Five simple steps to get your workweek and task list back under control

Flickr photo via Courtney Dirks

Good intentions don’t always lead to effective execution.  And how you plan your workweek on a Sunday evening or Monday morning rarely reflects how things actually take shape.

You may start Monday morning with a tight to-do list, a clear desk and Inbox Zero.  But then other people show up.  Start building your list of fire drills.  Pushing their own objectives, agendas and priorities onto you.

Some of these are important, others you can’t get out of if you tried.

But by sometime Tuesday, it’s easy to look at your week thus far, and the week ahead, and wonder how the heck you’re going to get ahead of yourself.

With these five steps, and 30 minutes or less, you can regain control of your workweek.  Get centered, get your priorities under control, and start fresh with more energy and confidence.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Stop, and turn everything off

Turn off your phone.  Put your email into offline mode.  Close your Web browser.  Turn your Internet connection(s) completely off if you can.  Close your door.

Basically, shut off all interruptions and introductions of new information.  You have everything you need right now, and need to stay focused without new bells, whistles, phone calls or other distractions getting in your way.

2. Review your top priorities and objectives

Go back to Sunday night or Monday morning.  Anchor yourself to what’s most important right now.  What are the 1-2 projects that would make this week a huge success?  What were your top priorities to start the week?  If you could clear your desk and schedule for the rest of today, and tomorrow, would those priorities still be your most important?

3. Review your current commitments & to-do’s

This is where you’ll likely discover how disconnected your current execution has been with the priorities you set just days (or sometimes hours) ago.  Your inbox is 90% full of everybody else’s priorities.  Your schedule is full of meetings that have little if nothing to do with your top priorities.

Right now, you start sorting, prioritizing, purging, cancelling and otherwise shifting your tactical, what-do-I-do-next focus to what’s most important.

4. Add priority tasks as necessary

If you didn’t exactly start the week with a prioritized to-do list, now’s a great time to do it.  And if your top objectives are the same but the tactics or next steps required have shifted, make that new to-do list now.

5. Get today’s most important task or tasks done before you reconnect

You’ve already, temporarily turned off the world around you.  You know exactly what’s most important to get done right now.

So before you reconnect (and allow all of those outside distractions and pulls on your attention to resume), get that one most important task done right now.  If it’s a big project and you don’t have enough time, at minimum follow the five-minute rule and get it started.  This way you’ll more likely discover how much easier the task is than you imagined it, and will have a better sense for how much longer it’s going to take to actually get it done.

Better, however, is to just hunker down and finish it before the phone calls, emails and other interruptions resume.

This process can be used again and again, whenever you’re feeling out of control.  It’s not a bad exercise or habit to get into as part of your beginning-of-week, or start-of-day, routine as well.

Would love to hear from those who have tried something similar, or who try it right now, and get your feedback as well as summary of the results.

Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog. He writes occasionally on GeekWire under the column Productivity Porn. Previous columns…An introduction to productivity porn: How to be lazy, productive & successful… 15 New Year Resolutions for Entrepreneurs.… Productivity Porn: 7 tricks for beating procrastination.

  • Mike_Acker

    if your job is to respond to issues then accept that role for yourself. organize your communication so that what you do is respond when you are needed

    the first thing you do is throw away your to do list

    the only things on your to do list are the things you are NOT going to do

    next: switch to LIFO scheduling . if you are required to be a responder you have no choice

    next: if you have any large time-consuming tasks : detail them to a subordinate . otherwise you have to stay late to work on them .