When I’m not talking about being a father over forty, I’m often engaged in my professional life, handling multiple priorities, a hectic schedule and layers upon layers of people, programs, services, budgets and multiple priorities. I’m also one of those people who constantly read, research and experiment with various time management and personal productivity tools and trends.
Lately, I’ve become a fan of Erik Fisher’s podcast “Beyond the To Do List“. Each week Erik interviews the movers and shakers of the social media world and gets their advice and opinions about how to best manage their time, tasks and balancing work life with home life. In a recent interview with Cliff Ravenscraft (www.PodcastAnswerman.com) Erik and Cliff discussed the To Do list. Although the comment was something that was mentioned in passing, they made the point that your email in-box makes for a terrible to do list. This concept has resonated with me for days.
My typical tools for managing tasks have included using my calendar to schedule tasks and appointments that are inherently time-sensitive, have a due date or include meeting with other people at a particular time. Everything else lived in my in-box. It was either marked as “read” (meaning that I’d looked at it) or “un-read” (meaning I’d either not looked at it, or that I HAD looked at it but wanted to trick myself into thinking that I hadn’t looked at it.) This system actually works until you have more than a handful of messages in your in-box and new messages come in too frequently. One day, recently, I received about twenty messages in my in-box in rapid succession. It suddenly occurred to me that there is a major flaw with using your in-box as your to do list: Everybody else has control of your to do list. All someone has to do to put themselves at the center of your attention is to simply send you an email and “BAM” there at the top of your list–your TO DO LIST! DUMB, DUMB, DUMB!
Starting this week I am no longer using my email list as my to do list. I’ve been a fan of Workflowy (www.workflowy.com) for several months now and I’ve decided to elevate my Workflowy list (using #ToDo, #Today, #Tomorrow, and #Later) tags to my to do list. I’m also relegating my email in-box back to simply being a communication tool–its original purpose.
In just two days of using this new system, I’m seeing some marked changes and here’s what I’ve realized:
1. Your in-box is distracting: Since making this change, I don’t constantly check my in-box for the next item on my to do list.
2. Checking items off a to do list is faster than sorting through an in-box: I find that my #ToDo #Today list gets done much faster than expected and I get a big kick out of knocking items off of my #ToDo #Tomorrow list before #Tomorrow even gets here! (These hash tags will make total sense to Workflowy users. Check it out, it’s free!)
3. Items in your in-box are moving targets: I no longer dread emails coming into my email box because they don’t push other important messages down, down, down on my to do list–because my in-box is no longer my to do list. Items that come in via email either get added to my calendar (if it’s truly an appointment) or my #ToDo list (if it’s something I need to do) or DELETED (which is very often the case and gives me a little rush each time).
Although I don’t plan on regularly talking about personal productivity here on my blog or on the podcast, there are times, like now, when I have a big win in my professional world that may just trickle into the world of other fathers over forty.
Here are some links:
Thanks Cliff and Erik!