The art of the to do List

You are working on a project managed by someone in your team who you call a project manager or a coordinator and you trust him to manage your workload, your priorities, guide you to produce your deliveries on time and it is probably what he will do. His goal is driven by motivations very far from your own.

This is a problem!

The project manager has made a plan to ensure the budget and the due date of your project are both on track. Your job is to stick to this plan, whenever this is possible or not. Most of the time it won’t be possible, as you realize your project was designed to beat the competition, in order to be completed in the lesser possible time, with the less possible resources (that would be you). At the end, you are the one who is going to pay with your sweat. You are the cannon meat!

Make daily to-do lists while working on a project

Rather than being frustrated by an undoable plan, why don’t you just make your every day to do list with a content that you can compromise yourself to execute: your own personal plan?  It would certainly help you overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed, reduces anxiety and be more productive and focused throughout the day.

This would help you achieve the following:

  • Keep focus on what you actually can do,
  • Avoid dispersion,
  • Add tasks that the project plan did not foresee, and justify time,
  • Justify deviation to your hierarchy,
  • Report your working time based on the items on your list.

To-do lists limitations

To-do lists have very strong limitations when it comes to working efficiently. Remember they are just a tool and you will still have to do the job. Having long to-do lists can feel overwhelming and will probably lead to procrastination over time. They also give the filling your job is never complete as new items are added all the time, sometimes faster than the one crossed from the list.

Items on a list are also not prioritized. The general feeling is that you take the list from top to bottom and execute all tasks sequentially no matter their relevance. This could be dramatic for your management.

It is reported that only 15% of the items on a list will be executed. In fact, the longer they remain uncrossed on your list, the lesser chance they have to be completed.

Here are 5 tools that could help you.

Wunderlist (free) is a task management application. It allows users to manage their tasks from a smartphone, tablet, computer, and smartwatch. Wunderlist has recently been bought by Microsoft and will be discontinued to evolve into some other application.

Do it later by Asus is a task and to-dos app for Android. The name itself sounds like procrastination but it’s very effective and the widget lets you know on front-page what you could be missing. A strong feature of this app is that you can create a task by sharing content from other apps.

Remember the milk comes on many support such as Android phones and tablets, iPhones and iPads, Web app under Windows, Macs or Linux and even Blackberry 10. Works offline and synchronize all your installations. It also integrates your Gmail and Twitter account. Free accounts have access to basic functions. You will need to be to unlock some other function such as for instance subtasks.

Microsoft Outlook has also the ability to create lists of tasks. This does not seem obvious at first glance, but most of your workload is created by emails, provided you are working in an office environment. It looks natural for outlook that email can be transformed into tasks.

Post-its. No need for fancy software, a post-it or a simple sheet of paper can be the most suited tool for you. Let’s face it, it is portable, works everywhere even if you are in the wood or at the beach. It’s technology free, not all of us is proficient with techs. It also probably does the job as well as the most sophisticated software. If you are not sure you can cope with to-do lists, this is a tool, to begin with.

Are you a productive person?

There are internal aspects of your productivity that you might be able to control and improve. However, in a corporate environment, some external aspects can’t fully be mastered.

Typically, your productivity depends on how you apprehend a certain number of factors and your habits might tell you a lot about how productive you are or not:

The number of times checking your email in a day, how much time you spend on answering emails, the number of time you are called to do something not related to your current task, your ability to make daily plans and stick to them or the number of time you have to interrupt your work to answer the phone are all factors that would benefit or prejudice your productivity depending on the outcome.

As a matter of fact, you can control most of it and improve yourself, but in a corporate environment, you are bound to a social environment that you cannot always tame. Some company want you to abide by their rules and standards and want you to work and organize yourself the way they want, not the way you are used to. The environment of the office might also be adverse. You might have to sit next to a very talkative guy or group of guys, you might have a chief officer requiring you to stop doing what you are doing to answer what he asks in priority several times in the day, or be simply given tools that are not the best suited to perform your tasks efficiently. Unfortunately, you do not have much control over your environment and corporative rules.

I used to work for a banking client which implement open space office for their worker. As an IT consultant, I was sitting in a room, with probably one hundred other workers, with very few sound breaking object. I had two main tasks to perform: Application Development (AD) and Application Management (AM). For the customer, AM had priority over AD, they obviously could not afford to have a production application not functioning, but for my employer AD was the lucrative task. You cannot change such a paradox. I had to change from AD to AM several times each day. My production and my co-workers were obviously negatively impacted.

Also, external beneficial factors are not always related to work itself. Resting, taking a leave, holidays, working less to be more focused can drastically improve your productivity. Working 14 hours to finish your current project on time might be the obvious but not the most effective solution.

Tracking the time you spend doing something is the only way to measure how productive you are.  Lord Kelvin once said: “if you can’t measure it, you cannot improve it?”

Some consider self-improvement not only a working environment matter but a way of life, a way to control what they are doing in every compartment of their life, from taking breakfast in the morning to sleeping during the night. It seems important for those people to build strong routines in order to get yourself prepared for the day. You can see this like a checklist such as a pilot does just before take-off, in order to prepare yourself for a productive day, getting rid of your grumpiness, your sleep, your stress or angriness.

The man is a creature of habit, he will easily adapt and learn to depend on those routines, even if at first glance they are pretty complicated to apprehend.

To keep track of your time at any moment, a single sheet of Excel might be sufficient. There are tons of software available to you for the sole purpose of measuring the time spent on each daily task. WhiteRabbit proposes a simple way to manage tasks and projects whether those projects are professional related or part of your life routines. WhiteRabbit service is free for single users such as freelancers.