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Do you feel like your day is spent in “firefighter” mode – putting out one emergency blaze after another? You can easily spend eight hours or more at the beck and call of the urgent activities on your list: The phone call that come right when you're sitting down to do some much-needed strategic planning, the unexpected invitation to contribute to a blog round-up, the desperate plea for a last-minute speaker on an industry teleconference. While these all might be worthy tasks, they're not necessarily related to your high-level goals. And as a result, the time you've set aside for your important activities can be usurped by the tyranny of the urgent. 

Yes, it's hard to ignore a ringing phone or a full email inbox. But if you want to move your business to the next level quickly, you need to have a system for focusing on the important tasks instead of the urgent ones.
 
Here are five tips for keeping your attention in the right spot:
 
1.    Know what “important” is.
You have to have your high-level goals in front of you, literally and figuratively. You must know what you're trying to accomplish this month, this week, today, so you can filter your activities accordingly.
 
2.    Create zones with no distractions.
It's not practical to turn off your phone ringer for 8 hours straight, or to check your email only once a day. But you can set up zones where you limit outside interruptions. Start with a quiet time first thing in the morning for one hour. Get one big item off your To-Do list before you check email. If that works well, add another quiet zone in the afternoon, maybe right before you quit work, so you can put your planning together for the following day.
 
3.    Set expectations.
You train people how to treat you and what to expect from you. If you always respond to their emails immediately, they'll grow to expect immediate answers. Slowly wean them from expecting you to be on-call, 24/7.
 
4.    Create systems to support your new habits.
Email in-box filters that shuffle non-critical newsletters and group emails to another filter for later reading will help keep you from getting sidetracked. Removing all non-essential programs and icons from your computer desktop (and from your physical desktop, too!) can keep you focused. Figure out where you're getting derailed and create some boundaries to keep you on task.
 
5.    Remind yourself you can't do everything.
Admitting you can't read every book and newsletter, you can't keep up with every blog, you can't personally correspond with everyone on your mailing list, can go a long way to helping you see your limits. Suddenly, you realize you're only human, and if you can't do everything, you have to be strategic about where you do spend your time. 
 
It can be very uncomfortable to leave things undone, or to choose not to respond to certain invitations or requests. Remind yourself of the big picture, and hold fast to that vision. 

Pull out your new and improved To-Do list. Look it over and I bet you'll see some commonalities and patterns. You might find there are types of tasks that are all performed similarly.

How are they similar? Maybe you complete these tasks while you're in the same mindset or while using the same equipment. They might be tasks that are call-related, tasks that need to be done in the same software on the computer, tasks that require extended thinking, etc. 
By grouping these tasks together, you can save transition time between activities – and, of course, get more done in less time. These are the types of tasks that are perfect for batching: 
 
·       Tasks that occur or can be scheduled in the same physical location.
By grouping tasks in the same environment together, you save time moving back and forth. For instance, if you're meeting a client downtown, arrange several other meetings in the same general area.

Other ideas: Mailing/shipping at the post office, doctor's appointments, running errands, even daily tasks in your house (when you're in the kitchen cooking breakfast, put away the dishes in the dishwasher, too).
 

·       Tasks that occur or can be scheduled in the same location virtually.
When using certain websites or software online, you'll begin to see commonalities where you can batch tasks. Setting up specialized software can be a time-eater. If you are sending emails, log in to your account and write and send a bunch at once. For instance, why not write a week's worth of blog posts in your Word Processor and then copy and paste them all into your blog at once? You can do the same thing with article marketing. Write a series of 5 articles and then submit them all at once. Or perhaps your video creation. If you've got the software open to create one video, you might as well create several at the same time.

Other ideas: Keyword research, uploading videos to Amazon S3, Uploading blog posts, conducting interviews on Skype, submitting articles to article directories.
 

·       Tasks that are repetitive.
If you were washing clothes, would you throw one sock into the washer, add detergent, turn it on, and let it go through the cycle, then take it out and add the next sock? No way! You'd do a whole load at once to save time, energy, water, and detergent. You can do the same thing with your business-related repetitive tasks. Doing research, creating a tracking sheet, and sending e-mails to potential JV partners can easily be batched at each stage of the process.

Other ideas: Entering receipts into your accounting software program, paying bills, sending out requests for information, updating your blog security and plugins.
 

·       Tasks that have the same goal.
Performing all your marketing activities during a set time period keeps your brain in the right spot – you don't have to switch speeds from thinking about advertising and publicity to editing to bookkeeping.

Other ideas: Brainstorming new product ideas, writing articles for submission, finding affiliate products to promote.
 

One caveat: You want to perform high-value tasks, not just ones you can get done quickly. There is a huge difference between being effective and being busy. Activities that can be batched – especially repetitive tasks – often fall into the “busy” category. They're things we can churn out quickly, that make us feel like we've made good progress, and that we can cross off our list. But at the end of the day, we can find we spent our time efficiently, but not particularly effectively. That's why it's critical to evaluate what's on your list before you even begin to find ways to complete your actions more efficiently. 

