My daily to-do list system. Thank you Benjamin Franklin.
A to-do list system is a personal thing. This week I'd like to describe the process I've used for most of my career. Hey, it works for me. You may find it useful or at least some aspects of it.
It's a pencil and paper system. I've tried different software applications and they are effective, but nothing seems better for me than writing it down, every...dang...day. Each day is a fresh list. Priorities changes. You easily see what is important today and what is not.
The Franklin Planner
I started using the Franklin Planner system way back in the days of cowboys and gold rushes...um the 1990s. Good ol' Ben Franklin used this very same system they say. When I started using this I walked around with a big planner that held a few months of pages at a time. (such an important person I thought I was 🤓 ). Today, it's a smaller and simpler planner with one month at a time. The Franklin Planner folks came together with the Stephen Covey peeps (famous for "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People") and the company became Franklin-Covey.
There are many sizes and versions of the planner system. I have settled on the Compass Two Page Per Day Wire-bound Planner. Each month is a separate book that slips into a nice leather cover. I like the Classic size which has pages that are 5.5 x 8.5 inches...a nice medium size. The planner is around $50 but it's worth every penny. How much is your time worth to you? If you have a nice tool to be better organized then you are making each day even richer. This is priceless frankly.
The left page of each day has space for the day's task list and meetings. The right side is a nice blank page for any notes you want to catch there. I use the bottom left section for personal tasks so that they are separate from work things.
The first task of the day
I begin each morning writing this as the first task:
A1 - Planning and Solitude
The 5-10 minute task of planning is indeed a to-do list item that gets its own important representation. Corny? yes. But it's key because I try not to get into anything else until the day's plan is documented.
Prioritization and symbols
As I write each task I immediately label it with ABC to represent importance. Daily prioritization is a key task. If everything is urgent then what is the most urgent? How do you know what is urgent vs. important? Do you run around all day like a chicken with no head or do you stare out the window cause you don't even know where to begin?
Here's my system:
Easy as ABC
A = very important or urgent task. These are things that must get done today. Oftentimes, I will label tasks with A when a colleague is waiting on me for something.
B = important but not urgent. These are the planning items, learning items, reading, ramp up, etc. These are my favorite kinds of tasks.
C = not important. But something that was worthy of a line in the task list. These could be ideas I'd like to explore or things I'd like to do if time permits. These can also tend to not even get done. In a day or two, they seem no longer important to me, so they disappear.
Optional steps: Give all the A items a numeric sequence in order of priority. A1 was already taken by Planning & Solitude, so continue the A list with A2, etc. Do a new sequence for the B items starting at 1. And lastly, do the same for the C items. This is optional for me because, throughout the day, my mood and priorities can be flexible, so I will tackle the A-list item for example that makes the most sense at the moment.
The leftmost column of the task page is where I know the status of each task. I have the following symbol system that is probably close to the recommended symbols in the Franklin Planner documentation.
✅ the good old checkmark. The task is DONE.
🔘 This is a dot. This emoji is the best I could find. A simple dot next to a task means that it is IN PROGRESS. So the Planning & Solitude task gets a dot to begin, then when my day's plans are ready, I change it to a checkmark.
⭕️ circle symbol is for a task where I am waiting on someone. They have confirmed that they are going to tend to the task. If there is some activity happening today on it that I know of, then I usually put a dot inside the circle. So this tells me that I'm waiting on someone and it's known to be in progress. I write the first letter of their name next to the circle so I can keep track of who is tending to the task.
When any of the above statuses are completed, then they get the good old checkmark.
❎ when something is not going to happen, the X closes it out.
One more symbol to explain. Like I said, each day is a fresh list. Items that were not completed yesterday get copied over to the new day. Yes, rewrite the task on the new day's task page. This is a key step because rewriting has a way of urging you to get it done so you don't have to keep rewriting it. So each leftover task from yesterday needs a symbol to represent that it is moving forward to a new day...
➡️ the arrow means that a task is forwarding forward to the future.
Meetings, appointments, and your focus time
It's true that MS Outlook is probably the tool we are all using and it already has your calendar for the day. But I like to quickly copy those meetings and appointments to my task page. This gives me a sense of the flow of the day. And this way I don't get surprised at 10 am when a meeting notice pops up because I already had a sense of the day's schedule and can see it on my planner page.
It also helps me book focus time for getting my own stuff done. Feel free to book time on your Outlook calendar for your focus time. If you do not take that step, then the world is free to take that time from you. So book that focus time in outlook and write it down in your planner. Bonus tip: go on "do not disturb" so you block out text messages during your focus time. Close MS Outlook too. This is YOUR time to GET IT DONE.
Saturday and Sunday
I use my planner on the weekends too. My Saturday starts with coffee and my planner. This is for personal tasks. This time, I am looking at last weekend to help create my task list for this weekend. So those tasks transfer across if they are worthy. And of course, new tasks are added. My personal list is sometimes crazy long and I know that I won't get to a lot of things. Gotta keep it real. So I supplement with tools like Notion or Walling, transferring ideas and tasks over to those tools so I can consider them in the future (see my prior post for more information on these cool apps).
On Sunday I usually just refer to the Saturday list. I gotta take a break from all this planning and get something done. 😆
This week's quote to ponder 🗯
Whatever you do, do it to the purpose; do it thoroughly, not superficially. Go to the bottom of things. Anything half done, is in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay, worse, for it often misleads. - Lord Chesterfield