A rule-of-thumb I often recommend when it comes to what we write in our calendars and what we ought to write on our to-do-lists is that whatever depends on us doing it at a certain time (meetings, phone calls we promised to call at a specific time, and so on) belongs in the calendar and everything else we have to do (which we do not do immediately), belongs on the to-do-list.
If we do not stick to this rule, we easily fill the calendar with things we are hoping we will get done during the day (even if they do not necessarily have to be done at a certain time), and together with all the meetings we have, the days fill up quickly — at least if we are judging how busy we are by looking in our calendar.
If we then do not complete the tasks at the times we happened to schedule them, we have to spend time moving them to sometime later (tomorrow or perhaps next week) in order to not forget to do them entirely.
In the calendar, just in case?
However, Tobias wrote to me the other day and pointed out that even if we apply this rule-of-thumb, we might still be tempted to write up certain to-do-tasks in the calendar, in spite of not being bound by a certain day and time, just to ensure that we really do them.
These tasks could for instance be things we feel reluctant to do since they are either boring or makes us feel uncomfortable somehow. I recognize this tendency myself and as I see it, this can be an excellent way to make sure we finally get something we have been procrastinating done.
But if there is quite a number of tasks we are procrastinating and we try portioning them out like this in the calendar as to ensure that we get them done, we will soon be back to square one. The calendar will be full in no time and since both urgent and important things most likely will fall in our lap throughout the day, it is no guarantee that we get those procrastinated tasks done just by writing them in our calendar.
Full of meetings or easily forgotten list
The question is therefore how we can easier make time for the tasks that do not really need to be done at a specific day and time, but which we tend to postpone if we are very calendar-oriented in how we prioritize and work?
As I see it, the problem can be twofold, and hence so is the solution. Either our days are so full of meetings that we have difficulties getting around to doing the tasks on our to-do-list, or we have difficulties remembering to pick tasks to do from our to-do-list during the hours we do not spend attending meetings and instead opt for just doing whatever comes our way, such as answering newly received emails.
If your days are controlled by what is written in your calendar to a great extent, and you therefore feel tempted to write to-do-tasks in the calendar as well so that you ”block” time for doing them, try doing one (or both) of the following two things:
- Instead of reserving time in the calendar for doing a specific task, block or reserve empty time for doing things that do not involve attending meetings. Refer to it as ”alone time”, ”undisturbed time” or something else. These blocks of time are meant for working on whatever you find relevant from your to-do-list, and are not to be filled with meetings or other engagements.
If you reserve these blocks of ”empty” time, you will feel free to work on whatever has the highest priority at the moment. If you choose to do a task other than the one which you originally intended to get done during this time, that is not a problem. The task is still on your to-do-list and you will not forget it. Like before, you will not have to remember to move the particular calendar booking as to not forget to do the task, which you would have needed to do if the booking made in the calendar was the only way you kept track of that that particular task needed to be done.
- If you easily forget to consult your to-do-list, you can remind yourself throughout the day that you have one by:
- Gathering any loose notes, emails marked with red flags, emails marked as unread and other things you have tagged with any ”Don’t forget this!”-signals you use, and add them to your to-do-list at least once a day.
- Setting an alarm or a reminder to have a look in your to-do-list for right around the time when you get to work, if you begin working at approximately the same time every day.
- Placing the to-do-list in such a way that you cannot miss it. Right next to your keyboard if it is a physical list, set it to open as you log into Outlook if you are using Outlook’s Tasks, alter the settings for your web browser so that the to-do-list service you use online is your opening page, or something else depending on what you prefer and what format your list is in.
Controlled and free at the same time
If you reserve empty blocks of time in the calendar and stay aware of that you have a to-do-list to pick tasks from during these, it will become easier to get things you otherwise risk finishing late done, even if your day is more or less controlled by your schedule and the calendar.
By using these two ”keeping track of”-tools (the calendar and the to-do-list) in a more systematic way, you will make more accurate choices regarding what task that is the right one to do next — even if some tasks concern having meetings and others to get things done while working alone — at specific times or anytime.
What is your method?
How do you make sure that your day is not just controlled by all the appointments in the calendar, but that you remember and use the to-do-list as well? If you have a tip, trick, routine or habit that you use, please feel free to share it in a comment below.