No matter where you are focusing your intention and action, time is always of the essence. Some consider time our most precious resource, others recognize it as the totality of our experience. One thing is sure, by making better use of our time, we can more effectively change ourselves and our world for the better.
A disciplined approach to planning and organizing your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks can have significant personal benefits. I’m going to share with you a simple and easy organizational method I’ve been using for the past three years. It costs nothing but a small amount of effort. It rewards us by reducing stress and allowing us to accomplish more with the limited time we have.
I’m the type of person to immerse myself in projects to the point where I have very little if any free time. One thing I learned about myself is that it’s easy to forget something on my list that isn’t a top priority. I needed a way to organize myself that was low or no cost, easy to access and edit, and could handle multiple different types of tasks. Tasks being the keyword here, this isn’t a strategy for large-scale organizational planning. It’s a simple tool to help you manage all of the little things you have to do this week and beyond. After exploring several apps and software, I found that the absolute best answer for me was a simple Excel file or Google sheet.
The setup may look complicated at first glance, but it’s simple. In this version, six columns are used and labeled appropriately. Description details the effort to be done, priority helps me rank tasks accordingly, class adds a layer of information to organize multi-directional action further, and category describes the type of work it will be. The date column serves as a due date, the target you’re setting for yourself to complete the work. The notes section is perfect for creating little reminders or recording obstacles that got in the way of fully completing the task. Tracing what is and is not complete is done by highlighting the row.
Directly to the right of the notes section are lists of options. The cells in the priority, class, and category columns are selectable via a drop-down menu. Column H indicates the priority choices, column I the class, and J the category options. Columns I and J will be edited to fit your personal needs. I’ve found this level of detail is ideal for me because certain days, you may not have the time to get everything done on your list. In these scenarios, the classifications help to make it an easy decision where to direct your time and focus.
At the beginning of every week (Sunday for me), I create a new sheet and copy and paste the previous week sheet as the starting point. I started using this method in December 2017 and still find it to be the most effective way of managing my tasks. Every so often, I’ll create a separate tab that breaks the date format for something that requires a lot of action and the ability to be viewed in a single sheet. You can see this example with the job apps tab towards the right side. It was how I tracked all of my job applications and results.
When you copy and paste, it’s essential to delete the content but avoid deleting your rows. Deleting rows will remove all the formulas embedded in the cells. What I have found to be the quickest way to reset the week is to highlight and delete the content of the rows I have completed. The next step is to sort the data, which will put all the highlighted blank rows at the bottom of your weekly task sheet. Select them and remove the highlight, and you’re good to go.
Every time you make new additions to your weekly task list, it’s best practice to sort the data. First, select the rows and columns that you want to sort, trying to sort the entire sheet will throw your data sources out of whack. In Excel, you’ll go to Data > Sort (Google Sheets is Data > Sort Range), select that your data has headers, and then set up a two-step sort.
The first sort option is the highest priority, so be sure to use date oldest to newest. That will make sure that you’re always looking at the tasks that you’ve assigned to complete first. Second, you want to sort by priority. The sheet uses a custom list going in order of priority. If you use the same priority verbiage as I do, you’ll rank it as absolute, high, moderate, and low. In Excel, you’ll have to manually choose this option once every time you make a new sheet, afterward it will be preset. If you can be disciplined enough to invest 20 minutes once a week you can save yourself hours of wasted time.
Now that we’ve reviewed how the sheet operates, I want to take a moment to express what I do and do not record. I’ll start with what I don’t write down, which are routine things. For example, I wouldn’t write down walk the dog or make breakfast because these are things that happen every single day and are, in many ways, mindless tasks. Other than that, pretty much any responsibility gets recorded. I want to stress the importance of putting personal obligations on here as well.
To help illustrate why this is important, I’ll speak briefly about my work style. For me, work is very much an all-or-nothing endeavor, I’m either very intensely focused or have difficulty getting anything done. That’s why the small tasks unrelated to actions are important to record. If I find myself in a space where I am struggling to focus on work, I refer back to the list and do something else productive in a different category. We can’t always be on, but we can do our best to maximize our efforts. With that said, my work schedule allows me the flexibility to work whenever I need to, not during a set amount of hours — not everyone will have this luxury. The task list will enable you to be productive when you want to be, giving you the freedom to choose the direction of your focus.
That’s it! It’s a pretty straightforward way of managing your week. If you have any questions about this method, feel free to comment below or connect on Twitter.
Download Excel File: https://ronrivers.com/share/TaskManagement-ronrivers.com.xlsx
Google Sheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1DsmI4ITp75xHWMEQzOo0uyANbPppgWuJyUUBrpM1haw/edit?usp=sharing (File > Make a Copy to save your own)