Feb. 26, 2024

Taming the To-do list

You may find your tactics of managing your to-do list no longer work. We face so much choice, and therefore millions of decision each day, it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.

Today, I'll talk you through 

• Core principles of time management
• 10 transformative tips from my mastermind group coaching sessions designed to tackle the to-do list conundrum.

Even if you are a to-do list jedi master, I promise you will find ONE tip worth trying.

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Big shout out to my podcast magician, Marc at iRonickMedia for making this real.

Thanks for listening!

Catherine Stagg-Macey:

Have a not to do list, have it listed, you're not going to do things you aren't going to do to be clear and the things that you you will never do, like, offer discounts in the sales process, things that take time in negotiating salary offers spending time on Instagram, like, Yep, it's about boundaries, like I'm not doing those things, I want to stop doing this thing. And I'm not doing those things anymore. Have you made changes to some of those, and they say they impact other people in your team, you better tell them about it, because your renegotiation or your boundaries might come as a surprise to other people. Hello, and welcome to unset work. I'm your host, Katherine stack Macy. I'm an executive coach, and a team coach, and I'm interested in the conversations that we are not having at work. So let's start with today's question. And yes, your relationship with your to do list. He's the real boss of your to do list, is it you? Or is the to do list running the show. The chances are, if you're listening to this podcast, you've been around the block a few times, your first corporate job, and the techniques that you've used before in previous years, maybe aren't working so well for you anymore. I'm seeing that happen quite frequently now. And what like, why is that like, in my view, I think it's because there's just more coming at us. Each day, there's just more decisions, more choices to be made. From your home life to work life, like you think about, if you get a new laptop, you know, which are the sort of 400 config options to want to have got to make all those choices, want to watch a movie on a Friday night until then you've got to go through, you know, 1000 options on Netflix. And that's assuming if that's even the platform of your choice, right. So there, I think there's the sort of overwhelm of what's coming at us. And we need some different ways of looking at this. There's a reason why, you know, the Silicon Valley geeks anyway, the same outfit every day, you know, they want to black tops, or black pants, whatever it is, President Obama did the same unit to kind of suits to choose from, because it reduces the number of decisions that we have to make. And that protects your brain for more meaningful work. And my brain has its limitations. So if you look at some of the best approaches around managing your time and attention, there are some basic principles that underlying them. The one is how do we limit choice to not overwhelm the brain? In an avatar, we reduce the number decisions we have to make in a day, because that exhausts our prefrontal cortex, you know, the executive functioning of our brain, and then we feel in the feeling exhausted. The second basic principle is, how do we acknowledge or met take note of the difference and complexity of the things that are that are being asked of us? So somebody says, you know, can you sign the expense report for us? Or can you review a 40 page document on my competition, the one that our brain chases and will choose if left its own devices is the one that's the quick tick, because that gives us the dopamine hit, right. But both of them are aligned on my to do list. So how do we acknowledge the complexity in the in the task that's on there? And the third one is how do we control our environment for competing against you know, with so far attention, so think of notifications, if you have notifications on even if you've turned some of them off, there's a lot of competition for your attention. If you're just on your on your laptop, you're trying to write a report or as notifications are coming in. open plan office is another perfect example of competing for your attention. People think that you're physically in the office and therefore available for a conversation, because you're in an open plan offers. So those are some of the basic principles I think we need to consider when we look at different techniques. And I want to talk to you on this episode today about some of the really great practical approaches that came up in a mastermind group that I run. So my mastermind is and there are two mastermind groups. And it's a really intimate group coaching setting for a small number of sort of mid to senior people who come each month with their challenge of the month and they get support from each other and for me, so they sit in the hot seat, explain their challenge, and then ask for the kind of help that they want. And one person says a month ago came with a frustrated about their never ending to do list smart person, very accomplished. And they're like, I would just so fed up with my to do this running me. Can you give me practical advice. And so that's what this episode is born out of. I think we had 12 tips. And I've cut them down to 10 here that came from that session. And so I'm going to share this with you. And I'm optimistic you will find one new method to try you might have tried others that don't work for you or just you just know out of the gate aren't for you. And just know that what what will work will come down to personal preferences and working styles. I was working with a client the other day he says I'm so fed up with email, but I bizarrely prefer communication on Slack. She's neurodivergent that she said something about the layout and the user experience of slack that helps her process exactly the same information that you might get an email More than over email. And for me, my preference is certainly email over slack, there's a few, there's right or wrong. It's like what helps you be your best in the environment. So before we dive in, let me also make this point that this episode and the tips in this episode are not about the psychological reasons why you're not getting to your to do this, like procrastination, like perfectionism, often sort of fear of failure, though, is very real, and can really undermine our intention to getting to your to do list, but it's not what this is about. That's for another episode. So let's dive in and start with some practical tips. Number one, treat your time, like a business. So it's not something we always think about in a corporate setting, because we aren't necessarily being charged by the hour, but how much is your time worth? You know, what's the return on your time, where's the best return on investment for your time. So when I was relaunching the business in 2020, I decided to do my own, write my own website. Why? Because I got a tech background and I enjoy mucking about with tech. But in spite of the platform, which was Kajabi being very intuitive, and easy to use, it wasn't easy for me to make it look nice. So I could get the tech right. But I can get the couldn't get the design, right, and would take me half a morning to finesse a page. And that's an example of bad ROI. It's not a good place for me to be spending my time right. So part of what's on your to do list section to be on your to do list and using the ROI filter as a way to address that. Second practical tip here is having no fail goal each day like what's the one thing that has to happen before anything else? And is it that important client