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This chapter is from the book

Creating and Using To Do Lists

You probably make lists of things to do all the time. But do they serve their purpose, or are you often left at the end of the day with a list of things you didn't do? To create an effective to do list, you need to have an understanding of everything you want to accomplish within a certain time frame. Parts II and III of this book will show you how to create a comprehensive activity list for your family. Then, for each item on that list, you need to make a separate list of all of the component tasks involved in completing that item. You can make that list by following these steps:

  1. State the main activity.

  2. List everything that needs to be done to prepare for the task. Use the questions listed earlier in the chapter to help you.

  3. List everything that needs to be done to complete the task. Use the questions listed in the last section to help you.

Your list doesn't have to be a numbered series of items going down a page. As an alternative to writing a list, you can draw an activity map, such as the one shown in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 You can substitute an activity map for a list. Here, all of the preparatory items are on spokes above the main event, and all of the follow-up items are below it.

Just breaking down the activity into its components isn't enough, though. Each component has to be completed in its correct order, so the next step in using your list is to put the steps in sequence. If you've made a list, you can assign each line a number or numbers indicating your planned chronology, as shown in Figure 3.2. If you prefer more visual tools, such as the activity map, then you may also prefer sequencing the steps by using a timeline, as shown in Figure 3.3.

Figure 3.2Figure 3.2 After you've listed everything you need to do, number the items in the order you'll do them. If you plan to do two items at the same time, they both get the same number. If an item requires two steps, then it gets two numbers.

Figure 3.3Figure 3.3 Placing all of the items from your activity map onto a timeline allows you to see the sequence in which you need to do them.

After you've put the steps in order, you still have one more phase to go in the planning process. That's to schedule the steps into your planner. Only after each step has been assigned a time slot during which it will be performed have you succeeded in establishing a plan that, if carried out, will get the job done in an orderly and unharried way.

Defragmenting Your Time

In our example of the friend's birthday party, you may have noticed that some items were grouped together during the sequencing phase of the planning. They were grouped together strategically to make more efficient use of time. We mentioned earlier how an interruption takes time not just for the interruption itself but also for the time required to shift attention to the interruption and then the time needed to shift attention back to the original task. Everything you do has a wind-up time and a wind-down time.

Sometimes these chunks of time are barely noticeable—for example, every time you sit down to do desk work and then shift away to do something else. In our example, you can see that we grouped replying to the invitation and getting the driving directions together, even though the directions wouldn't be needed for quite some time. However, because they were both desk activities, there is a small savings of time involved in approaching the activities this way.

Sometimes these chunks of time are obvious—for example, in the case of errands, where you have to spend the time to drive to the shopping center and to drive back from the shopping center. One trip, obviously, takes less time than two trips. That's why in the example we've lumped the shopping together as much as possible.

Why, you may ask, if this consumption of extra time is so obvious, don't we avoid it naturally? The answer is that sometimes we do. But sometimes lack of organization gets in our way. In other words, the more disorganized we are, the less efficient we are. The less efficient we are, the more disorganized we become. So, we get caught in a spiral of disorganization. One reason you may not group your errands together is that you don't remember that some of the errands need to be done. This reason is the result of a failure to plan properly. Another reason is that you may have scheduled your activities too tightly, so although you may have time to get to the dry cleaners to pick up your dress, you don't have enough time to also stop at the drugstore for toothpaste. This means that because you don't have 10 minutes to buy toothpaste now, buying toothpaste tomorrow will take you 30 minutes. To get a greater appreciation of how defragmenting your tasks can save you both time and money, compare the two scenarios in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1 Buying Milk and Cereal

Scenario 1: Two Trips

Scenario 2: One Trip

 

Time

$

 

Time

$

Drive to store (avg. 3 miles)

10

1.00

Drive to store (avg. 3 miles)

10

1.00

Walk through ice cream aisle to milk (Stop and get ice cream)

2 1

2.50

Walk through ice cream aisle to milk (Stop and get ice cream)

2 1

2.50

Pick up milk

1

2.00

Pick up milk

1

2.00

Walk through cookie aisle to checkout (don't get cookies because you got ice cream)

1

 

Walk through cereal aisle to checkout

1

 

Wait in checkout line

3

 

Pick up cereal

1

3.00

Check out

4

 

Wait in checkout line

3

 

Drive home

10

1.00

Check out

4

 

Drive to store

10

1.00

Drive home

10

1.00

Walk directly to cereal aisle

2

 

Total

33

9.50

Pick up cereal

1

3.00

 

 

 

Walk through cookie aisle to checkout (Stop and get cookies)

1 1

2.50

 

 

 

Wait in checkout line

3

 

 

 

 

Check out

4

 

 

 

 

Drive home

10

1.00

 

 

 

Total

64

14.00

 

 

 


Organizing your schedule pays. This example shows how you can save 31 minutes of your time and $4.50 of your money by planning ahead and scheduling your time wisely so that you make one trip to buy milk and cereal instead of two trips. If you eliminated one trip to the store every week, you'd gain more than 26 hours and save about $230 a year.

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