David Allen states in his book, Getting Things Done, that the way to stress-free productivity is “capturing all the things that need to get done—now, later, someday, big, little, or in between—into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind.” The idea is to write every thing down rather than rely on your memory. This is essential for reducing stress; you won’t have to worry about forgetting something if it is in your system.
My personal experience, as well as lawyers I work with, indicates that following a well-prioritized, daily to-do list is one of the single most important things to help feel in control. Feeling in control helps reduces stress.
A well-prioritized, daily to-do list takes into account what has to be accomplished this week, this month, and next month. Deciding what I need to do today and what is realistic about what I can do today, helps me prioritize and determine what’s really important in the limited time I have each day.
Gerald (not his real name) hired me because he was extremely worried about his ability to serve his clients because he was so busy. He was stressed because he never seem to get everything done on his weekly “to do” lists. He felt his response time to many projects was unacceptable.
The simple fact is he was unrealistic about what he put on his “to do” list. He put everything on his list and consequently became overwhelmed and unable to prioritize. Nor did he really use or rely on his list to meet all his obligations. With coaching, Gerald agreed to put only those tasks on his weekly and daily to-do lists that he absolutely knew he could get done in a week. He also agreed to include time for unexpected projects an client demands. And he agreed to say “no” to things that would put managing his “to do” list out of control.
He started his new habits by agreeing to put only three tasks per day on his daily “to do” list. When he prepared his daily “to do” lists, he was disappointed initially by how few projects he was planning on dealing with; but it was all he could realistically accomplish, especially as he had a practice with many daily interruptions.
His new habits resulted in him:
- Feeling better about meeting his goals;
- Handling his client expectations better because since he was on top of things he could keep clients better informed as to their status and meet promised delivery dates;
- Capturing more billable time because he stayed focused and knew where he was spending his time; and
- Improving his delegation — he was more mindful about having others help him with his workload.