Product Management Productivity Tip#3: Work from ONLY one to-do list
This tip is going to dramatically cut down your stress level – work from only one mastere To Do list. Once you try this you will find that it is a very different way of working. If you think about it, right now you probably have a few voicemails on your cell phone. You might also have voicemails on your business land line. You’ve got some emails, probably have a To Do list, and may even have post it notes and notes from a meeting that have action items as well. So with all of all these competing sources, how are you going to know what’s important and what you should be doing – today? How can you possibly know what is most important to accomplish by the end of today when you have all of these competing priorites scattered randomly across all these places?
What I do is that I take absolutely everything and turn it into a task in Outlook. If a client calls me and says they need something done I immediately capture it via my phone or Outlook (which synchronize wirelessly.) When I get an email that is important and will take a fair amount of time I turn it into a task. And when voicemails come in instead of letting them pile up and have 5, 7 or 9 to listen to I write them down immediately, turn them into tasks and delete them.
When you use this technique you will now have one master list of everything you need to pay attention to. You can then use this as the context to prioritize everything that’s on the list against each other. This is a tremendous benefit because it relieves the stress of worrying about all of the multiple lists and lets you focus your energy and decide what is truly important.
The other benefit of doing this is as you go along your day is that when you have ideas for new projects or new tasks or creative ideas, you can instantly capture them. So you never have to worry about whether you forget about that good idea or whether you are missing something. You instantly capture everything and you have one master list that you can always work off of.
Once you’ve got the list, what you want to do is use a proven system that works for getting it under control. The list technique that I use comes from a book named Total Workday Control using Microsoft Outlook. This was a book that a former client of mine recommended to me – I found it to be tremendously valuable.I highly recommend that you get a copy and pick it up. I don’t use everything he recommends in the book because it’s a little over the top but I use a combination of that and some other things I’ve learned.
Another excellent system is the Franklin Planner system. The idea behind Franklin Planner is once you’ve got a master list, you categorize things using the ABC method. A items absolutely must get done today. B items are something I’d like to get done today if possible. C items stay on the list but are things that I don’t even need to think about today.
With everything in your master list sit down for ten minutes at the beginning of the every day and dedicate it to just planning. Rank everything A, B or C. You really only want five to ten A tasks and five to ten B tasks. If you think about it, if you got the top 20 things on your list done in any given day you would be way ahead of the game.
After you have assigned all A and B tasks give each one a number 1-N in terms of importance and what needs to get done. This is sometimes difficult but it forces you to make a decision about what’s important. If you do this religiously you will end up with the sense of exactly what’s most important and what you should be working on at any given moment.
Another really important thing about this is try not to go back an hour later and start re-visiting or re-prioritizing. Put a stake in the ground at the beginning of the day. The one caveat is that if there are critical fire drills or other really important things that show up, you may want to adjust your A items. For example, if your boss comes in and says drop everything, you may want to put that particular request on the A list.
What you’ll end up with, based on this technique, is a prioritized list where you can always know what the most important things are that you must get done today and what order you should work on them. You can then start working from the top down, and make a commitment to get as many tasks done as you possibly can.
This is the way my To Do list looks in Outlook. At any point in time I can pull it up and with a good sense of certainty, know exactly what I should be focusing on.