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“To do” list or “Wish” list? Planning is the key.

“To do” lists can be frustrating if not the stressful. They keep in mind those things you know you should be doing but don’t have time for. It would be less stressful to call them “Wish” lists. At least that way you wouldn’t feel guilty or suffer anxiety when they are postponed and you are not getting done those things you know should be done. Frustrated expectations cause anxiety and stress.

The “To do” list or “Wish” list should be accompanies by a plan to get specific things done each day. Plans are frequently disrupted; but good plans are disrupted less frequently. Good plans involve prioritizing. Select only those items that are both important and urgent and schedule time in your planner to get them done. It’s important to allow more time than you think they will take. Even then, these items should consume less than a day. If you have more items that are both important and urgent than you can do in a day, you are either exaggerating their importance or their urgency.

“Important” means they have such innate value that you would suffer a significant loss of some kind or another if they were never done. “Urgent” means you cannot delay them more than a day before that loss occurs.

If they are important only, you could allow as little as 15 minutes or half hour a day until they are done. If they are both important and urgent, and you cannot get them done in a day, you can minimize your losses by ignoring those of least importance. By ignoring, I mean deciding never to do them, removing them from your “Wish” list, and getting on with the things that you are actually able to do.

Most of the important items will still offer some benefit if done at any time – usually less benefit the longer they are delayed. That’s why the habit of scheduling a little time each day until they are completed is usually an effective practice.

The important thing is to work from a planner, not just a list. I still maintain that a paper planner is the most effective tool to use for this purpose. (Even though I was forced out of the paper planner part of my business this year by those who maintain they can do everything just as effectively using a smart phone.)

If you can do it all with a smart phone, more power to you. I offer the following suggestions to my fellow hard-core paper planner users as well as the more gifted smart phone planner users.

Don’t underestimate the time it will take for a task. Allow up to 50% more time than you think you will need. For example, if you think it will take an hour, block off an hour and a half. If you think it will take two hours, block off three hours; but break it into two timeslots of 90 minutes each. Working longer than 90 minutes without a break depletes energy and makes you more vulnerable to interruptions.

Don’t record items in your planner and then forget about them. Refer to your planner and its scheduled activities and “Wish” list throughout the day. Make it a habit to refer to your planner after every completed task or activity. You wouldn’t drive through a strange country without constantly checking the map – so don’t drive through life without constantly checking your plan.

Schedule items several days to a week in advance. Planning one day at a time is impossible since others will be asking for tomorrow’s time while you are working on today. With the rate at which priorities change, I would plan in detail only three or four days ahead. The farther into the future you plan, the fewer things you should enter into the planning section of your planning calendar. And only the really critical things are to be entered beyond a week ahead – in addition to those essential repetitive obligations, that is. The balance of any items remain on your “Wish” list, waiting to be scheduled, worked on during any spare time or abandoned.

I find I find that scheduling at least three days ahead prevents me from making unnecessary commitments for those days when asked to do so. It’s easier to say “no” when you already have something scheduled at the requested time.

It’s important to say no more often and reduce interruptions to a minimum as well; but that will be covered in a future blog article.

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The return of the notepad

Priority Pad

A simple notepad on steroids might be all you need

Research shows that things left undone cause stress. And an expanding to do list, which never seems to empty, is a constant reminder of all the things left undone – important or otherwise. This is true whether it is a hardcopy or electronic list.

If we had only today’s work to contend with – and had closure at the end of each day – we wouldn’t experience the anxiety that so many people are experiencing. This is especially true in today’s environment where we seem to have an endless series of things to do.

To add to our woes, prioritizing is more difficult, since priorities often change on a daily basis. It’s virtually impossible to list things in order of priority and have them stay that way.

One executive recently reported online that he had solved this problem by switching back to something he had used as a child – a pen and notepad. He felt it gave him more control than the various apps he had tried. And he can jot down the things he has to do on a daily basis.

Most people seem to experience the same problem. I solved it in my life by developing the Taylor Planner some 30 years ago; but some people feel their jobs are too volatile to actually schedule blocks of time in their planners, electronic or otherwise, and stick to a fixed schedule.

My son, Jason, is one of those people. Besides managing a restaurant and operating a website design business, he also runs the day to day operations of our Taylor in Time partnership. He extended the notebook idea to form a Daily Priority Pad (available in two sizes) which allows him to start each day with a clean slate. It’s a cross between a plain note pad and an actual planning calendar – with space for the day’s priorities, things that must be done that day, appointments, and follow-ups arising from phone calls and email messages and room for notes. It even has a Back Burner section where he can park items that come up during the day that can wait until the next day or later.

I tried using it myself, and it works well. But I had two or three pages going at the same time since I’m in the habit of spreading my total workload throughout the week. So I reverted back to the paper planner. But I can see that this simple planning pad can be more than enough when you also use a handheld device or tablet to organize most of your week.

One thing is certain. Regardless of how much you’re into technology, you can’t get away from using paper – even it involves jotting notes on scraps of paper or sticky notes until you get a chance to record the information into your smartphone or laptop. So you might as well do it in an organized manner, all in one place.

You can take a look at this new Daily Priority Pad at our website, taylorintime.com. You can even watch a brief video that Jason uses to explain how it works – and print off sample pages at our website as well. No sense in fretting about the things you have to do in the future. Take one day at a time.