Is your daily to-do list stressing you out? If you’re guilty of writing down a sheer endless list of tasks every day and never coming close to finish half of it, then this post can help you to finally get in control. With just a couple of changes, you can be so much more productive.
Can we all agree that writing lists makes us feel good? I am personally a big fan of writing lists. But they are also a form of procrastination. We feel like we’ve accomplished something just by noting all those things we need to or want to get done. We’re proud because a long list automatically means we’re busy. We think we’ve already done half the work just by planning. In reality, we’ve just wasted a big chunk of time on something we’ll throw away later.
Why you need to finish your to-do list
Completing your to-do list has a big impact on your mindset. Not only does the crossing off of tasks make you feel like you’ve accomplished something but also does a finished list set you up for doing even more. The positive feeling changes your perspective. When you can’t get everything done on your list you automatically feel like a failure. The things you haven’t done will stay on your list and occupy your mind. When you complete your list you will be much more motivated the next day. You know you can do whatever needs to be done. You’ve done it before.
My list system
I have two lists. Before, I had several separate lists. For every project, for things I definitely need to do and things I might be doing one day and not to forget a list of my daily tasks. This was incredibly overwhelming and time-consuming. Sometimes I couldn’t find the list I needed or I didn’t remember if and on which list I noted something. Does this sound familiar?
With my two-list system, I don’t have this problem anymore. I have one list for my daily to-dos and one for everything else. On this second list, I write down everything that comes to my mind during the day. All those tiny tasks important or not land on this list. Just to get it out of my mind. When I plan the next day I always look at this list and clean it up a bit. This means I delete things that aren’t really important, group things together or look for tasks which need to be done the next day.
How to finish your to-do list
It might seem unrealistic but you can complete your to-do list daily just by setting it up in a way you can handle easily and changing the habits keeping you from completing it.
Plan in advance
Planning in advance is the first thing you need to do if you don’t already have your day set up like this. Writing your list the night before will decide for you how your day starts off. It will free up your mind and let you keep your energy for more important stuff. The best way to begin your workday is by making fewer decisions. With your task list right in front of you, there is no question of what needs to be done and what is important today. You can get straight to work.
Know your WHY
As with everything in business, it’s important to know your WHY. What are your short and long-term goals? Why do you do this? If you don’t have the answer to these questions you can’t decide which tasks actually need to be on your to-do list in order to reach your goals. And you’ll have a hard time to distinguish between important and unimportant tasks. Once you know your WHY you’ll realize there are many things on your list you can stop doing.
Define your top 3
That’s the game changer when it comes to to-do lists. Let us assume that everybody has only so many hours in a day. It’s understandable that you can’t finish your mile-long list. Once I realized that my lists where more an I-wish-I-could-do-this list than realistic in any way if you’re not Superwoman, it completely changed the way I plan out my day.
Many successful entrepreneurs recommend reducing daily tasks to 3. These 3 things can be accomplished without spreading yourself too thin and leaving space for emergencies and things which come up last minute.
So when you make your list the night before write down only 3 tasks for the next day. These tasks should be your top 3 most important tasks. Things you absolutely need to do.
The concept of The Daily 3 is so powerful because it forces you to prioritize and decide what’s really important. This doesn’t mean you can’t do other things once you’ve tackled your list. But these 3 tasks are how you measure your accomplishment for the day. Once you start regularly crossing of these 3 items at the end of the day you’ll realize its effectiveness and the boost of motivation it’ll give you.
Be precise but not too much
This is something you’ll learn over time. Your top 3 shouldn’t be too precise. If you make every small movement a task you won’t get far. But you also shouldn’t be too general. If you write down “Write a book” as a task you wouldn’t even know where to start. It’s like sitting down to a blank page and don’t know what to write. If you have bigger projects going on, think about the next step that’ll bring you closer to the finish line and write this one on your list. Chances are you’ll actually do it because it’s less overwhelming.
Collect all resources before
Which brings me to the next point. Put all the resources in place you need. Nothing will keep you more from completing a task than if you don’t have everything you need. It just gets you out of the flow when you want to edit and schedule a blog post and then you realize you haven’t prepared the images which go along with the post.
Batch your tasks
Batching tasks is how you manage your time efficiently. It’s nothing else than doing all similar tasks in one sitting e.g. creating blog post images. Batching allows you to focus on one thing at a time and getting ahead by doing the same process several times rather than quitting your flow to work on something else only to come back to your initial task later.
Block your time
Above we talked about your top 3 tasks. Still, you don’t only have to write them down, you also need to make time to actually do them. The best way to avoid procrastination and do the work is to block the time you need on your calendar. When you write your to-do list, immediately go to your calendar and pick the time you want to do it. You can even set a reminder if you go digital. Of course, you need to estimate the time it will take to complete the task. This helps you to be realistic and see how much you can manage in a day. You can read more about time blocking in this post by Cal Newport.
Pen and paper
I use a digital calendar but I use pen and paper to write my lists. This is, of course, personal preference but I can easier remember what I actually write down by hand. But there are a couple more advantages to this model. It keeps you away from distractions. How quickly are you sucked into Instagram when you just wanted to cross off a task on your list? It also gives you the liberty of creating your own set-up. I’ve tried Asana and Trello but for organizing tasks, I find it too complicated. Too many things to consider. Writing my list by hand is quicker. Plus, I find, you put much more thought into what you write down because you can’t just easily delete it or switch things around.
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Set a timer
Another thing which I found can help you to power through your workday is setting a timer. I set my timer for 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on the task. This helps me see how much time I need for certain tasks and also helps me to take short breaks in order to stay focused.
Find your rhythm
In the end, it all depends on what works best for you. Everybody has different preferences. You need to find a rhythm which works for you. Find out at what time you’re most focused and when you need to take breaks. There’s always “a best time” for every task on your list. Some people write first thing in the morning, some are more creative at night. You shouldn’t force yourself to stick to a certain schedule just because everybody tells you to get up at 5 am to be most productive. Set up your own schedule!
Do you have any other tips and tricks which keep you on top of your to-do list? Share them in the comments!