Starting the day with a realistic yet ambitious to-do list is de rigueur for businesswomen the world over. But why does this universal time management technique see some reach 5.30pm with clear desks and ticked off to-do lists,
while others call it a day with a longer list than they started out with?
Find out how the women who’ve made diary management a fine art ensure they’re always on top of their daily agendas.
Prioritising sometimes means “letting go”
You probably already know that to become a masterful diary manager you must first become a masterful prioritiser. But when it comes to prioritisation, many make the mistake of thinking that every item on the to-do list needs to
be structured in order of most to least important. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! has learned to embrace the realisation that the low priority items may forever languish on the bottom of her to-do list: “I make a to-do
list every day in priority order [but] there are times when I’m like, ‘Wait, I’m kind of looking at something unimportant. Should there be something else higher on my to-do list?’”
Prioritisation sometimes means putting a firm scratch through some of those less important items. But if the idea of consigning your low priorities to the ‘never do’ list brings you out in a rash, take a leaf out of
Bobbi Brown’s book. The Founder and CCO of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics tells Real Simple magazine: “My husband and three grown sons can sit down and watch a sports game on TV, oblivious to the empty chip bowl
and piles of newspapers on the table next to them. But it’s hard for me to ignore something that needs to be cleaned or organised. So I continually remind myself: ‘Let go. Be in the present.’ That way, I can value the time I spend with
Another woman who’s learned that success means knowing the difference between ‘top priority’ and ‘can wait’ is Founder of Jo Loves, Jo Malone MBE. In an interview with Get The Gloss she reveals: “I make a to-do list
every morning while sitting in bed with a cup of tea. I write everything down and set myself deadlines. I’ve even got an urgent column!”
For anything outside that urgent column she delegates as far as possible: “To be successful you have to delegate! It’s so much more effective to focus on things that you do brilliantly and rely on your team or the people around you for
everything else. Don’t ever be intimidated if you can’t do something – it’s important to remember that you can’t be all things to all people!”
Action point: Divide your to-do list as far as possible into ‘must do’, ‘can do’ and ‘good to do’ (or use the time management matrix popularised by The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People author
Steven Covey – see below). Of those items outside ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ who or what would be impacted if they were removed from the list altogether? Now think about where you can delegate or hand over responsibility altogether for
the less urgent tasks. Don’t have a team? Think about how colleagues can play a role: if you’re writing a report in a specific format, can you ask the person supplying the numbers to send them through in compatible styling? Something
that needn’t take them any extra minutes might end up shaving hours off your task.
Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix
Create your own email rules
“I insist that people on the Birchbox team indicate when they need a response in all emails. It makes prioritisation so much faster,” Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox Founder tells Life Hacker.
When emails seem to multiply with every click of ‘send and receive’ it can be easy to become chained to your inboxes. But dedicating set chunks of the day to handling incoming comms can be a much healthier and less stress-provoking way
to stay on top of messages. “The last time my mother got angry with me was when she saw me reading my email and talking to my children at the same time. Since then, I have re-evaluated my relationship with email, which includes no email
for at least a half an hour before sleep (instead, I have a hot bath and read real books), no rushing to my email as soon as I wake up (instead, I do my meditation and set my intention for the day), and no email while talking to my
children (thanks, mom),” says Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Huffington Post.
Action point: Hold a mini team brainstorm to establish email ground rules which work for everyone. This might include a prioritisation system, indicating when something is for information only or requires a response by
a specific deadline, or even the hours of the day during which emails can and cannot be sent. Think about which personal rules might work for you as an individual: turning off notification reminders? Allocating set periods of the day to
checking and replying to emails? A folder prioritisation system? Colour coding? You might also want to consider your rules for dealing with ‘difficult’ or ‘emotive’ emails.
Don’t try to hold everything in your head
“I have tried so many to-do list managers — I find myself going back to Evernote and using it most consistently,” says Birchbox’s Katia Beauchamp, joining a growing trend of successful businesswomen who rely on
app-based technologies to record their checklists, notes and ideas.
The beauty of such tools is that as well as storing all your to-do lists in cloud based storage that can be accessed across all your devices, they also act as scrapbooks to which you can clip web pages, articles or PDFs. Perfect if you
want to create a reading list of interesting bits and pieces to turn to during your weekly reading hour, or dip into a bucket of idea-generating content when you need some inspiration – freeing up headspace for those priority to-do list
Action points: Evernote has a ‘clipper’ tool for desktop browsers. Download the app
Sight which stores web pages by clicking the iPhone’s home button and stores them for later viewing – either online or offline. Facebook’s
Saved Links folder can be a lifeline when you’re trying to hunt down that can’t-quite-remember-where-I-saw-it must-read article from your newsfeed (click the down arrow next to the post and select ‘Save Link’).
You can also use your everywoman Bookmarks to store Network articles to read at a future date. First create a new folder category within My bookmarks , clip an article using the + ADD TO BOOKMARK
link beneath any article’s headline, and then access by logging in and clicking ‘My Bookmarks’ on your personalised navigation panel.
Share and share alike
When well known businesswomen share their thoughts on to-do list success, you might begin to wonder if there’s something in it – whether the act of talking about to-do lists with another party plays a part in its subsequent completion.
This thinking led a Dominican University psychology professor to undertake a 2015 study into whether sharing a to-do list had any bearing on whether it was successfully completed. Turns out that when you send weekly updates to a friend
about your progress, you are twice as likely to achieve your goals. So buddy up with a colleague to swap to-do list challenges, or make use of an app like Complete, which shares your to-do list
with a community, and you might be on your way to a to-do list full house.
Interested in time management? Watch this thought provoking RSA animation on the power of time and our individual responses to it:
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