When it comes to getting things done, sometimes simple productivity methods are the best. Case in point: the to-do list. This handy tool keeps you on track by putting tasks foremost in your mind . . . unless you’re doing it wrong. Mistakes on your to-do list could be putting your workday in jeopardy, say experts. There are seven habits that can help you transform your To-Do List into your Productivity List and ramp up you success on a daily basis. Your Productivity List sets an intention so you know exactly what you are doing to produce the results you are after.
Before you write your next to-do list, make these changes to ensure it becomes your Productivity List.
1. Write your list the evening before. Writing the list at the end of the day allows you to leave work behind and transition into personal time. You can revisit it in the morning and confirm its appropriateness and make any necessary changes. This one habit was the sole suggestion of Frederick Taylor to Andrew Carnegie in 1890 for which Mr. Carnegie rewarded Mr. Taylor with a check for $10,000. The act of making a list forces us to reflect on the relative urgency and importance of issues. And making a list of “things to do, now” rather than “things to worry about” forces us to resolve concerns into actions.
2. Narrow your list to three. Three tasks are ideal. Our brains understand things in groups of three. Take advantage of this tendency by creating a “top three” at the beginning of your Productivity List. Most people have a list that is longer than three items. Long lists are a problem because most people are not aware of how few productive hours they truly have in a day. Our mental energy is a far more limiting factor than time. We only have about three to six good hours of work in us each day. Another reason that long lists are common is that people tend to underestimate how long a task takes. It helps if you estimate each task’s duration, and write that time next to the task. Then track your time to help make future estimates more accurate.
3. Keep a separate list of longer-term goals. Aspirational tasks, like writing a book, don’t belong on a to-do list; instead, create a separate bucket list. Daily Productivity Lists should be focused. If you have a big project you want to complete, you can put it on your Productivity List if you chunk it out into smaller, more attainable tasks. Someday items belong on a master list that holds all the tasks you want to do and is constantly growing and shrinking.
4. Establish a clear priority for your actions. All highly successful people work from a clear sense of priority. A good Productivity List should be a priority list. Only add items that will move your career or business forward. If it’s not a priority, it should not be on the list. Non-priorities are just distractions. Take a look at the list you create and, as a check, ask yourself which three you can ditch? Which three can you delegate? Which three can you do later? And, what are the three to do today – Your Productivity List!
5. Be specific in your description. People often write vague notes on a to-do list, but it can be difficult to take action if you have to stop and think how to proceed. Take the few extra seconds, while you’re in planning mode and writing the list, to be as specific as you can be, so that when you’re taking on a task on the fly, you can just get it done. For example, instead of writing “expense report” on your to-do list, write “enter receipts into spreadsheet.” And skip the vague-sounding action words, such as “plan,” “implement,” or “develop” from your list of tasks.
6. Create a new list every day. Too often, people create one to-do list and use it until all of the items are done. The problem with that theory is that every day changes, so what you did today is not what you will do tomorrow. And what you think you are going to do tomorrow may change before today is over. Instead, create a fresh Productivity List for each day.
7. Link your Productivity List with your calendar. Having a full calendar that does not include the actions on your Productivity List is another mistake. Recognize that there are only 1440 minutes in each day. If you have a full calendar that is not connected with your Productivity List, you will never have time to take action on your list, short of robbing yourself of sleep, family time, weekend relaxation, or vacation. Instead, block out time on your calendar to take action on your Productivity List items.