August 28, 2014

Building a task list and getting things done.

I have been meaning to write this post for a while but I got too caught up with how to visually present it. But I think I channeled my focus wrong and decided that words will have to do. It's a topic about being organized and getting stuff done. A super task list if you will. 

This is all from a training I attended a few years ago that went over ways in which you can plan your day so that you are actually getting stuff done and feel a sense of accomplishment. Before this training I was using all sorts of methods - Google Task list, the good old task box method on my spiral note pad, Wunderlist, you name it. But I realized that actually completing my task didn't have to do with what medium I was using, but more about what I was writing. 

I used to pile on so many things on a daily basis - drafting press releases, helping write grant reports, attending meetings after meetings {oh those conference calls!}, writing campaign proposals and implementing projects, looking over other people's work. The list was never ending and it seemed like there wasn't enough hours in a day. 

Then this. 

Try to visualize with me -- you have a large glass jar. In it you place two big rocks. You realize you can still fill it with some more things so you place a few medium size rocks. You realize that you still have some empty spaces in the jar and fill it with some pebbles and sand. The glass jar is now completely full. No empty spaces.

This is how you want to plan your day. Tasks that are just the right fit so that your day feels full and productive. 

Realistically, you'll probably only have enough time to complete two big tasks. This could be a big report you're working, a proposal, a design layout. Whatever it may be, you're only going to have time for two - maybe even one {which is OK!}. 

Then you have your medium size rocks. Those are your meetings and smaller task items like looking over someone's work, delegating work, returning phone calls, etc. 

Finally the pebbles and sand. These are your quick, mini tasks {responding and forwarding emails or changing that voicemail that you meant to do for a while now}. And if you are like me sometimes you get lost on the Internet. You meant to look something up for research but then remember you wanted to watch that video of the dog teaching a baby how to crawl, which leads to another video and so on and so forth before you finally get back to your research. (I hope you know what I'm talking about}. You gotta factor in your distractions. 

So, the next time you go and plan out your day, test this method out. Remember 1. Your big rocks ; 2. Other actionable items (medium size rocks); and 3. Quickies (pebbles and sand).

You can also add other helpful reminders such as a categories for things you are waiting on - for instance the memo you asked your colleague to draft - and personal things like going to the dry cleaners. 

Finally, building daily task lists helps if you have a weekly task list that you write up on Monday. Additionally, having a monthly broad strokes goal helps in building your weekly list. These aren't necessary but they certainly do help. It seems like a lot of lists but really it's like coming up with a road map to getting things done because sometimes we have a list that runs a mile long that is disorganized which can add to the overwhelming sense of feeling. 

I don't work in an environment anymore that requires heavy list building to complete tasks but I improvise on this method to get through my day. It's definitely still helping. And I know I used examples of tasks that was related to my old field, but I am sure you can find big, medium and small sized tasks in the field you are working in to make this list helpful to you. 

Do you have a current method of getting through your work? Tell me about it! 


The ideas and concept behind this task list is from The Management Center based in Washington D.C. A sample of their Daily Task List can be found in the resources section in "Managing Your Time and Staying Organized". It will download as a word document. 

31 comments

  1. Thanks for the helpful tip! Personally, I jot down a work "to do" list for the week on a good ole' notepad and set priorities - things that must get done before noon that day, things that *should* be done by the end of the week but isn't technically due until early next week, and so forth. I've stuck with this method since I was in middle school and I find it to be helpful.

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    1. Wow! Since middle school! It must definitely work for you!

