If the idea of learning a full-blown productivity system like Getting Things Done is keeping you from being more productive, Most Important Tasks (MITs) may be for you. It is a simple daily practice that requires nothing more than reading this pretty-short page. The best part: it will instantly make you more productive every day, starting now.
Most Important Tasks is a simple idea that (I think) was first outlined on the Zen Habits blog. Here is the gist of it: at the beginning of each day, sit down and write down the two or three things you must do that day. No matter what else you do that day, get those things done.
Three seems like a small number, but if you strive to accomplish at least three things, you will have done something besides just putting out fires. And working from a short list of MITs is a lot easier than working from the huge lists you probably have in your practice management software or your GTD system. Keeping it manageable helps you be more productive.
You can write down more than three things—I have five today. But make sure you can realistically complete all the tasks during your day. Don’t add “Draft motion for summary judgment.” if you haven’t even started it yet and it isn’t due for a week. That’s probably not a must-do-today task, and it is too big a task for one day, anyway. Try something like “Draft statement of facts for MSJ.” instead.
If you prefer, you can put together your Most Important Tasks the night before. Spend a few minutes looking at your inboxes, reviewing your tasks, and checking your calendar. Then write down your MITs for the next day. Doing it at night may help you sleep easier because you have already done your planning for the next day.
If you finish all your MITs, you are obviously not done for the day, but you should feel better knowing you have already had a fairly productive day. So if you finish, go back to your to-do lists or inbox and pick another task or three to try to complete before you are finished for the day.
You can even do MITs for the weekend, although I let my kids help with that. So things like “Go to the Pumphouse Creamery for ice cream.” and “Build a fairy house.” usually end up on our weekend MITs.
You can write down your MITs on whatever you want. I usually use a little notebook or index card, but a work plan works well, too. Just put them on something you will carry with you throughout the day, and that you can keep visible while you work.
Setting aside a few minutes every day to put your MITs down on paper will make you more productive. And knowing what’s most important every day will probably lower your stress level a bit, too.