To-Do Lists and Schedules

Managing your To-Do Lists

Time Management Topics

Time Management
Focus and Interruptions
Routine
Cycle System
To Do Lists and Schedules
Calendar Management

As a System or Network Administrator, you have learned that at times you have too much to do and not enough time in the day to complete everything. What is needed is an effective way to manage your tasks and overflow. This is where a to-do list and schedule come into play.

To-do lists and schedules are not that hard to manage. There are several techniques and steps you can take to keep your day and your tasks organized. For instance:

  • Mark completed items with an 'X' or move them to the next day and mark them with a '-'.
  • Should you have some tasks that have to be delayed to the next day, notify the people who put in the request of the unplanned delay in completion.

By the end of the day all of your tasks have been managed. They have been either marked as completed or marked moved to the next day. You won't go home thinking you have been over-burdened by your tasks, but that you have successfully managed your scheduled as well as your new tasks for the day.

Should you get new tasks during the day, you can schedule them for completion for the next day, or further out depending on their urgency. Should you get an urgent request in during the day, schedule it accordingly by reshuffling your already scheduled tasks making the urgent task a priority. This may mean having to delay a less urgent task which is fine, but let the person who requested the task know of the unexpected delay. Nothing is worse than a lack of communication.

The important thing is to have a system. Any organized system is better than having no system at all. Your system can be either electronic or a paper organizer. The cycle system works well in may instances, but if you have found a system that is different, and it works for you, stick with it.

The Seven Steps To A Successful Day

There are seven steps you can take to help you organize your day. This is part of the cycle system and it does work. Let's start our day at the office and follow these steps one-by-one. This process should start immediately when you get into the office, (OK, after you boot your computer and get your coffee.) If you delay the start of this process you will undoubtedly be distracted by interruptions and other delays.

Some people want to read their email first. Don't do it! If you are worried about an emergency request sent via email and not by someone phoning you, then this "emergency" can wait ten to fifteen minutes. If, after you have scheduled out your day and you discover a true priority issue, you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Most people, once they start to 'look' for urgent emails end up delaying other scheduling tasks by reading their entire email in the morning. This is usually followed by other distractions that end up costing you your task scheduling time. Should you have voice mail, go ahead and check this now. Voice mail messages may contain urgent requests that you may have to incorporate into your current day's schedule. After checking your voice mail and noting anything that is urgent, we'll begin our seven step process.

Step 1: Create your schedule for the day.

Begin by setting up your day's schedule. Check for meetings and appointments you are committed to. Mark these times out as being busy.

Step 2: Create your to-do list for the day.

See what you have for the day and calculate approximately how long each task is going to take. Give yourself some leeway for unexpected issues that may come up when working on the task. Calculate the time needed for all tasks and do the math to figure out if these tasks can be completed, providing there are no unforeseen issues, during your day.

Step 3: Prioritize and Reschedule

Prioritize your to-do list into three categories:

  • Deadline is today!
  • Deadline is approaching soon!
  • All other items.

Dealing with Overflow

Obviously, you can't complete nine hours of tasks in seven hours, so how can you handle the overflow?

Working late is not the best option, unless the task is of the utmost importance and must be completed today. The best way to handle overflow is to shift task that can be shifted. Move them around to make sure the highest priority tasks get completed first and putting the lower priority tasks below them in order of their importance. The following are some ideas on how to reduce and handle overflow.

