Improve Your Productivity with 3 Simple Lists

Co-workers stop by your desk to ask questions, unexpected emergencies need to be dealt with, phone calls interrupt your concentration and the email alert constantly beeps. It can become almost impossible to get anything done. The to-do list becomes bigger and more unmanageable by the hour, until you finally throw it into the trash and decide to make a new one tomorrow. Unfortunately, the cycle never seems to end.

In her book “What To Do When There’s Too Much to Do,” Laura Stack helps busy workers make their days more efficient. According to Stack, using lists smartly can save you 90 minutes a day so you’re more productive at work and more focused on what matters at home. Stack says you should eliminate the to-do list, and instead, try three different lists to keep you on track. Here are the three lists that’ll help you get your work done so you can spend more time doing what you want to do.

1. The Not-to-Do List
In an eight-hour workday, how long do you spend engaging in water-cooler gossip or surfing the Web to see what Kayne West and Kim Kardashian are doing? Odds are it is longer than needed. Stack suggests creating a not-to-do list which is a “list of things you simply refuse to do.” It can be anything you waste time on during your day, from playing Solitaire to having an in-depth discussion about “Fifty Shades of Grey.” This list is meant to keep you on-task — to do what is necessary for work and nothing else.

If you are like many workers, this is easier said than done. Some people will write down, “I will not go on Facebook at work today.” Yet for some of us, that is not going to work. Instead, change the task to something doable and then decrease time spent on it it every day. For instance, you’ll only spend five minutes per hour on social sites, and then week by week change it to every two hours, then four, then eight. You’ll soon realize that you’re not wasting as much time browsing through your friend’s honeymoon photos. Soon you’ll reduce the amount of extraneous tasks performed, improve your work quality and avoid having an unnecessary 12-hour workday. You’ll become more results-driven and less unproductive.

2. The HIT List
The HIT list is for high-impact tasks that can be completed immediately. It is meant to guide your work every day, so you’re more effective with time management. Stack says the list should include more than 10 items, but it can vary from person to person. A Web designer may have up to 20 tasks but only three that can be worked on that day. A writer may only have one article due that day but gets a head start on research for five others.

It is a good idea to take a look at your queue for the next day, so you can reorganize the HIT list according to importance and time needed for completion. Also, Stark reminds workers to remain flexible, because something may come up in the middle of the day that needs to be done quickly and disrupts your plans. The HIT list is meant to be more of a guideline rather than a restriction.

For those of us that aren’t used to task lists, this can be a good way of starting one. If you know ahead of time that it will take one hour to create a presentation, you can put that on the HIT list above running a report that will only take 15 minutes. Also, include smaller tasks that may not need to be done right away but can turn into a huge project if pushed aside. Take quarterly business reports, for example; you may want to start pulling reports early, so when it’s time to present, you’re not rushing to finish the work.

3. The Master List
This list includes everything that has to be completed at some point, but not necessarily right away. This list should be a work-in-progress, with items shifting in priority due to deadlines or time needed to finish. Tasks can flow into the HIT lists as they become more urgent. Tasks should also be removed or triaged to eliminate ones you’ll never get to (cleaning the microwave in the break room) or are out of date (throwing a birthday for your cube mate when it was last week).

A constant flow between the master list and the HIT list is the best way to keep both lists up-to-date. How do you determine on which list you should have a task? Ask yourself: Does it need to be done today? If the answer is yes, it belongs on the HIT list, and if not, it belongs on your master list.

Switching from one massive to-do list to three smaller and more manageable lists may be tough at first, but with Stacks tips, you can save time and produce better results. In this economy, anything that makes you more indispensible to your company is something worth trying.

Mollie Ficarella is an email marketing coordinator and writer for CareerBuilder