Just Do What’s Next

3-19-13 Things to doWe all make our “to do” lists a bit differently, but the same basic premise exists behind them. Maybe you use a less structured process like the one I detailed in Living in the Details: My Daily Plan. Or, maybe you prefer a method like the The Daily Game Plan: A Must Use Tool! that Chris Patton at Christian Faith at Work uses. Perhaps you prefer using a Master Task List approach like the one Michael Hyatt details in Before You Create a To Do List.

Regardless of the method you use, you’ve likely a lot to accomplish just like the rest of us. And maybe sometimes, maybe often, you simply don’t know where to begin. What tasks do you tackle first?

Setting priorities can be a struggle. So much, maybe everything, is equally important. So, where do you focus first?

When I taught at a community college, organization was crucial for juggling 4 classes and 80 students, and everything was very deadline oriented. As a result, I learned the importance of developing and then consistently applying the following 3 time management principles.

  1. 3-19-13 Long to do listRefuse to let being overwhelmed stop you. See my post Too Overwhelmed to Become Less Overwhelmed for more on how to develop a system even in the midst of being overwhelmed. We all have too much to do at some point, so learning to work through that is crucial to overall success and personal satisfaction.
  2. Do what’s next. Ask yourself, “When is the next due date?” For example, if I have to teach Sunday School on Sunday and have to write a post for the Thursday before, the post obviously comes first. You’ll still feel like you can’t get everything done at times, but eventually this “Do what’s next” state of mind creates an “I can only do what I can do” attitude that keeps you moving forward.
  3. Be ready with time fillers. Only have 5 minutes before the kids get home from school? That’s enough time to sweep the floor, switch laundry or empty the dishwasher. Have a list of items you can do during these in-between times. Instead of doing a mass house cleaning and getting all of these things done before moving on to other work, I integrate them into small times slots within my day. This transfers well into an office with things like making copies, editing a document, reading an article or answering an email as possible time fillers. I personally get more accomplished with this approach.

These principles probably seem painfully simple to some people, but they truly create a structure to help keep me focused and from being overwhelmed. Some people schedule and script their day more, but doing so never worked well for me. But, as I mentioned in The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method, the best system for managing time and reaching goals is whatever works for you.

So be encouraged! Keep trying different methods, keeping what works and ditching what doesn’t. Steal ideas from others, knowing that your approach will be a combination of what others do and what you learn through trial and error.

And in those overwhelmed moments when you want to run and hide, say a little prayer, then “just do what’s next.” I literally say this phrase to myself, and this approach has kept me sane in the midst of chaos many times in the past 15 years.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for managing everything that needs done in a day?

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