Let me start this off with a caveat: I love a checklist. Nothing brings me greater joy than marking a task off my to-do list. I have notebooks and whiteboards filled with lists for everything from my monthly Costco run to reading lists to weekend chores.
Which is to say, I’m not about to suggest that you cut checklists out of your life cold turkey. There’s definitely a time and place. But when checklists are your thing, sometimes they can get in the way of actually getting things done.
Quick quiz: How many times have you forced yourself to extend your checklist by a few more items just to get to the bottom of the page (or condensed two items to keep from having an item orphaned atop a new page)? Rewritten your entire list to keep it neat? Or maybe tossed the entire thing in the trash because you no longer remembered what all those items were even about?
For everyone who answered “yes” to 2 or a 3, good news, you’re not alone. Most to-do lists “don’t let us distinguish between the stuff we want to do, but don’t have time, and stuff that we have a reasonable chance of actually completing,” says Professor Andy Miah, chair in science communication and future media at the University of Salford.
In other words, checklists might be helpful for getting organized, but they simply aren’t enough to facilitate effective work execution. At a moment in history when so many people are feeling overwhelmed and anxious, our addiction to checklists might just be a recipe for disaster. (Seriously, we’re dealing with a pandemic, civil rights protests, political unrest, and underfunded everything, murder hornets, the US Navy officially admitting UFOs, the worst locust swarms in 70 years over Africa, a trans-continental dust storm, and now a Loch Ness monster sighting — if that’s not a recipe for global anxiety, I really don’t know what is.)
So, what steps should you take when organizing work for yourself or your team?
Limit your options
It’s the same feeling I get at the grocery store. Why are there 27 varieties of canned black beans? Why do I waste my life determining which of those 27 cans is the best for me? Having 27 options isn’t helpful. Similarly, laying out every possible activity and task you could do each day isn’t helpful. While you want to store all of your tasks and work in one place, let software manage the options. If you’re still creating ways to organize and cross-tab by due dates, projects, time estimates, and tags, there’s a better way.
Prioritize what needs to get done
It seems obvious, but when you are working off a sheet of paper, all tasks are given equal weight and it’s easy to lose track of what’s due when. We’ve all been guilty of picking the easy tasks first, just to get the satisfaction of crossing off another item. Instead, work in a way that allows you to clearly define priorities based on the needs of your projects and their dependencies.
Keep it reasonable and realistic
Don’t try to cram 10 hours of work into an 8-hour day when you know you are going to spend three of those hours in meetings. Set yourself up for success. Look at your day, what needs to get done, and determine what you could reasonably get accomplished in that amount of time. Perhaps you have a goal and a stretch goal, but you should be able to wrap up a day feeling proud of what you’ve accomplished.
These tactics are especially important when working remotely where schedules and timelines get especially fuzzy. It’s easy to let the workday and homelife bleed into each other, leaving you feeling unaccomplished in either area of your life.
At Moovila, we believe that execution is everything! So, our smart project management system is designed to eliminate the noise and determine exactly what team members need to work on and when across all of their projects and teams. Learn more at moovila.com.