Of all tools invented to improve productivity, the to-do list may be the most basic, yet essential. But like any tool, the to-do list only helps you accomplish more if you know how to use it effectively.
If you find your to-do list getting longer day after day and you still don’t manage to accomplish your most urgent or important tasks, then it’s time to sharpen your to-do list skills. Here are five tips that will help you master this productivity power tool.
1. Choose a method that works for you.
There are many different types of to-do lists, so the trick is to find the one that works best for you. For example, some people prefer the physicality of paper, while others are more comfortable using one of the numerous online or smartphone to-do apps. Some people carry a notepad in their car, while others use their smartphone to record and check off tasks. Don’t fret if you’re not techno-savvy. The good old-fashioned paper method works just fine. Either way, decide which method works best for you and stick with it.
Paula Rizzo, author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed, advises organizing your to-do list the night before. That way when you get to work in the morning, you can hit the ground running with your roadmap. List your projects in order of urgency and importance. That will enable you to use your time more efficiently, manage projects better and consistently meet deadlines.
For example, you can put items in different columns, use color coding and attach due dates to them. Categorize tasks by how long they will take to complete, then figure out which ones are most important and which ones can wait until later. Time management experts often advise doing the most challenging tasks first thing in the morning when you are at your peak of energy, intensity and focus.
3. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Break big projects down into smaller tasks. For example, when I wrote my first book, Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work, I tackled a chapter at a time. Within each chapter, I focused on a section at a time. The more specific you get, the more likely you are to get more done. Remember, each task you complete brings you one step closer to finishing that big project.
4. Check items off.
There’s a gratifying feeling you get each time you cross an item off your to-do list. The bigger the task is, the more satisfaction you feel. As you get better at managing your to-do list, you’ll experience more satisfaction. When you check items off, don’t just delete them. Add them to a weekly or daily “accomplishment list” that documents all the tasks you’ve successfully completed. A long accomplishment list is evidence that you have mastered your to-do list, giving you the confidence to continue honing your productivity skills.
5. Celebrate your accomplishments.
Reward yourself for achieving your goals. This not only gives you something to look forward to, it energizes you to complete more tasks. Make the reward commensurate with the accomplishment. For instance, if you finish a report that takes a day to complete, you might go out and reward yourself with a sweet treat from the local bakery. If you complete a project you’ve relentlessly worked on for weeks, treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant.
When you discover how effective the to-do list can be, you'll start putting yours to good use. In turn, you’ll be amazed by how much you get done once you have a personalized productivity system in place.