I really think it needs a new name. And "task list" doesn't work for me either. Both imply a pile of things that you haven't gotten to yet, but which are sitting there, lurking, demanding your time and attention. Sucking the life from your day. Frustrating you beyond belief.
Is that really what you want to turn to every hour or so?
A To Done List
I think words matter, so I'm going to start calling mine a "To Done" list, because the items on it are the things I'm committing to move "To Done" by the end of the day. Which makes them not the enemy, but the lights at the end of the tunnel.
The carrot, not the stick.
I wrote yesterday about the backlog, and how it should be used to hold everything that's on a traditional to-do list. All the things you're planning to do but haven't yet committed to do today. In a wonderful bit of serendipity, Peter Bregman answered a question of mine on the EntreLeadership podcast about becoming unfocused by telling me to take all ideas that threaten to pull me off task and stick them on a "someday" list. To me, "Someday" becomes a project on my backlog and all such ideas now become items in that project. Cool, huh?
If You Build It....
There are many ways to approach your daily list and how it's organized, and we'll look at some options in a future post. For now, the important things are:
- Take only as much work onto your daily To Done list as you think you can actually work off that day.
- Give yourself permission to not complete some of it if life intervenes.
- Take into account any known commitments; meetings, outside commitments, events which are likely to affect your work day.
- Realize that work only has two states -- Done or Not Done. My deck is about 65% waterproofed. Does that matter when it rains? There's no partial credit today if you got halfway through something. Carry it over to tomorrow and finish it then. It's okay.
- If you finish all your work early, return to your backlog and look for some other work at or near the top of the list that you could finish in the time remaining.
- Don't overcommit when setting up the To Done list; it's far more satisfying on an emotional level to go back at 2:30 and grab more work because you were a dynamo and blew through everything in record time than it is to leave work undone because Susan in accounting sucked up three hours of your morning with a problem.
More than a name change, it's an alteration in the way you look at your daily tasks. They're not just things you ought to get done, they're tasks you're committing to complete.
Can you commit to throw away your To Do list and replace it with a To Done list? Let's talk about it in the comments!