A Productivity Tip You’re Not Going to Like


“Formal learning can teach you a great deal, but many of the essential skills in life are the ones you have to develop on your own.” – Lee Iacocca (Iacocca: An Autobiography, 1984)

If you’re lucky enough to have an assistant, one of the tasks you’re probably tempted to delegate is the process of sorting your daily “to-do” chores into high-, medium-, and low-priority piles. Don’t do it. The sorting process, though it seems tedious, is the most efficient way to organize your day.

I sort through four stacks of material every morning — though only after I’ve finished writing ETR and completing one important-but-not-urgent task. (See Message #601, “Do  One Significant Thing Every Day”.) I check:

1. my desktop inbox

2. my e-mail inbox

3. my phone messages

4. my daily calendar file (which contains must-do memos, documents, etc.)

This process generally takes about 10 or 15 minutes. Some days, it takes longer. I always try to move through these materials efficiently, but I try not to begrudge the time I spend doing so. I know that for every minute I spend looking and sorting, I save myself much more than that in stress and hassles later on. I do two more tasks before writing the day’s task list. First, I peruse the prior day’s journal entry to see if I noted something there that needs to be followed up on. Second, I glance at an index card I keep that reminds me of about six to a dozen little personal projects I’m always working on (don’t criticize, condemn, or complain; study Spanish; smile at every meeting; lift weights for 10 minutes; etc.).

By the time I’m done, I have 10 to 20 tasks written into my daily to-do list — some that are very important to me and might have otherwise been neglected. Figuring out what jobs you can delegate, what you can ignore, and what you must do is a process that can’t be delegated. Put aside the time it takes each morning and force yourself to do it until it becomes a habit. Before you know it, you will be amazing people with how much you get done, how little you forget, and how good you are at following up.