A working to do list can do many things. It can alleviate stress, order your thoughts, help you to remember and prioritise and assist you in being more organized. Sounds too good to be true but it isn’t!
A to do list can take many forms. You can use an electronic version by making use of Word or Excel. There are great apps like Evernote but a pen and paper does fine too!
When you are under pressure and you have so many demands that you don’t know where to start a to do list can be just the ticket.
My advice (from years of personal experience)
Step 1 - move away from your desk, get a cup of tea/coffee, sit down and write.
This kind of list making we call a brain dump. Just jot down in bullet form all the items that are on your mind. Re-read the list and add to it until you are sure that there is nothing left to list. I often do this with EVERYTHING going on in my work and personal life. This list is for your eyes only and you can split the items out into separate lists later. Just let it flow and make a note.
What happens to the brain when we do this? Well firstly you have taken an action by physically writing, this already gets you out of your panic. By changing your environment, by moving to a different space your brain is out of the space which is causing you to feel stressed and you are automatically less paralysed. By noting everything till you feel “clear” your brain says “OK we can relax now, he won’t forget anything”
Step 2 of this process is to look at the list. Separate it into work and private.
Step 3 now look at the business list, what is the most important, what is the easiest, what can I do right now?
Prioritise your list and then tackle something easy that you can do immediately. By doing so your brain releases serotonin and dopamine which gives you a sense of happiness and the feeling that you are in control and you can get this done.
Now look at the list and systematically work through your items. Marking them off by highlighting or ticking them off. This again rewards your brain and you get a release of feel good chemicals.
At the end of the day, transfer your items that are not yet completed to the next day and as you do so put a line through the item on the old page. So tomorrow you have a fresh list and a good idea of where to start. You add new items or requests as they are received.
The lists are good to keep if you need to discuss your workload with your executive or need their support to prioritise your action items. Also consider helping your executive to track what she needs to do in a similar way. Offer to run a list for them which they can update you on with a call or a simple WhatsApp. What you are actually doing is getting the item off their mind, reminders into the calendar and you are in a position to get support from their direct reports to start working on items in the meantime. This could be great for your relationship with your executive, help to relieve your boss’ stress and help the whole team avoid nasty surprises and last minute instructions.
Don’t forget about your private list as this is the one we often neglect which can cause a great deal of stress to us. Do the same with your “home” list and try to close these items off.
Update your lists first thing in the morning or just before you leave the office for the day. It will give you a sense of structure and security. Be aware of your ideal time of day to do harder items. If you are a morning person schedule the hard stuff first.
Things like minutes (which most of us dislike) can become a massive energy drain because of the amount of procrastination around these items. Get them done as soon as possible and get them out first time right so you don’t need to go back to them. If you don’t you will feel guilty for putting it off and you will have more and more negative emotion attached to that item. The longer it lags the worse you feel, the more energy it drains.
There are many apps and productivity tools available so explore the internet to find one that could work for you. An app like Evernote is brilliant because you can see your list on your phone, laptop and even a private pc at home and it syncs between any device which it is connected to this app. That way the list is always with you and you can update it if your executive calls with new instructions immediately and it can be printed.
For many years I have used my inbox as my to do list. Anything in the inbox needs to be actioned. If I want to remember something I send myself an email or when someone runs into me in the corridor and asks for something I will request that they send me a quick email (sometimes just a subject line like "Remember to book meeting room") This was really a successful strategy for me personally and could work for you too.
It doesn’t matter what you use but there is no denying that a running to do list will save you time, help you focus and keep you on top of your game. It really is like “MAGIC”