Your brain is a wonderful thing, but it isn’t perfect. Sometimes it needs a little help. And one of the best ways to help your brain to be its best is by building structures to optimize your time.
If you are not using a checklist for your job, you ARE going to miss things. There’s simply no way your brain can keep track of everything efficiently without that simple external structure. Whether it’s an app on your phone or a pad of paper on your desk, it’s an absolute business essential. And study after study has found that pretty much every job above French fry cook benefits from the introduction of stepwise accountability measures.
Break down each item on the list into steps, and force yourself to report in to the steps along the way. While you’re breaking it down into smaller bits, be sure to spend time on the big picture as well. Build times into your calendar to work toward key results, or they won’t happen.
Finally, don’t forget to prioritize. A list of thirty undifferentiated items will do nothing but stress you out. Create a simple—always simple—system of dots, flags, letters, or whatever you want to designate high, middle, and low-priority items.
Now here’s the counter-intuitive part: When you lay the items into your daily schedule, don’t put all of the biggest things first. If you have four big projects and you put them all at the beginning of the day, and #2 takes longer than you think, and smaller tasks creep in, and you get interrupted a dozen times—in other words, if a completely normal day happens—you are likely to run out of time AND FOCUS for #4. Instead, lay small, lower-priority tasks between the big ones as buffers. If one big project runs over its allotted time, these smaller cushions can be jettisoned until tomorrow or the next day.
Whether it’s the small picture or the big picture, don’t cross your fingers and hope. Build the structures that optimize your time and ensure that things happen.