily schedule much like you would for a jigsaw puzzle. Find space for the highest priority and most time demanding tasks first.
- Finally, the difficult, yet most crucial, part: You must protect these time blocks and work on the tasks assigned when you have assigned them.
Having protected blocks of time to work on specific tasks allows you to enter states of what Georgetown University Professor Cal Newport calls “deep work.” The concept of deep work is similar to being “in the zone” or in a “flow-state.” These periods of work are exponentially more productive, creative and enjoyable. Scheduled time blocks also ensure that everything on your list gets done when it needs to.
As a business owner, it’s easy to get carried away by the demands of other people. If you don’t control your time, others will. Share your calendar with key members of your team and communicate that you will make time available for them, provided they respect your blocks.
Regardless of whether you use pen and paper or a computer-based calendar system, the process is the same. Take the time on Sunday, or the previous Friday afternoon, to plot out your upcoming week and then make revisions each evening for the next day as you move through tasks. As things come up and priorities change, make mindful adjustments to your time blocks, but do not abandon them.
Commit to converting your to-do list into a time-blocked calendar for the next three months. You’ll get more done in less time, and the quality of that work will be much higher.