Ok, so we have an idea of the system:
– and all tasks need to be sorted by urgency
But what does sorting by urgency actually mean? Essentially it means for every to-do there’s one of three zones that activity can be placed in.
Zone 1: Must Do Today
These are tasks that absolutely, positively must be done today and I can’t emphasise enough how vitally important it is to stick to the ‘going home’ test when putting items into the Must Do Today list. Always ask yourself “Would I absolutely positively stay late to complete this task?”
Or as a former Navy boss of mine used to say “Will this stop a ship from sailing if it doesn’t get done today?”
By rigidly sticking to this definition of a critical task I’ve found that I can actually shorten my workday and focus on just those tasks that are urgent.
At the start of each day I have my Must Do Today tasks already identified and I work on those first. Each time I mark one off, I return to the list and identify my next most critical task – the one that I’ve identified as needing to be completed today.
Some days I’ve actually completed all my Must Do Today tasks by 10am (those are days without meetings!). Other days it has taken me until late afternoon but it is still better than pre-the system where I’d be grappling at 4pm with the realisation that I had several time-critical tasks to complete before going home; or alternatively that I’d be taking work home.
Keeping other people updated
But what if there’s too much to complete in one day? Again, in the past this used to only be apparent late in the day – often too late to notify anyone. Now, I can see very early on in the day if time is going to get away from me and I can contact anyone who might be relying on those outcomes to extend the deadline if necessary.
But I can also now see if I’m actually biting off more than I can chew before I agree to do something. Obviously if my boss asks me to do an urgent task I’ll say yes, but with other people I might be able to negotiate a better deadline or even say no to a task.
Reviewing the list
You should be reviewing your Must Do Today items often – but what does that actually mean?
For me, that means doing a task and then scanning my emails for any incoming tasks that might have come in. The majority of emails will become Might Do Today tasks (see below) but if there are any Must Do Today items I’ll add them to today’s list.
But I’ll never go over 5 items at any one time for either my work or my personal lists.
If it becomes apparent that I’m going to have more than 5 items, I’ll re-scan to see what items absolutely positively have to be done today and which ones I can reschedule through negotiation with stakeholders, or myself!
Zone 2: Might Do Today
These are tasks that you’d work on today if you had the chance but that can wait for up to two weeks if necessary. You want them visible in case you get the opportunity to work on them, but they’re not vitally important.
They can be stand alone tasks or the next step of a multi-step project that you want to take action on within the next two weeks.
Keeping the list short
Of course, the more tasks you add to your visible Might Do Today list the longer that list is going to grow. But, the longer it gets the harder it becomes to scan on a daily basis, especially if you’re using your mobile device to access your list.
And the harder it is to scan, the harder it is to make decisions on what tasks you should concentrate on today if you get the opportunity. So, you need to set an upper limit to the list to make it manageable.
That means that on any given day you should have no more than 20 items visible in your professional Might Do Today list and no more than 20 items visible in your personal Might Do Today list.
When this starts to happen, if a task has a logical future date when you might want to start thinking about it again, reschedule it for that date and archive the Note to remove it from your visible list.
Alternatively, if you don’t need to think about the Note for at least the next 2 weeks you should re-label the note as Over the Horizon and apply a future review date.
Don’t worry too much about what this all means right now. We’ll go through deferring, archiving and reviewing tasks in more detail later in the series.
Note: Many Notes will just keep getting rescheduled which is fine. Priorities and requirements change and it may be that you’ll eventually get back to that task in due course. Or you may end up ultimately deleting it, but at least you know you’ll not be missing any tasks or letting anything fall through the cracks.
Zone 2A: Target Today
These are the tasks in your ‘Might Do Today’ list that are of highest priority to you on any given day. So, if you do get a chance to work on any non critical tasks today, these are the tasks you’d look at first.
These tasks can change of course depending on how close to becoming critical they are, and everything else that is going on in your day.
For example, Sarah’s performance report is due in 3 weeks time and I haven’t yet drafted it. So I’ve created a Might Do Today task titled ‘Draft Sarah’s performance report’ which is sitting in my visible list of tasks. In about a week, if I haven’t yet drafted her report I’ll make this a Target Today task given the deadline for presenting it is approaching.
We’ll talk more about deadlines and how to make sure you don’t miss them later in this book.
Target Today is a completely optional urgency zone but I have found it extremely useful and I recommend you give it a go as you go through this system. If it doesn’t work for you, then you can always stop using it but it will be harder to integrate it into your system once you’re up and running if you don’t start using it from the start.
It’s entirely possible that some days or even weeks you may not have any Target Today tasks or they may have been converted to Must Do Today tasks since they have now become time sensitive.
There’s two ways to show Target Today tasks in Google Keep, either by colour or by label. My personal preference is to use the label version but I’ll show you the pros and cons of both below and it is really up to you how you wish to do it.
Displaying Target Today Notes By Colour
Positive outcome of using colour: It is extremely easy to change the colour when you’re looking through the Might Do Today list. On the Google Keep app it takes 2 taps and on the computer it takes 2 clicks.
Using a colour (like red or blue) makes the notes pop out from the rest of the list and makes it very clear what items are of a higher priority in the Might Do Today list.
There’s no need to look at a different list and on a busy day remembering the requirement to look at a different list can mean the difference between getting a task done and leaving it to the next day.
Negative outcome of using colour: There’s no way to set up a colour based widget on your mobile so if you just want to see your Target Today items whilst on your mobile you won’t be able to. You’ll need to open your Might Do Today list and filter by colour or scroll through the list to see the Target Today items.
There’s no way to assign colour to a Google Keep Note when using the Google Keep Chrome Browser extension.
If you use the Gmail or Google Calendar sidebar to view your Notes (which we talk about later in the book) then you can’t filter by colour.
Displaying Target Today By label
Positive outcome of using a label: You can set up a label based widget on your mobile phone to just see the Target Today items. You can also set up a browser bookmark to quickly and easily see those particular tasks separate to the Might Do Today tasks.
If you use the Google Keep Chrome Browser extension a lot then it is very easy to assign the Target Today label to the Note when you create it.
If you use the Gmail or Google Calendar sidebar on your computer then you can easily search for Target Today items.
Negative outcome of using a label: You need to remember to look at another list which during a busy day can be easily forgotten.
There’s an upper limit of 50 labels in Google Keep so if you use some of the labels I recommend later in the system as well as your own labels then you may run out of labels quite soon.
My personal preference
For me, I add a secondary label of Target Today to any Might Do Today tasks that I want to prioritise.
On my phone I have set up a widget filtered to just show Target Today tasks and on my computer I have set up a browser bookmark with that label so I can easily see those tasks.
Over the Horizon
These are tasks that you can safely ignore for more than two weeks – maybe even longer!
They are usually tasks that don’t have a specific completion date and in my case at least, relate to tasks that I’d like to do someday when I have the time – like clean out my filing cabinet or finish one of my numerous cross-stitch projects.
As you can see they are more likely to be goals or projects than specific tasks.
You’ll only be looking at these items once a week during the Weekly Review which I discuss in more detail later in this series.