It’s a common scenario: you think you’re getting yourself organized, and you write out everything you have to do. Your to-do list is about a mile long. It feels good to put it all on paper, but when is the last time you finished a long list of tasks that you had to do?
You may have been able to knock out the first few tasks, but chances are you either gave up, or you checked off things even though they weren’t done properly. Making a list can help you focus and plan how much time you need to get things done. If your list is too long, though, it can actually destroy your productivity by overwhelming you.
Making lists can help your productivity to an extent
Writing out what you need to do can help you declutter your mind, and it’ll keep you from forgetting things. A great deal of productivity advice revolves around making lists so that you can be more efficient.
Making a list is just step one on the road to being productive. If you don’t know how to prioritize the tasks that you have to complete, you’ll feel like you’re always behind. You’ll constantly add to the list, but you’ll never be able to check everything off. You can work hard all day, and walk away feeling guilty for not accomplishing everything.
It’s also confusing to look at a list and see work tasks, home tasks, family priorities and social obligations mixed together. At some point, you’ll get tired of feeling guilty and disorganized. You may ditch the list all together, or it may stick around to cause you unnecessary stress.
Become a better list-maker
Instead of throwing to-do lists out the window entirely, it’s helpful to learn how to make more concise and organized lists. You’ll still be doing the same amount of work, but you’re organizing it in a way that makes you feel more accomplished.
If you have one hundred items that you have to do, break that down into 10 lists of 10 items. Every time you complete a list, you have knocked out 10% of your work. Being able to see your progress will make your hundred items seem a little less intimidating.
Break big problems down into manageable chunks
This advice works for goal-setting, completing large projects, and conquering a long to-do list. Divide your list into small pieces that you can complete quickly. You’ll feel so much more motivated when you see a list that you can actually complete instead of one that drags on for days.
Set your priorities
It’s tempting to label list items with a priority level by assigning them a value or equating them with numbers. Avoid designating items as high, medium, or low priority. Don’t waste time saying, “This task is a level 1, this one is a level 2, and this is a level 3.” You’ll probably end up with a lot of things that seem really urgent.
Try prioritizing your list visually instead. Organize them from most-important to least-important. Your most important item is at the top of your list, and it should be completed first. After you check that off, move on to the next item. Whatever is at the top of your list is the most important thing.
Rather than mix and match your tasks, separate them according to where they fit in your life. Focus on the work-related tasks at work. When you get home, put the work-list away, and be 100% dedicated to the things you need to do at home.
This strategy is effective because you’ll only be focusing on one thing at a time. Our brains aren’t good at multi-tasking, so it doesn’t make sense to ask them to do that. Concentrating on one item at a time means that you’ll be able to carry out the task more quickly and efficiently than if you were worrying about several items.
Productivity strategies should make us feel better–not worse
A long list of tasks that can’t be completed will leave you feeling tired, guilty, and stressed. Adopt the practice of making concise lists and focusing on one thing at a time, and you’ll be amazed at how much more you are able to accomplish.
|The Guardian: The psychology of the to-do list – why your brain loves ordered tasks
|Lifehacker: How to Make Your To-Do List Doable
|NPR: If You Think You’re Good At Multitasking, You Probably Aren’t