  • Shift the lower priority tasks to the next day. This is the most common approach for handling tasks of varying priority levels.
  • Handle today's tasks. Take on only what you can handle in your current work day. Make sure you can complete them. If a task turns out it's going to take longer to complete than time allows, set it as a top priority for completion the next day.
  • Reduce the scope of the task. By shortening the length of time a task will take to complete frees up your time allowing you to handle more. As an example, if you need to install a new workstation in an area where your users tend to want to talk a lot, schedule, if possible, this install when they will not be there, or at best only a few of them will be there. Go in, install the workstation, test and then leave. You are a busy person, (and so are they.) Neither have time to waste by idle conversation. Sure, be polite, friendly and professional, just not a chatter-box.
  • Changing the completion time estimate. Always estimate a job completion estimate out further than it is actually going to take. It always makes you look good when you can complete a job in less time than estimated. There is a common approach in the sales and retail industry that goes, "Under Promise and Over Deliver."
  • Delegate lower priority tasks. Sometimes you can actually delegate some of your lower priority tasks to another team member to complete, (of if you are in a supervisor role, ask them politely if they would mind handling the task for you.) This not only reduces your work load, but also is a method of "Under promise and over deliver." Just be sure that you reciprocate if asked.
  • Enlist your boss in prioritizing. Sometimes it may be beneficial to have your boss look over your list of prioritized tasks. There may be things that they wasn't aware of that his team members were working on or they might discover things on your list that are other people's responsibility and assign the task to the proper team member. There might even be tasks that no longer need to be done and they can eliminate these tasks entirely.
  • Delaying a meeting or appointment if necessary. Delaying a meeting is bad; rescheduling it could be a total nightmare. This could also delay a project which will definitely annoy people. If something comes up, however, it is better to delay a meeting or an appointment rather than totally missing it. If at all possible, you can send a delegate to the meeting for you providing that they have the information needed for the meeting itself.
  • Try working late. This obviously is the worst of all options, but as a System or Network Administrator, there may be at times no other option available. Just try not to make this your standard option before exploring other possible options.

Step 4: Work the Plan

Use your day wisely and work the plan as close to schedule as possible. You have tasks in your A, B and C categories, with the A's being the top priority items, some of them moved from the day before. Work your A items first followed by your B and then C items. It is also useful to have some type of reminder or alarm to remind you of your daily appointments or other commitments. Use your momentum to your best advantage but make sure to take a break now in then to stretch, take a break, a quick walk or something. This is also equally important as keeping up your momentum.

Step 5: Complete Your Day

Obviously you cannot complete all of your tasks in one day, so managing them is also important. Take the last half hour of your work day to look at your remaining items on your to-do list. If you have run out of time, contact the person who is expecting the task to be completed today and make other plans; again, communication is vital. Make sure to move all of the unfinished list to top priority on tomorrow's list.

Step 6: Leave the Office

Now that you have managed the current day's tasks and scheduled tomorrows tasks, it is time to finish up your day and leave the office. You can now leave knowing that you have managed all tasks for the day and have prepared for the next work day.

Step 7: Repeat the Process

The thing to remember is to repeat this process every single work day. This is the most effective way to handle your ever- growing to-do list and manage it accordingly.

Other Useful Tips

The system is flexible enough so that new situations can be faced with confidence. You simply adapt the system to handle the new situations. Here are some examples.

Large Projects

Should a large project arise, split it into individual steps and then place these steps across your to-do list to be completed on different days.

Finish All To-Do Items Early

Rare as it seems, there may be times when you actually catch up and complete all of your tasks that are on your current day's schedule. Here are a few ideas as to what to do at this point to make your life a bit easier.

  • Get a jump start on the next day's tasks.
  • Start a "dream" project or something that you have always wanted to attempt.
  • Do some reading from your publications that you have failed to look at.
  • Clean your office.
  • Sit in your office and enjoy your "down time." But of course this won't last long.
  • If possible, take the rest of the day off as a reward for your diligence.

Incoming Requests During the Day

Undoubtedly you will have new task requests during the day. Filter out the most important tasks and give them priority, then schedule the other tasks for the next business day. You may have to shuffle some of the tasks, but keeping the most important ones scheduled for completion first will be the most beneficial course of action.

Setting Up a PPA or PDA

Setting up a PPA

If you choose to use a paper notebook to keep your schedule, you will need the following:

  • A full page calendar for each month of the year.
  • Enough scheduling note paper for each day of the year, usually with the dates and times already pre-printed.
  • Extra paper for keeping random notes, goals and other important entries.
  • A binder to keep everything together.

Setting up a PDA

If your choice of organizer is a PDA, you have many choices. PDAs usually come with software that lets you keep an appointment calendar, to-do list and notes.

Handling Vendors

Occasionally you may come across a vendor who fails to follow through with promises or deadlines. Maybe it is a failure to return a call or schedule an appointment. Here are some tips for handling vendors when they drop the ball.

  • Call the vendor once a day until you connect.
  • Call the vendor early in the morning.
  • Log every time you call the vendor. You can do this in your organizer.
  • Always leave voice mail when you call a vendor and notate this in your organizer.