To get the most out of any stretch of time, you need to have a plan.
We all have 24 hours or 1560 minutes each day to fill. Unless we prioritise the important things, then the little things expand to fill up all our time.
Many people use to do lists to help them make the best use of their time, but not all lists are created equal.
WHY LISTS WORK
Just by writing down the things we need to do, we get a sense of accomplishment, and our brains leap ahead to mentally savour the thought of those tasks being completed.
Instead of constantly running through our lists in our heads, when we write it down we can let it go, as our brain is no longer scared of forgetting something, and that mental space can be a relief.
WHY LISTS DON’T WORK
When faced with a long list of tasks, it’s tempting to cross off the things that don’t take much time, so your list quickly starts to look impressive. The problem with this approach is that it leaves the longer and often more important or impactful tasks until last, with the risk of them staying undone and being rolled over until the following day. This can become a habit as you still feel successful as you have been busy doing unimportant things. I know I’ve been guilty of adding a task to my list that I have just completed, so that I can cross it off and improve the ratio of completed tasks.
You can write as many lists as you like, but your tasks will still be there the next day if you don’t actually take action and commit to doing something about them.
Prioritising your list and assigning timings is the most important part of successful list making, but thing that is most often forgotten.
HOW TO MAKE LISTS WORK FOR YOU
We can harness the task completion rush for motivation– that good feeling of accomplishment when we finish a task from our list. However, we need to bear in mind that our to-do list is not a measure of self worth; it’s quality, not quantity of tasks completed that matter.
So how can we make the way we use our lists better?
1. Prioritise your list.
Use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important principle to make sure you are focusing on the right tasks, instead of constantly firefighting.
2. Estimate how long tasks will take, or decide how long you will allocate them.
3. Eat the frog for breakfast – Take Mark Twain’s advice and do the task you are least looking forward to first. Choose the important task that you keep putting off, then spend the rest of the day feeling smug and relieved that it’s done and dusted.
4. Plan your to do list, together with priorities and timings, the night before. This means you can hit the ground running and start on a task first thing in the morning. By making it a given you don’t use up decision fatigue points deciding what to tackle first from an unprioritized list.
5. Allow for the fact that your motivation and attention decrease during the day.
6. For bigger tasks you will need to separate out the larger project into smaller steps. If you want to write a book, then your daily entries might be; sketch out chapter ideas, write a character profile, or write 1000 words. Work back from your deadline and schedule the incremental steps separately.
TYPES TO TRY
Different types of lists suit different people, it doesn’t matter which you use, as long as you are consistent, and prioritise and actually work on your list.
Most list making starts off with the need to brain dump . List all of the things you need to do in the next day/week/month for all aspects of your life on one piece of (big!) paper
It can also help to have a brain dump when you find yourself distracted about other stuff you need to be doing whilst you are working on other tasks. Stop, write down what is in your head then carry on working. This does not have to become your new to do list, but you can see if any of the tasks need to move up the priority list for the next day.
Here are some ideas, so pick one and try it out.
*Please don’t try and incorporate them all at once , as some are mutually exclusive to others*
1. For each day choose; One big, 3 medium, 5 small, then keep an overflow list of things coming down the pipeline.
2. Sort your list with the items under the headings of ; must do, should do, could do, want to.
3. Look at making your list over a week instead of daily.
4. What do you have to/want to have achieved at the end of the day/week? If you could only do one thing today to move your business forward, what would that thing be? Make this the #1 item on your To Do list, and do it first.
5. Do the one thing you keep putting off. Would doing a task you are avoiding take less energy than you are spending on the avoidance?
6. Group similar tasks together and do in one batch, eg phone calls, errands, project work, correspondence.
7. Make an “enough “ list; what is the minimum that you could do today to get by? Useful for days when you are ill, unmotivated or unable to be fully present.
8. Another way to categorise your list is with the headings; Prioritise, delegate, shelve.
9. Write the item down as a specific action, eg instead of “find new web host” write down “ask on linked in for web host recommendations”
10. Be strategic, sometimes doing something small but that is worrying you, will free up your mental space and remove feeling of dread.
A to do list should be a help, not something you torture yourself with.
There are lots of ways to organise your time, but prioritising your tasks and actually scheduling time to do them is the key to making your to do lists a great productivity tool.
If you find yourself constantly overwhelmed by your to do list, and there are lots of tasks on there that you can delegate to someone else, then please get in touch for a no obligation chat, so you can see how using a VA can help you create more time in your week, to focus on those important but non urgent tasks.