A Simple Alternative to Task Lists


I write a lot about time management, both here and on other sites, primarily because it’s something I struggled with for years. I suspect that quite a few other entrepreneurs struggle with it as well. It’s pretty easy to let time get away from you, especially when you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. If you don’t manage your work day carefully, you’ll probably end up sitting with your head in your hands at the end of the day, wondering what the heck happened to your time.

Like just about every other entrepreneur, I started out by using task lists to manage my time, just because that’s what I’d been taught to do. Even though I worked that way for about two years, I never really liked task lists.

Why? It reminded me of what I needed to do, but didn’t provide a framework for getting it done. So, inevitably, I would end up staring at my task list at the end of the day… or, more accurately, at all the items on my list that I didn’t accomplish. And that’s pretty disheartening.

A time management system should motivate you, not stress you out. For a while, I gave up lists altogether out of sheer frustration. As you might imagine, though, that didn’t do much for my productivity.

I tried several software applications and complicated “systems” in an attempt to find a better solution than using task lists (or, even worse, winging it). Most were okay, but took up more time than I was comfortable with.

The solution I finally found was simple, easy, and decidedly low-tech (which is probably why it took me so long to discover it). Are you ready for this? *Trumpets sound*

Time Blocking

Now, time blocking is just like it sounds. Instead of just creating a task list and hoping I’ll get all some of it done, I spend a few minutes assigning a block of time to each task. The time blocks, of course, are based on the priority of each task, how much time I need to complete/make headway on each task, and whether I need to work around non-business stuff.

(Oh, and they’re also based on my relative candlepower at certain points in the day. I don’t block time for difficult or research-intensive tasks immediately after lunch or dinner, because I’m usually sluggish after I eat. Instead, I use those times to complete simple tasks that don’t require too much critical thought.)

IMG_20130516_161752When my time block for a certain task is up, I stop working on that task, no matter what. This keeps me motivated because, if I don’t stay on track, I’ll have to put in “after-work” hours to catch up. And frankly, that’s why I have a time management system in the first place — I got tired of my eight-hour work days taking up 13+ hours.

Time blocking also works for me because it’s flexible. Tomorrow’s list will look completely different than today’s, because I’ll have different tasks and some carryover tasks with shifting priority levels. (I’ll also probably have an Owen list from the wife to work around. “Owen (‘Oh, and’) can you fix the attic vent?  Owen can you take out the recycling bins? Owen…”)

Sound simple? It is. I won’t claim ownership of this approach… frankly, because I swiped it from somewhere (although I don’t remember where. But since this fall-of-a-log simple strategy has dramatically increased my productivity and reduced the stress of working for myself, I thought I’d share it with the class.

By the way, if you want to be neat about it, you can do this with Excel or OpenOffice spreadsheets. I usually end up just using printer paper and markers, just because it’s quicker I like playing with markers. Note the nifty color-coding — red for critical stuff, orange for medium-priority tasks, green for the if-I-get-around-to-it tasks, and grey for non-work stuff.

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Categories : Time Management



Great Lee, Now the trick is to use this.

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