To-do lists have become a necessity in today’s fast-paced, high-tech technical writing world. We all have these lists…at least we should. For many of us, the “list” consists of a collection of post-it notes or several scraps of paper with a napkin or two added to the pile when we can’t find a scrap of paper. The problem with such an unorganized method of task tracking is that it can be a major source of frustration and stress. Not to mention that it’s totally unproductive when working on a technical writing services project. Managing priorities is considered a critical technical writing skill.
Preferred method of tracking
In an earlier blog, Time Management Techniques to Improve your Technical Writing Services, I talked about using my preferred method of task tracking…keeping a hard-copy weekly planner/calendar with one or two pages for each day. (Imagine, using a pencil and paper to organize and manage your to-do lists in this electronic age!) Yes, it is possible, and I find that pencil and paper works best for me. Regardless of the time management tool you choose, however, the key to success is to select a method that allows you to keep everything you need to do for each day itemized in one convenient location so that it can be easily referenced and updated.
Procrastination is a time waster
Simply writing down all the tasks you’d like to complete, without completing any one of them isn’t productive. In fact, it’s intimidating and encourages procrastination.
Four things are critical when using a to-do list for your technical writing project:
- You must keep your list short, specific, and flexible
- You must actually use your list
- You must chunk your actions into bite-sized achievements to minimize the tendency to procrastinate
- You must check your list at least once every hour during the day to make sure you’re on schedule
Remind yourself, if a task is important, you’ll make time to do it. Then, just do it.
Attribute: Photo above courtesy of cuteimage/freedigitalphotos.net
4 Tips for Making To-Do Lists Work For You Rather Than Against You
- Create a list of tasks you want to accomplish for a given day. List no more than 3 tasks as action items. You may have a second on-going list that keeps track of activities coming down the pipeline, but for your daily action items 3 is doable.
- Identify your tasks as action-oriented activities. This will make the task specific. For example, instead of writing “meet with SME,” write “Call John and confirm today’s 2:30 P.M. meeting.”
- Prioritize your list by importance. Ask yourself, "Which task will make me feel most accomplished?" Starting your day with an non-prioritized to-do list can undermine your ability to make productive decisions as your day goes on. As a general rule, complete the highest priority task as soon in the day as you can. Whenever possible, be sure to set deadlines for yourself, concentrate on one thing at a time, and review your progress frequently to make sure you’re on schedule.
- Catch yourself when you are involved in unproductive activities and stop as soon as you can. If you catch yourself procrastinating, ask yourself, "What am I avoiding?" Then, address it and get back on schedule.
To-do lists are an important part of time management, which is a skill all professional technical writers need to perfect. We all have the same 168 hours in our week. It’s how we manage ourselves in relation to those hours that allow us to be organized, maintain our focus, and use time to our and our client's best advantage.
What challenges have you faced task tracking your to-do lists for technical writing projects? Share your experiences in the comments below.