Tip of the week: Boost productivity with the best to-do list

Residency Program Insider, May 11, 2010

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Coordinators have many options when it comes to picking a to-do list system. The following are options for to-do list formats and tips for using them most effectively:

  • Excel lists. Keeping a list in Microsoft Excel is great for coordinators whose priorities can change from hour to hour. Set up spreadsheets for monthly and weekly tasks. Type each task into a different cell to make it easy to add new items to the list. Review the weekly list daily, and as priorities shift, simply slide the cells higher and lower on the list. Once you finish something, delete it from the list.
  • Index cards. If a list—no matter what format it’s in—doesn’t work for you, try the index card method, says Stephanie L.H. Calahan, president and founder of Calahan Solutions, Inc., a productivity consulting firm in Bloomington, IL. Write one task on each card. “At the beginning of the day, put your cards in order, with the most important item on top. If something else comes up, reorder the cards,” she says. Also consider color-coding the index cards by project. For example, write all tasks related to recruitment on blue cards and items related to resident evaluations on red cards. Once you finish an item, rip the card up and throw it away.
  • Written lists. The trick with hand-written lists is to pick one system and stick to it. Many people grab any piece of paper nearby and start a list or use multiple sticky notes and paste them all over. Choose one type of paper—steno pad, notebook, a planner—and only write your to-do lists on that type of paper. By being consistent, you will be able to find your list faster. Also, consider writing your list in pencil so that as tasks change, you can easily modify your list, Calahan says.
  • E-lists. The biggest pitfalls of e-lists are that they are difficult to maintain and it’s easy to lose track of tasks, says Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert and author of Time Management Memory Jogger™. For example, after receiving an e-mail request, don’t let it sit in your in-box until you remember or miss the deadline. Immediately add that task to your digital calendar or task list, and set a reminder on your calendar closer to the due date. Changing the default view of your e-mail program so that the task or calendar screen shows instead of your in-box helps ensure you never lose sight of your tasks.
  • Master calendars. Coordinators always have to be thinking one step ahead, and a master calendar outlining duties for the year prevents coordinators from overlooking or being caught off guard by a task. At the midpoint of each month, look at the master calendar to see what’s coming down the pike for the following month. Review past files, e-mails, and calendars to fill in specific dates for tasks and appointments.

This week's tips is from Residency Program Alert.

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