To do lists are supposed to help us get organized, right? It's true that writing things down frees up our mind to focus on the task at hand. It's great when I'm able to wrap up the day at a reasonable time with everything on my list completed but that doesn't happen often enough.
When reviewing some of the discussion about home projects on LinkedIn this morning, it made me realize that one reason our lists don't work is we're not writing smart lists. What is a smart list?
We've all got lists but they aren't all smart lists. Here's a common story, one I've hear many times with my handyman customers who call when things aren't getting done fast enough.
We have a lot of unfinished projects at our house that I'd like to start tackling. We replaced all our windows, but never got the trim replaced in the inside. My husband bought paint supplies to paint the bathroom ceiling, but never did it. I'm starting a list and breaking the projects down into smaller, more manageable projects so I can tackle them myself. Gail K, Kittery ME
What are Smart Lists?
Smart lists help you organize projects into manageable chunks to improve the odds of getting the project done. There is lots of confusion between to do lists and projects. Gail has a to do list with several projects, each one of them fairly large which explains why they're not getting done.
Smart lists organize tasks according to the amount of time it takes to complete a task. You can adjust the time parameters shown here, staying focused on 4 types of lists.
- Today's List – should start with your top 3 to 6 priority items for today. Decide if you want a single list combining personal and professional to dos. If you're good at maintaining personal time, separate lists for work and home/personal priorities are an option. Things that come up during the day that can be complete in 15 minutes/less, get added to today's list or moved to …
- To Do List – for anything that needs more than 15 minutes but less than 2 hours (you may prefer larger time slices). You need a To Do List to catch the overflow from Today's List(s). When you find yourself putting projects on your To Do List that will clearly take more than 2 hours, it's time to push these to your …
Time slices should match the type of work being done, including setup/cleanup time. Writing an article like this one doesn't have setup time so it can be accomplished within a 2 hr window. Painting a ceiling might only take 1 hour from when you life the paint brush but with setup/cleanup, a 4 hour time slice is more appropriate.
- Project List – is where you capture all the big projects that are going to take lots more time to complete, i.e. the interior trim on Gail's windows (likely 20-30 windows) is a huge project which shouldn't be started without enough time to accomplish something recognizable. You may have more than a dozen projects on your Project List and ideally you'll only work on one (maybe 2) at a time. For each active project, you need a …
- Active Project Detail List – checklist where you break the project down into chunks of work that fit within your time slice, so that each time you get something done you're able to check off at least 1 item, giving you a sense of accomplishment and the emotional support you need to keep moving forward versus stalling in the middle.
Sample Smart Lists
So for fun, let's take Gail's list and sort into smart lists that will make things more manageable. For home projects, you'll want to use 4 hour time slices which are generally only available on the weekends. You can combine time slices to create an 8 hour workday at home, saving at least 1 hour of setup and cleanup time. This is why contractors will stay longer (10 to 12 hours versus a normal 8 hr day) to save travel time.
|Today's List||To Do List||Project List|
|Mom duties||Plan window trim project|
Finish inside window trim
|Business owner duties||Plan and prioritize home projects||Paint bathroom ceiling|
|Prepare for class|
Gail is a small business owner with school age children. Her work life choices include being there for her children so most days she is either teaching a class which requires preparation during school hours OR she can work on a To Do List project. What is perfect about these smart lists is you see how you're spending your time. Instead of letting huge projects remain on your Today and To Do Lists forever, you sorted them into slots where you can view and prioritize them.
Gail has 2 x 2 hour project slots (time slices) available each school day. She would have to give up both of these to tackle a home project during the week. That's not likely when Gail is focusing on her business while her children are in school.