Hands down the most important tool I use to prioritize my workflow is a list. More specifically it’s a list that I store electronically in One Note. I know a lot of my colleagues that use Outlook tasks, physical notebooks, productivity apps, reminders from their inbox and it goes on and on and on. They are all wrong!
Well, wrong is a little strong. What I’ll say is, I think they could be much more efficient in managing their priorities and everything else that needs get done. It is with this in mind that I want to highlight the top 3 ways that keeping a simple electronic list can drastically improve your efficiency in getting work done.
1. It Pulls You Away from Your Inbox
Email is a distraction. Yes, I know, it’s an integral part of how works get done in our information age. The speed with which communication occurs and the potential to impact large groups of people is crucial. You generate records of correspondence…yes, yes, yes, I know. All that doesn’t change that email notifications constantly going off are a distraction that pulls us away from the work that we are doing. It’s even more distracting and time-consuming executing tasks based off of emails since more are always getting added to the pile.
Don’t get work done from your inbox! Instead, and this will take some time, transfer email requests from your inbox into a list. Do this at limited points throughout the day. When you’re done doing so, close out of your email. Don't worry, your colleagues will reach out to your more directly if there is a crisis, everyone understands the emails get missed. At the end of the day, make sure you’re not missing any critical request and add any missed tasks to your list so you can start your day fresh, without the distraction of emails first thing in the morning. You’ll have way more time to focus on actual thinking and getting work done.
2. It Keeps All Your Work in One Place
Working from your inbox isn’t effective because email subjects don’t always translate into a clear concise action of what needs to be done. Therefore, you often have to re-read email chains to figure out where things are at and what decisions or actions you own. Task and productivity apps management can become too cumbersome because they don’t often allow for flexibility. When you input them you have to know the deadline right then. So the exercise of viewing all your tasks at once and re-prioritizing in the moment is lost. Also, depending on the software it can be painstaking to see all your priorities for specific periods.
I capture all my priorities on a list under the date beginning that week. Daily, I get inputs based on my role and responsibilities, from my manager, emails requests, company objectives, and customer and consumer needs. If the requests can be handled within 2 minutes of getting them, they get done. If they will take any longer, they make it onto the list. Once an activity gets completed, a line is drawn through it and it goes to the bottom of the list. Then, I do a glance, re-prioritize the list and the next most important item is chosen and the work goes on. That way, I’m always working on my most important activity at any time. When next week rolls around, I’ll advance the items that didn’t get completed and leave the completed items behind under the previous week. Thus, creating a record of when activities got done.
3. You Create a Record of What You’ve Gotten Done
Speaking of records, working from your emails can be a nightmare when you have to figure out what you’ve gotten done. The search function is a lifesaver, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given up trying to figure out exactly what to search for when trying to access my work months later. Worse yet, there are so many emails to look at and review that it becomes too overwhelming to be worth the effort. When it comes to physical notes, not having a search function is a headache. But, here is where I will give some props to tasks management softwares because they usually do hold pretty decent records of what you’ve gotten done, sometimes even giving you nice graphics depending on how much time you put into setting them up.
So, why all this talk about keeping records of your work. Well, there are a few reasons. When it comes time for performance appraisals you want to be able to tell a fair and compelling story about what you’ve been up to. Since work in the digital age is so fast and the problems last way longer than the solutions, it’s easy to miss all your hard work if you haven’t been paying attention. Beyond just the performance appraisal however, it’s an opportunity to reflect and assess your development. Did you do anything that surprised you? Did you handle a situation poorly that you’d approach differently next time? How did you show up as a leader?
These are all the things we don’t necessarily think about at the moment but that is so critical to our growth and that play huge roles in our careers. At the end of the day, we all owe it to ourselves keep our talent and skillsets at a high level by driving our development journey.