By Laser 1 Technologies

Mastering The To Do List

Every day and every hour we’re working on multiple different tasks. Our effectiveness at accomplishing these tasks defines our productivity and efficiency. It feels like my to-do list only grows, it never shrinks. For everything I get done, I think of two more things to put on the list. How to manage this ever-expanding list of things I want to get done?

There are many schools of thought on how to manage our time and activities–along with books, websites and products to help us along. Clearly, there is no single right way to do it.

Paper or Electronic?

For me, the push to use electronic devices for task management isn’t productive. Making the list by hand allows me to think and to make quick changes. I like the flexibility of a paper list, and I like the way the paper list is always visible. The idea that putting a list on an electronic devices equals having more control over it isn’t true–for me. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel–simple methods work best.

Exhaustive or Minimalist?

There are also two philosophies (at least) about strategy. According to one perspective, it’s helpful to write down absolutely everything you need to get done, because the act of doing so will clear your head. These folks believe that you free up mental bandwidth by putting your list in writing, whether digital or analog. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (GTD) is on this team.

On the other hand, some people think you set yourself up for failure and overwhelm by building too big a list: They endorse a shorter, more immediate list. They also observe that a long to-do list can trick us into thinking we’re productive, whereas what you get done is what really matters.

Which brings us to another approach: listing done items instead of to-do items. Check out, a self-described professional and personal productivity motivator. They completely eliminated their to-do feature after statistics showed that 41% of items on the list were never completed, and only 15% of dones started as to-dos. They consider the done list to be motivating, revealing and useful.

Bottom line: What’s the best way to manage your to-do list? The one which works best for you.

Once You’ve Picked Your Tool, What Else?

PRIORITIZE: First of all, not every important task is truly urgent. Prioritizing your activities is the key to time management. Lots of experts suggest limiting your daily, urgent tasks to three to five tasks only, to help you focus. Another good piece of advice: Whatever task you are dreading the most–start with that one. Getting it out of the way is a huge energetic boost. You might find out it’s easier and faster than you expected, or you might discover that there are obstacles which you need to deal with sooner rather than later, such as incomplete or wrong information or tools.

BREAK DOWN TASKS: Breaking down tasks is universally recommended. “Launch new product” or “remodel house” are way too broad. Think the project through and list the tasks which will bring it to completion, step by step.

FINISH A TASK BEFORE STARTING A NEW ONE: Research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates unfinished tasks are cognitive distractions that negatively affect your overall performance. Their study showed that people did worse on a brainstorming task when they were not allowed to finish a simple warm-up task first. However, if they were allowed to make a plan for finishing that initial task, they performed better. This mental unrest from uncompleted tasks and unresolved goals is known as the Zeigarnik effect.

GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE: “A goal without a deadline is just a dream,” has been attributed to a number of people. It rings true to me.

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