How do you boost your productivity, to the point where you can get 400+ tasks completed each year, 3 tasks at a time?
It sounds like a big number, but it’s possible to do, and still have time for your friends and family. The system is built around three types of lists – a master task list, an action today list and a “waiting on” list.
The Master Task List
This is the list of every task you have to do. Every time you promise to do something for someone that can’t do straight away, you put it on to your master task list. This allows you to get everything out of your head and onto paper.
There are several common mistakes that you can make with your task list. The most common is to have a list of big projects on your list that you can’t really completely action right now. When you have those items on your list, your mind starts to go numb to the list because you look at your list and you don’t have a clear idea of what to actually do about the ‘task’. In fact, it’s not really a task, it’s more of a thought that you wrote down and did not determine what you actually need to do about it.
Don’t make this mistake when creating your master task list
For example, you write on your task list ‘Get more clients,’ but you haven’t thought about how exactly you are going to do this. Instead you should think clearly about what is the actual action step for example, ‘Review my old business cards to see who I could contact about referrals.’ Or ‘Brainstorm 5 ideas of how to get more clients.’ These are specific actions that you can take action on. You have clarity about what you actually need to do.
Review each item on your list with the following questions:
- What is my outcome? What do I want in this situation?
- What is the next action step I need to take?
- Is my next action something I can accomplish in less than 1 day? If not break it down into smaller steps.
- Prioritize the identified actions. The three highest priority actions are then placed on your “action today” list.
This makes your ‘action today list’ effective as you have total clarity about what it is that you actually need to do. Make sure to review and update all these lists regularly, preferably weekly.
Action Today List
The action today list is the real key to being able to complete 400 tasks a year. The Action Today List is based on a method first introduced by a highly-respected productivity consultant named Ivy Lee, way back in 1918.
A story goes that in 1918, the president of the then Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and at the time one of the richest men in the world, Charles M. Schwab engaged Ivy Lee to show him how to get more things done.
Lee asked to spend 15 mins with each of Schwab’s executives and was asked how much it would cost. Lee replied “Nothing, unless it works. After three months, you can send me a cheque for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”
During his 15 minutes with each executive, Lee explained his simple 5 step method for achieving peak productivity:
- At the end of each working day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
To Schwab, the strategy sounded too simple, but he and his executives gave it a try and after three months were so impressed with the results that Schwab wrote Lee a cheque for $25,000. In today’s money that would be is equal to around $400,000.
I believe in this day and age, even having six items on a daily to-do list is too many, so my suggestion to you is that you only put three items on your daily action today list, which makes it more manageable and allows time for you to deal with the curve balls that inevitably come our way during a working day. Here is the 4 step process you need to use.
- At the end of each working day, write down the three highest priority tasks that you need to complete or at least make a start on tomorrow. Do not write down more than three tasks.
- When you arrive tomorrow, start on the first task. Work until that task until you have either completed it, or you can’t do anything else with it (usually because you have to wait for further information). Then move on to the next task and approach it in the same way.
- If whilst doing another task, you receive the information required to complete a previous task. Get the task you’re working on to a point where it’s easy to pick up again, and return to the previous task and complete it.
- Repeat this process every working day.
At the very worst you will make a start on three key tasks every day, at the very best you will complete three high-priority tasks every day. If you can complete three high-priority tasks per day, based on 220 working days a year, that is 660 important tasks completed every year. Would that make a difference to your productivity? In reality you will fall somewhere in between 400 and 660 tasks, which is why I firmly believe that you can easily complete 400 tasks a year.
Task ‘Waiting On’ List
If you find that you can’t complete a task on your action today list because you’re waiting on information from someone else. Don’t make the mistake that many people make and put it back on your Master Task List, it will just get lost in amongst the other tasks. Instead, make a separate list of ‘waiting on’ items where you are waiting for the other person to do something before you can take the next action. Then you can review this ‘waiting on’ list and follow up with the relevant person when appropriate. That way the task will be front and centre until it’s complete.
Don’t put tasks you’ve started but not finished back on your master task list because they’ll get lost.
If you follow this system you will be able to complete 400 tasks a year. In addition, you will find yourself both feeling and being more productive. And when the inevitable curveballs get thrown at you during your working day, it will not have as big an impact as it would have done in the past.
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