Tuesday 17 May 2011

To Do

I’ve been through my fair share of time management courses, books and systems. I suspect you have too. Some of them are actually been useful; some less so.

Yet the old stand-by that never fails is the good old To Do list. It’s not fancy, it’s not complicated, but it is effective. A day in the office without a To Do list is likely to be less productive than a day with a To Do list. Somehow it focuses the mind; even if the list only has one big item on it.

So why is a To Do list so useful?

I think it has two benefits. Firstly, it requires purposeful thought in order to write it. If you don’t know what you are trying to achieve, your lack of purpose becomes abundantly obvious. Deciding your objective then becomes your first To Do item. If your objectives are clear, then a little thought about what To Do next produces your list.

Secondly, having decided what should be done listing them provides focus through the day. When you get called into an unexpected meeting, or something takes longer than expected, the list pulls you back to what you hoped to achieve. It often produces a last bit of extra effort at the end of the day to get one or two more items ticked off.

There is something ridiculously satisfying in being able to tick things off.

The To Do list is so simple that it seems almost ridiculous to write several paragraphs on the subject. Yet I’m not the first fan to put fingers to keyboard and take up virtual air time with a subject that must seem second nature to any productive person.

So – can a To Do list be beaten? Is there anything better at aiding and abetting the person who wants to Get Things Done? I’d be interested to know whether anyone can trump it …

Monday 9 May 2011


I was standing in line in a cafĂ© on Saturday afternoon when I saw a sign hanging above the counter: “Drink Coffee – Do Stupid Things Faster with More Energy”.  It made me laugh and brightened an already sunny afternoon.

It made me stop and think, though, about the number of things we do without thinking; and how infrequently we do things slowly and thoughtfully.  Getting through a lot of stuff makes us feel good, but doesn’t necessarily move things forward.  Whereas doing a well-chosen thing a little more slowly and thoroughly is likely to produce a better result.

Of course so much depends on what work needs to be done, and what your objectives are.  Despite my long battles with reducing caffeine, this isn’t a rant against coffee; I personally don’t drink the stuff, though, as I’m quite capable of doing stupid things without any chemical additives.

What really got me thinking was a visit to a local National Trust property some weeks previously.  It was a house I had seen on a number of occasions because it is so close to where I live.  This time, however, I visited with someone who isn’t quite as mobile as he was in his younger days.  So the visit was longer than normal, and we saw only half the house.  Did this spoil the day?  Au contraire!  It was twice as interesting as I had chance to look and think about what I was looking at.  I got more out of that visit than I had done in all the previous visits put together.  Yet given the choice, I would have bashed on at my normal speed.  Clearly, I had been missing so much.  And there is still more to go back and see.

There seems to be so little space for thought in our busy coffee-fuelled lives.  Yet slowing down and thinking always produces a better result.  The old saying: “there’s not enough time to do it well, but there’s always time to do it twice” sort of comes to mind.  Another coffee anyone?