Doing the Two-Step

Getting Things Done

Do you struggle to get through your “to do” list? You need to learn the two-step! No, not the dance – although that is a lot of fun. This “two step” is the way to get things done.

→ Step 1: Make the List

Most people are familiar with the “to do” list. Whether you use scraps of paper, a notebook, an assignment pad, or an app, the “to do” list is the place where you record the tasks you need to complete. Capturing the items you need to complete is critical, as most people forget what they don’t record. A solid “to do” list is both complete (write it all down!) and consistent (one location, each and every time.)

In addition, it is wise to break long-term projects into specific steps. Large projects are easy to procrastinate because they are vague. In contrast, well-defined tasks are less intimidating and therefore easier to tackle. For example…

If you have a research paper, break it down into items such as “research database”, “write thesis”, “compile outline”, “write rough draft”, “complete bibliography”, and “finish final document”.

If you are renovating a bathroom, you might consider “gather inspiration”, “make budget”, “interview and hire contractors”, “shop for faucet”, “select paint/wall paper”, etc.

→ Step 2: Schedule the Tasks

In my experience, this is where most people falter. Having a “to do” list is terrific, but a long list is not prioritized, and offers limited accountability. If all you have is a list, you are likely to gravitate toward the easy or the pleasant, and avoid the rest.

In order to check items off of your list, it is vital to decide exactly when you will do each task. This requires planning, and should be done at least once a week. In order to successfully schedule tasks:

  • Gather your calendar and your “to do” list.
  • Review your existing commitments for the upcoming week (e.g. meetings, appointments, rehearsals, practices, etc.)
  • Make note (either mentally or physically in your calendar) of when you have time to work on your “to do” items. Remember, not all tasks need a large block of time, so look for both small and large periods of available workspace.
  • Schedule when you will work on each item. You can either make a notation next to each item on your “to do” list, or transfer items from your “to do” list onto your calendar. This is a matter of personal choice. Some people keep a separate “to do” book that has a different day on each page, and every item gets assigned to a specific date. (for more information this approach, click here.)
  • At the end of the day, assess your progress against your plan, and “reschedule” any items you were not able to complete.
  • When new items hit your “to do” list, remember to add them to your schedule.

The key here is to thoughtfully plan your time, instead of simply creating a big list and hoping time will appear to get work done. Assigning tasks to specific days and times makes it much more difficult to procrastinate, and gives you a sense of accomplishment when you look and see what you’ve achieved.

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Doing the two-step is a simple way to increase your productivity. Do you schedule your tasks? What works for you?

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photo credit: Sobrina’s Boots – October ’10-2 via photopin (license)