I often struggle with productivity and execution and have written about it and the tools I’ve employed many times. One of those tools is the To-Do list. However, To-Dos on its own is not an effective way to get things done, and if you’re not careful, it can serve to overwhelm and demoralise you.
Here are some things I’ve found to help use To-Do lists effectively.
- Context as mentioned in GTD. You need to be aware of the place and time you need to get something done. It makes no sense having “buy bread” on your list at the office.
- Ensure you have a way to prioritise your items that it’s easy to determine those essential tasks from the unessential ones.
- Have no more than three high priority or “must do today” items. I suggest just one if you can. It’s very demotivating not to get those essential items done at the end of the day. You want to set yourself up for success.
- Use a daily to-do list and not a single one that has all the items to do that you add to every day. Create a new list every day. Every evening, go through your list. Determine what you need to get off your list or carry over into the next or another day.
- During your review, if there is an item that you keep putting off then spend a little time and consider why.
- Is it that the task is too big? Then break it down as this helps make it less daunting.
- Is it that you don’t have the right pre-requisites to do it – like a tool or some information – then that’s your next task. You need to defer this To-Do item until that pre-requisite task is done.
- Is it that your heart just isn’t in it? If it’s essential, then set a time and do it, or give it to someone else. If it’s not essential, then forget about it.
- Have a few items that you can do in 5 – 15 minutes so whenever you have a few spare minutes – such as a commute, or if a meeting is starting late – you can do it. Striking some small items off your list hits you with a little dose of dopamine, and you feel good. But be careful that you don’t find yourself doing these small items at the expense of your high priority ones.
- Use a calendar to add your To-Do items. Like everyone, you only have 24 hours, which means you need to be able to estimate how long things will take. It’s best to break them down as small as possible to help with the estimation. Ensure your calendar has enough slack in there.
- Remember Dump, Delegate, Defer, Do in that order. You don’t need to get everything done yourself. And you don’t need to get everything done; don’t get attached nor label yourself if you choose not to do something, ever.
- You need your list at all times. Paper works well but ensure it’s in a small notebook that you can carry around and can rip the pages off (remember a new list daily. That’s why I use Todoist, which works on mobile and web.
- There is no one way to make this work for you. Everyone functions differently, and you may have to try a few things. Don’t get discouraged.