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Last Updated on December 28, 2017

Like Making To Do Lists? Stop! It Will Never Be Completed

Like Making To Do Lists? Stop! It Will Never Be Completed

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.[1] A great deal of productivity advice revolves around making lists so that you can be more efficient.

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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.

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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.

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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.[2] 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.[3] 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.

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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.

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 17, 2018

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

How bad really is multitasking?

It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

So what to do about it?

Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

Now, forget about how to multitask!

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Get enough rest

When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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2. Plan your day

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

4. When at your desk, do work

We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

5. Learn to say no

Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

6. Turn off notifications on your computer

For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

The bottom line

Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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