Having clean list of meaningful tasks one of the foundations in successful time management. It helps reducing the stress caused by cluelessness. Everyone experienced this horrifying feeling of being overwhelmed with work and anxiety of indecisiveness of what to do next. Worse, when major interruption comes in clean and meaningful tasks list helps to get back on track in no time as it never happened. Otherwise, the warm up of resuming the original work would lead to more anxiety and ultimately to time and productivity loss. Here is an example, it’s time to report up the chain, the questions are very simple and very much expected: what’s done so far? what’s in the works? and what’s in the pipeline down the road? This is when anxiety hits its heights when there is no clean and meaningful list of tasks.
You need this clean and meaningful list of tasks if you want to save time, be effective and efficient. You need a smart to-do checklist if you want to reduce anxiety, save time, and become get-it-done-on-time-no-stress type.
So what’s this clean and meaningful? Let’s call it backlog.
Backlog, Smart To-Do Checklist
Backlog is a list of tasks you need to accomplish or deliverables you need to accomplish. Nothing new here. What’s important is to call out that it must be clean and meaningful. This is where others fail to keep up with the backlog that quickly becomes unreadable and littered with meaningless tasks, the point at which it all becomes irrelevant garbage. Let’s first address the clean part. Key attributes of the clean backlog are:
- It sits in one place and all items can be viewed in no time. This prevents switching between multiple places to look for tasks. Think of the situation that your tasks are written on multiple stickies spread all over the place and you desperately jumping from one to another. Here is another example, your tasks partly written in emails, part in outlook tasks, part in word doc saved on your desktop, part in Excel spreadsheet and part on the team’s Sharepoint website. You want to avoid it, you want to have one place where you can go and have a balcony view of your plate at once. Even better, if it doesn’t require to be online so that you could do it even with less dependencies.
- Backlog items can be easily and quickly filtered for different criteria – either by project they belong or just and arbitrary keyword. With tens and sometimes hundreds items to complete you want to have an ability to narrow the scope in now time, skim through what’s filtered quickly and pick the one that matters the most right now. Scanning and rescanning the long list of items results in lost time and loss of energy, both leading to much lower productivity.
- Each backlog item can be viewed and edited on the spot. After the tasks filtered and most relevant selected you want to have an ability to instantly look inside the task. Instantly is key. No scrolls up and downs, no clicks and double clicks, or other extra actions. Most of the time the tasks are viewed since they include contextual information that helps to “get in the zone” and start acting upon it, they are sort of cheatsheets – take a peek, set, go.
- Each backlog item or group of items can be easily and quickly shared with others in no friction way. By “no friction” I mean it must not required special actions to be taken on both sides – the one who shares and the one who’s it’s being shared with. Both sides should be able to “send” and “receive” backlog items in the most friction free way.
- Each backlog item or group of items can be easily and effortlessly moved or deleted or archived. When the backlog item or task you track finished or no more relevant there is no need to keep it on the hot plate. It should be removed either deleted or archived to keep the backlog clean and actionable.
All these attributes perfectly fit what I already use – my email client, specifically, Microsoft Outlook. The backlog items are my emails – those I received and those that I send. Look at all the attributes above, they perfectly fit my current skills and I don’t need to learn new tricks rather start thinking a little different about what and how I work with Microsoft Outlook.
Building Backlog Using Microsoft Outlook
Let’s step back and take a look at what’s in the bag. Consider the following key artifacts:
- Project. It’s a high level view on your major activities. You can only be invested in so many projects. Take on many projects, and you find yourself in the situation when you bite more than you could chew. Take on very few projects, and you may end up with impact that’s hardly seen.
- Goal. Each project has it’s goal. If it doesn’t have the goal, it’s not a project rather it’s a dumping ground.
- Backlog item. Each project is built of backlog items, little deliverables or tasks, that when all accomplished the project’s goal is reached.
- Priority. Priority is a weight that you give to any of the artifacts, either project, goal, or a backlog items.
- Archive. This is where all inactive items go so they never get in a way during the execution.
To maintain clean and healthy backlog consider the following activities:
- Make sure the Projects well defined. Use Outlook’s Categories to mark Backlog items related to specific project.
- Write down Goals for each Project. Use Outlook’s self post (Ctrl+Shift+S) email item as a scratch pad.
- Maintain active Backlog items in separate folder in your online (OST) storage files so it can be accessible from any device.
- Continuously and ruthlessly prioritize your Backlog items in the light of the Goals. Archive those that are completed or no longer relevant in your local (PST) storage files.
Look at your inbox now. How many emails you have? Hundreds? Thousands? How about having zero? Clean inbox is key to healthy and actionable backlog. Try the following:
- Create 3 Categories naming them after your three key projects.
- Write down key objectives or deliverables for each project.
- Skim through you inbox, assign to each email one of the three categories. If nothing fits, move it to archive – anyway it’ doesn’t contribute to your key project.
- By now you should have only few tens of actionable emails in your Inbox.
- Skim through them once more and for each project keep only those backlog items that are essential in reaching the goal.
- By now you should have only few essential backlog items in each category.
- Switch to the calendar and block time for each of the project’s deliverable week forward.
- Throughout the week stick to the schedule and deliver on it. Archive items that are complete. Keep the backlog clean.
- Call me by the end of week.
- Microsoft Outlook – Free and Paid
- Task Management Using Microsoft Outlook
- Configure Microsoft Office Outlook For Effective Time Management–The Happy Way
- Prioritize What You Do – Steven Covey Way [The Way That Works]
- Getting Results: From Annual Commitments to Daily Execution
image by Victor1558