Using Contextualised Task Lists to Save Time

by Carthage Buckley, Stress and Performance Coach

Do you ever find yourself performing a task and then, later that day, you are performing a similar task? This means that you were in a routine, you changed out of that routine and then you changed back. For example, maybe you went into town to run an errand, then you went back to work before returning to town to run another errand. In this example it should be very easy to see how you are wasting time by not running both errands while you were in town. However, this is an everyday occurrence in the workplace i.e. regularly switching between tasks. You can easily cut this out with contextualised task lists and batching.

Contextualised task lists mean that you add tasks to an appropriate list based on context e.g. when I am out of the office I rarely take my computer so I have a list for tasks that can be completed with only my phone i.e. phone calls. This way, when away from the office, if I have some time to spare, I can make a number of quick phone calls and get them off my list. There is no time lost switching between tasks. I just move from one call to another until either all the calls are made or, I run out of time. Grouping the same or very similar tasks together is called batching. Contextualised task lists make it very easy to batch tasks.

Implementing contextualised task lists
Contextualised task lists should be tailored to suit your own lifestyle. You know the types of tasks that occur regularly in your life. You also know the situations that you regularly find yourself in. By taking these factors into consideration you can design contextualised task lists which meet the needs and demands of your life. The following are some example lists which might give you some ideas:

1. Desk
This list should be reserved for tasks which you can only perform while at your desk. Examples might include:
• Jobs which require computer access
• Jobs which required access to the company network
• Jobs where printing is required
• Jobs where you need access to files

2. Phone
As in my example above, if there are important calls to be made, you only need access to your phone. As long as you can find a little privacy, you can work through your list of calls. This allows you to use time which would otherwise be wasted thus reducing your need to eat into your personal time.
Note: with a phone list, make sure that you have all the necessary information on the list i.e. the name of the person that you need to call, their number and a quick note about the purpose of the call.

3. Lists for a specific person
It is perfectly acceptable to have a task list for a specific person if you have to deal with them regularly e.g. your boss or a subordinate. This is something I encourage for all managers.
You should be having regular meeting with your subordinates. If you have a list for each of them; whenever you think of something that you need to discuss with them, you can add it to the list. That way you can allow them to get on with their job and when you meet with them; you can make sure that you cover everything on the list.
The same approach can easily be adopted for any relationship – spouse, children, boss, supplier etc.

4. Voluntary groups
I was recently at a meeting for a voluntary group. Voluntary groups are notoriously problematic for those with poor time management. However, one lady showed excellent use of contextualised task lists.
When her turn came to speak, she took out a list of issues she needed to discuss and worked through each one with the committee. Not only did it help her manage her time but it enabled the committee to stay on track. It was truly enjoyable to watch how effective the committee became for the 10 minutes that it took to address her points.
If you are part of voluntary group, keep a contextualised task list where you can add any points which need to be raised at meetings.

5. Shopping list
A shopping list is the most obvious example of a contextualised task list. You know you are going to be in the store so you prepare a list of all the items you are going to need to pick up while there. Unfortunately, most people sit down at the last minute to draw up the list. This means that they are more likely to forget something.
Instead, you can begin the list as soon as you return from your previous shopping trip. Anytime during the week that you think of something you need, you can immediately add it to the list so that you don’t forget it.
For more great time management tips, check out Quick Fixes for Your Productivity.

Organising your work in a more effective manner is one of the easiest thinks that you can do to make better use of your time. Too much time is wasted jumping from task to task. Each time you switch task, you have to refocus your mind. You may also have to reorganize your physical environment, travel etc. You can reduce your time wastage by ensuring that you have to change your situation less often. This is done by grouping similar tasks together e.g. if you are going to pay one invoice; why not pay them all while you are doing it? Contextualised task lists and batching allows you to do this. In addition by adding tasks to the most appropriate list, you will be able to remember the things that you have to do at a time when you can actually do them.

About the author
Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach who helps entrepreneurs, management and driven professionals to identify and eliminate the sources of stress while developing and implementing strategies to realise their objectives and create a happy, healthy and successful life.
The principle philosophy of Carthage’s coaching is that the individual can shape their own world, rather than waiting for their world to shape them. Working from the inside out, it is perfectly possible for each person to create their own life, allowing them to fulfil their personal desires while living in harmony with the world around them.

Carthage has lived and worked in 5 countries and continues to work with clients all around the world, both in person and via the Internet.