You only need three tools to get work done. A place for notes and ideas, a to-do list, and a calendar where you put stuff you aren't going to do right now. Sure, this is simple and lightweight, but it's all you actually need. The first step, something I recommend doing every day, is to make a list first thing in the morning. I write down everything and anything I have on my mind about the day in order to get it on on paper and visible. Some people refer to this method as ubiquitous capture. That's great if you like buzzwords. Ubiquitous capture. Sounds important. You sound important doing it. But what you're actually doing is making a list of things that are emotionally crushing you because you haven't even begun to figure out what to do about them yet. Not as sexy, no?
What a list looks like isn't nearly as important as what you do with it. The whole purpose is to put it somewhere and do something with it. now. As soon as you finish your list, review it right then and there. Do tasks you can do now right now. This is the most impactful part of this process. You see, if you do it now it's finished. Done. The best to-do list is an empty to-do list, and keeping tasks from even reaching it is pro-level. I decide if a task is doable right away by determining if I can complete it in two minutes or less. Here's an insider tip. I can't do ANYTHING in two minutes or less. But, I know I'm a bad judge of time, and I know two minutes is actually more like five. If it only takes five minutes to do something that I have the resources to do now, then I surely don't have to take time out of my day to find a space for it later.
This is where the other two items of your process come in. If it has to be done today, it goes on the to-do list. If it can wait till later, it goes on the calendar. Thats a totally "duh" statement, but it is more complex than it seems. Just like with judging time, you can set yourself up for serious failure by overcommitting to what you can do in one day. Especially if you are communicating to someone what you are going to accomplish. Tasks you have to do have to get done, they make the to-do list. After that, it's up to you to assess how to spend the rest of your time. Starting out I recommend using the split-half approach. If you think you can get ten things done, only put 5 on the list. If you think you have time for 5, put two. Everything else goes on the calendar for another day.
What do you do if you complete your daily to-do list early? Celebrate. Enjoy the feeling of completing an assigned workload in or under the allotted time. Be careful if you decide to go back to this mornings list and pick another task. Make sure its something you can complete with the time you have left. You surely don't want to ruin the great feeling of completing a list by leaving for the day with unfinished work. Take that good feeling home with you. Its the best work you've done all day.