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  2. I love the large glass and rock analogy! It's a great visual! I definitely try to make every day as purposeful as possible, even more so after my kids were born because though I can get small stuff done with them awake and around, I like to do big tasks at night without interruption. Just my character. I'm a list-maker and prioritize, for sure. I do the "sand", like tidying up corners of the house, when the kids are awake. I save the "rocks" for at night. I just wish I had more glasses/vases, LOL.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Lisa! I do like the glass and rock analogy too. And LOL re: how you wish you had more glasses/vases! :)

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  3. I am the worst when it comes to planning and organization, Jane. I mean.....the worst! I think I burned out when I was in high school being the uber-geek that I was, that in university, it all went down the drain and I haven't recovered since...sigh....
    I like the analogy of the glass jar and the rocks....now, if I can just it into action:)

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    1. Haha! I know, a big part of it is sticking to it and the actual doing. We can plan all we want but if we don't do it then it doesn't really get us anywhere.

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  4. My parents used to tell me this fable! Love the idea of applying it to the work day!

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  5. Oh thank you for this! I am constantly battling the hours with my lists. I shall try it this way and hopefully will get more done and feel better for it!

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    1. Hope you try it out and hope it works! It's really been a lifesaver for me. I literally went through so many methods and this one just really resonated with me.

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  6. This is the to-do lists post you were talking about! I love the visualization. It reminds me of a lecture I found on Facebook one time where the professor was talking to his students about time management and ended up pouring beer in the glass over the rocks and sand and said something like "but there's always a little room for a beer with friends." :)

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    1. :) your to-do list post was quite interesting as well. loved the picking things out of a hat. makes it random and fun!

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  7. I have heard a similar story about rock, pebble and sand in a glass
    and the moral of this story is about the choice you make for your own life ;P
    Here's the link if you are interested: http://surviving-twenties.com/rocks-pebbles-beer-priorities/
    Xx

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  8. What a great visualization tool to help get things done. I love building a list and then checking things off. I've done this since I was a kid and the ability to physically cross something off (no matter how big/small the task is) felt good. It's completely different than having the technology era where you can swipe and get it crossed off a virtual list. I need the physical-ness of paper and pen. =)
    xo,
    nancy

    http://www.adoretoadorn.com

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    1. i like crossing things off with a pen too. :)

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  9. That's a really cool & helpful way to do things Jane. I use to try and do so many things in one day. Now I limit myself to two major things and anything else I can fit in or feel like fitting in. I first make a list of what needs to be done and then I allocate days for each. I stretch it out so I won't get frustrated or tired.

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    1. i think that really was the key for me. i thought everything was priority and i just couldn't stop feeling overwhelmed. but really once i sat down and planned the week out first and then planned by day accordingly it helped tremendously.

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  10. Wow, you're really introducing me to something new here. I've always had a lot of trouble with being productive in an organized way, this might be the thing I need in order to feel like I'm getting what I need done without being overwhelmed. Keeping what fits in the forefront of my agenda for the day and if there is remaining time, maybe other things can be added. This is great for balance I think. Hopefully I can actually implement it, I tend to be rather flighty lol

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    1. :) hope you try it out! it's definitely been a lifesaver for me!

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  11. I tend to just jot down everything I need to do on a piece of paper (the night before) and then if things don't get done then they move over to the next's days piece of paper. But perhaps slightly overwhelming! I like this idea of two big things and the smaller rocks - great way to look at it. I think I might structure tomorrow's list a bit differently now :)

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  12. Hm I think I've heard this before, it sounds vaguely familiar! I generally just do lists, but I guess I sort of subconsciously categorise them according to size and difficulty.

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  13. Love this. Needed this. I've been so behind in everything lately, it's horrible.

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    1. i definitely know what that feels like!

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  14. Great metaphor! I realized that if you have schedulers like https://sheldonize.com then the rocks and pebbles can get dropped automatically in your daily or even weekly schedule. You get an immediate overview of how things fit in your daily schedule, and it fits it completely!

    (big fat disclaimer: I'm a co-founder of Sheldonize)

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  16. Great article. I love the Rocks metaphor- I think I first heard it from S. Covey in one of his books.

    You asked about how others do their planning. Here is a post I wrote on how I do prioritization. I hope you find it helpful!

    http://blog.gtdnext.com/prioritize-work-using-gtd/

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