An easy but powerful way to be more productive each day is to write a to do list. Even making a quick note of your most important tasks can help you stay focused and actually remember what you need to accomplish. If you find yourself always busy but not making progress toward your most important goals, a to do list can provide structure and focus to your days.
How do you make list that becomes a motivating tool for daily productivity? One common mistake – especially for compulsive list-makers like myself – is to make a list that is way too long. It’s easy to overestimate how much we can accomplish in a single day. Instead, try to pare down to just your three most important tasks. If you accomplish all of them you can move on to the lower-priority items, but getting those three things done means you are at least hitting the “must-dos” each day.
Think about how different you feel after completing three things on a three item list – you got everything done! – as opposed to completing three things on a ten item list – you didn’t do even half of what you planned to do. In each case you are doing the same amount of work, but the number of items on your list makes the difference between feeling accomplished or feeling like a failure. Strive to be realistic about what you can do in a day, and make your list accordingly.
Productivity expert Chris Bailey encourages us to make a three-item to do list for both work tasks and personal tasks each day. Before trying this method, my daily lists consisted mostly of work items and my personal tasks were fit in if I had time. This left me feeling like my life completely revolved around work. After several months of writing down three additional tasks for myself outside of work, my days are more balanced and I feel like I am making myself a priority.
Another tip for making your to do list work comes from David Allen, creator of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system for staying organized. He speaks of the importance of clarifying tasks, which means breaking down big goals and projects into specific action items. Your task may be to write an article, but completing it requires researching the topic, interviewing several experts, outlining the article, writing the article, and editing it. Each of those steps is an actionable point that should be a separate entry on a to do list. If you were to note it as a single item, you would likely underestimate how long the entire project will take and get discouraged when it goes uncompleted on your list day after day.
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