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Use This Formula To Overhaul Your Totally Worthless To-Do List

You're sorting your tasks all wrong. Here's a better way to do it.

Use This Formula To Overhaul Your Totally Worthless To-Do List

[Source photos: Flickr user liz west, purplequeue via Shutterstock]

The good, old-fashioned to-do list might be more old-fashioned than good. There's no shortage of productivity experts decrying its usefulness—and they have a point. One of the many troubles with to-do lists is that they don't help you discriminate among tasks of widely varying urgency, difficulty, and impact.

Here's an easy-to-use alternative that takes all those factors into account in order to make you more productive—and possibly your team, too.

The Better Way To Sort Your Tasks

The better way to tackle the items on your standard to-do list is to weight them according to three variables—seriousness, urgency, and growth:

  • Seriousness: How important is this task or issue?
  • Urgency: How long will it take to complete?
  • Growth: Will this issue get worse if I wait to tackle it?

Now open a new spreadsheet with three columns for each of those variables. Then grade each item using "high," "medium," or "low" for seriousness and urgency and "yes" or "no" for growth.

From there it's much easier to know how to prioritize your to-do items. If two items rank identically in the first column, the next column will be the tiebreaker, and so on. For those that rank identically in the "seriousness" column, use the subsequent column as a tiebreaker, and so on.

Your tasks will practically prioritize themselves, and before you know it, you'll have turned your to-do list into an "SUG list." Here's an example:

Make your weekly SUG list on Monday mornings, then start each subsequent weekday by reviewing it—before you jump into email or appointments. End the week by checking your list again, reprioritizing anything you haven't finished, and adding what you need to tackle next.

Go Beyond Sorting

You can go further still, though. A simple SUG list can not only boost your own productivity, but it can also help you figure out how to delegate and manage tasks across your whole team—in turn, building what I call a "relationship ecosystem" for handling complex work collaboratively.

To take your SUG list from personal to collective, ask these three questions for each item:

  1. Is this something that only I can do?
  2. Are there any ways to automate this task?
  3. Is there an opportunity here for me to mentor others?

Let's say your list includes "travel to Bogotá to meet new client." By asking just that first question, you might determine that there's someone else on your team who not only has great negotiating skills but speaks Spanish. She might be a better substitute.

The answer to the next question is a clear "no"—you can't automate this business trip—but the third question looks like a "yes." Not only can you remove this from your list, you can now coach your team member to take on more of these opportunities in the future.

Delegation allows you to focus on your own core strengths—the things that give you energy, excite you, reinvigorate you. And mentorship helps you gain an accurate perception of the talent on your bench, potentially even empowering others to nurture your talent pool.

Especially in a big company, where powerlessness can hurt productivity (or worse), executives would do well to encourage more "intrapreneurial thinking" with their teams. But in order to do that, they first need a better way to prioritize their work than just sketching out a to-do list.

David Nour is the founder of The Nour Group, Inc. and the author of nine books, including the best-selling Relationship Economics, ConnectAbility, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital, Return on Impact, and the forthcoming CO-CREATE. Follow him on Twitter at @davidnour.

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