You are never at a loss for things to do. The piles of papers, sticky notes around the perimeter of the computer monitor, and notes scrawled across numerous legal pads are monuments to the demands on our time. We know we can only do one thing at a time. Yet, we surround ourselves with everything we have to do. We cannot fully focus on what we are doing because of the all of the constant remembers of what we are not doing.

to-do listLet’s face it, at the end of the day, most of the papers that are lying around today will still be there tomorrow. Some of them will be buried even further down. Much of it represents things you had no intention of doing today anyway. In many cases, you couldn’t do them. Here is a folder you need for the meeting on Tuesday. This folder needs to go with you when you meet with Mr. Smith on Thursday.

Sure, you could put it all away somewhere. But what happens on the day you need it? Will it still be tucked away wherever “somewhere” is?

If you are surrounded by too much to do, there is only one question you need to ask about all of it: “When do I want to see this again?

I have written often about the benefits of tickler files. Start picking up those random pieces of paper and files that are lying around. Ask the question of each one, “When do I want to see this again?” Put it in the tickler files for that day. The folder you will need for Tuesday’s meeting goes in the file representing Tuesday’s date. The papers you need for the conference on the 17th of the month go in file number 17. When you start removing the papers on which you cannot act, the ones on which you can act begin to stand out.

Take the same approach with the “to-dos” written on the backs of envelopes, random napkins, sticky notes, and floating around in your head. Put them in a good digital to-do list. Take each item and ask yourself, “When do I want to see this again?”. Enter the item on your digital to-do list and give it a due date corresponding with when you want to see it again. Keep the list sorted by due date. On the day you wanted to see that to-do, there it will be.

You can’t do everything today. So get real about your commitments. Ask yourself, “When do I want to see this again?” and use your system to make sure that you do.