Get Things Done! The Power of a To-Do List

One day my client and I were discussing her job. She gets to work early every day, works through lunch and finally goes home after everyone else. Yet, despite all the hours she was putting in she didn’t feel like she was accomplishing anything. She felt unproductive, ineffective and without direction.

The first thing I asked her was what she expected to get done each day. She didn’t know. I asked her if she used a to-do or task list. She told me that she creates them all the time. Her current list was over 2-pages long. Then she confessed that she hadn’t looked at her to-do list in over a week.

We decided it was time to review her task list. She found that many of the things on it were already done, no longer needed to be done or could be done by someone else. The things that were left were mostly ideas. Her list was not a task list and it was not up to date.

We worked through a series of questions about each item on the list.

• What task did this idea represent?
• Was the task worth her time?
• Was there someone else who could or should do it?
• Does it need to be done at all?
• What would happen if it didn’t get done?
• And then, Should she do this task?

Our last step was to determine what had to be done to move these tasks further along. We figured out what actually had to be done. Then she pulled out a clean sheet of paper and using her “idea list” as a guide she created a list of 5 or 6 things that she planned to accomplish that day.

She now does this exercise every evening before she leaves work. When she gets to work she has a list of things that she can realistically expect to get done that day. She finds herself better able to keep her focus on the things she decided were high priority. As the day progresses she can move between the tasks she decided to focus on. She feels like she is accomplishing things.

A couple of weeks ago she didn’t bother to prepare her list. She felt confident that she didn’t need it since she already knew what the next day had in store for her. What she experienced surprised her and proved to her the importance of her to-do list. She found that she spent the following day once again feeling unproductive and adrift. That little to-do list is sure a powerful tool!