Productivity Hacks: Take your to-do list to the next level

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computer and Internet of Things

This is the second installment of our mini-series on Productivity Hacks, where we share tips, tricks, and hacks from IT leaders who have found efficient ways to manage their time.  If you missed part one, go here

This week, we learn the unique ways IT leaders are leveraging the old productivity standby: the to-do list.

Try an Executive Status Report

Ken Finnerty, Vice President of Information Services, UPS

"One of the things that I do every week to be a more proactive IT leader is perhaps a bit old fashioned, but it works for me. On Sunday night after my teenagers are in bed and my wife goes to sleep, I sit down and I review the past week's activities, and then I create what I call an Executive Status Report. This is just for me, and I use it to help focus my attention for the week ahead. This process helps me to set the week's priorities and make sure that I am tuned in to what commitments lie ahead, or what, if anything, might be in jeopardy over the next month or so. It not only helps me to focus, but I use it as a benchmark all week long. I carry it with me. Sometimes things get pretty busy, and by Wednesday or Thursday I often pull out my Executive Status Report and remind myself, 'What did I set out to accomplish at the beginning of the week, and have I achieved it yet?' It keeps me on task and productive all week long."

Keep it short and prioritized

Nic Grange, CTO, Retriever Communications

"The first thing I usually do each day is write a small to-do list in a notebook and only put items that I must do that day. I then put numbers next to each one to indicate priority and then cross each one off as soon as they’re done. The next day I turn over a new page. I try not to bring over everything that is left over from the previous days. I am firm believer that if I’ve missed something and it is really important then it will come up again. I’ve tried several online task management applications but the problem I find with these is that the lists get too long very quickly, and then suddenly you are spending all you time categorizing and prioritizing so that you have a manageable list of tasks. I keep my email inbox very clean. It only contains emails that I need to reply or action, otherwise they get filed away. I find it is so important to cross a few items off your list earlier in the day so that you sense you are progressing. Often I try to get in the office early before the majority of people get in to knock a few items off my list to get that sense of progress and satisfaction. There is nothing worse than having a series of meetings first thing in the morning which go on for hours and meanwhile your to-do list is growing, and by the end of the day and you are further behind than at the start."

Consider a to-do list management tool

Jay Ferro, CIO, American Cancer Society

"Here are my three favorite productivity hacks, and a bonus hack:

  • Before I head to bed every night I look at my schedule for the next day and prioritize the top three things I want to accomplish. I then leave my phone (and iPad) far away from the bed.
  • I live and die by Evernote. Can’t live without it. 
  • 30-min meetings. Anything longer should be a rare exception. 
  • BONUS: When you’re not at work, really be NOT AT WORK. Wherever you are, work or not, be there 100 percent."

Focus on the big picture

Satyam Vaghani, Co-Founder & CTO, PernixData

"I place the highest priority on tasks that will become a big issue a month from now. I've seen that most of us get too focused on tactical things and lose sight of strategic things — and I've realized I can't afford to do that. The second highest priority is tasks that block multiple people. If doing two hours worth of work allows 20 people do their job instead letting one person get their answer, the former is better. Once I’ve tackled those projects, I work on day-to-day tasks. There are things that require a lot of thought, and things that just need a yes/no answer. I do the latter during the day and the former at night or early morning, so I can give it more thought without facing the typical at-work interruptions."

Join us next Sunday for Part Three of our mini-series on Productivity Hacks.

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.