Posted in Blog

Down to Brass Tacks on Managing Work To Dos

There are tons of articles and books out there talking about managing your time, setting priorities, and delegating your work. I often finish reading and think that it’s great to hear in theory, but how does the author actually stay organized. What apps, tools, and tricks are they using that I could leverage? This post is a bit of a reaction to that. Here’s my down-in-the-weeds look at what I’m doing on a weekly and daily basis to stay organized at work.

My job can be hectic. I have multiple projects with various clients and project teams that all have different requirements, standards, and deadlines. My day can range from facilitating working group meetings and pitching work to clients to writing storyboards for an online instruction and editing a curriculum plan. There is always a lot to do. I’m never bored at work. 

I’ve tackled my work to do-list a variety of ways over the years. I’ve used my email inbox as a list of tasks, emailing myself things to do. I’ve used apps like Todoist, which I liked, to track every task I need to do. I have teams that use Trello, a good project management tool. But, for my individual to dos, I’ve found nothing more satisfying than paper and pen.

Currently, every Friday afternoon, I make a list of every project I’m on and note the tasks for each project that need to be on my radar. I list key deadlines and, if I think the list is too overwhelming, I estimate how much time each task will take to complete. If my estimate of hours is greater than my available working hours, then I know I have a problem. Then, I either need to delegate or shift priorities. 

It’s at this time that I calendar block too. For example, if I know I’m going to need to write or edit, I dedicate a chuck of time on my calendar to this focused work. With this strategy, my project teams will see my calendar is full and not schedule a meeting then.

Simultaneously, while I’m looking at my calendar, I check for conflicts or meetings coming up that I need to prep for. Here I may find that I need to add some tasks to my to-do list or block prep time on my calendar.

Once I have my master to-do list Friday afternoon, I set my goals for Monday. This way, I can start immediately Monday morning with a plan.

The key here is to keep the list of goals short. I definitely don’t allow more than 3 items. I’ll likely get more than my goals done in a day, but my I feel accomplished if my goals are met. I’ll probably have a future post just on setting daily goals.

Another piece of notebook paper is used to capture daily goals.

I also realize, especially now as a senior manager, that a big part of my job is supporting my teams. This role often means I’m responding to “fires” as they occur, which can’t be planned. The only element of fires I can plan for is the fact that I know they will happen….regularly. So, I try to leave room in my calendar for them to work themselves in.  As my week progresses, new to dos are added to the master list and accomplished ones are crossed off. I always have a current running list of project tasks. 

Every day ends with a review of what I accomplished and how much time each task took me and then the creation of a plan for the next day. 

I recognize that my system isn’t the only system out there, but it works well for me in my current position. What apps, tools, or tricks do you use to stay focused and organized at work?

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