How To Manage A Never Ending Todo List
This week, how to manage a seemingly never-ending to-do list
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Hello and welcome to episode 161 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week’s question is all about managing time. Now I know some people will claim you cannot manage time, and if we are talking about the amount of time we have each day that is true. But we can manage how we use that time and that is where many people struggle yet when you understand what you have and you know your limitations then it can be very easy to manage.
Now, before we get to this week’s question I just want to give you a heads up on my 2020 Thanksgiving holiday sale. This year I have kept things as simple as I can. All my courses and bundles of courses are currently available with a 30% discount. And for my coaching programmes, you can get yourself a 20% discount.
I’ve had to limit my coaching programme offer to the first twenty people as I do all the calls personally and I want to do the best job I can in helping people.
So if you are interested in joining my coaching programme please act soon as the available places are going fast.
Okay, on with this week’s question and that means it’s time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Juan. Juan asks, hi Carl, I started to use your Time Sector System earlier this year and it has really helped me to simplify my workload. The problem I have though is I rarely complete my tasks for the day. I feel I have too many tasks and I don’t know how I can stay on top of all my work. How do you manage your tasks? Is there a way to always finish your work each day?
Hi Juan, thank you for your question.
Let’s look at this as an equation. There is two sides to this equation. The first side is time available. That’s fixed at 24 hours each daily cycle. You cannot change that. It’s the same for all of us. The second side is the work required to be done. That’s variable.
So, when you base your thinking on the fact that of the two sides to the time management equation only one is variable we can focus our attention on managing that side.
But first, on the work to be done side of the equation we have to factor in some fixed pieces. The first is sleep. We have to sleep. Now depending on your own personal sleep requirements that could be anything between six and nine hours per day. We also need to eat and that likely will take up a further ninety minutes.
So, of those twenty-four hours, we are already down to say fourteen hours per day (taking an average of ten hours for sleeping, eating and taking care of personal hygiene)
Now, having taken out time for the essentials—sleeping and eating etc—individually we may have other important tasks to take care of. For example, I schedule exercise time every day. I cannot function properly without exercise so I have an hour a day set aside for exercise.
You may have a young family and they will require time attention each day and that could be two to three hours.
Then we have our regular routines, household chores, paying bills, taking the garbage out and walking the dog. All these can quickly add up to an hour each day.
So, when you take into account your fixed time requirements, you are likely to have no more than eight to ten hours left to do all your other work.
But, it does not really end there. Another factor in this equation is your energy levels. We often assume we will have bundles of energy every day, but you know this is rarely the case. You may have not slept well the night before, you may be feeling a little sick or have a headache. All of these can have a debilitating effect on your energy levels which will affect the amount of work you can comfortably do each day.
The reason I explained that is most people’s expectations of what they can do each day is unrealistic. They bite off more than they can chew—as my mother used to say.
You need to get realistic on this side of the equation. It’s the only part of the equation you can manage.
If you use the Time Sector System, the key folder you are focused on each week is your This Week folder and you quickly learn how many tasks you can realistically accomplish each week because at the end of the week if you have any remaining tasks it will be an indicator of one of two things. Either you were being overoptimistic when you did your weekly planning or an emergency arose that took up a lot of time.
The longer you operate the Time Sector System you learn what your realistic task number is. For me, I have 17 recurring areas of focus each week. These are my most important, must-do tasks each week. They relate to my most important work such as preparing and recording this podcast, writing my blog post and recording my YouTube videos. They also include the tasks I need to complete in order to achieve my goals.
That leaves me with around twelve other tasks I can complete without putting myself under strain.
You might think twelve tasks in one week is not many, but when I talk about a task it could be planning an update to a course which will require around three to four hours, or preparing a workshop for a client company. These are not tasks like replying to an email. Email replies are part of my daily routines.
As long as I am doing my area of focus tasks and routines I am taking care of my most essential work each day. My major work. The work that will give me 80% of my results.
So knowing I have room for twelve additional tasks, when I do my weekly planning I can decide what needs to be done the following week.
Now, life is not that simple, of course. Through the day emergencies and urgencies will happen. They always do and you cannot plan for those. You just have to deal with them as they come up. You just have to have the flexibility to deal with those.
Now the beauty of the Time Sector System is you stop thinking in terms of what you get done each day, you start thinking in terms of what you get accomplished each week. So, if an emergency occurs and you get none of your planned tasks done one day, you can do a daily planning session and reschedule those tasks for other days in the week.
This week, for example, I could not prepare this podcast script on Tuesday because of a family trip. I saw that on Monday evening when I did my daily planning and rescheduled the podcast script to Thursday morning. It meant Thursday was busier than usual, but I was able to find the additional ninety minutes by waking up a little earlier than usual.
Having the freedom to shuffle tasks around on a daily basis allows me to be more flexible about when I do my tasks. Obviously, if a task needs to be done by Tuesday morning it needs to be done on Monday, but not all your Monday tasks will have the same tight deadline. Some may be just moving a project forward task and could be done later in the week if you don’t have enough time to complete it on the day you’d like to do it.
But the key to all this is learning to prioritise. You cannot do everything and you will always have more tasks on your to-do list than you could complete in a day or week and those tasks will keep coming. It’s like email. You can get yourself to inbox zero and within twenty minutes you’ve got a full inbox again.