“I have a to-do list as long as my arm! How am I ever going to accomplish everything on this list?”
Does this sound familiar? If you are like most people, probably. These days, it seems that everyone is busier than ever, rushing around every day trying to accomplish everything on their to-do lists, and most likely exhausting and frustrating themselves in the process.
In fact, there’s a large subset of people who list simple tasks (like “brush teeth”) on their planners, or write down things that they’ve already accomplished just to get the pleasure of crossing something off the list.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Task or to-do lists are meant to be a tool to keep you on track and organized and not overwhelming dictators that cause stress. However, many people make the same mistakes when compiling their lists, such as:
- Listing too many tasks.
- Not considering timing.
- Not prioritizing tasks.
- Not determining a purpose.
The result? Your daily task list is a jumbled mess of tasks for both home and work or school, and you most likely aren’t making progress toward your personal and professional goals.
By revamping your to-do list, though, you can effectively revamp your life. When you prioritize your time based on working toward a specific purpose, you will find that you’re much less stressed, more focused, and best of all, have a better chance of reaching your goals. And the best way to retool your list is via a process-based approach.
What Is a Process-Based Approach?
In business, process analysis is a key component of change management. Companies rely upon business process analysts to evaluate the processes required for completing a specific task, identify areas for improvement or change, and recommend alternatives to better meet the organization’s stated goals. For example, a company that has been receiving poor customer feedback regarding shipment might use the process analysis approach to evaluate every step of the shipping process to identify areas that potentially lengthen the amount of time it takes to get products to customers, and make recommendations to improve that process.
So what does this have to do with your personal to-do list? Well, by closely examining not only how you use your time each day, but also how you plan that time, you can better organize your activities to allow more time for priorities, and potentially take some of the less important activities off your plate.
The first step in conducting a process analysis is to analyze how you spend your time each day. Keep a journal of everything that you do each day in 20- to 30-minute increments. Include both work and personal tasks, no matter how minor. Do this for a few days, and compare your daily activities to your to-do list. Chances are you’ll find areas where you “waste” time or where activities take longer than you expected or planned.
Once you have an idea of how you’re currently spending your time, think about how you want to spend your time. What are your primary goals? What do you want to accomplish this week, month, or year? Compare your progress toward those goals against your actual activities. While there may be some overlap, chances are that you will find that many of your daily tasks aren’t moving you toward your goals.
The next step is to brainstorm improvements and ways that can better maximize your time. For example, identify tasks that you can delegate, or better yet, forgo altogether. Which tasks perpetually take longer than you expect them to take? How can you better plan for them? When you compare what you are actually able to accomplish against what you want to accomplish, or have accomplished so far, you’ll undoubtedly see areas where you can easily make improvements.
Finally, the last step is to take action. Take the plunge and ask for help with certain tasks. Commit to only checking your email twice each day so you can stop spending hours online when you could be tackling your tasks. Identify your top priorities, and make your to-do list in line with them.
The Benefits of a Process-Based Approach
The primary benefit to using this approach to making better to-do lists is that you don’t waste time on unnecessary activities. By methodically looking at how you actually spend your time compared to how you want to spend your time, you’ll notice the patterns that are holding you back. This approach works for both professional and personal to-do lists, and will help you feel more in control of both your time and your career and personal goals.