A Fresh Look at To-Do Lists
By Charles Hopkins
Published 04/20/2006 | Business and Finance
Planning is essential to making the best use of our time. A tool that many of us use to try and maintain a sense of priorities is a to-do list. Have you ever used a to-do list? We decide to make a list, and then as we accomplish a task from the list we cross it off. What a feeling! And when we do something that wasn't on the list, we add it to the list so that we can cross it off - another great feeling! We just love to cross things off the list. Why do we love it? It feels terrific and studies show that when we cross a task off our list our brain produces a rush of endorphins, causing us to feel good.
Of course we want to feel good, but this is a temporary high. Traditional to-do lists are just maintenance lists - it's what needs to be done to keep our heads above water. We often reach the end of the day and realize we didn't spend our time doing the things we most wanted to. That could be because the highest priorities in our lives rarely make it onto the to-do lists. Let's change that.
Hyrum Smith, author of The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management, suggests renaming the list a "Prioritized Daily Task List." The name's a bit long, but it suggests that more important items are going to be on the list along with daily maintenance items. Smith indicates there are three steps to making a meaningful prioritized daily task list:
1. Make a list of everything you would like to accomplish today, including tasks that are not urgent. Jot down anything and everything.
2. Give a value to each item on the list. It's called the ABC valuing system. Assign the letter A to anything that is vital and must absolutely be done today. The letter B goes next to tasks that are important and should be done. Last, letter C is given to anything that is relatively trivial and that could be done. If nothing else happens today, you will accomplish the A's. If near the end of the day all of the A's have been accomplished then you can do the B's. If at the end of the day you have time left over, you can tackle the C's.
3. Give a numerical value to each item on the list. Go through your list one more time and prioritize the A's, B's and C's. That is, determine the relative importance of each task. For example, the most important A task would be labeled A-1, the second most important, A-2, etc. Do the same with the B's and C's.
So now you have a well-prioritized list. But it's no good unless you use it properly. How good would you feel if at the end of the day all of the C's have been done, but the two most important things, A-1 and A-2, remain untouched?
You've given the tasks their value; now proceed according to that ranking for a true feeling of accomplishment. The prioritized daily task list can be a powerful tool!