Creating A Not-To-Do List
When I sit down with a client to work on prioritizing and delegating, the biggest challenge we face is deciding what kinds of activities and responsibilities to give up. Quite often, we get so entrenched in what we think we SHOULD be doing, that we forget to pay attention to what we ENJOY doing. So when it comes time to let go of the boring, tedious, and time-consuming tasks that eat up our day, we have a struggle trying to identify them.
It is incredibly difficult for people to admit that they can't do everything themselves. Well guess what -- you can't! And I don't know that you would want to, even if you had the time. Some activities in life are unpleasant, outside of your range of expertise, or just not what you want to spend your time on. And there is nothing wrong with admitting that you don't want to do something, as long as you can find someone else to do it for you. That is the purpose behind creating a not-to-do list -- helping you identify chores, errands, and daily responsibilities that you can (and should) delegate to another person.
They key to creating a successful "not-to-do" list is awareness -- paying attention to what you do, how long it takes, how often you do it, and whether or not you get some benefit from that particular activity. However, we spend so much of our days on autopilot and in a state of overload, that simply trying to recall how you spent yesterday morning can be a real challenge! You will make things much easier if you keep a NOTEPAD nearby, where you can record your daily activities.
This doesn't mean that you have to log every second of your day ("8:00 -- got up" / "8:05 to 8:10 -- used bathroom" / "8:15 to 8:45 -- had breakfast" isn't really going to help you be more effective and efficient!) But if you can start tracking your work activities (could be paid outside work or housework or whatever fills your day), your travel time to and from activities, and any other external responsibilities (committee meetings, carpools, volunteering), you will begin to see places where you can trim and tighten your schedule through delegation.
So as you sit at your desk or work in your house or travel in your car, make a note of what you are doing -- such as "checking e-mails" or "cleaning oven" or "buying groceries." Then, estimate how much time you have spent on that particular chore or errand (don't forget travel and preparation time). We will continue on later with some in-depth questions about whether this action needs to be done at all (!!) and whether it needs to be done by you. But for now, that's the start of your "not-to-do" list.
HOW MUCH IS YOUR TIME IS WORTH?
When you were a kid, you probably had no clue what it took to earn money -- and you had no qualms about spending it freely on anything that caught your eye. But when you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance, you became a lot more discriminating about where you spent your hard-earned cash.
It's the same with time. Very few people in our society really know what their time is worth -- in concrete financial terms. But until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your time is best spent. Here's a general guide you can use in determining how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day -- spent poorly or wisely -- adds up over a year's time:
INCOME.........ONE HOUR......IN A YEAR
** Based on 244 working days per year
So, you can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list -- and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 -- I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities -- things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive -- without worrying that the work isn't being done.
LOOK AT COSTS VERSUS BENEFITS
Have you ever caught yourself spending a lot of time on a very low-payoff activity? Maybe it's something that really does need to be done -- like addressing 1500 envelopes for a routine mass mailing or cleaning all of the window screens in your house -- but it's not something that is going to tremendously improve your quality of life. And it might be a hugely time-consuming activity, where the rewards you will reap don't even begin to compare to your investment of time and energy.
Most of these kinds of low-payoff jobs really serve as maintenance. The completion of these small activities doesn't make a major impact on your life -- but if left undone, they can erode away at your home, your career, your health, your peace of mind and cause serious problems down the road. That makes these chores perfect candidates for your "not-to-do" list -- items that really need to be done, but not necessarily by YOU. Here are some of the most common suggestions I hear from my clients -- see which resonate with you as being potentially delegable:
- house cleaning
- grocery shopping / meal preparation
- paperwork (filing / mailings / organizing)
- yard work / landscaping
- home maintenance / car maintenance
- follow-up with clients (phone calls / e-mails)
- travel / meeting / event arrangements
ARE YOU HAVING FUN?
Of course, you have to pay attention to more than just the financial cost of each task you perform yourself. You also have to ask if you really enjoy the work. Even though I could probably find someone else to maintain my website for me, I really enjoy the process of creating new pages, bringing ideas to life, and watching my "baby" blossom and grow. It is time consuming, but I'm filled with a renewed energy each time I sit down to add a new section to my site. So the payoff for me is in the emotional charge I get -- the sense of satisfaction and creativity -- and that is priceless, regardless of what my hour is worth.
On the other hand, my sister loves gardening. She finds it incredibly relaxing to dig in the dirt and watch a tiny bud explode into color in her front yard. Now lawn care is pretty much my idea of hell -- so I would probably hire someone else to take care of my shrubbery and flowers (if I had a yard!) It's all a matter of what energizes you, what fills your life with joy, and what you look forward to doing. If an activity fits this description, keep it for yourself and find other less-pleasurable chores to include on your not-to-do list.
IS THIS THE BEST POSSIBLE USE OF YOUR TIME?
The final question I always ask my clients when setting up their lists is, "What is the best possible use of your time at this exact moment?" We usually tend to focus too much on the daily grind -- paying bills, keeping the house clean, writing reports, etc. -- and too little on our real PRIORITIES. Do you really need to be organizing the garage, or spending time with your kids at the park? Is it a higher priority that you decide where to put the coffee pot and how to arrange the chairs at the upcoming sales meeting, or that you develop a strong agenda and provide guidance during the group discussion? Ask yourself where you will get the biggest bang for your buck. That should be where you focus your attention, and let someone else handle the rest.
FINDING AN ALTERNATIVE
Okay, so you've made a list of items that you would love to delegate -- who do you hand them off to? You have so many options!
- Get your family involved in the act -- kids and spouses are just as capable of handling those daily chores as you are!
- Ask a co-worker for some assistance -- and offer to help out the next time he or she needs a little bit of a break
- Make use of your support staff (administrative clerks, assistants, and other assorted minions) -- that's what they are there for
- Hire an independent contractor or freelancer to help with household and business tasks that you don't have time for
- Develop a local co-op for sharing those time-consuming domestic (trading off on cooking, cleaning, errand-running, or child care) -- or set up an informal swap with a neighbor
Just remember, you aren't in it alone. You simply have to decide what you want to delegate and then be willing to ask for help. Good luck!
Ramona Creel is a Professional Organizer and the founder of OnlineOrganizing.com -- a web-based one-stop shop offering everything that you need to get organized at home or at work. At OnlineOrganizing.com, you may get a referral to an organizer near you, shop for the latest organizing products, get tons of free tips, and even learn how to become a professional organizer or build your existing organizing business. And if you would like to read more articles about organizing your life or building your business, get a free subscription to the "Get Organized" and "Organized For A Living" newsletters. Please visit http://www.OnlineOrganizing.com or contact Ramona directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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