I’ve recently changed up the way that I manage my tasks every day, and it’s helped my productivity and motivation skyrocket.
In my time as a student and even as an intern and then a project manager, I was pretty easily able to make task-based to do lists that were pretty straightforward: research this, do that assignment, write this paper, send that email… but in my most recent position, I just found myself getting continually frustrated.
Why? Because about 1/3 of my time is dedicated toward meetings. That’s a pretty big proportion of time especially compared to what I was used to. As the Integrator at a startup, I am responsible for making sure all the department leads are on track, help them solve problems, and help coordinate alignment meetings. It’s a lot of meetings. And I found myself getting frustrated because I didn’t see meetings as tasks.
When making my to do list for the day, I would always focus on the tasks that could fit between the meetings, rather than the meetings themselves. And, of course, I’d always overestimate what I could get done, and then I would find myself resenting meetings because they were preventing me from getting my work done. And yes, that can certainly happen and it’s important to make sure you’re limiting the number of meetings you take and there’s a whole other blog post I could write on that – but that’s not what was happening here. My meetings were necessary and productive, but each one required prep work to be successful, which I wouldn’t really account for in my to do list.
That all changed when I bought a new planner and configured it to be able to keep better track of my meetings and meeting prep.
How I Track & Prepare for Meetings
The new planner I bought is called the Assistant by Ashley G. I thought about how I could best list my meetings and prep, and I thought back to the bullet journal method, which uses an open circle to signify events. So, I self-added a column to the planner where I listed each event with the open circle. Then, I added a check box as well to signify that I need to do some sort of prep for the meeting, which I would fill in once I’m prepped.
Now, meetings feel productive again because I’m planning for them adequately and they are something I check off my to do list. And, not only that, but I also am rarely caught not being totally prepped for a meeting with an agenda/notes doc ready to go. Which is pretty impressive to my coworkers ;). And also makes for more efficient and productive meetings. Always a win.
But, of course, I do still make a daily to do list. One thing that I’ve implemented into my to do list that is first each day is an item I call “Daily Orientation” which also takes up the first 30 minutes that I’m “in office” on my calendar.
Daily Orientation: My New Habit to Achieve Inbox Zero
Daily Orientation is the time I take to get set up, get my meetings in order, respond to messages, and clear my overall inbox. This time is important in my role because things are often pending my approval or they need something from me to move forward, or I need to make sure someone else gets something needed to move forward, so I like to get ahead of it for the day. This certainly doesn’t work in every role, and it’s easy to get caught in an inbox rabbit hole, but specifically putting this block and getting as far as I can in 30 minutes on my inbox works very well for me. I turn it almost into a game, even writing down the number of messages I have in my inbox when I start and racing myself to finish to “inbox zero” by the time I finish.
Pro tip: I use Singlebox, a desktop app, that conglomerates all of my inboxes and messaging apps into one, so I know I won’t miss anything. You can see on the left here which shows all my accounts in the app, that I have several emails, multiple slacks, and overall just a lot to keep track of. It’s so hard to check all of this and the last thing I want to do is use my phone to manage all this. I love how Singlebox allows you to customize your app icons – you can see mine are color-coded!
I feel so much more on top of things when I complete my daily orientation first thing. It builds momentum for me to bring into whatever item I have next on my to do list.
But, you may wonder, where do I get the tasks from in the first place to add to the list? Well, I have 2 sources of to do lists that I keep virtually that translate into my physical to do list of priorities for the day:
Trello for Task Management
My team at work uses Trello for task management, so I use my Board on our Leadership Team workspace to track tasks pertaining to my strategic priorities for the quarter. These are the big fish I need to make sure are on track each week.
Tracking Tasks in Agenda Documents
Like I mentioned, a lot of meetings. So, I have a lot of smaller action items that result from those meetings. If the action will take like 5 minutes or less, I usually complete it directly after the meeting. Think something like scheduling a follow up or sending an email. Other tasks that are bigger that come out of those calls will migrate to my Personal Trello for tracking. This is stuff the rest of the Leadership Team doesn’t necessarily need to know or have an eye on. Time-sensitive deadlines will make their way into the weekly planner.
I can go on and on about the tools and shortcuts and tips that I use for task management, but the big takeaway here is my mindset shift: no longer viewing meetings as the things that get in the way of tasks, but rather productive tasks in of themselves.