For years the first thing I did every morning at work was to make out my daily to-do list.
Then at the end of the day, before heading home, I would look at my list and weep. Not only were most of the original items still there, but several new ones had been added.
Imagine Sisyphus rolling that rock up the hill, only each day the rock gets bigger.
And then my youngest son Rudy – a college junior in Oregon – showed me the light. It happened during a phone conversation that he cut short by saying he had an important appointment. Now Rudy is a fine young man, but he is not an appointments kind of guy.
When I asked for details he said the appointment was with himself, to work on a physics project. It seems his professor encourages students to formally schedule homework appointments – just as they might schedule a doctor’s appointment. The prof even checks in by text or email to make sure the student has kept the appointment.
Eureka! Now I saw my error.
Making a to-do list was only the first step. I needed to follow up by taking the most urgent tasks on the list and making an appointment with myself. This required pulling out my calendar and blocking out a specific chunk of time to actually do the work.
Otherwise, it is 100 percent certain that my good intentions will get side-tracked by an unexpected call, walk-in visitor, or can’t-miss YouTube video of cats playing ping-pong.
5 Tips For Getting Things Done
1. Build walls for protection. How often do classmates drop in and ask, “Got a minute?” Hours later, after listening to their latest life drama, you return to your work. Don’t let it happen. Close your door. Tell your friends you’re unavailable. Take refuge in the library.
2. Keep track of your time. It is precious and finite. Know how you are spending it. This starts by keeping an activity log – It’s a good way to get in a little billable hour practice.
3. Watch out for time wasters. Like online surfing, personal phone chats, and daydreaming of cats playing ping-pong.
4. Apply the three minute rule. If something can be done in three minutes or less, stop and do it. Right then. Don’t clutter your to-do list with tasks that can be knocked out in no time.
5. Declare a computer holiday. Stay offline one entire day each week. You’ll be amazed how much extra time you have. And don’t worry, you’ll survive without knowing what Justin Bieber is doing at any given moment.
Who knows, you might even be able to complete your to-do-list in time to go home and play some ping-pong with your cat.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He doesn’t have a cat. Contact him at LinkedIn or email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.