Time Wise: The To Do List on Steroids

By | January 20, 2010

To do or not to do, that is, quite literally, the question.

Few of us have the memory to keep everything in our heads. The To Do list is a time proven key to success. My approach involves four lists that work together to build a system for achievement, time savings, and success.

List One – A Reminder List

Some writers have called this a mind-dump. A place to put everything, big and little, that goes on in your life. This is a tickler/reminder system. It should include business stuff and personal tasks.

I use RememberTheMilk.com (a free web tool). I have used Microsoft Outlook. I have friends who use Goldmine. Some still use a calendar or notebook.

The key is to include everything you do and what you have to do on the list. As ideas and new projects come up, add them to the list. I have reminders to call clients, review files, prepare proposals, and reminders to change the kitchen water filter, and when to register the cars. I list everything.

Look at the items that “pop up” for each day. You either handle the item, postpone it, or delete it. When the reminder to change the kitchen water filter comes up I change the filter and change the date on my reminder to four months from now.

With a computer based system I don’t have to transfer items and re-write the list. Computer systems also allow you to quickly find an item that has changed.

You may have an agency or company system that applies to client and prospect items. Obviously you will integrate that system with your own items. Every situation is a bit different. The key is to build a system that allows you to be effective.

List Two – A Do-Not-Do List

The Do-Not-Do list contains issues and actions you don’t get involved in. It is part of the definition of what you do, and who you are.

Business thinker Peter Drucker said, “There is nothing so useless than that which is done effectively that should not be done at all.” In conversation he asked executives what things they have stopped doing that they were doing a year ago.

Is there a line of business you should no longer be in? Is there a service you should not be offering customers? Is there a business practice you will no longer engage in?

What activities have you performed in the past that no longer provide value to you or your clients?

What duties can be delegated or outsourced? Are there others in your company who would learn from duties you were performing in the past?

Consider those things you should stop doing.

List Three – Today’s Mission Activities

Everything we do can be categorized in one of two ways — Mission Activities or Success Actions.

Mission Activities are the guts of our life — the nitty-gritty activities that provide our employer with value — activities that put order to our lives.

  • Working with clients
  • mowing the lawn
  • housework
  • property maintenance
  • managing employees
  • sending client letters

These are activities that are important in the moment, and contribute to who and what we are. They are urgent and attention grabbing. Every day, work from your Reminder List of current items to build a plan of issues you will work on today. Who will you call? What emails do you need to respond to?

Some work directly from their Reminder List. Others use a notebook. Over time you will learn your own style, and how many items you can realistically take on. This is also a chance to prioritize. I use A, B, C as my designations of priority. Again, build a system that works for you.

List Four – Today’s Success Activities

Success activities are what improves our value as a person and our work. These are key, vital activities dealing with long-term strategy and tactics. They are rarely time-sensitive. If you are not careful, you can be sidetracked by the immediate and be pulled away from your success activities. Some people need to schedule specific time on their calendar. Others have the ability to push stuff aside to get to these important activities.

  • education
  • strategic planning
  • personal growth
  • skill building
  • market expansion
  • research and development

These activities are vital to your long term success, but they are almost always easy to put off. They are very important but not at all urgent.

The overall objective in any To Do list system is to capture issues, actions, and activities that move us forward in the value we get from our work and the value we provide. A side benefit is that we save time — time that can be put to our own enjoyment of the lives we build for ourselves.

Simmonds, CPCU, ARM, CMC is a consultant and insurance career mentor. He can be found at www.ScottSimmonds.com.

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