Leadership begins with you. How are you leading yourself? I’ve been blessed to work with a number of bright, emerging, young leaders who are keen to sharpen their leadership saws. Over the years, I’ve passed on a bunch of personal development tips that I’ve picked up. I’ve decided to post them here because they keep coming up. If you’ve got your task list mastered, fast forward to the end of this post, or check out the next one.

Everyone has a task list. Whether you write it down or not, you’re still keeping track of the things that need to get done. You might have a mental list that plays in the back of your mind.  Maybe you’re one of those people who leaves items lying around the house as a reminder that, at some point, you need to “do something” with them. You might even have sticky-note reminders papered all over your desktop monitor, bathroom mirror, and kitchen refrigerator. Each of these is a way of keeping track of tasks. Arguably, they might not be the most efficient or productive means of tracking (after all, how would you prioritize them or take them with you?), but they are a means nonetheless.

If you’re going to be effective in leading others, you must first lead yourself. And so, its important to master your to-do-list, before it masters you. When I’m interviewing a potential job candidate, I often ask: “How do you track your tasks?” Their answer says a lot about their self-mastery.

The most common mistake I observe is having more than one task list. Some people have a task list for work, another for home, yet another for their spouse…and surprisingly, most people don’t realize that their pile of emails is yet another task list. This is confusing and makes keeping track difficult. Which task list do I start with? And should I do item 6 from List B before item 17 from List A? How do I keep track of that?

Another common mistake is related to prioritization. Will you prioritize or won’t you? How will you prioritize? Will you measure urgency, importance, or just what you prefer (this is why a lot of people have Netflix at the top of their list)? There are some helpful ways to prioritize, and I’ll address these in a future post.

The key to effectiveness starts with consolidating your task list. You need to find a way to track all of your tasks in one place. It doesn’t matter if you use paper or digital. If you want to stop forgetting tasks and missing opportunities, you need a consolidated list.

I’d also recommend that you find a task list that is portable, something that you can pull out and update in an instant. You might consider a journal, planner, or digital app.

Finally, I’d recommend that you have a way of prioritizing your list. You can use numbers, colors, or even hieroglyphics, if that’s what you’re in to. What matters most is that you understand how your system works and that you consistently follow it.  If you can put start dates and due dates on your tasks, even better. This way you can avoid the pressure and guilt that often accompany incomplete tasks.

So how do I keep track of my tasks? I’ve used different methods and tools over the years. A while back, I discovered a great tool called todoist. I like it because it’s available across different platforms. The smartphone app is easy to navigate, and you can attach it to any of your web browsers as an add-on. Your tasks can be prioritized by colour and number, and even be tracked by date. You can also create recurring task items like, “Get to the gym buddy!” If you’re an Outlook user, you can turn emails into task items at the click of a button. I try to reach ‘inbox zero’ every day (it’s a work in progress), and todoist has helped make this possible.

To sum, get a portable list that you can prioritize. In the end, prioritizing your list isn’t enough. How you prioritize your list needs to be governed by a higher set of values. More on that in a future post…