There are literally thousands of articles and blog posts on the best way to manage your to do list. I hope this post comes across as authentic to my process, what I have learned over the years, and the tools that help keep me focused on my list.
First, a bit of historical background…before 2000 I would not have considered myself a planner, much less a strategic planner but it was the year I started my educational journal. I was married, with one three-month-old and working a very demanding job. I was also about to start my first semester in college as a first-generation student. I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t have any familial resources from which to drawn on. I remember getting a call from the university, asking how many hours I would be taking. I said, “I am going full time so how many hours is that?”. The advisor on the phone said ‘16 hours’. ‘Sign me up!’ What I did not know was 16 hours was full time for a full Fall or Spring term. I started in the summer!!
Very quickly I had to learn how to best manage my demanding job, young marriage, tiny human, and more than a full load for a summer session. The details of how I did that are not relevant for this post; suffice it to say, I made a lot of mistakes but learned how important it was to manage my time, create boundaries, and create strategic task lists.
Fast forward more than 20 years later, I have been able to capture my processes in the new Therapy Practice Planner system (get your planner here). You’ve probably heard the adage, fail to plan and you plan to fail. I have found this to be true. During that first semester of college and more so today, it is critical that I have a plan for my year, each quarter, month, week, and day and stick to it or make strategic pivots when necessary. So how do I do it?
I have to be clear on what needs to be accomplished. I will write more about strategic planning later but your to do list should naturally derive from your plan which is how you will meet your annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. The Therapy Practice Planner helps you keep track of these goals and manage your to do list. Writing down your goals is critical for several reasons: 1) It get’s them out of your head. If you have ever had a thought in your head that you needed to stop thinking about and wrote it down, you know what I mean. 2) Depending on the tool(s) you use, it can help you track your progress.
Typically, I have ten to twelve annual goals that have a completion date in one of the quarters. Those quarterly goals then are broken down into manageable projects that can be completed over the course of the month(s), weeks, and days in that quarter. I may have more than one quarterly goal but work to maintain focus on one project at a time. There is a plethora of research showing the fallacy of multi-tasking.
I use a combination of the Therapy Practice Planner and technology to keep track of my goals and to do list. A recent practice I started is an end of year sabbatical and goal planning get away. I spend a few days away from the office to review the last year’s goals, my progress, and think about what I want to accomplish in the coming year. The goals that are generated from this retreat are based largely on my LifePlan (more on that later). I consider the ‘why’ of the goal and how I hope to achieve it. I also consider how I will celebrate achieving the goal. I assign a reasonable expectation for the quarter in which to achieve the goal then break it down into it manageable parts. You might be asking why it should be broken down into manageable parts? Check out BHAG; if your annual goals do not cause you a little anxiety about how you will achieve them, you are not thinking big enough! Those manageable parts become quarterly and monthly projects that are scheduled into more manageable weekly and daily tasks. All of this data is put into the technology I use; at the time of this writing, I am using Microsoft’s Outlook and Planner for Teams. The annual goals are also written at the beginning of each new quarterly planner. While the goals pages in the planner can be used in multiple ways, I use them to break down the quarterly goals into projects.
The monthly pages in the planner again include a space for documenting the goals/projects for the month as do the weekly pages. After I have completed entering in my goals into Planner for Teams and filling out my Therapy Practice Planner for the quarter it is time to manage and overcome!
I will make an attempt to briefly summarize the remaining process but suspect you’ll read more details about it in future posts, online courses, or podcasts. Essentially, I plan daily, weekly, monthly, and one quarterly review/previews. Each day I sit down with my planner, review the day before, today, and the days/week ahead. While I am thinking about my larger goals and projects, I think strategically about the tasks I need to accomplish to meet the larger goal. I typically have three major tasks that are focused on the larger goals, then I list out other relevant tasks and other unrelated tasks that need to be accomplished. As you go through this process you might consider asking, ‘Is the task something you should do or relevant to a project?’
After I have made my list for the day, I prioritize the tasks and estimate the time it may take to complete them. While it may not make sense for everyone to do what I do, I duplicate many, but not all, entries in my Therapy Practice Planner and in the technology I use. I do this partly because I need to keep track of some things through technology for my assistant’s sanity. As I go throughout my day or week other ideas or things I need to do that are urgent but not related to my goals are written in the planner than transferred to technology; I typically do this through my daily and weekly review process.
Very rarely do I have more than ten items in my Therapy Practice Planner to do list. There may be many more in my technology. This helps keep me focused on only the most important items for the day and keep a realistic schedule of my time boundaries for the day. Since all of my tasks are in technology as a master task list, I can keep coming back to it as I have time to do so.
Make sure you create appointments in your calendar and put them in your planner to do the review/preview! Doing these will help keep you focused and better manage your priorities to meet your goals.