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LYNNE RICHARDSON: Start the easy way or the hard way?
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LYNNE RICHARDSON: Start the easy way or the hard way?

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DO YOU make lists of things that you need to get done every day? Or perhaps your time frame is weekly or longer. Most time management gurus will tell you that a ‘to-do’ list is a good way to help you maximize how you spend your day.

I’m a big fan of to-do lists. Most mornings, I generate a list of items that must be done that day. Occasionally, the list will include items that are longer term, but that need to be started soon.

Some people organize their list. Maybe they order the items by importance. Others create a list based on how much time each item will take to complete.

My list is created as I think of things to add. I do not take the time to organize it in any coherent fashion. It’s more a stream of consciousness list. I typically begin the list as soon as I get out of the shower, as I’ve usually thought of three to five things while I’m in there. Then I add to the list throughout the morning.

How do you “work” your list? Do you start with the easiest items to complete or do you tackle the hardest one first?

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There is value in each method.

If you choose to complete easier items first, you get a sense of accomplishment early in the day. You feel like you’ve done something productive, even if the items are responding to or initiating emails. It feels good to mark the items off the list as they are done. Of course, the harder items to complete are then waiting, staring you in the face each time you glance at the list. But you’ve accomplished some things, so that’s good.

Or you might be a person who addresses one of the hardest items first. Working on the task will probably take more time or be uncomfortable. It will definitely delay your focus on other items, but you know completion of the task is important. Perhaps you need to have a conversation about poor performance with an employee. Or you have a report you must prepare for your boss. You must collect and analyze data, then spend at least two hours writing. Then there’s the proofreading. It’s a hard task, not because it will be difficult to do, but because it will take longer than responding to emails, for example.

There’s not a right or wrong way to work your list. Sometimes when I have items that will take more time than 15 minutes or so to complete, I will actually schedule them on my calendar. That way I know I have dedicated some time to do the harder tasks without distraction.

Generally, however, I tend to take care of the easy items first! I like the feeling when I mark off items. I feel productive early and love seeing the list quickly shrink. Most of the items that will take time are scheduled on my calendar. I still leave them on my list, mainly so I feel the sense of accomplishment when I mark them as complete.

How do you handle your tasks that must be done? If you don’t have a system that works for you, consider creating one. You will feel more organized and productive!

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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