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5 Ways to Better Manage Your Never Ending To-Do List and Hectic Calendar

Operations & Management

Joshua Davidson wrote this article


One of the questions I’m most commonly asked by both my team and clients alike, is how I manage always to make every meeting on time.

All of this is because of one thing, the process I’ve built into my work day to stay organized.

I’ve experimented over the years. I’ve used tools such as Trello, the mobile app Clear, Apple’s Reminders, and plain old emails to act as a to-do list. Nothing has brought me more success than this simple method I’ve been using for the last calendar year. Though everyone is different, and certainly some may not find my method, my process to staying organized and on top of my to-do list their preferred choice. For a few of you, that might be the case. With a never ending to-do list, new items and priorities being thrown into your face daily, and the responsibilities of being a CEO of a growing company with more team members, more clients, and more impact daily; this is what I use to stay sane, productive, and on my A-Game.

1) Use your calendar for scheduling necessary time blocks and meetings

I can’t take total credit for coming up with this idea. When we had Kevin Kruse on the podcast last year; he brought this idea up that fascinated me and soon after that, I implemented into my routine. It’s the idea of treating your calendar as both a to-do list and well, a calendar.

It’s simple. Most people will record down on their calendar what scheduled meetings and events are coming up so that they don’t overbook. For the rest of the day, they keep it blank. This is when they have their water-cooler chats, they work on emails; they focus on their to-do list. The issue with this, it is unorganized. You’ve set yourself up to spend hours working on stuff, but never truly getting anything done. It’s just you only bouncing from one task to another.

Kevin instead, suggested this. Take the blank space on your calendar, and instead, fill it in 15min, 30min, 45min, or 60min interval on specific tasks. For example, record from 9:00AM-9:15AM as email. 9:15AM-9:45AM is the to-do list. 9:45AM-10:00AM is commuting to a meeting. Rinse. Repeat.

The idea is simple; it keeps you constrained on the tasks at hand. Instead of simply using your two hours of free time to work on whatever you please, you’ve forced yourself to be disciplined and set aside specific times to focus on specific tasks. Once time is up on a task, you move to the next.

This is critical for me.

Instead of suggesting, “hey, I have two hours to work on my to-do list and catch up on emails” and then having them bleed together, and getting half-way done, I now give myself constraints. I now have an hour and a half to get my entire to-do list done, and thirty minutes to answer my emails. That’s it. You’re forced to focus. You focus to be productive.

2) Ability to adjust quickly

Let’s say the last minute cancellation just popped up for a meeting you had scheduled from 12:30PM-1:30PM, what do you do? Do you decide to grab an extended lunch? Catch up on a show using your Netflix account? Catch up on emails? Complain about that canceled meeting?

Instead, you adapt. You adjust. You become flexible. You don’t let a single minute go to waste.

Here is where having an organized to do list (which you will see below) comes in handy. Have a last minute cancellation? Cool, that time has immediately become continue working on my to-do list for the day.

If by chance I somehow finished my daily to-do list, which is rare, but do-able, then focus on your never ending task list with the highest priority and urgent items first.

You are never without something to do as an executive or entrepreneur. Don’t just give yourself vacation time because someone called in sick unexpectedly. Leverage that time to your advantage. Your future self will thank you for it.

3) Use a notebook for recording your thoughts and ideas

I always have a little leather-bond notebook on my desk or with me. Ideas are always popping into my head. Sometimes new ideas to help grow Chop Dawg. Sometimes things that I need to get back on (last second thought to circle back with a new client, a team member, etc.). Sometimes just to doodle on.

No matter what, this is key. At the end of every day, I reference my notebook and see what sticks out. Any critical ideas came out of the day I should look into implementing? Let’s put it on my to-do list in the coming days (see below) or onto the calendar to spend time focused on it. Any new action items I should schedule? Same thing, let’s add it to the to-do list. Anything pointless that though excited about at the moment, seems silly now? Neglect it and move on.

Capturing your thoughts is huge. Too few entrepreneurs and executives do this. Sure, 98% of your thoughts could be rubbish, but that 1-2%? Gold. Pure gold. You let them slip through the cracks due to a busy day, you’ve lost that potential goldmine. That’s not fair to you, now is it? Especially not fair to your team, clients, users, or customers who probably would have wanted to see you pursue it.

4) Use a planner for writing down your daily action items

This is my secret sauce. I’m the proud owner of an old-school, daily planner, always by my side, always at my desk.

So, here is how this process works. I don’t use a daily planner as a replacement to a calendar as most are setup. Instead, I write for each day, what my action items are on my to-do list I must get done. I don’t just plan the day before either. When I realize I need to follow up with someone, I write it on the planner for the day I plan to do so. When I need to get something done on a specific date, it’s added to that particular date on the calendar. It’s both my prioritized to-do list and a road map to items I need to get done in the days (and sometimes months) ahead.

The biggest thing about a good to-do list is that don’t add so much that you know it is impossible for you to get done in one day. Often, I only list 8-12 items on it that I know are manageable in the day. I’ll prioritize by most urgent, and then time sensitivity in the day.

At the end of every week, I’m able to review the week ahead and see what I need to get done from a ground-floor level. You’ll be surprised; my daily planner is often organized for months ahead. Anything that I know need to get done, and there is a definite date attached to it, gets recorded on here. It keeps me on track.

The last thing about a daily planner, and why I love it so much; nothing is more satisfying than crossing off an item as completed with paper and pen. You should try it sometime if you’ve always stuck to being digital with your to-do lists!

5) Create a routine that will stick

Here is the biggest thing… you need to keep to a format that fits best for you, and then, actually stay with it. The worst thing I did was continually try to change the way I stay organized, manage my pending to-do list, and calendar. You never get yourself into a routine. You never become that machine you should be.

With this process above, I am now on auto-pilot. I can just tell you every single day what I am doing. I don’t think when writing something in my notebook, viewing my planner, looking at my calendar. It just works. It just clicks. It feels natural. This is where you need to be, and what the best of the best do.

I’ve never been more productive in my life than the last calendar year. I’m taking more meetings a day than ever before. I am getting my to-do lists taken care of, daily. I am doing all of this, at a fraction of the time spent before, a fraction of my energy spent before, and more organized than ever before.

Try to implement what I’ve been doing, but also create a strategy that best fits you, and your personality. What works for me might not just be a perfect fit for you; but when you do find something that feels right, stick to it. Turn it into a force of habit. You’ll become the productive machine you were destined to be!

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