A To-Do List Secret

When I was in my early 20’s and just beginning my career, I remember a story told by Earl Nightengale on one of his training cassette tape programs. The simple strategy related in the story has stuck with me, and I would bet is something you do as well.

A young man by the name of Ivy Lee was retained by a wealthy captain of American industry to help his company become more productive. After a short period of watching, Mr. Lee delivered his solution. He had observed that many hours were wasted each morning because the employees were uncertain exactly what to do. He suggested that, “before people went home in the evening they should write down what was to be done the next day in priority order.”

The business owner was skeptical that this could have any significant impact on worker productivity. A confident Mr. Lee told the millionaire to implement this policy for a month and then just send him a check for whatever he thought it was worth.

The results were so dramatic that the next month Mr. Lee received a check for $25,000, a huge sum for the late 1800’s.

Thus was born the “to do” list. Undoubtedly you’ve used one for years, as have I.

I believe that there is a missing link that is preventing your to do list from accomplishing all that is possible. This one secret can make your list more effective and help you stick to it over the course of the day.

First, a reminder of something you already know, then the secret.

We’ve all read, and experience tells us that it’s true, that we should do the most important task(s) at the time in the day when we are at our best. For most people that is in the morning, but there is no rule about this. If you like to sleep until 10 and start your workday at noon, that’s fine. Just be aware of when your optimum work time is and schedule accordingly.

Now the secret: do not leave completion of a task “open ended.” Make sure you have a time allocated for each item on your list; a time to begin and more important, a time to be finished.

Take this article that I’m writing now for example. I could have on my to-do list for today, “write a blog post.” In fact, that is an entry on my list at least two or three days a week as I write for myself and clients almost every day. But putting it on my list like that is pretty nebulous, with almost no definition.

What I actually have on my list for today is: “Blog post, personal, time mgmt, 7:15 – 7:45”

That’s pretty self explanatory, but let me define it anyway. That entry in my to do list tells me that I’m going to write a post for my personal blog, and the category is going to be the Time Management section of posts on my blog. I wrote this task down last evening before shutting down my computer and leaving the office for the day.

Most important, I know that I’m going to start writing at 7:15 and finish the post by 7:45. That means the previous task must be completed by 7:15. Likewise, this post must be finished by 7:45 so that I can move on to the next item on my list.

There is something about a deadline that focuses your mind and helps you become more productive. Try it yourself for a couple of days and see if you don’t begin to get more done.