Reader Mailbag: How to Best Sort My Weekly List

Feb 3, 2016

Your emails, questions and comments have been rolling in! Time to resurrect the mailbag!

Here’s one from Stacie, an instructional manager (and former principal and teacher) based in Baltimore!

Dear Stacie,

This is a very, very good question! It all depends on if you’re more oriented towards time (you put your To-Do’s directly into your calendar’s time slots) or task (you prefer to make some sort of categorized list). While I like the spirit of what you are trying to accomplish with the Urgency Matrix, I fear it is too much about the WHAT and not enough about the WHEN.

Here are some other ways to create a great Weekly Worksheet full of To-Do’s.

  1. For when time is scarce OR you’re feeling prone to procrastination. Create different lists for 60 minute, 30 minute, and 10 minute tasks. This is my favorite. I’m of a mind to put stuff directly into your calendar if it meets a certain threshold, but some task-oriented people dislike doing this. In fact, I had to do this when I was on maternity leave with kid #2. I often use a matrix like this:
  2. For when you may be tired or need critical brainpower. Create lists by level of cognitive power needed. Sometimes we call this Big Potatoes and Small Fries. Drew did it really well here.
  3. For when you want to make sure multiple balls are staying in the air and priorities are getting enough attention. Create lists by project. This is my least favorite because it biases more toward the WHAT without enough attention to the WHEN. But Option 1 above solves for this.
  4. For when you are on the move a lot. Create lists by location. There are some weeks when I have a bunch of To-Do’s that require being in a traditional office setting, whereas other weeks I have a lot of quiet airplane time. You could create lists called “Office,” “Airplane,” etc. This is a slight modification to David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach by context.

But I think you are on to something! You smartly realized your new role required a new system. That is a great epiphany—it happened to me, too, here. Once you land on the right thing for now, don’t be afraid to shift it to meet the demands of your week. Some weeks may be split by energy level, others by location, and so on.