Monday, November 22, 2004

Organizing the To-Do List

I don’t know who originally thought up the idea of the to-do list. I have no doubt, however, that as soon the first to-do list grew to more than about 5 items, the question arose, “How do I know which one to do right now?”
Every one of us certainly can generate a list of obligations that we have that far exceeds what can be accomplished by the end of the day. Having some way to organize a laundry list if tasks into a doable “game plan” is the challenge.

First, look at what you have written and see if any of you your to-dos are really goals which will take a number of steps to complete. If you find the later, decide what will be the first step towards completing that goal. You will find that when you look at your to-do list and see two items—a hard one and an easy one—you are probably going to choose the easy one. “Buy shoestrings” is going to win out over “Solve world hunger” every time because you know exactly how to go about buying shoestrings. Solving world hunger, like so many other goals we may have, is like a big, undefined blob. We really don’t know where to start. What types of undefined blobs do you see on your list? Can you define a first step on each one of those? That is the stuff of which your to-do list should be made!
Secondly, “batch” your to-dos. Find similar items and do a “batch” of them at one time. Here are some same categories:
  1. Calls—List all of the phone calls you need to make together on your list. That way, when you pick up a phone, you can crank through the whole list. You will spend less time on each class when you know you have 5 more to make right after it.
  2. Errands—Do you find yourself running halfway across town to pick up an item and then the very next day going to the store right next door to it to pick up something else? Decide what day is a good one for you to run errands. Maybe its after-school on Friday, or maybe Saturday morning. Pick a day and keep a running list of errands on the to-do list for that day. Then, run all of them at one time. Your time on the road will be greatly reduced!
  3. Home—List the things you can do at home together.
  4. Classroom—List together those things you need to get done in your classroom
  5. Building—Some things you can only do outside of school hours or during your planning time. Keep those items listed together, so that when that time arrives you can take action swiftly.
Finally, follow the advice of Stephen Covey when he says to “plan weekly” and “adjust daily.” Take some time on the weekend not to simply plan for Monday, but to spread out your to-dos for the whole week. Pick a day for your errands and group them all there. Choose a day for all of those not-so-urgent phone calls and knock them all out in one session. At the end of the day, spend a few minutes looking over the items on the to-do list that did not get done and re-write them on a future day. Look carefully at the right-hand page to see what to-dos you have inherited through phone calls and other interactions during the day.
Frank Buck
The master thinker knows that ideas are elusive and often quickly forgotten, so he traps them with notebook and pencil. He heeds the Chinese proverb: “The strongest mind is weaker than the palest ink.”
—Wilferd A. Peterson in Adventures in the Art of Living
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