When it comes to running a business, building as much efficiency as possible into your operations is the key to keeping things running smoothly and freeing up your own time to focus on the big picture. While employing the right team and the right technology are integral to boosting efficiency, so is having the right mindset when it comes to how you approach day-to-day tasks.
You may be surprised to learn that the traditional to-do list can actually hamper your ability to improve the efficiency of your business—and your own productivity. So what is the alternative for those of us who “Live by the list?” According to entrepreneurial efficiency and business experts, the key is to make sure that your to-do list is not just a vehicle for checking off mundane items, but instead that it remains a tool for helping you do the things that will have the greatest benefit to your business first.
Think in terms of priorities, not tasks.
Entrepreneur and author Mike Michalowicz writes, “The problem with a to-do list is that every entry has the same value.” Instead, he suggests business owners should use a priority list that has the following three symbols (you can substitute alternative symbols if you like), to help prioritize activities: The dollar sign ($), which is assigned to any task that generates revenue in the next 60 days; a smiley face, which is assigned to any task that pleases a current client; and a ∞ symbol for any task that creates a system—something that can run itself thereafter ∞.
The key to this type of priority list is that you can assign more than one value to each activity—or you can assign nothing to an activity, which means you may want to consider dropping it completely from your list. When you use your priority list the items with the most symbols should be addressed first. Those tasks without symbols are your lowest priority.
Another way to make a priority list is to divide your tasks into the following four categories based on Stephen Covey’s iconic Important/Urgent grid: Important and urgent, Not urgent but important, Not important but urgent, Not important or urgent. Using this convention, you would prioritize tasks falling in the “important and urgent” category first and perhaps reduce or eliminate tasks in the “Not important or urgent” category.
Use your list to organize action, not delay it.
Many business owners do find that lists are an essential way to track the numerous things they need to accomplish on a daily basis. Whether you toss your traditional to-do list for one of the alternatives mentioned here, or keep it, be sure that the process you are using to create lists actually enhances your ability to take action efficiently—rather than being an end in and of itself.