call is it that proposal it has to get out. Today, just having clarity on the one thing is very helpful for the brain to focus on. One thing that has to get done, aside from everything else this day, really useful little tip there. Third tip, you know the difference between urgent and important. Urgent is about urgent tasks or conversations, whatever demand attention, it's about avoiding disaster, you know, you get an urgent email because the client is threatened to cancel the contract, or one of your valued team members is threatening to resign over something. But important is I need to write the go to market strategy for our division, I need to plan for the off site that's coming in six weeks, but I haven't had around planning the off site to make the best out of it over the client threatening to cancel the contract. One is urgent one is important and you have to make decisions. But the thing about important tasks is that if you kick them down the path long enough, they become urgent. So all of a sudden, you know, it's Friday afternoon and the team away days Tuesday and you don't have you don't have an outline, you don't have a plan, nothing. All of a sudden that becomes urgent. So we need to be clear about what is urgent, what is important, playing Whack a Mole with all the urgent stuff in your inbox. Because not everything's about a client canceling the contract, treating your inbox like a whack amole urgent task isn't going to be helpful. Some thinking about what's urgent and important. And what's where your attention is being dragged to is really useful. Number four, have a not to do list. have listed you're not going to do things you aren't going to do to be clear and the things that you you will never do like offer discounts in the sales process and things that take time in and negotiate on salary offers spending time on Instagram, like, Yep, it's about boundaries, like I'm not doing those things, I'm gonna stop doing those things. I'm not doing those things anymore. If you make changes to some of those, and they say they impact other people in your team, you better tell them about it because your renegotiation or your boundaries might come as a surprise to other people. So that's number four. Number five, protect your personal life, have rest and family time in the diary and work back from that. So what's the what's the thing in your personal life that you really want to happen? Like fairly consistently, for me, it's pottery, I have a lesson every Friday afternoon. It's in the diary. It's blocked out in it every time. So I just appear unavailable in my calendar link. So no one ever puts something in there. It's a great way of protecting stuff that will otherwise be compromised when somebody else goes and then army. Because if that was left open, and someone's like, oh good, can we force something in there and then I'm, then I'm throwing out the thing that I want to happen. Maybe it's for you. It's seeing the nativity play or whatever it is. I think we prioritize work over personal life and then resent work over time, because we've made all these compromises, but it's on you to protect that time that Onza you are the seniority level where that's possible. This is sort of number six is sort of an identity. It's related at the end and I suppose it's if it's not on the calendar, what happened. So for example, like then tell yourself you're going to get a gym if there's time, because they'll never be time, like shedule the time and it also helps others who have access to your calendar know when you're available. I've got a client who blocks I feel like It's time every day. And before that a habit she started in lockdown, she'd find herself at the end of the day haven't had no breaks, because somebody had seen the gap and just blocked out the entire day. So yeah, if it's on the calendar, it's not gonna happen. Number seven, plan tomorrow's activities list or to do list at the end of today, I find that such a kind of cleansing way of closing down the day. And it's also a way of it stops your brain waking up to in the morning and kind of reminding you of things that you haven't yet written down. So you close the day, and you've got your list of things that you want to be doing tomorrow. Number eight, define your goal or strategy for the year, coming up could be a personal goal, it could be the strategy for your division. I mean, either way, there's, there's a intention set at a longer time horizon, then you back into that what what needs to be done each quarter in order to achieve that what needs to be done each month. And you know where this is going? Where does it live in the diary, like if you need to spend five to three hours every few weeks to do some training in order to do something, where's that booked up, because back to an earlier point, if it's on the calendar, it's not going to happen. Number nine, use email folders to filter emails. This is a vastly underused technique of just sending certain emails into certain folders. And then in your own time, processing those, what's in this folder. So for example, a client of mine has a very difficult boss with very poor impulse control. And she finds her boss's emails, mostly very triggering, and they come in and like Friday afternoon at 430. And she says you set a rule that sends all her boss's emails to a specific folder. And then she chooses her time once a day and addresses everything in that folder. And that way, you know, her attention isn't hijacked, when she's trying to do other stuff, even in her inbox, you might have a different use case for that. But I think it's a very compelling use case for that rule of using email folders. And then number 10. And the last one here is use your brains primetime wisely. Neuroscience tells us that there are times the day our attention, typically for most of us is better on the front end of the day, and then slowly deteriorates over the course of the day, there is no way of hijacking that or by hacking that with caffeine or anything else, like your your cognitive abilities are better shortly after you've woken up, there's some there's a lot of wisdom and that for us, if we know that and we want to create a new offering or design at a workshop, when is the best time to do it. So for me, my peak time of creativity and fresh thinking is between eight and 12 in the morning. So when I want to do new, creative, innovative, sort of deeper thinking stuff, that's when I book it in networking calls, coaching calls are fine in the afternoon, I'm fully present them fully available, but I don't need my deep executive functioning for those. And so, you know, that's a great way of scheduling your diary to the extent that you have that degree of control, obviously, and to maximize when you can make the most of it. So as I said, not all the stations are going to work for you then remember this is about personal preferences and also the rhythm of the organization that you in. You will be under some organizational constraints but I'm wildly optimistic that you will find one thing in here worth experimenting with. So just find one and try and get over there in the next four weeks. And need to remember just to keep doing it for 20 days, you know to get to the get the brain on board with some new way of doing things I'm thinking probably to get people around you on board as well if you're attending things that impact other people. That is today's episode my friends 10 tips to tame your to do list. I look forward to hearing which one has resonated. If you liked the sound of the mastermind and want to know more information, drop me an email Catherine at conversations at the edge and we can talk a little more about whether it's the right time for you and until next week. This is your brain woman signing off