“Timeboxing” is what will make your to do lists DELIVER

Take-away: put your tasks in your calendar if you want to get things done

I think it’s fair to say that anyone who has ever tried to get their work organised with to do lists has experienced the overwhelming and discouraging feeling of never getting things done in time and never seeing the end of it. For me, the answer is to “timebox” tasks, and the easiest way is to use a simple calendar application, such as Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar or Apple iCal.

How does it work? The idea is to plot your tasks in the order you intend to tackle these, working around meetings, calls and various bookings you already have in your calendar, and most importantly, allocating enough time to each individual task you plan. You will shuffle tasks around by dragging and dropping them in available slots and make them fit the profile of your day best – you will be surprised how satisfying that is. You will also plan at week level and prioritise tasks accordingly, pushing less urgent tasks to the “last responsible moment”, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, next week, freeing time and piece of mind for the most pressing ones.

As a result you will follow a reasonable and achievable plan, instead of trying to get through a never ending and daunting list of tasks.

This is the way I have been organising my work for quite a while now. It’s not perfect, but it helps me a lot manage my time and priorities. I now actually only use to do lists to prepare projects, identify activities and make sure nothing gets forgotten – by the way, these to do lists end up in Gantt charts or as User Stories in Sprints, which are also ways to factor in the time dimension in the planning of tasks.

There are a few more hacks that really make it work for me:
– I try to not fit more than five “1hour things” that need to be done in a day – experience has shown unless you don’t attend any meeting or don’t take any phone call it’s really difficult to do more.
– I follow the very strict rule that anything that takes less time to do than it would to get planned should be done immediately.
– I dedicate time slots for emails or chat and I only check emails or Slack once every hour, usually when I raise from my desk to go get a fresh glass of water or a coffee (my screen and sound notifications are off). I only scan messages and if possible, I leave actions for later.
– I color code meetings so that these stand out in my diary.

– I use the Saturday to store the backlog of the things that are not urgent but that I don’t want to forget (and yes I drag and drop these every week… that’s an opportunity to go through these and not forget important ones)
– I use the Sunday to store the backlog of things I need to do in the coming week
– I use the 00:00 to 08:00 slots of each day to store the things I plan to do on that day, even if I have not assigned a time to it yet – I drag and drop tasks from that area into the day every end of day for the next day, or as my day start. Things that do not fit today move to the next day, 00:00 to 08:00.

The benefits for me are clear:
– it’s much easier for me to plan my days and I start everyday with a clear schedule of activities
– I deliver more often on time, especially if there is no last minute emergency or unexpected meeting
– I don’t overcommit
– I control risk and dependencies much better
– I end the day with a much greater awareness of my achievements and I have increased confidence on what I will be able to tackle the next day.

It really helps me get things done. Does this also work for you? Drop me a note.