Time. It’s the one resource that can’t be bought, begged for, or handed down. And yet, it’s the one we take for granted, often letting portions of it slip away without a second thought. Why do so many of us struggle with prioritizing and managing our time? We use Outlook calendars, written planners, post-its, phone notes, or entirely separate applications to keep straight all the things we need to accomplish. The trouble is that none of these methods seem to be all-encompassing. Calendars may keep our meeting schedule in order but have no functionality to capture all the work we need to tackle outside of those meetings. Standard to-do lists are great…until you need to reprioritize tasks and/or block specific time for them. No matter what, it seems we’re stuck jumping between two or three or four different places to keep track of what we need to do and when it needs to get done!
For the next few minutes, we’re going to teach you about a simple, cohesive tool that lets you capture everything you need to accomplish, prioritize it based on your own criteria, schedule it into your day, and measure/reflect on your results. In short, it’s a foolproof way to be more productive in your personal and professional life. We’ll even provide you a free template at the end, no strings attached. Interested? Well then, read on!
What we’re talking about is the Top 6. We’ve used it at P2P for quite some time, and it has evolved as we learn new ways to make it work for us. It has 3 basic parts:
1. Master List
(Fig. 1) Think of the Master List as a sophisticated brain dump. It’s a place to capture every single task you need to accomplish at any time in the future. The beauty is that you can throw them on as you think of them, in no particular order. Each task needs a due date as well as a priority. How you prioritize is entirely up to you, but we generally stick with levels 1-4 to start, then you can get more granular as needed. Be sure to break larger projects or items down into manageable tasks that you can complete in less than a day.
(Fig. 2) Once you have as many things on your Master List as you can remember, highlight the entire area, and select a custom sort.
(Fig. 3) This function allows us to sort the whole list by Due Date, and then by Priority.
(Fig. 4) What you end up with is a fully prioritized list of what you need to get done and when, voila! The beauty of this list is that it is a living breathing document. As new tasks pop up, simply add them to the bottom of the list, then re-sort as often as you need to! Now we can use this list to fill up our…
2. Daily Schedules
(Fig. 5) This is the part of the tool where you actually schedule your day! We recommend filling it out the night before, so you can close out your workday and sleep soundly knowing what the next day will bring.
(Fig. 6) It starts with filling in the top 6 (get it?) things you want to get accomplished that day. This should be easy; you simply pull tasks from your master list over and organize them by priority. As you complete items on your list, you can give yourself a score based on where the task stands in your priority list. When you complete your #1 task, you get 6 points. Your #2 task is worth 5 points and so on. These scores will transfer over to the Scorecard, which we’ll explain later.
(Fig. 7) Now it’s time to schedule out your day based on what you need to accomplish! Each line represents a 15-minute window so you can get very specific with blocking out your time. We recommend starting by filling in any meetings or calls, so you know when you’re available to accomplish your top 6. Most people are more productive in the morning, so we start with the highest priority task and work our way down. Be sure to schedule breaks for yourself, as well as time for housekeeping items like checking/responding to email. We also like to block out some specific time for unforeseen tasks that pop up that day, which sometimes are unavoidable. As you complete each task, you can mark it completed on the right, so you always know where you stand.
(Fig. 8) The “Weekly Task” area is designed for you to keep track of things you need to work on throughout the week. These are tasks that you may not complete, or perform any action on, that day. But keeping them off to the side means you won’t forget about them as the week progresses.
(Fig. 9) This area is pretty self-explanatory – it is a holding tank for any new tasks you are assigned or uncover as you work. We recommend adding them here, then transferring them over to your Master List and prioritizing at the end of the day.
(Fig. 10) Last but certainly not least, “Take-aways” are all about reflection, one of the most powerful parts of the Top 6. As you move throughout your day, keep conscious of any small lessons you learn from your schedule. It could be as simple as “I need to schedule myself a break for lunch.” Or it could be something more introspective, like “I am a more productive writer in the morning, I should block blog writing time then.” A common outcome of the Top 6 is to realize how much time certain tasks actually take, rather than what you thought they would. This section is a great place to keep track of those lessons as well.
(Fig. 11) The Scorecard is where you can track your progress each day/week/month to see how you’re doing with accomplishing what you set out to. This isn’t about beating yourself up if you end up with low scores, it’s all about learning and figuring out what you can do to be more productive. It is, however, worth celebrating when you have a killer week and end up with high scores. Take the win! At P2P, we incentivize our staff by offering small bonuses when they accumulate high enough scores. That’s because when our employees are more productive, we are more successful as a group!
So there you have it, the answer to all your problems…just kidding. But it IS the answer to being more effective in your time management and clearing your mind (and desk, and journal, and whiteboard, and…) of clutter.
Want to incorporate the Top 6 into your own life? Here is a template for you to use! Stay tuned for us to provide a short video walkthrough as well. In the meantime, we’re happy to provide some coaching, so feel free to reach out to us with any questions!