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#620: Tame Your To-Do List

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 29, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 29, 2011
Professional services like consulting and law generate lists of tasks that never seem to decline. Especially if you are running a litigation team or consulting practice, it is like two steps forward and three steps back. How do you get through the day without being pulled in all directions?

There are two issues - your inbox and your outbox. Logic, and a lot of time management techniques, focus on the path between the boxes. Presumably, if we work faster, the inbox pile magically becomes the outbox pile. Improvements like delegation, streamlining and parallel processing (all familiar to operations consultants) dispense with your work faster and hopefully better.

However, consider a different approach - constraining the size of your inbox. This probably horrifies most consultants trying to market and sell, serve their clients and manage the practice. There's just too much to do! Well, consider what happens to many of the tasks that move from one To-Do list to the next To-Do list, some of which are finally abandoned. We know urgent and important are not the same thing, but how are we going to set priorities, execute with discipline and feel like we have had a productive day (week, month, year)?

Here is a clever idea - adopt the open and closed task list concept. Basically, you create a list of tasks for the day and once done and affirmed, the list is closed for the day. Any new tasks that come up (with consideration for different job types and how much of your job is responding to emergency requests) go on another day's list. This really forces you to trade off the urgency and importance of tasks and, when they can't go on today's list and there is no room compared to other tasks on tomorrow's list, many tasks may disappear without ever landing on any list.

Tip: If It Won't Fit On A Post-It, It Won't Fit In Your Day discusses this intriguing approach. I suggest you adopt this for a week or two to see how well it enforces the discipline needed to manage your inbox. Combined with the time management tips to dispense with tasks once they have landed in your inbox (on your post it note), you will be able to say "no" more often with minimal impact on your productivity or effectiveness.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  efficiency  planning  practice management  project management  time management  your consulting practice 

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