Taming Your Tasks with…

Lists

Last time, we started talking about using lists to help tame Entrepreneurial ADD (or its equivalent). I talked about how lists can start to bring order into the blizzard of tasks that we seem to have every day. I pointed out a couple of different ways to keep track of your tasks on the lists and to keep track of the lists themselves. (In a nutshell: use a paper version or a digital version.) And I shared how I use Evernote to keep track of my lists.

Today, I want to share a bit more about how I use my lists to stay on top of things. While you will need to find your own best method through experimentation, seeing how I use my lists to manage my tasks may provide you with a starting point.

By the way, the techniques I am sharing are ones I have worked out over many years as an Adult with ADD working in a highly dynamic environment. (What that means is that if it has a chance to distract me and keep me from getting things done, it will.) I started out developing these techniques long before there was a digital product/platform available. In other words, I used paper. So, feel free to use a low-tech version if that suits you better. The important thing is to have your lists with you at all times. Smart phone users can readily use that as a platform.

As I mentioned, I started out using paper. It worked fine, but the main drawback was having to re-copy uncompleted tasks to a new page/day/list. This is in no way a show-stopper, but it was inconvenient. When a digital platform (such as the Palm Pilot) came along, I hopped on board. (Yes, I’m a geek.) And I have used a digital platform ever since.

I strongly recommend that even if you use an electronic tool, you don’t delete completed tasks but just mark them as complete (when they are). It can be very rewarding psychologically to see the tasks either checked off or crossed out.

The accumulating list of accomplishments can provide its own motivation for tackling those tasks when your intrinsic motivation is waning. (In other words, you get such a boost from crossing them off that you will tackle tasks just to get to cross them off — even if you don’t feel like doing them today.)

I know people — and have been known to do it, myself — who will add an unexpected task to their list after they have completed it, just so they will get “credit” for it. (The credit is the psychological boost I referred to, no one else will likely even see the list.)

I don’t have space in this post to tackle all the ways I use and format lists (look for more in upcoming posts), but we can cover a brief review of the lists I use that help me keep on track.

Daily Tasks
Daily tasks are what need to be accomplished each day. My task list has 7 days of these (Sunday through Saturday) on it. The task gets assigned to each day that I need to work on it. Each task has a check box by it so I can mark it complete. Wherever possible, I break down the task to a level that it can be completed that day. Tasks can get added to a day (or moved from one to another) as needed.

Weekly Tasks
The task list I use has a section that includes things that must be done sometime this week. They are of such a nature that it doesn’t matter which day they get done, just that they get attention. Sometimes, the “nice if they get done” tasks go here, too.

There is also a section on the weekly task list called “Next Week.” If there are things that I know need to happen the following week, I put a note there so I don’t forget them. When a new weekly list is created (on Sunday), I add them to the new list in the appropriate place.

Longer-term Tasks

This is a separate list from the daily/weekly task list. This list and the Project list have a lot in common. In some cases, there may be overlap (I’ll address that in a future article). The larger tasks are broken down into smaller ones. And I do that again and again until they are at a small enough effort that they can go on one of the daily lists.

Projects (with Tasks)
Each project gets its own task list. The project gets broken down into its component parts, further and further down until they are actionable tasks. (Note: I don’t necessarily do all this breakdown at once. Instead, I do the sections enough to know which ones need more detail right away and then I do those.) This is basic project management effort. The detailed tasks then get put on the weekly task list and assigned to a day as required.

And that’s a review of the lists I use. While there is more to tell about them, this may be enough to get you started. I have clients whose work has been revolutionized by these concepts and techniques. In upcoming posts I will share more about how to put these together and use them.

Do you have a favorite technique that has worked for you? Don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with us (use the Comments). It might be just the thing we have been looking for all our lives.

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