Craig Durosko: Determining to-dos vs. priorities

A leader makes sure the right things are done and a manager makes sure things get done right. Be a leader of your time.

May 30, 2012

Many of us have that never-ending list of to-dos: Maybe a stack of things in your inbox on your desk, maybe a few hundred or even a few thousand emails in your in box.

You come back from an appointment to find a few voice mails on your phone. You step into your next meeting and when you get out there are a couple texts and voice mails on your cell phone. You want to be home in 30 minutes to have dinner with your family. Then maybe you’re off to a soccer practice with the kids, or a meeting that you had volunteered for.  

Maybe you are the one that wakes up at 3:30 in the morning starting to think about all those open loops. You wanted to go to the gym but thought you would start catching up on the emails early, grab a cup of coffee in the morning and back to work again and another meeting, then repeat the above again. What if you will never finish your to-do list? It will change, you will add to it, others will add to it. 

Create a new habit

A leader makes sure the right things are done and a manager makes sure things get done right. Be a leader of your time.

Take a few minutes and identify what a good day is for you. Take out a blank piece of paper and think about the last time you had a really great day. What was different about that day?

And now add to that what a perfect day for you would be. What would you do when you first wake up? Hopefully it is not check your email or turn on the news. What would you do for YOU? Read for 30 minutes? Go to the gym or go for a run? How would you want to show up that day at work?  

When you come home from work, how would you want to show up to your spouse, children, family? Pointing out what is wrong, frustrated, complaining about the day? Probably not. How would you want them to show up? Then show up like that. Can you identify a trigger point to stay positive when you walk through the door?

Have you reviewed your vision for the future? Your goals of what you wanted to accomplish this year? Are you making progress on those with all the interruptions?

Now what are the three most important things you want to accomplish today that will have the most impact? Do the most difficult one first or when you have the most energy.

A lot of behaviors are from habits. So if you want to work out first thing in the morning, put your phone and laptop away so you don’t check email and lay out your gym clothes and shoes next to the bed. When you wake up, put your shoes on and work out. What is the environment you need to make this happen? Do you have it? Do you need to close your door for a period of time, hold your calls, or go to a coffee shop?

Now, let’s put this to the test. Before you go to bed, look at your perfect day notes. When you wake up, review your list. Have whatever you were going to do first laid out.

Done with the first thing of the morning? Now look at your list. How did you want to show up today? What are the three most important things you wanted to accomplish? How did you want to show up when you arrived home? How did you want to end the day?

Make a “don’t do” list:  Eliminate distractions. Maybe it’s don’t check email in meetings (maybe don’t bring your phone in with you; leave it in the car or on your desk). Maybe it is don’t watch the news in the morning or at night. Maybe it’s don’t check email until you have done the most important thing that day.

Remain flexible. Allow for interruptions and plan changes. Stay focused and stay positive. All the interruptions still happen, it is just that at the end of the day, the most important things to you have been completed. Remember the 80/20 rule: if 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your actions, what actions should you be taking toward your goals?

Now that you have made it through your first day with a plan, how did it go? Don’t expect it will be perfect. Before you go to bed, review how you did. Did you achieve your three most important things? Did you behave how you wanted? Did you stay focused? Did you not do what was on your “don’t do” list?

Review and take that feedback, plan for tomorrow. Good luck and have an excellent, focused day tomorrow.

Craig Durosko is the founder of Sun Design, an award-winning Burke, Va.-based design/build firm. He can be reached at

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