Every Evening, Make a Specific List For the Next Day
- Review our project management system that contains everything I need to do eventually. You may or may not have a central source of todos like this, but you just need to somehow review everything you could possibly do tomorrow.
- List every one of the ones that "you should probably get done tomorrow". These are things that in a perfect world you'd get done tomorrow, but may or may not urgent to get done tomorrow. I list these with a time estimate of each, which will be used in a moment.
- I add up the time estimates once I have the full list of everything I'd like to get done tomorrow. It usually ends up being about 4-5 hours worth of work.
- I then bold each item that MUST get done tomorrow or will cause delays with our team, clients, etc. In short, these things must get done tomorrow.
- I then add up the "must get done tomorrow" time estimates. This usually ends up being about 2 hours.
- I add in more tasks or tweak tasks until I have 2 hours of tasks. Now I have a list of 2 hours worth of tasks that I'm committed to doing tomorrow.
- * I do the same exact process with high impact business building things that I want to get done tomorrow. None of these are time sensitive or urgent, but I commit to working on the business each day as part of this list. Currently, that list is 90 mins of high impact business building things that I keep totally separate from my list of "managing the business / day to day tasks" list above.
The end result is that I've got a list of 3.5 hours worth of tasks I'm committed to doing tomorrow (i.e. 2 hours of "tasks" and 1.5 hours of "business building".
Why My Daily Task list is only 3.5 hours Long
No, I work more than 3.5 hours per day.
I only commit to 3.5 hours of "actually doing something" time (doesn't include breaks, quick calls that come in, meetings, etc.), as I've found that:
- Sometimes my time estimates are wrong, and 3.5 hours turns into 4-4.5 hours
- If I have no meetings scheduled for the day (rare lately), then this is a productive but not stressful day since I only end up having ~3.5-4.5 hours of "actually doing something" time.
- If I have a normal meeting schedule (1-2 meetings per day which ends up being appx 2.5 hours of meetings), then I have 6 - 7 hours of actual "actually doing something" work time each day. That's a "normal" amount of work for a day.
- And if I have a LOT of meetings / other time commitments (i.e. 2-3 meetings, an errand to run, and some travel time), then I might have 8-10 hours of "doing something right now" work time each time. Those days are hectic and stressful, but don't happen all that often.
In short, by having this structure, I'm able to have the same exact ritual / workflow every single day which breeds consistency and predictable results in the business. I know that no matter what, I can always get 3.5 hours of committed things done each day.
- Toggl time tracking software - With Toggl, I'm able to actually know what I spend my time on. For example, I know exactly what % of my time is spent on building the business vs managing the business, how many hours of work I do each week that could be delegated to a team member, etc. This is accomplished by (1) structuring toggl to categorize time in certain ways (2) and using the system to track my time - since late 2012, I've tracked around 90% of my actual work time which has been an absolute game changer for my productivity and impact I have on the business each day. In short, check out Toggl (or another tool) and start tracking your time. I can how I structure and use Toggl in another blog post if you want (leave a comment).
- Don't get hung up on the technology / task app you use - I started with simple post it notes. I found that having a single post it note forced me to keep the "probably should get done tomorrow' list short and effective since I didn't have room for tasks that were less important / probably didn't need to get done tomorrow. I now use the Mac Notes app since it syncs between devices and is easy to shift tasks around, copy from day to day, etc. But bottom line - don't spend time finding the perfect software or tool to do this. Just do it. (I'd recommend starting with a single posit note so you're constrained at first as I mentioned above).
- Stick to your daily time commitment - I've only had about 5 days in the last year where I've committed to more than the 3.5 hours of tasks on my list. Those were days where unforeseen circumstances led to having more than 3.5 hours of "these must get done tomorrow" tasks on my list. However, those days are very rare if (a) you're honest about what "should" get done tomorrow vs what "must" get done tomorrow (b) you're effective with your work time and get things done efficiently.