If your relationship status with your to-do list is “it’s complicated”​, this is for you.


  • Author Magali Leroux
  • Published August 11, 2022
  • Word count 1,535

When I was in marketing, how many times have I heard senior leaders complaining about their never ending to-do list, the oh-so-frustrating back-to-back meetings making their diary look like a block of Lego bricks, the presentations to the board to prepare, the 1:1 meetings and end of year reviews they have to prep and run with the myriad of direct reports they had…basically, lacking time. And there I thought: being quite new to leadership, how am I supposed to manage it all and perform in my role if even the established leaders haven’t found a solution for it yet?

Time. Yes, time. One of our most precious resources which we can’t take back or expand, or save it for these rainy days when we need some extra (like money). 24h in a day, that’s what we’ve got. It’s always been like this, it’s never changed. But we seem to struggle with it, causing us a heap if stress.

Time passes whether we choose to spend it or not.

Why do we often spend our money more wisely than our time? If we allow time to take such toll on us, how about we used it to our advantage?

This week I want to focus on the things we want to get done. That famous to-do list. I already hate the name of it, “to-do” never gets me out of bed with a smile. The majority of us use to-do list with either numbers (which keep adding up, right?), or bullet points (they too multiply like the plague). So I thought I’d look at it with a different lens, approach the problem from a different angle. What won’t change is in the many things we want to get done. What I wanted to dissect is the ineffective method of bullet pointing. Is this what yours look like?

The Box Ticker: drawing perfect squared boxes from the top to the bottom of the page because it looks neat and it feels good when we can tick it! Absolutely zero floof given to how long each task takes.

The Count Master: they like to see the number go up as the higher the more productive they think they are (or will be, one day, when they get through their endless list – because yes, it’s endless. Ever heard of the infinity sign? That’s the logo of their to-do list).

The Block Writer: wants to get it done, doesn’t matter in what order, they love a good physical strike-through. Boom. Can’t read what was written underneath, the line is drawn with determination and pride. Next item! Ok, but we’re still not sure how long is this list worth and if it can week in the time they’ve got.

The Screen Decorator: they’re the ones that have such long lists (probably on multiple pages or notebooks) and have lost count. However they know some of the things are so important and urgent they need to be visible, so they are sticking them around their screen. Surely they won’t miss it and will get on them asap. After a while though, it becomes a wallpaper, because these things were so important, they needed a certain time to perform them and that was not accounted for in this system, however beautiful the colourful post-it notes looked.

Whichever profile seems more like you, I’ll spare you the details and give you the headlines: we simply list things on a post-it notes, which becomes an A4 piece of paper as the list expands, and then we give it up and use Excel as it has got over 10,000 lines so that should just about fit our list length, right? There is the issue. The BIG elephant in the room, in that for the majority of the people in the office, the biggest miss is the lack of focus on how long does something take. To prove my point, could you take a glance at your current to-do list and tell me within the next 3 seconds how long all that’s listed will take? Exactly. You can’t. I couldn’t. How could we?

What’s your current relationship status with your to-do list? Complicated? Can’t stand each other? Are you separating? Or perhaps seeking therapy to make things better?

Fear not, rising leader. I’m here for you. The early days of being a leader are perfect to set some really healthy boundaries and habits. If you’re in your golden days, it’s never too late to try something out and see if that works better for you.

Let’s have a look at what’s happening with our to-do lists and how they currently ruin our productivity and mind sanity! A leader that is managing their time effectively will be inspiring many other people in the organisation. And what more, you’ll reduce your stress levels because you are on top of things.

TIME. Let’s manage it so it doesn’t manage us. Let’s go!

Trap What we are all culprits of at some point is to write down all the stuff that goes through our head on a piece of paper, usually giving them a number starting with 1, and ending with…well, not really ending. That is probably the mathematical symbol that most represents our to-do list: .

Why Because we (1) don’t want to forget anything, (2) want to ideally (yes, in this ideal world of ours we have never lived in, but okay) do so much in one day / this week so we feel content, (3) simply never say no to anyone because we secretly enjoy being liked, (4) find it extremely difficult to segregate things into categories like “urgent”, “important” and “can wait”, “why would I even do these”…e-ve-ry-thing is a question of life-or-death, isn’t it?

Antidotes Do not start with 1, start with 3 and write down the thing, then 2 and add the other item, then 1 and write the last item. Yup, the last one. Because there’s nothing after 1. 3,2,1. That’s it. Limit yourself to just 3 things to do. To help you make choices, use the quadrant I’m adding to this e-mail. The best antidote is to simply forget numbering items and instead giving each of them a timescale. I call it the Ta Daaa time method. It sounds less like a chore list, doesn’t it?

Ok, cool Mags, but how does it work?

Simply write down the stuff you want to get done AND how long this will take to complete it on its left. Do not add any ranking numbers, I know how counterintuitive this is, but that’s the bad little habit we’re trying to get rid of!

I’ve left 3 sections to help you (Urgent, Important, and the last one), but just like riding a bike, when you’ll become a Ta Daaaa Master, you won’t need the side wheels and will just have your list & associated times.

And then what?

The secret is in picking the things you would like to do BASED on how long they take AND how much time you have got, so they nicely fit in your schedule. There is no fooling yourself, this way.

Spare 30min today? Look at what would fit this time and pick. If you have multiple tasks worth 30 min, pick in order from your urgent list first, then important. There are many combinations you can make in order to fit quicker tasks, for example, within these 30 minutes, it just requires you to make a wise decision. But it should be done though. Because if you’ve done your time assumption right, then your Ta Daaaa List will get a tick mark.

If it takes longer, then you will learn to estimate your tasks better. Which is the point of this system which tackles what we never focus on: time.

In a nutshell

If we don’t control time, time will control us.

If a method or a process / system causes you stress, makes any situation slightly worse, even impacts on your sleep quality because you can’t seem to make ends meet or deliver on time, simply pause and challenge that process / method. Look around, ask people, google the sheet out of it, there will be some other ways to try that might bring you some relief.

After all, in a new leadership role, there are enough challenges coming your way, if you could have a system that helps you be on top of the things you want to do and achieve, so you bring out your best self more often, great! You might even help others who are struggling with a similar time issue.

You can download the template on my website for free and share it with your friends & good colleagues to create more Ta Daaaa Masters! Give it a try for a week and see how it goes. Simply go to startingblockscoaching.com and look at "The Good Stuff" where it is there waiting for you to download it !

Speak soon!

Mags, your Leadership Coach who also loves to find an Excel solution to pretty much every problem.

From startingblockscoaching.com

Magali Leroux, Emerging Leader Coach, I enable FMCG emerging leaders to step up in leadership

Leadership Coach • 1:1 Coaching | Team Workshops & Leadership Training


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