Why your "to-do" list doesn't work

Flickr user Banalities

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY If you're like most folks, you have some sort of 'to-do' list at work. And since you're not an anarchist, you probably assign each task some sort of priority and tackle the workload in order. Getting Things Done guru David Allen -- someone who it's fair to say is a master of to-do lists -- says that approach sets you up for failure.

At the very least, it's not the most efficient way to work. According to Allen in the GTD Times, a typical to-do list doesn't account for the way priorities can shift rapidly through the work day. They also don't consider human factors, like what time of day you are most productive and the fact that no matter how many "red bangs" you put next to a work item, you probably won't tackle it at 5 p.m. on a Friday.

Says Allen, "On a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis, there is no algorithm or formula that will last very long or is really worth trying to nail down in some written or coded system."

That's why Allen recommends implementing a system in which you use four simple criteria to decide what order to tackle your to-dos each day:

  • Context )What can I do where I am?)
  • Time (When do I have to do something else?)
  • Energy (How fresh am I?)
  • Priority (What has the highest payoff for me if I do it?)

This leads to a whole new way of looking at your to-do list. You probably already know that when you try to work entirely based on business goals and ignore factors like your energy level and available time, you often end in failure. Instead, try factoring these considerations into your task list organically.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Banalities

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