Resolve to be better organized in 2013? You're in good company. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that getting organized is the second most popular New Year's resolution.
But productivity expert Laura Stack says a giant to-do list is counterproductive for busy entrepreneurs. "Combining everything is very distracting and makes it difficult to determine what to work on next," says Stack, author of What to Do When There's Too Much to Do (Berrett-Koehler, 2012) "You must separate what you need to do today with what you don't need to do today."
To best organize your time, she suggests that small-business owners compile three lists.
1. The HIT List
Start each day with a limited daily to-do list. Stack calls it your HIT list, since it contains High Impact Tasks (HITs) that keep your workflow humming.
"If used properly, your HIT list can be one of your most powerful productivity tools," she says. "A HIT list literally guides your day's work, so be realistic. If yours contains more than 10 items, you're stretching it."
A HIT list might look like this:
• Send agreement to XYZ client
• Work on PowerPoint deck
• Finalize monthly earnings report
• Write article for company newsletter
“If something keeps rolling forward, you probably need to move the start date further into the future, as it's not really a priority.” says Stack.
2. The Master List
The master list is a running list of everything you need or want to do at some point.
"This is what some people have been using as a daily to-do list," says Stack. "While items on the HIT list rank important in the short term, you can't allow them to overwhelm long-term projects and tasks needed to achieve true workplace success."
Stack says whenever something important comes in that lacks urgency or has no set deadline, add it to the master list.
A master list might look like this:
• Hire a new assistant
• Research new CRM software
• Buy new printer
• Create QR code for business card
To make sure the master list doesn’t turn into a “dead file for forgotten tasks,” Stack suggests reviewing it weekly, adding start dates based on importance. If an item is large break it down into steps and schedule those tasks on the HIT list when you're ready to move forward.
3. The Not-To-Do List
Finally, Stack suggests creating a not-to-do list with tasks you need to avoid because they waste time.
"You might think the key to productivity is getting more done each day," says Stack. "You don't need a calendar full of unnecessary tasks to be productive and accomplish more."
A not-to-do list might look like this:
• Don't do low-profit work when you can delegate it instead
• Don't deal with work issues during personal time
• Don't fall prey to perfectionism
• Don't micromanage
There is one item Stack suggests everyone put on their not-to-do list: don't monitor email all day. "Emails never show up in priority order, and you shouldn't read them as they come in the inbox. Unless your job requires it, don’t check your email more than a few times a day."
Related: 4 Cures for Chronic Procrastination