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It is imperative as an assistant to not only be able to prioritize your to-do list but to be able to re-prioritize as changes in your day pop up. Your to-do list should be looked at as more of a rolling list.
Here are some tips on how to organize your rolling to-do list:
Find a task management website or app. I am a huge fan of Asana, but there are many other options such as Wunderlist or OneNote. It's a lot easier to move around to-do items digitally than on paper, plus it's not something you can accidentally misplace.
Set deadlines. Please see my previous post on Importance vs. Urgency for tips on how to determine what needs to happen right away. Try to keep the items that are due today to three. If you make more than that you could be setting yourself up to feel psychologically defeated at the end of the day, according to an article in Rich20Something. Obviously, if the tasks are quicker you could add more items that you set as due today, but the point is to keep that number low.
Respect the order you created. No skipping around. It's important to tackle those top items first.
Keep your energy levels in mind when putting together your initial to-do list. For example, if you are not a morning person, keep in mind that you might need to allow yourself an hour for your coffee to kick in before you start on a larger project that requires a full level of alertness.
Group similar tasks together. Timothy Ferriss discussed the concept of "batching" in his book The 4-Hour Workweek (pg. 106-108). He recognized that there is always an inescapable setup time for all tasks, regardless of size. If you group these tasks together, you will save time by not repeating them more often than necessary.
Break larger projects up into steps. I touched on this in my post Keeping the Flow. Chunking up a dauntingly large project allows for milestones and can help to develop a more accurate timeline of the overall project. It can also make the larger project at hand feel more manageable once it's broken down. Work those smaller steps into your to-do list and rank them around the importance of other tasks.
Reevaluate and reorder. The frequency of this depends on your job, but I'll share what I do. Every evening before I leave the office, I go through Asana and organize my to-do list for the next day. This helps me to focus quickly when I arrive at work in the morning. When I come to work the next day, I start by sorting through my morning emails and reviewing my executives' calendars. I will then do a quick status check of my to-do list and will revamp if needed. Around noon, I do a status check and will revamp my to-do list again if needed. At the end of the day, I come full circle to my evening to-do list organization.
If you keep a rolling task list, you will be better prepared to handle unplanned tasks that come your way. Eventually, reorganization will become a snap and your ability to reprioritize will ensure that you are spending your time on those items that rank most important and/or urgent.
How do you keep your rolling task list organized? Please share in the comments below!