Does your to-do list pass the efficiency test? Ask yourself the following four questions to find out.
Question #1: How is your list worded?
Question #2: How quickly, on average, can each task on your to-do list be completed?
Question #3: What format do you keep your list in?
Question #4: How many items are on your daily to-do list?
1. It’s best to frame your action items as just that: action items. That means phrasing each item on your list as “verb the noun with the object,” according to efficiency experts. So “year-end report” is too vague. You’re better off encouraging staffers to be more specific, like “Download 2nd quarter A/R data from server.”
2. The answer should be 10 minutes or less – for the most part. If you find that you have many larger items populating your list, you probably want to break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Otherwise you’re just going to wind up transferring items from today’s list to tomorrow’s list. So instead of “New T&E Policy Presentation,” try “Create outline for slides for new T&E policy presentation.”
3. There’s actually no single right answer: on your BlackBerry, a spreadsheet … even on a pad of paper. The only critical thing? That there’s a single master list. Another key point: Your e-mail in-box is not a to-do list. You know it’s recommended to act on e-mail ASAP or move it to another folder. But if there’s something you need to follow up on later, turn that into a to-do list item all its own.
4. You probably feel like there are a million things on your to-do list. But realistically, if you have more than around eight items, you’re setting yourself up to fail. True, there are more than 80 minutes in your workday, but you need to factor in all the other nonscheduled events that eat away at your time. If your item tally is in the teens or 20s, take another look to see what you can delegate to the rest of your finance staffers.
Adapted in part from “Building a Smarter To-Do List, Part 1,” by Merlin Mann, which can be found here.