By writing down your goals and desires, you are much more likely to make those dreams a reality. How much more likely? Research shows that people who write down their goals are about twice as likely to achieve them as those who do not. And if you count those who write down their goals but don't quite meet them, they still get a lot closer than they would have if they hadn't written them down in the first place. Therefore, you can see the strong case for committing to your goals in writing.

This research is true in long-term goals like building your dream house or traveling the world – but what does all of this have to do with daily To-Do lists? Well, what is a To-Do list but a list of goals for the day? That means by writing your daily goals list on paper, you're more than twice as likely to make significant process towards checking those items off than if you just flew by the seat of your pants. Here are some tips to help you create do-able, effective To-Do lists:
 
1.    Make it reasonable.
We're all too familiar with the endless To-Do list, the one with dozens of items, more than you could accomplish in a week, let alone a day. While writing every single thing you have to do down on a list may make you feel like you're getting your life under control, it's actually counterproductive. Not only will critical tasks get lost in the muddle, you can become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things you have to accomplish. It may be more attractive to just take a nap!
 
2.    Make it specific.
One of the biggest problems with To-Do lists is that people write down projects versus tasks. Anything that goes on your list should be something you can actually accomplish, such as “Call Joe about product release plans,” instead of “Finalize product release.” If you write down projects instead of tasks, you can't ever cross them off – they just sit on your list and migrate from one day to the next which is obviously very frustrating. On the other hand, basic Psychology teaches that rewards make us want to do an activity more – so every time we check off an item on our list, it motivates us to do more. You can only do that if the items are small enough to check off. However…
 
3.    Make it important.
I've been tempted to write down things on my list just so I can cross them off. And while this gives me a little momentary boost, it doesn't do much to move you closer to your goals. So before something makes it onto your list, ask yourself if it's critical to the completion of your goals. If not, don't even write it down. (Trust me, you will remember to “eat lunch” even if you don't have it on your daily list!)
 
When used correctly, To-Do lists are powerful tools that can help you to accomplish more in less time. By “respecting the list” and following these three tips, you'll have a daily To-Do list that will harness your energy and help you blast closer toward your biggest goals. 

 

What if I told you you could take your daily To Do list, and eliminate over half the items on there, with no negative impact on your bottom line? You'd probably think I'm nuts, but the truth is, most of us spend most of our time on irrelevant tasks that have little or nothing to do with the attainment of our most important goals.

The information that I'm about to share with you was life-altering to me, so I hope that you don't skim this section thinking it's not appropriate to your business (it is) or that it's too complex (it isn't).

There is an economic principle called the 80/20 Rule, or Pareto Principle, that means that 80 percent of the value of any group comes from only 20 percent of the members of this group.

Let me explain a bit better. The 80/20 Rule basically means that 80% of the effects of anything in your life will come from 20% of the causes.

The 80/20 Rule has been applied to sales forces, wealth distribution, test scores, etc. Heck, it can be applied to parenting, marriage, health and exercise. It's true in… well 80% of your life, I'd imagine.

When applied to your To Do list, it means that 80 percent of the value of your daily list comes from only 20 percent of the items on it. In other words, if you have 10 items on your list, you could focus on only two tasks and get the vast majority of success just from those two activities – while ignoring the other 8 items entirely.

So, by now you're probably ready to go after your To-Do list, cutting out those low-payoff items. Before you get out the hatchet, read this short list of suggestions so that you cut the right ones out, and focus on the high-reward tasks:

1. Know what your goals are.
You can't choose your biggest payoff tasks if you don't know what your goals are. Thoughtful planning is critical so you know what you're trying to accomplish and how to rank your items accordingly.

2. Write it all down.
Write every task down, from the largest to the seemingly least important. If you're finding yourself getting sidetracked during the day, it may be because you've failed to write critical activities on your list. Before you can rank your items, you need a complete view of your work world.

3. Evaluate.
With your goals in mind, ask yourself, “What are the top three activities I can complete today that will move me closer to those goals?” Put an asterisk next to those tasks, and start the day there. If you complete any of the other items, it'll be a bonus.

4. Track your success.
At the end of the week, review your daily lists. Have you made significant progress towards your goals? Which tasks turned out to be the most important? Which did you think were important but proved to be less critical?

5. Keep refining.
Use your weekly reviews to inform your decisions going forward. If you notice that you often rank your social media efforts as critical, but they don't seem to be impacting your progress towards your goals, resist putting those as starred items on your daily list. Conversely, if you notice a pattern in your highest impact activities, keep those high on your list.

Not all to-do items are created equal. If you consistently evaluate your activities according to your most important goals, you'll soon know which tasks to keep high on the To-Do list – and which can be eliminated completely.