How many of us get pleasure from crossing an item off of our to-do list?
Whether it’s creating a written list, an electronic list or even the pleasurable sigh when we can simply forget all about something once it’s been completed. To-do lists are a source of pleasure and motivation for many people.
It’s said that we write things down in order to forget them and it’s easy to see that if we continually carry around all outstanding tasks in our heads, there would be very little room for processing anything else. After all, the average person can only hold approximately seven things in their conscious mind at any one time – this is why time management techniques and to-do lists are so important. I bet if you’re still reading this, your to-do list is longer than seven things!
The challenge with this psychological delight in crossing things off our lists is that we tend to work on the short term things first …. If you spend half a day on shorter tasks, chances are you may be able to tick several items off your list – the same half a day spent on a longer task may result in no ticks at all … and where’s the fun in that?!
If this is how you manage your time currently, ask yourself how else you can reward yourself for completing part of a long term task? Can you break it into sub tasks or into hourly components?
What is time management according to Covey?
Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, believes that the essence of time management is to “organise and execute around priorities”. His time management priority model is a popular one! According to Covey, all tasks (whether business or personal) can fall into one of four categories: Urgent and Important, Not Urgent and Important, Urgent and Not Important and Not Urgent and Not Important.
He suggests that we can prioritise our to-do list according to this time management model.
An interesting point is that many people spend most of their time dealing with tasks that fall into boxes one (Urgent and Important) and three (Urgent and Not Important). This leaves little time for the things in box two: Not Urgent - but Important. If we set ourselves medium to long term goals for any area of our life, the chances are the tasks will initially fall into this box – as will most tasks associated with personal development, new opportunities and improved relationships.
The challenge is that the tasks in boxes one and three are shouting the loudest (or the person who set the tasks is!) and therefore we tend to concentrate on quietening the urgency rather than focusing on a steady path to success.
Tackle your to-do list one item at a time
“Eating elephants” is often a phrase used that refers to time management - “You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time!” The idea behind eating an elephant one bite at a time translates to our medium to long term goals. If we can tackle them one piece at a time, then they don’t seem as daunting – and we can tick the smaller activities off our to-do list, making us feel as though we have achieved more!
One final thought - “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” – Annie Dillard
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!